I apologize in advance to Melissa and her readers—this was supposed to be an interview with my character and a chat about making friends, but just wasn’t gelling. And then it popped in my head suddenly: what better anniversary gift than some Zara/Nate lovin’? So here’s a short piece, just for you, Melissa. AND it still relates to friendship. Erm...yeah, sorta. ;-)
Note: It might make more sense if you’ve read Bloodlines (it takes place afterward), but I think you can follow along if you haven’t. Spoilage is minor.
Alchemy Red used to be a small pub that catered to supernatural types and sold occult black market items a few centuries earlier when my city was just a hamlet. Times changed, the building changed, but the name hadn’t; now it was a supernatural nightclub on the harbour that altered its look and feel every decade or so. Currently it was in a classy phase, but a week earlier they’d been replacing the mezzanine level stairs with something metal and industrial, so I knew “classy” was on its way out.
Still, I dressed the part; under my black wool coat was a sleek, scarlet cocktail dress with a plunging neckline and a modest hem that stopped just above the knee. Snow on the sidewalk muted the click of my strappy black high heels.
The night was blue and white, sky above navy velvet and ground with a thin layer of crisp snow. Spots of yellow from streetlights dotted the road and my shadow crept up as I passed under one. The temperature was below zero but it was warm enough for snow, which I figured was on its way yet again. I hadn’t been dreaming of a white Christmas—I’d been dreaming of one in the Caribbean that promised warm nights on the beach and a holiday with old acquaintances in the area. But my flight wasn’t until the following night and there was the proverbial unfinished business while I was still in town.
That’s what I called it, in my head. “Unfinished business.” It made me sound cool and collected, and not like the type of vampy girl who would bounce up and down, iPhone clutched to her chest, grinning like an idiot and singing, “He called, he called, he called.”
I’d never do such a thing. Ever. And not just because it was technically a text and not a call.
The bouncer at the door was more for show than anything; T.J. was six-five and bald, with shoulders of a linebacker on steroids, but otherwise entirely human. I flashed him a smile as I strolled up to Alchemy Red and he nodded. He tended to scare off the odd mortal who tried to get in without an invite so management threw him out front—rain, shine, or snow, apparently—to deter them with a glare. It rarely occurred to humans to worry about anything smaller than them.
Like Katee, who waited at the next set of doors inside.
I stepped past the threshold, warmth wrapping around me, and sauntered to the diminutive chick in a black pantsuit. Her dark eyes glittered, scanning me. She wasn’t totally human but I’d yet to figure out what else swam through her DNA.
She cocked a brow and stared at me.
I sighed and twisted the oversized buttons of my jacket to pop the coat open so she could see I wasn’t packing anything. “Seriously?”
Katee gave me the once over. “Rules haven’t changed in the past century, Lain. You pick a fight with one of our patrons, you go on the list.”
“It was just that one time.”
She met my gaze. “You stabbed him with a chair leg.”
I fought not to roll my eyes. People could be so touchy. “He had it coming.”
“Management had to replace the flooring from all the bloodstains.”
“But the renovations look much better than the original.”
Katee thrust her thumb over her shoulder to indicate I could pass. “How did you manage to get blood twenty feet across the room behind the bar?”
I splayed my hands as I backed through the set of double doors to the club and shrugged. “It’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
Jazzy folk pop played over the speakers, something artsy with a female vocalist who had a small range but was otherwise pleasant enough to listen to. I scanned the club; most patrons sat at the smattering of bistro tables tonight, the dance floor empty. The black couches along the walls were occupied, faces looking back at me familiar but not ones I sought. My stomach did a weird twisty thing when I didn’t see him initially, but I swallowed tightly and kept walking.
If he didn’t show, maybe I’d pick another bar fight for fun. Had to break my new shoes in somehow.
Lighting was subdued, much of it coming from floating candles in small glasses at the center of tables; everything overhead had been turned down low, giving the room a bit of a diffuse glow filter. I was getting warm under my thick coat but I hadn’t yet committed to taking it off, which would mean staying. Nearly a full trek of the perimeter and I’d yet to see a sexy warlock.
Might be time for Zara to go stabby stabby.
I reached the club’s split level, which was generally quieter and more intimate, with fewer patrons. Darker, too; a ceiling hung low, boxing it into its own little space in the corner of the club, under the stairs that led to the mezzanine.
My gaze settled on someone with his back to me.
Nathan O’Connor sat alone, arm resting on the table with something small, square, and flat in his hand that he tapped gently, turning over and over. His dark brown hair was shorter, about two inches above his shoulders now. I hadn’t expected that, but then it had been awhile. Seven months and thirteen days since we’d strolled up to that mansion and kicked the ass of Carolina Sousa, the Brazilian witch who’d been the source of all our problems. Seven months and eleven days since he, Heaven, Peter and I had parted ways to clean up after the witch’s destruction—since I’d last seen Nate.
Not that I had counted.
There was a flutter in my belly, something I was unaccustomed to. I steeled my spine and took the three steps up.
He didn’t turn as I approached but the air felt charged, full of expectancy, and tension creeping up as if it had never left us. I rounded the table, heels clacking on the lovely flooring Alchemy Red never would’ve had without my violence, and paused.
Very blue eyes looked up at me and a smile played on his lips. “You’re late.”
Looking at him felt a little like coming home...while simultaneously standing on the top of a skyscraper, wind whipping my hair, toes tipping over the edge as I was about to plummet onto concrete a hundred stories below.
It’s complicated with boys sometimes.
I cleared my throat. “I was held up at the door.” A roll of my shoulders and the jacket slipped off, sliding down my arms to be collected in my hands before it fell all the way. I was so glad I wore a cute dress, even though he still—irritatingly—held my gaze instead of checking out the scenery.
Nate’s hand had stilled on the table, whatever he’d been flipping flat and hidden under his palm. I hung my coat on the back of the chair and dropped to sit, swinging one long leg over the other once I’d settled.
That stupid fluttering in my stomach hadn’t abated. Was this what human teenagers felt like? It was a wonder they didn’t all go on homicidal rampages constantly.
"So you didn’t mind the change of venue?” I glanced around the private area where we were basically alone. “This as opposed to coffee?”
He gave a slight nod. “It’s...fine.” His lips parted again as if words hung there, waiting to be spoken, but he closed his mouth once more.
That might be the story of the night—I had an awful lot to say and none of it seemed like a good idea. That feeling of being on top of a building, looking down and about to fall, had my heart stuttering again. Awkward silence picked up. This wasn’t a restaurant where a waiter would come and ask for our orders—it was up to us to get drinks from the bar. No respite.
Ah, fuck. I’d never in my life—not once—held my tongue. I could do subterfuge when it didn’t matter.
This mattered. Nate mattered.
“What’s not fine about it?” I smiled pleasantly and gave my eyelashes a bat.
His mouth opened and he took in a breath before speaking. My gaze honed in on his lips because I’m shallow like that and I’d been thinking about them for months.
“I first met Mishka here.”
Shit. Great, way to leap back to where we were eight months ago.
I was about to snark back, then I gazed over him again. Nothing had changed in his expression—no pain, no anger. “Oh my god, are you actually not brooding?”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s been eight months.”
Seven and eighteen days since her death. Not that I’m counting.
I leaned back in my chair. “I don’t know if I can get used to this new, non-broody you.”
“I won’t be breaking into song and dance any time soon if that’s what you’re worried about it.”
Oh, I’d missed him. Few people kept up with me verbally. Or physically. And we’d once had a discussion that left me wondering—in incredibly vivid detail—how we’d fare in bed as well.
“Good. I left my Bollywood backup dancers at home.”
He nodded, deadpanning. “Everyone needs a night off.”
“Yes, and I’d rather they not decide to form a union.”
Silence. Again. Air pressed down on me, thickening. I shivered, shifting in my seat. Pity I couldn’t get drunk—while Alchemy Red stocked enough liquor to get my kind plastered and I could afford it, I didn’t think spending the next hour sucking vodka out of a bottle with a straw would be the most effective use of my time. I knew what to do when I was chasing him. I knew how to seduce men. But he’d texted me out of the blue—I didn’t even know he had my new number—and now here we were, staring at one another, him smiling slightly, and I couldn’t remember a time I’d ever felt this stupid.
Not running for our lives apparently made for awkward conversation.
I took another leap. “So, eight months, as you said. What made you call?”
His smile widened and hand flickered as he picked up whatever he’d been playing with before I arrived. I recognized it immediately; the red curtains in the background, my naked torso with a hand up to cover some of my naughty bits, and the words, “This holiday season, I’d rather go naked than wear fur.”
Ah. My Christmas card.
He cleared his throat and face seemed to fight to keep a neutral expression. “I thought you didn’t exchange Christmas cards?”
“I don’t, normally, but VETA gave me extra freebies this year ’cause of the photo shoot.”
“Peter has his framed.”
I grinned. I knew, of course—he posted a photo of it and shared it with me on G+. “I’m trying to get him a poster. Now, Mr. O’Connor, if I’d know that’s all it would take to get you to call, I would’ve sent you naked pictures of myself awhile ago.”
He tapped the card on the table. “You told me, on numerous occasions, that we weren’t friends—”
I rolled my eyes, leaned back in my chair, and crossed my arms. Here we go.
“—and that there would be no going out for coffee, no exchanging Christmas cards, et cetera.”
“I know I always make a big point of saying how irrelevant relationships are in the grand scheme of things and that I only care about me, but you should realize by now that I’m basically all talk sometimes.”
I blinked. A vice clenched my chest, squeezing, squeezing, and dread sunk in my gut—fucking déjà vu.
Nate stared at me, apparently noticing nothing.
Get it together.
"And you didn’t think to call and let me know that?” he continued. “Peter gave you my address—he could’ve given you my number.”
God, we were bickering like a human couple. I...actually kinda liked it. “You needed sufficient brooding—I mean grieving time, I imagined...” My voice trailed off as someone strolled up to our table and I glanced up. For fuck’s sake—
He wore black, as hired thugs were prone to do, and I guessed he’d come into Alchemy Red with more weaponry than I’d’ve been allowed. He held himself straight-backed and tensed, dead serious, and I didn’t think I’d be distracting him with sudden witty repartee.
“Zara Lain?” the third wheel said in a gravelly voice. His dark eyes were emotionless as he stared down at me.
Nate tapped the naked-me card again. “Who did you kill this time?”
“Oh, you know me—it could be anybody.” I shifted my attention to the thug. “Look, I’m on a first date here. He’s not gonna want to see me again if this gets bloody.”
He didn’t budge. Whoever I’d pissed off this time had paid him big bucks to totally ignore my reputation and pick a fight with me. “Please step outside.”
Ah, the wacky life assassin Zara Lain. I sighed and glanced at Nate. “If you like that Christmas card, hold onto it.”
His fingers locked on the card and he moved his arm off the table.
My hands wrapped around the table’s edge and I sighed dramatically, shifting as if to rise—then I twisted, hauling the table up, whipping it in the direction of the thug. It cracked him hard, striking his torso before his arms could come up in defence. The glass with the floating candle spun off the tabletop, whirling through the air to splatter across his face, white wax and water dripping.
On my feet now, I gave the small bistro table another swing and smacked his head this time. The thug stumbled back.
Why I hadn’t picked a dress with a longer slit, I’d never know, but I couldn’t kick or do much of anything without destroying the thing, and if it was going to be ripped off me for any reason that evening, it would not be to fight some goon. I locked my grip on my chair, letting my coat drop, and swung it into my opponent; his head snapped to the side, blood spraying artfully in the air to splatter on the wall and floor.
If they cleaned it up quickly, it wouldn’t stain—and really, it wasn’t enough to justify redoing the floors again. No one should be too mad.
I dropped the chair and grabbed my jacket. Alchemy Red had erupted into screams, like a bunch of bloodsuckers and half demons hadn’t seen a fucking fight before. Chairs squealed on floors and fangs flashed, everyone ready to get in on the action. Nate was already moving, slipping his coat on as he ran down the steps with me at his heels, and we darted into the ensuing chaos of supernatural freak out.
“See, the coffee place would’ve sucked way more to get cornered in,” I said as I stuffed my arms into my coat.
Feet scraped on the floor behind me; Nate’s arm coiled around my waist and he dragged me down just as a shot rang out. He yanked me under a table while people scattered around us, legs and feet shuffling back and forth.
Noise had moved to a whole new level, shrieks clawing at my brain, but I still caught Nate’s voice over the din. “Because this is working out so well for us.”
I swiped long black hair from my eyes and peeked around the throng between us and the gunman. “Teleport?”
“No nearby location marked.”
“Jeez, it’s like eight months made you forget all about what being in my presence entailed. Didja bring a gun?”
“Generally my dates don’t require firearms.”
“You clearly see the wrong kinds of girls. Guess I’ll throw another table at him.” I grabbed the legs of the cute black bistro table hiding us and stood. With decent aim, I heaved it over the crowd and it struck my assailant’s shoulder.
I missed whether he went down or not—Nate had my wrist and was weaving us through the horde, around someone bleeding, past someone else swinging a broken beer bottle, and up to the doors leading to the outer hallway.
Katee stood there, sweat dotting her brow, and I guessed she’d already thrown a few people out. Her gaze settled on me. “What the fuck is your problem?”
“Well, if you let me bring my guns, I wouldn’t have to throw your furniture at people. Have management bill me.”
Nate tugged me past Katee and she didn’t object—she was probably glad to see me go. We burst through the last doors, outside into the chill night air.
Snow drifted down, settling on the shoulders of half a dozen more thugs waiting for me.
“You sure know how to show a guy a good time.” My warlock companion studied our new opponents.
Any sane person would’ve been freaked out, but then I was neither sane nor a person. I was a mildly sociopathic vampire who delighted in killing people dumb enough to attack her. Even if I hadn’t been, though, I couldn’t think of a single place I’d rather be. Nate was at my side, and even if the people before us were a threat to me—and they weren’t—together we’d be more of a match for them.
“I hope these heels hold up,” I said with a sigh, shifting and readying for a fight that would probably ruin my dress. “I don’t want to walk home barefoot.”
Nate’s arm snaked around my waist, his heat warming me even though the layers of our coats. A whisper from him and the snow...stopped.
The expressions of our assailants were stony and frozen, not a single breath raising their chests. Air took on a hazy quality, thick and swirly, magic crackling in the atmosphere and sending prickles up my spine.
Fuck, I loved warlocks. Um, when I didn’t have to go up against one in a fight.
I gazed around in wonder. “That is my favourite trick in your arsenal. Well, so far.”
Our steps were silent as Nate began walking and I followed, the pair of us arm in arm as we wove around the goons sent to wait for me. White snow hung motionless in the air, brushing over my skin like a breeze as we stepped through it. I leaned into him, fitting snugly under his arm.
“Zara,” Nate said softly.
I was gawking at a car frozen on the road, snow hanging mid-air after shooting from under its tires. So fucking cool—I had to take back that thing I said once about witches not being impressive. “Uh huh?”
“I’m in love with you, you know.”
A happy little flutter tickled my stomach again. I let his words hang there, savouring them, warming me inside and out. “Yeah, I know.”
His arm tightened around me. “But if you marry me then hire a demon to kill me as a sacrifice to unleash your own demonic power, I won’t be too forgiving.”
Déjà vu clawed at me again, digging in. I shivered and shook my head, trying to clear my brain, but it remained. The dread got heavier, sinking in me enough that I might’ve crumpled to my knees if not for Nate’s arm around me.
I swallowed dryly and pushed back at everything, fought to keep my voice light. “I suppose that sounds reasonable.”
We walked in silence and I stopped gaping at the timeless dimension he’d temporary placed us in to look at up at him—to study that profile of straight, chiselled features, kissable lips, and beautiful eyes that I’d missed so, so much. I had that feeling then, again, of standing on a building, ready to fall—the feeling that if I spoke, if I confessed, I’d plummet and possibly not make it out alive.
But I still felt like I’d come home. “Nate, I’m in love with you too, you know.”
He met my gaze. Grinned. At some point we’d stopped walking and he was facing me, fingers trailing my cheek. My lips trembled and I held onto him, clutching with both hands, terrified of what would happen if I let go.
Nate leaned in and whispered, “I know.”
I opened my eyes.
My bedroom was dark and cold. Quiet. Though I had special blinds in place, sealing the loft’s windows to all light, I sensed the night outside. My fingers twitched, for a fleeting moment wanting to reach out—to pretend there was someone there, breathing next to me.
But I knew. Even in the dream, I knew.
The dread had followed me into wakefulness, twisting in my stomach like I might be sick. I was tired. So damn tired. And I had to get up and pack, with a flight to catch to Europe—a not-so-gentle man named Martin LaCroix needed to be killed and it was going to be a long term job that had me out of the country for at least a few weeks.
My flight was a private one, though. It could wait.
For now I closed my eyes again and held onto that waning sense of home. For a second I felt the snow on my face, tasted fresh air, was warmed by body heat not my own.
And then it faded as it always did and I was alone.
|(Zara's Christmas card mentioned in above story)|
© 2011 Skyla Dawn Cameron
Home is exclusively available at My World...in words and pages, and may not be copied or reproduced.
Special thanks to Adrienne Jones for proofreading.
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Or At Mundania Press with the short stories present in the back of the eBook.