My grandmother taught me everything I know. She was a withered old crone when my mother died, leaving me alone at the ripe old age of six. Bunny, as she insisted I call her, pulled up in an ancient car, took one look at me, and tsked. "Look just like her, don't you? Get in, little bird. No point in standing around with your thumb up your ass."
She didn't have much respect for laws-human or otherwise-but Bunny had an endless list of rules that were nearly impossible to keep track of. Don't do spell work during an eclipse. If you're going to lie, make it a good one. It doesn't matter what path you tread in life as long as it's the right one for you.
And stay the fuck away from vampires.
Bunny is probably rolling in her grave right now. Or she would be if I'd buried her when she died, the day after I turned eighteen. Our kind don't like graves-another thing she taught me. We prefer to be scattered with the elements, our ashes little bits of stardust going back to the earth and sea and air and fire. She held on to this life until she was no longer needed, and then she moved on to walk paths I can't follow.
It's just as well she's not around anymore to see what I've become.
Case in point: the gorgeous vampire leaning against the bar at my side. Lizzie isn't my girlfriend. She doesn't do labels, and I'm too much Bunny's child to date a vampire.
Sleeping with one, though?
I've always liked to play things too close to the edge. Hopefully this time won't kick me in the ass. My track record says otherwise, but hey, I'm a slow learner when there's fun to be had. It's not like I spend much time with Lizzie. We met six months ago, and after spending a glorious two weeks in bed that I wasn't sure I'd survive, we've been asteroids pinging into each other before flying away to commit destruction elsewhere.
I didn't even know she was back in town until I got a text two hours ago with a time and place. Imagine my surprise when I show up to a hole-in-the-wall bar filled with an equal mix of humans and paranormal folk. Most of the time us magical people avoid regular humans. They don't know we exist, and we prefer to keep it that way. But there are places that are exceptions to that rule, and this bar is one of them.
It doesn't seem like Lizzie's speed, but what do I know? It's not like we spend our time together talking.
"What about that one?"
I follow Lizzie's chin jerk to the pretty, petite woman sitting by herself at the end of the bar. It's considered rude to scan other paranormals, so I don't risk it, but she gives off a human vibe. Which means Lizzie wants to play. We've done it a few times, picked up a human at a bar and taken her to the nearest hotel to have a night of sex and, occasionally, magic. As a bloodline vampire, Lizzie's bite is orgasmic, which paves the way for a whole lot of fun.
I'm not in the mood tonight. I shouldn't have answered Lizzie's text at all, or at least I should have begged off. It's the twenty-third of April, which means I turned twenty-five yesterday.
It also means Bunny's been dead for seven years as of today. A lucky number, but it doesn't feel lucky right now. Grief is a strange thing. Most days, I get by on the warmth of doing spells Bunny taught me, or cleaning with the particular concoction of kitchen-witch magic shit that she swore warded away negative emotions.
On the bad days, I go through a whole systematic process of remembering her. Cleaning and spell work and baking her favorite cookies, cumulating in a tearful trip through the box of photos I keep tucked away in my closet. She'd whack me upside the back of my head if she saw me on those days, would remind me that the dead aren't gone for good and there's no point in wasting my living years mourning someone who's stepped through a door to the next part of this grand journey we call existence.
On the good days, I believe her. On the bad days? Not so much. And the anniversary of her death is always a bad day.
"Evelyn." Lizzie's voice is cold, but that's nothing new. She might be downright sizzling when we're in bed, but she doesn't fuck around with the warmer emotions outside of it.
I sigh and try to focus. Giving her any less than one hundred percent of my attention is dangerous, which is exactly why I shouldn't have come out tonight. I look at the human woman again. She's rubbing her straw against her bottom lip in a really enticing way as she watches us . . . watches Lizzie. "She's pretty."
"Do you have another choice?"
I glance half-heartedly around the room. Nearly everyone is watching Lizzie, though most of them aren't doing it overtly. I can't blame them. She's a sight to behold, a lean white woman with a tight ponytail of dark hair and a penchant for athleisure. Her leggings and fitted long-sleeved shirt should make her look like a soccer mom who wandered into this dingy bar on accident.
Lizzie, being a bloodline vampire from the family that possesses the magic to control the blood in a person's body, money beyond comprehension, and an orgasmic bite, has never been prey in her life.
The other predators in the room know it, too. I catch sight of a female werewolf hauling her partner out the front door, and there's a demon with a wickedly skillful glamour in the corner who's motioning for his tab.
Clearing the way for Lizzie to hunt.
Too bad I'm not in the mood tonight. I knock back my third-fourth? fifth?-tequila shot and set the glass on the bar, trying to ignore the stickiness of the counter. "Whatever you want. She's fine." Any other night, I'd be sidling up to the woman at the end of the bar and giving her my best charming smile as I buy her a drink and lead her back to Lizzie. Tonight, it feels like too much work.
"Getting jealous, Evelyn?"
Even if I was-and I'm not-I know better than to say as much. Lizzie might like fucking me, but I'm not foolish enough to think she'd ever let orgasms get in the way of murdering me if the mood strikes.
Really, Bunny was right. I'm a damned fool. It's the only explanation for the way I jump into bed with Lizzie over and over again, part of me thrilled to be dancing right up to the edge of ruin.
It's that desire that has me leaning into Lizzie. I can have fun tonight. I'll make myself have fun tonight, even if it kills me. I don't have a death wish, normally, but nothing's normal on April twenty-third. Not anymore.
"Maybe I'll take her home instead of roping her in for you." I grin up at Lizzie. "Want to make it a wager?"
She studies me with her eerie dark eyes. "Are you drunk?"
"No. Probably not. Okay, maybe a little." I'm just being sentimental and letting it get the best of me. Not that Lizzie would know that yesterday was my birthday or that today marks Bunny being gone seven years. That's not the kind of relationship we have. What we have can't even be called a relationship. It's a . . . what do my mortal peers call it? A situationship.
"If you're not drunk, then what's wrong with you? You never act like this."
If I were a different person, if we were different people, this would be the turning point for us. I would confess why I'm so down, and she'd do something to comfort me. That's the stuff of romantic movies, though. Not real life. "I don't want to talk about it."
"It's fine. I'm fine." I lift my hand to flag down the bartender for another shot, but Lizzie catches my wrist. "Don't bother. We're leaving."
I blink. "Excuse me?"
"I'm not in the habit of repeating myself." She drops a wad of money on the bar and drags me toward the door. She's moving fast enough that I can barely keep my feet. I catch sight of the woman at the end of the bar and her disappointed look, and then we're at the door. No one moves to help me, though I'm not exactly in danger.
At least, I don't think I am?
"Lizzie?" I almost knock my hip into one of the tables, but somehow Lizzie senses it and jerks me to the side at the last moment. I hiss out a breath. "Where's the fire?"
"You're walking wounded right now. Every predator in that building was about to come sniffing."
I blink, but my response is lost as she hauls me through the door and the cold nighttime air slaps me in the face. It should sober me right up, but somehow it makes me realize exactly how drunk I am. I weave on my feet and jerk my arm out of Lizzie's grasp. Or I try. All I get for my trouble is what will probably be an outstanding bruise tomorrow. "Let go."
She ignores me. "If I put you in a cab, are you going to go home and sleep this off?"
Ten minutes ago, that's all I wanted to do. Now, I dig in my heels, buoyed on by the promise tequila whispers through my blood of a good night that couldn't possibly end in ruin. "It's early."
"Lizzie." I mimic her tone. "You wanted the pretty lady. Let's go get her."
"I'm not in the mood to babysit a melancholy drunk."
"That's rude. I'm not melancholy. Melancholy is for poets and people writing the Next Great American Novel. I'm happy. Fun. A riotous good time."
"Mmm." We reach the curb and she lifts her hand, I'm assuming to flag down a cab. But the car that pulls up is dark and without a single identifying thing on it. I'm not even sure of the make and model.
I peer at it. "Is this one of those expensive black-car experiences? Because I might pay my bills just fine, but I do that by not wasting money on shit like this. It's ostentatious, Lizzie. Honestly, just wasteful."
She looks at me, and I could almost swear I see her considering whether or not to rip my throat out and just be done with this mess. She finally shakes her head. "Get in the car, Evelyn, or I will make you get in the car."
Apparently we've reached the end of Lizzie's patience. She pulls a move that I might be impressed with if I weren't so damn irritated, jerking me forward with one hand and grabbing me by the back of the neck at the same time that she opens the door. I barely have the opportunity to curse when she's shoving me into the back seat.
"Stop treating me like I'm a threat!"
"You're not a threat. You're a liability." She slides in behind me and slams the door. I reach for the handle of the other door, but the car pulls away from the curb fast enough to throw me back against the seat.
She just . . . She honestly just . . . I spin around and look at the driver. A quick scan-it's rude, but I don't care-tells me they're a vampire. Damn it. I lean forward and knock on the back of the driver's seat. "Excuse me, I'm being kidnapped."
Lizzie rolls her eyes. "You're not being kidnapped. I'm saving you from yourself. You're welcome."
"No, I'm definitely being kidnapped. Stop the car."
The driver doesn't answer, but I honestly didn't expect them to. They're one of Lizzie's minions, a bitten vampire who serves a bloodline vampire. Funny how vampire culture mimics capitalism so thoroughly, but she's never appreciated it when I point it out. Bunny was really onto something with her rule about staying away from vampires.
"I'm not a liability," I mutter. "And I don't need saving."
"Sure." She snorts. "Whatever you say, Evelyn."
I slump back against the seat, my brain sloshing about inside my skull. "I think I hate you."
"No, you don't."
No, I don't. I slide over and lay my head on her shoulder. "Fine. I don't hate you."
I poke her arm. Just when I'm sure Lizzie has no sense of humor to speak of, she lets little glimpses of it out. I'm nearly certain she's making fun of me right now, but when I look up at her gorgeous face, there's only a small smile curving her lips. In the darkness of the back seat, I can almost convince myself that her eyes have warmed a little, too. "I guess I should thank you for saving me from myself. Will orgasms work in payment?"
"Evelyn." There's fond exasperation in her tone. "Close your eyes and rest."
I don't know if it's vampire magic or alcohol, but my eyes slide shut despite my best efforts to keep them open. Sleep flickers and flirts, finally sweeping me away into its dark embrace. It's almost enough to convince myself I feel Lizzie's fingers stroking soothingly through my hair.
Wake up, Evelyn."
I lift my head from the pillow and blink at Lizzie. My head pounds in time with my heartbeat and my mouth tastes . . . well, best not to think too hard about how bad my mouth tastes. "I need a toothbrush." I look around, recognition rolling over me in waves. I've been here only a few times; I recognize the large bed with its absurdly high thread count and nice down comforter. I'm still not even sure if vampires sleep, but Lizzie does nothing halfway. The bedroom is a luxurious dark oasis. Too luxurious for my tastes. Too dark. But I can appreciate it in small doses.
"Why am I in your bed?" I sit up and have to press my lips together to keep from being sick. "Why did you bring me here? You should have just sent me home." I have a vague memory of her carrying me into the house and tucking me in with her usual capable briskness. It might warm my heart if I didn't feel so nauseous.
Of course, then she promptly ruins it. "So you could choke on your own vomit and die alone? I don't think so." She waves a hand. "It doesn't matter now. There's no time. You need to go." Her expression is cold and her voice remote, not even a hint of the warmth I've gotten used to. There's definitely none of the softness she showed me last night.
Copyright © 2023 by Katee Robert. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.