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Wicked Rose (Painted Roses Book 2) by Avenna Hensley (1)

1

Gideon Knox

My life had been one long fevered dream, balancing between being killed or killing.

Though I was not afraid to die.

I was already dead, for you cannot live without a soul.

A vampire.

I was the creature you did not want to see in the shadows of an alley.

I was death.

I was evil.

I was a man who played God, but really was the Devil in disguise.

I was an assassin. A killer.

The villain in this story.

I own it. I chose this life. I craved it. I hungered for it. The smell of fear was the very reason the blood ran through my veins. I would not apologize for what I did or who I was. The time of guilt had long passed many decades ago.

The name Gideon Knox was one to be feared, and I took pride in that fact. The more people who feared me, the more money I made. Fear also kept me safe… or safer. Don’t mess with Gideon Knox they say, and my reply was always damn straight.

As I stared out a single-pane window, with a gun on my lap ready to kill, I inhaled deeply. I had to absorb the bad. Soak in the fact that I was about to kill a man. It was my job and what I’d been hired to do. One task. Bullet through the head.

Sure. I could kill like all the vampires did. The classic bite to the neck and feeding off the blood. But I had acquired the taste for a more mortal way to kill. Guns fascinated me as well as made me stand out amongst the other vampires who were paid to kill. It was my mark. A mark I took pride in.

I had two guns now. One that would shoot far enough to kill, and one to keep near me for protection if someone were to enter the room or try to snag my ass during escape.

I used to make my own bullets, knew every single detail about every gun I owned. I once thrived off being involved in the illegal gun trade so that I could get the best of the best and before anyone else had a chance to. My life revolved around weapons, and the weight and smell of one could make my mouth water just the same as blood from a human. I spent my every waking hour at the range honing my skills. I wanted to be unsurpassed by anyone, and I had made that fact a reality. I lived and breathed becoming the most lethal killer I could be with a mortal weapon. There was an art to it. A pride I loved for the skill it required.

But not now. Yes, I was still lethal. I was a vampire after all and had to feed off of humans to live. But I no longer cared if I was the best. At this stage in my life, hand me a gun, point at the guy who needed to be dead, and I was done. Mission accomplished. I had been the vicious predator most of my life and made my billion in doing so. But today, now, I just didn’t care. I didn’t really care about much.

It was time to retire I guess you could say. I knew this. I even went into business with others in a vampire’s club called Painted Roses. My first legit business venture. But a vampire couldn’t just give his notice and collect his pension. A vampire doesn’t just break away from the darkness—not until you lay him down in the cold ground with a stake to his heart. My fate had been sealed the day a vampire had turned me on the streets of France many decades ago. Tired and over it, I still was a vampire who needed blood to survive. A tattoo forever marked on my soul.

I even used to want to know all about my victim before I pulled the trigger. I wanted to learn what he’d done to deserve a bullet through the back of his skull. I was even the sick monster who wanted to know what his last meal was before his death. I would stalk my prey for days to try to see a glimpse of evil that gave me cause to end his life. But not anymore. I realized it didn’t matter. A good man would believe no one deserved to be assassinated no matter what.

But like I said, I was not a good man. I was not a true man at all. On appearance yes, but beneath my skin and bones was nothing but pure evil.

The truth was that I believed everyone deserved the bullet. Darkness and evil ran in all of us—mortal or immortal. There were no innocents in this life other than children, and that would soon change. Age made us bad. Maturity poisoned us.

Just like the man across the way who sat at a cheap particleboard desk in his office. He shredded papers with shaking hands and beads of sweat dripping off his brow. He had a secret. They all had secrets. Secrets that got them killed. He needed to stand so I could get a clean shot, which meant I had to wait. Wait while the sweaty fool worked to destroy whatever evidence—I didn’t care about—was hidden on those papers. All that concerned me was that the man had a huge bounty on his head, and I would be collecting it by dawn.

Cracking my knuckles, I tried to fight off the anxious tension in my hands. I needed a cigarette, but I had given that habit up recently. Ironic that I was worried about how cigarettes were bad for you when I was a vampire and it didn’t matter what I did to my body. I was one of the walking dead, but I still didn’t want to be addicted to something so mortal. My voice already sounded like I had swallowed a box of jagged glass, and that had nothing to do with the cigarettes but years of being an elder vampire. My insides were aged like fine wine, but my outer self was that of a young twenty-one year old male in my prime physique.

But I still wanted a cigarette.

Judging by the large stack of papers needing to be destroyed beside my soon-to-be victim’s desk, I knew I could be sitting on this metal folding chair for several hours. My only hope was him needing to stand up and pee or stretch his legs. Maybe I would be lucky, and he’d walk over to the window to stare out of it and make my job really easy. But I had done enough of these gigs to know that nothing about them was ever easy. They took patience. A lot of patience.

My need for a cigarette only grew with the ruckus from the room up above. The sounds of shouts, bangs, crying, screaming. I wasn’t in the mood to listen to some dude beat up his old lady in this piece of garbage apartment building. It made my skin crawl hearing her plead. And no matter how hard I tried to not pay attention, they grew louder. I had one rule as a vampire killer. Only feed from women—never physically abuse them. I’d never laid a hand on a single woman, and never would. What the hell was the man doing to her?

Not being able to take it any longer, I stood up, placed the handgun in the waistband against my spine, and charged out the door. This was stupid of me. I knew I didn’t need to be drawing attention to being in the building at all. I’d already had to bribe the landlord a thousand dollars to open the unoccupied apartment’s door, and had thrown in an extra hundred-dollar bill to reward him when he didn’t ask a single question as I carried nothing but a black duffle bag through the entryway. The man even had provided me with a chair. Although, I didn’t think Mr. Landlord would be too pleased if I beat up one of his tenants for being an abusive jerk. He didn’t want the cops beating on his door, and I didn’t blame him. But enough was enough.

I knocked on the door of apartment 623. I was half tempted to just kick it in, but I would give the man a chance to apologize and back down with his tail between his legs.

The door opened and a greasy-haired white man dressed in a dirty wrinkled dress shirt and baggy black slacks greeted me in a way that only a fool would, had he known who I was… or what I was.

“What do you want?” he asked. Booze permeated his breath, and his pupils were dilated. Drunk and high meant I had to be careful. These types of mortals don’t scare easily. A look and a warning would not be enough.

I didn’t answer his question, but pushed my way inside the apartment. Yeah that myth that a vampire has to be asked to enter is bull… it’s a myth that has cost many an arrogant or careless mortal their life.

Vampires don’t have to ask for permission for anything.

“Who do you think you are? You can’t just barge in here!” He reached for my arm, which was a big mistake. I do not like to be touched by dirty hands. By dirty anything. Who knew where those hands had been, and I didn’t want them touching me.

I spun my body enough to avoid his filthy touch and reached behind me for my gun. Pulling it out and pointing it at his head didn’t make him instantly cower. I didn’t expect it to. He was too messed up to process that he was about to be killed. I would have to make it very clear to his dumb self. Fangs would have done it, but again, I liked to keep the vampire trick to a minimum. “Touch me and die,” I warned with a calm and steady voice, still pointing the gun at his forehead. A wise man would know that the calmer your opponent was, the more danger you were in. But this idiot was far from wise.

I took the time it required for the piece of white trash to process my words and actions to glance around the room. A beaten and shaken older woman cowered against the wallpaper-torn wall a few feet away from me. By her wide-eyed stare and her frozen stance, I wasn’t sure if she was more afraid of the man beating her, or me. I didn’t really care either way. Blood dripped from a gash near her eye, and her lip was busted so bad that I knew she would need stitches for both wounds. Her blood should have made me thirsty, but I didn’t like the flavor of old and tattered blood. The woman was definitely used and abused. She appeared weathered and worn—but it could very well be years of living a brutal life deceiving me. Cheeks sunken in, lusterless hair, skin full of pockmarks. She was hard on the surface, though her eyes told a story of a frightened and scared woman. The apartment was dirty—not that I expected anything else in a building like this. The couch looked worse than something you would see for free on the curb right before a Monday morning garbage day. The rest of the furniture wasn’t any better, and the room smelled like stale cigarettes and cat pee.

Finally, the fear set in for the man. He raised his hands and took a few steps back. “I don’t want any problems, dude. I have no beef with you.”

“You do that to her?” I asked, nodding toward the bloodied woman.

He swallowed hard and took another half step back. “Listen, man. I don’t know who you are, but I got nothing to offer you. I’m broke. She owes me money for last night’s jobs. Go ahead and get the money from her. It’s yours. Like I said, I want no trouble.”

Of course he would say those words. I was the one with the gun pointed at his head. Damn pimp and prostitute situation. I hated these more than anything. No woman should ever be owned. Especially by a dirty little weasel like this man nearly shaking before me. Pimps were the sickest of all men. I ran with ruthless vampires. I knew the bad guys and would rarely judge. Monsters among men. But not dirty street pimps. I hated pimps.

“You owe him money?” I asked the woman.

She shook her head. “I got jumped last night. I didn’t collect. I lost everything.” When she opened her mouth to speak, I could see she was missing most of her teeth, and what remained were stained and crooked.

“Liar,” the man snapped.

Without hesitation, I struck the side of his head with the weight of my gun. He stumbled back until he fell against the wall, lifting his dirt-encrusted hand to the blood dripping from the wound near his temple. The smell of his blood disgusted me. You couldn’t pay me to drink from this low life.

“I wasn’t speaking to you,” I lectured in the same even toned voice I had been using since entering the apartment. I looked back at the woman. “Are you lying?”

She shook her head as tears cascaded down her bruised face. “No. I swear it.” Her body shook, and when she went to wrap her arms around her skinny frame, I saw the track marks running along her inner arm. Junkie or not, she didn’t deserve a beating.

“Did he do this to you?” I asked, using my free hand to motion up and down her body.

She nodded.

“Does he do this to you often?”

She nodded again, shame adding to the fear on her face.

“What would you like me to do?” I asked. The pimp remained frozen against the wall. I knew he would. I wasn’t concerned he would try anything. A good pistol whipping had a way of making any man compliant.

“Excuse me?” she asked in a frail voice.

“I asked you what you wanted me to do. To him.”

She glanced at her attacker, and then back at me.

“Make him leave me alone.”

“Forever?” I asked to clarify.

She nodded as she looked back at the man I had no doubt caused her great misery. For a few moments I saw courage and dignity wash over her eyes, but it quickly disappeared when the dumb fool said, “Shut your mouth. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even have a roof over your head.”

I hit him again with the gun—harder this time—causing his head to slam against the wall, knocking off a nearby picture. The sound of breaking glass blended with his own cry. Yeah, that had to hurt. Being hit with a gun was nowhere near like being hit with a fist. I knew this. And now this poor man sure did as well.

“If I left here, would he leave you alone? Tomorrow? The day after that?” I asked, turning my attention back to the woman.

She looked down at the stained carpet and shook her head. “He’ll never leave me alone.” I could barely hear the words coming from her bloody lips.

“But you want him to?” I asked.

She nodded. “So much so. But…”

I took hold of the cheap polyester-covered arm of the pimp and pushed him into the bathroom a few feet away. He stumbled but didn’t resist. I shoved him up against the chipped bathtub with an ugly plastic floral shower curtain behind him. I pointed my gun to his head again.

“Please, man,” he begged. “I’ll leave. I’ll never return. Whatever you want.”

I inhaled deeply. The smell of fear. Yes.

His eyes narrowed in on the tattoo of the skull that took up the entire front of my throat. Red eyes of death staring back at him. Every man I killed who actually saw me always looked at my tattoo right before I pulled the trigger. It would be the last thing they would see. The skull with the red eyes.

“I’ll leave and never say a word. I’ll never see her again. Never. I swear it,” was his one last plea.

“You have one chance. One. If I see you near this building, or near her,” I said as I revealed my fangs to add to my threat, “I will suck every last ounce of blood from your body.”

His body fell backward into the tub, pulling the shower curtain down with him. His eyes were wide with terror for he had truly just seen a monster. Vampires existed in New Orleans. Everyone knew they walked amongst the mortals now that agreements had been made to coexist with set boundaries and rules, but to see one up close and personal… yeah fear. Pure fear.

I placed the gun back in my waistband against my spine and went to the rusted bathroom sink to wash my hands. I wanted to cleanse myself from the surroundings. I hated dirt and grime. Germ freak? Maybe. But I hated it. After washing my face and hands and using my own pants to dry them because I didn’t trust the shabby mauve towel hanging nearby, I walked out to where the woman stood. She hadn’t moved an inch.

She was terrified. I could see it in how she cowered against the wall and trembled. I could hear it in her rapid breathing. And… I could smell it. Normally the smell of fear pumping through a mortal’s veins gave me a thirst that could only be quenched one way. But not with her. I was a blood snob, clearly. I liked my blood fresh and pure.

“Done. He’ll leave you alone forever.” I could hear the man running out of the apartment behind me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a money clip. After paying off the landlord, I only had a little over two thousand dollars on me, but I knew it would mean the world to this woman. I handed it to her. “Here. Take this.”

Tentatively, she reached out and took the wad of cash. “Thank you.” Her voice cracked.

Many people would say something to her about not shooting it all into her arm, or to get out of the roach-infested apartment, but I wouldn’t. Why? Who cares? It wasn’t like I would keep track of her. The reality was she would still march down her screwed up and dark path. We all did. Her story was already written, and she already had her ending. I sure as hell wasn’t the hero in her story. I was the villain in it.