Lover Mine Chapter Four

"Okay, I think we're done."

John felt a last dragging pull across his shoulder and then the Otattoo gun went silent. Sitting up from the rest he'd been curled against for the last two hours, he stretched his arms over his head and pulled his torso back into shape.

"Gimme a sec and I'll clean you up."

As the human male sprayed some paper towels with antibacterial wash, John settled his weight on his spine once again, and let the tingling hum from the needle's work reverberate through his whole body.

In the lull, an odd memory came to him, one he hadn't thought of for years. It was from his days of living at Our Lady's orphanage, back when he hadn't known what he truly was.

One of the church's benefactors had been a rich man who owned a big house on the shores of Saranac Lake. Every summer, the orphans had been invited to go up for a day and play on his football- field-size lawn and go for rides on his beautiful wooden boat and eat sandwiches and watermelon.

John had always gotten a sunburn. No matter how much goo they slathered on him, his skin had always burned to a crisp--until they finally relegated him to staying in the shade on the porch. Forced to wait things out on the sidelines, he'd watched the other boys and girls do their thing, listening to the laughter roll across the bright green grass, having his food brought to him and eating alone, playing witness instead of being a part of it.

Funny, his back felt now as his skin had then: tight and prickly, especially as the tattoo artist hit the raw spots with the wet cloth and made circles over the fresh ink.

Man, John could remember dreading that annual ordeal at the lake. He'd wanted so badly to be with the others... although if he was honest, that had been less about what they were doing, and more because he was desperate simply to fit in. For fuck's sake, they could have been chewing on glass shards and bleeding down the front of their shirts and he still would have been all sign-me-up.

Those six hours on that porch with nothing but a comic book or maybe a fallen bird's nest to inspect and reinspect had seemed as long as months. Too much time to think and yearn. He'd always hoped to be adopted and in lonely moments like that the drive had consumed him: Even more than being among the other little boys, he'd wanted a family, a real mother and a father, not just guardians who were paid to raise him.

He'd wanted to be owned. He'd wanted someone to say, You're mine.

Of course, now that he knew what he was... now that he lived as a vampire among vampires, he understood that "owning" thing much more clearly. Sure, humans had a concept of family units and marriage and all that shit, but his true kind were more like pack animals. Blood ties and matings were far more visceral and all-consuming.

As he thought about his younger, sadder self, his chest ached-- although not because he wished he could reach back in time and tell that little kid that his parents were coming for him. Nope, he ached because the very thing he'd wanted had nearly destroyed him. His adoption had indeed come, but the "owning" hadn't stuck. Wellsie and Tohr had waltzed into his life, told him what he was, and shown him a brief glimpse of home... and then disappeared.

So he could say categorically that it was far worse to have had and lost parents, than not to have had them at all.

Yeah, sure, Tohr was technically back in the Brotherhood's mansion, but to John he was ever away: Even though he was now saying the right things, too many takeoffs had occurred such that now that a landing might actually have happened, it was too late.

John was through with that whole Tohr thing.

"Here's a mirror. Check 'er out, my man."

John nodded a thank-you and went over to a full-lengther in the corner. As Blay returned from his extended cigarette break and Qhuinn emerged from behind the side room's curtain, John turned around and got a look- see at what was on his back.

Oh, God. It was exactly what he wanted. And the scrollwork was boss. He nodded as he moved the hand mirror around, checking out every angle. Man, it was kind of a shame that no one other than his boys were ever going to see this. The tat was spectacular.

And more to the point, no matter what happened next, whether he found Xhex dead or alive, she would always be with him.

Damn him to hell, these last four weeks since her abduction had been the longest of his life. And he'd had some pretty fucking long days before this shit. To not know where she was. To not know what had happened to her. To have lost her... He felt as if he'd been mortally injured, though his skin was intact and his arms and legs unbroken and his chest unpenetrated by bullet or blade.

But then again, in his heart, she was his. And even if he got her back just so she could live a life that didn't include him, that was okay. He only wanted her safe and alive.

John looked at the artist, put his hand over his heart, and bowed deeply. As he rose from his position of gratitude, the guy stuck his palm out.

"You're welcome, man. Means a lot that you approve. Let me cover it up now with some cream and a wrap."

After they shook, John signed and Blay translated, "Not necessary. He heals lightning-quick."

"But it's going to need time to--" The tattoo artist leaned in and then frowned as he inspected where he'd worked.

Before the guy started asking questions, John stepped back and grabbed his shirt from Blay. The fact was, the ink they'd brought with them had been lifted from V's stash--which meant part of its composition included salt. That name and those fabulous swirls were permanent--and his skin had already healed.

Which was one advantage of being a nearly purebred vampire.

"The tat rocks," Qhuinn said. "It's pure sex."

As if on cue, the woman who he'd just balled came out from behind the side room's curtain, and it was hard not to notice Blay's pained expression. Especially as she slipped a piece of paper into Qhuinn's back pocket. Undoubtedly her number was on the thing, but she really didn't need to get her hopes up. Once the guy had someone, that was it--kind of like his sex partners were a meal that couldn't be re-eaten and never had any leftovers. Unfortunately said Kat von D look-alike had stars in her eyes.

"Call me," she murmured to him with a confidence that would fade as the days passed.

Qhuinn smiled a little. "Take care."

At the sound of the two words, Blay relaxed, his big shoulders easing up. In Qhuinn-landia, take care was synonymous with I'm never going to see, call, or fuck you again.

John took out his wallet, which was stuffed with tons of bills and absolutely no identification, and peeled off four hundreds. Which was twice what the tat cost. As the artist started shaking his head and saying it was too much, John nodded at Qhuinn.

The two of them lifted their right palms at the humans, and then reached into those minds and covered up the memories of the last couple hours. Neither the artist nor the receptionist would have any concrete recollection of what had happened. At the most, they might have hazy dreams. At the least, they'd have a headache.

As the pair slipped into trances, John, Blay, and Qhuinn walked out of the shop's door and into the shadows. They waited until the artist shook himself back into focus, went over, and flipped the lock... and then it was time to get down to business.

"Sal's?" Qhuinn asked, his voice lower than usual thanks to postcoital satisfaction.

Blay fired up another Dunhill as John nodded and signed, They're expecting us.

One after another, his boys disappeared into the night. But before John ghosted out, he paused for a moment, his instincts ringing.

Looking left and right, his laser-sharp eyes penetrated the darkness. Trade Street had a lot of neon lights and there were cars going by because it was only two a.m., but he wasn't interested in the lit parts.

The dark alleys were the thing.

Somebody was watching them.

He put his hand inside his leather jacket and closed his palm around his dagger's hilt. He had no problem killing the enemy, especially now, when he knew damn well who had his female... and he hoped something that smelled like a week-old dead deer stepped up to him.

No such luck. Instead, his cell phone went off with a whistle. No doubt Qhuinn and/or Blay were wondering where the fuck he was.

He waited a minute more and decided the information he hoped to get from Trez and iAm was more important than knuckle busting whatever slayer was hanging back in the shadows.

With vengeance flowing thick in his veins, John dematerialized into thin air and took form again in the parking lot of Sal's restaurant. There were no cars around and the lights that usually shone up on the outside of the brick building were off.

The double doors under the porte cochere opened right away and Qhuinn stuck his head out. "What the hell took you so long?"

Paranoia, John thought.

Double-checked my weapons, he signed as he walked over.

"You could have asked me to wait. Or done it here."

Yes, Mother.

The inside of the place was done in old-school Rat Pack with red flocked wallpaper and plush carpeting as far as the eye could see. Everything from the club chairs to the linen-covered tables to the plates and silverware was a reproduction of what had been around in the sixties and the vibe was

Dean Martin redux: smooth, rich, and Sands Casino classy.

Ol' Blue Eyes was even singing "Fly Me to the Moon."

The overhead speakers would probably refuse anything else.

The three of them walked past the hostess stand and into the bar room, where the pungent aroma of cigars lingered in spite of New York's antismoking laws. Blay went back behind the teak counter to fix himself a Coke, and John walked around, hands on hips, eyes on the marble floor, path delineated by the leather booths that were arranged around the space.

Qhuinn took a seat in one of them. "They told us to hang and make a drink. They're coming out in a sec--"

At that moment, from the staff-only room in back, a thump-thump and a groan cut into Sinatra's scooby-doo's. With a curse, John followed Qhuinn's lead and parked it across from the guy. If the Shadows were working some POS out, they were likely to be longer than a second.

As Qhuinn stretched his legs under the black table and cracked his back, he was still glowing, his cheeks flushed from exertion, his lips swollen from kissing. For a moment, John was tempted to ask why the guy insisted on fucking people in front of Blay, but he canned the Q as he stared at the red tear that was tatted on the guy's cheek.

How else was the bastard going to get laid? He was literally joined at the hip with John and all they did was go out and fight... with Blay a member of their team.

Blay came over with his Coke, sat next to John, and stayed quiet.

Awkward much, John thought as none of them said a thing.

Ten minutes later, the door marked STAFF ONLY swung wide and Trez came in from the back. "Sorry about the wait." He grabbed a hand towel from behind the bar and wiped the blood from his knuckles. "iAm's just dumping some trash in the alley. He'll be right in."

John signed, Do we know anything?

After Qhuinn translated, Trez's brows dropped and the Shadow's eyes grew calculating. "About what."

"Xhex," Qhuinn said.

Trez made elaborate work out of refolding the now red-stained towel. "Last thing I knew, Rehv was living at the compound with you."

"He is."

The Shadow planted his palms on the teak and leaned in, his shoulder muscles bunching up thick. "So why do you have to ask me about her search and rescue."

You know her very well, John signed.

After the translation, Trez's dark eyes flashed bright green. "I do. She is a sister, though not of mine blood."

So what's the problem? John signed.

As Qhuinn hesitated, like he wanted to be sure John really needed to say that to a Shadow, John motioned for the guy to get talking.

Qhuinn shook his head a little. "He said he understands that. He just wants to make sure all avenues are covered."

"Word up, I don't think that's what he signed." Trez's smile was cold. "And here's my problem. You coming here and being all what's-up suggests you and your king don't trust Rehv to tell you where it's at--or you don't think he's busting his balls to find her. And you know... that shit don't fly with me."

iAm came in through the staff door and just nodded as he stepped up to his brother--which was about as much welcome as you ever got from him. He didn't spare words. Or punches, going by how much blood had stained his gray T-shirt. And the guy didn't ask for a recap of the convo thus far. He seemed to be fully up to speed, which meant either he'd seen something on a security camera in the back, or he was accurately reading the tension in his brother's powerful body.

We didn't come here to fight or offend, John signed. We just want to find her.

There was a pause after Qhuinn did his bit. And then Trez asked the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. "Your king know you're here?"

When John shook his head, Trez narrowed his eyes even further. "And what precisely do you expect to get from us?"

Anything you know or believe to be true about where Xhex is. And any information on the drug trade here in Caldwell. He waited for Qhuinn to catch up, then continued. Assuming Rehv is right and Lash was the one knocking off those dealers in town, then it's damn obvious that he and the Lessening Society will fill the void they created. Another pause for Qhuinn. So where do people go for buys, apart from the clubs down on Trade? Is there a crack row? And who are the big suppliers Rehv worked with? If Lash is trying to deal, he's got to be getting the shit from someone. One last breather for Qhuinn. We've been down in the alleys, but up until now, it's getting us nowhere. Just humans dealing with humans.

Trez eased back off his palms and you could practically smell the wood burning as his brain worked. "Lemme ask you something."

Sure, John signed.

Trez looked around and then met John's eyes again. "Privately."

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