MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Death comes to those who wait.
And to those who don't. So either way …—CHARLOTTE JEAN DAVIDSON, GRIM REAPER
There was a dead clown sitting in my living room. Since I wasn't particularly fond of clowns, and it was way too early for anything coherent to come out of my mouth, I pretended not to notice him. Instead, I let a loud yawn overtake me as I headed toward my kitchen. That was when a jolt of panic rushed through me. I glanced down to make sure my girl parts hadn't been compromised and sighed in relief. I had on a white tank and pair of plaid bottoms. My girls, also known as Danger and Will Robinson, were safe.
Mentally making the sign of the cross, I padded through my humble abode. Trying not to draw attention. Wondering if the dead clown, with his gaze following my every move, had noticed me. My apartment was a comfy cross between a storage room full of pillows and a broom closet, so it wasn't a long journey. Nor an especially enlightening one. Though I did come to a rather morbid conclusion in those few fleeting seconds: Better a dead clown in my apartment than a live one.
My name is Charlotte Davidson. Charley to some, Charlotte the Harlot to others, but that was mostly in middle school. I came with a decent set of curves, a healthy respect for the male anatomy, and a slightly disturbing addiction to brown edibles. Other than that—and the fact that I'd also been born the grim reaper—I was about as normal as a surly girl with a private investigator's license could be.
I strode toward Mr. Coffee with lust in my eyes. We'd had a thing for quite some time now, Mr. Coffee and I, and there was just enough of him left for one more cup. No need to make a fresh pot, to get him all hot and bothered. I popped the cup into the microwave, set it to nuke anything unfortunate enough to be caught within its grasp for thirty seconds, then raided my fridge for sustenance. Eating would keep me awake for at least another five minutes, and my one goal in life for the past couple of weeks was to stay awake at all costs. The alternative was exhausting.
After an epic search, I finally found something neither green nor fuzzy. It was a hot sausage link. I named it Peter, mostly because I liked naming things and partly because it seemed like the right thing to do. As soon as my java was piping hot I popped him into the microwave. Hopefully the radioactive environment would sterilize Peter. No need to have little Peters running around, wreaking havoc.
As I stood contemplating world peace, the exorbitant price of designer underwear, and what life would be like without guacamole, Peter beeped. I wrapped him in stale bread and ate him whilst loading my coffee up with enough imitation product to make it a health hazard. After a long draw, I plodded to my overstuffed sofa, sank into it, and looked at the dead clown. He was sitting in the club chair that catty-cornered my sofa, waiting patiently for me to acknowledge him.
"You know, I'm not really fond of clowns," I said after taking another sip.
Seeing a dead person in my living room was hardly a surprise. Apparently, I was super-duper bright, like the glowing lens of a lighthouse in a storm. The departed who didn't cross when they died could see me from anywhere on Earth and, if they so chose, could cross through me to get to the other side. That was pretty much the grim reaper gig in a nutshell. No scythes. No collecting souls. No ferrying the departed across a lake day in and day out, which would probably get old.
"I get that a lot," the clown said. He seemed younger than I'd originally suspected, perhaps twenty-five, but his voice was rough from too many cigarettes and late nights. The image conflicted with the bright mural on his face and curly red hair on his head. His saving grace was the lack of a big red nose. I seriously hated those, especially the squeaky kind. The rest I could handle.
"So, you got a story?"
"Not really." He shrugged. "Just wanted to cross."
I blinked in surprise, absorbed his statement, then asked, "You just want to cross?"
"If that's okay."
"That's more than okay," I said with a snort. No messages to loved ones left behind. No solving his murder. No hunting down some memento he'd left for his children in a place where no one in his right mind would ever think to look. These situations had all the creamy goodness of piece of cake without the added calories.
He started toward me then. I didn't get up, didn't think I could manage it—the coffee had yet to kick in—but he didn't seem to mind. I noticed as he stepped forward that he wore a ragged pair of jeans and his sneakers had been painted with Magic Marker.
"Wait," he said, pausing midstride.
He scratched his head, a completely unconscious act from his previous life. "Can you get messages to people?"
Damn. The bane of my existence. "Um, no. Sorry. Have you tried Western Union?"
"Seriously?" he asked, not buying it for a minute. And it was on sale, even.
I sighed and tossed an arm over my forehead to show how much I didn't want to be his messenger, then peeked out from under my lashes. He stood there, waiting, unimpressed.
"Fine," I said, giving in. "I'll type a note or something."
"You don't have to do that. Just go to Super Dog right down the street and talk to a girl named Jenny. Tell her Ronald said to bite me."
I scanned his clown getup, the reds and yellows of his hoodie. "Your name is Ronald?"
With a grin, he said, "The irony is not lost on me, I promise." He stepped through before I could question him on the bite me part of his comment.
When people crossed, I could see their lives. I could tell if they'd been happy, what their favorite color was, the names of their pets growing up. It was a ritual I'd learned to savor. I let my lids drift shut and waited. He smelled like grease paint and iodine and coconut shampoo. He'd been in the hospital, waiting for a heart transplant. While there, he decided to make himself useful, so he dressed up like a different clown every day and visited the kids in pediatrics. Each day he'd have a new name, something funny like Rodeo Ron or Captain Boxer Shorts, and each day they had to guess what it was from his voiceless clues. He couldn't talk well near the end, and while gesturing was difficult and left him exhausted, he felt it was better than freaking out the kids with his gravelly voice. He died just hours before a heart had been found. Despite my original assumption, he'd never smoked a day in his life.
And he loved a girl named Jenny who smelled like baby oil and sold hot dogs to put herself through college. Jenny would be the part of this whole grim reaper gig I hated most. The people-left-behind part. I could feel their hearts contract with grief. I could feel their lungs fight for air. I could feel the sting of tears behind their eyes at losing someone they loved, someone they were sure they couldn't live without.
I sucked in a sharp breath and pulled myself back to the present. Ronald was a cool guy. I'd have to look him up when my time was up, see how his eternity was going. I sank farther into the sofa cushions and took a long draw of coffee, absorbing the caffeine, letting it spark and reawaken my brain cells.
Glancing at my Looney Tunes wall clock, I bit back the despair I felt at finding it was only 3:35. I had hours to go before dawn. It was easier to stay awake during the day. Night was so calm and relaxing. But I couldn't let myself fall under. I'd managed to dodge sleep like it was an ex-boyfriend with herpes for almost two weeks straight. And when I didn't, I paid the price.
The mere thought of that price gave me unwanted butterflies in my nether regions. I pushed it from my mind as heat from the sultry night wafted around me like a heavy vapor, seeping into my skin, suffocating any thoughts of comfort. Utterly annoyed, I sat up, pushed a dampened strand of hair out of my face, and headed to the bathroom, hoping a splash of cool water would help and wondering how the heck the night got so sultry. It was freaking November. Maybe global warming had amped up its game. Or a solar flare had pushed through the magnetosphere and was cooking us all alive. That would suck.
Just as I reached for the light switch, wondering if I should buy sunscreen, a sharp stab of arousal sparked in my lower abdomen. I gasped in surprise and grabbed the doorjamb for balance.
This was so not happening. Not again.
I glanced at the faucet longingly. Water would set things right. Couple of splashes and I'd be back to my normal curmudgeonly self in no time. I flipped the switch, but the overhead just flickered as though gasping for air, then died out. I flipped again. And again, before giving up. Mostly because the definition of insanity came to mind.
The wiring in my apartment demoted the term code violation to an understatement. Thankfully, I had a night-light. It cast a soft glow in the bathroom, allowing just enough illumination for me to maneuver my way to the sink without stubbing anything vital. I stepped to the mirror and squinted, trying to siphon every last atom of light the universe had to offer out of the atmosphere. It didn't help. My image was nothing more than a shadow, a ghostlike apparition, barely existing.
I stood there contemplating that fact when a ripple of desire gripped me again, seizing me with fierce, delicious claws, trembling through me so hard, I had to clamp my jaw shut. I clutched the vanity as the fervor bathed me in a sensuous heat I couldn't fend off. It seeped inside me, lured me to the edge, led me to the dark side. Hungrily, I parted my lips and parted my legs and gave it room to grow. And grow it did. It built up strength and power, its tendrils pushing into me, swirling and pulsing in my abdomen.
My knees buckled, and I shifted my weight to my palms as the pressure grew more intense, forcing me to fight for every breath I took. Then the sound of another's breath mingled with my own, and I glanced up into the mirror.
Reyes Alexander Farrow—the part-human, part-supermodel son of Satan—materialized behind me, his powerful shoulders glistening as steam rose around him, giving the impression he'd just come from hell. He hadn't, of course. He'd escaped from hell centuries ago and was currently furious with me for binding his incorporeal body to his physical one. But that knowledge did little to lessen the effect.
I squinted to see him more clearly. "What are you doing here?"
He lowered his head, his dark eyes piercing me with an angry glare. The butthead. It was my bathroom.
But I'd bound him. I'd bound his incorporeal body to his physical one. How was he even there? How could he be?
"You summoned me," he said, his deep voice tight with animosity.
I shook my head. "That's impossible."
He reached an arm over my shoulder and braced his hand against the wall in front of me. To tower. To dominate. To make sure I knew I was trapped. His lean body pressed against my backside as he braced the other hand against the wall to my right, completely imprisoning me.
His hard gaze locked on to mine. "Is it impossible because you bound me like a dog to a chain?"
Oh, yeah. He was pissed. "You left me no choice," I said, my voice quivering, not nearly as confident as I'd hoped.
He lowered his head until his mouth was at my ear. "And you leave me none." His features darkened. His eyes narrowed as he stared at me in the mirror from underneath his thick lashes, hooded with passion.
I couldn't look away. He was so beautiful, so masculine. When he wrapped an arm around me, slid his hand down the front of my panties, I grabbed his wrist. "Wait," I said between ragged breaths. "I still don't understand how you're here."
"I told you, you summoned me." His fingers tunneled between my legs despite my best efforts, and I gasped aloud when they dipped inside. "You always summon me. You've always had the power to call me whenever you want or need me, Dutch. Or haven't you figured that out yet?"
I fought the delicious sensations spiking in my abdomen with each stroke of his fingers. Fought to grasp the meaning of his breathy words. "No, you've always come to me when I needed you. When I was in danger." And he had. Growing up, he'd always been there anytime my life was threatened.
His breath fanned across my cheek, the heat emanating off him scorching as his mouth sought the pulse point at my throat. "It's always been you."
He was wrong. He had to be. The idea that I could summon him, that I'd always summoned him, was unfathomable. I didn't even know what he was until very recently. I was afraid of him, in fact. He was a dark being made of smoke and shadows, and the last thing I wanted was to be in his presence. How could I have summoned him? What he proposed was impossible.
"But as long as I'm here…" He let that statement linger as he locked me against him and pushed down my bottoms and underwear in one smooth movement. Then he let the slightest grin lift one corner of his beautiful mouth, nudged my legs apart, and entered me in one long thrust. I gasped aloud, and the swirling that had begun only moments before grew to hurricane strength in an instant. I clamped one hand around his wrist at my throat, the other on to his steely buttocks, pulling him deeper, clawing for release.
I kept my eyes open, watching him in the mirror, studying his reaction. The slight parting of his lips. The furrowing of his brow. The fall of his lashes.
"Dutch," he said in his smooth, deep voice, as though helpless against what he was about to do. His jaw locked together as his climax neared. He lifted one of my legs onto the vanity and pushed into me, burying himself over and over, the act almost violent, coaxing me with each thrust, with each powerful stroke.
And with each stroke, the current inside me surged with more potency, his erection filling a need so deep, so visceral, it devoured every inch of my being. The raw yearning that lingered in the distance rushed forward to pool between my legs. It swelled like a tide, milking me, coaxing me ever closer.
My fingernails dug into his wrist, suddenly remembering he didn't want to be there. Not with me. Not after what I'd done. "Reyes, wait."
I felt it the moment it seized him, felt it quake and convulse through his body, and in an instant an explosion burst and shot through me, sending a sharp sting of pleasure ricocheting against my bones, coursing through my veins, searing my flesh with a scalding ecstasy.
And then the world came crashing in as the violence of an orgasm splitting me in two jolted me from a fitful sleep. The dying remnants of a scream echoed in the room, and I knew instantly it was my own reaction to the climax. I forced myself to pause, to catch my breath, to unclench my fists from around the coffee cup that had emptied its contents in my lap. Luckily, there wasn't much left. I put the cup on a side table, then I fell back onto the sofa and threw an arm over my forehead to wait out the familiar storm trembling through my body.
Three times in one week. Within seconds of closing my eyes, he'd be there, waiting, watching, angry and seductive.
I glanced at the clock again. The last time I'd looked, it really did say 3:35. Now it said 3:38. Three minutes. I'd closed my eyes three minutes ago.
With an exhausted sigh, I realized it was my own fault. I'd let myself drift.
Maybe this was Reyes's way of making me pay for what I'd done. He'd always been able to leave his body, to become incorporeal and wreak all kinds of havoc on humanity. Not that he actually wreaked havoc, but he could've had he wanted to. Now he was stuck in his body. A minor indiscretion if you asked me, and when I bound him, a necessary one.
But now he was back to haunting my dreams. At least when he'd entered my dreams before, I actually got some sleep between rounds of hide-and-seek and tug-of-war. Now, I close my eyes for a second and he's there in the most intense way possible. As long as I'm asleep, we're going at it like rabbits on a bunny farm.
And the worst part of the whole thing lay in the fact that he really was pissed as hell at me. As a result, he had no desire to be there. He was angry, consumed with rage, and yet oh so passionate, like he couldn't help himself. Like he couldn't control the heat coursing through him, the hunger in his veins. I couldn't exactly control myself either, so I knew how he felt.
But I'd summoned him? Impossible. How could I have summoned him growing up? Like that time I was four and I was almost kidnapped by a convicted child molester? I didn't even know what he was. I'd been scared of him.
Just then, I heard my front door crash open and decided it was time to clean up anyway. Coffee never felt as good on the outside.
"What? Where are you?" I heard my neighbor who moonlighted as my receptionist and best friend say as she stumbled into my apartment. Cookie's short black hair stuck out in all kinds of socially unacceptable directions. And she wore wrinkled pajamas, striped in alternating blues and yellows that fit tight around her robust middle half with long red socks that bunched around her ankles. She was such a challenge.
"I'm here," I said, hoisting myself off the sofa. "Everything's okay."
"But you screamed." Alarmed, she scanned the area.
"We really need to soundproof these walls." She lived right across the hall and could apparently hear a feather drop in my kitchen.
After taking a moment to catch her breath, she leveled a cold stare at me. "Charley, damn it."
"You know, I get called that a lot," I said, padding toward the bathroom, "but Charley Damn It's not really my name."
She stepped toward my bookcase and braced herself with one hand while the other tried to still her beating heart. Then she glared. It was funny. Just as she opened her mouth to say something, she noticed the plethora of empty coffee cups scattered about the place. Then she glared again. It was still funny.
"Have you been drinking all night?"
I disappeared into the bathroom, came back with a toothbrush in my mouth, then pointed toward the front door with raised brows. "Break and enter much?"
She stepped around me and closed the door. "We need to talk."
Uh-oh. Scolding time. She'd been scolding me every day for a week. At first, I could lie about my lack of sleep and she'd fall for it, but she started suspecting insomnia when I began seeing purple elephants in the air vents at the office. I knew I shouldn't have asked her about them. I thought maybe she'd redecorated.
I went to my bedroom and changed into a fresh pair of pj's, then asked, "Want coffee?" as I headed that way.
"It's three thirty in the morning."
"Okay. Want coffee?"
"No. Sit down." When I paused midstride and raised my brows in questions, she set a stubborn tilt to her jaw. "I told you, we need to talk."
"Does this have anything to do with that mustache I drew on you while you were sleeping the other night?" I lowered myself slowly onto the sofa, keeping a wary eye on her, just in case.
"No. This has to do with drugs."
My jaw fell open. I almost lost my toothbrush. "You're on drugs?"
She pressed her mouth together. "No. You are."
"I'm on drugs?" I asked, stunned. I had no idea.
"Charley," Cookie said, her voice sympathetic, "how long has it been since you've slept?"
With a loud sigh that bordered on a whine, I counted on my fingers. "Around thirteen days, give or take."
Her eyes widened with shock. After she let that sink in, she asked, "And you're not on anything?"
I took the toothbrush out of my mouth. "Besides Crest?"
"Then how are you doing it?" She leaned forward, her brows glued together in concern. "How are you not sleeping for days at a time?"
"I don't know. I just don't close my eyes."
"Charley, that's impossible. And probably dangerous."
"Not at all," I assured her. "I'm drinking lots of coffee. And I hardly ever fall asleep while driving."
"Oh, my gosh." She let her head drop into her palm.
I popped the toothbrush back into my mouth with a smile. People like Cookie were hard to come by. Stalwart. Loyal. Easy to punk. "Hon, I'm not like you, remember?"
She focused on me again. "You're still human. Just because you heal really fast and can see the departed and you have this uncanny ability to convince the most mundane of persons to try to kill you—"
"But he's so mad at me, Cook." I lowered my head, the sadness of my situation creeping up on me.
She stopped and absorbed my statement before commenting. "Tell me exactly what's going on."
"'Kay. Need coffee first."
"It's three thirty in the morning."
Ten minutes later, we both had a cup of coffee à la fresco, and I was in the middle of describing my dreams—if one could call them that—to a starry-eyed divorcée with lust in her loins. She already knew about my binding Reyes to his physical body, but she didn't know about the dreams. Not entirely. I'd just told her about my most recent encounter with God Reyes, a being forged in the fires of hell, created from beauty and sin and fused together with the blistering heat of sensuality.
I fanned myself and refocused on her.
"He was actually—"
"Yep," I said.
"And he put your leg—?"
"Yep. I think for ease of access."
"Oh, my." A hand floated up to cover her heart.
"Yep again. But that's the cool part. The orgasmic part. The part where he touches me and kisses me and strokes me in the most amazing places."
"He kissed you?"
"Well, no, not this morning," I said, shaking my head. "But sometimes he does. Strange thing is, he doesn't want to be there. He doesn't want to be with me. And yet, the minute I close my eyes, there he is. Fierce. Sexy. Pissed as hell."
"But he actually lifted your leg—?"
"Cookie," I said, grabbing her arm and forcing her to focus, "you have to get past that part."
"Right." She blinked and shook her head. "Right, sorry. Well, I can certainly see why you don't want to experience that kind of trauma night after night."
"But I don't get any actual rest. I swear I'm more exhausted when I wake up, like, three minutes later. And he's just so mad at me."
"Well, you did bind him for all eternity."
I sighed. "Surely it's not for all eternity. I mean, I can fix this." I decided to leave out the part where I'd already tried to unbind him and failed miserably. "I'll figure out how to unbind him, don't you think?"
"You're asking me?" she asked, balking at the very idea. "This is your world, hon. I'm just an innocent bystander." She looked at my Looney Tunes clock.
As usual, my selfless concern for my fellow man amazed me. "You need to get back to bed," I said, taking her cup and heading for the kitchen. "You can get in a good two hours before you have to get Amber up for school." Amber was Cookie's twelve-going-on-thirty-year-old daughter.
"I just drank a cup of coffee."
"Like that ever stopped you."
"True." She stood and headed for the door. "Oh, I meant to tell you, Garrett called. He might have a case for you. Said he'd get in touch this morning."
Garrett Swopes was a bond enforcement agent whose dark skin made the silver in his eyes glisten every time he smiled, a feature most women found attractive. I just found him annoying. We'd weathered some rough times, he and I, like when he accidently found out about my otherworldly status and decided to have me committed.
For the most part, he was okay. For the rest, he could bite me. But as a skiptracer, he was phenomenal and came in super-duper handy at times.
"A case, huh?" That sounded intriguing. And slightly more profitable than sitting around twiddling my thumbs. "Maybe I'll just run over there and talk to him about it in person."
She stopped halfway out the door and looked back at me. "It's a quarter past four."
A huge smile slid across my face.
Her own expression turned dreamy again. "Can I come?"
"No." I pushed her out the door. "You have to get some sleep. Somebody has to be sane during regular office hours, and it's not going to be me, missy."
* * *
A little over fifteen minutes later, as I stood knocking on Garrett Swopes's door in my Juicy Couture pajamas and pink bunny slippers, I realized I may have died on the way over. I was so tired, I could no longer feel life flowing through me. My fingers were numb. My lips were swollen. And my eyelids had dried to the consistency of sandpaper, their sole purpose to irritate and drive the will to survive right out of me.
Yep, I was most likely dead.
I knocked again as a shiver rippled down my spine, hoping somewhere in the back of my mind that my probable deadness wouldn't keep me from performing my supernatural duty, which was basically to stand there while dead people who hadn't crossed immediately after their deaths crossed through me. But as the only grim reaper this side of forever, I provided an invaluable service for society. For humanity. For the world!
The door swung open and a grumpy skiptracer named Garrett stood glowering at me with a fury I found difficult to describe, which meant I probably hadn't died after all. He looked like he had a hangover. When hungover, Garrett could barely see elephants, much less the departed. He managed to growl a question from between his clenched teeth. "What?"
"I need ibuprofen," I said, my voice distant and unattractive.
"You need therapy." It was amazing how easily I could understand him, considering he had yet to unclench his teeth.
"I need ibuprofen," I said with a frown, in case he didn't hear me the first time. "I'm not kidding."
"I'm not either."
"But I wasn't kidding first."
With a loud sigh, he stood back and motioned me inside the bat cave. I looked down at my bunny slippers, silently begging them to hop forward, when Garrett curled his fingers into my Juicies and eased me inside.
It helped. With the momentum I'd gained, I crossed his carpet straight to his kitchen cabinets, flipping light switches along the way.
"Do you have any idea what time it is?" he asked.
"Not especially. Where are your over-the-counter drugs?" I'd recently developed a headache. Possibly when I hit that telephone pole on the way over.
Garrett's bachelor pad was much tidier than I'd expected. Lots of tans and blacks. I rummaged through cabinet after cabinet in search of his drug stash. Instead I found glasses. Plates. Bowls. Okay.
He stopped short behind me. "What are you looking for again?"
I paused long enough to glower. "You can't be this slow."
He did that thing where he pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. It gave me a chance to size him up. Mussed dark hair in need of a trim. Thick stubble along his jaw also in need of a trim. Manly chest hair also in need—
"Oh, my god!" I said, throwing my hands over my eyes and hurtling my body against the counter.
"I'm not naked."
"You're not blind. I'm wearing pants."
"Oh." That was embarrassing.
He shifted his stance in impatience. "Would you like me to put on a shirt?"
"Too late. Scarred for life." I had to tease him a little. He was so grouchy at four thirty in the morning. I went back to scouring his cabinets.
"Seriously, what are you looking for?"
"Painkillers," I said, feeling my way past a military-issue canteen and a package of Oreos. Oreos just happen to fall under the category of brown edibles. I popped one in my mouth and continued my noble quest.
"You came all the way over here for painkillers?"
I gave him a second once-over while crunching. Other than the bullet wounds he now sported on his chest and shoulder from when I almost got him killed a couple weeks ago, he had good skin, healthy eyelashes, six-pack abs. Cookie may have been on to something. "No, I came over here to talk to you," I said, swallowing hard. "I just happen to need painkillers at this moment in time. They in the bathroom?" I headed that way.
"I ran out," he said, blocking my path, clearly hiding something.
"But you're a bond enforcement agent."
His brows snapped together. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Come on, Swopes," I said, my voice sharp with accusation, "I know you track down drug dealers when you're not watching Debbie Does Dallas. You have access to all kinds of drugs. You can't tell me you don't pocket a little crack here, a few prescription-strength Motrin there."
After scrubbing his face with his fingers, he strolled to a small dining room table, pulled out a chair, and sat down. "Isn't your sister a psychiatrist?"
I stepped into his bedroom and switched on the light. Besides the rumpled bed and clothes strewn about the room, it wasn't bad. I hit the dresser first.
"Actually, I'm glad you're here," Garrett called out. "I might have a case for you."
That was exactly why I'd come over, but he didn't need to know that. "I'm not cleaning out your truck in search of some mysteriously lost object again, Swopes. I caught on."
"No, a real case," he said, a smile in his voice, "through a friend of a friend. Seems this guy's wife went missing about a week ago and he's looking for a good PI."
"So why send him to me?" I asked, stumped.
"Are you finished in there?"
I'd just gone through his nightstands and was headed for the medicine cabinet in his bathroom. "Just about. Your choice of porn is more eclectic than I thought it would be."
"He's a doctor."
"Who's a doctor?" Nothing of use in his medicine cabinet. Absolutely nothing. Unless nondrowsy allergy medication could be considered a painkiller.
"The guy whose wife is missing."
Who on planet Earth didn't have aspirin in the house? My head ached, for heaven's sake. I'd nodded off on the way over to Garrett's place and veered into oncoming traffic. The honking horns and flashing lights had me believing I'd been abducted by aliens. Thank goodness a well-placed telephone pole put a stop to that nonsense. I needed stronger coffee to keep me awake. Or maybe something else entirely. Something industrial.
I peeked around the door and asked, "Do you keep syringes of adrenaline on hand?"
"There are special programs for people like you."
In a moment of sheer terror, I realized I couldn't feel my brain. It was just there a minute ago. Maybe I really was dead. "Do I look dead to you?"
"Does your sister have an after-hours emergency number?"
"You're not helping," I said, making sure the disgust in my voice was unmistakable. "You would suck as a customer service representative."
He unfolded himself from the chair and headed for the fridge. "Want a beer?"
I shuffled to the table and stole his seat. "Seriously?"
A brow arched into a shrug as he twisted the cap off a bottle.
"No, thank you. Alcohol is a depressant. I need these lids to stay open for days." I pointed to them for visual confirmation.
"Why?" he asked after a long swig.
"Because when they're closed, he's there."
"God?" Garrett guessed.
Garrett's jaw pressed shut. Probably because he wasn't horridly fond of Reyes or our unconventional relationship. Then again, nobody ever said consorting with the son of Satan would be easy. He set the beer on the counter and strode to his room, his movements suddenly sharp, exact. I watched him disappear—he had a nice tapering thing going on—and reappear almost instantly with shirt and boots in hand. "Come on, I'll drive you home."
"I came in Misery."
"Exactly, and I think you've caused enough."
"No, my Jeep. Misery? Remember her?" Sometimes people found it odd that I'd named my cherry red Jeep Wrangler Misery, but Gertie just didn't seem to fit. "She'll be upset if I just leave her here on a strange side street. Alone. Injured."
He looked back at me, startled. "You wrecked your Jeep?"
I had to think about that one. "I can't be entirely certain. There was a telephone pole, screeching tires, the strong possibility of alien life. It all happened so fast."
"Seriously. I need your sister's number." He shrugged into the shirt as he hunted down his keys.
"Desperate much? Besides, you're not my sister's type."
After Garrett escorted me to his truck none-too-gently, he climbed into the driver's side and brought the vehicle to life with a roar. The engine sounded pretty good, too. I gazed out the window as we swam through Albuquerque, the night thick with an almost impenetrable darkness. The tranquil serenity didn't help my current predicament. My scratchy lids were like lead and grew heavier and heavier with every minute that passed. Every second. Despite the discomfort, I fought with all my strength to keep them open, because this was better than the alternative: Reyes Farrow being drawn into my dreams against either of our wills, like an invisible force pulled him toward me every time I closed my eyes. And once inside my head, all our anger and inhibitions washed away into a sea of sensuality where mouths scorched and hands explored. Which sucked because we were both quite annoyed with each other.
But for him to say that I'd summoned him just didn't make sense. I'd have to look into that one.
"How long have you been awake?"
I snapped back to Garrett and looked at my watch. Or, well, my wrist where my watch would have been had I remembered it. "Um, about thirteen days."
He seemed to still beside me. I couldn't be sure, though. I was drifting in and out of reality, if the little girl with the kitchen knife on his hood was any indication. I suppose she could have been a departed, but they rarely rode on hoods.
"Look, I realize you're different than the average human," Garrett said, his tone guarded, "but thirteen days without sleep can't be good for anyone, not even you."
"Probably not. Did you buy a new hood ornament?"
He glanced at his hood. "No."
"This doctor have a name?"
He reached across my lap into the glove box and pulled out a card. "Here's his info. He's supposed to go to your office this morning if you make it in."
Dr. Nathan Yost. "I'll make it in. Is he a friend of yours?"
"Nope. He's an asshole. But everyone else on planet Earth seems to worship him."
"All righty, then." I tried to stuff the card into a pocket, then realized I didn't have any. "Hey, I left my bag in Misery."
Garrett shook his head. "The things you say, Charles. Oh, I keep meaning to tell you, I've been working on a special list of things one should never say to the grim reaper."
I chuckled. "I have so many comebacks to that, I don't think I can pick just one."
"I'll start at the bottom," he said with a grin. "Are you ready?"
I shrugged my right eyebrow. "As I'll ever be."
"Okay, number five, I'm dead tired."
"So, it's not a particularly long list."
"Do you want to hear the list or not?" he asked as we pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building.
"I'm weighing my options. This list could either be a revelation of apocalyptic proportions or a complete waste of my limited brain fuel. I'm leaning toward the latter."
"Fine, I'll tell you the rest when you're in a better mood. It'll make it more suspenseful."
"Good idea," I said with a thumbs-up. Suspenseful, my ass.
"Nobody recognizes true talent anymore." He escorted me upstairs. "Are you going to get some sleep?" he asked as I inched the door closed between us, leaving him in the hallway.
"Not if I can help it." At least he'd been of some use to me. I'd made it through another hour without sleep.
Just as I closed the door and turned toward the coffeepot, he reopened it, muttered, "Lock this," then closed it again.
I trudged back and locked the door only to hear keys jiggling in the lock about two seconds later. Either that, or I'd fallen asleep standing up again. Since Reyes hadn't appeared to offer me an earth-shattering climax, probably not.
Cookie burst in, walked right past me, and headed straight for the coffeepot. "Did you talk to Garrett?"
I followed her. "Yep. I think there was a clown in my apartment this morning."
"Are my pajamas that bad?" she asked, surveying the pj's she still wore.
"No." I blinked back to her. "A dead clown."
"Oh. Like a departed?"
"Is he gone?" she asked, glancing around in concern.
"Yes. He crossed."
"Well, that explains the clown comment. I just thought you were being a smart-ass."
That trip made me super sleepy. Maybe I really did need a shot of adrenaline. "Hey, I thought you were going back to bed."
"I was, but visions of sugarplums kept dancing through my head. Sugarplums of the male variety, if you know what I mean. Speaking of which," she said, taking a long draw on her java, "was Garrett naked?"
"Why would Garrett be naked?" I asked, carefully placing a frown on my face to camouflage the giggle bubbling up inside.
"I was just wondering if he sleeps naked."
"I have no idea if he sleeps naked. He would hardly answer the door that way."
She nodded in thought. "That's a good point. Oh, crap, I have to get Amber up for school."
"Okay, I need a shower anyway. I still smell like coffee. And I need to run by Super Dog sometime today. Don't let me forget." I headed for the bathroom.
"You got it. Oh," Cookie said, pausing at the door, "I meant to tell you, I borrowed a can of coffee from the office."
I stopped and hit her with my best glower of astonished disappointment. "You stole a can of coffee from the office?"
"I borrowed a can of coffee from the office. I'll buy another with my next paycheck."
"I can't believe this."
"Just kidding. Don't worry about it," I said with a wave of my hand. "It's not like I pay for the stuff."
She had started out the door but stopped again. "What?"
"The coffee. I don't actually pay for it."
"Where do you get it?"
"I swipe it from Dad's storeroom." When she flashed me a look of shock and disapproval, mostly disapproval, I held up my hands and did the time-out gesture. "Hold up there, missy. I solved cases for that man for years. The least he can do is provide me with a cup o' joe every now and then."
My dad had been a detective with the Albuquerque Police Department, and I'd been helping him solve crimes since I was five. For some reason, it's a lot easier to solve crimes when you can ask the victim who did it. While my dad retired a few years ago, I still did the same for my uncle Bob, also a detective with APD.
"You steal our coffee from your dad?"
"I drink stolen coffee?"
"On a daily basis. Do you remember that morning about a month ago when we were out of coffee and then that guy came in with a gun and tried to kill me, and Reyes materialized out of nowhere and sliced his spine in half with that ginormous sword he keeps tucked under his robe, and Uncle Bob came with all those cops, and my dad started questioning the whole spinal cord thing?"
After a long moment, she said, "Barely," her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Well, I needed a cup of coffee after that near-death experience like you would not believe, and we didn't have any. So I took a can out of Dad's storeroom."
"Charley," she said, looking around as if someone were listening, "you can't just steal your dad's coffee."
"Cook, at that moment in time, I would have sold my body for a mocha latte."
She nodded in understanding. "I can certainly see why you did it that one time, but you can't keep doing it."
"Oh, so it's okay for you to steal, but not me?"
"I wasn't stealing. I was borrowing."
"Whatever helps you sleep at night, Bonnie. Say hey to Clyde for me."
With a loud sigh, she headed out the door again. Just before I closed the bathroom door, I called out to her, "By the way, he answered the door shirtless."
After a loud gasp, she said, "Thank you."
Copyright © 2012 by Darynda Jones