Unfortunately, December got away from me. I guess that's what happens when you move closer to your family. I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season, and I'll see you next year!
* * *
The god who popped
into existence in my living room after my brunch with Bill and Lily epitomized
the word. Wavy black hair fell to Ares’ shoulders. His unadorned blood red
t-shirt emphasized the sharp plains of his chest and the ripples of his abs.
Black jeans hugged his lower body in all the right places. I gave him credit
for trying to fit in with twenty-first century life, but he couldn’t be subtle
no matter how hard he tried.
He was basically
sex on a stick.
Framed by his
neatly trimmed moustache and beard, his full lips quirked into a cocky grin.
“So you decided to accept my offer, Samantha.”
Not even a fucking
question. He really believed every female, no matter whether Normal or
supernatural persuasion, should drop her panties at his request. He was that
sure of himself.
“No.” I crossed my
arms over my chest and gave my best evil eye. “Didn’t Phil tell you why I wanted
to meet you?”
“Females often prevaricate in order to experience my particular skills.” With
each word, he took a swaggering step toward me.
“I’m not lying,” I
ground out between my clenched jaws. He was too damn close. Exuded too much
sensuality. “I need answers to my questions.”
He reached behind
my head for my ponytail and playfully yanked it. “What will you give me in
return for your answers?”
Anxiety and lust
shuddered through me. It was worse than I imagined a vampire’s mojo would feel like.
Annoyance at being manipulated in such a manner cracked whatever spell or
influence he aimed at me. My irritation welled, and I smacked him with a
telepathic/telekinetic stunt knocked him backwards. He landed on his well-formed
ass. The floor shivered under my feet. Not sure if it was him or me that caused
the vibration, I wondered if I had started something that I couldn’t finish.
“If all you’re
going to do is play games, then leave.” I tried to keep my voice level, but I’m
sure I wore my bitch scowl on my face.
Ares climbed to
his feet, but didn’t look pissed as I expected. His steady gaze held me, but
none of the earlier leering quality lay in his expression. “This is why you
need a more suitable mate.” He gestured at the scuff on the carpet where he had
landed. “You would have killed the vampire.”
I quelled my
shiver of fear. No sense in giving Ares any more ammunition. “I’ve smacked
Duncan with a psy-bolt before. Worst thing I did was give him a headache.”
“Your strength is
growing, my lady.” Ares shoved his hands in his pockets. The non-threatening gesture
didn’t make me any less worried about what he could do. “Yes, you knocked me
down, but you would’ve sent the vampire through the glass.” He tilted his head
toward the huge plate windows and sliding doors to the terrace behind him. The
terrace filled with bright noon sunshine. “He wouldn’t survive Apollo’s rays,
much less the impact on the concrete below us.”
Was that the real
reason Duncan avoided our bed last night? Did he know how strong I was
becoming? Did his Elizabethan sensibilities object to the reversal of our
roles? He’d been the one watching my back since the day I died and became…
What? Every time I
got a handle on the things happening to my mind and body, someone offered a new
And I really hated
the latest theory.
I cleared my
throat. “Would you like something to drink?”
Ares’ smirk returned.
returned. “It’s too fucking early for wine. You’ll take a soda and love it.”
“Of course, my
His faux politeness
stoked my temper while I stomped into the kitchen. I pulled two colas out of
the fridge and managed to suppress the urge to shake his so it exploded in his
Except I was
shaking it slightly, not on purpose, when I returned and handed it to him. The
reality of the answers I’d been denying for the last four months prompted what
could only be an anxiety attack. My breath came in short rapid pants. Sweat
prickled along my neck. This wasn’t Ares’ doing. Why the hell weren’t the
nanites compensating for my nerves?
“Would you like to
sit down?” I waved toward the couch.
He sprawled across
the upholstery as if he owned Las Vegas. I perched on the edge of the matching plush
armchair and busied my fingers with opening my can. Carbon dioxide hissed as it
escaped from its aluminum prison, but no foam overflowed.
disappointed expression, he’d expected me to sit next to him on the sofa. He
took a drink from his can before he said, “I still expect payment for my
exhalation that escaped from me matched the sounds I often heard Duncan make
when he was at his wits’ end with something idiotic I had done. “Sex is off the
shifted into another cocky grin. “Personally, I prefer a bed.”
“No sex at all.” I
glared at him. Or tried to. His wicked humor and dark hair would be my undoing.
They were the very same things that attracted me to my ex Jake and my current
My mental state
wasn’t helping my resistance to him. After spending years photographing, and
resisting, the most gorgeous men on the planet while I worked for one of the
top tabloids, I had thought I’d been picky. But since I’d died, I felt like a
werewolf in heat. When I had asked Bebe about my revved-up libido, she admitted
that it corresponded with my revved-up everything else thanks to the damn
nanites. Deep down, I had believed I wouldn’t hurt Duncan by cheating on him,
no matter how my hormones tried to convince me otherwise. But it was getting
harder and harder to keep my impulses under control.
All of my
I focused on Phil’s
threat to put my speed healing to the test by shoving a grenade down my throat
for even thinking of doing her dad. She’d made that point perfectly clear on
the phone, even if he was the one chasing me.
It wasn’t my fault
if Ares mojo’d me, was it?
beneath my fingertips. Maybe I needed to focus on other things I really cared
about. Like my unborn niece.
“I can be your
personal shopper for Tiffany’s baby.”
Ares snorted in
derision. “You believe I cannot provide for my foster granddaughter?”
“I think Cerberus
is a totally inappropriate choice for a mortal child’s puppy,” I shot back.
Glass in the
windows and pictures frames hummed in response to his laughter. “Not even I
would be that foolish.”
“Then there’s my
mother,” I added. “You want to have access to Tiffany and her baby? You’re
going to need me to get through her. This is the woman who had no problem
taking on the zombies that invaded my brother’s wedding. Not to mention, she
bitched out three ancient vampire coven masters in the hospital afterward.
Mom’s not going to cut you any slack because you’re a god.”
eyebrow lifted. “And if I simply remove her?”
“If you came to me
with that proposal while I was still alive, you would have had a deal.” I
shrugged. “Now that I’m dead, I found myself a little more forgiving when it
comes to her behavior. So if you do anything to her, I’ll have to knock you on
your ass again.” Somehow, I managed to keep “well-formed” out of that
“How does my
treating your mother with deference correlate to a favor given by you?”
“I’m smoothing the
path, remember? If you want to do something stupid, oh, like give the baby a
present that will cause her harm, let’s say a Golden Apple from the garden of
the Hesperides, that’s your fault, and Mom will find a way to take you out.”
I took a sip of my
soda, watching for his reaction. For all the stories about him not being the
brightest of the Olympians, I got the impression his moronic playboy behavior
was mainly an act.
“I’ll accept your
offer with one condition—”
The carbonation in
my stomach cavorted with my stomach acid to produce an uncomfortable sensation.
“I accompany you
on this shopping trip.”
The vision of the
Greek god of war holding my purse while I looked for onesies triggered an
unfortunate response. I started laughing hysterically. Somehow, I managed to
set my cola on the coffee table before I dropped it, but despite my best
efforts, I could only tamper the sounds down to random guffaws.
Ares scowled. “And
why do you find the thought of my company so amusing?”
“Because I can’t
imagine you doing the things for me that Duncan would do on a shopping trip,” I
said between snorts.
“And what do you
think a vampire could accomplish at a market that I could not?” From the sparks
in Ares’ eyes and the red flush creeping up his neck, I’d pushed him too far.
With a strength of
will I didn’t think I had, I managed to sober myself. “First of all, he carries
“He pays for
“Of course.” The
wicked smirk was back.
“And he does it
without complaining or whining.”
A scowl chased the
smirk off Ares’ face. “Are you calling me a sniveler with no backbone?”
“Are you saying a
vampire can do something you can’t?”
“No.” His tone was
the same as a pissed-off werewolf. I should know. I’ve done my share of pissing
“Do we have an
“Swear by the
That jolted him
out of his anger. “You cannot be serious! You want me to swear our most sacred
oath over a shopping expedition for baby gifts?”
I crossed my arms
over my chest. “It’s not just the shopping and you know it. I help you with handling
Mom and selecting the baby presents. In return, you answer my questions.” I
sucked in a deep breath. “Fully and truthfully,” I added. Maybe Colin’s
negotiation lessons were sinking into my robot-laden brain. “And absolutely no
sexual innuendos, suggestions or touching of any kind whatsoever.”
Ares was silent
for so long I thought he would disagree and leave. “Did you destroy the roses I
His question was
so unexpected, his voice so quiet, I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. The
potted rose bush with twelve perfect, ebony blooms had been my first gift. The Normal
girl from housekeeping who’d brought it to my office was still on personal
leave, but at least she was out of the hospital. I was the only person the plant
wouldn’t attempt stab with its thorns.
“Where are they?”
“In my safe where
they won’t try to drink anyone else’s blood.” I tried not to think about the
special vault in the basement. When the city had been first built, it had been
a safe house for vampires immigrating to Las Vegas. Later, it became a prison
for rogues. I hated going into that vault. The stench of death and despair
smelled better to me than the Karnak chef’s molten lava cake.
And that scared
the piss out of me.
Ares’ forehead. “Aren’t you feeding them?”
“That thing drinks
“Of course.” He
actually looked confused at my revulsion. “Can you not conceive of a better
gift from a god of war to a goddess of death?”
He looked at me
The denial died on
my lips, but I still wasn’t ready to say the truth aloud. I sucked in a deep
breath. “I’m not in the market for a boyfriend, Ares, and I already have one fiancé,
which is plenty. This is why I want you to swear on the River Styx concerning
The sorrow in his
expression made me want to cry. Somehow, I knew his emotion had nothing to do
with me turning him down or my insistence on his oath concerning our deal. “Ox
blood. If you are unwilling to feed my gift human blood, then feed it ox
Would the damned
plant even leave if I gave the potted roses back to him? I’d read enough Greek
mythology to know that gifts, or curses, from the gods couldn’t be returned.
With the supernatural races, I was learning there was always a grain of truth within
their stories. I nodded once. “Thanks for the info. Now about our deal—”
He blew out a deep
breath, and I suppressed a smile. It seemed I exasperated every male I
“How do I know you
will keep you side of the bargain?”
I shrugged. “You
can always ask Phil to be your enforcer. She’s already threatened to use a
grenade to disembowel me if I sleep with you.”
“Is that why you
“No!” The walls of
the penthouse shivered in response to my shout, and a hairline crack appeared
above the kitchenette. Great. Now I needed to call maintenance, and they would
tell Duncan, and he’d ask what happened, and…
I cleared my
throat. “Do I need to repeat my terms?”
looked too damn amused by my discomfiture.
I ran my tongue
over my suddenly dry lips. Best to get this over with. “I’ve got time tomorrow
afternoon to shop.”
He leaned forward,
not predatory, but pretty damn close. “Then I get to choose the place.” He
surprised me by naming the department store at the Beverly Center where Max and
Tiffany had registered, though the registry itself was probably my mom’s idea.
As much as I
dreaded spending any more time alone with him than necessary, maybe a trip to
Los Angeles would sooth my fractured emotional state. I nodded. “As long as you
answer my questions here and now.”
leaned back against the couch.
I cough not so
discreetly, and he rolled his eyes.
“I swear by the
River Styx that I will answer all your questions for the next three hours,
fully and truthfully in exchange for you spending an equal three hours in my
company tomorrow where we will partake of the midafternoon meal and purchase
appropriate gifts for my foster granddaughter. I also swear I will carry all
packages, as well as Lady Samantha’s purse with no complaints. Satisfied?” His
expression dared me to disagree.
“Yes. Thank you,”
I added. “Shall we begin?”
* * *
Max’s right toe tapped a nervous rhythm
against the kitchen tile of Caesar’s mansion while Bebe perched on a chair next
to him and examined the new adornment on his wrist. “Well?”
“I think you’re
picking up some of Tiffany’s less endearing habits.” She glanced up at him. “Do
I need to give you a sedative, or will a kick in the shins suffice?”
effort, he stilled his foot. “Can you get it off?”
She shook her
head, brunette curls swaying. “No.” She leaned back, but kept her hand over his.
“Describe this person again.”
He repeated his
impressions of his visitor. “He’s the same guy that appeared in one of the
candid shots at the zombie-interrupted ceremony, minus the tissue stuffed up his
nose while at my office, but no one remembers him being there. Do you have any
idea of who it is?”
“Now I do.” She
pursed her lips, rose from the kitchen chair, and strode through the swinging
Max jumped to his
feet and raced after her. She’d already disappeared from the foyer, but from
the sharp clicks of her heels, Bebe was headed down the hall toward her, well,
magick lab was the only thing he could think of to call Caesar’s former
The heavy drapes
were pulled back from the huge windows when he walked into the room. A scarlet
Persian carpet highlighted with gold threads covered the black, white and gray
marble floor. Antique birch chairs and tables sat on the thick wool. Bebe
examined the contents of the floor-to-ceiling shelves along the back wall.
When Max crossed over
the gigantic silver pentacle underneath the carpet, tingles radiated from the
strange watch along his skin. Most people didn’t know about the metal embedded
into the marble and hidden by the carpet. Knowing the ring was there and
actually feeling the power added to his fear.
Bebe glanced up
from the tome she’d pulled off the shelf. Her lips tilted down as her gaze
traveled from the floor to him and back. “Well, that’s interesting.”
not the word I’d chose.” The instant he stepped out of the silver circle the
electric sensation along his arm disappeared.
She turned the
book so he could see the page she was looking at. “Is this him?"
The woodcut had to
have been close to two centuries old, but the resemblance was uncanny. Max
nodded. “Who is it?”
“Baron Samedi. One of Voudon loas of death.”