Fangs for Nothing (The Fangover #2) by Erin McCarthy
WHEN Johnny Malone jerked out of sleep suddenly, he became aware of three things in rapid succession. One, his bandmate Drake Hanover’s butt was in a sling, literally, just a few feet away from Johnny’s face, cupped in assless leather chaps, his arms slack and head back as he snored loudly. Two, Johnny realized that there was a pale, petite hand spread across his crotch comfortably, like it had been there for quite some time. Three, he had no clue where in the hell he was and his head hurt like a bitch.
Okay, so maybe that was four things, but as he shifted a little from his slumped position on the floor of who the hell knows where, all seemed equally important. The dim room didn’t look familiar at all, not that he could see much with Drake blocking his view as he slept in what Johnny thought just might be a sex swing. There was a lot more of Drake dangling in front of him than he had ever wanted to see. Which made his usual stomach of steel more than a little queasy. He supposed he should be grateful he was behind Drake, not in front of him. Actually, neither was a great position to be in if you got right down to it. Struggling not to groan out loud, Johnny swallowed hard and blinked several times. He was clearly not dreaming and he was clearly hungover, which was a feeling he hadn’t had in damn near a century. It all came hurtling back to him why hangovers had sucked so bad. He felt like ass.
Speaking of ass, which seemed to be a theme for the night, he wondered if he had gotten any the night before, thus explaining the female hand on his junk. Which could be damn awkward, because he couldn’t remember a bleeding thing. The last thing he was aware of was enthusiastically dancing the Cupid Shuffle at his buddy Saxon’s wedding, then . . . nothing. Trying not to wake whoever she was, Johnny chanced a look to his left, praying she wasn’t hideous.
Oh. My. God.
She wasn’t hideous. It was worse.
She was Lizette.
The uptight, paper-pushing French chick who had frozen his assets and was determined to make his life a living hell with her bureaucratic bullshit. She was a rep from the Vampire Alliance, she was beautiful, and she had all the warmth of an iceberg in Alaska during a blizzard. They had argued, he had ditched a meeting with her, and she had tracked him down at the wedding with a systematic determination that scared the shit out of him. One look from her, and his balls had shrunk.
She definitely gave a whole new meaning to the phrase freezing his assets.
He would never have had sex with her. Even if he had been crazy enough to try, she would have stamped a giant DENIED on his dick in red ink.
Yet not only was her sleeping head lying on his shoulder, her very staid and proper blouse mostly unbuttoned, but her right hand, the one that was splayed across his lap?
It was handcuffed to his left wrist.
Johnny practically swallowed his own tongue in an effort to keep his shock and horror from ringing out in the silent room.
Holy crap. This was not good.
Stretching his leg as far as he could without disturbing Lizette, he managed to get his foot on Drake’s ass and give him a shove, grateful he was still wearing his boots so there was no skin-on-skin contact.
But Johnny needed some serious help from his buddy.
And metal cutters.
He kicked Drake again, harder.
48 Hours Earlier
“I am here on behalf of the Vampire Alliance to collect the remains of Mr. Malone and dispose of his property in accordance with the Death Code. Please allow me full access to his personal belongings at this time. Your cooperation in resolving this matter is greatly appreciated.”
Johnny stared at the thin woman in front of him wearing a gray business suit, her hair in a tight bun, clipboard in hand. He listened to her speech, directed at his sister Stella, and was perhaps for the first time in his long life totally at a loss for words. “Um.”
“But he’s not dead,” Stella said with no small amount of bewilderment in her voice.
“I’m not dead,” Johnny parroted. Because he wasn’t. He may be dead like a vampire was dead, but he wasn’t for real dead, as in never-to-walk-the-earth-again dead.
“This is him,” Stella added, pointing to his living self. “Standing right here. Next to me.”
Stella had called Johnny over to the shotgun cottage on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter that she shared with his best friend, Wyatt Axelrod, because she had gotten a phone call requesting a meeting from the VA regarding Johnny’s death. Not the first death, back in ’28, but his second one, which he had faked six weeks earlier but had reneged on a few days later. Only it seemed the Vampire Alliance hadn’t gotten the memo that it was a joke. A lousy joke, he had to admit, but a joke nonetheless. And if this chick in front of them was any indication, the Vampire Alliance didn’t have much of a sense of humor.
“I am sorry, but that is not possible,” the woman said, her accent French, her manner calm and professionally polite. She wore designer glasses, and her dark brown eyes behind the lenses barely swept over him. Considering no vampire had bad eyesight, they were clearly intended to make a certain impression. “Johnny Malone is on the list, and so I must proceed accordingly.”
“I don’t care that he’s on ‘The List.’” Stella made air quotes as she spoke. “He’s not dead! It was just a simple misunderstanding.”
Nice of Stella to put it that way. Frankly, it had been a bumble-fuck on his part. Feeling pressured by a pregnant girlfriend, though he used that term loosely, and knowing full well that as a vampire he was shooting blanks and could not be the father, Johnny had gotten the incredibly stupid idea that it might be a spot of fun to fake his own death to shake her loose. Okay, so maybe it had been a bit cruel to put his sister and his friends through that, and maybe he would have been super pissed if someone had done that to him, but it had been an impulse. A very bad, very stupid impulse. He hadn’t thought it would result in all his friends getting shit-faced drunk at his wake and blacking out for an entire night. Nor had he thought it would result in Miss Paper Pusher showing up on Stella’s doorstep.
Not wanting to stress his sister out any more than he had already in the past few months, he decided he needed to be the one to deal with this little mix-up.
“I’m sorry, what was your name again?” he asked her.
It was a name for a silent film star, not this woman whose bun was wound too tight. Though she was attractive underneath the thick layer of boring, he had to admit that. She had long cheekbones and creamy skin that gave away her French heritage, and perfect, raspberry-stained lips that would form a perfect O while she was having an orgasm . . .
Whoa. Where had that thought come from? Johnny shifted, suddenly aware of his dick, which hadn’t seen much action lately since the debacle with Bambi and her baby-daddy accusations. He couldn’t say that he missed Bambi, but he could use a little horizontal shuffle, clearly.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she continued, her delicate hand coming out to offer a handshake. “May I inquire as to your name?”
Johnny forgot about her bone structure and his boner and realized this was not going to be as easy to fix as he’d thought. So he said, “My name is Johnny Malone, and I’m very much alive. So why don’t we head down the street, sit somewhere quiet, and discuss how we can fix your list?” He figured Stella had earned the right to be exempt from mopping up his messes.
She hesitated. “I would prefer we take care of this as soon as possible.”
“We will,” he assured her. “But let’s do it with our butts on a barstool instead of standing in Stella’s doorway. We’re letting the cool air out of the house.”
Her lips pursed, and then she nodded. “I would prefer a coffee shop.”
Johnny shot Stella an amused look and waved to her. He indicated to Lizette that she should head out of the house in front of him. “We want to go right. We can go to a coffee shop if you’d like, but the walk will be longer. A lot longer. The closest one is on Dumaine, whereas the nearest bar is—here.” He pointed to the corner, which was only one house down from them. “I don’t mind walking, though, if you’d really prefer coffee.”
“I have no objection to walking,” she said. Right before the spiked heel of her shoe got caught in a giant, gravel-filled pockmark of a hole that characterized all the sidewalks in the Quarter.
She made a sound of distress, her ankle turning, and she would have gone down in a French fumble if he hadn’t grabbed her arm and managed to keep her upright.
“Oh, pardon!” she said, clearly flustered, straightening her glasses and adjusting her purse on her shoulder. Smoothing her hair, she eyed the crumbling walkway with suspicion and added, “Perhaps the bar is not such a bad idea after all. It is rather warm as well, yes, especially for the evening?”
“It’s hotter than a crotch,” he told her as they walked the few feet to the bar and the magic of air-conditioning. “It’s New Orleans in June. The only thing worse is New Orleans in July and August.”
“Hotter than a what? I do not recognize that word.”
Oops. Now that he had to define it, he realized that might not have been the classiest thing to say to a woman like Lizette. “Um, it refers to the area down south,” he said, trying to be vague.
“Geographically? Yes, this is the South, but I still do not understand.”
Geez. “I meant on your body. Below the waist. And between your thighs.” He pulled the door open and gestured for her to enter.
She nodded her thanks, clearly puzzling out his words. When understanding dawned, her head whipped back to look at him, cheeks suddenly flaming with color. “Oh! Oh, I see. Yes, well, I understand. So anyway, yes, let’s see, we are discussing the demise of Johnny Malone. Do you have any information regarding how he died?”
The broad was not listening to him. He no longer felt so bad for shocking her with crotch talk. “Yes, I can tell you exactly what happened because I’m him.”
As they approached the bar, he nodded to the bartender. “Hey, Nigel, what’s up?”
“Hey, Johnny, good to see you. Who is your friend here?”
“This is Lizette, from the VA. Apparently Paris thinks I’m dead for real.” He turned to her. “Lizette, this is Nigel, who will tell you the full story.”
“Dead, huh? Sure, I’ll tell you the story, Lizette,” Nigel said cheerfully, a British vamp who always remembered to add an extra lime to Johnny’s rum and coke. “Stella found a pile of ash and we all thought this bugger was dead. Even had a wake for him. But then he popped up the next day, unharmed and as devilishly handsome as ever. There was much rejoicing. So there you have it.”
Sounded about right to Johnny. It was clear and to the point.
Lizette. “So you are saying you really are Johnny Malone?”
At what point had he not said that? “Yes. Precisely. I am Johnny Malone and I am alive.” Just to clarify for the fifth time.
“But that is not possible. You are on the list.”
Johnny wanted to take that list and cram it up a French bureaucrat’s ass. “First of all, I need a drink. Nigel, my usual, please. Lizette, would you like something?” When she shook her head, he continued. “I can understand there was some confusion, but now that you know I’m alive, just stamp ‘Still Kicking’ on my file and send it back and we’re all good.”
“I am afraid it is not that simple. You see, until an investigation is launched and the decision is made conclusively that you are in fact Johnny Malone and you are in fact alive, you cannot be removed from the list. No one has the authority to do that.”
Was she for real? “Is it carved in stone? Written in blood?”
“Yes, it is written in blood, but that is only for the archival copy. Most of our files are on the computer, of course. Encrypted for privacy.”
Sarcasm clearly wasn’t her strong suit. Speaking of suits, Johnny marveled that she wasn’t sweating in that heavy jacket. She didn’t even unbutton it, nor did she look the least bit overheated, despite her comment about the weather. No dewy forehead, no shiny nose. He probably had armpit stains the size of grapefruits on his T-shirt, and he would give his left nut to dive into a swimming pool. Yet she was utterly unflappable.
“So do I have to take a blood test or something?” He honestly had no idea how the Vampire Alliance really worked. He just knew they were a bunch of uptight rule-makers whose mission it was to make sure humans didn’t figure out that vampires did in fact exist. Their secondary mission seemed to be pissing him off. He didn’t like the idea of just throwing around his DNA, but he didn’t want the VA on his back either.
“Yes, as well as a series of interviews with you and your cohorts.”
Cohorts? She knew cohort but not crotch? What the hell were they teaching those kids in Paris? “Fine, whatever you need to do, honey. I’m at your disposal.” This is what he got for pretending to commit suicide. So much paperwork, he might actually wish he were dead. He drained the rum and coke Nigel had brought him in two long swallows.
“Excellent. We just need to proceed with the confiscation of your property then while you are undergoing investigation.”
* * *
Lizette loved her job, but this was one aspect of it that she did not enjoy. It was difficult to deal with grieving friends of deceased vampires, who wanted to cling to the possessions of the departed. But in order to ensure their survival as a species and prevent detection by humans, it was VA policy that all personal belongings and property of dead vampires be obtained and disposed of appropriately. Photos and clothes were burned, along with locks of hair, furniture and draperies liquidated, and real estate quietly sold. But given that so many vampires reacted poorly to losing every last material bit of a friend, it wasn’t unusual for Lizette to show up only to find a friend who claimed the death hadn’t occurred at all in order to keep the goods.
Much like this gentleman next to her, consuming his alcohol far quicker than Lizette suspected was wise. He was halfway through his second drink.
Was he Johnny Malone? She did not know. Experience had taught her that he most likely was not, but she would wait and see what the facts indicated. Clearly this bartender had referred to him by the correct name and had given an explanation quite readily, but frankly, to Lizette’s ears it had sounded rehearsed. It was also telling that Johnny, as she’d have to call him for now, had suggested this particular bar. Or a bar at all to discuss the matter.
“Rules are rules,” she told him apologetically. “In order to ensure that nothing goes missing during the investigation phase, I need to confiscate all your belongings.” Reaching into her handbag, she retrieved the list she had printed of all Johnny’s possessions.
“Are the majority of these belongings in your apartment on Toulouse Street? Or have they been moved? I realize it has been six weeks since your passing.”
Johnny snorted. “Nothing has been moved. I still live there.”
“Excellent.” Lizette inserted the paper into the clipboard she always carried for ease in going over the list with him. “Does this look like an accurate representation? I believe at this time you have $1312.48 in your bank account, which was frozen as of this morning.”
“What?” he repeated. “You can’t do that!”
“I’m afraid I can,” she said, feeling genuinely bad. If he really was Johnny, this was a huge inconvenience. However, the rules were the rules. As she had told him.
He tore the list out of her clipboard, ripping the top-left corner and startling her. “I don’t have a lot of stuff. I don’t even have my Elvis cookie jar anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, crossing her legs and wishing she had ordered herself a drink after all, though she never drank when she was working. “You do realize, of course, that you will not be able to enter your apartment while the investigation is ongoing.”
He stopped scanning the list to stare at her. “You’re fucking kidding me.”
“No.” Lizette strongly believed in the preservation of their secrecy, or she wouldn’t be able to do this job. But after watching her very first lover being captured and tortured in the late nineteenth century, she had vowed to do whatever was necessary to keep vampires out of the reach of dangerous mortals. It might not make her a favorite person among her vampire peers, but she could live with that consequence if it might mean saving a vampire life.
“Where the hell am I supposed to stay?”
“I believe you have a sister?” That was whom the VA had authorized her to contact. “Stella Malone.”
“I know who my sister is! But you can’t keep me out of my apartment. I need to change my clothes. I have to work. I play in a band on Bourbon. My drum kit is in my apartment.”
She gave her best look of apology. “I will try to be as quick as possible. Today is Thursday. Perhaps by next Thursday we will have our answers.”
“Next Thursday? Are you insane? I can’t lose a whole weekend of work, especially since you’re telling me my bank account is frozen.” Johnny swore, shoving his empty drink across the dull and scraped bar.
Lizette wasn’t afraid, but she was disarmed. Johnny Malone, was, for lack of a better word, arresting. He was not the best-looking man she had ever seen, as his jaw was too square, his nose perhaps too short, but there was something compelling about him. He shifted from annoyed to charmed and back again with very little effort, his emotions clearly displayed on his face for all to see. There were some people who had that special something, that joie de vivre, and he was one of them. It was making it more difficult than Lizette would admit to stay on task.
“I can take a blood sample to start the analysis tonight, then tomorrow I can begin the interviews. If you’ll just provide me a list of your confidants, I will be happy to make appointments with them. In the meantime, I will contact headquarters in Paris and await instruction. Can we meet tomorrow at say nine, so I may retrieve the list, and ask you some questions?”
Johnny didn’t look at her, but stared morosely at his drink. “I have a wedding to go to tomorrow night. My friend Saxon is getting hitched. It will have to be earlier. Let’s say seven.”
“I can accommodate that.”
“Well, thank you,” he said sarcastically.
Lizette frowned, suddenly unsure of what to say. She was used to a belligerent response to her job, and normally she was sympathetic, but she could distance herself from taking it personally. Johnny Malone had her shifting uncomfortably on her barstool. He had a casual nonchalance that roused her ire, yet at the same time intrigued her, as did the unmistakable fact that she found him physically attractive, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t traditionally handsome.
Despite what certain vampires may think, like her assistant Dieter, she did notice men. She just chose not to do anything with that acknowledgement. Johnny, if that’s who he was, was a man she couldn’t help but notice. He had short black hair, the front sticking up slightly with some form of hair product. His skin was cool and alabaster smooth, his eyes an arresting blue, with eyelashes that women would kill for. He was wearing a T-shirt that fit him, instead of the huge shirts a lot of men wore, and his jeans had a tear in one knee, exposing soft dark hair on his thigh. He was the kind of man who gave sly, sexy smiles and kept a woman awake long after the sun rose. And that made Lizette want to clear her throat and be done with this case, because she was not the kind of woman who had casual sexual dalliances.
“So we are all set then? Where shall we meet tomorrow?” she asked him. Her cell phone dinged on her clipboard as she spoke, and she murmured, “Pardonnez-moi,” and glanced at the screen. It was Dieter informing her that he was outside of Stella Malone’s, and she quickly texted him her locale.
“So how do you know what stuff I have? Because you know, there is a whole creepy-stalker Big Brother factor to this list,” Johnny said, running his finger down the itemization of the contents of his apartment.
“We have our ways,” she said vaguely. Ways that usually involved someone on the Retrieval team breaking and entering. Dieter had accomplished that the day before. But in these modern times, there was an element of technology to the process. “It’s amazing how much of a paper trail we create without being aware of it. I was surprised that you only have a bank card, but it did allow us to trace your purchases for the last several years.” He seemed to spend a large amount of his income on drumsticks and downloaded movies.
“That’s invasive. Illegal. Unethical.”
Lizette was not intimidated by his irritation. “It’s also perhaps the only way you can prove that you are in fact Johnny Malone.”
He gave her a long stare. “You’re one of those logical chicks, aren’t you?”
“I would say so.”
His eyes moved past her to the door, and he frowned. “Who is this douchebag?”
Lizette turned. “Oh, that’s Dieter, my assistant.” She raised her hand in greeting.
Johnny snorted. “Dieter? Perfect name for a tool. What do you need an assistant for anyway?”
Mildly insulted by his assumption that her job was easy, Lizette felt herself frown. “He has his useful qualities. Plus it is less noteworthy for me to be traveling with a man, than as a single woman. Especially in a city full of tourists, like New Orleans. People will simply assume we are a couple.”
“The two of you do not look like a couple.”
Dieter reached her and immediately placed his hand on her back, something he didn’t normally do, and Lizette realized the men were glaring at each other. There was some sort of alpha-male standoff going on. Dieter was larger than Johnny, his German roots giving him broad shoulders and eyes so light they sometimes appeared opaque. There was nothing personal between her and her assistant, nor had he ever indicated interest in such an arena, but at the moment it appeared the men would lock antlers in competition, if they’d had them.
It was rather bizarre, and unnerving. And yet, it was also a teeny bit arousing.
Alarmed at the thought, Lizette leapt to her feet and shifted out of Dieter’s touch and away from Johnny, swiping her list out of his hand. “Excellent. I will see you tomorrow at seven then, at your apartment. It’s been a pleasure. Have a good evening.”
He just gave her an amused smile and a nod. “You, too.”
As she walked out of the bar faster than was strictly normal or appropriate, Dieter ambled along beside her, glancing down at her from his substantial height. “How did it go?”
“Fine,” she said, in a clipped tone.
“That guy was a pig, by the way. His apartment was a disaster.”
“Is that so?” Lizette stared at the sidewalk as she walked, concerned her Louboutin might land in a hole again. It was none of her business really if Johnny Malone was a poor housekeeper. Yet it didn’t surprise her.
“Want to go out dancing on Bourbon Street?” Dieter asked.
Lizette shot him a glance. Dieter was grinning, because he already knew her answer.
“Absolutely not. I would like to do an architectural tour of the area, then perhaps see a film.”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow night. I’m going to hit the bar scene.”
“Do not be conspicuous.”
“Do not insult me. I know.”
He did. It was their job to blend. Lizette gave him a distracted smile of apology. Dieter went off down the street, and Lizette stood for a second, getting her bearings. If she walked to Bourbon Street, she anticipated she could easily get a cab, but the distance of only two blocks seemed daunting. She would have to reconsider her footwear while on this trip. Even Paris wasn’t as crumbling as New Orleans, though she would never recommend traversing Montmartre in four-inch heels. The air was so warm and humid it felt like it surrounded her, embraced her, and Lizette was curious about the city, and somewhat amazed that it was her first trip there. How was it that her work had taken her to Atlanta, Georgia, but never to New Orleans?
She planned to explore as much as possible while she was here, when she wasn’t attempting to stay professional around Johnny.
Glancing back toward the bar, she realized he had come out and was standing on the street corner, watching her. When he caught her eye, he saluted.
Embarrassed to be standing around like she was uncertain, Lizette gave a half wave and strode off in the direction of Bourbon Street, head up, purse on her shoulder, determined to look professional. Only to let out a shriek when she walked over a grate and her skirt blew up, exposing her thighs and possibly another thing or two.
It was not an auspicious beginning to this case.