A swathe of light cut through the darkness accompanied by the raucous uproar of the drunken crowd. A silhouette cut through the saloon’s doorway, and a body spilled out with awkward steps and whispered moans. He fell off the edge of the boardwalk and lifted his head up as I walked up, pearl buttoned boots making soft noises in the dirt.
“All done for the night?” I bent down in my corset, curls falling from my updo. “Or you got time for one more tussle?” I held out one hand.
Shiny eyes swam in alcohol as his gaze slid up my small but curvy frame. He reached for me but missed, hand sweeping through the air. I didn’t need him to touch me. His energy wafted like the town bakery, and it pulled at me low and hard.
I inhaled deep, and he shifted toward me with a drawn-out moan. His want fed me like breakfast rolls, but his need drifted across my senses like chocolate cake. I exhaled slowly as I righted myself, reveling in the sensation tingling my skin.
“Let him go.”
I whipped my head to the right. “Why should I?”
From the shadows, a tall man in a cowboy hat and a duster took two steps toward me. The spurs on his boots clicked, metallic tones in the dust. “Let him go.”
I closed my eyes. A happy noise slipped off my tongue. Yummy. I flicked a hand, and the other man fell into an unconscious heap. If he’d been cake, this new guy was a dessert smorgasbord. I smoothed my hands down the corset, over the ruffles of my bloomers until the metal stocking clips bit into my palms. I stalked toward him. “What do I get?”
He smiled. “For what?”
I waved behind me. “I let him go.”
“Little lady, there’s no prize for doing the right thing.”
I rolled my eyes, and it won me a wider smile. “Now what?”
He tilted the brim of his hat up. “A gentleman would walk a lady home.”
“I don’t see any lady.” I gestured around me. “Just a whore. And mister, saving some wretched drunk don’t make you a gentleman.”
The door to the saloon swung open, and my new friend tilted his head to look over my shoulder. “Something tells me the main show is over. Think it’s time to go, don’t you?”
I shifted in my boots. “Why should I?”
He shrugged. “You could stay, Annabelle. Get caught.”
My breath caught in my throat. “How did you…”
“Name’s Errol Dresler, U.S. surveyor.” He patted one pocket where the furled edge of paper stuck out. “Sands are running out. You have questions. I have answers. I don’t even want you to spread your legs to get them.” He reached out a gloved hand. “Coming?”
Curiosity well-piqued, I stepped forward and slid my hand in his, and caught sight of a sheathed blade down his thigh. “Oh, I’m coming.”
Errol Dresler’s official occupation was surveyor for the US Government. Unoffically, he hunted down real monsters for President Hayes.
He’d been tracking me since Amarillo. He’d lost me in that open desert between there and El Paso, but a body count in San Antonio had brought him to my hunting grounds on the outskirts of the bustling city.
His timing was impeccable, as the locals had grown tired of finding the dead. Within a day, he had me gussied up like a lady, all petticoats, ruffles and dainty hats, and on a South Pacific train out of the state to Tucson, Arizona.
I fidgeted with the soft cotton gloves in my lap. “Nothing.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t understand, I guess.”
“What’s to understand?” He moved to sit across from me.
“You’re a hunter. You’ve killed other monsters like me, but here we are, running from humans like you.”
Errol shrugged. “Like I told you, it’s a partnership. I’ll keep you from killing people, and you help me catch monsters. Simple.”
I faked a smile. Nothing was ever that easy.
I scanned the horizon through the stagecoach window. Desert vegetation dotted the pale sun-bleached dirt.
“We’re almost there, Annabelle.” His voice broke through the stifling air.
“You told me that before, when the sun was over there.” I pointed behind us.
“Indeed, I did.” Small buildings popped into the heated haze. “Look, there’s Tombstone now.”
“You think it’ll be enough?”
He gave me a smile that didn’t quite reach his green eyes. “Only one way to find out.”
Five years later
"Annabelle, wake up!" Errol's body cut a silhouette against the dawn. I blinked several times and cringed beneath the sheets.
"Close the curtain. Please." Darkness blanketed me.
The mattress shift, and his scent faded from my nostrils. "It's happening again." His hand fell on my shoulder, warm through the thin cotton. "I have to know."
I sighed and untangled my legs from the twisted clutches of the bedclothes. "I don’t know what to tell you.”
He must’ve found my tired antics amusing because a small smile crept across his lips. I glared at him from beneath my curls and caught myself wondering again why he stayed with me. How had a convenient partnership blossomed into love?
I swung my legs over the side of the bed. "I need a bath."
He shook his head, retrieving his pants off the floor, the smile gone. Errol shrugged, strapping his sword to his hip and grabbed his satchel and duster. "Drunks don't care if you smell."
“Dammit, Errol.” I shook my head as I opened the door and walked down the stairs, my morning ruined.
The saloon filled up quickly, as he made his way behind the thick stage curtains. “We need to talk.”
I straightened the stocking seams. "Can't. Going on in a minute."
He grabbed my arm. "Now."
"Are you trying to get me fired?" I wrenched out of his grasp.
"Carol McFadden is dead."
"And?" The name meant nothing to me.
"Her parents found her dead in her bed, naked and pale. Sound familiar?" He slammed my back against a wall.
I pushed him. "So what? I seduced that young woman, and now she’s dead. These things happen."
"I thought this was enough." He gestured at the stage. "You said this would sate you!"
I swallowed an angry retort. In the beginning, the energy rolling off the crowd had fed me a nightly feast. Add in my nighttime clientele, and the succubus inside me was appeased.
Or so I thought.
The opening notes of the overture danced in the air, and the house madam Lottie waved at me with impatience. "I have to go on."
Errol stared at me, his mouth twisting in displeasure. "Bon appetit.” He disappeared behind the curtain. I peeked out and watched him hit the bar.
"Annabelle!" Lottie hissed from stage left. "Get your lily-white ass on that stage right now!"
I let the curtain fall. With one last tug at my hose, I slipped on to the stage, smile pasted on my lips. Catcalls, whistling and applause exploded throughout the saloon.
"Well, hello, boys." I leaned forward, my breasts heaving from the corset. "Ready for some fun tonight?" The music picked up tempo as I began my routine.
The air thickened, and I breathed in their energy. My eyes flickered over their lost and lonely faces, watching each well-lubricated tongue wet chapped lips, hands unconsciously disappearing beneath tabletops. I knew with one well-placed sway of my hips, I could make every body in the saloon explode.
Errol kept drifting into my sight, his face a dark reminder of his condemnation. I unfurled the ill-gotten energy back to my admirers. My succubus rose in protest, pulling at the threads, wanting to suckle each dirty face to my breast, fuck every erect member until they passed out.
I moved on hands and knees, smothering the closest man in my cleavage. His mouth was wet against my skin. I slid a hand into his crotch, the fabric already wet, and wrapping my fingers around his shaft. He cried out as I tore his energy from his body.
His eyes widened. He push at me, but it was too late. I drank him in, ignoring the semen as he came. His heart slowed, his breathing almost nonexistent. If I didn't stop, I would kill him.
I let go, and the chair crashed to the floor, his head bouncing off the wooden slats. I stretched on the stage, reveling in the afterglow. Lottie stepped over me, motioning for her lackeys.
"Why, I do think Horace has gotten a freebie." Two burly cowboys lifted the unconscious man off the floor. "Now don't ya'll be getting any ideas. Annabelle don't come cheap." She leaned down, her lips to my ear. "Don't you ever do that shit again, or you'll find your ass on the street. Save it for your paying clients."
I nodded, unable to wipe the grin off my face. "Yes, ma'am."
My last client pulled his trousers up, his eyes flitting across my face, bright with misdirected infatuation. "I could take you away from all of this, sweetheart." He fingered the hair around my shoulders as I sat on the edge of the bed.
"Now, Lawrence, I can't leave. What would Lottie do without me?" A poor excuse but I didn’t care. I slipped out of his grasp, the night air cool against my naked body. "You get out of here before your wife comes looking for you again."
He sighed, the flush of his cheeks paling. "Norma ain't like you."
"Nobody's like me, hon," I guided him toward the door. "Good night, Lawrence."
He sat his cowboy hat atop his graying head, tipping it forward. "Ma'am." He walked out the door, his shirt half-tucked in his pants. His boots clunked against the creaky floorboards. He began his descent down the staircase. "Errol, you map anything good today?"
“Think I did, old man. You have a good night.”
I bit my bottom lip, as Errol mounted the last stair. “You came back.”
"I wish you'd wear clothes."
I ushered him inside and closed the door before pulling on a robe. "I'm a whore. I get paid to wear nothing." I walked to the bed and pulled the soiled sheets off. No sense in making him sleep in it. "How was your day?"
"Good. Other than the dead girl."
I frowned. "We both knew it was liable to happen again.” He glared at me. “Why are you so pissed at me?"
"How many towns have we left?" He rubbed his temples.
I sighed, tired of this old argument. "You knew what I was.”
"You feed off them like, like..." He slumped in a chair.
"Like a monster?"
"We are nothing but food to you."
I didn’t want to have this fight again. "Dammit, maybe you should’ve killed me outside that saloon all those years ago."
He looked at me with mild surprise. His face twisted, his eyes drifting to the open window.
Something was wrong. "This is where you tell me you love me too much to kill me."
He said nothing, his hands quiet atop his thighs.
I moved in front of him. "Errol?"
"You're still so beautiful, you know that? Years pass, and you don't look a damned day over eighteen. Look at me." He held out his hands. "I'm getting too old for this crazy life."
He looked old in that instant, older than I had ever seen him. A multitude of gray hairs peppered his head and moustache. Crows’ feet kissed the corners of his eyes. Even his hands were beginning to wrinkle, gnarl. I wanted to touch him, to clear those signs of age from his face with my hands, but I didn't move.
"In Amarillo, I didn't understand why the priest rallied those people against you." He folded his hands on his lap. "I didn't believe in a god, much less demons, even though I had your dossier. How many did you kill there?"
"Twenty-five." A sudden shiver fled down my spine.
"In Odessa, I saw a man burning with fever after you’d left. Bastard carried on like he was fucking you in his dreams. And then he died. Like every other person in that house and both houses on either side. I lied to keep them off your trail. How many?"
"Thirteen." I moved back to the bed, my hand against the railing.
His eyes followed me. "El Paso?"
"Do you remember San Antonio, Anna, before I found you?" He leaned forward, clasped hands between his knees. "You lived on the river for almost five years, dancing and whoring, before people started dying. How?"
"I had big audiences." Why was I explaining this to him? "I didn't have to kill anyone; they gave it to me every time I walked on that stage."
"But it wasn’t enough." Errol shifted in the chair, hand passing over his sidearm. "You wanted more than the stage shows or one-on-one encounters."
"No." I licked my lips. "It wasn't like that."
"How many?" His anger spiked.
I fought my growing hunger. "Forty men, thirty women and five children."
Sadness replaced the rage. “I can't save you anymore."
Oh, no. "You told the McFaddens I killed their daughter.”
Errol stood up, a hand on the hilt. "I can't let you hurt anyone else." He drew, and I moved in one blurred motion until the point of his blade pressed beneath my ribcage.
"I'll do it." His voice quavered. "I'll kill you."
My mouth hovered beneath his, as my hands worming their way beneath his shirt. "Then do it." I tiptoed and kissed him, as my fingers tore into his back. I closed my eyes and inhaled him.
He screamed and the blade slid through my abdomen. I cried out against the pain and fell backwards with him in tow. Fear spiked the potent combination of love, sadness and anger pouring into my body. My fingers pierced the space between his ribs. I sucked at him, stab wound healing as his heart slow. I didn't care.
Or did I?
In a panic, I pushed Errol away, but those green eyes I had grown to love were glazed, staring at nothing over my shoulder. I pulled the sword out and threw it on the floor.
"I loved you, dammit!" I beat my bloodied fists against him until I collapsed in tears on his chest.
The Los Angeles skyline glittered with promise as the wagon rumbled out of the desert, as Lawrence urged his mares onward. He was talking about something, but my thoughts were elsewhere.
Another town, another chance to control the demon inside me. It was going to be different this time.
It would be enough.