The woman was one of the most beautiful creatures that I’d ever seen.
Five feet four inches of soft, curvy perfection poured into a tight suit jacket and a short skirt that let me see just how exquisite her breasts and legs were. Then again, everything about her was exquisite and whispered of money, from the artful tousle of her red curls to the diamond brooch set into her jacket to the shine of her French pedicure.
This was a woman who took care of herself, probably with a strict regimen of diet, exercise, and Air elemental facials. Hell, she might have even been one of Jo-Jo Deveraux’s clients over at the dwarf’s popular beauty salon. I made a mental note to ask Jo-Jo the next time that I saw her—and see if the dwarf had any more gorgeous gals that she was keeping to herself and out of my greedy clutches.
The woman stood in the lobby of my bank, First Trust of Ashland, looking exactly like all the other obscenely wealthy clients that came in through the glass double doors on a daily basis. With its heavy, antique wooden furniture, gold leaf accents, and white marble floor, the bank had been designed to reflect the largesse of its customers. Everything was expensive and understated, just the way that our clients wanted it to be.
Her eyes scanned the long counter than ran down the left wall before moving to the door at the end—the one that led down to the offices and the bank’s vault deep underground.
I was standing on the opposite side of the bank, sitting on the edge of a desk and talking to Pete, our stock analyst, about the shopping trip that he’d recently taken to Bigtime, New York with his lover and all the divine Fiona Fine menswear that they’d come back to Ashland with.
“Duty calls,” I said, getting to my feet.
Pete followed my gaze and snorted. “It always does every time a pretty woman walks through the door, Finn.”
“You’re just jealous that she’s not a dude.”
“Hardly. Dave and I are very happy.”
I grinned at him. “But it never hurts to look, does it?”
Pete just laughed and concentrated on his computer monitor once more.
I smoothed down my green tie, the one that I knew brought out the matching color of my eyes, and headed over to her. My wingtips clacked on the floor, drawing her attention. She looked up at my approach, and I hit her with a small smile, which of course she returned. I was Finnegan Lane, after all. Charming, handsome, rich. A hard combination for any woman to resist.
I stopped a few feet away, just looking at her. Up close, she was even more stunning, with sun-kissed skin, hazel eyes, and lush lips that just begged to be kissed. I also noticed a small set of gleaming white fangs in her mouth. She was a vampire then, not that it mattered to me in the slightest. Giant, dwarf, vampire, elemental, a regular old human like me. I admired women no matter what kind of strength, magic, or lack thereof that they had.
“Are you the manager?” she asked in a light, sweet voice.
I breathed in. Her perfume smelled of honeysuckle, subtle and expensive. Nice—very nice. “Nope, I’m not the manager, but I’m sure that I can help you. The name’s Lane, Finnegan Lane. My friends call me Finn.”
And then, I gave her my most charming smile, the one that had eventually led to more than one woman falling into bed with me. I liked women, you see. Liked everything about them. The way they walked, talked, smelled, laughed, smiled, and most especially, the way they felt in my arms—smooth, soft, supple.
But instead of returning my smile, the woman’s mouth flattened out. “Oh. Well, where is he?”
“I’m sure that I can help you,” I said, giving her another hit of my pearly whites. “I’m one of the senior associates here.”
If anything, my polite insistence that I could help repulsed her even more.
“No,” she said, clutching her purse to her exquisite chest and shaking her head. “I need to see the manager. Nobody else.”
I frowned. “But—”
“What seems to be the problem here, Lane?” a man’s voice cut in.
Andrew Stevens, the bank manager, stepped up to us. Stevens was a tall, trim fellow with a slick shark’s smile that was just as dazzling as mine was. His only flaw was a growing bald spot that he unsuccessfully tried to hide with a combover. Despite the fact that I’d worked with the man for three years now, that combover still made me shudder every time that I laid eyes on it. I ran my hand through my own thick, walnut-colored hair in reassurance.
“Are you the manager?” the woman asked, staring at him.
Stevens nodded. “I am. How can I help you today …”
“Clarissa,” she replied in a soft voice, holding out her hand. “Clarissa Divine.”
Stevens could be just as smooth as I could, and he brought her hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss to it. “Well, Ms. Divine, it’s a pleasure to meet you. How can I assist you?”
Clarissa waved her purse. “I have some … family jewels that need to be put in a safe location. Some items that my soon-to-be ex-husband doesn’t need to know anything about. I was told that you could help me with that sort of thing.”
Stevens nodded and held out his arm. “Of course. If you’ll just come with me, Ms. Divine, I’m sure that we can find a solution to your problem.”
She took his arm and smiled at him then, a bright, dazzling smile that was a pleasure to behold in and of itself. But the real bonus was the warm, inviting look in her eyes—the one that whispered of so many delicious things to come.
I frowned, wondering why the hell Stevens was getting that smile, that look, instead of me. I’d seen her first, after all. And when Finnegan Lane put his mind to seducing a woman, as I had with Clarissa the second that I’d seen her, I was usually successful, no matter what obstacles got in my way—overbearing friends, jealous boyfriends, pistol-packing husbands.
Stevens gave me a triumphant smile and escorted her across the floor and through the door at the far end of the counter, no doubt taking her down to his office. Of course, he could have asked one of the tellers here in the lobby to hook her up with a safety deposit box, but I knew that Stevens wanted to give Clarissa his own personal attention.
I would have done the same, if I’d been in the lucky bastard’s wingtips.
Clarissa Divine came into the bank several times after that. The second time, Stevens walked up to the lobby to meet her. The third time, she came in just at closing, and the two of them left together. The fourth time, the very next day, she walked over to the door by the counter, and Stevens buzzed her down. After that, she came and went as she pleased, so often that the giant guard stationed in the lobby automatically went over to open the door for her.
Stevens wasn’t as much of a prick about the situation as I would have been. If I’d been with a creature as beautiful as Clarissa, I would have bragged about it to everyone, from the folks at the bank to my friend, Jo-Jo, and her sister, Sophia Deveraux, to my foster sister, Gin Blanco. Stevens contented himself with a mild, knowing smirk in my direction every now and then.
It still made me want to shoot the bastard, though.
One day, about six weeks after Clarissa’s initial visit, I was in my office trying to find another tax shelter for one of my Ice elemental clients to put some more of her considerable family fortune into when the intercom on my desk buzzed.
“You have a visitor, Finn,” the voice of Celia, one of the tellers, filled my ear. “A giant. Says his name is Xavier.”
“Bring him on down.”
I wasn’t sure exactly why Xavier wanted to see me, since to my knowledge the giant didn’t have any money that needed hiding from the IRS, but maybe he’d surprise me. I’d be happy to help him move some cash around—for a small fee, of course.
Five minutes later, Celia knocked on my open door and gestured for Xavier to step inside. He maneuvered around her and came over to my desk.
“Thank you, darling,” I drawled at Celia, then gave her a saucy wink. “That will be all.”
Despite the fact that she was a dwarf who’d just celebrated her three hundredth birthday a few weeks back, Celia blushed, her cheeks going scarlet underneath her smart coif of silver hair. She returned my wink, let out a small giggle, and closed the door behind her.
Xavier shook his shaved head. His ebony skin gleamed dully underneath the lights. “You and the ladies. You never cease to amaze me, Finn.”
I grinned. “I never cease to amaze myself either.”
Like most giants, Xavier topped out at around seven feet tall, with a thick, muscular body that was incredibly strong. We shook hands, and I could tell that he was taking care to keep his grip light, something my more fragile human bones appreciated. A navy suit paired with a white shirt covered his solid frame. Nice cut, quality fabric, perfectly draped. It looked good on him. I always appreciated a well-made suit, even if it was on another man.
I sat back down in my chair and gestured for Xavier to take the seat opposite mine.
The giant settled himself in the chair, looked around the office, and let out a low whistle. “Damn. I should have been a banker like you, Finn.”
I’d been at the bank almost ten years now, ever since I’d gotten out of finance school, and as a result, my office was one of the biggest ones on this floor, the third one underneath the lobby. Stevens’ office was located here too at the end of the hall, while the bank’s vault was one more floor down.
I’d decorated the office myself in a style that was unapologetic, in-your-face, ostentatious comfort. I had the best of everything in here, from the thick Persian rugs that covered the marble floor to the first edition volumes on the bookshelves to the Brighton’s Best whiskey that gleamed in its bottle inside the antique liquor cabinet. An L-shaped sofa made out of supple suede took up the better part of one wall. Both sections of the sofa pulled out to make beds, which it made it convenient to entertain my more amorous clients here in my office instead of having to leave the bank and drive all the way over to my apartment.
My desk was a massive affair that was eight feet wide and had almost as many secret compartments in it as the vault did safety deposit boxes. All those little hidey holes and false bottoms where were I kept certain supplies. Passports, a small bag of diamonds, a few bricks of cash, my guns and the ammunition for them. When you swam with the sharks like I did, you never knew when you might need to get out of town in a hurry or take care of a particularly demanding customer. My father, Fletcher Lane, had prepared me for those eventualities and many, many more.
My only real concession to modern functionality was the TV that was mounted on a stand off to my right. Currently, it was tuned to a closed circuit feed of the bank lobby and showed people coming and going, tellers cashing checks, and more. In addition to working with clients, I also had a hand in security around here, thanks to the various favors that the bank’s higher-ups had owed to my dad. Besides, I liked to keep a vigilant eye on things money-related.
“Investment banker,” I said, correcting Xavier’s earlier statement. “And yes, it pays very, very well. Especially in a place like Ashland, where so much of the population has so much money to hide—and so many bodies too.”
Xavier nodded, but he didn’t smile at my dark humor. Normally, cracking a joke about what a corrupt, violent city Ashland was would get a small chuckle from the most jaded resident. No, the giant was all business today. Pity.
“So what I can do for you, Xavier?” I asked. “Because as much as I like you, I know that you just didn’t come down here to shoot the shit with me today.”
The giant hesitated, staring down at his shoes. Then, he raised his black eyes to mine. “I have a problem.”
Well, that certainly hadn’t been what I’d expected him to say. With his size and strength, there weren’t too many problems that Xavier couldn’t take care of himself, especially given the fact that he moonlighted as a cop for the Ashland Police Department.
“Oh? What kind of problem? What do you need my help with?”
“It’s not that I need your help, Finn,” Xavier said in a careful voice. “What I really need is Gin’s help.”
I raised my eyebrows. The Gin he was referring to was Gin Blanco, my foster sister—and the assassin known as the Spider. Gin wasn’t just any assassin though—as the Spider, she was one of the best in the business. At least, she had been. She’d retired a few months’ back after my father and her mentor, Fletcher Lane, had been murdered. Now, Gin spent her time running Dad’s barbecue restaurant, the Pork Pit. But she hadn’t forgotten one second of her training—and would whip out her silverstone knives without hesitation if she thought that there was a need for them.
“And what do you think that you need Gin’s help with?” I asked, my voice calm, my face giving nothing away.
I wanted to see exactly what Xavier knew about what Gin did—and how much of a threat that the giant might be to us.
I leaned back in my seat, putting my feet up on my desk like I didn’t have a care in the world. The movement let me surreptitiously hit a button on the desk. A panel slid open, revealing a small revolver. The gun was within easy reach, and depending on what Xavier said or did, I might have to use it before our meeting was over. His wouldn’t be the first blood to stain my rugs. If anything, it would give me an excuse to redecorate. I was getting rather tired of my current red-and-black motif.
I studied his position in the chair, mentally lining up the shot just in case. I’d have to shoot him through the eye, of course, since giants had notoriously thick skulls, but it wouldn’t be that difficult. Not for me. Gin might be the assassin in the family, but Dad had taught us both how to kill. Despite Gin’s skill with knives and her Ice and Stone elemental magic, even she admitted that I was better with a gun than she was.
“Well, first, I guess you should know that Roslyn and I are sort of … involved now,” Xavier said.
My eyebrows climbed a little higher in my face. This just kept getting more and more interesting. Roslyn was Roslyn Phillips, the vampire madam who ran Northern Aggression, Ashland’s most decadent nightclub. Xavier happened to be the head bouncer at the nightclub, the guy responsible for making sure that everyone stayed more or less in line. That’s where I knew him from, since Northern Aggression was my favorite place to go trolling for female companionship after a long day at the bank. Xavier always let me in past the velvet rope. Of course, I always slipped him a Benjamin or three for his trouble, but still, I liked to think that we were friends too.
“Involved?” I asked. “So you and Roslyn are together now?”
“Sort of. I mean … man, it’s just … complicated.” He winced a little. “I hope you don’t mind me talking to you about this. I know that you and Roslyn used to be … friends.”
We’d been a little more than that. Roslyn and I had been known to hook up on occasion for a night of sex, wine, and pleasant conversation, followed by some more sex. In fact, I’d called her just last week to suggest that very thing, since I was in between paramours at the moment, but she’d politely declined.
First Clarissa and now Roslyn. I wasn’t sure how much more bruising my ego could take.
“Sure,” I said in an easy tone. “Roslyn and I are friends. But if you’ve hooked her, then congrats to you. Because she’s beautiful, man—inside and out.”
For a moment, Xavier smiled. And it wasn’t just any smile. No, he practically beamed. It was the look of a man deeply in love. I sighed. Well, fuck. I might be a cold-hearted bastard, but I had a soft spot for Roslyn. I’d really hate to kill someone who cared that much about her. But I’d do it just the same—just like Gin would.
Xavier cleared his throat. “Anyway, there’s been a … problem at the club lately. And from some things that Roslyn has said, I thought that Gin might be able to help.”
Ah, hell. His tone of voice told me exactly what he’d picked up from Roslyn—that Gin was the assassin the Spider. Roslyn knew all about what Gin did, since Gin had killed the vampire’s abusive brother-in-law not too far back. Roslyn had first come to me about finding someone to kill her brother-in-law. I had denied all knowledge of such things, of course, but not too long after that, the brother-in-law had meet with a messy, untimely demise. Roslyn was a smart lady, and she’d put it all together. Me, Gin, Dad, and what we did. In fact, Roslyn had told one of the hookers who worked for her about it all, which had eventually led to my dad’s death.
Gin didn’t think that I knew about that, though. Gin didn’t think that I knew about a lot of things. Killing was her specialty—ferreting out information was mine.
“Finn?” Xavier asked, wondering at my silence.
I sighed. “No more word games. Just lay it out for me, Xavier.”
To my surprise, he did. For the next five minutes, Xavier sat there and told me what was going on. Every word he said made my stomach twist a little more. Fuck. Gin was not going to like this—not one damn bit. I didn’t like it much either, but Gin—she was going to take it personally. She was going to blame herself for what was happening at Northern Aggression.
“So do you think that Gin will help?” Xavier asked in a low voice after he finished telling his story.
“Help?” I barked out a cold laugh. “Hell, she’s going to feel responsible for the whole thing.”
Xavier shook his head. “It’s not her fault. It’s nobody’s fault.”
“You don’t know Gin. She won’t see it that way. She may be as cold as ice, but if you fuck with somebody that she cares about—hell, even a friend of a friend—you better watch out. Because she will bury you six feet under and not think twice about it.”
I started brooding then. About Roslyn and Xavier, about Gin, about the whole fucked up situation. I don’t know how long I might have sat there if Xavier hadn’t cleared his throat and pointed to the TV screen.
“Uh, Finn, who is that? And why are all those men with her?”
I looked over. On the TV screen, Clarissa Divine strode into the lobby. The vampire looked as gorgeous as ever, but for once, she wasn’t alone—six men wearing dark suits and carrying briefcases flanked her.
“Oh, them?” I said. “Don’t pay any attention to them. They’re just here to rob the bank.”
Xavier frowned and looked at me. “Here to rob the bank? How the hell do you know that?”
“Because I’m Finnegan fucking Lane, and I know things.”
Xavier kept staring at me. I sighed again. This time, I was the one who told the story about my very first meeting with Clarissa and all the times that she’d been back to the bank since then.
“So I was immediately suspicious when Clarissa went for Stevens instead of me,” I said. “Since I’m obviously the much better catch.”
“Obviously,” Xavier agreed.
“Hey now, keep the sarcasm to a minimum.”
A grin crooked up the corner of the giant’s lips.
“So I did some digging. There is no Clarissa Divine in Ashland or anywhere else in the South that I could find. However, there is a Clarissa Devane, who happens to be an extremely high-priced hooker. And guess what her specialty is?”
I put my fingers together and made a shooting motion. “Bingo. First, she goes in and seduces the manager. When the poor fool is hopelessly in love with her, she goes to the bank with her crew. They rob the place and pretend to take her hostage. Since the manager doesn’t want his lady love to get her brains blown out, he’s more than happy to give the thieves access to whatever they want, including the vault. Once the vault is empty, the thieves take Clarissa with them, supposedly using her as a human shield. Of course, it’s all just part of her getaway. A couple days later, the cops will get a tip about a decomposing body dressed in whatever Clarissa was wearing while she was in the bank. Since she’s dead, the cops look for the thieves. After a few weeks, the police will find their bodies rotting somewhere. Clarissa doesn’t like to share her loot, you see, so she offs her own crew after the job is finished. With no one to chase after, the cops lose interest, the case is closed, and Clarissa is off to build a new crew and find a new sucker to fleece.”
Xavier whistled. “That’s pretty slick.”
I nodded. “Just watch the TV, and you’ll see.”
Sure enough, it happened just like I said that it would. One of the guys with Clarissa pulled a gun out of his briefcase, grabbed her, and pressed the weapon up to her temple. There was lots of screaming then, so much so that I had to mute the sound on the TV.
Eventually, after the tellers had emptied out all of the cash drawers, the thieves started threatening to kill Clarissa unless the manager stepped forward. A few seconds later, Andrew Stevens came out from behind the counter where he’d been standing when the thieves had first come into the bank. There was so much sweat on his forehead that I could see it on the TV screen. The thieves waved their guns around some more, and Stevens quickly caved. He headed toward the door that led to the lower floors—including the vault.
“All right,” I said, getting to my feet. “I’m going to get Gin to help you and Roslyn with this problem that you’re having at Northern Aggression.”
Xavier blinked. “Just like that?”
I nodded. “Just like that. I owe Roslyn that much. But right now, I’d like you to help me. I don’t know about you, but after what you just told me about Roslyn, I really want to hurt somebody. Want to help me stop a robbery? Hell, the department might give you a commendation for it. The higher-ups at the bank will certainly be grateful.”
Xavier cracked his knuckles. His grin matched my own.
I hit some buttons on my desk and grabbed some supplies out of it—namely, a couple of guns. I offered one to Xavier, but he politely declined. Then again, he didn’t really need a gun. As a giant, he was strong enough to pull someone apart with his bare hands.
We turned off the lights in the office. Since it was late Friday, most everyone else had already gone home for the weekend. Besides Stevens, I’d been the only one still working down here on the lower floors.
We didn’t have long to wait. We’d left the office door open, and footsteps clacked on the marble floor and echoed down the hallway to us.
“Secure this floor and make sure all the offices are empty,” I heard one of the thieves say. “I don’t want anyone coming up behind us trying to play hero. The rest of us are going down to the vault. That’s where the real money will be.”
“Got it,” another man said.
Most of the footsteps moved on and then faded away, as the thieves with Stevens and Clarissa in tow, went on down to the vault floor. But after a moment, more steps sounded, growing louder and louder and headed in this direction. I listened. Two men, one to run point and the other for backup. Thanks to the TV screen, we knew that two of the thieves had stayed in the lobby to keep the tellers under control. Since two were now headed this way, that meant that Clarissa had taken two more down to the vault with her, along with Stevens. I nodded at Xavier, who nodded back.
The guys were thorough, I’d give them that. One by one, they peered into all the offices, turning on the lights and making sure they were empty before closing and locking the doors behind them. Clarissa had put together a decent enough crew—it was just her bad luck that she’d picked my bank to rob. I might fuck over the IRS and occasionally my clients, but I always protected what was mine—and this bank was mine. I was rather like Gin that way.
Finally, the thieves got to my office. The first guy stepped inside and flipped on the light switch.
That was all he got out before Xavier stepped forward and slammed his fist into the other man’s face. The guy dropped like a stone. I couldn’t tell if Xavier had broken his neck with that blow or just knocked him out. I didn’t really care either way.
But the guy’s buddy heard the crack of Xavier’s fist connecting because he sprinted forward into the office and raised his gun at the giant.
“Who the hell are you—”
That was all the second guy got out before I slid out from behind the door and jammed my gun into the side of his neck.
“Why, I was just going to ask you the same thing,” I drawled. “But I don’t really care who you are. I’m more interested in your boss, the lovely Clarissa. Xavier, if you would do the honors please.”
Xavier pulled the roll of duct tape that I’d given him out of his pants pocket and went to work on the thieves. Two minutes later, he had both of them trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys. We left them there in the office and headed down to the vault.
The vault was located on the bottom floor of the bank, several thousand feet underground. Down here, the marble floors and walls gave way to a mixture of steel and granite reinforced with silverstone, a special metal that absorbed all forms of magic.
Clarissa had left one guy behind at the base of the stairs, but he was more interested in peering down the hallway and into the vault than keeping watch like he was supposed to. One well-placed blow from Xavier, and he was down for the count. That left one more guy to take care of, along with Clarissa herself.
Xavier dragged the unconscious thief back into the stairwell out of sight, while I peered around the corner. Up ahead, the vault door stood wide open, revealing row after row of safety deposit boxes. The keyholes on the metal gleamed like hundreds of silent eyes, all staring at me. I slipped back into the stairwell just as Xavier finished duct-taping the thief.
“You think you can handle the two guys still up in the lobby?” I asked him in a low voice.
Xavier cracked his knuckles again. “Happily.”
I nodded. “All right. I’ll take care of the other guy down here and Clarissa too.”
Xavier nodded back and started up the stairs. I slipped off my shoes so they wouldn’t clack on the floor and crept down the hall toward the vault.
The clangs and bangs and curses grew louder and louder as I neared the open vault door. Sounded like someone was using a crowbar to pry the safety deposit boxes out of the walls. Crude, but effective enough. The contents of just one of the boxes would make this whole operation worthwhile. I reached the door but instead of going inside, I crouched down on my knees. I pulled a mirror out of my pocket—one of the other items that I’d had stashed in my desk—and angled it so that I could see inside the vault.
The last thief stood in front of one of the rows of safety deposit boxes, showing a crowbar in between the creases in the metal and popping them out like they were nuts that he was shelling. Easy enough for him to do, since he was a giant. Meanwhile, Stevens and Clarissa stood off to one side. Stevens looked dumbstruck. Every once in a while, a few tears would trickle down Clarissa’s lovely face. The vamp was still playing her part to the very end of the game. I really admired her professionalism and dedication to her craft.
Once I’d seen what I needed to, I put the mirror away, straightened, and stepped into the vault.
“Hey,” I said. “Don’t you know that it’s not nice to steal from other people?”
Startled, the giant whipped around. I shot him once through his right eye before putting another bullet through his left one. His crowbar hit the floor a second before his body toppled on top of Stevens, driving the bank manager to the ground. For his part, Stevens started blubbering about all the blood and brains dripping all over him, but the giant was so much heavier than he was, that Stevens couldn’t get out from under the dead man’s body. The bastard wasn’t so smug now. I grinned. Yeah, I got quite a bit of satisfaction out of hearing Stevens squeal.
Clarissa immediately crossed the vault and threw herself into my arms. “Oh! Oh! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for saving us!”
She rained hot, passionate, grateful kisses all over my face, even as her hands moved all over my body. Amused, I let her, then turned my head and caught my mouth with hers. I coaxed her lips open with my tongue. She tasted sweet and sour at the same time, just like I thought she would.
Clarissa gasped in surprise, but then, she realized what an opportunity I’d just given her. A second later, her tongue was dueling mine, even as one of her hands wound through my hair. I let the kiss go on for several seconds.
Then, I gently put my gun up against her heart and thumbed back the hammer.
Vampires have enhanced senses, so Clarissa heard the click even above the sound of her own low, passionate moans. She froze, her lips still on mine.
“Oh, please,” I said. “Cut the routine. I’ve seen better acting from the hookers over on the Southtown streets. How much longer were you going to keep kissing me before you stabbed me with that knife? Hmm? Where was it, by the way? I’m guessing tucked into your garter belt. Certainly that skirt of yours is short enough to give you easy access to it.”
Clarissa stepped back, a stiletto clenched in her right hand. It wasn’t unlike the knives that Gin used. The only difference was another few seconds, and that one would have been buried in my heart.
“How did you know?” she hissed in a low voice.
I grinned. “I’ve always known ever since that first day you came into the bank. You really should have gone for me instead of Stevens. I still would have figured out your little game, but I guarantee that you would have had a hell of a lot more fun with me than with him.”
As if to prove my point, Stevens kept blubbering on the floor.
Clarissa looked at him, then me. Her eyes widened, and she gave me a sweet smile. “I’m sure that we can come to some kind of arrangement …”
“Finn,” I cheerfully supplied her with my name. “But I’m afraid it’s too late for all that. You bruised my ego, you see, and there’s just not enough money in the world to soothe my ego when it gets bruised. Especially not money stolen from my own bank. Sorry, Clarissa, your wiles might have worked on poor Stevens there, but I’m a bit smarter than he is.”
Clarissa was just as much of a hard-ass as I was, and she knew that I meant every word. Since sex hadn’t worked on me, she went for the other old standby—violence.
“And you should know exactly how good I am with this knife,” she said, flashing the blade at me. “I’ve killed more than one man with it over the years. I’ll kill you with it too.”
“I doubt that, since I’m the one holding the gun.”
She eyed the weapon, which I’d lowered to my side once she’d backed away from me. “You really think you can get a shot off before I slit your throat with my knife?”
“I know that I can,” I said in a soft voice.
We stood there staring at each other. I might not have enhanced senses like the vampire did, but I could see her hand tightening around the knife and see the slight movement of her body as she shifted her weight, getting ready to throw herself at me—and not in the way that I wanted. I sighed. Clarissa had just made the wrong choice—the very last choice of her life.
“Don’t do it,” I warned. “Crooked as you are, I’d hate to blow that pretty face of yours all to pieces.”
Clarissa smiled and started to crouch down like she was going to put the knife on the floor. But there was no warmth in her eyes, no give, no surrender. Her hand tightened a little more around the knife, and she launched herself at me, the stiletto blade slashing through the air—
I snapped up my gun and shot her three times in the face.
Clarissa’s head—what was left of it—whipped back, and the force of the bullets punching through her skull threw her whole body against one of the walls. She hung there a moment, suspended in mid-air before her limbs crumpled, and she slid to the floor.
I waited a few seconds to make sure that Clarissa was dead, then walked over and crouched down next to her. Despite the blood and brain matter splattered all around her, I could still smell her perfume—that subtle honeysuckle scent, now horribly, irrevocably tinged with copper.
Even in death, despite the fact that part of her head was missing, she was still one of the most beautiful creatures that I’d ever seen. Five feet four inches of soft, curvy perfection, growing cold and stiff with every passing second.
“What a waste,” I murmured. “What a fucking waste of a beautiful woman.”
Then, I stepped over her body and headed out of the vault to call Sophia Deveraux to come and clean up the mess.