Bonded by Blood
Author:Laurie London

chapter FOUR

THE BAND AT Big Daddy’s was getting ready to play their final set and most of the patrons were on their third or fourth pitcher of Friday night refreshment. People crowded the pool tables and lines formed at every dartboard.

“Can I get you anything else, sugar?” The waitress leaned over Dom’s table to adjust the location of the salt shaker and her large breasts dangled in his face.

He pushed himself back slightly and saw her tongue dart from the corner of her over-glossed lips. She was offering him more than just beer, but he was definitely not interested.

“Two Hefeweizens.”

“Two? How ’bout a pitcher. It’s a better deal.” She put her hand on his shoulder. The rose tattoo on her right breast hovered at eye level, the name Lenny entwined in the stem. “Expecting company?”

“Yes, and here she is. Two beers. And a straw.”

“Alrighty, then.” She pulled one from her apron pocket and turned around as a lanky woman approached the table with a swagger that belonged on a Fashion Week runway. “Day-um,” the waitress muttered under her breath and walked away.

The blonde’s painted-on low-rise jeans barely covered her ass and her red heels screamed “come fuck me.” One guy fell over in his chair, gaping, as she sauntered past him, her belly-button chain swinging with each step. Dom rolled his eyes and smiled when he saw it was a diamond-encrusted arrow pointing down. Shock and awe had always been her motto. Some things never changed.

“Lily.” Dom stood and hugged her. She air-kissed him on both cheeks and rested her hands, with red-tipped fingernails, lightly on his biceps. Holding her at arm’s length, his eyes raked her up and down. She loved the admiration and, as a good friend he needed a favor from, he wanted to feed her ego. “Stunning as usual. I think there’s a collective heart attack going on in here.”

“Thanks, love.” Her breathy just-out-of-bed voice always caught him off guard. She ran a hand down her stick-straight, shoulder-length hair, flicking the ends through her fingers. Leaning in close, she inhaled with half-closed eyes. He stiffened his shoulders and got ready for what he knew was coming.

“Mmm. You smell positively mouthwatering.” She slid a hand down to his ass and, with a grunt, yanked his hips close then let go.

“Thanks.” He laughed and pulled out her chair.

She hung her purse on the seat back and sat down just as the waitress returned with their drinks.

“May I? That’s a beautiful tattoo.” Lily stretched her palms out and took the woman’s hand. She ignored the colorful Lenny tattoo and pretended to be engrossed in the plain barbed wire one on the woman’s arm, but Dom knew better. “Nice. Very nice.” Lily’s eyes fluttered and the corners of her mouth turned up.

“Uh, thanks.” The waitress lifted her free hand to her mouth and yawned.

Lily loosened her grip and the woman pulled away, blinked a few times and walked slowly back to the bar.

“Shit, Lily. You couldn’t wait?”

“Sorry. Been with the fam all week up in Whistler and I was low on energy. I was slogging.” She reached her arms overhead and her shoulders cracked. “Ahhh, much better. So what’s the job, love? Your text was cryptic.” She unwrapped the straw, put it in her beer and took a long sip.

“I need your help to close an assignment.”

The driving beat of a bass drum filled the air, followed by a screeching guitar. The lead singer straddled the microphone stand and began to sing. Not bad. Dom hadn’t heard a cover of this song before. With the loud background noise, no one would be able to hear their conversation.

“Three days ago, my team uncovered a Darkblood den. I had just uploaded some data from their computer when they surprised us. We managed to take a couple of them out, but Stryker and I were shot. With silvies.”

“You obviously had on your gear, eh?”

Dom took a drink and shook his head. “No. Didn’t see the need. Our intel hasn’t confirmed the usage of silver-tipped bullets by any Northwest cells yet. These boys are pretty unsophisticated up here. Didn’t know they had them.”

“Yet? Are you all pigheaded idiots? It was just a matter of time. All the DBs in the South are using them—you know that. Didn’t you get the Agency directive instructing all agents to wear protection when out on patrol?”

“Yes. And your point is…?”

“My point is that you could’ve been killed, or worse. Some body parts don’t regenerate as completely as others. Didn’t you hear about Eddie Bale in Costa Rica? Almost got his head shot off with a silvie and they’ve had a heck of a time with the skin grafts. Even after they flew him to that burn center in New York.”

“I hate those damn vests. Besides, a vest wouldn’t have helped Eddie anyway. Next thing you know, the Agency’s going to make us wear helmets. What we do is dangerous. If that bothered me in the slightest, I’d have chosen another line of work. Like owning a bar.”

A loud ruckus broke out near the pool tables as a couple of cops cuffed an old guy with a long, thinning comb-over and hauled him through the crowd. When he refused to walk, they grabbed him by each arm and dragged him outside to a waiting patrol car. Dom turned his attention back to Lily.

“Three days ago you were shot with a silvie?” She pursed her lips, obviously contemplating what he had said. “Impossible. You’d still be flat on your ass.”

“That’s why I called you here. A couple of DBs came after me, but I managed to dodge them early in the morning and bury myself in the woods. Then a sweetblood found me. And you don’t have to guess to know what happened next.”

Lily whistled. “Shit, Dom. Did you drain him? Her? That explains the speedy recovery. And your fabulous smell.” She grabbed his arm and pressed her nose to the inside of his wrist. “Her, right?”

He pointedly ignored her question and withdrew his hand. “I need your help. Foss and I covered up the scent trail, but in order to wrap up the assignment, I wanted to see if you could detect any lingering traces. To make sure the Darkbloods can’t track the scent back.”

She played with her straw and scowled into her glass. When she met his gaze, his gut clenched. He really didn’t want to explain it to her when he didn’t understand it himself. Besides, the whole experience seemed too personal, too intimate to discuss. He wasn’t like Jackson, or Lily, for that matter, who loved recounting their exploits to anyone with a set of ears. Not his style. Or at least it wasn’t now.

“Seems like a bit of an overkill, don’t you think? I’m sure you and Jackson covered the trail well enough.” Her hawkish eyes appraised him. He wasn’t going to get anything past her.

“I just want to be sure.” Leaning back in his seat, he forced himself to tap his fingers to the music, pretending to be focused on the band. He could almost hear the cogs in Lily’s head turning. No goddamn questions. Just take the assignment.

“It’s a woman, eh?” She reached over and put her hand on his wrist. She was too perceptive. Or maybe he was just a poor actor. He attempted to keep his face expressionless, hard. “And you have feelings for her. I’m right, aren’t I?”

He didn’t know what he was feeling. “It’s a woman.” He tried to sound emotionless.

“What’s going on? Talk. I can tell something’s up. I know you too well.”

For chrissake. Running a hand through his hair, he took a deep breath and resigned himself to the inevitable Oprah-like scrutiny. Feelings and talking and shit.

“The strangest thing happened. I almost drained her so I had to do a blood transfer.” She sat up straight and her eyes widened. “Spare me the lecture, Lil. Santiago knows about it and is probably going to report it to the Council. The bigger problem is now she and I have this weird connection, some kind of strange bond, yet we’ve never talked. She’s never seen me, or at least she doesn’t remember seeing me. I wiped her memory.”

As he recounted the incident at Mackenzie’s house, Lily listened with her head bowed, nodding at times, and picked at her red-tipped nails. He braced himself for twenty questions, but she remained silent.

“Have you ever heard of such crap? I had some unusual sensations with just her blood in my system. But now that she’s had a little of mine, it’s even more heightened. I even heard her dreams when she slept. I thought the old stories were a bunch of superstitious nonsense.”

“Enlazado por la Sangre.” Lily dropped her voice so low he could barely hear even though the band was now playing a slow ballad.

Her subdued reaction surprised him. “What?”

“Bonded by blood. My grandparents shared a blood bond, have I never told you that?”

Dom shook his head. Never heard of it.

“Hardly anyone outside the family knew. In fact, not many inside the family did, either. I’m the only grandchild my grandmother told.”

“I don’t believe it. You? Keeping secrets?”

“Yeah, well, she ended up staking herself. So we don’t talk about it much.”

“God, Lil, I’m sorry.”

“No problem. You didn’t know.” Lily took another sip of beer from her straw. “She described the bond as a joining of body, soul and spirit. They knew each other’s thoughts. Could sense each other’s energy and emotions. Kind of like tuning into a private radio signal of someone’s life force. Prana, I think she called it. Not only did they share blood, but they also shared energies and could absorb it from each other just by touching. They thrived off it.”

“What’s so earth-shattering about energy transfers?” Dom nodded his head toward their waitress still leaning on the bar.

“Between two vampires? As much as I like your prana, Dom, what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. I’d take a little bit of yours if I could, though.” She flashed him a playful smile. “But my grandparents—they could share it between the two of them with just a simple touch.”

He supposed he had inadvertently absorbed some of Mackenzie’s energy at some point, although he had been careful not to touch his palms to her hands or her face. Well, when he had his wits about him, he didn’t. Had he unknowingly given her some of his? Was that even possible?

“And their emotions?” he asked.

“Yeah. My grandparents could sense how the other was feeling even from a distance. Many years ago, when my grandmother worked at a medical clinic, a DB or maybe just a run-of-the-mill freak came in demanding Sweet. Said if she didn’t get him some sweetblood, he was going to kill her. Of course she was scared. A short time later my grandfather burst through the entrance with a couple of Guardians and they staked the loser. Said he felt her fear as if it were his own and knew she needed his help. That story is one of the reasons I joined the Agency. I thought it was so heroic. Still do. And very romantic.”

Dom ran his fingers against his scalp and tugged at the roots of his hair. This was bullshit. Could it get any worse? “Anything else?”

“Well, apart from the fact that the sex is like an awakening of sorts, that’s about all I know.”

“You and your grandmother talked about sex?”

“What can I say? She was a very enlightened woman, comfortable with her sexuality. Over cocktails once, she told me that intimate relations were much more enhanced. But, no, she didn’t go into detail.” She grasped his hand, gave a reassuring squeeze, then released it. “They were so completely bonded to each other that when my grandfather died, she couldn’t bear to live without him.”

Every nerve ending seemed to shut down as his body numbed and the bar noise faded into the background. He stared at the amber liquid in his glass, twirling it gently, watching the foam cling to the sides. Was that what he was craving from her as well? Her prana? Sex? That certainly explained why he couldn’t stop thinking about her.

“But, like I said, they were both vamps. I’ve never heard of it happening with a human. Blood-bonded to a sweetblood? That sucks.” She barked out an unflattering laugh. “And you’ve never spoken?”

“No.”

“Don’t know what else I can tell you. Why don’t you go introduce yourself? What woman can resist your charms? I know I have a hard time.” She blew him an air kiss, obviously trying to lighten his mood. “Ha. ‘Excuse me, but you’re my soul mate. Pardon me while I kill you.’ Riiiight.”

“I’d see if she’d go horizontal first, eh?” One perfectly plucked eyebrow lifted into a naughty arch.

“Very funny. For all I know, she’s a raging bitch. I’ve seen her lists, her alphabetized DVD collection, her antiseptic refrigerator.”

Not that a pretty girl’s personality quirks had ever mattered to him before. Most of the time he spent with them was between the sheets and what they did involved little talking. Maybe if they had sex, he could get her out of his system.

“I’m guessing you’re enticed by more than her blood, even if she is Sangre Dulce. My grandmother told me she was made for my grandfather and he was made for her. Not sure what that means in terms of sex, but all I know is that it’s a soul mate thing.”

“That’s insane.”

Lily fished a tube of shimmery pink lipstick from her purse, applied it without a mirror, and tossed it back into her bag. She shook her head slowly as she rubbed her lips together, and when she looked at him again, she flashed him an all-knowing grin.

From across the room, a whoop of laughter erupted above the music, momentarily distracting him. The singer had jumped onto the dance floor and stroked the microphone stand between his lycra-clad legs like a giant hard-on while an orgasmic-like guitar riff went on and on. A woman with an animal-print thong teeing above the waistband of her jeans hopped onto a man’s back and dry-humped him while the crowd cheered.

Oh, for God’s sake. He turned his attention back to Lily who was still smiling, although he knew she despised this kind of music.

“No. I’m serious, Lil. I just need to be sure the DBs can’t track her. Then I’ll close the assignment and be done with it. I need to be in Portland.”

“Suit yourself, but I think you’re hosed, love.”

“NEED SOME help, Sam?” Mackenzie’s roommate struggled through the front door holding a precarious stack of cardboard boxes. “Here, let me—”

Dropping her paintbrush, Mackenzie jumped up and they hefted the boxes to the dining room table. “What do you have in here? These weigh a ton.”

“It’s for my new internet jewelry business. It’s a bunch of supplies I ordered.” Sam shrugged out of her jacket and started to put it on the chair across the table from Mackenzie, but she pivoted back to the entryway and hung it in the hall closet instead. Fluffing her short dark hair, Sam rewound her long, hand-knit scarf a couple times around her neck before she returned to the dining room and started opening boxes.

“When did you start that? Aren’t you still working at the hotel spa?”

Sam wasn’t quitting her job to start a business, was she? Giving up a regular paycheck? It had been a while since they’d been home at the same time. But still…wouldn’t she have let Mackenzie know? She eyed Sam warily over the top of the canvas. Mackenzie had liked Sam’s company this past year, but help with the mortgage was sort of the point in getting a roommate in the first place.

“Oh, I’m still working down there, but my clients kept asking me about all the jewelry I wear, so I decided to sell the stuff online. I’ve had a ton of hits on my website already and can’t believe all the orders I’ve gotten.”

“That’s exciting. How long has it been?” Thank God for regular paychecks.

“Only a couple weeks.” As Sam reached inside a box, several large medallions hanging under her scarf clanked together like gaudy wind chimes. One-of-a-kind pieces. Definitely. Missing were her trademark dangly chandelier earrings and all the bracelets she usually had stacked on each wrist. She must even be selling the jewelry she wore because she never took the stuff off.

“You still on for Friday night?” Mackenzie asked.

“The auction? You bet. But I prolly won’t bid on anything. Been spending all my extra funds on my jewelry stuff.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure I will, either, but these things are still fun to attend. It’s at the top of the Columbia Center. You know, the one with the amazing women’s bathroom?”

“Isn’t that the one where each stall has its own individual view of the city with floor-to-ceiling windows?”

“Yup. That’s the one.” Mackenzie picked up her brush and turned her attention back to her painting as Sam sifted through the contents. “You haven’t been home much lately. So this is what you’ve been up to.” Mackenzie fanned the canvas with her hand as if it would speed up the drying of oil paint. She knew it wouldn’t help, but she did it anyway because the piece needed to be finished by the weekend.

“Yeah, and, well, I’ve been seeing someone new.”

“What happened to Ethan?”

“He’s long gone. Started getting too serious so I broke up with him. Talking marriage and stuff.”

Oh, to be that cavalier. “So who’s the new guy? Don’t tell me you picked one up at the club again.” Mackenzie didn’t begrudge her roommate’s dating habits, but she did like to tease her.

“He’s a client, actually. Been staying at his place a lot but he works the graveyard shift, so we…ah…sleep a lot during the day. Don’t say anything if Gretchen calls. If my manager knew I was sleeping with a client, she’d have a shit-fit.”

“How’d that happen? You ask the guy if he wanted a happy ending?”

“Something like that. Said I had magical hands.”

“How original.”

Sam laughed, but it sounded a bit hollow.

Mackenzie looked up. Sam was rubbing the backs of her arms, a strained expression on her face. “You okay?”

“Of course.” But the words came out a little too fast.

Sam’s eyes drooped slightly at the corners and her posture lacked its usual energetic stance. She usually was so perky. Annoyingly perky. Had she not been sleeping well? Mackenzie decided not to ask. What woman wants to know she looks tired?

Over the top of her canvas, Mackenzie watched her roommate pull item after item from the boxes. Several large spools of wire, a bunch of hand tools and an item that looked like a freestanding, oversized butane lighter.

“What’s that for?” Mackenzie had seen a smaller, yet similar, device at Corey’s, but somehow she didn’t think Sam had bought it to light doobies.

“It’s a torch. You melt the ends of silver wire to make headpins. You know, the danglies on earrings, necklaces and bracelets? It can also fire small bits of precious metal clay. Like these.” She twisted her empty wrists and laughed. “Oops. I’m so used to wearing those bracelets, I forgot I didn’t have them on. I made these silver Celtic crosses with that clay, too, but they have to be fired in a kiln at the bead store. Too big for that little thing to work.”

“What are those going for? That’s a lot of silver. And they’re so ornate.”

“Two hundred bucks apiece.”

Mackenzie whistled and reached over. “May I? Have you sold any?” Sam came around the table and moved her scarf aside for Mackenzie to examine them more closely.

“Yeah, quite a few. I take orders for them online. Four or five should be out of the kiln today. Damn. That’s right. I need to pick them up and mail them out.”

With the scarf out of the way, Mackenzie’s eyes zeroed in not on the jewelry, but on several dark bruises marring the skin on Sam’s neck. She snapped her head up, but Sam turned away and hastily covered them with her scarf again. What the hell was going on?

“Sam? You okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Still not meeting her gaze, Sam held both palms up and shook her head as if to say she didn’t want to talk about anything.

“You’re not okay. What happened to you?”

“Mackenzie, please. I’m fine. Really I am.” Her brown eyes met Mackenzie’s and she made a sound of exasperation. “Oh, all right. Things with my new boyfriend get a little kinky, but I’m totally fine. Really. I’m not hurt. You should see what he has me do to him.”

Mackenzie kept her eyes narrowed. She wasn’t sure she was buying Sam’s story. What the hell was this new guy doing to her?

“I’m happy. See?” Sam twirled around the dining room with her hands outstretched as if to prove her point. “I’m a strong girl. I wouldn’t put up with what you’re thinking of. Promise. Now come on. I’m detecting a little envy with all your questions about my business. You totally want to set up something online, too, don’t you?”

Mackenzie tried to protest, to find out more about what was going on, but Sam interrupted. “Come on. I totally think you should get a website with all those paintings you do. They’re awesome. You should try to sell them. Maybe you could even take commissioned orders online. You know, someone likes your stuff, but wants certain colors to go in a particular room in their house or their business.”

“Yeah, I know how commissioned art works.” All right, she’d let Sam change the subject for now, but she wasn’t going to forget this.

“Well, it’s easy. Took only an hour or two to get my website up and running. Gonna be around for a while? I can show you how.”

Several hours later, although the painting wasn’t finished and she’d gotten no additional answers from Sam, Mackenzie did have a website, complete with photographs of some of her pieces. She typed a short bio for the About Me page, took a deep breath and hit enter.