Vegas Bites, page 1
A Werewolf Romance Anthology
L. A. Banks,
J. M. Jeffries,
Parker Publishing, Inc
Noire Allure is an imprint of Parker Publishing, LLC.
Vegas Bites: A Werewolf Romance Anthology
“Heat” copyright © 2006 by Leslie Esdaile-Banks “The Hunger Within” copyright © 2006 by Jackie Hamilton and Miriam Pace “Double Down” copyright © 2006 by Seressia Glass “Out of the Dark” copyright © 2006 by Natalie Dunbar
Published by Parker Publishing, LLC 12523 Limonite Avenue, Suite #440-245 Mira Loma, California 91752 www.parker-publishing.com
All rights reserved. This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, locations, events and incidents (in either a contemporary and/or historical setting) are products of the author's imagination and are being used in an imaginative manner as a part of this work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, settings, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
ISBN: 1-60043-001-5 (10-digit) 978-1-60043-001-5 (13-digit)
Manufactured in the United States of America
Book design by Ric Kolenda, www.kolenda.com
L. A. Banks
This wild and crazy story is dedicated to Jackie and Miriam, two wonderful sister-authors who coaxed “the animal” sensibilities out of me (LOL), and to my agent, Manie Barron, who told me to “Let the Dawgs out!” I’d also like to thank my family, especially my husband, who accommodated this project during the Holidays— when I’d promised, no mas, por favor. Thank you, Parker team, as well, for the hard work in pulling this all together under fun auspices! As they say, it’s ALL good.
Las Vegas, Nevada… French Quarter Hotel and Casino
Butch Maverick sat in the central bar ignoring the poker and tournament tables, staring down into his glass of Dewar’s. He hated coming to Vegas. The incessant ring of the slot machines gave him a headache. It was hot as hell and dry as a bone… a hundred and three degrees in the shade. Even under the air conditioners, he was still sweating. He hated being boxed in, having to stay indoors during the day just to catch the frigid AC temps. At least it was cool at night in the desert, where he could run wild and free.
But what was with the air conditioners in the casino? It seemed like Malcolm had them on full blast, but he was still burning up. Vegas was not him at all. The vibe, the climate, and everything else simply went against his basic nature. Worse, there was always some bull when he had to bounty hunt here. He could already smell Laurel’s sweet scent, and he’d just walked in the damned door.
He took another sip of the dark liquor and winced, determined to stay focused on his mission: find out who’d been wreaking werewolf-style havoc throughout the Midwest.
His brother in Philly had given him the tip, cop courtesy by way of blood. The job was out of his brother’s jurisdiction and crossed state lines in a way that an East Coast detective would be hard-pressed to explain, if he started hardcore investigating. That’s where he came in. Freelance hunters had no boundaries.
They both knew the deal. The casino owners were about to retire, and the last thing Mom and Pop Temple needed was a hostile pack takeover of an establishment they’d held onto since the fifties.
Yeah… this was potentially a family matter. Preternatural Po-Po didn’t need to get involved. Internal affairs of the pack were just that, private, and no human cop interventions ought to be in the mix.
But with a rogue gang doing home invasions, robbing banks, savaging civilians, and basically running amok, it wouldn’t be long before humans would take matters into their own hands. Then it would be an all-out wolf hunt. The fuckin’ vampires would love it. This had to be solved like the past three attempts to take the casino had been. Mobsters quietly disappeared into the dark of night, never to be seen again. So had another foolish pack that had tried the French Quarter, and a shady international businessman was only a withered carcass when they found his stupid ass.
The cash trail led here, where new shipments of methamphetamine were coming in strong through Cutter, Fang, and Mad Dawg. Everybody knew they ran the drug thing in Vegas, but you couldn’t smoke a man for his black market operations—as long as they kept that bullshit on their side of town. Problem was, he wasn’t sure they had, which meant he’d have to look up an old friend with the loveliest set of fangs that could make a man shiver from across the room. Like her working name, Ecstasy Jones was all that—practically a drug herself. Correction, she was definitely that, but nowhere near a controlled substance. Girlfriend was ecstasy personified, out of control, and could make a man jones for months after getting with her.
Butch knocked back the rest of his drink and stood, his gaze roving the slot machine rows before slowly scanning the poker area. This was exactly why he hated coming to Vegas. If he looked up Ecstasy, the high-roller vamps that were her primary clientele would be hissing and spitting like bitches. If he followed his first impulse and went to see fine-ass Laurel, he might have to rip Guy’s face off, and then tangle with his boyz Troy and Oliver. That’s the last thing the family needed right now, a split in pack ranks. Any sign of weakness or dissention in the family was a bad thing, especially when there was a potential coup in the wind. Damn, it was hot! His shirt was sticking to his skin.
A woman as fine as Laurel had a way of making even the most reasonable man act stupid, especially near a full moon when she was going into heat. Laurel didn’t need to be running security; shit, she needed security.
That dumb bastard, Guy, was always snarling about marketing the casino better to humans to boost revenues and complaining about keeping any supernatural incidents on the DL… sheeit. He was about to have a serious public relations problem up in the joint if his Gaming Manager and Pit Boss Manager got in his face today with Laurel’s thick scent opening his nose. That bull between him and Guy shoulda been squashed about a hundred years ago, anyway. It wasn’t his fault that the woman wouldn’t mate him on the regular. Laurel didn’t do any guys that worked for the family. Period.
Butch let out a heavy exhale of frustration and glanced around. Why did these elimination jobs always have to come his way near a full moon? Fate had a serious sense of twisted humor. He had to find Marcus, his homeboy that ran Public Relations. Had to get the low down on the underground buzz on the situation while he was still lucid. Good thing there was one brother in the clan that still considered him family.
Malcolm was also cool. Had to be, to keep the hotel biz running smooth. At least those brothers always had his back, and Laurel didn’t mess up their cool. Mated males could hang, it was just the solo brothers that got messed up by her—but he wasn’t gonna let her mess with his mind today. When the moon came up, he’d figure out a way to cope. For now, he had business to attend to.
Sliding a twenty across the bar, he decided against another drink and began walking. One drink was cool; a second one would relax him too much. The Dewar’s had definitely been a necessary distraction to get his head right before going up to the offices, though… where Laurel’s scent would get even thicker. Where she’d play with his mind; would probably try to signify his occasional
Laurel needed to get off it—he’d left the inner pack for good cause, and she didn’t need to still be salty about it after all these years. It was either that or kill a clan brother for her. Besides, if she wasn’t giving up tail, then hey. What was a man supposed to do?
Butch kept walking with purpose, winding his way past the French Quarter Restaurant, zigzagging in a lope through the roulette and Black Jack tables toward the elevators. Scents from the restaurant made his stomach rumble. The sizzling cuisine in there, as well as those wafting toward him from the Voodoo Café and Big Easy Cajun joint, almost made him stop. But he pressed on. The day of a full moon was always a bitch.
Forget the elevator to the second floor. He needed to walk off the wood just thinking about Laurel had given him. The stairs could work.
He flashed the security guard a family badge, opened the door, and bound up the steps in two strong lunges. Oh, yeah, this was not a good sign. It wasn’t even four o’clock in the afternoon, and a shape-shift was trying to come through against his will.
Butch exited the stairwell and set his jaw hard, his eyes hunting the Administrative Office door. He tilted his head and allowed the scents behind it to flow over his palate. Secretary… cool… Marcus was in. No competitor and no Laurel, for the moment. Cool. No drama.
“Yo,” he said with a slow smile as he entered the office.
Janet glanced up at him with a big grin. “Stranger…” she murmured, and then looked him up and down. “Long time, Butch.”
“Hey, what can I say, baby. Been on the road.” He passed her desk, issuing her a sly wink, and told himself to keep moving. Foxy thang had a buttermilk biscuit booty that would stop traffic and make a man wanna sop up his own drool like it was gravy. That was the last thing he needed with Laurel already on a mission. “My boy Marcus in?” He knew the answer, but just asked as a courtesy.
“Yeah…” Janet said, still looking him over while chewing on the end of her pen. “I’ll buzz him for you, hon.”
“Appreciate it.” He stopped short of Marcus’ office. It was a territorial respect thing, but he definitely wasn’t trying to stand too close to Janet.
Before Janet’s call connected, Marcus flung the door open and laughed. “Aw, man! Who let the dogs out? Thought I picked up your tracks—whassup!”
Marcus grabbed Butch into a familial hug, then they broke from each other’s hold, play boxing for a moment.
“You doing all right?” Marcus stood taller, trying to compensate for the one-inch height differential between them.
“I’m good, can’t complain,” Butch said with a broad grin, squaring his shoulders, and reinforcing his six-foot five advantage over Marcus’ six-four frame. “You got a minute?”
“For you, brother, yeah. Step into my yard.”
Marcus gave Butch a sidelong glance, and Butch just chuckled. Now that the minor pissing contest was over, maybe they could get down to business.
“Been hearing things,” Butch said once he’d closed the door to Marcus’ office behind them.
“I know. We all have.” Marcus rounded his large walnut desk to flop down into the large leather chair behind it. “But I thought maybe you’d just picked up on Laurel’s trail and were finally gonna—”
“Don’t start.” Butch held up both hands in front of his chest with a wide grin. “Not today.”
“You mean not tonight, man,” Marcus said, ribbing him.
“I came here strictly on business.”
Marcus sighed and motioned for Butch to sit down. “You really should be talking to the head of Security Operations if you think there’s a serious threat to the casino. I’m just your dawg in public relations.”
“I was gonna go to Malcolm instead.”
Butch watched Marcus make a tent with his fingers in front of his mouth and waited as he took his time to respond. They both understood how Laurel would take either of them sidestepping her authority.
“You really don’t wanna have that conversation with her, do you?”
“Not if I don’t have to.” Butch looked out the window at the late afternoon sun.
“Laurel and I are cool… like brother and sister, and—”
“I’m not trying to put you in a position, man.”
Marcus leaned forward. “Then before you go bloodhound on her turf and piss her off by giving her boss a heads-up before her, you might wanna have that conversation.” He sat back and put his hands up in front of his chest. “Just an opinion.”
“Shit.” Butch stood and went to the window, rolling his shoulders to try to work the tension out of his neck. Instinctively, he knew Marcus was right—Laurel would bear fangs if he didn’t show her the respect of rank. But he damned sure didn’t need the complication. “It was just a hunch, anyway,” he hedged.
“Be real, man. If it was a weak hunch, you wouldn’t even be in Vegas, right?” Butch refused to answer the legitimate charge and kept his line of vision on the horizon.
“You know how she reacted the last time you rolled through here and got in contact with that vamp pro for a source without running the sting through her office,” Marcus pressed on.
“I was solving a crime, man,” Butch growled. “The vampires had a smooth identity theft ring going, blamed it on the ghosts— succubae, incubi, clientele the vamps love… so, I had to get on the inside with a sister that services the vamp high-rollers. You know that. And we got the rat bastards too, the ones claiming they had old world money so they didn’t need to do petty crimes for a few million.”
“I’m not arguing, man,” Marcus replied calmly. “But it almost started the old civil wars again between us and the vampire nations—it went down very politically incorrect, feel me?”
“That’s why I wanna talk to Malcolm before I bring this to his door.” Butch glanced over his shoulder at Marcus, holding him with a glare. “As next in line and the man running the entire hotel operation, he needs a heads-up.”
“True, but how would that look if he knows, and his Director of Public Relations has a prepared, canned speech for the Preternatural Authorities, and his head of Security Operations doesn’t know jack about it?” Marcus let out a hard breath. “They’re gonna have to have inscrutable evidence of who’s behind the crimes before you smoke anybody on our premises this time, Butch—because nobody wants to be involved in potentially kicking off a supernatural war between vamps and were-clans that could spill over into the civilian human population. That’s bad for business, and if human communities get nervous, they’ll start the old wolf hunts again. All of which means, you’re gonna have to go in deep, do your homework with an evidence trail that’s airtight… which means you’re gonna have to talk to the best tracker-hunter we’ve got in the family—Laurel.”
Butch briefly closed his eyes and ran his palm over his close-cropped beard. He could already feel it had grown a quarter inch just being in the office boxed in by Laurel’s scent, and the normally precise cut of it was getting ragged around the edges. He clasped both hands behind his back and willed himself not to pace.
“It’s real bad this time, isn’t it?” Marcus said with a half-smile, standing to go pour them both a drink.
“I just think it’s strangely coincidental that at the same time major were-style robberies have gone down in the Midwest, meth labs out here are cooking and moving product like never before. My gut tells me they’ve got a new cash infusion way too close to our family borders here. They’re building ranks and strength in numbers. Bad sign.”
“I’m not talking about the coincidences of the crime,” Marcus said, bringing Butch a Dewar’s neat. “I’m talking about her affect on you. Look at your hands. You’ve practically got the shakes, brother. Damn. Play your cards right and you might get lucky tonight.”
“I’m cool,” Butch said, growing irritable. He accepted the drink and knocked back a healthy swig of
“Then lemme call her in, so she knows you aren’t peeing on her tree behind her back. I’ll fill Malcolm in, and I’m sure he’ll support you and give you the nod to hunt on the property.”
Butch paced away from Marcus. “Whatever.” He didn’t need this complication. When Marcus depressed the intercom buzzer, Butch battled for composure and had to turn to look out the window again when Laurel’s melodic voice filled the speakerphone. Just hearing the way she said hello, all deep and husky, made his stomach clench. If she walked in the door trailing heat, she’d definitely give him the shakes.
“We got a situation, Laurel,” Marcus said in a too-cheerful tone that grated him. “I’ll be right there,” she said, her tone low and filled with authority.
He could do this. Butch set his jaw hard. It had been a while since he’d seen her, but wouldn’t let it show. He had a nice cash bounty coming his way if he solved this case that the Feds didn’t wanna touch and local Preter Po-Pop didn’t want in their files. All he had to do was chill and do his job, then be out.
The moment he heard Laurel’s soft footfalls loping past Janet’s desk, he knew the second drink had been a mistake. Yeah, it had been, and he was sure of it when she opened the door to Marcus’ office. Oh, shit… she looked better than he’d remembered.
Five-feet, eleven inches worth of drop-dead fine almost made him tilt his head as their gazes locked. She straightened and hesitated by the door. He watched her nostrils subtly flare, scenting him as she released a low, practically inaudible growl deep within her voluptuous chest.
The timbre of the sound made him stop breathing for a second. He kept his line of vision on her gorgeous, gray-eyed glare, but somehow it slipped and trailed down the bridge of her nose to her full, lush mouth and temporarily landed on her shoulders to study the gleam of sunlight that put red and gold highlights in her profusion of thick, brunette hair. His mind was jacked on the spot.