because of what I am that he’s alive today. To make matters worse, he decided that sex with a vampire while acting as a host was a pretty damned good way to get his rocks are So he comes here to enjoy fucking vampires. Anonymous vampires. It’s me he doesn’t want to fuck anymore.

My hand curls into a fist, crushing the note. “When did he leave this?”

Culebra avoids my gaze. “Today. I told him you were on your way.”

“So the coward didn’t wait to face me in person? Why would you take this? You know how I feel about Max and his new hobby.”

Culebra holds up a hand. “Max hasn’t come here to be a host for some time. Whatever he needed to get out of his system, he seems to have succeeded.”

“You mean me, right? He needed to get me out of his system.”

Culebra shakes his head. “Read the damn note, wil you?”

I drag my eyes back to the note, open my hand, smooth the paper against my thigh. I can’t imagine being interested in anything Max has to say to me. The bastard left without so much as a good-bye.

The handwriting is cramped, uneven. As if he wrote the note in a hurry.

Anna. I need your help. Call me. Max.

“Wow.” I wave the note toward Culebra. “This makes me want to drop everything and ring him right up. He doesn’t even say please. Christ. Why would I want to help him?”

Culebra lifts his shoulders. “It must be important.”

“He didn’t tel you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Didn’t tel you what exactly?”

“For Christ sake, cal him, wil you?” Culebra’s irritation flares, radiates outward from his thoughts and burns into my head. Don’t be so goddamned stubborn.

I don’t even know if I still have his number. A last whining excuse.

Of course you still have his number. In your cell.

He’s right. Not that I’l give him the satisfaction of tel ing him. Just like I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing deep down I want to cal Max. Only to satisfy my curiosity.

Only to find out how Max plans to grovel his way back into my good graces. Only to enjoy turning down whatever he wants.

His leaving was no laughing matter, but tel ing him to go to hel would be good for a laugh, not to mention my ego.

I turn my back on Culebra and stomp out, letting one thought drift back.

Fucking men.



Do I want to cal Max? It’s been eight months since the last time we ran into each other in Beso de la Muerte. He was on the arm of a vampire, stinking of sex and blood. My stomach stil roils at the memory.

Why the hel would I want to cal Max? On the off chance that he wants to tel me what an ass he’s been and to thank me at long last for saving his ass in Mexico?


It irritates me to realize I’m curious. It irritates me to realize I want to know why he wants to talk to me.

It irritates the hel out of me to realize I know how long it’s been since I’ve seen him without doing the math.

I’m sure Culebra knows more than he let on. Max is a drug enforcement agent. He spends half his life in Mexico and has used Culebra as an informant. Not in an official capacity.

Culebra has a lot of contacts on both sides of the law and the border. He and Max have a quid pro quo arrangement.

Culebra helps Max when he can and Max keeps quiet when he comes to Beso de la Muerte to ensure those under Culebra’s protection are not hassled.

At least that’s the way it worked when Max and I were together.

A lifetime ago.

My cel phone rings just as I’m pul ing into the garage at the cottage. Cal er ID shows it’s my partner, David.


“Where are you?” he asks, interrupting.

No greeting. “At home. Why?”

“Stay there. I’m on the way.”

He’s gone before I can comment on his abruptness or ask the reason behind it. He sounds angry, and I can’t imagine why. Business has been going wel. I’ve been playing nice with our new partner, Tracey, an ex-cop. She’s proven herself good at the job and through her contacts, we’ve had more work than the three of us can handle. I’ve managed to stick around the last month. No unexpected trips out of town, no excuses for missing telephone cal s or office duty.

So, what’s his problem?

I let myself in through the back door and start a fresh pot of coffee. At least having just fed, my head is clear. No risk of snapping David’s off, literal y or figuratively, if he pisses me off.

Blood — the vampire equivalent of Valium.

The coffee is ready. I set the kitchen table for two and take a cup out to the living room to look through the Sunday paper while I wait. I’m no sooner settled onto the couch when the doorbel rings.

As soon as I answer the door, David storms his way past me. “Are you alone?”

“If you mean is Stephen here, no, he left.”

He traipses into the kitchen.

“What the hel is wrong with you?” I shut the door and fol ow him. “Somebody stomp on your kitten?”

He ignores me. Pours a mug of coffee. Takes a drink.

Stal ing tactics, I assume, because his hand is shaking.

Then he turns.

David is a big guy. He played a decade of professional footbal before injuries sidelined him. But while he adjusted to life without constant pain, he found he missed the adrenaline rush too much to mire himself in a typical desk job. Bounty hunting was the perfect fit. It takes detective work to hunt a skip down, cunning and resourcefulness to trap him, physical strength to bring him in.

It takes the ability to make the hair on a skip’s arms stand at attention when David skewers him with the look.

The “don’t fuck with me because I’m not in the mood” one he’s giving me now.

The only effect it’s having on me, though, is the urge to punch him. Hard.

I push my palms against my thighs to keep from giving in to the urge. I like him. Most of the time. I stare up into his face, narrow my eyes and frown to mimic his hard-ass expression.“What the fuck is going on?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Jesus, David.” Exasperation is churning my stomach. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He slams the mug down on the counter. “I was in Horton Plaza this morning. Guess who I ran into?”

The urge is getting stronger and tougher to resist. If I slugged him, when he came to, maybe he’d start talking sense. But I’l give him one more chance. I temper my voice with reasonableness. “I wasn’t there. How the hel should I know who you ran into?”

He leans toward me, jabs a finger at my face. “Judith Wiliams.”


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