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-The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Chapter 17
Malthus Krayl crouched on the balcony railing, powerful thighs flexed, forearms resting on his knees. The street was sixteen stories below him, shiny and black from the recent rain, reflecting the stars that freckled the night sky and the lights of the buildings that rose on either side like sheer canyon faces of steel and concrete. He shifted his weight onto the balls of his feet and leaned out, almost far enough to tip and fall.
He relished the thought, pictured the possibilities.
The cold wind in his hair, making his skin sting, billowing his shirt out behind him. Exhilaration tearing through his veins.
He was the first to admit that he was an adrenaline junkie. He had a liking for the razor's edge, for the thrill surging in a wave of tidal proportion.
But he didn't let himself do it. Not because he could die from the fall, but because he couldn't.
Oh, he might break a bone or two, but he would heal-his kind always healed. And he could just imagine the expression on his prey's face if he fell from the sky like a dark angel.
The thought made him laugh.
He was more devil than angel, but in strict truth he was neither. He was a soul reaper.
He killed. He harvested the hearts of his victims. And the darksouls. Those, he fed to Sutekh, luscious entre;es of pure power, spiced with lust and greed and unadulterated evil.
Nice work if you could get it. A tad messy. But nice.
Sutekh. He went by many names. Seth. Seteh. Lord of the desert. Lord of evil. He was the Underworld überlord of chaos. Which Mal figured made him what mortals would call the devil's spawn, because he wasn't just any soul reaper; he was Sutekh's son. One of four.
No, he reminded himself, not four. Not anymore. Only three now. Lokan was dead. Skinned. Butchered.
Mal stared out at the night sky and fought the pain that twisted him in knots, focusing instead on the moment. The hunt.
Tonight's prey was special. Not only was his soul so dark it might have been dipped in toxic waste, but he was a potential source of information that Mal wanted so badly he could taste it.
Like any good predator, he waited, hunkered on the balcony rail.
If patience was a virtue, it was one of the few he possessed.
A taxi edged around the corner, water spraying up from the tires. Senses humming, he leaned out as far as balance and gravity allowed.
The cab slowed to a stop and after a few seconds the back door opened and a man climbed out. Pyotr Kuznetsov, High Reverend of the cult of Setnakht. Mal's attention sharpened and narrowed. The hunt had started to get interesting.
Kuznetsov turned back to the cab and offered his hand to the passenger still inside.
A woman stepped out. Blond hair. All curves. Human. Kuznetsov steered her away from the cab toward the lobby doors.
Mal cursed softly.
Looked like the hunt had just been postponed.
Colored contacts changed Calliope Kane's eyes from their usual all-too-memorable green to dark, liquid brown. Her dark hair was slicked down and pinned and tucked up under a long auburn wig of full curls. Subtle use of highlight and shadow altered the appearance of her nose, her cheeks. She didn't look like herself. Even the clothes she was wearing-short, low-cut Lycra dress, impossibly high heels-were a far cry from her usual utilitarian choices.
But that was the whole point.
Tonight wasn't about being utilitarian. It was about freeing the part of herself that craved human contact.
No. Not true, and if she would be nothing else in the endeavor, she would be honest. Tonight was about sex. Clean, simple, necessary sex.
Twenty-eight months since she'd allowed herself to be touched, held, stroked to fulfillment. The longest she'd ever gone before this was seventeen.
She'd pushed it as long as she dared, held on to her rigid control and her impenetrable serenity, blunting her emotions with her usual success. But she'd lost her cool a few weeks back when confronted by four soul reapers in her own home. She'd made bad choices. And she hadn't been able to fully get it back together since then, even though three of the soul reapers were dead, and one of them was almost an ally.
Almost but not quite.
As her former acolyte Roxy Tam was fond of saying, almost only counted in horseshoes and hand grenades.
So tonight, a fast and dirty impersonal encounter was on the menu. Just enough contact to make her feel as though the ice that ran through her veins wasn't so cold, so complete. To make her believe that the edge she perched on, so close to losing it, wasn't precipitously sharp.
The edge would be better afterward. And worse.
It always was.
But she was out of options. Her kind had two choices. Sex, or blood.
For her, blood had always been the hardest path. She closed her eyes for a second, pushing back the memories. The past had no place in her present. She would not let it free.
She left the ladies' room and made her way through the crowd, searching. She'd seen him earlier, dressed all in black, the sort of man mothers warned their daughters about.
The sort of man who lured daughters to ignore the warnings.
She found him in the crowd on the dance floor, and for a moment, she simply watched him.
He didn't dance for others. He danced for himself, for the pure joy of it. The way he moved was a thing of beauty, the flick of his hips, the sway of his shoulders. His hair moved as he moved, dark and straight, lifting to reveal the glint of metal hoops in his ears, then falling to settle in a clean line against his jaw.
The bass from the powerful speakers pounded up through her spine and into her skull as she made her way a little closer. She'd been watching him since he'd arrived about an hour past. He'd downed a double shot of whiskey, neat, as soon as he'd walked in. Then he'd gone out on the floor and been there since. A couple of women had gravitated toward him, and after that a couple of more until there was a small crowd of six or seven vying for his attention now.
If she left him to it, he would pick one and take her to his bed tonight. But Calliope had no intention of letting that happen. He was hers. She'd spotted him and stalked him, and she meant to have him. No harm, no foul. He would go on his way happy, and she would go on her way with the gnawing ache inside her tamed. For the moment.
Turning to the side, she edged through the throng of gyrating bodies and then she was there next to him, close enough to see that his lips were sculpted and full, the perfect blend of hard and soft. A scar sliced a thin, white line from his lower lip to his chin, pale against the dark stubble that shaded his jaw.
She wanted to run her tongue along that scar, to feel the rasp of his stubble on her tongue.
His gaze slid over her, impersonal, disinterested. And then it slid back.
She didn't look away. She didn't smile or flirt. She only held his gaze and moved as he moved.
One song bled into the next. The girl to his right tugged at his sleeve. He glanced down and smiled at her, white teeth flashing, then bent to hear what she offered, only to straighten and shake his head.
His reward was a pout, and then the girl turned her back and stalked off through the crush of bodies. But he didn't watch her go. His gaze had already returned to Calliope, and she knew in that instant that he was hers. For this moment and the ones that would immediately follow, he was hers, and she meant to take all she dared from him.
Catching his hand, she led him off the floor. He let her, glancing down at her with a slightly puzzled expression. The lights flashed, painting his features in colors and shadows and hollows.
This close, she could see that his eyes were a clear, pale gray, startling against dark lashes. She had a thing for dark hair and light eyes. Gray eyes in particular.
Because, once upon a time, a gray-eyed man had come to her rescue. After a fashion. But that had been forever ago.
His gaze held hers, assessing. She frowned. For such liaisons, she preferred a man who was less than observant. Perhaps even less than intelligent. This man was too sharp. She saw that now as he studied her, his gaze sliding slowly over her features, marking every detail. She almost turned and walked away.
But something stopped her. The flash of insight that told her it was this man she would take inside her tonight.
Calliope was a blooded Daughter of Aset. All her kind had unique abilities that played up the natural talents they had had while still mortal. Prescience was Calliope's gift. She had been intuitive as a mortal; as a supernatural, she was hyperaware of coming events. Not that she could tell the future-she couldn't. It was more of an instinct that things were going to happen and a knowledge of who might be involved in those things.
Outcomes were changeable. Her prescience didn't account for every possible choice of free will. But it did give her an edge as events unfolded. She had the ability to see what would come, not in clear, distinct panorama, but in hints and whispers.
So she knew he was the one she'd come here to find. With him, she would drop her walls, at least as much as she ever allowed herself. For a few moments she would give in to the hunger, until she went back to who she was, who she would always be.
He was smiling now, teeth flashing animal white.
Leaning close to her so his voice would carry over the music, he said, "Do I know you, darlin'? I'd swear we've met, except I'm usually good with faces and I can't seem to place yours."
"You've met me now," she said. And after tonight, they would never meet again. "Come." She reached out to lace her fingers with his as she offered him a smile that told him everything he needed to know.
For a millisecond, she felt a crackle of energy, and she froze, thinking she'd made an error, that this man whom she'd read as human, wasn't. She felt the molecules of air hum and vibrate, not quite strongly enough to be a supernatural's energy signature, but there was something
She reached for it, tried to place it, but in the end found nothing.
It was only static electricity. She was being too cautious, too suspicious. He was human. He was mortal.
Which made him fair game.
She had never taken from a supernatural. Not sex. Not blood. She wanted no one from her world. She wanted a man, a human man. And when she was done with him, she wanted him to go away.
"Come," she said again, modulating her voice an octave lower than her usual range. Then she led him toward the back of the club, keeping hold on his hand as they wove between tables and bodies.
He appeared content to follow, staying close at her back so every few steps his thighs brushed the back of hers, or he bumped up against her buttocks. She thought those touches were no accident.
They made her uncomfortable.
This encounter was hers to control. Her terms. Her way. She would take. And she would give only as much as she wished. There was no other way that she could bear to do this.
She led him down a narrow hall then pushed open a door and led him down a flight of metal stairs to the basement. The door swung shut behind them, muting the overpowering volume of the music.
There came a soft laugh from behind her.
"You've done this before?" His voice sent a little shiver rippling up her spine.
"No." She hadn't done this before. Not here. Not in this particular club. But there had been many others over the years.
Again, that soft laugh, warmly encompassing, as though they shared a secret. She thought he did this far more often than she. But tonight, she meant to give herself this. A brief encounter of skin against skin and the feeling of a man stretching her, filling her. She would free her rigid control-not completely, but enough-just for a handful of moments, and then she would be herself once more.
She opened a door and led him through a cluttered storage room to a second door at the far end. Then she opened that as well and led him inside.
There was a single tiny window set high in the wall. It let in just enough ambient light that she could see the stacks of chairs and folded tables and several large boxes set in the corner. She'd been here earlier and made small preparations, taking a chair off the stack and setting it apart from the clutter.
"I have a comfortable bed less than ten minutes away " Her prey's voice trailed off in suggestion.
"No," she said softly. "Here is fine." Better than fine. Perfect. She didn't want to lie in his bed. She didn't want to be inside his home. She didn't want to see personal things like photos or a book lying on a bedside table. She didn't want to know where he lived or anything else about him.
And that wouldn't matter to him. She'd watched him tonight before she made her move. He wanted what she wanted. Sex. No strings.