Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(14)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(14)
Author: K.F. Breene

I needed to get me one of those sheets!

“Male and female alike, we are driven half mad with desire.” The vampire’s dark gaze hit me again, intelligence and fire. “You know your effect; I can see that. Tell me, what is it? I must know.”

“Perspiration and a little deodorant.” Or, in this case, a lot of deodorant working very hard.

A smile lifted his shapely lips. “You have secrets, Reagan, do you not?”

“All girls have secrets.”

“And so they do.” His manicured nails tapped the armrest. “You are filled to the brim with extremely potent magic. I can feel it, tickling my skin in the most pleasing of ways.”

“That’s swell,” I replied dryly.

“You are aroused. I can see it in your enlarged pupils. Smell it oozing off your body.”

“Ew. All due respect, please stop.”

“You will not act on it; I can see that. Does our nature repulse you, Reagan?”

I could tell he was playing games, trying to see what made me tick. It was starting to get on my nerves. If he wanted my sassiness to come out and play, I’d just cut right to it.

“Your nature annoys me.” I adjusted my sword. “Look, your…friend stole ten grand out of my hands last night, then added insult to injury by posting a job he knew I had to take. That’s some bullshit right there. Don’t further aggravate me by dancing around with sexual crap and asking stupid questions. While I wouldn’t make it out of here alive, I’d make sure you didn’t, either. If you don’t believe me, lob me a challenge.”

A feral sort of smile curled his lips. It was predatory, ruthless, and blood-chilling. Fangs were bared all around me, and the quiver of shifting forms crowded the room. Fear I couldn’t help iced my spine. I breathed through it, keeping my blood rich with oxygen. I’d move faster that way. Hit harder.

One thing was certain—this vampire was extremely important to their hierarchy, and they didn’t like me talking smack to him. That was good to know.

He stared at me in a way that made my bones wobble and knees threaten to knock. I stared back, trying to keep those issues from showing on my face.

He leaned back slowly.

As though someone had snapped their fingers, the intense pressure that had been squeezing me released from the room. Apparently I wouldn’t be dying today.

I barely kept from sighing in relief.

“What is it you need from me?” I asked in a loud, clear voice, amazingly not shaking.

“Why, your services, of course.” The vampire’s smile was back to pleasant, as though his joke was funny. He didn’t seem to mind that no one laughed. “We have a sensitive issue that requires the aid of a magical person. While we could enlist a number of mages, certain issues render us hesitant to do so.”

“Meaning, you have no idea who you can trust?”

His eyes crinkled at the corners. “Just so. You would be required to work with one of ours”—he nodded toward Darius—“and to visit an area of the Realm not many walk away from. The knowledge of such a place is only entrusted to a very few. Once you have seen it, you are tied to us, forever. If we ever suspect that you are not loyal, we will bleed you dry.”

He paused. The large chamber fell into silence.

I closed my mouth with a click. Despite this vampire’s unreal beauty, he wasn’t rainbows and sunshine.

“So…” I began, trying to formulate words around my desire to turn around and walk away. “Once I see this place, I’ll be watched by you, forever. Any hint of my not being a team player, including a small, drunken slip-up that would only mean something to you, would result in a pleasurable sort of death?”

“Ah. Our bite causes you pleasure. I thought I smelled human on you.”

“Yes. About my question?”

He spread his hands. “Please. We are reasonable. We will not watch you constantly. We will merely keep an eye on you to ensure our secret is safe.”

“And when you say loyal,” I went on, “are you implying that I’m supposed to be your cheerleader with all your crazy political stuff? Because I’m not about to stand up to the elves. No way. Nor do I want to be labeled a menace by the shifters in the Brink. More so than I am now, anyway.”

“Loyal to our secret, then. Darius will only reveal what is absolutely necessary regarding the case. Nothing more. You will be a protector of that truth. Your loyalty will be tied solely to…the inhabitants.”

Inhabitants?

“Right.” I drew the word out, hating my burning curiosity about what the vampires were hiding. It wasn’t worth my life or freedom. I needed to be sure about this decision.

“I need to mention that this bounty will be fraught with danger,” the vampire continued. “However, you will receive bonuses for every enemy of ours that you kill or turn over to us, to the tune of five thousand dollars. As a gesture of good faith, I will include the capture of your recent mark in that sum. This is in addition to, and paid separately from, the bounty we placed with your office.”

“Hmm.” They were holding money in front of me like a carrot to a donkey.

“Have no fear,” the vampire said. “Darius will be with you every moment. He is our strongest in combat and our most magically proficient. He’ll ensure you come to no harm.”

“Given what I saw, you will only occasionally be in grave peril,” Darius said, his voice deep and gruff compared to the music of the other vampire. I liked him better for it. It felt more human.

“Only occasionally? Well, that’s comforting,” I replied.

“Yes, I have heard you are exceptionally capable.” The other vampire nodded at me.

I couldn’t tell if he’d caught my sarcasm or not.

“So…to sum up.” I braced my hands on my hips. “Taking this job will earn me a bunch of money, but I’ll have a vampire mark burned into my skin, I’ll have to hang out with Mr. Arrogant twenty-four-seven, and there will be at least a few situations that might kill me.”

The unnamed vampire smiled. “Who doesn’t love a challenge?”

I blew out a breath. “Well, listen, the danger I could handle. The money I would gladly take. I might even consent to ignoring Darius’s presence for an extended period of time, since he’s nice to look at. But the prospect of future ties to vampires make this a no-go for me, sadly. You lot are fickle, nowhere near reasonable, despite your assertions, and not to be trifled with. I’d be a fool to tie myself to you, money or no. Thanks for the walk on the wild side, but I’ll be showing myself out.” I’d be trying to rob some gold while I did it, too.

I gave him a thumbs-up and stood. Before I could take a step, he said, “I will increase the bounty and buy you a house anywhere you choose. Choose a place in the Brink without property taxation, live among humans, and you’ll never have to work again. A slip-up to a human will be nothing, as you know. It is the magical community we are worried about.”

I tried to keep my feet moving, but they were pretty much rooted to the ground after that offer. It sounded like a dream. The problem was that vampires didn’t generally die, which meant I wouldn’t outlive them. Since I probably wouldn’t die either, at least for a very long time, I would eventually run out of money. That path led back to the bounty-hunting game and the magical community.

I shook my head. “Sounds great. But no, thanks. You can find someone else.”

“She is cautious,” the vampire said to Darius in a low hum. “You were correct—she’s perfect.”

“Nope. Not going to happen.” I made my way around the extremely expensive and probably stolen golden chair, scratching a little to see if any gold would flake off. What could I say, I was an opportunist. Behind, a wall of swampy vampires stood in my way. “Please have the decency to change back. I’m not used to this display of gross.”

“What will it take, human?” Darius asked.

“I’ve already said—I will not be tied to vampires.” I half turned back. The smaller chair sat vacant. “What the hell? Where’d the other guy go?”

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