"Antonio." Dominic walked to the table and plunked down a bottle of cheap champagne. "I've decided to name him Antonio."
Malcolm sipped his beer as a chorus of "good choice" rose up from the others. Wally and Raymond Santos glanced Malcolm's way, as if seeking permission to congratulate Dominic, but Malcolm just kept drinking and let them make up their own minds. After a moment, Wally joined in with a raised glass to the new father, while sixteen-year-old Raymond busied himself cleaning out a thumbnail.
Dominic paused behind the head chair. Billy Koenig scrambled out of it, making a quick joke about keeping it warm for him. Dominic thudded into the chair and dropped his burly arms onto the table so hard Malcolm's beer sloshed. Typical Dominic—always throwing his weight around, as if he was already Pack Alpha, not just heir apparent.
"A drink for Antonio," Dominic thundered, his voice reverberating through the dingy bar. He turned to the owner, across the room, counting bottles. "Vinnie! Glasses!"
Waiting tables certainly wasn't Vincent's job, but he hopped to it. As Vincent approached, Malcolm held up his empty mug. Vincent paused, but only for a second, then took Malcolm's glass. Dominic allowed himself only a split-second scowl, but it was enough for Malcolm. It was easy to establish dominance when you were bigger than everyone else. Doing it without that advantage was the real accomplishment.
Once the glasses were filled and distributed, Dominic lifted his. "To fatherhood."
Everyone clinked glasses.
"Now, how about a wager?" Dominic boomed. "Take bets on who'll be the next new father. I'll pick Malcolm." A quick grin. "God knows, he's been trying hard enough."
Malcolm gritted his teeth as the others laughed and called out good-natured jabs. It was his own damned fault. Malcolm had meant to keep his hopes secret until he could show off the goods, but two years ago, sitting around this very table listening to Dominic brag about his sons, he'd announced a pending arrival of his own . . . only to discover a month later, when the child was born, that it wasn't his. Since then, everyone knew he'd been trying, and hadn't even sired a daughter.That was his father's fault—difficulty siring children was one family blight Malcolm couldn't overcome through sheer strength of will.
He had only to look at his father—sitting at the next table with the Alpha, Emilio—to see the second family blight, a cane resting beside his father's chair. He bristled, as he always did, at this physical proof of Edward's weakness. Not just weakness. Cowardice.
As a Danvers, Edward had been expected to fight for Alphahood, but when the opportunity arose, he'd somehow managed to cripple his leg. No one was quite sure how it had happened—the story changed with the teller—but whatever the cause, the injury permanently took him out of the line of succession. As a mediocre fighter, Edward had stood no chance of winning an Alpha match, so he'd intentionally taken himself out of the race. Everyone in the Pack knew it.
Malcolm had spent his life wiggling out from under the shadow of his father's cowardice. And he had. After Dominic, he was now the best fighter in the Pack, and among the mutts, his reputation for ruthlessness surpassed that of every other Pack werewolf. But when his father looked over, there was no pride in his face. Just a lifting of his chin, listening in on the younger men's conversation, making sure Malcolm wasn't saying anything to embarrass him.
As they drank the champagne, the cleaning girl stopped by to wipe off their table. She murmured something that was probably meant to be "excuse me," but her thick accent and whispered voice rendered the words unintelligible.
The girl didn't speak more than a dozen words of English. Malcolm figured the only reason Vincent had hired her was because he could pay her half what he'd pay anyone else, her being a Jap and all. Still, it had to be bad for business. How many ex-GIs came in here, saw her, and turned around and left? Malcolm wasn't sure whether the girl really was Japanese, but it didn't matter. People saw slanted eyes and they saw Pearl Harbor, and five years wasn't enough to make anyone forget.
The girl paused at Malcolm's side and lowered her head. Wally grinned and kicked him under the chair. Malcolm leaned back to let the girl wipe his place. Unlike the quick swipe she'd given the others, she made sure to get every spot, including a few that'd probably been there for weeks.
When the girl finished, she scurried off and intercepted Vincent with Malcolm's fresh beer. She took it and returned to the table. First she wiped a spot for the mug, then she wiped off the mug itself, and finally she laid it before him like a ceremonial chalice. As Malcolm grunted his thanks, snickers raced up and down the table.
The girl pointed to the nearly empty bowl of peanuts nearest him.
"Sure," he said. "Fill it up."
When she scampered off with the bowl, Wally hooted. "That girl has it bad, Mal. Gets worse every time we come here."
Malcolm only gulped his beer.
"Hey, come on, Mal. Think about it. She waits on you like that in public? Imagine what she'd do for you in private."
Another chorus of snickers.
"Not my type," Malcolm muttered.
Dominic leaned forward. "Because she's Japanese? Nothing wrong with that. From what I hear, they're damned eager to please, if you know what I mean."
Billy nodded. "Buddy of mine at work has one of them for a girlfriend, on the side, of course, and you wouldn't believe the stories he tells. Ever heard of geishas? All their girls learn some of that shit, and they'll do anything to make a guy happy. Nothing's too kinky—"
Dominic cut him short as the girl approached.
"What?" Billy hissed. "She doesn't understand English."
"Doesn't matter," Dominic murmured.
When she was gone, they started up again, regaling Malcolm with tales of Asian women.
"And," Dominic said as they finished, "unless my nose is wrong, there might be a bonus."
"Just what I need," Malcolm said. "A slant-eyed Jap brat."
His father looked over sharply, frowning his disapproval.
Billy snickered. "You're going to get a talking-to later, Mal."
Malcolm snorted and pretended it didn't matter. Edward wouldn't give him a "talking-to." That implied anger, and Edward never showed that much emotion with his son. He'd calmly speak to him about stereotypes and prejudices, and counsel him to make better choices with his opinions and his language, all the while clearly doubtful that his words were having any impact. Malcolm was a fighter, not a thinker . . . to Edward's everlasting disappointment.
"You should give it a shot, Mal," Dominic said. "Don't worry about who the mother is. Look at Ross Werner. His momma was black and you can hardly tell. With us, it's the male blood that counts. Women . . ." He shrugged. "Just the vehicle. At most you might get a kid with dark hair and dark eyes, but yours are dark enough anyway. Wouldn't matter. And . . ." He leaned closer. "You never know. A little foreign matter in the mix might be just what your boys need to get the job done."
Malcolm gritted his teeth. Dominic always sounded so sincere, like a big brother who really wanted to help, but Malcolm knew he'd like nothing better than to see Malcolm humiliate himself by presenting a half-breed baby to the Pack.
As the night wore on, though, and Malcolm drank more beer, he couldn't stop thinking about what Dominic had said. Mixing up the bloodline might help. He'd never tried that. And Ross's case did suggest the foreign blood wouldn't show, which was all that mattered.
The girl was in the fertile stage of her cycle, and she obviously wanted him. An easy conquest. Plus, if Asian women were as submissive as the others said . . . Malcolm smiled. Submissive was good. Especially if it came from a girl who was in no position to complain if things got out of hand.
By the time the group settled the bill, Malcolm had made up his mind. He sent the others on without him, then cornered the girl as she came out of the back storage room. She started, seeing him there, then dropped her gaze and made no move to get past him.
"Been a long night," he said. "Bet you could use a drink."
When she didn't answer, he pantomimed drinking, then pointed from her to himself. "Drink. You. Me."
"I—I work," she said. "Done soon."
"No, babe, you're done now. Let me handle Vinnie."
He reached for her apron and snapped it off. She gave a shy little smile, then nodded.
"Get drink," she said. "For you."
She took his hand. Hers was tiny, almost birdlike. He wondered how hard he'd need to squeeze to hear those thin bones snap like twigs. Not very hard, he'd wager.
He turned to let her lead him into the bar, but she stopped at a locked door a few feet down and took out a key.
"Room," she said, gaze still lowered. "Upstairs. My room. Yes?"
He smiled down at the girl. "Sure, babe. Whatever you want."
Malcolm sat in a tiny room, empty except for his chair and a sleeping mat. A few candles cast a wavering, sickly light that lined the room with shadows. When the girl went to get his drink, he'd flicked the light switch, but nothing had happened.
That cheap bastard Vincent probably cut off the electricity when he let the girl take the room. Maybe, if the girl was as good as the others claimed she'd be, he'd see about "persuading" Vincent to spring for lights and heat up here. Wouldn't be any inconvenience to him, and the girl sure would be grateful. She'd leave the welcome mat out for anytime he felt like coming back.
The girl slipped from the back room. She'd changed out of her work clothes and into a white cotton robe with an embroidered belt. Her bare feet seemed to glide across the floor. Tiny feet, like the rest of her, slender and hesitant, as graceful and defenseless as a doe. Pretty as one, too. Now that he'd looked past his prejudice, he had to admit she was damned pretty, especially in that white robe, holding a tray like the offering of some virgin priestess. When she bowed before him, the liquid in the glass didn't so much as ripple. He peered at it. The drink was amber, like beer, but clear and . . . steaming.
"Tea?" he said, lip curling. "I don't drink—"
"No, no tea," she said quickly. "Special drink. For you. Make—" A meaningful look at the sleeping pad.
"Make me good?" He started to rise. "I don't need any damned drink to make me good."
"No, no. Please." She backed away, gaze downcast. "Not you. You good. Drink make me good. For you. Make you . . ." She struggled for the word. "Feel better. Make it feel better. For you."
She babbled on some more, waving at the mat, but he got the gist of it. The drink was supposed to make the sex better. He'd heard of things like that, and as the others had said, these girls were supposed to know all there was to know about pleasing a man. This must be one of their tricks.
Malcolm took the drink and sniffed it. Herbs. His werewolf nose didn't detect any taint of anything noxious. He took a sip. Fire burned down his throat, like hundred-proof whiskey.
He closed his eyes and shook himself. The heat spread to his groin and he smiled. Not like he needed the help, but sure, why not. He took a bigger sip.
"Yes?" the girl said.
He looked up to see that she'd unfastened her belt. He could see a swath of pale skin running from her throat, down between her small breasts, over her flat stomach, to the dark thatch below. His cock jumped and he raised the glass in salute. Another sip and she let the robe fall off one shoulder. A third sip, and she dipped the other shoulder, and the robe slid down her body to pool at her feet. For a moment, she stood before him, naked and pale in the wavering candlelight. Then, without a word, she knelt and reached for his zipper.
Malcolm rolled over. A moment's sleep-fog of thinking Why am I lying on the floor? then he remembered and smiled. Whatever foreign hoodoo that girl had put into his drink, it was something else. He closed his eyes and sighed, the tip of his tongue sliding between his teeth as he stretched. Shit, he hurt, and it had nothing to do with sleeping on the floor.
After all those things he'd been thinking in the bar, about what he could do to a little slip of a girl like this, he hadn't even tried. Couldn't be bothered. He'd just laid back and let her work her magic. He'd roused himself for a bit of energetic thrusting, but that'd been the extent of his participation. She'd done all the work.
And work she had. Gave him three damned fine rides . . . maybe even four—he'd been getting hazy near the end. But three times was bragging rights enough. He rolled onto his back and grinned.
Whatever was in that drink was some powerful stuff . . . and so was the girl. Masterful, but never dominant, always letting him know he was in charge. After the second time—or was it the third?—he'd thought he was down, but she'd managed a revival, rubbing, licking, cajoling . . . begging. He felt a fresh surge and leaned back, savoring the memory until he was hard again. Then he rolled over for another go . . . and found himself alone.
Malcolm grunted and lifted his head. The simple movement felt like tumbling headfirst out of a tree. He steadied himself. When the world stopped whirling, he opened his eyes and peered around the dark room. Where was that girl? Helluva time to take a piss.
A voice wafted in from the adjacent room. A singsong voice. He chuckled. Singing while she sat on the john—guess she was still feeling pretty good, too. Maybe she was cleaning up for the next round. Better give her some time; there'd be a lot to clean up. As he lay down, a second voice joined the first. He blinked. A radio or record player? But if there was no electricity up here . . .
Malcolm pushed himself up again, so fast this time that he almost blacked out. He wobbled to his feet and had to rest a moment to get his bearings. His first step nearly sent his legs skidding out from under him like a newborn fawn's. He'd been hung over worse than this, though. Mind over matter, as with everything else in life. If you have the guts and the will, you can do anything.
He closed his eyes and ordered his muscles to obey. Still, it was slow going. His head pounded, and every fiber of his body urged him to lie back down and sleep it off.
Finally, he made it to the wall, then inched around to the door. When he reached it, he peered around the corner. The first thing he saw was the wallpaper. Strange white wallpaper with black geometric shapes. He blinked. No, not wallpaper. Someone had drawn on the walls. Drawn . . . symbols.
A smell wafted out. Something burning, giving off a sweetish odor so faint even his nose could barely detect it. The voices started up again. Singing, but with no tune. Chanting.
There, across the room, was the girl, sitting on a high stool, naked. But she looked . . . different. There were circles drawn around her breasts and stomach, but that wasn't what gave him a start. It was the way she sat, chin high, gaze steady, her poise exuding confidence, no sign of the shy girl he'd just bedded.
The girl's lips were still. She wasn't the one chanting. It was the two women in front of her, their backs to him, one white-haired, one dark. The white-haired one had her head bowed. The other swung a pendulum in front of the girl's stomach. The girl said something and the dark-haired woman snapped at her. The white-haired woman murmured a few words and the girl sighed, then said something that made both women laugh. The old woman patted the girl's bare knee and they started chanting again.
As Malcolm watched, his legs began to tremble, begging him to go lie back down. When he resisted, the room went hazy, and he seemed to float there, the chanting filling his head, lifting him up, symbols swirling around him . . .
A soft growl and he shook the sensation off. Goddamn that drink. First a killer hangover, now hallucinations. That's what this was—a dream or hallucination, caused by the drink. Had to be. His mind set, he stumbled back to the mat and crashed into sleep.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong. Copyright © 2009 by Kelley Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.