About a Vampire (Argeneau #22)(3)

by Lynsay Sands

Her gaze slid to the front of the cooler as she started forward. The door was a metal roll-­up almost as wide as a garage door. It was open at the moment, leaving the contents on view—­ a set of tall wide shelves with various coffins on it. Two were cardboard boxes, two were the less expensive blue coffins, and three were actual oak coffins. She noted that the mini forklift was positioned in front of the open door as if John had been about to retrieve a casket when he’d been interrupted by Rick’s arrival.

Holly turned her gaze away from the cooler, trying not to think of the loved ones resting in the coffins . . . or their intended future. She’d nearly reached the corner when she realized that neither voice sounded like John Byron. Had he left already? And if so, who was Rick Mexler talking to? She slowed and then paused just out of sight around the corner to listen to the men’s conversation.

Justin Bricker rolled the gurney stacked with dead rogues in front of the retort. After kicking the wheel locks to keep it in place, he then glanced to Anders, his partner in tonight’s endeavor.

With his dark hair and skin and the black leather clothes he wore, Anders was like a shadow in the white room. He was presently looming over the crematorium technician who stood in the corner. The adult male mortal who had opened the back door at their knock now looked like little more than a naughty schoolboy put there for punishment by an irate teacher. Only the child’s resentment was missing . . . the man’s expression was blank as Anders worked to remove their arrival from his memory and keep him where he stood, safely out of the way.

When Anders relaxed and turned to walk toward him, Justin raised his eyebrows. “Are we good?”

Anders nodded. “But we have to be quick. His shift ends in fifteen minutes. A new guy will be showing up soon.”

“No problem. We’ll be out of here by then. As flammable as we are, these guys will be dust in minutes.” Justin turned to open the door of the retort, and whistled at the wave of heat that blew out at him. He glanced to Anders as the other man reached his side. “So . . . What did you do to piss off Lucian?”

Rather than answer, Anders asked, “What makes you think I did anything to piss him off?”

Justin grinned. “Well, he gave me clean-­up duty because I pissed him off. So I figure you must be in the same boat.”

Anders merely grunted and pulled the top body off the stack to send it into the retort.

“Come on,” Justin said as the flames shooting into the retort hit the body and it was set ablaze as if it were made of dry straw. “You must have done something.”

Anders watched him pick up another body to send it into the retort. Finally, he said, “I might have made some joke or other about his missing so many meals at home since Leigh turned vegetarian.”

Justin raised his eyebrows. “That wouldn’t bother him . . . unless you said it in front of Leigh.”

Anders grimaced, and then started to pick up the next body. “Unfortunately, Leigh came into the room behind me as I was saying it. I fear she overheard me.”

“Ah.” Justin winced, knowing Anders wouldn’t have deliberately hurt the woman’s feelings. None of the hunters would. Leigh was a good woman, they all liked her. “Yeah, I bet that—­Look out! The head—­”

Anders froze with this body half off the gurney, but it was too late. One of the heads had been dislodged and was rolling off the edge of the metal table. Justin made a grab for it, but wasn’t in time and the decapitated head hit the floor with a wet splat.

Both men stood and grimaced at the mess, and then Anders nodded toward the crematorium technician and muttered, “I don’t suppose we can make him clean this up?”

“You suppose right. It would be hard to erase that from his memory and ensure it stayed erased,” Justin said with amusement as he watched Anders grab the head by the man’s long hair and toss it into the retort. It rolled forward like a lopsided bowling ball wobbling into the flame jets where it exploded into immediate flames. Shaking his head, he murmured, “Like kindling.”

“Yeah, we’re pretty flammable,” Anders commented.

“I guess that makes us hot stuff,” Justin said and laughed at his own joke. It even brought a smile from Anders as he finished lifting the body he held and sent it into the retort after the head. Anders wasn’t known for a sense of humor, so the smile was the equivalent of a belly laugh from anyone else, Justin thought.

A shuffling sound and a moan drew his attention around to a woman standing at the corner of the cooler. She was short and rounded with a wave of raven black hair pouring over her shoulders and down her back, a shiny black mass against the tan trench coat she wore. She also had one hand pressed against the cooler wall as if to hold herself up, and her complexion was positively green as she stared at the puddle on the floor where the head had been just seconds ago. Justin was pretty sure she’d witnessed the whole head-­rolling-­off-­the-­table–onto-­the-­floor bit. No doubt a gruesome sight for someone not used to dealing with the dead. Hell, he had to do it on a semi regular basis and it had been gruesome to him.

Her eyes lifted reluctantly to him and Anders now and Justin noted that they were a lovely pale blue. She had nice lips too, full and kissable, and the cutest little slightly turned up nose . . . and she was looking at him and Anders with a sort of mindless horror.

“I have the mess on the floor to clean up, so you get to deal with our tourist here,” Anders announced grimly.

“Thanks,” Justin said sarcastically, but didn’t really mind. He loved women, always had, and this one was a cutie. The only shame was that he wouldn’t get to play with more than her mind. Once he took control of her and wiped her memories, he’d have to avoid contact with her again to avoid those memories returning. Ah well, plenty more in the sea, he thought and concentrated his gaze on her forehead, trying to penetrate her thoughts.

“Well?” Anders asked after a moment. “What are you waiting for? Take control of her.”

Justin blinked, confusion sliding through him and then said weakly, “I can’t.”

“What?” Anders asked with surprise.

“I can’t read her,” he clarified, hardly able to believe it himself. Her thoughts were a complete blank to him.

“Seriously?” Anders asked, eyes narrowing.

“Seriously,” Justin assured him, aware that his voice sounded as dazed as he felt. Damn. He couldn’t read her. That meant—­