The Wolf Charmer – Preview


Frank Maddock’s GENUINE Indian Exhibition, read the flyer tacked to the wall of the Capital saloon. Featuring Wonders of the Natural World. Nell flicked at it idly as she waited. The show was still two days away, yet the poster was already fading in the Nevada sun.

Full Color Stereoptical Scenes of America
A Demonstration of Chief Buffalo’s Miracle Cream
Live Animals – Cultural Scenes
Natural Curiosities: the JACKALOPE – Colter’s Horned Hare!
Human Museum: Meet WHITE MOON – the Pale-Faced Squaw!
Only 10 cents for Adults and Children Alike

Nell knew well enough that an act so loudly touted as “genuine” was anything but. Still, the big circuses never came closer than Reno now, and new entertainments were few and far between.

When Nell had been a child, she had heard stories about the celebrities who would pass through the Comstock – actors performing Shakespeare at the Opera House, society belles riding the brand-new elevator at the International Hotel. But as the sun dropped behind Mount Davidson, the only folks on the street were a few shiftless youngsters.

The miners would start filing home in another hour, a parade of spent men in faded clothes. Each year the parade shrank a little more. Nell found it hard to pity their lot. At least they had work.

The depression was nearly twenty years old now, and the cause was simple: the Comstock was emptied-out. Mount Davidson had seen its hillside shaved away; the original “Gold Hill” was now a shallow depression in the canyon walls. Two miles north in Virginia City, the ground underfoot was literally hollowed out: every few months another sinkhole opened up under someone’s house. In places, Nell heard, the mine shafts reached some three thousand feet deep, halfway down to sea level.

Still the economy limped along. The men blasted still deeper shafts, certain another lode lay just out of reach. They milled the low-grade ore they had once ignored, to squeeze out the last of the silver dregs. They dreamed of building a cyanide mill, to extract the still-smaller traces of gold from the tons of waste rock. They hoped for better days.

What else could they do? The landscape was too arid for ranching or farming. Four decades of settlement had stripped the forests and decimated the wildlife. Yet the two generations born and raised on the Comstock could not imagine living anywhere else.

Nell could imagine living somewhere else. When she heard stories of San Francisco – its vibrancy and diversity, its bright future – she easily envisoned herself walking its streets. But what she had in imagination, she lacked in hard currency.

She saw her mother coming up the street, shoulders bent under a heavy sack of linens. Nell cursed under her breath and began to turn away, but it was too late. The hunched figure had spotted her.

Ruth Johns was a small woman, thin and prematurely aged. Nell had vague memories of her mother as a delicate beauty with creamy brown skin, but now her face was pinched and hard, skin rough like old leather.

Nell had never been delicate. Even as a child she had had her father’s height, his broad shoulders and large hands.

“Eleanor! I haven’t seen you about lately.”

She knew better than to trust her mother’s smile. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen the woman genuinely happy.

“Well, you’re seeing me now.”

“Mm, loitering on a street corner.”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“At this hour? I raised you better.”

You didn’t raise me at all, Nell longed to say. Her earliest memories were not of her parents, but of the impoverished white widow who had earned a dollar a week bringing Nell up alongside her own child.

“What do you want, Momma?” Nell asked instead.

“I want you to come home.”

“Pft. We both know that ain’t gonna happen.”

“I just don’t understand why you throw your money away on a rented bed when you have a family ready to take care of you.”

“I don’t need taking care of.”

“Nell, I worry about you.”

Picked a hell of a time to start. “Why?” Nell fought to keep her voice reasonable. “It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“You quit your job. You’re sleeping on a rented bed. And what will you do when your money runs out? Who’s going to take care of you then?”

“Who says I need to be taken care of?”

“Nell, you’re almost thirty. No one in their right minds wants to hire an old spinster when there are young’uns looking for work. And with your reputation, what man will take you on?”

Nell heaved a sigh. “I thought we settled this.”

“If you’d just talk to Shiloh–”

“No!” Nell stamped her foot in the dirt, startling them both. “No,” she repeated, more gently. “I ain’t baggage to be ‘taken on.’ And I ain’t your problem to be fixed. We made deal, remember? I take care of myself now. I don’t ask for anything of you, and you don’t get anything from me.”

“Why do you have to see everything like… business?” Ruth spat out the word with righteous disgust. “You’re my daughter. I love you. That isn’t something I can just snuff out.”

“Aw, you’re just not trying hard enough.”

Nell felt a cold sort of triumph as she saw her mother flinch. The satisfaction was short-lived; remorse came swiftly on its heels. Nell hunched her shoulders, the brooding posture of a shamed child.

Ruth should have known better than to bring up her lack of work, she thought resentfully. Everyone knew if you stirred a hornet’s nest, you were liable to get stung.

“I just want what’s best for you,” Ruth murmured contritely, wringing her gnarled hands. The laundry lye had left her dry skin laced with scars, and years of hemming plainwork for pennies had shriveled her fingers to claws. Nell clenched her own hands reflexively, feeling the knuckle joints with her thumbs. Was it only her imagination, or were her own fingers somewhat thinner of late?

“Wish you’d trust me to know what’s best for me.” Nell glanced downhill. A rider was coming up the road, followed closely by a large gray dog.  “Look, I gotta go, Momma. I told you, I’m meeting someone.”

Ruth followed her daughter’s gaze, and her mouth puckered in disapproval. “The deviant.”

“Don’t you call her that!” Nell snapped hotly.

“I ain’t the only one, and you know it. She’s a bad influence on you.”

She was right, of course, but Nell would never admit it. “At least she’s married. Might rub off on me.”

“When will I see you again?”

Nell shrugged. “It’s a small town.”

‘Will you at least come to dinner one night? The boys miss you.”

Nell doubted it. But she was willing to say anything to end the conversation.

“Fine, fine. I’ll come… Sunday, okay? You go on home. Don’t stand around with that load on your back all day.”

Ruth narrowed her eyes. She clearly didn’t trust Nell’s sudden obedience, but she was used to taking what she could get. “Sunday,” she said firmly. Then she turned and resumed her weary march uphill. Nell watched her go until her chest ached. Only then did she realize she had been holding her breath.

They had not always been so estranged. For much of Nell’s adult life, mother and daughter had treated each other with a distant courtesy. It had been easy enough; their busy lives had left little time to brood on mistakes of the past. Every so often, they reconnected over tea and said nothing of consequence. That too was part of the deal; least said, soonest mended. The rest of the time, Nell scarcely thought of her mother, and she assumed Ruth did the same.

Then Nell had found herself out of work for the first time since leaving home, and Ruth decided to take an interest in her wayward daughter once more.

Nell had no one to blame but herself, according to her family. Only a fool walked away from a paying job in the middle of a depression. No matter that she had been treated little better than a dog. No matter that she was the last to be praised, but the first accused when something went missing. A colored maid could expect nothing better. Most expected much worse. She had been given food and board and left unmolested. It was sheer selfishness to ask for more.

And she was selfish. She made no apologies for it. She valued herself highly; she had to, for no one else would. The world had no place for women like her.

Nor was it particularly accommodating to the approaching rider. Nell felt a weight lift from her shoulders as she hailed her friend. Only with Charlie Franklin did she feel like something more than an outcast.

“So this is the horse you’ve been raving about,” Nell said.

The paint horse was tall and well proportioned, but his nervous bearing was apparent even to Nell’s untrained eye. Nell couldn’t blame him. The grinning wolf-dog made just about everyone nervous. When the canine got too close, the horse drew up short of the hitching post, and blew out a loud snort through flared nostrils.

“Garou!” Charlie snapped. “Leave off!”

The dog scurried back obediently, but the horse was slower to settle. When Charlie pulled hard on the reins to correct him, he reared up, causing her to cling to the saddle horn as her hat went flying.

“Damn it, Clem!”

“Well, shoot,” Nell laughed. “If you haul on the reins like you’re spoiling for a fight, he’ll give you one. Even I could have told you that.”

Charlie eased her grip on the reins, and the horse slowly relaxed. He even took a step towards the hitching post of his own free will. Charlie grinned sheepishly. “I guess I’m used to wrestling with Connor’s horse.”

“Reckon that’s why he bought you your own.”

“He calls it an early birthday present. But you’re right – he was getting a bit sick of sharing.” Tentatively, she stroked the horse’s neck. “There, Clem. You’re a good boy.”

Nell raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Clem?”

“Short for Clemens. You know: Mark–”

“–Twain,” Nell finished for her. Of course. Charlie had every book Sam Clemens had ever written. Nell didn’t quite understand the appeal herself. The man tried much too hard to be clever.

Charlie swung down from the horse with a practiced air. The wolf-dog had already retrieved her hat from the lane, and now trotted over to her side, tail wagging.

“Aw, thank you, Rou.” Charlie pried the hat out of his jaws and shook off the worst of the dust and saliva. It wasn’t the dainty sort of felt hat most lady riders fancied, but a big Stetson Boss, already well-worn and creased after a mere four months of use.

Nell had known Charlie would be trouble from the first. The unwanted relation of Nell’s former employers, she had shown up in cropped hair and denim trousers, stinking of the big city. No one could have predicted she’d end up wed to the richest man in town. Or that Nell would come to count her as that rarest commodity – a genuine friend.

Unadorned, she was a strangely sexless creature, with her blunt features and her flat chest. All the paint and lace in the world couldn’t give her womanly grace. When she got herself up in buckskins and pulled her Stetson down low over her face, she could easily pass for a boy. But this evening she was indulging what passed for her femininity: pairing a tailored woman’s jacket and colorful kerchief with her wide-legged riding culottes. Her blond hair had grown out somewhat since Nell first met her, and she let it hang loose in a shaggy bob about her jawline. Nell had once asked her if she intended to let it grow properly, now that she was a married woman, and Charlie had laughed and said that her husband forbade it.

Like sticks to like, Nell reckoned. Connor Franklin was quite the queer thing himself.

“Were you talking to your ma?” Charlie asked, as she tied up the horse. “I would have loved to meet her.”

“No, you really wouldn’t,” Nell said brusquely. When Charlie blinked at her in confusion, Nell was forced to add, “She don’t much approve of you.”

The younger woman smirked at the thought. “Most mothers don’t.” She gave the horse a gentle rub on the muzzle. “What do you think? Just signed off on the papers today.”

Nell recognized the brand at the horse’s left shoulder: a P wearing a jagged crown, over a Lazy M. The Crown Point Livery Stables traded in only the finest mustangs.

“He from the batch they bought back in May?” Nell asked.

Charlie nodded. “At first I had my eye on the other mustang, but as soon as Garou ran over, he was fixing to kick his head in.”

“To be fair, lots of folk think about kicking your dog’s head in,” Nell said wryly.

Garou blinked up at Nell, all puppyish innocence.

“But Clem just sort of shied off, so we knew he was the one,” Charlie went on. “Connor says it’s probably ’cause Wes broke him himself.”

Nell was surprised at the sudden pang in her heart. “Wes is breaking horses again?”

“Why? He wasn’t before?”

“Shoot, not in the last ten years. He used to. Got his start working for Grant Weatherbee as a breaker. But he never got the hang of it. Always took too long.” She couldn’t imagine any horse trained by Wesley Benedict would come out calmer for the experience.

The boy she had once loved had grown into a brooding, nettlesome man. He’d done well for himself: a solid income as a farrier, a partnership in the livery stables, and a fine house he owned outright. Yet he carried himself as if crushed by some unspeakable burden. When he drank to excess – which was too often – he was prone to self-pity and quick to anger. Sober, he shunned the company of others, preferring to take out his ill-defined frustrations on his anvil. Nell often wondered how he could take so little joy in life, so little pride in himself.

It enraged her sometimes, to think about all those advantages squandered on a man who couldn’t appreciate them. Mostly it just made her sad. Something was very wrong, if she could find more satisfaction in her life of drudgery than Wes could in his of privilege.

So she tried not to think about it. She tried to not think about him.

Charlie jerked a thumb towards the saloon door. “Come on, what’ll you have? I’m buying. You be good, Garou, and guard Clem for me. All right? Sit. Sit!” she repeated with emphasis, when the dog began to sulk.

Nell took what had become their usual table, wedged at the very rear of the saloon. The rock walls kept the corner relatively cool, but the lack of fresh air meant it was always the last to be claimed. Nell caught a dirty look from a man deep in his drink, but she couldn’t tell whether it was meant for her or Charlie. Most saloon owners had figured out they could serve unescorted women without the sky falling down, but their patrons still lagged behind the times.

Charlie paid for their drinks – a weak ale for Nell and a bottle of soda for herself – and brought them to the table, along with a big bowl of Saratoga chips. “So how’s your ma doing?” she asked. “Still wringing her hands over you?”

“Trying to act like it. Truth is, I don’t think she wants me to find work. Just another distraction keeping me from my God-given destiny as Mrs. Shiloh Todd.”

“Shiloh? Shoot, you’d think she’d realize that ship has sailed.”

“Uh-huh.” Nell helped herself to a handful of chips. “Reckon even Shiloh has figured that out – God knows it took him long enough. But… he is the only colored man in Gold Hill I ain’t related to.” She flashed Charlie a pained smile. “And as Momma loves to remind me: I already let him sample the wares, so who else is gonna wanna buy the goods?

“Of course, if I want to be all pig-headed about it, there are two unattached Negros up the hill in Virginia who might be tempted, and neither one a day under fifty! Plus a fella down in Dayton who may or may not be spoken for. And it is so sad that I know all o’ that.”

“Suppose he has to be colored, huh?” Charlie commiserated, before taking a long pull from her bottle. Nell cast a nervous glance around the bar, then lowered her voice to a whisper.

“Of course he has to be colored! What kinda question is that?”

Charlie shrugged. Nell had to remind herself that the urchin had never had a proper upbringing. Running around Frisco’s tenements where all sorts of folks mixed around, Charlie was as heedless of the rules that governed race as she was of those concerning their sex. It was at once her most endearing trait and a constant source of frustration.

“Guess it depends how badly your ma wants you married, that’s all,” Charlie said.

“She wants me to tell her she was right all along. That a woman ain’t nothing without a man.”

“If that ain’t some bassackward ignorance,” Charlie sneered.

“Says the gal who met and married her beau all within a week!”

“Two weeks,” Charlie corrected. But she smiled rather guiltily all the same. “Never said a man ain’t a pleasant thing to have around… long as he knows his place.”

“Yours does, and no mistake. Where is he, anyway? After buying you a horse, I figured he’d be keeping you close for some gratitude.”

Charlie laughed at her suggestive tone. “How much does a horse go for, in gratitude?”

“Damned if I know. Only thing Shiloh ever gave me was a pinwatch, and he thought that was worth giving up the whole shebang.”

“Must’ve been one hell of a watch.”

“I wish. Cheap tin. Still lasted longer than Shiloh. But a horse… shoot, y’oughta be on bedrest for a month afterwards.”

Charlie clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. “You shush! You’re gonna get us thrown out. Anyway, Connor’s already off at work. Took off with the marshal somewhere – some to-do at the Indian camp.”

Nell glanced at the open doorway. “Awful early, ain’t it?”

“He’s started winter hours: four to four every weekday now.”

“Still bright out there. He gonna be all right?”

“Should be. I made him take his spectacles.”

Nell could never understand why a silver magnate would bother holding down a regular job – let alone the irregular one of a nightwatch deputy. But then what other job could a man like Connor Franklin take, when he didn’t dare go out in broad daylight?

It was a weakness in the skin, Charlie had once explained. Some missing protein made him burn like a baby in the sun and laid him low with migraines. Nell didn’t believe a word of it. She’d heard the other rumors about the deputy: the strange lethargy when he ventured out on cloudy days, the persistent anemia requiring a diet heavy in red meat. Nell could think of only one explanation, and she suspected half the town would agree with her.

She hoped she was wrong. Despite all his strange notions, Connor Franklin was a good man; she didn’t like thinking of him as a diseased monster.

But all the signs pointed to syphilis. What else could it be?


Connor Franklin paced along the neat row of graves, squinting against the brightness of the late afternoon. The disk of the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains, and angry blue sky was starting to soften with the dusty haze of the long Comstock twilight. Still, the ambient light was enough to make his eyes water behind the tinted glass of his spectacles. He kept his hat pulled down over his brow and did his best to walk in the marshal’s shadow. Bill Crawford didn’t seem to notice.

The Paiute Indian camp lay some two miles south-west of Gold Hill, on the sloping valley called American Flat. The dome-shaped tents held some dozen households, all connected by blood or marriage, all bearing the peculiar surname Marsh.

In the days before the Silver Rush, they had been a nomadic people, moving with the seasons, keeping one step ahead of the summer droughts and winter storms. Nowadays most of the Marshes preferred to do their hunting at the local grocer’s. They traded in herbal remedies and day labor, and a few men even held steady jobs in town. Yet they remained a breed apart from the white settlers. It seemed only fitting that they would remain so in death.

Bill’s hand stole to his pocketwatch. It was the third time he’d checked it since Connor had come on shift.

“You looking to light out?”

“Ah, the landlady’s been on my case. I miss one more family dinner and I’m on jail rations for a week.”

Tsk. Not two months and henpecked already.”

“Well now,” Bill mumbled into his chest. “The kids like it when we’re all together.”

He was trying for the old cantankerous growl, once second nature to him. Yet he couldn’t entirely smother the note of pride in his voice. Connor had never heard a man so happy to be domesticated.

“Henry still calling you ‘Marshal Crawfish’?”

Now Bill beamed. It was no secret that he doted on his mistress’s young son. “Heck no,” he said proudly. “Now I’m Uncle Crawfish!”

“He’ll be after you to make his ma an honest woman, you wait and see.”

Connor didn’t need to look at Bill to see that his face had gone red – he could smell the rush of blood to the skin, and hear the racing heartbeat in the marshal’s chest.

Bill cleared his throat loudly. “Well now, much too soon to be fretting about that. There it is,” he pointed out the last grave in the row. In place of a mound lay a shallow trench. The earth was freshly turned, exposing the broken layer of clay underneath the topsoil. An old Paiute man stood guard over the damage, thoughtfully puffing on his clay pipe. Connor was not surprised to see him. The Marsh tribe had no chief as such, but it valued its elders, and the gray-haired patriarch was the last of his kind. He’d been a wiley youngster when the first miners had staked their claims to the Comstock and changed the Indians’ world forever. No other Paiute had weathered the upheaval with quite the finesse and good humor of Captain Marsh.

Bill hailed the old man with a wave. “Brought him like you said.”

Connor smiled inwardly at that. “’Evening, Cap’n.”

“It is an evening,” the Indian agreed. “A damn rotten one.”

“That’s why I left ‘good’ out of there.” Connor knelt at the graveside and inspected the damage. “So what do we have? Animal?”

Captain Marsh stared into his pipebowl as he considered it. “Could be. Could be. Your coyote, though, he usually prefers a fresher grave. He also don’t tend to use a spade,” he added archly, “but these are modern times.”

Connor knelt down to better examine the site. The old man was right. Whatever had disturbed the grave had left very straight, even lines in the earth, like the scrape of a tool blade.

“Whose grave is it?”

“Fanny Rollins,” Bill said. “Ben Marsh’s wife.”

“Rollins? Like the dairy farmer?” He’d never heard of a white body buried in Paiute soil.

“His sister.” Bill made a discreet nod towards the mourners gathered beyond the boundary stones. Several Paiutes – the men in worn work clothes, the women in flounced calico – were all gathered protectively around a lone white man.

“Died back in the diphtheria outbreak,” Bill explained. “Her boys work at the dairy now.”

Connor  nodded thoughtfully. He had only a passing acquaintance with the Rollins family; American Flat was at the limit of his jurisdiction, and he had long since lost his taste for milk. But he’d sometimes see the dairy cart making the rounds just before daybreak. The driver was always a young Indian, the milkman a tow-headed boy who would leap off at each stop to swap empty bottles for full.

“So what are you thinking, Cap’n? Vandals?”

“More like to be grave robbers. Seen enough in my day. The pea-brains hear tales of Indian chiefs buried with golden hordes – and nevermind that we bury our folk with less frippery than your Christians.” He turned and spat. “Pale-faced eejits! Still… I’d rather they were after Fanny’s old locket than anything else of hers.”

“What else would they want?” Bill demanded.

What’s else is left? Connor sifted a handful of soil though his fingers. A small yellow shard emerged from the dirt. Connor held it up to the light. “The bones?”

“Jesus Murphy!” Bill snatched the fragment out of his hand. “Leave the girl a bit of dignity, will you?”

Connor ignored him. Dignity was the purview of the living, not the dead. “Do we know if any bones were taken?” he asked Captain Marsh.

“Couple of pieces were scattered around. We put what we could find aside. The family wants to do a reburial later on. But we ain’t about to dig Fanny out and count her ribs.”

Why on earth” Bill began in a roar. Heads at the boundary stones turned towards him, and he moderated his tone with visible effort. “Why would anyone want old bones?”

Connor shrugged. “Sell ’em? I dunno – aren’t they mad for those Egyptian mummies in the right circles? Might be some rich folks fancy collecting Indian bones. And these graves don’t have names on them. There’d be no way of knowing this one belonged to a white gal. The man might have just picked the one furthest from the tents. Polish it up nicely, he could pass Fanny’s skull off as Sitting Bull’s.”

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” Bill said.

“Surely is,” Captain Marsh agreed. “But you’d better hope that’s all he wants them for.”

“What else could it be?”

The Captain took a long draw on his pipe. The smoke curled out through the gaps in his teeth as he spoke. “Can’t speak to your folk. But there’s only one thing my people use human bones for. And that’s witchcraft.”

Connor stared at him blankly. Bill gave his deputy a wry smile and a pat on the shoulder. “And that’s the end of my shift. This one’s all yours.”


The sun had long set by the time Connor was satisfied with the state of Fanny’s grave. He took a few witness statements, none of which offered any promising leads. He helped the men drape a heavy canvas over the grave and secure it with stones to keep scavengers at bay, until a proper reburial could be arranged. He swore Captain Marsh to secrecy regarding his witchcraft theory.

“No call to be riling anyone up just yet. Let me try out a few other angles first.” He knew a fence up in Virginia City who was likely to come across anyone dealing in grave goods.

The marshal’s office sat in the Gold Hill, just north of the main intersection. Connor smiled when he saw the paint horse tethered outside it. He had hoped his wife would join him at work again. After such a depressing start to the evening, he could use a pleasant diversion.

He was prepared for the sight of her, perched on his desk with an air of casual entitlement. What he did not expect was the mouthwatering smell of warm batter and powdered sugar. It struck his heightened senses like a rush of nicotine.

Charlie was working her way through a bag of bite-sized doughnuts, fresh from the fryer. Her lips and fingers were dusted in sugar, and she had untied her kerchief, baring her long, white throat. The candied aroma filling the air was a perfect compliment to her own distinct scent – sweet and heady as only a human’s could be. It filled him with a hunger he could feel deep in his bones.

Garou ran to the door, tail wagging and tongue lolling. Connor knelt down and caught him about the neck for a friendly wrestle. “No, I didn’t bring you anything, so don’t bother begging.”

“Oh, he doesn’t want food, just sympathy,” Charlie explained. “I’ve been neglecting him for my fellow humans again.”

“How are you liking Clem so far? I figured you’d be out putting him through his paces.”

“I wanted to see you. How was it down at the Flat?”

Connor grimaced. “Grave robbing in the Indian cemetery, if you can believe it.”

“Oh, Connor!”

“Naw, it’s all right. It used to happen a lot more often. But I’d kinda hoped we were past that in this day and age.”

“You think you’ll find who did it?”

“Not likely.” He sighed as he shed his heavy coat and hat. “Still, I’d rather get called out for old bones than a fresh body. If this is the worst that happens tonight, I’ll count my blessings.” He flashed her a grateful smile. “But I’m glad you’re here.”

She returned his smile, but her brow was still knit in concern. “Now I feel guilty. Here I had brought a treat for you–”

“Oh, I could use a pick-me-up, believe me.” He raised a quizzical eyebrow. “But you know I haven’t been able to eat pastry for the last hundred-odd years.”

She was the picture of innocence, save for the wicked light dancing in her eyes. “The doughnuts? Oh no, they’re for me. Brought you something else.” She idly fingered her jacket collar, brushing a fine trail of sugar across her neck. The motion could not fail to draw his gaze to her pulsepoint, visibly thrumming just under her skin.

The dull ache in his belly had suddenly become a burning need. The predator inside him was screaming for release. He forgot all about the business at American Flat. Nothing existed outside the room. Nothing mattered except the beautiful creature perched on his desk, and the memory of how her blood tasted on his tongue.

“Did you now?” he drawled.

She gave a tempting roll of her shoulders. “You were so nice, giving me Clem and all… seems the least I could do.”

“I’m on duty.”

“Well, if you’re not interested…” she started to straighten her collar. Connor turned and locked the door.

“You know, I’m thinking I want to give you something else.”

“What’s that?”

He parted his lips in a slow revenant’s smile, baring his sharp canines. Charlie’s pulse started to race; it sounded like a drumbeat in his ear. Her eyes darkened with the same feral intensity; her muscles tensed like a prey animal’s poised for flight.

“A five second head-start,” Connor breathed.

Charlie launched herself from the edge of the desk with a cry of joy. She ran for the jailhouse door. Her hand was already on the knob when her five seconds expired.

Connor crossed the floor of the office in three running strides. Charlie was barely inside the empty jail when he caught her.

His arm came up around her, staggering her, lifting her off the ground. He swung her around and pinned her to the wall of the closest cell. Her hands braced against his shoulders; her breaths came fast and shallow. When she turned her face away the tendons of her neck strained against her skin.

Connor sank his teeth into her throat, and the rush of scalding blood filling his mouth was almost as sweet as Charlie’s moan of pleasure. Her arms wound tight about his shoulders, one hand pressed hard against the back of his head. He hitched her legs up around his hips as he ground her against the iron bars. He drank until he was almost senseless from the taste of her. He drank until he felt her racing heartbeat falter, until she shuddered under his month and cried out her release.

One day, he wouldn’t stop. One day, he would drain her dry.

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© Jane Senese 2020