Some days, a man just couldn't help wondering why life was so good, Cord Reese reflected, his intense blue gaze resting on the fair-haired toddler finally asleep in the old, hand-carved cradle Cord had fashioned for his sister Sarah when he was little more than a boy himself. He'd dreamed of watching his son sleep in it some day, and come to doubt that it would ever happen. Now it had.
The Almighty moved in mysterious ways, that was for sure. Little Buford wasn't of Reese blood, but the tiny towhead was his all the same. Had been since Cord had found him three days ago in the barn, surrounded by carcasses of dead livestock. Strange thing, that, but Cord had been so busy caring for Buford since that he hadn't given it much thought.
Absently fingering the scar on the heel of his hand, all that remained of a grievous chisel wound sustained during the creation of the crib, Cord quietly shut the door and headed back to his den, where a mountain of paperwork awaited. A humdinger of a storm was due in an hour or so, and for some reason he couldn't understand, he had no desire to complete the work by candlelight.
The rain came suddenly, in the sharp teeth of an icy wind, and the lights flickered ominously. Cord glanced up briefly, at the photograph of his ex-wife on the corner of his desk. The one he'd never quite gotten around to getting rid of. Damn, he missed Maggie, the hot-tempered, red-haired she-cat that she was. Wherever she'd put down her head tonight, he hoped that she was warm and dry. More likely hot and wet, but that was no longer any concern of his.
Sighing, Cord gave his attention once more to the
pile of unpaid bills in front of him. No point in
wandering that lonely road again tonight. None at
Oh, to be back in Nepal, meditating with her yak, Peaches, instead of crawling along a pitch-black country road in the middle of nowhere, in search of a blood-sucking fiend. And why, oh why, did the trail of the beast have to lead her so close to the Bar C Ranch?
The thought of the spread's owner, her former husband, brought a flush to her alabaster skin, a sparkle to her emerald eyes and a wry curl to her rosebud mouth. The memory of his whipcord-lean body and wicked kisses made her lonely heart beat faster. Had he ever forgiven her for leaving him? Would she ever get over him? And, more importantly, would she ever stop questioning everything under the sun?
Tossing her Titian curls, she lifted her impudent chin and glared at the windswept road ahead. It didn't matter. None of it mattered. She'd found her niche in her new career as a hunter slash killer of the Undead, and her life with Cord was of necessity but a dim, halcyon memory. The Slayer travelled alone, and she preferred it that way.
The road dipped sharply, and one of her tires blew out on impact. Swearing, Maggie wrenched the wheel hard, barely avoiding ending up in the ditch. No spare in the trunk, no slicker to protect her from the elements, and no gas station for miles, but Maggie knew at once what she must do. The Bar C was only five miles away as the raven flew, and she was fairly sure that the creature was a few days ahead of her. It was an acceptable risk. She began her trek at once.
Finding herself at Cord's back door had its
possibilities, she decided. It might be her last
chance to see the man that she'd once loved more
than she now cared for the yak, Peaches. It was
quite possible that she would not survive the
final battle with the master vampire. Seeing Cord
might strengthen her resolve for what was to
come...and she wouldn't die celibate after all.
The Almighty worked in mysterious ways, that was
"For God's sake, Cord, open the damned door! I'm freezing my grits off out here!"
It was Maggie all right, as feisty and mouthy as ever. Cord shot the deadbolt and flung open the door, and then Maggie was in his arms, all wet fire-engine red curls and damp, dangerous curves with diamond-hard peaks. She smelled of wet wool and cow manure, doubtless a result of her trek across the pastureland between here and the main road, but it could have been Chanel No5 for all he cared. Maggie was home at last, and that was all that mattered.
Cord kissed her like a thirsty man given a tall glass of icy Evian; her tongue, quicksilver fast, darted at his. Cord moaned into her mouth and scooped her up in his arms; there was no need for words. He took the back stairs two at a time, and stumbled down the hall toward his bedroom, mindful that if not for the sleeping Buford, he'd have taken her against a wall, any wall. Just like old times.
"Aren't you going to ask me how I've been?" Maggie asked, her mouth pressed to his throat as he put her down on the big bed.
"Nope." Greedily, he eyed her. She'd grown even more beautiful since she'd been gone. Or perhaps he'd had only cows for company for long enough.
"I've dreamed of this," Maggie panted, as he mounted her. "Oh, Cord...no one has ever made me feel this way except you..."
"Good," Cord muttered. "I was a bit worried about the way you used to call me 'Jake' sometimes..."
"Jake was my, um...puppy...when I was a kid," Maggie said, crossing her fingers behind his back. Idly, she stroked his silky black hair off his face. "You remind me of him..."
Cord flung back his head and began to ride her, hard and fast. A stallion to her mare. The fury of the elements was dwarfed by their shared passion; he could have sworn he actually felt the earth moving. "Say my name now, baby," he begged. "Now..."
Maggie held on for dear life, clawed fingers clutching at his lean hips. Right on the edge, she caught sight of twin pinpoints of red light in the darkness beyond Cord's shoulder. A shriek of pure terror rose in her throat, and she began to buck like an unbroken filly under him. "Spawn of hell!" she spat.
"That's not what you said a minute ago," Cord whispered. "Come on, baby...be nice."
"Unclean spirit, hear my words," Maggie singsonged, still trying to free herself from their clinch. "You are not welcome here..."
"Feels to me like I am," Cord purred.
"Get off me, you oaf!" Maggie exclaimed, pushing at his chest with all her might.
"What the...?" Cord hollered, as he landed with a thump flat on his bare butt. "Be quiet, you loco female...you'll wake the baby!"
"'Baby'?" Maggie shrilled, fumbling for the lamp. "That's not a baby...that's Valerian, a 300-year-old vampire lord from Qansivalia!"
With a cry of triumph, she switched on the light, and Valerian was revealed in all his romper-suited glory. Suspended in mid-air, ruby eyes aglow, fangs bared and gleaming, he threw back his head and laughed.
"Daddeee....Maggieee..." he taunted.
Maggie didn't think, she reacted. She grabbed the consecrated dagger strapped to her ankle and threw it with deadly precision. It lodged deep in Valerian's chest. A look of mild surprise crossed his face, then he turned without further ado into a pile of smoking ash.
"I'll be danged," Cord mumbled.
"No, Valerian will," Maggie said, winking at him. "What are you waiting for? Get over here. We've got some unfinished business, cowboy."