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Books: Volume Eleven
Just before dawn in New Orleans ...
He waited on the marble steps, casually leaning against the ornate wrought iron rail, simply watching the Spanish moss lazily hang from wide branch trees. If he was gonna bring ‘em anywhere, it would have to be Ophelia’s.
It had all the accoutrements of fine Southern living. Her pleasure palace had an immaculate white exterior, was discretely out of the way, used its renowned bed and breakfast status as a nice cover, had no working girls that catered to the fanged population, and the establishment was on very good terms with the local police—whom her girls regularly serviced. They understood that firearms were okay to stay with VIPs who in the serve and protect professions.
Ophelia’s house had grand, Antebellum interiors were all done up in white and gold silk brocades, with no hint of vampire anything lurking anywhere. A well stocked bar and well stacked babes; this was the American way. A sentimental sigh escaped his lips as the dense humidity and still air made his clothes stick to him. It had been so long since he’d been here hanging out with Mike. He was just glad that some things in the universe were fixed institutions. Change wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Within minutes, a petite blond in a tasteful white linen jacket and short, business-length skirt, opened the door with a bright smile. She smoothed back her chignon as Rider’s gaze calmly assessed her ample bosom that was slightly constricted by her shell-pink blouse. She peeked around him and waved at Bobby and Dan, then returned her attention to him.
“Why you must be Mr. Smith,” she said in a long, breathy drawl. “Ms. Ophelia told us to take very good care of you during your visit.”
Rider tipped his hat. “Ma’am, much obliged for the hospitality.”
“Please come on in and make yourselves at home, suh. The lady of the house would like a word with you, as well.”
Rider turned with a smile. “Gentlemen, welcome to the best of the South.”
“I can see why Ms. Ophelia has taken such a shine to you,” the young hostess crooned. “Do come in out of this insufferable heat and enjoy our bar while you wait for your rooms to be readied. Right this way, gentlemen.”
He could feel the cool air from blasting central air conditioning units wafting around her and making her nipples tight under her semi-sheer blouse. He gave her an appreciative glance as she held the door open and waited for them to assemble in the grand, white marble foyer. That she was wearing pearls, truly tickled him, and he loved the five inch black stilettos that put an extra sashay in her sexy gait. Great legs, for a tiny little thing. She looked so dangerously corporate, but then again, right out of a video, that he knew he needed smelling salts for the younguns behind him.
Rider took off his hat and glanced up at the heavy, crystal chandelier to keep from chuckling out loud, especially when she closed the door and blew Dan a kiss as she rounded them, and then brushed up against Bobby before leading them toward the parlor.
He leaned into Dan as their hostess strutted ahead of them. “Close your mouth and wipe Bobby’s chin before she turns around. This is why I didn’t think you all could stand a parade of options. The book was best.”
“Uh huh,” Dan said, mesmerized. “But if she’s on the list,” he whispered, “I really don’t need to shop.”
“Patience,” Rider whispered back with a smirk. He glanced over his shoulder at Bobby. “You need a pulse check, or can you make it to the parlor? And take off your hat in the house around ladies.”
Bobby whipped off his hat, and wiped his brow. “I’m cool.”
Rider shook his head.
“Mr. Smith, would you mind having a word with the lady of the house in the drawing room? You gentleman have a seat. May I offer you a beverage?”
“Uh, huh,” Dan said.
“Uh, huh,” Bobby repeated.
Rider sighed with a smile. “How about a beer for these road-weary souls, ma’am?”
She unsuccessfully tried to swallow a smile. “Any particular brand?” She stared at Bobby and Dan, waiting.
“Uh, huh,” Bobby said, his voice failing.
“Oh, he is divine,” she said, laughing behind her hand.
“Forgive them. How about if you make it two Coronas?”
“All right… but, uhmmm… won’t you two gentlemen have a seat?
“Sit. Heel. Stay,” Rider said with a grin. “Hon, they don’t get out much.”
Both Bobby and Dan sat quickly and kept their eyes on the attractive hostess.
“That is just so darling!” she squealed at a pitch that made both Dan and Bobby wipe their brows. “Let me get you into the drawing room so you and Ms. Ophelia can chat, and so we can get these boys a room.”
“Hon, you must have been reading my mind.”
Rider gave Bobby and Dan one last look and ran his fingers through his hair as he followed the hostess. He calmly waited for her to pull open two large, walnut, recessed doors and close them behind him. But to his chagrin, there were two women in the room. One was the buxom, long-stemmed blond with Dolly Parton proportions wrapped in an expensive, white designer suit, and the other was the last person on earth he’d expected to see.
“Oh, honey, you have been a veritable stranger!” Ophelia gushed, sweeping over to Rider and throwing open her arms. “Where have you been you naughty boy—all these years, you just put old Ophelia down completely.” She hugged him hard until her breasts crushed the air from his lungs, and then held him back. “You’re lucky I even take your calls, and you’re even luckier that you caught me before the management changed.” She pecked his cheek and led him to the sofa, adjusting the one button suit jacket she wore without a blouse beneath it. “Let me introduce you to—”
She laughed and stood.
“You two know each other?” Ophelia glanced from Gabrielle to Rider. “Small, small world. Have you been stealing my best clients?” she teased with a wink toward Gabrielle. “But in this business, it isn’t polite to ask how you two know each other.”
“Management change?” Rider stuttered. “Since when?”
“Oh, now, hon, don’t take it so hard. Ophelia is getting up in years, and the Mediterranean is calling my name—maybe I’ll just go on and marry some rich Greek tycoon like Jackie O did?” She laughed and went over to the bar. “I’m retiring.”
Rider’s gaze followed her stacked form. For fifty years plus, and with expert cosmetic surgery, Ophelia was well preserved. “Darlin’, you just go on ahead and do that. You deserve it, even though you are far too young and far too gorgeous to be retiring. But the tycoons abroad will scoop you up so fast your head will spin.”
She brought him back a tumbler of Jack Daniels as Gabrielle shook her head. “Oh, Jack Rider, I’ma miss you so much.” She spun toward Gabrielle. “Do you see why I love him so?”
Gabrielle nodded. “I do. He’s one of a kind. They broke the mold.”
He saluted her with his glass and took a steady sip from it. “You couldn’t have transferred your enterprise to a better businesswoman.”
The smile lingered between them and he noticed that her entire presence had changed. Gabrielle had gained weight in all the right places, and no longer looked like a fragile, anorectic vampire feeder. The woman was voluptuous, full. Her hips were gently padded and her gaunt pelvic bones were gone, now hidden behind a nice layer of feminine flesh. She’d also changed her hair from the harsh Goth black that it once was; it was now a shoulder-length, soft auburn hue with highlights that complimented her one green eye and one blue eye. Her skin looked healthy and tanned, as though she’d been on the beach. Her coloring looked great in the soft, moss green suit she wore. He couldn’t help noticing her shapely legs as the sat again with a wise smile and crossed them.
“Well,” Ophelia exclaimed on a breathy exhale, clasping her hands. “Now that we are all acquainted, we should discuss a matter of delicacy.” She patted the sofa next to her for Rider to sit, and he did so with care.
“My nephew is out there, Mr. Smith,” Gabrielle said smiling, and then sipping her Cognac.
“Aw, man, Gabby… had I known, I wouldn’t have bought the boy here—but if you ladies send him home—”
“I’m amused, Rider, not a sadist. How my sister sleeps at night with her son in this condition is beyond me.”
Rider closed his eyes. “Bless you.”
Both women laughed.
“I just don’t want him to know I’m expanding my Southern operations after the financial disaster that hit my Manhattan property. How do you explain to the insurance company that…” she glanced at Ophelia and then censored herself. “It’s bad enough that he knows I’m a witch, he doesn’t need to know about this type of enterprise.”
“We just wanted you to be discrete,” Ophelia said, holding Rider’s hand. “I’ll ring for Tessa, and she can show them their rooms. But aren’t you getting any work done today, honey bunch, just for old time’s sake?”
He laughed and kissed the back of her hand. “I’ve gotta set an example.”
“Well, you just oughta set an example for those boys and show ‘em how an old gunslinger—”
“I’ll just indulge my vices at the bar,” he said laughing.
“Mind if I join you and we stay in here, so my nephew is none the wiser?”
Gabrielle offered Rider a wink and Ophelia dropped his hand with a disappointed sigh.
“You guys are no fun,” Ophelia said with a disappointed sigh.
“If my nephew thinks his Aunt Gabby is in the house…” Gabrielle said grinning.
“When he’s getting laid for the first time…” Rider chimed in, finishing her sentence.
“I know, I know, you’ll ruin the boy for life.” Ophelia said, throwing her hands up. “But I still don’t see why it makes a difference if our dear old friend gets taken care of? However, if he’s adamant about playing camp counselor, I’ll send in my best girl for your nephew and keep you two sneaks hidden back here.”
“No, no, no,” Gabrielle said, holding up her hands. “Use Jasmine for him.”
“Jasmine? But the child is practically flat-chested,” Ophelia fussed. “You are gonna run this establishment into the ground, chile. You want ‘em to get what they can’t normally have here, and keep coming back, to have a hankerin’—”
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Rider said, taking a deep swig from his glass and wincing. “Gabby’s got a point. Send Bobby a girl that is not far from his age, if you’ve got one, without implants, who has a little innocence to her eyes, ya know?”
Gabrielle gently clinked her glass against his. “Jasmine is from the Philippines, by way of Thailand. Long brown hair, gorgeous doe eyes, sweet, tiny, beautiful. She looks like a girl he might meet at college. I don’t want him making the more flamboyant working girls a lifestyle habit.”
“I hear you,” Rider said, staring into his drink. “First patterning is the one that always sticks.
‘”She’s actually not a working girl for me yet… she’s a young apprentice of mine. Just turned eighteen. So, for her maiden voyage, under my house rules it’s no girls under age, I think it would do them both good.”
Gabrielle nodded and stared at Rider.
“I found her at thirteen years old while acquiring girls overseas and they had her in… it was horrible—she’d been there since five, and they were prepping her to be vamp bait.”
Gabrielle glanced at Ophelia, who seemed confused with the term vamp-bait, but she left her statement open for interpretation by the current house Madame without adding definition.
“Anyway,” she continued, “That’s why I got called in to assess their girls’ readiness, since I do have a bit of an international reputation for the best establishments that service evening clientele. They were expanding; I had the expertise, and had lost several girls.” Gabrielle sighed and sipped her Cognac slowly. “I haven’t asked her to work, yet, while in the States, just to come with me and study so she’ll know the craft and know how to deal with that type of paying customer. They sold her to me, can you believe it?” She ruffled her fingers through her hair. “I might just retire my damned self.”
“Well, let’s not dwell on unpleasantries, honey,” Ophelia said. “This business has its more difficult side; we all know that. So, I’ll ask Tessa to explain to your nephew that he’s getting one of the best our house has to offer, and that’s why he won’t be receiving the wish book. Does that sound like a compromise? I just hope he’s not too disappointed about not being able to select from the book.”
Rider lifted his glass. “Thank you, darlin’. I don’t think he’ll mind, if Jasmine looks like what Gabby just described.”
“But what about the cute blond? He’s adorable.”
Rider smiled. “He’s grown. This ain’t his first time. Give the man a wish book.”
“Done.” Ophelia batted her long eyelashes. “But I think Tessa is sweet on him, she came in here with the widest grin… and she has a cute little cheerleader outfit.”
Gabrielle chuckled into her drink and Rider laughed.
“Ophelia, if you send her in there in a potato sack, I don’t think the man will have a problem with that.”
“Then you all just made my day. The other girls are upstairs occupied—this is our high season, you know. He’d have to wait about an hour, because a couple of our regulars just insisted on going overtime this afternoon; I don’t know what’s in the air. Our whole schedule is running behind and that poor thing didn’t look like he’d last that long.”
She casually motioned to the front door security monitors that were mounted in the wall behind the large mahogany desk. “A lot of big conferences are in town and we’re gearing up for Mardi gras soon. But from the look on his face when he got here, we need to get that young man up to a room soon.”
Ophelia came to Rider as he laughed, leaned down, and pecked him on the cheek. “I have to go finish coordinating things in the other house and I’ma hafta leave ya, sugar. I’ll have Marguerite answer the phones and front door—but we are now all booked and don’t have any other appointments, so I really need to get along.”
Rider stood and hugged her in a warm embrace. “You take care of yourself, baby.”
“Oh, now you know I will.” She placed her palm in the center of his chest for a moment. “Even though we’re booked solid, I would have taken a management prerogative to give you a little something free on the house—you sure you’re all right?”
He kissed her and smiled. “I’m just fine. Be well.”
She brushed his mouth with another quick kiss that lingered. “You bring your tall friend back here, too. That big guy.”
“He’s probably getting married,” Rider said laughing.
Ophelia waved her hand and sucked her teeth as she walked away. “Aren’t they all? Gabrielle tell him, we’ve heard it all.”
“Bye, Ophelia,” Gabrielle said waving and chuckling quietly.
They both watched her leave and Rider kept his eyes fastened on the open door.
“Your boys will be all right, Dad,” Gabrielle said with a grin. She stood and walked over to the doors, and then closed and locked them. “Once they clear the area, I’ll come out of hiding. All I’d need is for Tessa to parade them past this drawing room on the way upstairs and for Bobby to faint on us.”
“Sorta like having your Mom bust in the bathroom on your while you’ve got your pants down around your ankles and a Playboy in your lap.” He chuckled and polished off his drink, feeling cheerful.
“Sounds like the voice of experience,” she said with a wink.
“Nah, not the kid. I’ve never been busted but have friend that were, and trust me, they turned out as some twisted SOBs.”
They both laughed as she took up their glasses and headed toward the bar. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and raised them for her to see.
“Mind if I smoke?”
She hesitated. “Yes.”
“But Ophelia has ashtrays everywhere in here.”
“I mind if you smoke, because I want you to stop killing yourself, Jack Rider.”
He sighed. “Well, then is it all right if I drink myself to death? Geese Louise, four hours and no smokes? You’re worse than an airline.”
She came back to the sofa, kicked her shoes off, and handed him his refreshed drink, calmly sipping hers. “Yes, we have rules about our clients committing suicide on our premises.”
“But you accept the walking dead. Explain, Lucy.”
She laughed. “Touché. But they came in like that, so what can we do?”
“Aw, Gabby, tell me you’re not gonna turn this joint into a vamp palace.”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
He glanced at her. “I hope you don’t.” He set his drink down. “How’re you doing? You look good.”
She smiled and set her glass down very carefully. “I look better than I am.”
“I look better than I am, too, which oughta tell you where I’m at.”
They both laughed softly.
“Yeah,” she finally said. “They burned us both.”
“Hey, I’m sorry Yonnie left you like that, kiddo, but I’m glad you can stand the sunlight. Once he was elevated…”
“Unless he meant to turn me, a love nick is an easy purge.”
“He’s a Master,” Rider said carefully. “I got a nick from a second and Marlene couldn’t—”
“You, my friend, are working with a different set of circumstances.”
He eased his drink up to his mouth. “Talk to me.”
“You never bargained for power in the dark arts, nor has Marlene… I can purge a Master’s bite if the recipient hasn’t flat-lined. Most dark covens have to learn to do that to protect their own, given whom we interface with on a regular basis. White-lighters haven’t made those types of blood oaths or choices, so their cure options are limited.”
“Damn, darlin’, what did you bargain away to get juice like that? Not that that’s my business, or anything, but I like you. Wanna see you around for the long haul.”
“It was something I did in the rashness of youth,” she said quietly, staring down into her tumbler. “There were four of us, remember, who are all much older than Marjorie.” She looked up at Rider. “Susan went to ash in Yonnie’s arms. After Lilith went topside, Rebecca took her own life—we have yet to recover the body, which is why Marj doesn’t even know.”
“Shit. When did that happen?”
“Couple of weeks ago,” Gabrielle said quietly, now stirring her glass with her finger. “Elizabeth fled to Europe right after that, and I haven’t seen her since. Marjorie was the only one that didn’t grow up like us.”
“What did you bargain away?” He took her glass from her, set it down, and held her hand.
“My father beat my mother half to death one night. Marjorie was still a crib baby. The rest of us were twelve to fifteen. I was the oldest, and he liked to visit me the best. She finally worked up the nerve to accuse him and tell him to stop.” She looked at Rider hard. “At that time, I didn’t feel like anybody above that I was praying to was listening. I hated being powerless. In my view, I didn’t have a soul; I had a hollow place in my heart caused from every night he’d slip into my room. I was numb, and wanted him dead, my mother and baby sister alive… my other sisters safe. So, I crossed the line. I didn’t know hope existed until I saw with my own eyes that a Council Level vampire could become a Neteru.”
“What did you do?” he whispered, holding her by both arms. “You say you crossed over. What does that mean in plain terms?”
“It means that I bargained my soul off to the ruler of Level Seven, in exchange to be able to purge vamp and werewolf bites, see into their realms, advise them… ever wonder why my establishments don’t have to pay mob protection monies or taxes?” She closed her eyes. “I was fifteen and had lost hope. I gave it to them in a ritual, and my father got sick immediately after that. The bastard keeled over with a heart attack. That, to me, then, was power. My nemesis was gone. My mother and sisters could live in peace. We four older girls went to work in this business so Marj would never have to, and we let Mom retire from her waitress job without ever knowing what we did. We made a mint, and until your Guardian team blew through our lives and took in my sister and her children, I had no idea that there was another way.”
He slowly dropped his hands away from her arms.
“Don’t hate me, Rider, and please don’t judge me.”
He pushed her auburn tresses behind her ear. “A fifteen year old kid and her sister molested by her Dad, her mother brutalized, and nobody coming in to assist… how can I judge you?”
“My sister, Marj, does. She never saw the beatings, never had him put his hands on her at night, never feared the thuds and screams that came through the wall… never saw her mother bloodied and unconscious. But she thinks I’m an irreverent, money-grubbing whore who dabbles in esoteric matters to amuse my jaded perspective.”
Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair and kept her eyes shut tightly. “She didn’t understand that, to me, money meant power, safety—our mother had no money and was powerless. The brothels make money, Rider, especially the ones that cater to the underground trade. The dark side had taken away the monster, our father. He’s what I feared at night as a kid, not vampires.”
He sighed and she opened her eyes.
“And you needed Yonnie to turn you, to make you his mate to protect you from having to repay the debt, especially after you found out there was another side. The Light.”
She nodded and two large tears welled in her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered. “There was a strange security in knowing that the dark realms would have had my soul, but it would have resided on Level Six… and until I was staked or met daylight, I would have been a young, beautiful vampire with him as an eternal mate, but I would not become an old crone—the final outcome of all dark witches in the end… hags!”
She covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes wild. “When you’re fifteen, fifty years seems like a lifetime away. Then you look up and you’re forty, then forty-five, and you realize that the sand is running out quickly in the hour glass.”
Stunned silent, he wasn’t sure what to say as her tears fell.
“We all wanted to be turned by a sexy, handsome, kind, Master. It was our only way out; we’d been in the craft so long. We didn’t know of another way.”
“You need to run this by our team, maybe there’s a—”
“I’m afraid to breathe this, and please don’t. If I start doing things now that look like I’m moving away from my promise, they could call in the contract early. I have five years left before there’s a problem—don’t speed up time for me, Rider, by messing with this.”
“I’m glad he didn’t turn you,” Rider said quietly. “As long as you’re alive, you’ve got a fighting chance. You know they’ve got serious juice upstairs that can reverse things, I’m living witness.”
She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “You give me faith.”
“No,” he said, holding up his hands before his chest. He pointed upward. “For this job, you need Him. I’m a has-been, rough rider, who drinks too much, smokes, and brings innocent young Guardians of The Light to houses of ill repute, nice as they are, I’m just speaking metaphorically. But you’re talking to a guy who also has a penchant for watching pole dancers, who cheated on Tara till she—”
Gabrielle’s finger against his mouth stopped his tumble of words. “That was created by screwed up circumstances, but she wanted you.”
“Yeah, well, that’s a whole different conversation.”
“Can you still feel them?” she whispered.
He just stared at Gabrielle for a moment, but didn’t answer.
“I can,” she admitted quietly. “Maybe it’s because I’m on the wrong side of things, but I’m locked to him… every time he’s with her, I can feel it, and until he releases, I can’t release—not that I’m big into sex.” She smiled when Rider tilted his head. “Most of us aren’t who work this profession. It’s a job, a theatrical performance.” She chuckled sadly. “My Dad took my libido… Yonnie was the only one that brought it back, and I adored him for that.”
“That why you couldn’t leave the kid in Thailand.”
“A bad witch with a good heart,” she said, tears streaming down her face as she smiled. She dabbed at them. “I heard you were called ‘man with a good heart.’ It fits.”
He looked away and picked up his drink again. “That was a long time ago.”
“It’s still true. You brought two young kids who were bouncing off the walls to the only place you could think of that was clean, fun, wasn’t vamp or coven infested, trying to make their very abnormal lives normal… and I watched you sit here like a nervous father, practically wringing your hands to make sure everything would be all right. That was sweet.”
She kissed the bridge of his nose when he turned to stare at her. “And you would sit here for four hours, patiently waiting for them to come down, and then pour themselves into a vehicle—without ever indulging yourself… because you’re still in love with a female vamp who you couldn’t bring over into The Light.” She brushed his mouth with a tender kiss. “That wasn’t your fault.”
“At this point, whose fault it was or not is moot—for all of it,” he said, staring into her eyes. “You have to find a legit way outta that dark deal… but I’ll respect your request, only for the moment, not to press the point. I’ll let you break the news to your family. But if I see you going down, it’ll be my business and I’ll tell it, because I consider you a friend. Anybody who tells me not to smoke myself to death and means it is a friend.”
She stroked his hair back. “I’m glad we’re friends. I need one of those.”
“Well, friend,” he said, taking up her hand and kissing her knuckles, “if you get caught up in something bad and need a safe house—just like you did for us, we owe you. Call me, call us; forget all that dysfunctional family drama between you and Marj. My family was messed up, too, in different ways. However, we don’t leave our own and you helped us at a time when we woulda been screwed.”
“I see why she cried bitter tears when he brought her back to the house in Manhattan.”
“Don’t tell me,” Rider whispered.
“You need to know this,” she said holding his hand tighter. “He drained my in-house stock… and then turned to me. She was so weak, but she stood in front of me and begged for my life. She’s a Guardian, Rider… trapped in a vampire’s body. I tried to push her aside; I wanted him to turn me!”
Gabrielle dropped his hand and briefly covered her mouth to hold back a pending sob. “But she told me he’d flat-line me in his condition. I wouldn’t turn and could wind up ash like my sister had. She knew from his elevation bite, had dredged him, and knew what had happened to Susan… She was crying, but he wouldn’t listen. Then she became very still, ripped her top down and told him to feed her then take her to V-Point. She seduced him in post-battle to keep you alive and me alive. Don’t you understand? He had to respond, it is their way, it’s encoded in Master DNA.”
Her words had become thick from tears as sobs slowly took over to wrack her body. Soon she was in his arms, his hand petting her long, auburn hair.
“They left us, Rider,” she wailed. “It was situational, but the outcome was the same. He was the only male I could ever trust, the only one that kept me safe—all that time there was none, but he never let anything happen to me, would be with me when…”
Rider rocked her quietly, nuzzling the top of her hair, holding her tightly against his chest and shutting his eyes to keep from crying himself. Somehow what she was, or what she did, or what deals she’d made seemed so very unimportant. Hurt was hurt, pain was pain, and this woman had had enough traumas in her life to rightfully cry a river.
“How do such good-hearted women get such a raw deal? I’m talking about both of you.”
“I’m not good,” she said, breathing hard, and sucking back the sobs.
“You’re not evil, and that’s a real high mark in my book.”
She hugged him hard and then wiped her face, blotting her nose with the heel of her palm. “Some fun afternoon at a whore house. The boys get to go upstairs and play; you get to sit down here with a forty-five year old prostitute and play her therapist. No wonder Yonnie didn’t want me.”
“He wanted one of his own, needed that or he would have killed you.” Rider smoothed her damp hair away from her cheeks. “Ever consider that the man loved you and didn’t want to end your life?”
She stared at him for a long time.
“Yeah,” He said softly, hoping she’d accept the pretty lie from a man so that her broken heart could heal. “He needed one of his own.”
“Maybe that’s what you and I need… somebody who’s been half nicked, knows the burn, and knows the heartbreak, knows exactly where to deliver a vamp passion release nick.” Her pretty eyes glistened with new, unshed tears. “What do you need, Jack Rider?” She unbuttoned her suit jacket and exposed her black, lacy bra.
“A cigarette,” he said hoarsely.
She reached for the pack on the table, tapped the back of it hard, and then pulled a cigarette out of it between her lips. She kept her eyes on him as she leaned in to him to light it. They both watched the flame as he struck a match and touched the end of the butt with it. She pulled in a hard drag that made the red ember glow at the tip.
“It’s just like their eyes… when they need something isn’t it?” she said, glancing at the smoldering cigarette. “I have a lavender sachet upstairs. I don’t mind wearing the fragrance for a friend. And I have a funny feeling that my reaction to you wouldn’t be theatrical. It’s been a long time for me, too, ‘man with a good heart.’”
She handed the cigarette off to him like she was passing a joint, and allowed the smoke to slowly filter out of her nose.
He nodded and swallowed hard, suddenly remembering what a woman in his arms felt like. Pain killer.“What else do you need, Jack Rider. Name it. It’s on the house, friend to friend—and that’s a standing offer. Any time.”