The Night After
Holy crap on a cracker. Wyatt Axelrod's head hurt. Big time. He pried his eyes open and groaned as the ceiling came into focus. He felt like his neck was broken and he was paralyzed from the waist down. He moved a leg and an arm. Still working, which was a good thing, but damn, even that small movement made the blood vessels in his head threaten to burst.
He wasn't sleeping in his bed. He was in a chair. And there was the most god-awful screaming coming from the other room. Righting his head and leaning forward, swallowing hard, he realized he was in his bandmate Cort's apartment. Saxon, their keyboard player, was lying on the floor, holding his own head, blonde hair falling into his face.
Wyatt didn't remember coming back to Cort's. He didn't remember leaving the riverboat they were having Johnny's funeral on. He didn't remember much of anything from the night before, and that was a first. A scary first.
"What the hell happened last night?" he asked.
No one seemed to know. As Cort and Saxon blathered on and on about who the hell knew what, Wyatt checked his jeans pocket. He still had his phone and his wallet, fortunately. But he also still had a headache, which the shrieking wasn't helping. Asking his friends what the awful noise was, he contemplated standing.
No one had the chance to answer his question before a woman came running into the room, looking more than a little hysterical. Wyatt felt his eyebrows raise as he recognized the mortal washboard player from the day band at the bar where their band worked. What the hell was Katie doing here?
"I woke up in someone's room . . ." she was saying to Cort, who had somehow mustered the energy to stand.
Wyatt knew what that meant--someone had hooked up with Katie. He didn't think it was Saxon. He knew it wasn't him. So it was either Drake or Cort, and he had no interest in watching this very awkward morning after moment go down. Besides, speaking of hookups, he wanted to know where Stella was. The last thing he remembered was having a bit of an argument with her on the deck of the riverboat. He didn't want to fight with Stella. He wanted to make love to Stella, all night long, like a classic rock song. He was head over ass for her, and now he was worried.
He opened his mouth to ask if anyone had seen her when Katie beat him to the punch.
"I seem to be a vampire," she said, her voice shaky, eyes panicked.
That would be the shit hitting the fan.
48 Hours Earlier
"Ugh, it's disgusting in here," Stella Malone said as she stood in the middle of her brother Johnny's apartment and gestured to the floor. "Who just dumps an ashtray in the middle of the room?"
Wyatt knew his buddy Johnny was a two-pack-a-day vampire, but he didn't think even he could create a pile of ash that high. With a piece of paper in it. And a necklace.
Oh, shit. He glanced toward the French doors a few feet away. The drapes were pulled open, and Wyatt knew for a fact that the New Orleans sun beat in those windows during the day.
It couldn't be.
If he had a heartbeat, it would have been racing by now. As it was, his stomach was churning, the bag of blood he'd had an hour ago sitting like an anchor in his gut. Johnny wouldn't do it.
It could have been an accident. A horrible, careless accident.
Wyatt pulled the piece of paper out of the ash carefully and shook it off.
"It's so typically Johnny to just run off without telling anyone where he's going."
"Oh, actually, he left a note." Wyatt scanned the piece of paper and cursed.
"What? What does it say?" Stella snatched the paper away from him, kicking some of the ash as she moved toward him, a little gray cloud rising up to her ankles.
It seemed appropriate. Wyatt kind of wanted to kick Johnny himself. How the hell could he kill himself? It was selfish, stupid, so not like Johnny that Wyatt was reeling.
"Stella . . ." Wyatt tried to take the note back, thinking he could break it to her more gently. "Maybe you should . . ."
Too late. She gasped. "Oh, my God. This is a suicide note." It fell out of her hands, fluttering down to the ash pile. She suddenly seemed to realize she was standing in her brother's remains and she jumped back. "How could he do this?"
Wyatt shook his head, bewildered. He'd known Johnny for forty years and he'd never thought of him as anything but happy-go-lucky. "I don't know, sweetheart. I didn't see this coming at all. He seemed fine. I just saw him last night." When Stella had told him Johnny wasn't answering his phone, he hadn't thought it was any big deal. He'd figured she was overreacting, but he had agreed to come check on Johnny with her.
It seemed her worry had been well founded.
Reaching down, he picked up the note and scanned it again.
To Whom It May Concern,
I have walked in darkness far too long.
Today I will step into the sun.
Don't grieve me. But if you throw an Irish wake, which you really should, please don't let Saxon do backup vocals on any Boston songs. He sings like a cat in heat.
P.S. Stella, the fifty bucks I owe you is in the cookie jar.
"He was fine. This is insane." Stella grabbed the note from him again. "And To Whom It May Fucking Concern? Really? That's how he starts a suicide note?"
"It sounds like a bit of last-minute humor. You know Johnny." Wyatt was still in shock himself and he honestly had no clue what to say to Stella, how to calm her down. It had been a long time since any vampire he knew had died. He had watched hundreds of humans leave this life, but he'd gotten used to the idea that he and his vampire buddies were exempt from death. Immortal was immortal, right?
Except when you threw open the blinds and went sunbathing.
"Yeah, I know Johnny. I've spent my whole life being the responsible one while my brother screws around and does whatever he feels like." Stella crumpled the note and threw it at the wall in a fit of fury. "How dare he? How dare he just kill himself without even saying good-bye? Without talking to me about whatever was bothering him?" With an exclamation of frustration, she kicked the coffee table. "I'll give you To Whom It May Concern. Concern this."
Wyatt's gut told him to just let Stella have her rant. She started swearing and spinning around, tossing Johnny's lamp on the floor with a resounding crash. She threw the pillows from the couch in the direction of the kitchen and knocked over a breakfast bar stool. It was almost as shocking as Johnny's suicide. Stella was one of the most controlled women Wyatt knew. She was never late to work. She paid her bills on time. She drank her blood delicately, in a glass. She never swore. Ever.
And now she was cursing with a creativity that astounded him, her eyes blazing with fury, her finger bleeding from the lamp she'd shattered.
Finally, she seemed spent, her face crumpling. She gave one final kick, right through Johnny's ashes. She seemed to instantly regret it, her heavy breathing the only sound in the room as she bent to try to cup his ashes back into a pile, then thought better of it.
She burst into tears as she stood back up, fingers flexing.
He moved toward her. "Oh, Stella, sweetie, I'm so sorry." He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his chest. She let him, which showed him she was really a hot mess. Stella didn't like to be touched--not by him, anyway. She thought of him as the goofy guitar player. Fine for friendship, but nothing else. And she'd never let him get particularly close to her.
For years--okay, decades--he'd had a crush on her. But she was out of his league and he knew it. He was just a dusty old cowboy-turned-vampire guitar player, and she was all that was class and intelligence.
If he could be there for her in any way, hell, he was grateful. He held her and murmured words of comfort in her ear, his hand rubbing up and down her back. It was so damn hard to process the fact that Johnny was gone. It was surreal, mind-boggling. So he focused on the feel of Stella in his arms, the soft floral scent of her hair, and the sound of her sobbing as it slowed into snuffled crying. He was glad she hadn't found Johnny alone.
"I'm really sorry," he told her again. "But eternity is a long time. Maybe Johnny was just tired of the ride."
"I don't understand," she said, her words muffled against his chest. "I need a glass of wine. My stomach is upset."
Wyatt wasn't sure that alcohol was the best thing for her, but he kissed the top of her head and moved to Johnny's sparse kitchen. He found vodka and rum, but no wine. He poured some vodka into a glass and brought it to Stella. She tossed it back in one quick motion.
Holy shit. Wyatt wiped the tears off her cheeks, debating whether he should suggest they clean up Johnny or if he should wait and let her take the lead. She was a control freak, so chances were she'd want to handle it, but he was a little concerned he might wind up with Johnny on his boot if they left him there too long. There was something seriously unpleasant about the thought of walking around with his best friend stuck to him like old gum.
"Can I have another drink?"
Wyatt hesitated, but she looked up at him, so vulnerable, eyes glazed with shock and pain, that he couldn't say no. "Sure."
He went back to the kitchen, feeling the need for a drink himself, Stella on his tail. She kept glancing back to the pile of ash, almost as morbid as an actual body lying there would have been. "I just don't understand," she repeated.
"That's the rub, honey. Some things we're just not going to be able to understand." Like how he could be looking at Stella and thinking how beautiful she was when they were in the midst of tragedy. Or that her body looked particularly enticing in her jeans and V-neck T-shirt. But he was. Which made him a sick, sick man, and eternally grateful that she couldn't read his mind.
Of course, he always had those thoughts around Stella. Maybe he was just conditioned to be aware of what she was wearing and how much he wanted to play hide the salami with her that even death couldn't distract him.
Now he definitely needed a drink.
Wyatt poured her another finger of vodka, and one for himself. She downed it then just took the whole bottle out of his hand, clearly going for efficiency. He felt his eyes widen as she chugged half of it. Who chugged vodka? His throat burned just watching her. "Stella. Babe. I think that's enough." He reached for the bottle.
She evaded his hand. "He left me. He just left me here. All alone. By myself."
The pit in his gut had nothing to do with the alcohol and everything to do with the fact that for a very long time he'd been crushing on Stella, and it broke his goddamn heart to hear her so torn up, so quiet, so sad.
"You're not alone. I'm here." He brushed her auburn hair back off her cheek. Stella's Irish heritage was evident in her hair coloring, and the dusting of freckles that popped even louder against her pale, smooth vampire skin.
"I've never been alone, Wyatt. I'm scared."
"You're not alone." He cupped her cheeks, moving so that his body blocked hers up against the counter. He wanted her to feel that he was physically there, not going anywhere. He wanted to reassure her.
"You won't leave me?" she asked softly, her green eyes glassy with grief and alcohol.
"No, I won't leave you." He wasn't sure what she meant by that, but he was willing to offer her anything that she would take. It was no secret to him that he'd been finding excuses to spend time with Stella for years. Hell, that was half the reason he stayed in the band, because Stella was the sound tech and he got to see her five days a week. It was very possible he was actually in love with her, if he wanted to get technical about it.
But Stella had never given him the time of day. Or night, more accurately.
Now she was gripping the front of his shirt and staring up at him with such woeful eyes he would have done anything she asked.
"Kiss me," she said.
"Uh . . ." For a second Wyatt wondered if he'd slipped at work and hit his head on an amp and he was unconscious. This had to be a dream. Well, a nightmare and a dream. Johnny was gone. Dead. Stella wanted to kiss him. The whole world had tilted on its side.
None of this could be real.
Only he hadn't gone to work since it was Monday and their night off from playing on Bourbon Street.
He didn't think he was dreaming.
And if he thought about it too much, his head might actually explode, so he decided not to think at all. He was just going to obey.
Kiss her. He could do that.
He leaned down, eyeing her small lips with a predatory satisfaction. He'd been waiting forty years for a crack at her mouth.
Stella wasn't really sure why she had asked Wyatt to kiss her. It was just that she felt so lonely, so shocked, so horrified. So drunk.
Her brother was dead. After eighty years of hanging out undead together, her taking care of him, suddenly he was gone. Just gone. He was never supposed to be gone. They were going to live forever. But he hadn't. She couldn't comprehend it. She couldn't think about it. At all.
Wyatt was looking at her with such compassion, his muscular body close to hers as he brushed her hair back off her head. Stella had never really thought of him as much more than a slightly less annoying version of her brother. But now he looked like a perfect way to ignore what was really happening.
Plus, she was drunk.
It had been years since she'd tossed back that many shots in such a short amount of time. In combination with her shock, it had gone straight to her head. Why that meant she would ask Wyatt to kiss her, she wasn't sure. But she had, and he was clearly going to oblige her, and that seemed like it all made sense to her.
She'd never noticed how intense his eyes could be. Or how perfectly pristine his fangs were.
His fangs were out.
That meant he was aroused.
By the mere idea of kissing her.
Which aroused Stella.
Wyatt was a good-looking guy. He had caramel-colored hair that skimmed his shoulders and a seductive mouth. Which was now on hers, kissing her with more finesse than she would have thought possible. Wyatt and Johnny had been two vampiric peas in an undead pod. Both jokesters, both happy-go-lucky, though truthfully, Wyatt was way more thoughtful and far less selfish than Johnny. She'd never thought of Wyatt as being a ladies' man either, like her brother had been, though how Johnny had ever managed that was still a mystery to Stella.
Yet for never having a girlfriend that she could remember, Wyatt sure in the hell knew how to kiss. His lips were taking skilled possession of hers, warm and confident. It was the kind of kiss that made you want to keep kissing, for hours and hours or until you were naked, whichever came first. Stella gave a soft moan and opened her mouth.
But Wyatt pulled back. "That better?"
Yes and no. She nodded. "Do it again."
He hesitated. "Are you sure?"
Instead of arguing with him, Stella just went up on her tiptoes, buried her fingers in his hair, and went at his mouth with her own. She was definitely not as smooth in her moves as he had been but it was effective. Within seconds, his tongue was sliding between her lips and tangling with hers. A sharp kick of lust between her thighs had her running her fingers over his hard chest and down to cup his suddenly obvious and quite impressive erection.
He tore his mouth off of hers, breathing hard. "Stella."
"What?" She bent over and unzipped him, drawing that hard length out of his jeans.
"What are you doing?"
Forgetting. Distracting herself. Trying to feel alive, when for the first time in eight decades, she felt the weight of mortality. In a hazy fog of alcohol and grief, desire sliced through the murkiness and gave her something to hold on to.
Her nipples beaded as she enclosed her mouth around his swollen cock. She figured that was a good enough answer to his question.
"Holy shit. Ahh." His words were strangled, and he gripped her shoulders with enough pressure to cause bruising. "Damn, that feels so good."
It did. It felt like she was back in control. As his breathing deepened, she stroked faster, feeling her own body respond. It had been years since she'd had sex. Probably since the '80s, if she wanted to get technical about it. Mortals never seemed able to satisfy her and they moved in such a small world of vampires, there hadn't really been any men she'd been interested in. Now she was wondering why the hell she hadn't tried a little harder because this felt delightful. Vibrant.
Wyatt had a perfect penis, the kind that filled her mouth so completely she couldn't help but imagine what it would do to another part of her.
He must have had the same thought because suddenly Wyatt was pulling back, pushing her off him and against the kitchen counter. Popping the button on her jeans, he stared at her intently. "Can I?"
Part of her insanely wanted to correct his grammar, another part of her was touched that he would ask, that he would give her an opportunity to say no. But the rest of her just wanted him inside her without any hesitation or interruptions.
"Yes. Yes." She unzipped her jeans herself to lend credence to her words.
"Oh, Stella," Wyatt groaned. Bending over, he took her mouth again, his tongue doing a delicious slide into her mouth while he took her jeans down to her knees in one swift motion.
Then he bit her bottom lip, hard enough to draw blood. He lapped at it, breathing deeply in through his nose as he took in her scent. It was Stella's turn to moan. The last time someone had bitten her, she'd been wearing bell bottoms and a mohair vest, and that had been by a nutjob trying to become a vampire.
This was much better. This was electric. Each lap with the tip of Wyatt's tongue, taking in her tangy blood, was an erotic jolt between her thighs. His thumb skimmed over her clitoris and she felt frantic, fumbling with her fingers to grab him, guide him to her. Wyatt was way ahead of her. Before she could even voice her desperate need, his cock thrust inside her with such impact that she was actually lifted up onto her tiptoes.
She let out a startled moan. He swore. And she shivered in delight as he started to move in and out. Wyatt put his hand on the small of her back so that she wouldn't slam into the counter as he picked up speed, gritting his teeth, eyes boring into her.
"You're so tight. You feel so good," he told her.
There was no way she could actually speak. She was too busy trying not to shatter into a thousand pieces and drop to the kitchen floor. Her senses were being assaulted: the feel of his grip on her hip, the lingering smell of her drying blood, the rustle of his jeans, the hot blast of his breath on her. And most of all, the thick pounding of his cock into her slick, warm wetness.
"Oh, oh," was all she could manage before she completely lost it and came with a startled shout. It was amazing how good it felt, how overwhelming and all-consuming it was. There was nothing but her body and his, and tight ecstasy.
Wyatt stopped pumping for a brief second, then resumed as his orgasm joined hers. Together they gripped and groaned and stared deep into each others' eyes. It was a moment so intense Stella shook her head slightly in disbelief at the raw, deep connection she felt with Wyatt.
Then he pulled out and she came back to reality. As he ran his fingers through his hair and wiggled his ass a little to get his stuff back into his jeans, Stella felt her cheeks flame. What the frickety frack was that? She had just had rabbit sex with her brother's best friend thirty minutes after finding her brother's body--or what was left of it.
She was appalled. She was speechless. She was still feeling the effects of the vodka. And she was wishing that her body didn't feel so goddamn satisfied.
What she finally managed to say was, "Sorry."
Which said nothing.
It seemed to confuse Wyatt. He frowned as he zipped his jeans. His jaw worked, like he was going to say something, then changed his mind. "I'll, uh, just call the band and let them know what's going on."
Right. Yeah. They needed to deal with the situation at hand. "Okay, thanks."
"We could plan a wake for tomorrow or the night after. Probably tomorrow since we don't have to work. We could use the riverboat where we played that gig last Mardi Gras."
Stella wasn't sure if it was the alcohol or the reality of her brother's death, but she just felt numb, incapable of thinking. So she nodded, and let Wyatt handle it all. "I need to get out of here."
"Go ahead, that's fine. I'll take care of everything."
Fumbling to pull up her own jeans as she walked, Stella lost her footing. Going down on one knee, she caught her fall.
With her hand in Johnny. Pulling it back, she stared in horror at the layer of ash now coating her skin. Seriously? Could this night suck any more?
Johnny didn't even own a dust pan. So she wasn't even sure how she was supposed to clean up his final mess.
Wyatt's firm grip on her waist yanked her out of her pity party. Actually, it yanked her right off the floor and upright.
"It's okay. You're okay."
Um, no she wasn't. Her brother was dead. She was a random slut. And she was the clumsiest vampire ever. "I'm all alone, Wyatt," she repeated, the tears returning. Johnny was dead. What the hell.
"You're not alone." Wyatt leaned in, brown eyes dark with desire, and something else. "I love you, Stella."
Oh, yeah. This night could get worse and that was it. Why would Wyatt say that? And why did him saying those words strike a fear almost greater than death in her heart?
"Thanks," she said, in what was arguably the lamest response ever. "I have to go."
And she bolted. Like a slutty, ash-covered coward.
Maybe she and Johnny weren't so different after all.