She smiled. Maybe Paradise City wasn’t such a bad place after all.
Three days. Three long, pain-filled days since the mystery woman had tried to stake him, and the wound below Mal’s heart still throbbed. It should be long healed. At least the screaming in his head was back to its usual almost tolerable level. If Doc hadn’t known he’d gone to Puncture that night, hadn’t found him in that alley, Mal would have been toast come sunrise. Literally. He’d shake his head if not for the chance it might wake the voices.
Damn that Sweets. Mal had had enough pig’s blood in the last week to fill a swimming pool, but it was like Chinese food. An hour later and you were hungry again. Now, if he’d eaten the cook instead …
That jack-off had better show up with a serious amount of fresh, human red. The thought eased the ache in Mal’s chest. He’d heal up fine after that. Not to mention being able to go out without wanting to drain every human who crossed his path.
Then he’d deal with his female problem. His beautiful, deadly, sweet-scented female problem. He tapped his fingers on the book he should have been reading and reminded himself she’d nearly turned him to dust.
‘Hey.’ Doc stuck his shaved head through the door. In the ship’s dim interior, his almost blue-black skin rendered him nearly invisible. Only his green-gold eyes gave him away with their hint at his varcolai heritage. At the moment, they held a suggestion of worry. ‘You don’t look so hot. Want me roll to the butcher’s again?’
‘Not unless you’re bringing back the butcher.’
Doc furrowed his brow, his dark skin reflecting the room’s soft light. ‘I thought you weren’t drinking straight from the tap.’
‘I’m not.’ You should.
‘Oh. That was a joke, right?’ He leaned against the door frame, nearly filling it. ‘Kinda sorry, you ask me.’
‘I didn’t.’ Mal spun his chair toward the porthole that overlooked the distant ocean. Those waters would be a brilliant blue-green on a day like today, if he remembered correctly. Even through the nailed up boards, the sun made him itch. He should be deep in daysleep, recovering, but the bloodlust made it impossible. Might as well get lost in the next ancient, answerless book. ‘We’re even now. You don’t need to be here anymore.’
‘What are you talking about, bro?’
‘You saved my skin. That makes us even. Your debt is paid. You can get back to your own life.’ Not that Mal really wanted to lose Doc. Having someone around who was daylight capable made life a little easier. And Fi would kill him if Doc left, but fair was fair.
‘Like hell. You met me? I’m a little handicapped at the moment. I’d rather hang here.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Unless you’re saying you don’t have my back anymore.’
‘I’m not saying that. And you’re not handicapped.’ Mal scrubbed a hand over his chin. The growth had moved past stubble and was approaching beard. If he cared, it would have been time to shave.
‘Really? What else would you call a were-leopard who can’t shift into anything more than a house cat? If it’s all the same to you, I’ll hang ’til my curse is lifted.’ He paused. ‘Or yours. So long as that’s cool with you.’ He shrugged. ‘Actually, it don’t matter. I’m here ’til Fi tells me otherwise.’
Mal eased the chair around halfway. ‘Take money out of the safe and buy the heaviest chains and padlocks you can find. I need you to restrain me before the sun goes down.’
‘I’ll assume that’s a yes on having my back.’ Doc crossed his arms. ‘Based on the S&M request, I’ll also assume you don’t think you can hang much longer without something a little more human in your system. I wasn’t going to say anything until I had some proof, but word on the street says Nyssa’s been spotted running deliveries.’
‘She better run one here.’ Mal turned to face Doc. ‘Find Jonas. Now.’ He growled softly in his throat. ‘No, wait. You better chain me up first, in case you can’t track him down.’ No! ‘There’s got to be a reason he hasn’t contacted me yet.’
‘Yeah, my gut tells me he’s laying low. Not sure why, other than the fact that you’re ready to eat his liver.’ He smoothed the sides of his goatee and grinned. ‘I’ll hit the hardware store and be back in a few.’
Doc returned around noon. ‘I’ve got good news and bad news.’
‘And … ’ Mal gestured for him to go on.
‘Shackles are ready to go in the hold. But there’s no four one one on Sweets, sorry. Nobody’s talking. He’s definitely keeping things on the DL.’ He planted one large hand on the desk. ‘You sure you don’t want to hit the streets yourself tonight?’
‘Not until I find a new blood source.’
‘There’s always Puncture. I could go with you this time. Keep a look out.’
Yes. Go. ‘Not again.’ He twirled a pen through his fingers. The chrome tip glinted dully in the solars.
Doc slouched into the chair across from Mal’s desk. ‘I could jack that blood bank on Nineteenth.’
Do it. ‘If anyone’s going to do that, it should be me. And trust me, I’ve thought about it. But that might arouse civilian suspicion.’
Doc sat forward. ‘Maybe I could find a willing subject. This city is lousy with people down on their luck. Offer them some coin. It’s not much different than letting the Red Cross have a pint.’