With luck, he would complete his errand and be back before Hayden arrived. The nature of his business was uncertain, however; he couldn’t be sure he’d be there in time. For all her skills—both in and out of bed—Cassandra could be difficult. As witches, in his experience, tended to be.
Then there was the matter of his most recent dilemma.
For the past 24 hours he had been hungry to the point of desperation, not for blood but for sex, which was not at all customary. All day images of Hayden had insisted on forcing themselves into his thoughts. When he’d kissed her the previous morning he had done it with a single goal in mind: he had wanted to seduce her into changing her mind about him. Clearly, she was skeptical of him and well she should be. But that skepticism wasn’t going to get him what he wanted. And as Hayden had stood looking up at him, her full lips slightly parted, he had understood that she desired him and he had complied.
That should have been the end of it.
The trouble was the kiss hadn’t been an ending at all. The strength of the connection between them had been the one truly surprising thing that had happened to him since his transformation. If he were the sort of being who didn’t mind losing control, the moment of intimacy they had shared wouldn’t have bothered him.
Of course, he wasn’t that sort of being.
Yet he wanted to see Hayden. Or at least to get some relief. . . and if anyone could give it to him it was Cassandra.
The witch’s home, a rambling Victorian set well back from the road, was already visible and in another moment he would be at her door. There would be plenty of time not only for business but for pleasure. Already he could feel the blood rushing to his groin, but the face that rose to meet his kisses wasn’t Cassandra’s.
Until he had met Cassandra a year ago, he’d never been with anyone belonging to her species. Since then he had learned to appreciate her consummate ability to tempt—and to satisfy. Just as he had also developed a healthy respect for her inability to form any sort of emotional attachment to the men she slept with. For her, men were merely a means to an end. Cassandra wanted sexual satisfaction, with no strings attached.
Which had been fine with him. Or at least it had been until he’d met Hayden.
He ascended the steps to Cassandra’s and raised the tarnished knocker, which was shaped like the back of a cobra. Within seconds the door swung open and the witch stood before him, dressed only in black lingerie and silk stockings. Like Hayden, she was tall, and the sheer black stockings hooked to her garters made her already long legs seem even longer. But where Hayden’s hair was pale and straight, Cassandra’s was so dark it shone blue in the dim entryway light. Where Hayden’s body was lithe, Cassandra was voluptuous, with heavy breasts and ample curves.
For some reason that displeased him.
Cassandra reached out a manicured hand and pulled him inside, shutting the door behind her. Before he had the chance to say a single word, she planted her scarlet lips on his. “Can I help you with this?” she murmured, cupping his erection.
He groaned aloud, so great was his need for release. Breaking their embrace, he placed his hands on her shoulders. Yes, you damn well can help me with it, he thought even as he heard himself saying
“Not quite yet.”
“Business before pleasure?” she asked lightly, raising her gaze from his groin to his face. “That’s a first.”
“I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a rush,” he apologized, doing his damnedest to ignore her hand caressing the rock-hard bulge beneath his trousers. “You do have it, don’t you?”
She didn’t answer him right away, only gazed at him as if his jumbled thoughts were a puzzle she was slowly piecing together. He fought the irrational urge to stalk out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
Her clairvoyance was irritating the hell out him.
When Hayden somehow tapped into his thoughts the day before, he’d felt the pull of the connection between them. Cassandra’s foray into his mind was another thing entirely. He didn’t feel connected—if anything, her penetrating gaze made him feel even more cut off.
Not that he could blame her, he admitted, chiding himself for his sudden moodiness. After all, witches weren’t exactly known for their warm and fuzzy dispositions.
Nor were vampires.
So why couldn’t he stop thinking of Hayden? And how in God’s name had he lost his erection when one of the sexiest women on the Eastern seaboard was unbuttoning his shirt? Gently, he placed his hand around Cassandra’s fingertips. “You do have it, don’t you,” he repeated, a bit more firmly this time.
“Of course I have it,” Cassandra said, her ego ruffling. “The spell was a bit difficult to track down, but the thing itself was simple enough.”
“May I see it?”
“Certainly,” she said. “I wouldn’t want you to worry yourself unnecessarily.”
The dripping sarcasm in her tone didn’t escape him. Cassandra turned away abruptly and disappeared through the beaded curtains that marked the entrance to workshop.
“Thank you,” he called after her in a botched attempt to salvage the situation. Well, if his goal had been to alienate the being that held his future in her hands, he had certainly succeeded, he thought wryly. When he had left his mansion he had intended to enjoy himself to the fullest, even if only for an hour or two. Now he had probably gotten Cassandra angry enough to ensure that his almost unbearable need for release would become, if it were possible, even more difficult to endure. She hadn’t been all too pleased with him to start with—she was relentless in her insistence that his refusal to join the undead who were cooperating with the Watchers was an act of the utmost selfishness—but now she was downright furious.
Could he bring himself to take her to bed?
He sighed. The nature of the question gave him his answer. Maybe if her hair had been blonde? Why should it matter, whether or not her hair resembled Hayden’s? he wondered. In that moment he hated
Hayden with even more fervor than when he had first spotted her a month before. He couldn’t stand the power she had over him. Come to think of it, the idea that he would never see her again after tomorrow was an immense source of relief to him.
Cassandra reappeared in the doorway clad in a loose blouse and madras skirt. He wondered if she was still wearing the lingerie underneath her outfit, then dismissed the thought. Did it matter if she were? After all, it was already clear to both of them that the prospect of sex was highly unlikely.
In her left hand she held a blue vial no more than a few inches in length. “Here you go,” she said with a cat-like smile. “And don’t worry, there’s no charge. Consider it payment for services rendered.”
He took the vial from her and pressed her to him with his free hand. His kiss was almost brutal in its intensity and its desperation.
After a moment he gave up entirely.
Tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear, he brushed his lips against her forehead. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m a bit out of sorts at the moment. And as for services rendered, you’ll find that a sizeable sum has already been deposited into your bank account.”
She tilted her head, still piecing the puzzle together no doubt. “It’s not too late to change your mind, you know. Sleeping for a thousand years isn’t going to fix anything.”
“Perhaps not,” he admitted. “But neither is remaining here.” He inspected the vial before tucking it into the inner pocket of his coat. Would Cassandra trick him about the potion? He thought not, but he couldn’t be sure. The witch certainly had reason to want it to fail though.
“You can’t play neutral forever,” she warned him.
“Can’t I?” he asked. “It’s worked pretty well for the past century or so.”
“The Watchers need you,” she said emphatically. “We need you.”
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t be any help to the Watchers—or to you and your witches. I’m not a part of this—“ Valentin broke off in mid-sentence, unsure how to articulate what he believed about his place in the world of the undead, those beings who moved through the ordinary world yet were not of it. Watchers, witches, daemons, the Fae, even the souls of humans who remained trapped on Earth. There were others, too, but even after a century spent as one of the undead he could still name only a handful of the species that comprised their ranks.
“My state is not one I chose—“ he tried.
Cassandra folded her arms across her ample chest. “You can’t just turn your back on what’s going on. According to La Loba the timeshift could begin in less than a year and after that nothing will be able to stop it from happening. Now there’s still a chance—if all the undead and the Watchers unify their forces. If you want to take a long nap after the timeshifters fail, go ahead. But you can’t go on pretending you’re not a part of this. Not with the kind of strength you possess. I’d kill to have one tenth of the power you’ve got in your pinky finger, Val.”
“My point exactly.” He took a step backward to the door and laid his hand on the knob. “I’m tired of
killing. I’ve been tired of it since—“ he stopped short, unable to say Annika’s name. “I don’t want to get involved in some battle that holds no meaning for me. All I want is to—
“I know, I know,” she interrupted, holding up a hand to silence him. “You want to even up an old score. Whatever that means. Well, good luck with that. And with your beauty sleep.”
He turned the knob then hesitated a moment longer, wondering whether there was anything he could tell her that would make their final meeting less difficult. “I’m sorry,” he said at last, fully aware of the inadequacy of the statement.
She gave him a whisper of a smile. “You damn well should be,” she said. “And are you sure she won’t mind you nodding off for a millennium?
“Whoever’s got you distracted,” said Cassandra, furrowing her brow. “A blonde?”
He laughed uncomfortably. If all went as planned, Hayden wouldn’t be around to distract him much longer. He had never liked the idea of her death but he hadn’t been able to see a way around it. He still didn’t—not if he were to get what he had been dreaming of for the past 100 years or so.
“With witches like you,” he told her, “the timeshifters don’t stand a chance.”
Cassandra’s smile broadened. “Shut up and get the hell out of here.”
The moon had emerged from the clouds, bathing the witch’s lawn in iridescence. As he hurried down the front steps Valentin wondered if Hayden might already be waiting for him. That she would in fact seek him out, he had little doubt. True, she had informed him that she had no intention of coming. And she did fear him (rightly so). But, in the end, her desire to find the killer would win out. Would their kiss have any bearing on her decision?
He had no idea. And he hated that.
If everything went according to plan, his work would be finished by morning. The Salem estate would be put on the market, his banking accounts closed, and his considerable assets donated to various good causes, to be determined by his lawyer. Following that, Valentin would return to London and secure permanent lodging in a Whitechapel cemetery. He wouldn’t die—Henry had robbed him of that satisfaction—but he could sleep for years, even centuries.
Would it feel as if he were in hell after what he had done to Henry—and to Hayden? Or would his sleep of death be the kind of release he hoped for? When he’d come up with the plan to rid the world of Henry, he had been almost euphoric. But the thought of Hayden’s death was beginning to become a problem.
If her death meant the end of the killings wouldn’t that justify it? And if she knew all, wouldn’t Hayden herself be willing to die to stop the evil at last? He suspected she would.
Still, it troubled him.
As the cool night air washed over him, he remembered the postcard “Jack the Ripper” sent to The London Times. The return address read simply “from hell.” He’d never been sure what Henry, aka “Jack,” had meant. Had it been a reference to eternal life without the possibility of love—a punishment England’s most notorious murderer held Valentin solely responsible for? Or was he speaking of the hell guilt wrought on the soul?