Great, I said. Any ideas what I should do once I turn them into all-too-temporary statues?
Yes, Ms. Lane, he’d replied, with that dark, sardonic smile of his. Run like hell.
I brushed the tips of my lashes with sable mascara, and wondered what one wore to visit a vampire.
The chic red sweater set I’d brought with me from home not only didn’t go so well with my darker hair, I was afraid it might be construed as a flirtatious invitation to color me bloodier. The dainty silver cross earrings my aunt Sue bought me for my last birthday would no doubt be considered provocative, as well. I glanced at my watch. Indecision over my outfit was making me late for my midnight appointment with Barrons. I wasn’t going to have time to dash to the church down the street and dab holy water at my wrists and behind my ears; my version of Eau de Don’tbiteme.
I stared in the mirror. I couldn’t make myself look like the women at Casa Blanc if I wanted to, and I didn’t. I liked me. I liked my colors. I missed my hair so bad it hurt.
Sighing, I turned my head upside down, hair-sprayed it liberally, then set the lacquer with a blast of heat from my dryer. When I tossed it back again and finger-combed it—thanks to Ms. Clairol’s Medium Hot Rods—I had a head of shoulder-length, tousled Arabian-Nights curls that framed my face seductively and made my green eyes stand out even more than they usually did. Slightly uptilted at the outer corners, with long dark lashes, my eyes were one of my best features, a brilliant shade of green, the color of new young grass at Easter. I have clear, even-toned skin that tans really well and goes with pretty much any shade. I didn’t look bad with dark hair. I just didn’t look like me. I looked older, especially with the candy-apple red I’d just glossed on my mouth, a concession to Barrons since I was sure he wasn’t going to like the outfit I’d just decided on.
As I slipped into my clothes, I remembered how Alina and I used to make fun of vampire movies and novels, and of the whole paranormal craze in general that had been launched by the creation of one small, pale, bespectacled boy who lived beneath the stairs.
That was before I knew there really were things out there in the night.
“What the bloody hell do you have on, Ms. Lane?” Barrons demanded.
What I had on was a luscious gauzy skirt of nearly every pastel hue on the color wheel that hugged my hips and kicked frothily at my ankles, a form-fitting rose sweater with silk-trimmed cap sleeves and a plunging silk-edged neckline that made much of my bust, and dainty pink high heels that laced around my ankles. The colors went stunningly with my sun-kissed skin and dark curls. I looked feminine, soft, and sexy in a wholesome young woman way, not a Casa Blanc way. I strode briskly past rows of bookcases to where he stood waiting impatiently by the front door of the shop, and stabbed a finger in his direction. “If you treat me like one of your skanks again tonight, Barrons, you can just forget about our little arrangement. You need me as much as I need you. That makes us equal partners in my book.”
“Well, your book is just wrong,” he said flatly.
“No, yours is,” I said just as flatly. “Figure out another way to explain me. I don’t care what you come up with. But if you call me your latest piece of petunia again or make uncalled-for references to my mouth and oral sex with you, you and I are through.”
He raised a brow. “Petunia, Ms. Lane?”
I scowled. “Ass, Barrons.”
He crossed his arms and his gaze dropped to my glossy Lip-Venom red lips. “Am I to understand there are called-for references to your mouth and oral sex with me, Ms. Lane? I’d like to hear them.”
Eyes narrowed, I sidestepped his idiotic taunting. “Is this Mallucé guy really a vampire, Barrons?”
He shrugged. “He claims to be. He is surrounded by people who believe he is.” He scanned me from head to toe. “Last night you said you wanted to know what to expect so you could better select your attire. I told you we were going to visit a vampire in a Goth-den tonight. Why, then, Ms. Lane, do you look like a perky rainbow?”
I shrugged in kind. “Take me or leave me, Barrons.”
He took me. As I’d known he would.
There are a few things a hunting man can’t do without. His bloodhound is one of them.
McCabe lived twenty minutes to the north of the city, in my idea of a modernistic nightmare.
Mallucé lived ten minutes to the south of Dublin, entombed in garish tatters of the past. The Victorian Era, to be precise—those sixty-three years from 1837 to 1901 during which Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain and called herself Empress of India—immortalized, erroneously perhaps, by opulent, velvet-draped, sensualistic, and often cluttered home decor.