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Currently viewing the category: "Series: Biting Love"

Downbeat by Mary Hughes


Biting Love, Book 7
by Mary Hughes

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61921-875-8

Podium rock star and master spy, vampire Dragan visits a small Chicago orchestra, investigating a monster dubbed Soul Stealer. Lovely, shy flutist Rocky captures Dragan’s rebellious heart. As they draw closer, the monster targets her. They must destroy the indestructible before Rocky is consumed and Chicago is bathed in blood.

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Chapter One

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Biting Oz by Mary Hughes

Biting Oz

Biting Love, Book 5
by Mary Hughes

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60928-958-4
Print ISBN: 978-1619212664

Cue the music, click your heels and make a wish for one steamy vampire romance. Marie “Junior” Stieg, stuck selling sausage, is offered the chance to play a Broadway musical. When the star’s threatened, Junior joins with the star’s sapphire-eyed bodyguard. But Glynn has a secret.

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Chapter One

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Bite My Fire
Biting Love, Book 2
by Mary Hughes

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60504-680-8
Print ISBN: 978-1-60504-780-5

Elena lusts for her detective?s shield, which hinges on solving a murder. Bo Strongwell stands in her way. Powerful master vampire Bo doesn?t need a cop trying to pin murder on him. But Elena tastes like heaven. Hot explicit sex, graphic fanged violence, and acid cop humor. May contain donuts.

Chapter One

Officially the murder was SCH-1, but I called it the Case of the Punctured Prick.
The first homicide ever in Meiers Corners was my cherry-breaking case as a police detective. Okay, probationary detective. Okay, third shift probationary detective. But a girl’s gotta start somewhere, right?
I was at the station reading Midwest Police Monthly when the phone rang. A glance at the line showed dispatch. Something going down—like assault with a Super Soaker.
The senior detective on graveyard was supposed to take it, but Blatzky was in the can, fourth time that night. He was six months from retiring, but I think he actually checked out a year or two back.
So I took the call. “Hey, Alice. What red-hot crime do we have in Meiers Corners tonight? Shopping cart stolen? Mrs. Gruen jaywalking in her sleep again?”
“Something better, Elena.” Alice Schmidt was our nightshift dispatcher, also six months from retiring. She’d been six months from retiring since I started as a beat cop. At least eighty years old, she was from the generation that worked until you dropped. She was convinced the day she actually retired, she’d keel over. “Where’s Blatzky?”
“He’s in the john again, poor guy,” I said. “Diarrhea.”
Alice snorted. “Too many beers. Or doing a little ‘solo investigation’, if you know what I mean.”
“Your luck, though. Body’s on Fifth and Main.”
Body?” My heart started to pound. All my life I dreamed of being a detective, lusted after it. The only thing I hungered more for was a good lay, but that was another story.
Three weeks ago, I’d made it to the detective’s desk. Staying here was another matter.
“Body, where?” My feet hit the floor and I grabbed my notebook, jotted date and time. 18 August. 2:16 a.m. Early Tuesday morning.
“Nieman’s Bar. At first Ruffles thought the vic had just passed out. Bar time and all.”
“Ruffles is the witness?” I scribbled the name.
“Naw. New kid on foot patrol, just switched to third shift. He found the stiff. Poor schmuck took an early retirement option. The stiff, not Ruffles.”
I wanted this case so bad my teeth hurt. A potential murder. Instant ticket to success for whoever solved it.
But I was junior detective on shift. Junior probationary. Regs clearly stated senior personnel got first dibs so I stuffed my ambition back in the bag. “I’ll get Blatzky.”
“Naw, hon. Don’t bother. He’s just riding his paycheck ’til retirement. He won’t want to work.”
“Still…” I raised my voice. The second floor gent’s was a converted closet, so I didn’t have to raise it much. “Blatzky! Officer Ruffles found a body in Nieman’s parking lot. You want it?”
There was a groan from the bathroom. “Six months. Just a hundred eighty-two days to go, was that so much to ask? No, I don’t want no goddamn bodies!”
I punched a silent yes but kept my voice cop cool when I said, “Okay, Alice, I’ll take the case.”
Take it, solve it, and earn the Chief of Police’s blessing.
My eyes slid toward the forbidding portrait of Chief John Dirkson behind me. Blessing, of course, was the operative term. It would take at least a blessing, and probably a miracle, to get that coveted permanent shield.
Bad enough I was going for a traditionally male job. Worse, this was Meiers Corners, more conservative than Queen Victoria. Worst, Dirkson—with his handlebar mustache and woolly sideburns straight out of the nineteenth century—was the very definition of ultra-conservative WASP.
And here I was, a twenty-six-year-old Irish-Latina female.
Normally I wouldn’t have worried. I didn’t submit to prejudice, I fought it. Not to mention I worked hard and played by all the rules.
But my future was in the hands of a hidebound Victorian throwback. Chief’s blessing, right. Maybe I should light a few votive candles under the picture, just in case. And recite the Prayer of Saint Dirkson, counting on my Grandma Sanchez’s red bead rosary.
Hey, I was Lutheran, but it couldn’t hurt, could it?
I shook myself. What was I thinking? Method and order would solve this case—Dad taught me that.
So. Rule one, secure the crime scene. “Alice. You said Officer Ruffles reported the body. Did he secure the area?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure how. It’s the middle of Nieman’s east parking lot.”
“Well, I’ll find out when I survey the scene.” That was rule two. Rule three was collect evidence. I’d do some of that on scene too, but best to bring in our CSI. “Did you call Charlie?”
“I’ll tag him after this,” Alice said.
“Anyone ID the vic yet?”
“Napoleon Schrimpf. You know, Napoleon’s Gym.”
“‘Where Shrimps Conquer the World’?”
“That’s the one. Five-foot-five King of Compensation.” Alice snorted. “He didn’t conquer the world, but he did try to conquer every female he met.”
Rule four was uncover means, motive and opportunity. Here was a possible motive. “You think one of those supposedly conquered women might have conquered back?”
“Dunno. I do think Schrimpf plowed one love furrow too many.”
Ugh. Still, I made a note. “Any sign of foul play?”
“No marks, no blood. From Officer Ruffles’s report, the most suspicious thing was the stupid grin on Schrimpf’s face.”
Probably not murder, then. My pulse slowed. I tucked the notebook into my pocket. “Sounds like a waste of time. Still, I’d better take a look.”
I checked my Springfield XD (not an S&W or Glock, but let’s not get into that discussion) and backup piece and hiked over. Nieman’s Bar was five blocks from the cop shop and four blocks from the heart of Meiers Corners.
Well, four blocks from downtown. Since our town pumped beer as blood, I guess Nieman’s was the heart.
I sweated through my T-shirt as I hoofed it. Our dog days of August were more like hot-dog days. Two thirty in the morning and the temperature was still well over eighty. I wiped my brow and kept up a brisk trot. This case was my bullet-train ticket to Detectiveville. Nothing going to slow me down.
At the scene I did a quick check-in with Alice. In a bigger city, that would have been so HQ could keep tabs on us. Alice just liked knowing where we were.
The crime scene was cordoned off with several miles of yellow tape. A gangly, potbellied young man in a rumpled uniform marched in front. Literally, high stepping like a Lipizzaner and spinning around with a cross-legged twirl that nearly threw him off his feet.
Daffy Duck guards the crime scene. It didn’t help the image that his dark cap had a yellow beak. I guessed this was Officer Ruffles.
As I approached, he fumbled out his gun. “Halt!” He held the gun turned sideways, parallel to the ground. Stylish, if you were a TV punk.
“Whoa, Daffy. Point that thing somewhere else.” I flashed my badge. “Detective O’Rourke.”
“Ohhh.” Ruffles straightened and put the gun away. “A girl.” I opened my mouth but he sailed on. “Not that I’m bigoted. I know it takes even more balls to make it as a girl cop. Well, balls isn’t the right term. But what would it be? Pussy? That already means not-balls. Not that I’m biased. I could say pussy. Pussy clanks when she walks. That works.”
His mouth was shadowed by a thin, feathery mustache. While he talked I watched it flap. “Excuse me, Officer…Ruffles?”
He nearly brained himself saluting me. “Officer Dirk Ruffles at your service, miss. Or ma’am. Or…”
“Detective will do.” I glanced at the crime-scene tape. Ruffles had wrapped everything in sight like a cheery yellow mummy. “You secure the area, officer?”
“Yes, ma’am. Detective Ma’am.” His voice was a muddy rasp, Cartman with lung cancer. Hard to listen to, but impossible to ignore. “I’m training to be a detective. My uncle says I’ll be a great detective. Well, not great exactly. ‘Tolerable’ was the word he used, but that’s almost great. My uncle…”
“Good for you, Ruffles. Tell me how you found the body.” I started to hack through the tape. It stuck to me like cobwebs.
“First on scene, ma’am. Detective Ma’am. Got the call at two-oh-four. Nieman’s is shutting down by then. Couple of drunks coming out of the bar stumbled over him. The vic, that is. I interviewed them. The drunks, that is. I asked the hard questions. You’d have been proud of me, Detective Ma’am. My uncle says I’ll be a detective in no time. He says…”
As I endured Ruffles’s rasp, I fought tape. I managed to wrench open a hole big enough for my five-nine and slid one leg through. When I ducked to get the rest of me in, my shoulder-length curls swung against tape and stuck. Pulling the other leg through, I turned to try to wrest the hair loose. My hips swiped tape and my butt stuck.
“… and Schrimpf met her in the bar. So one drunk says to the other, ‘Fella walked into the bar.’ And the other says, ‘He hit his face!’” Ruffles guffawed. “Hit his face when he walked into the bar. Get it?”
“Yeah, I get it.” I yanked tape off my jeans, tore it from my hair. Tore off a bunch of hair, but with my mop, who’d notice? “Next time, Ruffles? Use less tape.”
He stared blankly at me. “On the bar, ma’am?”
Apparently Ruffles’s gun was aimed, the trigger pulled, but he had forgotten to load. I found a barrette in my pocket, clipped back my mass of hair. “Officer. You said Schrimpf met her in the bar. Who?”
“Actually the first drunk said that.” Ruffles flipped out his notebook. “No, wait, it was the second drunk. The second drunk said that.”
“The correct term is witness.” I had to fight not to grind my teeth. “What, exactly, did the second witness say?”
“The second drunk witness said, ahem.” Ruffles jutted out his skinny chest, held the notebook up like Charlie Heston with a set of stone tablets. “‘Schrimpf met her in the bar’.” He looked brightly at me like an eager puppy who’s peed on the paper—only it turns out to be your English homework.
A deep, cleansing breath kept me from giving him a yellow tape enema. Barely. The boy didn’t have a clue. “Thanks, Officer.”
I turned my attention to the body lying next to a bright yellow sports car. Oops, Ruffles had mummified that too. Underneath the tape was a black Audi, probably the vic’s.
The ME would log the detail, but I estimated the corpse’s vitals with a trained eye. Five feet, five inches tall. Weight one-sixty, mostly upper-body muscle. Brown eyes open to the night. Face relaxed, except the mouth. Alice was right about the snarky smile.
Moving down, the victim wore a white sleeveless tee, not quite a wife-beater. And not out of place, considering the heat of the August night. But I’d have expected Schrimpf to wear a manly black. Maybe white to emphasize his tan?
Except, looking closer, the body wasn’t tan. In fact, its skin was as pale as mine, sheet white in the moon’s glow. It made it easy to see there was no visible blood on skin or clothes. But Charlie’s evidence techs had better equipment and chemicals. The lab would not only test for blood, but vacuum for bits of hair, skin and other clues to the killer’s identity.
That was, if there was a killer, and it wasn’t just a post-bartime heart attack. I logged pale skin and lack of blood and moved on.
Schrimpf’s jeans were the expected black. They were rumpled around his feet, the silver caps of his cockroach killers just peeking out. His hips were exposed.
I do mean exposed. Schrimpf went commando.
Behind me Ruffles had started another monolog on his uncle. Or it might have been Hamlet’s soliloquy, I didn’t know and couldn’t tell you.
Because I was staring at the Schrimpfster’s pecker. Shriveled, slightly crusted, barely poking up from of a sack of loose skin.
And, just at the base, were two dark holes.
* * * * *
Next step was interview the witnesses. Unfortunately, Ruffles had released them. I could have tried phoning but it was nearly three a.m. and they were probably already tucked in their beds. I decided to let them snore off any alcohol and catch them fresh that evening.
But I had to do something, so I canvassed the neighborhood. I knocked on the doors of Randy’s Candies in the west, Bob’s Formalwear in the east, Kangaroo Comics in the south and Good Shepherd rectory in the north.
All closed.
Frustrated, I scanned the area around the rectory. Nieman’s was flanked by nothing but asphalt and dark shops. I wanted to solve this case now, but I didn’t want to waste time humping from one end of town to the other, futilely knocking. So I took a quick sampling with my cop sense.
I called it my “cop sense”, a sort of Spidey-tingling that was combination warning and awareness. Nothing mystical about it. I didn’t believe in the paranormal (enjoyed reading it but didn’t believe) so I knew it was probably just a heightened perception from paying attention to my surroundings.
But it had saved my ass a couple times. Saved other asses too. And it was never wrong.
I was sweating outside the rectory at Good Shepherd’s. Ruffles was a block over, marching away. Except for Ruffles and me, nobody alive was in the area. I’d swear to it.
But my neck prickled. A presence—something—
Someone behind me.

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Biting Me Softly
Biting Love, Book 4
by Mary Hughes

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60504-974-8
Print ISBN: 978-1-60928-011-6

Girl geek meets movie-star-gorgeous vampire, complete with rogue gang, feisty mom and electric final race against time. Super-hot romance set in a quirky Illinois town. Warning: explicit vampire sex involving unbelievable stamina (just how long can he stay underwater in a hot tub?), hide-your-eyes violence and horrendously bad puns.

Chapter One

When I first clapped eyes on Logan, I thought, Hot damn. Look what the Sex Fairy brung me!
It was eight p.m. Sunday night, and I was at work. I do computers for the Meiers Corners Blood Center. The staff is me, the executive director and a part-time nurse named Battle. I was the only one who worked insane hours, but I was new and still trying to prove myself.
I don’t know what made me look up. The cool March air, perhaps. Maybe the aroma wafting in, mystery and magic with overtones of raw sex.
Whatever it was, my eyes lifted and there he was, the most stunning male I’d ever seen. Smack-me-between-the-eyes gorgeous. Bright blond hair rippled to broad, muscular shoulders. Lean strength roped a long, lithe body. Laughter and intelligence sparked gold-flecked hazel eyes. Perfect lips curved in a smile so sensuous it made my innards go bang.
Then he opened his mouth and spoke. Talk about ruining perfection.
“Hello, gorgeous.” His tone was deep and lazy. “I want to speak to the computer man in charge.”
Right. Well that just spoiled everything, didn’t it?
I crossed my arms under my breasts. “You’re looking at him. I’m the head apple. Minus the stem, but those are overrated anyway.”
My sarcasm didn’t even faze the man. He tucked one spectacular ass cheek on my desk and leaned in, so close I could feel his warmth on my face. “You’re L. Schmetterling? How…fruitful. And what, my Red Delicious, does the L stand for? Laurie? Lucy? Lovely?”
All that male beauty and a tight ass on top of it. I’d been burned once by a man with a flabby butt and no hair. This man would incinerate me.
I clutched the reminder of male perfidy on my ring finger and screwed up my most forbidding expression. “It stands for Leave. As in Me Alone.”
“I live to do your bidding, princess,” the man crooned, his lips inches from mine. He had perfect, chiseled lips—the kind designed by Michelangelo for kissing. “But if you’re L. Schmetterling, I can’t leave. I have business with you.”
“Look, buddy.” It came out all husky-voiced. I let go of the ring and tried to work back to reasonable. “Look, I don’t know you, and it’s late. Business hours are nine to five Monday through Friday. Come back tomorrow.” I turned to my laptop and pretended I wasn’t quivering to taste those chiseled lips. “You’re just lucky I was here.”
“Oh, I knew you’d be in.” The man stood with lazy grace, the kind latent with power. I watched him from the corner of my eye. He was really quite big and though his body was lean, his shoulders were stunningly broad. He would be immensely strong. He leaned knuckles on my desk. “You work late every night. Most nights you’re here until ten or eleven. Alone.” His tone held a touch of censure.
Strangely enough, I hadn’t been afraid of him until then. My eyes jerked to his. Hard steel underlay his friendly expression.
I swallowed rising panic—though I was a black belt in Taekwondo, short and kicky was shit against strong and prowly. “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t.” He pulled a small leather case from his jeans pocket and tossed a business card on my desk with a careless snap of the wrist. The card should have skipped like a stone and sailed into my wastepaper basket. It landed right under my nose.
Gorgeous and talented. This guy would bear watching. Aw, shucks, my libido said. I ignored it. Eyes locked on him, I picked up the card. Dared a glance. Logan Steel, CEO Steel Security.
Smack me in the face with a Toshiba. Steel Security was the firm that installed a multimillion-dollar security system at Andersly-Dogget Distribution, my first job—one week before I was fired.
“Water under the bridge, Liese,” my mother would say. “Put it behind you.” Moms are always right, especially mine. But right doesn’t equal easy.
I threw the card back. It hit the desk and rebounded into the trash, making my cheeks heat. “You can’t be serious! Steel Security is the Ferrari of security firms. They do the biggest names in the world. Why would they be in little Meiers Corners?”
We are here to install a system.” Steel perched gracefully on my desk again. In his tight black T-shirt and open leather jacket he looked more like a well-muscled fashion model than a CEO.
“No way. Our Blood Center isn’t Red Cross. Most people have never heard of the Hemoglobin Society. On the galactic scale of Steel Security, we’re not even a comet.”
Steel grinned at that, a smile so sharp and white that I was momentarily blinded. “Nice pun.”
Wow. Mr. Fortune 500 (and Body 300) thought I was amusing?
Then reality kicked me in the teeth. I was a geek. When I talked, eyes glazed over. Amusing? Sure, and the Sex Fairy was real. “Why are you actually here?”
“Here’s the work order, if you don’t believe me.” Mr. Logan Great-Ass pulled a paper out of his back pocket. Since his jeans were so tight they must have been painted on his incredible tush, I wondered how there could possibly have been room. He unfolded the paper and tossed it onto my desk with as much flair as the card. “You’re wrong, Ms. Schmetterling. Gorgeous, but wrong.”
Gorgeous? I shot to my feet. “Now I know you’re lying. Fun time’s over. There’s the door.”
Sleek eyebrows arched. “I assure you, everything’s in order.”
“You’ve forged those papers. Or…or maybe they’re real, but the company’s been typed over. I don’t know what your game is, Mr. Steel, but this woman’s not playing.”
“No games, Ms. Schmetterling.” Leaning across the desk, he hooked my chin with one long finger. “Though if you want games, I could be persuaded.”
And he pressed his sculpted mouth to mine.
Steel’s lips were smooth and warm and he knew how to use them. His kiss was the magical brush of angel wings. Heavenly golden heat spread through me, stunned me. My eyelids fluttered closed. Excitement hit me low in the belly, hot, shocking excitement that bubbled up as a soft moan of pleasure.
At the sound, Logan licked my lips open. Angel wings became angel fire. “You taste wonderful. All hot and wet. Mmm, can’t get enough.” His kiss deepened, his tongue started to plunge.
Heat flamed through me, spiraling quickly past my temperate zone. I was kissing a virtual stranger but it was so good, better than seven-layer chocolate sin cake. Logan nibbled at my lips, his teeth extraordinarily sharp. Instinctively I knew I was about two seconds from clamping my ankles around his superb ass, and damn the consequences.
So I jerked back and slapped him. “D-don’t you…ever…do that again!”
He blinked, hazel eyes shading golden with surprise. His fingers hovered over his reddening cheek. I guessed with a face and body like his, Logan Steel wasn’t refused very often. Of reaction A), B) or C), my slap had probably been D) none of the above.
I tensed against the inevitable anger or cold disdain.
“Hmm,” he said. “Do you always overreact like that, princess?”
I gaped at him. “Overreact? That was sexual harassment, buddy. You’re lucky I didn’t pepper-spray you!”
“I’m here on legitimate business—”
“After hours, without an appointment. In jeans and a T-shirt better suited to a gigolo than a CEO.”
His eyes turned hard. The gold shaded eerily toward red. “Please don’t interrupt. Even if I was somewhat out of line—”
“You kissed me!”
“You liked it,” he shot back.
“That’s beside the point. You came in here, knowing I was alone, like a stalker—”
“I’m no stalker.” He snatched his card out of the wastebasket and thumped it onto the desk in front of me. “I’m here to protect you from stalkers. I’m one of the good guys, Ms. Schmetterling.”
“Is that how good guys behave? Forcing themselves on lone women?”
“Oh, for the love of…” Logan blew an exasperated breath. “I’m sorry, okay? I couldn’t help myself. You’re a beautiful woman and—”
“I am not beautiful!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.
My words fell into an astonished silence. Logan stared at me, a small frown creasing his brow. His eyes softened to a thoughtful hazel.
I started trembling. My heart was pounding, and I was breathing like a freight train. I wondered what the hell had just happened. I felt like I’d just fought for my life. Was Logan Steel right?
Was I overreacting?
Thankfully the phone rang, derailing my distressing thoughts. Taking a deep breath, I connected my Bluetooth headset. “Blood Center.”
“Hey, sugar,” a smooth alto greeted me. “It’s Dolly Barton. I had a cancellation tomorrow. Want to move your appointment to six thirty?”
I winced. My appointment at the Curl Up and Dye was not for a haircut. “Sure. Yeah.”
A pause. “You sound upset, sugar. Anything going on?”
“No.” I sank into my chair. A gorgeous tush settled onto the desk next to me. Shizzle.
“It’s not your ex-fiancé, is it?”
The last man to tell me I was beautiful. I glared at the mammoth stone on my right hand. “No.”
“That Botcher. What a scumbag.” Gum snapped. “Of course, office romances are thin ice anyway. You need to find someone new, sugar.”
“No, I don’t.” Certainly not Edible Tush.
“Sure you do. A woman’s got needs, if you know what I mean. It’s been, what—a year?”
I flushed. “Sixteen months.” Sixteen months since I had needs. Now all I had were issues.
Another crack of gum. “Well, not all men are like that, sugar. Some day you’ll find the right one.”
“And I’ll know that, how?”
“Easy. He’ll take you on a cruise to heaven.”
As I hung up, I rolled my eyes. The only cruise my ex had taken me on was to the Isle of Itsucks.
A hand cupped my face. Warm lips pressed to mine, lips that circled gently, spreading heat and light. Before I could protest, they were gone.
“What the heck did you do that for?” I glowered into oh-so-innocent hazel eyes.
“You looked like you could use it.” Logan picked up his work order, refolded it. “You are beautiful, you know. Hasn’t anyone told you that?”
I had recovered sufficiently to snort. “Are we back to that nonsense? I may be small-town, but I’m not ignorant. I’ve seen world-class beauty, and I ain’t it.”
“Oh?” Eyes zeroed in on my mouth, Logan leaned toward me. I jerked just out of reach. He shrugged and smiled.
Sweet Stephen Hawking on a trampoline, that gorgeous flex of lips made me want to nibble him like tender cake. “Chicago has real beauties.” My voice rasped, breath and every internal system I had going berserk at lips. “Long women with flowing hair and bodies so firm they could be eleven-inch dolls.”
“Plastic? Ah, and manufactured. You’re clever.” Logan grinned like he was genuinely amused.
Pleasure warmed me, confused me. Distracted me long enough for him to palm my cheek. His big, hot hand could have melted plastic—it scorched my mere flesh. I jerked back again. The man was seriously dangerous. “They still look gorgeous.”
“You are gorgeous, princess.”
“Meiers Corners pretty, maybe.” Blonde hair, blue eyes and generous curves from a diet of bratwurst and beer. The St. Pauli Girl-next-door. Compared to Chicago gorgeous, as exciting as a dumb terminal.
As if he read my mind, Logan said, “Beauty isn’t simply physical, Ms. Schmetterling.”
I made a rude noise. “Even pudgy, balding men go for butt and boobs.”
“Perhaps I have different tastes.” He leaned in until his tempting lips were a breath from mine.
I jerked back so hard my chair shot bang into the wall.
Logan grinned. “You’re cute when you’re flustered.”
Cheeks flaming, other parts hot with a different fire, I scooted back into place. “It doesn’t matter. If you have legitimate business, as you say, come back tomorrow during business hours.”
“Sorry, can’t. I have appointments all day. What does the L stand for?”
“Liese.” I blinked, then swore. On top of gorgeous and talented, the man was sneaky. “Ms. Schmetterling to you.”
Of course he ignored that. “Liese. Mmm.” Even the prosaic Liese, purred in his luxurious voice, became incredibly sexy.
My insides clenched, parts that had lain dormant for nearly two years. Jingling jump drives, I did not want to be attracted to any male, certainly not one so casually, devastatingly sensual. “I prefer Ms. Schmett—”
“I prefer Liese. Liese.” Logan repeated my name slowly, as if he were tasting it. “So melodic. I’d say beautiful, but I don’t want to get slapped again. Who hurt you so badly?”
I was already off-balance. That question, coming totally out of the blue, zapped me dumb. I stared at him, trying to reboot my brain into some semblance of an answer. Finally I spat, “Right. It can’t be you making me angry. It has to be me. Some deep personal trauma from my past.”
Logan cupped my chin with gentle fingers. “Anger often covers hurt—”
“What are you, a fricking psychoanalyst?” Shizzle. Logan Steel thought I was a kicked puppy. He thought I needed stroking and tenderness and care.
And damn me for an idiot, I wanted that. Wanted any man but especially this gorgeous, potent male to stroke me tenderly, to care. The wanting was so strong I actually leaned into his fingers…tilted my face toward his…closed my eyes…
The phone rang again. I jumped. Twisting out of Steel’s fingers, I hit connect. “Blood Center.”
A guy with a really bad Transylvanian accent said, “I vant to order carry-out, bleh.”
Carry-out from a blood center, right. Must be a Meiers Corners crazy. “Look, buddy. We aren’t Der BurgerHimmel. Call them for your Mount Ararat o’ Onions fix.”
“I do not vant onions, I vant blood. And I am not Buddy. I am Dracula. Bleh.”
“Yeah, well, bleh this, Drac. We don’t do carryout. If you want blood, come in and sign up like the rest of the world.”
“I cannot. I am in prison, bleh.”
Why was I not surprised? “Tough break. Tell you what—I’ll send you the forms. Dracula, care of Castle Dracula, Transylvania?”
“Care of Meiers Corners Verk Camp.”
I knew the place. Daycare for people who weren’t quite in the same time zone as the rest of the Earth. “Fine.” I tapped a few keys. “Papers are on their way.” I hung up.
“That was nice of you,” Logan said.
Another surge of warmth hit me. Immediately I quashed it. “Since when is rude and sarcastic nice?”
“You listened to him.” He shrugged. “Not many people would take the time to talk with a psychotic.”
“Yeah, I get the Nobel Nice Prize. What does that work order say, anyway?” I held out my hand. Business, the only solid ground in Swamp du Logan.
Logan’s smile became slightly mocking, as if he knew I was running scared. But his long fingers dipped into the pocket over his superb butt (and why, oh why was I still noticing his ass?) and he pulled out the folded paper.
“It’s for a full system.” He passed it to me. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you.”
“Now I know you’re lying. When you came in, you didn’t even know who I was.” I scanned the paper, several columns of densely packed numbers and technical terms. It was hard to read, except for the bottom line. That said five hundred thousand dollars.
“I knew I wanted L. Schmetterling.” Logan’s lazy shrug somehow emphasized the power in his shoulders. “I knew you worked nights. Since my appointments keep me busy all day, I was hoping you could pass a message to Schmetterling. How fortunate he turned out to be you.”
“How fortunate,” I echoed caustically, staring at the work order. It was hard to understand a half-million-dollar system at our Center. Not that upgrading our ancient alarm was a bad idea. Meiers Corners was as safe as Mayberry R.F.D., but occasionally I had noticed blood missing. Not a lot, but enough to start me wondering—and worrying. One of my jobs was to keep track of it. Would I get fired (again) over a few lost pints?
I needed this job, and not just for the income. “All this for a few thousand units a month? Are you sure you have the right place?”
“Call your executive director if you don’t believe me.”
“You think I won’t?” My chin kicked up.
Logan’s bright blond hair swayed as he shook his head, not in denial, but in gentle disbelief. “You really have some trust issues, don’t you, princess?”
“I certainly do not.” It came out too fast. I suppressed a grimace. “I just don’t understand most of this order.”
“Then let me explain.” Logan took the paper from me, smoothed it on my desk and perched next to me. His body felt like a radiator, so hot that if I wore glasses, they’d have steamed up. As it was, Liese-Down-Under was starting to heat. He slid a bit closer, his gorgeous butt wiggling like delectable bait. My heart kicked from drive into race. That tight ass of his was begging to be grabbed. He shifted, muscles playing smoothly, and my hands clenched. Heat? Try steam. Poach. Shake and bake.
Logan’s finger skimming the first couple lines of text thankfully distracted me from said butt cheek. Until I imagined me as that text. Pictured his finger skimming down my throat, around my breasts, over my belly…down to my…whoo-ha. Goosebumps woke from my neck down to my Xeon processor.
“This is the hardware we’ll be installing,” Logan said.
I blinked, forced myself to pay attention. He went on, finger still skimming paper. Lightly, like his angel-wing kisses. Kisses that would warm my neck, excite my nipples, my belly… Oh, bend me over and spank me with a netbook.
“Cameras, multi-sensors, the works. The equipment for a complete lock-down.” Then he pointed to a few words that I did understand. “Here are the system requirements.”
“An MMS?” I gasped. Taken from the gamer acronym MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online), MMS was a term coined by Steel Security for a blade-style supercomputer with a minimum of six multi-core CPUs, super-fast virtual switch and nanotube memory. I’d read about it in Hot Processors Monthly (a magazine I swear I did not buy for the centerfold). This system had twenty CPUs. “What the hell do you need all that power for? Can you even harness twenty processors at once?”
“With our proprietary software, yes. That’s itemized on lines thirty-seven through forty-two.”
I reread those lines. Integrated intruder sensor, alarm program and safety lock-down routines. And—an automated warehousing program and distribution database.
My jobs.
I got cold. Was Black Saturday happening again? Was I about to lose my job? Second time in less than two years would not look good on the old resume. “We already have software to run the Blood Center,” I croaked around the ice in my throat.
Logan caught my shift in tone. His eyes narrowed until they were twin scalpels that could cut the reason from my brain. The sensation of him digging in my head was so strong I mentally rattled off “Mary Had a Little Lamb” just in case.
“You’ll need to convert your data to the new programs.” He spoke slowly, stare drilling. “Standard formats, and I’ll be available to answer questions.”
Though I didn’t say a word, something must have communicated itself because his gaze softened. “We’re not here to put you out of a job, Liese.”
Fershizzle. Sexy, smart and slightly scary. “Ms. Schmetterling,” I corrected automatically. I didn’t believe him. Who paid a half million dollars for an installation, only to turn it over to a small-town gal geek? “Ms. is more professional.”
“I like Liese.” His voice caressed my name.
No man should be better than chocolate. “Too bad. Ms.”
Logan’s bright head tilted and he gave my hair a quick tousle. “How ’bout Ms. Liese?”
“Stop that. I’m not a puppy.”
“No, you’re a woman. A beautiful but very prickly woman.” He nudged me playfully. “Are you always so uptight?”
Uptight?” Issues, maybe. But— “I’m not—”
“Ever party? Play naked on the beach?” Logan leaned his elbows on the desk, putting his face just inches from mine. He flashed me his wicked smile, all sharp white teeth. “Ever just fool around?”
My nipples tightened traitorously—and belly, thighs and pudendum. “No,” I said, more to my libido than him. And to my sex, which was licking its lips and slurping a bit.
Logan’s nostrils flared. He leaned closer, lips less than a breath from mine. His eyes shaded toward rose-gold. “I love how you smell. All musky and tempting.”
I jumped to my feet. “I’m a geek. It’s WD-40.”
“It’s you.” He slid both glorious butt cheeks onto my desk and threw his legs gracefully over the other side. I backed up as he came to his feet, stalking lazily toward me. I backed until I hit wall. In the small office, it was all of three steps.
He kept coming until he pressed into me.
Logan’s huge chest muscles, thrust seductively against his cotton tee, were level with my drooling mouth. I tore my gaze from those gorgeous pecs only to have it land on his face. His eyes were heated and intense—and, embarrassingly, on my slobbering trap.
“I want to kiss you,” he rasped, his voice totally unlike the smooth insouciant tones I’d come to expect. “Are you going to slap me again?”
“Probably.” I forced the word through suddenly tight vocal cords.
“Okay, then. It’ll be worth it.” His fingers threaded through my hair, and his head bent. But this time wasn’t a soft brushing or gentle rubbing.
No. This time his mouth fastened hungrily on mine.
I gasped. He was quick to take advantage of my parted lips, stabbing into me with heat and deft skill. He tasted sweet and hot, like rich red cinnamon.
Logan kissed with amazing thoroughness. Not an inch went unplundered, his teeth, tongue and lips stroking, licking, biting, his fierce mouth demanding response.
My legs went limp, a rush of desire liquefying my very bones. I would have fallen if Logan hadn’t yanked me tight against his hard body. Something grew between us. Something impressively long and thick.
My heart beat harder. Moisture dewed my skin. My breasts swelled, clamoring and throbbing for his touch, nipples distressingly stiff.
As if Logan heard my traitorous breasts, he palmed one, pinching the nipple slightly. Shockwaves ricocheted through me. The other breast tightened, shouting for equal attention. Logan heard again, took both my breasts in his big hands, his pinches becoming possessive.
His kiss became possessive too. His mouth slanted and he thrust his tongue down my throat.
Feminine systems long dormant came online with a bang. If I had an On button, Logan had punched it. My legs scissored around his muscular thigh. He pushed forward, grinding into my crotch. My eyes popped wide at the heavy flood of desire that hit me.
“Stop,” I panted. “This is insane.”
“I love insane.” Logan’s tongue ran down my jaw to my neck. “My favorite setting is insane.” He nipped my throat, his teeth razor-sharp.
A hot, edgy need skated over my skin. “I don’t even know you. How can I be reacting like this?” So fast, almost unnaturally so.
The word caught in my head. Unnatural—
“Do you want to slap me?” Logan’s tongue soothed where his teeth had scored. His muscular leg started to beat a rhythm against my mons. My jeans were heavy denim and I shouldn’t have been able to feel it. But somehow he rode the thick inseam so it yanked directly on my clit.
My thoughts disintegrated. I arched into him. “I’d slap you…if I could make my arms work.”
Logan chuckled, pure male arrogance. “You smell so good. Mmm. So hot and ready.”
“Like pizza.”
“Like Liese.” He pushed emphatically between my legs. “Like sweet, musky Liese. I’ve got to taste you.” His tongue flicked the perspiration dotting my skin.
I wondered how that hot tongue would feel flicking something else wet. Oooh. My vulva clenched hard. My hips began moving in counterpoint to Logan’s thigh.
“I want you, princess.” Logan’s eyes turned molten gold, almost red. “I want to make love to you.” His cock expanded even bigger against my belly. Impressive became OMG. A thrill tore through me, ardor or terror. Movie-star gorgeous Logan Steel wanted to make love to me, to geeky Liese Schmetterling.
Probably terror. I was in way over my head. My total sexual experience was my ex-fiancé and my mini egg vibrator. Sex with Logan would be like playing baseball with the Cubs straight out of kindergarten. He’d easily slide into home, scary enough. As fast as I was reacting, he’d score off a single base hit.
But the baseball bat in his jeans? Terror. Definitely terror.
It reminded me forcefully that I didn’t know Logan Steel at all. Seducing me, threatening my job—that was all too familiar. Old tapes whirred to angry, panicked life.
I slapped him.
“Kinky. Do you like handcuffs too?” Logan stepped back just enough to give me room to breathe. “Or do you prefer scarves?”
I pushed past him to my desk, tossed off my headset and grabbed purse and coat. I was leaving now, fleeing past or present, I didn’t know and didn’t care. I practically ran to the door.
A firm hand stopped me.
I hadn’t heard a thing. I spun, eyes wide. “What the hell…?”
“You should turn off your laptop,” Logan said. “Security, you know.”
I jerked out of his grip, jabbed my computer off. I should have shut it down properly, but the way my body betrayed me scared me.
No. I wasn’t scared, I was angry. A man I didn’t know had touched me as intimately as my fiancé—who’d screwed me, screwed me over, and dumped me. Catching the glint of my two-carat “engagement” ring, which I still wore to remind myself never to trust any man, I wondered if being thrown away by a stranger was any less painful.
Not painful, aggravating. More angry than ever, and definitely not scared or hurt, I slammed out of the Blood Center.
Well, slammed isn’t quite right. I had to arm the old model alarm, using the super-secret pass code one-one-one. That disarmed it too. Not very sophisticated, but Executive Director Dirkson wanted everything kept simple.
I punched in the numbers, threw open the door and dashed out, knowing it would shut and lock automatically. I should have waited for Logan, or at least told him about the alarm, which could shriek like a candy-deprived toddler. As I ran away…er, moved briskly down the street, I considered that maybe I had subconsciously tried to cage him, like a deadly lion. He certainly unnerved me enough.
“Where do you live?” a deep voice drawled pleasantly.
“Shizzle!” I spun.
The street lamp etched Logan’s features into raw perfection, made his hair shimmer like silver silk. He glided closer, seductive, exquisitely male, sliding through the shadows like a big cat. My own pussycat started purring.
Just dropkick me. “Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what? This?” He bent and stole a quick openmouthed kiss.
I stared at him, flabbergasted. “Don’t sneak up on me.”
“Ah. Then I can do this.” He gave me a longer, deeper kiss.
“No! Don’t do that either.” I scrubbed my mouth, trying to wipe away the hot, powerful taste of him. “For a businessman, you’re not very businesslike.” I walked away. Fast. Almost running.
Logan, damn him, kept pace easily. “So where do you live? No, wait. Eighth and Eisenhower, right?”
I spun again. “How did you know that?”
“Security research. L. Schmetterling, Eighth and Eisenhower.” Logan tapped my nose gently. “That’s half a mile from here. Where’s your car?”
“Car?” I walked on, slower now. What was the point of running? With his long, strong legs, he’d just catch up. “For seven blocks? Even if it were seven miles, I’d walk. You get shot here for driving anything less.”
“Ah, the joy of small towns. Wait. L. Schmetterling. I’ve heard that name before… Yes, at Andersly-Dogget Distribution. We did work there. Programmer, systems design and finally project lead. A brilliant computer specialist with an unheard-of ninety-eight percent solution completion rate. Always on time and under budget. Liese, that’s you?” His eyes glowed gold.
“Maybe.” I’d never been called brilliant. Somehow, I believed it more easily than beautiful.
“You were about to get a well-deserved promotion to head of IT. Hell, Liese, you could have run the whole company, according to the records. Maybe you should have. I heard they’re not doing so well. Why did you leave?”
My happy hit a wall of reality and went splat. “Personal reasons.”
Logan’s smile faded. Perceptive as he was, he probably figured out he’d stumbled onto a Touchy Subject. Hopefully he would drop my issue and turn to something less dangerous—like religion or politics. Hopefully—
“Is this connected with not believing you’re beautiful?”
Logan Steel was incredibly perceptive, and, if he kept this up, incredibly dead. “You’re still here, why?”
Unruffled, Logan said, “I’m walking you home. It’s late, and I’d hate for anything to happen.” As he glided along he passed through alternate bands of street light and moonlight. Both loved him, gently caressing his sculpted features. My fingers itched to do the same.
I jammed them deep in my coat pockets. “At the risk of sounding like an infinite loop, this is Meiers Corners. The worst crimes we have are part-time hookers and kids trying to steal bikes. Bicycles, not motorcycles.”
“That was before Chicago gangs took an interest. You need to be more careful now.” Logan’s long fingers curled over my shoulder, stopping me with restrained strength.
I turned to him in surprise. He stared into the night, his nostrils flared, his eyes that heated gold. His expression was so far from his usual nonchalance that I almost didn’t recognize him. He no longer looked like an urban playboy.
He looked like—a hunter.

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The Bite of Silence by Mary Hughes

The Bite of Silence

Biting Love, Book 3

by Mary Hughes

Samhain Publishing

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-60504-854-3

[ Paranormal BDSM Romance, MF ]

Times Square, New Year’s Eve. Twyla Tafel uncovers a plot to unleash berserk vampires on the stroke of midnight. Her only ally is severe, muscular Nikos. The big Spartan vampire might help her stop the rampage, but if she pushes past Nikos’s reserve, who will stop him?

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Chapter One

[Continue Reading…]

Biting Nixie
Biting Love, Book 1
by Mary Hughes

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60504-358-6
Print ISBN: 978-1-60504-437-8

Nitro? Meet glycerin? Punk musician Nixie is a hundred pounds of Attitude in a city of Vanilla. Powerful attorney Julian is six foot plus of gorgeous, come to battle a shady group of suits. Punk and blue-blood, bad enough. And then Nixie discovers Julian’s a vampire?

Chapter One

“Waiting’s such a pain in the ass.”
I was talking to the lady in line ahead of me. Or rather her planet-sized hat, whose fake ostrich feather was doing Pluto’s orbit on my face. The hat ignored me.
So I turned to the guy behind. He was skinny with a fat butt and a long nose—like a dachshund in pants. “Life’s too short, right?”
Dachshund guy stared at me like I was demented.
And maybe I was. After all, I’d been standing here for—I checked my Juke. Over an hour. Sixty minutes and counting. In sixty minutes a good drama could have solved World Hunger. A comedy would have solved World Hunger, achieved Global Peace, and had a laugh or two besides.
Forget Murphy’s Law. Nixie’s Law: if you were waiting to make a left turn, there was always one oncoming fucktard who sailed through on the red. If you were in a grocery line, whichever line you picked would be run by Nimrod the Wonder-Iguana.
Waiting for the burro-cracy (aka the mule-ass government) to move its fat butt was enough to make the Great McHamburger Clown swear.
Standing in line in the mayor’s office for an hour —to do the government a favor —well, please. Just flay my skin off.
I mean, it wasn’t like you could do anything while you wait. You gotta be alert—
move up move up move up —or someone would jack your place in line.
I amused myself by making up sexual fantasies about the people in line. Behind dachshund guy was a shaggy collie of a woman. I imagined them doing it. Doggie style, of course. Teeny wiener-dog frantically humping Lassie. That was good for a few chuckles.
A surgically enhanced 34-DD paired with dachshund guy brought another round of silent laughs. I mean, his face was level with her chest. Imagine his head on a rubber band, playing paddle ball.
That was good for about ten minutes. After that I thought up seven different ways to kill the guy who wrote “Proud Mary”. The best was to lock him in a room with every band that ever played a wedding reception, each furnished with a Giant Slugger baseball bat.
But even waiting has to end. It was 4:40 p.m. and dark out when hat lady got called to the counter. I was finally at the front of the line. I was next.
Having someone cut in ahead of me was just a fucking insult.
“Excuse me.” I reached up to tap the guy’s shoulder.
The buzz-cut gray head swiveled. Apparently seeing nobody there, the guy turned back.
I’m used to that. At five-foot-nothing I’m shorter than most fifth graders. I don’t make up for it in weight, being a size zero. Don’t envy me. The only thing that fits me comes out of the little girls’ section at Kmart. Since I’m twenty-five, this is a major problem. Never mind trees falling in forests—if the shirt front is flat, do my breasts exist?
“Excuse me,” I said again, tugging on my tormentor’s suit coat.
He whipped around and seared me with a long glare. Aw, shit. I recognized that sharp nose and ratty face. I knew too well that seersucker suit, new half a century ago and hardened since into a shell of authority.
Mr. Schleck, my high school vice-principal.
Schleck hated me. Left over from having to deal with my party-animal sister, but he didn’t have to enjoy torturing me quite so much.
And he did enjoy it. Schleck was the kind of guy who liked to throw his weight around. Abusive Authority with a capital AA. Break one tiny little rule, and he handed out detentions and suspensions like the Ebola virus. And, from his cutting in line ahead of me, was a two-faced bastard about it.
“Excuse me.” I yanked on his seersucker symbol of authority. “You taxed my place. I was here first.”
The veep threw me a sneer. “Not now, little girl.”
At the counter, Twyla Tafel yelled, “Next!”
Schleck moved.
Enough was enough. Schleck had bullied me as a teenager and got away with it. But I was an adult now. He was not going to screw me any more. I grabbed his coat. “Just hold on there!”
Schleck whirled on me, snarling like an angry badger. “Let go of me, you little twerp.” His fingers closed around my hand and squeezed.
That hurt. But I had stood in that fucking line for a fucking hour. Playing by the rules. I got pissed. “I was here first. I’m next. No joust!”
Schleck’s face went red as a stoplight. His hand jerked back—to hit me. Incredulous, I saw his fat palm rocket toward my face.
I stifled my immediate reaction, which was to Chuck Norris his ass with a roundhouse to the head. Not that I minded shedding a little bully-blood—but not in the mayor’s office. I would have to take it. I squeezed my eyes shut.
Nothing landed.
“I believe you’re out of line, sir.”
The voice was deep and cultured. The words resonated with an accent I couldn’t immediately place. Proud, almost aristocratic. I cautiously popped one eye open.
Strong, sure fingers held Schleck’s wrist in an unbreakable grip. The vice-principal’s face was white as he stared up. And up. I followed that stare, and—
Towering over us both was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
Bronzed skin. Black hair and brows. Outrageously long black eyelashes sweeping over laser-sharp blue eyes. Sensuous dark bronze mouth. A jaw made to run your fingers over. Lean muscular body with biteable shoulders and a flat waist. He made a Chippendale look like a cub scout.
Gorgeous Guy stared down at Schleck with cool contempt. He didn’t squeeze the vice-principal’s wrist, didn’t hurt him in any way. He didn’t have to. The man’s obvious strength was enough.
Schleck, like bullies everywhere, cut and ran. Gorgeous Guy released the veep-creep as if he were slime.
Wow. Not only man-beautiful, but the guy oozed strength. No, more. Power. Power, the kind restrained by a tremendous will. I could have fallen in love. Could have, but not.
The guy was wearing a fucking three-piece suit.
Vest and all. Seriously, had anyone worn those since the ancient eighties? Charcoal gray, looked like worsted wool. Cut like a glove. Reeeeelly expensive. Black Italian wingtip shoes. Shirt so snowy white it glowed. Striped tie, probably from some Ivy League school. Damn. Gorgeous Guy in real life was a straight-laced Suit Guy.
He opened the coat and checked an actual freaking gold pocket watch. “You’re welcome.” A dry note flavored Suitguy’s beautiful voice.
While I was staring at his tailored wool armor he had been looking at me. “Uh, yeah. Thanks.”
He smiled slightly. Oh, stars above. What that smile did to my innards was illegal in Georgia. His eyes flicked to the counter. “You’re next, I believe.”
“Uh, yeah.” I couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” As he turned away, Suitguy added, “Little girl.”
That hit my libido like a bucket of ice water. I gave his broad back an impotent glare. When he didn’t instantly burst into flames I settled for stomping all the way to the counter.
Behind the counter, Twyla Tafel watched me approach. My friend Twyla is the mayor’s executive admin. She was a hundred forty pounds of competence wrapped in seduction. Men drooled over her and didn’t even notice she was doing their jobs better than they did.
I’ve known Twyla since the day we were sent to Schleck’s office for throwing paper wads on the ceiling of the girl’s bathroom. Twyla hid us in a supply closet instead. Even as a freshman she had keys to everything.
“What the hell is it with this stupid line?” I grouched at her. “And where’s Heidi?” The counter is usually Heidi’s domain and she runs it like a POW camp. Or, considering Heidi’s affection for spike-heeled boots and black leather, maybe a medieval dungeon.
Twyla shrugged. “Out sick. I’m trying not to mess things up, but everything’s hit the fan. Thanks to the mayor’s upcoming festival.”
The city-wide fundraiser. The mad cow charity event. Just lobotomize me. “Which explains why my short park and fart turned into a Martin Luther-sized constipation.”
Twyla cocked her head. “What’s got your undies in a bundle, girl?”
“Girl,” I echoed resentfully. “You’re almost as short as me. But no one would mistake you for a kid.” Twyla’s got breasts and hips that stun half the male population into a coma on sight. When she walks, the other half crash. She dresses sharp, wears designer spikes, and carries a lethal bump and grind. I glowered at her. “If I had real breasts instead of these little lumps on my chest—”
“Oh, not that again.” Twyla rolled her cocoa brown eyes. She was half black, her mother an African diplomat. She was half German, too, but you’d never know to look at her. It was kind of strange to hear fluent Deutsche coming out of the mouth of someone who looked like a voodoo queen.
Of course, everyone here in Meiers Corners was half German, whether they had the genes or not. A small-town thing.
Twyla tapped a long Burgundy Blast-colored nail on the counter. “You’re not a skinny-assed kid, Nixie.”
“You’re the one who described me as Shirley Temple crossed with Drew Barrymore.” I glowered at Schleck cowering at the end of the line. “Not just you. Everyone seems to think I’m a kid.” I looked around for the Gucci god. Suitguy was standing right behind Schleck, which explained the cowering.
“What do you expect, with how you dress?” Twyla waved a manicured hand at my clothes. “You’re an adult woman, Nixie. Yet you dress like a punk kid.”
I waved my own short pink-and-black nails in answer. “What am I supposed to wear? Two-hundred-dollar Liz Claiborne suits? It would cost another two hundred just to cut them down to my size. That’s all daggy.”
“Liz charges four hundred these days. Buy a miniskirt. It’d at least cover your knees.”
“Ha-ha. Anyway, I’m a musician, Twyla. I’m supposed to look rocked up.” I glanced down at today’s ensemble. Sequined black Skechers. Purple tights. Red bike shorts peeking out from the frill of a skirt ruffle. Garfield hoodie with the sleeves ripped out. A jean jacket, ditto. To show the butterfly tattoo on one arm. And the tiger on the other.
“Thank God you’re a lot smarter than you look. Or talk. Speaking of which.” Twyla pushed a stuffed manila envelope across the counter at me. “Your instructions. For the festival.”
“Thanks.” I hefted the envelope. “Why is the city trying to raise money, anyway?”
“We’re hiring some hot-shot East Coast lawyer. To protect Meiers Corners from Chicago.”
“Yeah, I heard Chicago wants to suck us up. Although I have no idea why.”
“Nobody knows. But the big boys are pretty serious about it. They’ve gone so far as to introduce annexation legislation with the state.”
I whistled. “Thus the need for a wonder-shark. But couldn’t taxes pay for this legal eagle?”
Twyla arched a perfectly plucked brow. “At five hundred dollars an hour?”
I swore. “That’s a lot of Kraft singles!”
“It’ll be worth it,” Twyla said.
“Worth an HDTV an hour?”
“Where do you buy your HDTVs? It’d take him at least two hours to earn one.”
Twyla was teasing, but I wasn’t. “Why get an outsider—especially at that rate? What’s wrong with old Denny Crane?” Yeah, really. We had a lawyer named Denny Crane. Just like Boston Legal. Meiers Corners was a magnet for weird. Like Cabot Cove attracted murderers. Okay, that was an ancient reference, but I saw Beauty and the Beast as a kid and had a brief hero thing for Angela Lansbury.
Twyla tut-tutted. “You don’t want to mess around with Chicago leet, girl. They’re top of the food chain. They’d eat Meiers Corners and spit out the bones if we didn’t get someone tough on our side.”
“Five hundred per will kill us surer.”
“You get what you pay for.” Twyla shrugged. “Anyway, it’s four-fifty. He’s giving us a discount.”
“Well roll me on my back and wave my legs in the air. How generous. And who is this playa?”
“Some guy from the firm of Quincy, Emerson and Holmes.”
“Great. Sounds like Snobby, Priggy and Prude. Or Dewy, Cheatem and Howe.”
“Ha-ha. Anyway, this guy’s coming to meet the mayor tonight. I had to order up special cheese balls. You know how the mayor loves his cheese balls.”
“Yeah.” Five hundred dollars an hour. I was lucky to make five hundred a month. But it explained the big extravaganza. No way little Meiers Corners could pay that much from taxes. “Well, I’d better let you clear out the rest of the line. Thanks for this.” I patted the envelope. “Guns and Polkas is looking forward to playing for the fundraiser.”
“Playing for it?” Twyla’s perfectly arched eyebrows rose. “Girl, you’re running it.”

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