Book III of the Vampire Queen Series
(can be read as standalone)
Released March 2009
Lady Daniela has never taken a full human servant. At two hundred years, she’s always put it off, having a bachelor’s attitude toward bonding with another, even an inferior human. However, on her return to her sheep station in Western Australia in 1953, she meets Dev, a war veteran and laconic bushman, who has the talents to help her reclaim her station from her mother’s lover, who usurped her position there forty years before. But after she takes care of that nasty bit of business, she’s also intending to rid Western Australia of a corrupt Region Master who is 500 years old and therefore over twice her age and strength. While a full human servant, particularly one with Dev’s unique talents, can augment her skills and resources, the more she gets to know him, the more reluctant she is to bind him to her in a way that might get him killed. But Dev has his own thoughts on the matter, and she will soon find it’s easier for a vampire to survive in the desert sun than for her to survive without him by her side.
© Copyright 2009 - All Rights Reserved
Western Australia 1953
Don’t go there tonight. Nothin’ but trouble.
As Dev passed the Aboriginal elder, he heard the warning, muttered in the language the old man knew he understood. A wise man would listen to such a warning. But he wanted a beer. A dumb galah he might be, but hell, he’d been in the Outback more than sixty days. Even uncooled, the beer would bring welcome bitter wetness to his throat. A smooth bottle in his hand, the clink of the top falling away on the bar surface. His craving for it made a knight seeking the Holy Grail no more than a bloke who liked collecting fancy cups.
He needed the comfort of human conversation. At least for a night. After that, it would start to grate on his nerves, rouse old memories. He was like a seesaw, needing to descend into the embrace of humanity, but in short order he had to push off from that and let the other, darker part of him sink back into the vast emptiness of the harsh lands he called home. People were too full, and that fullness hurt, the longer he stayed around it.
So, after his beer and some idle talk, he’d pay his tithe for the company and the wetting of his throat and head back out.
Unless there was a woman.
He snorted at himself. Not only were unmarried women few and far between out here, no decent woman put a foot inside a bar. An indecent one would be snapped up in a heartbeat, the ringers taking a break from their hard work on the far flung sheep and cattle stations willing to shell out their last quid for her.
It didn’t matter. As bad as lingering in human company could be, a woman’s body was a drug that carried with it a hell of a hangover when he had to face himself in a mirror the next day. Unfortunately, he couldn’t ignore the burning need festering in his balls. His mind had been dragging him into all sorts of unlikely fantasies for the past couple weeks. He’d risked fatally dehydrating himself, those nights he’d given in to the poor substitute of his hand. He might have to give it away, take the Ghan down to Adelaide and endure the mobs of people and noise, where women for hire were more plentiful.
Maybe it would be better that way. More impersonal and anonymous. Maybe he wouldn’t imagine Tina looking down at him with shame and sorrow in her eyes, from the heights of a heaven he was never going to see.
Walling that thought off, he focused on an Adelaide whore. He’d want a soft and passably pretty sheila, one who’d smell clean. Who’d let him take her as rough as she could tolerate and still hang around to stroke his hair, curl in front of him so he could fit himself to her curves. Even have the pleasure of listening to her sleep, if he wore her out. Which, if he did her proper, would be the case.
Uncomfortably aware that his imaginings were far from the impersonal fucking he’d claimed to be seeking, he tuned back in to his immediate surroundings. The usual scattering of vehicles, mostly utes, were parked in front of Joe and Elle’s place, a pub in the usual style. Two story, the upper level for the hotel, the lower for the bar. A veranda wrapped around that top level was for those who often preferred it to the stuffy rooms, if they had netting to guard against the bugs. A couple blokes sat out on it now, behind the lacy wrought iron railing, trying to catch the breeze.
Aside from the utes, there were a pair of expensive-looking Rovers, one being worked over by an agitated, grease-stained driver and another man. City folk by their appearance, but they wore appropriate clothes for the bush and appeared to be carrying the right supplies needed when traveling out here. That was a relief. Less chance the whole bloody town would have to mobilize to rescue them from some foolishness. Lord knows, the bush could surprise even the most experienced man. It could chew up tourists like a hungry croc.
He took his pack into the bar with him as usual, because sometimes a light-fingered fella got to thinking you didn’t need your belongings if you left them sitting unattended. However, as he stepped into the bar, he forgot he was even carrying it. Hell, if asked, he doubted he could have told anyone his name.
While no respectable woman went into a bar, he wasn’t about to cast any stones at the one standing at the antiquated juke box Joe prized. Except for her, it was the only shiny thing in the dusty place.
Her back was to him, so her face might look like an aggravated camel’s. But she had blond hair, tied in a tail that curled and waved across the narrow slope of her back like peaceful surf, touched by the gold of sundown. The track of it drew his gaze to the nip of her waist and down. Her arse alone would be worth overlooking a homely face, for the flare of her hips was well-outlined in a pair of trim brown jodhpurs.
“Well, look what the cat’s dragged in. Going to barter those eggs for a beer, Dev?”
In order to focus on Elle, Dev had to pull his attention away. He might have taken more time about it, but something in Elle’s voice put his radar up.
Eleanor Waters was the exception to the decent-woman-in-a-bar rule, first because she was the licensee, with her husband Joe. Second, she was as tough and no nonsense as old Joe. She always said she’d seen it all, such that she kept a shotgun below the bar in case any of it came back twice. But she was bothered tonight. Strangers passing through weren’t a frequent occurrence, but it was rare they caused trouble.
A glance about the occupied tables showed the woman was there with three men, in addition to the two out by the vehicle. From the way they’d checked him out when he stepped across the threshold, it was clear they were hired muscle. It was also clear she was the one who’d hired them, from their body language and glances toward her.
As he deposited his pack against the bar, taking off the slings that held his rifle on his back and the nest of billies at his hip, the blond woman turned at last.
Blue eyes. Jesus, so blue it was like diving the Reef. Skin so fair it brought to mind the fairy tales. But then there was that soft mouth, lush in ways that drove away all thoughts of children’s stories and went into the realm of darker, more provocative tales. The lipstick she wore was deep red, wet. Normally, he would have scoffed at a woman wearing makeup out here, but wherever she wanted to wear it was just fine with him. And holy Christ, she wore an opal amulet the size of his thumbnail. While that was impressive, he was far more distracted by how it glistened in the cleft of her breasts, just above the slightly strained button of her white blouse.
He’d stripped off his shirt to carry the three emu eggs Elle had noticed right off, so the stranger’s vivid blue gaze traveled with deliberate appreciation over his bare, sweat-stained shoulders and the expanse of his chest, passing over the scars, then lingering on each muscle in his abdomen as if she were tracing them with her tongue. When her glance went lower, just as slow and easy, her mink lashes fanned the cheeks of pale cream. She obviously didn’t mind him knowing she was looking.
“Dev.” Elle’s voice was a bit sharper.
Jesus. “Yeah, Elle. How ya going?” Clearing his throat, he put the bundle on the bar and took off his hat.
“Fair enough.” Elle’s solid bulk was a less unsettling sight to him as she slid him a beer. She had her brown and gray hair pinned up to keep it off her neck in the late afternoon heat. “The Yanks elected that Eisenhower fella president. And the Queen’s supposed to have another go at visiting us soon.”
Trying not to look toward the jukebox as the bar owner untied the shirt to give the eggs a critical look, Dev made a noncommittal noise. “Guess that’ll be a right treat for some. You know the eggs are for Joe. I’ve got the money for the beer.”
She smiled. “No, I was just teasing you. I know you’ve got the money. But I’ll shout you the first one anyway. I asked you to bring them, after all. Had a few bad moments thinking of you lying out there with your head kicked in by an angry mother bird. Then I remembered just how hard your head is.” A warning glinted in her eyes as she said it, her gaze sliding to the jukebox and back. “Joe’ll be so surprised for his birthday. He hasn’t had a cake made of emu eggs since his Nanna was alive. You can have the third, though. Only need two.”
When the woman reached over, ostensibly to wipe the bar, she lowered her voice and muttered, “Unless a bird did kick you in the head, you’d best pay attention, you daft bastard. She ain’t sweatin’.”
Dev shifted his attention. It was a sweltering sundown after a hot day, for sure. Elle had the fans going to help with it as well as the flies, but no help for it, a man was going to sweat. A woman, too. Not just the three muscle men his fair sheila had with her, but the group of blokes back at the pool table, some leaning against the wall with their drinks or tapping their smokes in the ash tray on the mantle for the fireplace that was never used. They all bore the signature sweat stains at the usual places. Chest, back, armpits.
In contrast, the woman’s ivory cotton shirt looked as if it had just been pressed and pulled out of the wardrobe. White, always a favorite color for the flies, seemed to have no appeal to them while on her back. They weren’t anywhere near her, whereas those who chose glasses instead of bottles had to keep a hand over them in between swallows to make sure the pests didn’t go for a swim.
As the jukebox started to play the wistful ballad she’d chosen, she turned back to it. When she started to sway, those trim brown daks she wore moved with her curves perfectly. His gonads engaged again in a shot, like bullets being racked into the firing chamber of a shotgun.
He wouldn’t say she was oblivious to the attention she was attracting, but she didn’t seem one of those shallow girls who needed it to thrive, her beauty her only sense of worth. Rather, he was reminded of a female predator who used wiles to attract her prey, just close enough…
His body and mind were screaming at him to go into that trap. Resolutely he turned back to Elle. “I’ll take a second beer,” he said.
His forearm was braced on the bar, and so he was startled when a slim-fingered hand reached over it to cup one of the three eggs Elle had now placed in a bowl. Elle jumped, her eyes widening. While Dev managed not to react, he hadn’t even heard the woman’s slim booted feet move across the wooden floor.
Her nails were a feminine length with clear polish, the elegant tips drawing attention to the grace of her hands. Despite the large size of an emu egg, the way she stroked the curves, he couldn’t help but think of how those tips would feel moving over his balls in a similar way. God, he could smell her. All woman, fresh scents of soap and powders and the mysterious things women did to make themselves impossible to resist. And those miles of blond hair, waiting for deeper study, teasing at the corner of his eye.
Forcing himself not to look, Dev nodded his thanks to Elle and lifted his beer to his lips, closing his eyes to savor as he tilted back. Perhaps it was because he was so aware of her proximity that he anticipated the woman, but he caught her hand a moment before she would have touched his exposed throat. Opening his eyes, he kept his hand firmly closed on her wrist. Intrigued, he noticed her men didn’t react, continuing their card game.
“Don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, love,” he said without rancor.
“I’m a woman who likes to touch fine-looking things,” she responded. Her voice had a Brit and Aussie blending with an unexpected sultry cadence, probably because the sound of it had the smoothness of lava, pouring heat straight into his pants.
She might have said something else, but he missed the next series of words entirely. Just like Elle, he wasn’t knocked off his pins by much anymore. But now, confronted with her close up, he was knocked full on his arse.
Her face looked as fragile and protected as a prize-winning orchid. The blond hair was truly spun gold, like that found in the mines long ago, when the dust glittered on the walls like an enchanted castle.
Easy, mate. She’s no whore, though by God she’s acting willing enough to take you on. What in hell was a woman like this doing out here? The softness of the skin under his fingertips said she sure as hell didn’t live in the Outback. He noticed how she’d come in on his left side, which avoided the straining long patches of late afternoon sunlight coming in through the open door and windows.
Nothin’ but trouble there tonight.
He’d gone and put his foot in it, hadn’t he?
Shifting his glance to a watchful Elle, he said, “Elle, love. Can you loan me a clean bar rag?”
Elle slid one over. Picking it up, Dev released the blonde to clean off the sweat and grime he’d just left on her skin. She had a narrow wrist, a gemstone on one finger in proportion to the one on her neck.
“Some nice baubles to be wearing way out here,” he observed, trying not to focus on how easy it would be to make his functional scrubbing a teasing stroke over her pulse, a hint of what he could offer to other parts of her. As she lifted her hand to accommodate him, he could feel that pulse beating like a bird’s heart. There was a delicate web of lines on her palm. Her life line was long, he noted.
“No sense in owning something if you’re not going to play with it. Show it off.” She turned her hand, interlacing a couple of her fingers with his own despite the cloth, and held them there at eye level, keeping his gaze focused on her face. He was a few inches taller than she was. “I’ll tell you my name if you give me the extra egg.”
Considering that, he gave her a half shrug. “Well, I haven’t asked you for that, have I now? As pretty a name as I’m sure it is, it’s not much currency for what could provide me a good meal or two. Barter again, love.”
She studied him, her mouth curving up. “A dance.”
“A slow dance.” Dropping the rag on the bar and letting her go, albeit reluctantly, he took another bracing swallow of the beer and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. As he did, he let his gaze move down and then back up, with as much brazen appreciation as she’d indulged herself. He thought he saw that hint of a smile reach her eyes at his boldness, but something else, too. Something darker. “The kind of dance that tells a man what a woman’s got to offer under her clothes,” he added.
Elle muttered something under her breath. Dev was sure it was something like “stupid bugger”, but because he was cracking on to the pretty stranger way too hard or because he was going hip deep into trouble and just trudging along happily, he didn’t know. Well, as for the first, the blonde had started it, hadn’t she?