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A Vampires Claim, Page 1

Joey W. Hill


Page 1

  1

  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 bloody 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 by any bloke willing to shell out his 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 stories, the upper level for the hotel, the lower for the bar. A veranda that wrapped around the 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 was 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 and spit them out like a pack of dingoes on a helpless sheep.

  He took his swag into the bar with him as usual, because sometimes a light-fingered fella got to thinking you didn’t need your pack if you left it 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 jukebox 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 got his radar going.

  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 acted like something was bothering her tonight. The strangers, he guessed, from the scowls Elle sent their way. He wondered why. Though strangers didn’t pass through all that frequently, it was rare that 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 fine with him. She wore a delicate opal amulet the size of his thumbnail. While it was a beautiful stone, he was far more distracted by how it glistened in the cleft of her breasts, 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 visit 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 w
ith your head kicked in by an angry mother bird. Then I remembered how hard your head is. ” A warning flashed 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 gaze. 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. Not only the three musclemen 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 ashtray on the mantel of 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 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 and his beer.

  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 the 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 his vision at the corner of his eye.