Thirst

By: Jacquelyn Frank

Prologue


Rafe walked into the seedy little bar and his nose was immediately assailed by the smell of humanity and stale beer. The bar was moderately busy, most of the patrons gathered around the two pool tables at the dimly lit back of the bar. He ignored the bar itself, a row of worn seats lined up against an equally worn wooden bar top. There were two people sitting there, one nursing a beer, the other nursing something much harder.

Rafe let his eyes dart over the dark tables in an alcove across from the bar itself and saw the man he was looking for sitting with a woman leaning against his side. She wasn’t exactly pretty—she came across more as desperate. She appeared eager enough, he thought. She was wearing a pair of tight jeans and a tank top, her dyed blond hair halfheartedly dressed up in a ponytail. She seemed generally unkempt. She was exactly the kind of woman Halo liked. Easy. Cheap.

Halo was seated next to her, sprawled back, his long legs stretched out under the table. He had a bottle of tequila settled near a row of overturned shot glasses. There were several spent limes and a saltshaker on the table. Halo reached for the tequila bottle and poured two shots into clean glasses, while the woman draped against his side grabbed for the saltshaker. She licked her hand, sprinkled salt over the wet spot, then reached for a fresh lime. She swayed unsteadily, her hand shaking as she picked up her shot glass. She slammed the shot in tandem with Halo, licked the salt from her skin and sucked on the lime. Halo took the tequila straight, no salt, no lime.

Halo looked up at Rafe slowly, clearly having known he was there all along. He cocked a cold grin at Rafe.

“Just gonna stand there or are you gonna join us for a shot?”

Halo knew better than that. He knew Rafe didn’t drink. Halo shouldn’t have been drinking either. However, Halo walked to the beat of his own drum…even if it meant flirting with unclean practices. The alcohol didn’t seem to be affecting Halo, which was surprising considering the amount he had obviously ingested, but it was affecting the washed-out blonde. She looked very drunk. Rafe was disgusted by the sight of them both.

He hooked a chair with his foot, drew it up to the table, and took a seat.

“Want to get rid of your friend so we can talk?” Rafe said, nodding to the blonde.

Halo reached out and grabbed the woman by her cockeyed ponytail. He forced her to focus on him.

“Take a hike, sister.”

She frowned.

“But…” she began.

“You can come back after he leaves,” Halo said, nodding to Rafe. The drunk blonde looked at Rafe as if she had only just noticed him.

“Well, what am I supposed to do in the meantime?” she whined.

“Why don’t you go play some pool?”

“It’s no fun without you,” she slurred.

“Beat it, kiddo. Go entertain yourself.” He gave her a shove and she staggered to her feet.

“You’re being an asshole,” she complained.

“I’ve been called worse. Now go.”

She looked like she wanted to argue some more, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth it. She really wanted to drink more and, after all, he wasn’t telling her she could never come back. But, just to be sure, she grabbed the bottle of tequila off the table and tottered over to the pool tables.

“There. Happy now?” Halo asked.

“Infinitely.” Despite his words, Rafe frowned. “I have a job for you.”

“I figured as much. Otherwise why would you meet me here? I know how much you love places like this.” Halo grinned, pleased at Rafe’s imagined discomfort. In truth, Rafe didn’t give much of a damn where they met up. Sure, he wasn’t as at home in a place like this as Halo was, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t fit in like anyone else had he wanted to.

He just didn’t want to.

“I have a new bounty for you.”

“Obviously. You don’t exactly go out of your way to seek out my company. Who is it?”

“Roth.”

Halo lifted a brow. His features were rugged, and Rafe supposed he was handsome in his way, but when he smirked like he was doing right then, it just made Rafe want to punch him square in the face.

“Roth?” Halo echoed. “The high and mighty Roth who barely acknowledges he’s one of us? I find it hard to imagine him giving in to his baser side.”

“It happens to the best of us,” Rafe said tightly.

“Even you?” Halo asked, his smirk returning.

Even him? Hell, he hoped not. Because that would mean someone would be sitting where he was right now putting out a contract on his life. It would mean he’d lost everything about himself that he treasured. His dignity. His self-control. His right to life.

“It could happen to me. I strive every day to keep control. We all do.”

“Not all. If we all did there would be no need for me,” Halo said.

“As I said, it happens to the best of us. You’re just as susceptible as any of us are.”

Halo snorted. “And what would you do then? Who could you possibly send out to collect me as a bounty? That’d be some neat trick.”

“We’d find someone. You’re not all-powerful, you know.”