Home > First Drop of Crimson (Night Huntress World #1)(5)

First Drop of Crimson (Night Huntress World #1)(5)
Author: Jeaniene Frost

"Fine," Denise forced herself to say, thinking of her parents. A little embarrassment was nothing if it ended up saving them.

Spade seemed to be waiting for her to say something else. Denise picked up her fork and began to eat the fruit salad in the next container.

"Good," he said at last. "We'll be in St. Louis later today."

Spade snapped his mobile shut. That was the last of the calls he needed to make. While it wasn't common for him to gather his people to introduce a new human as property, he'd been traveling most of the past year, so several things had piled up that needed his attention.

Denise had been very quiet the past three days. He suspected it had to do with the call she'd placed to her family, telling them she was taking off to grieve for her cousin privately. From what Spade could hear, that hadn't gone over well, though she couldn't explain that she wasn't abandoning them in their time of need, but trying to help them instead.

Still, her brooding had to stop. If Denise slipped up in her charade as his latest property in front of his people, Spade could contain the negative results. In front of another Master vampire, one who wasn't an ally? That could be deadly.

You need to get your back up, Denise, he thought. And I know how to help.

Spade went down to the first floor, guessing that he'd find Denise in the kitchen. She'd proven to have a voracious appetite regardless of her mood. All his residences had a cook to make sure the human members of his line were well fed. Henry, the chef for his St. Louis home, had been even busier since Spade arrived with Denise.

"Sire," Henry said to Spade.

It amused Spade to see Denise's reaction. Her back was to him, but the tightening in her shoulders was unmistakable. His title among the members of his line made Denise uncomfortable. It didn't bother Spade. After all, he'd been addressed far more formally back when he was human.

"Henry." Spade nodded at the young man before taking the seat next to Denise at the kitchen table. From the looks of her plate, she'd been eating lasagna, heavy on the garlic.

He stifled a smile. Cat had told Denise a lot about vampires, but not everything. Spade plucked a sauteed clove off her plate and ate it, making sure to grunt in feigned bliss.

"Ah, Henry, delicious. I'll take a plate myself."

"Won't that make you sick?" Denise asked in surprise.

He kept his expression blank. "I can eat solid food. I just don't prefer to most of the time."

"Not that." Denise waved a hand. "Garlic. Doesn't that make vampires sick?"

"Indeed not. That's one of the reasons I so enjoy visiting Italy. Can't swing a cat without hitting a vein seasoned full of that delicious flavor."

Spade licked his lips. Denise saw it and blanched, pushing her plate back. It was all he could do to contain his laughter.

"I have a present for you," he said, as if he hadn't noticed her reaction.

Suspicion clouded her gaze. "Why?"

She really needed to work on her acting skills. No new human in his line would use such a tone with him, especially with others around.

He rose. "Come."

"Sire, would you still like the food?" Henry asked.

Spade held out his hand to Denise. She paused. "Keep it warm for me," he said to Henry, and hardened his gaze at Denise. Take it, he silently told her.

She slid her hand into his. Her flesh was warm, almost feverish, except there was no glaze to her eyes that spoke of illness. No, they were bright with irritation over his little power play. Spade ignored that, clasping her hand and pulling her out of her chair. He didn't let go once she was on her feet, either, despite her tug.

"Let's go to my room, darling," he said, making sure his voice was loud and clear.

Her eyes widened. She'd slept in her own room since they arrived, because demons couldn't enter private residences, even if Raum had managed to follow them across several states. But it didn't do for there to be doubts among the people here as to her station with him.

To her credit, Denise didn't sputter out an indignant refusal. She pressed her lips together and let him lead her up the stairs. If he didn't know better, he'd think her temperature flared a degree in just the time it took them to get to his room.

Once inside, she shut the door and then pulled her hand away. "There are limits as to how far I'm willing to take this act."

He didn't show his irritation at her implication that he'd use the circumstances to coerce her into bed. "Name them."

From the way her mouth opened and closed, she hadn't expected that response. Finally she said, "It would take less time to list the things I would do."

"So list that, and I'll tell you if you need to add to it."

That challenging look was back in her eye. Spade smiled inwardly. Anger was good for her spirit. It was bad for his plan if she couldn't balance it with common sense, but time would prove if Denise was as smart as she was lovely.

"All right." She squared her shoulders, her dark hair rustling with the movement. "Obviously I'm willing to bunk with you when the circumstances call for it. I can act subservient if necessary, but don't expect it once we're alone. I can act affectionate and even kiss you to make things look real. But it stops there, and I'm not letting you drink from me."

Spade couldn't help himself. "With all that delectable garlic in your blood? I shed a tear."

Her gaze narrowed. "You're making fun of me."

He allowed himself a smile. "A little."

"Are you done?" Her chin thrust out, as did her shoulders. Spade's smile widened. If she knew how her aggressive stance made her br**sts jut out even more enticingly, he rather doubted she'd keep it.

And far be it for him to say such an ungentlemanly thing out loud.

Spade pushed that thought aside, because it led to other musings best not explored. "As to your limits, they should suffice, though you need to get over your aversion to close proximity with me. Vampires are often affectionate in public with their property. If I should lean close to you, or put my arm around you, it would look odd if you jumped like you'd been stabbed."

Denise had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry. I'll work on that."

"Indeed." He couldn't keep the dryness out of his tone. "And while I'll confess it was fun watching you choke yourself on garlic the past few days, you need have no fear of me biting you."

So much relief crossed her face that he was torn between being amused and being insulted. Had she been about to invest in a silver neck brace next?

"As for things going further than kissing, you need not fret about that, either," he went on, raking her with a gaze. "I don't lack for bed partners, so I don't need to scrounge for unwilling scraps."

Her breath sucked in, those hazel eyes looking greener with her anger. It had to be a trick of the light, but again, they reminded him of a vampire's. He gave her another rake of his gaze, more slowly this time. Pity she wasn't a vampire. If so, he might forget Denise was under Crispin's protection. He might forget he shouldn't mix pleasure with business, and he might test whether she was over her grief for that poor bloke who was torn to pieces.

Spade took a step closer, something inside him flaring when he noticed her breathing change. It became faster, as did her heartbeat. He took another step and then her scent changed, too, that honey and jasmine fragrance growing stronger. With his next step, he was a foot away, able to feel her residual body heat from the air around her. Her eyes were wide, more brown than green now, and her mouth - full, luscious -  parted ever so slightly. Would she taste like honey and jasmine if he kissed her? Or would she have a richer, darker flavor, like the depth of her spirit he caught glimpses of in her eyes?

Abruptly he spun on his heel. Denise wasn't a vampire, so there was no point wondering such things. They'd find Nathanial and give him to Raum. Then, once she had those demon marks off, she'd walk away from him, soon to be dead as all humans were.

And he wasn't going through that again.

"Your outfit for tonight is on the dresser," he said, and slammed the door behind him.

Chapter Five

Denise took a deep breath and tried to act nonchalant. It was a good thing the heat was on in this hotel, or with what she was wearing, she'd freeze.

An attendant had taken her coat as soon as Denise entered the Khorassan Ballroom with Spade. It was a huge room, fitting well over two thousand, and yet it was still almost full. The sheer size of Spade's line was staggering. Then once her coat was off, even though she was amid so many people, heads turned.

Denise raised her chin and refused to cringe. Go on, look. You've seen more skin on a beach, it isn't that shocking.

Except this wasn't a beach, though what she was wearing looked inspired by a bikini. Her top was a diaphanous bolero, and the matching sheer pantalets looked swiped straight from the set of I Dream of Jeannie.

Vampires are perverts, every last one of them, Cat had said on many occasions. If this was standard "property" garb for an undead event, then Cat was dead right.

Denise had expected a smart-assed remark from Spade when she came downstairs in her ridiculous garb. Why wouldn't he be amused? He was the one who'd gotten this harem-girl outfit for her to wear. But he'd only glanced at her for the barest second and then handed her a coat, remarking that it was cold outside.

Of course it was. February in St. Louis wasn't supposed to be balmy. If Spade had a heart, she'd be in pants and a sweater. He wasn't scantily dressed, wearing a long black coat over a white shirt and black pants that fit him so well, they had to be custom designed. With his dark striking looks, Spade practically dripped with decadent elegance, and here she was, like a knock-off Scheherazade.

So the least he could do was take the time to appreciate how the costume he'd foisted on her looked. Or notice that she'd done her hair and makeup in a very flattering way, if she said so herself. She might be getting introduced as property, but she'd make sure people knew this property was high-end, dammit.

Yet Spade hardly looked at her then or during the twenty-minute car ride to the Chase Park Plaza hotel. He didn't speak, either, except to exchange a few words with the driver. If he hadn't opened her car door as she entered and exited the vehicle, she might have thought she'd somehow become invisible. To add insult to injury, he'd left her almost as soon as they entered this huge room. Denise had grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing waiter so she'd look occupied, instead of just standing there like a statue.

Why do you care that Spade's being cold to you? a little voice inside asked.

I don't, Denise told it.

If it was possible to hear an internal scoff, she did. She ignored it, concentrating on the people around her instead of her inner idiot. As soon as she did, however, she realized she'd made a mistake.

So many pale faces. Those quick, deliberate movements. Cool flesh all around her. Fangs everywhere. All those glowing eyes...

A familiar panic began to rise in her. Denise tried to fight it back, but it rose without pity, choking her in the memories.

"I have to get out of here," she mumbled.

Spade jerked his head around. He'd been across the room, talking to someone, leaving her surrounded by the creatures from her nightmares. Vampires everywhere. Blood would follow. Death would follow. It always did.

The memories thickened until they consumed her. That awful howling getting closer. All those other screams. We're trapped, and they're coming. Something grabbed her arm. Denise yanked back in terror, but the cold grip didn't budge.

"Let go of me," she shouted.

"What's with her?" someone muttered. Denise couldn't understand why the person sounded so clueless. Why wasn't anyone running? Didn't they realize the things coming after them couldn't be killed?

That grip tightened and a new one clamped across her mouth. She struggled but couldn't get free. There's no hope. We're trapped in the basement, and they're coming. Any second, the door will burst open, a grotesque figure springing toward me. No. No. NO!

Cold water splashed in her face. She blinked, coughing a little, and managed to hold up her hand to block most of the second icy splash.

"Stop it."

Spade loomed over her, one hand under a running faucet. She blinked once more. The front of her was soaked and she was shivering, crouched in a ball on a bathroom floor. And she had no idea how she'd gotten here.

"Not again," she moaned.

Spade turned the faucet off and knelt in front of her. "You know where you are now." It was a statement.

She rested her head on the cabinet next to her, giving it a slight bang out of sheer frustration.

"About three miles from Crazytown with my foot on the pedal, I'd say."

Spade made a noise that sounded like a sigh. "This has happened before?"

"Not for months. Not since..."

A knowing look crossed his face. "Not since you saw me kill that bloke," he finished for her. "Why didn't you tell me you suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder?"

Now that the episode had passed, she felt embarrassed. "I said it hadn't happened in a while, and wasn't that the least of my concerns when I saw you again?"

Denise held up her wrists for emphasis. The demon marks were concealed by wide silver and gold bangles, but they both knew what was under them.

"I just ruined the plan for tonight, didn't I?" she groaned. "I can't believe I let that happen."

Spade brushed her face with one of the paper towels. "If I'd been paying more attention, I would have anticipated this possibility. We'll leave now. We can sort out how to get a look at the others later."

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