Luce wanted to live up to her name tonight. She’d just turned twenty-one, started her new job, moved into her own place last weekend and finally, finally had some goddamn privacy. Her life was her own and tonight she intended to start living it on her terms.
No more Mom watching at the living room window and coming out to chase off a date who kissed Luce too long. No more nosy brothers and sisters getting into her stuff or listening to her phone calls and tattling to Dad. No more parking on golf courses and twisting herself into a pretzel to screw in the backseat of her Mustang. She was an adult now. She could go where she wanted, when she wanted. She could cruise the clubs every night, and bring home whatever guy she wanted and no one could say shit about it.
There would be plenty of them, too. Luce needed sex, thought about it, craved it all the time. Nothing made her feel as beautiful or powerful as when she made it with a new guy.
She’d planned to start the evening at Infusion, the goth club that her friends always raved about, but she couldn’t find an open parking space within five blocks of the place. With Christmas only a week away, it seemed as if everyone had come out to party early. She drove south until she found a spot and wedged her car between an Escalade and a Hummer across the street from the Sunset Sails Hotel. Her mom and dad had honeymooned at the place, she remembered, and they’d been all broken up when it had closed. As Luce crossed the street and looked up at the peeling paint and broken windows of the ageing hotel, she felt a surge of disgust. The place had become an eyesore that needed to be torn down before the junkies turned it into a crack palace.
Luce turned to start the long walk north toward the lights and noise of the clubs, and stopped as a very cute guy almost walked into her. “Excuse me.”
The guy didn’t say a word, but went around her, stepped over the chain across the drive, and walked up to the front doors of the hotel.
“Hey, it’s closed,” she called after him, and frowned as the door opened and he disappeared inside. “I mean, it’s supposed to be closed.”
Luce looked around before she stepped over the chain and started up the drive. The glass doors had been boarded up, but someone had sawed through the two-by-fours, right down the middle. Red light glowed in the thin gap between the raw ends. As she got closer, Luce smelled something deliciously hot and sugary.
Here’s a bat.
At the same time she heard the whispering voice, another, cuter guy brushed shoulders with her as he walked past and went inside.
“What is going on?” Luce moved to the door and tried to peer through the gap. “You having a Christmas party in there?”
She wasn’t stupid; no way was she walking into what could be a flop house or meth lab. But while she couldn’t see anything but red light, she didn’t hear or smell anything scary. It was all quiet, warm and sweet.
“I’ll say I’m lost,” Luce muttered to herself as she curled her fingers around the door handle. “That I need directions to the club.”
The first thing Luce saw inside were hundreds of hurricane lamps made of pretty red glass with a rainbow sheen – carnival glass, her mother called it. Every one of them had been lit, and filled the deserted lobby with soft rosy light. No Christmas decorations, but someone had recently been working in here; paint-stained tarps cover the reception desk, the lobby furniture and part of the floor.
Nowhere did she see the two guys or another soul.
“Hello?” Her voice bounced off the walls and rang, high-pitched and nervous, in her own ears. “Is anybody in here?”
I am here. Here’s a bat.
“What?” Luce still couldn’t make sense of the words the voice kept murmuring. “I don’t see any bats.”
Here’s a bat.
No bats appeared, but the two cute guys came out from doors on either side of the desk. They stopped and stood a few feet away from her, not looking at her or anything in particular.
“Hey.” Luce tried to smile at the cutest of the pair, but his empty expression made her uneasy. “Sorry, I was going to ask . . . sorry.” She backed up a step and spun around, prepared to run. Only the voice began whispering again – stay, pretty girl, here’s a bat – and her legs went numb, and her head began to spin.
The voice wasn’t saying here’s a bat, Luce realized. It was one word, like a name: Heresabat. A strange name. “What do you want?”
The whisper echoed her words with slightly different emphasis. What do you want?
Luce’s fear drained away slowly, leaving a blessed emptiness. “Guys,” she heard herself say in a drowsy voice. “Sex with guys. A lot of guys. As many as I can take, all night, every night.” No one came near Luce, but she still felt a cool hand curl around her throat. “Heresabat will give you what you want, pretty girl. What will you give in return?”
“Anything.” The smell of cotton candy and gratitude warmed Luce’s cold heart. “Everything.” #
“This belongs to Missing Persons,” Homicide Detective Samantha Brown said as she tried to hand the file she’d just been given back to the records clerk. “We only get them when they’re found deceased.”
“Came from upstairs, detective, sorry,” the clerk said. “You want to bounce it back, talk to your captain first. Merry Christmas.” He pushed his file cart back out into the hall.
“Thanks a lot, Santa.” Sam dropped the file on top of the stack of paperwork she had yet to read, partially tipping it over. She glanced over at her partner, Rafael Suarez, who was typing up a witness statement. “Did someone cut the budget again and forget to tell us?”
“Medrano is on holiday until the new year, and Colley had to transport a juvenile back to New York,” Rafael said absently. “According to yet another memo that you didn’t read, we are to fill in.”
“Marvelous.” Sam opened the file and skimmed the top report. “Luce Figueroa, twenty-one, last seen by parents on December fourteenth, car towed from Bahia Mar parking lot on the morning of the fifteenth.” She reached for the weekly morgue report and checked it. “We haven’t had any Jane Does come in since August.” She kept reading. “Looks like she just got a new job and moved into her own apartment.”
“Perhaps she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities, and decided to take a street trip,” Rafael suggested.
“Road trip.” Sam flipped over to the next statement. “According to the parents, she just moved into this place the end of November.” As her phone rang, she reached out and groped until she found the receiver under the collapsed file stack and answered it. “Homicide, Detective Brown.”
“Infusion, your lord and master,” a man with a low, vaguely-British accent mocked. “What are you wearing?”
She laughed. “My badge, and a fully-loaded nine millimeter.”
“One would hope so.” Lucan, Sam’s lover and the lord paramount who ruled the southernmost Kyn territory in America, had a voice as velvety as the gloves he always wore. “But what are you wearing beneath them?”
“You should remember.” She glanced down at her tailored burgundy blouse and black trousers. Both were made of light, obscenely comfortable silk. “You had to redress me before I left the lair.”
“You kissed me,” he said. “Under the circumstances, I cannot be held responsible for any garments I may rip from your body.”
“Which is why I make you buy all my clothes now.” Sam closed the Figueroa file. “So what’s on your mind, Goldilocks?”
“Aside from thoughts of making love to you until you promise to stop using that ridiculous nickname for me? Nothing at all.” He sipped something. “Our beloved seigneur, however, has asked a favor of us for the holidays. As much as I would enjoy telling him to bugger off, I could not refuse.”
Sam rubbed her forehead. For centuries Lucan had despised Michael Cyprien, who as seigneur ruled over all of the suzerain in America, and his feelings had been reciprocated. Now that Michael had made Lucan one of his suzerain, their relationship vacillated awkwardly between strained, reluctant and hostile. “What does he want?”
“It seems that Jamys Durand, Thierry’s son, needs some time away from his blood kyn,” he said. “He is travelling here to spend Christmas in Fort Lauderdale. Michael asked if we would look after the boy for a few weeks.”
Sam tried to remember what Burke had told her about the Durands. They were an old French family somehow associated with Cyprien. “Why didn’t Jamys call and ask himself?”
“He’s mute,” Lucan said. “He was tortured by the Brethren. They tore out his tongue.”
Reflexively she swallowed. “Jesus.”
“Had nothing to do with it, I assure you,” he said. “But there is some hope for him now. Alexandra has operated on him and repaired the damage.”
Dr. Alexandra Keller, a human reconstructive surgeon who had been accidentally turned to Kyn by one of her immortal patients, had changed many lives. Her skills had repaired a great deal of the damage done to the Kyn, and Lucan had even used her transformed blood to heal a gunshot wound that should have killed Sam.
“Since we heal instantly, why isn’t he talking?” she asked. “Or did Alex mess up?”
“The surgery was a success, but the boy will not speak,” Lucan admitted. “I spoke briefly to Alex, and she believes Jamys is remaining silent out of fear that the results will disappoint his father and family. I’ll wager sending him here for the holidays was her suggestion.”
“Makes sense.” Sam eyed her partner. The Darkyn followed strict customs and rituals, most of which had been practiced during medieval times. Whenever one of the immortals came into another’s territory, all sorts of elaborate, formal introductions had to be performed. “Do you need Rafael back at the club for the meet and greet?”
“No, Burke is handling the arrangements. Young Jamys travels alone, and should be no trouble.” Lucan’s tone changed. “Of course, if you could see your way to leaving work early, we could spend some time in our bedchamber, discussing how we might entertain the boy.”