25. How to be Bad at Flirting
There you are.
I batted my eyelashes seductively, a smile playing across my lips as I made direct eye contact with the woman leaning against the bar. She mirrored my movements, her tongue caressing her teeth.
Or rather, her fangs.
This was a game I was very familiar with. I held the vampire’s gaze as I lifted up my glass and sipped, licking my lips as I pulled it away. Flirting from a distance was, of course, only the first part of my plan. Soon, I’d act like I’d managed to gather up the nerves to go walk over to her, conjure up my best vocal flirtation skills, then, hopefully, lead her out into the alley out back to make the killing strike.
Indeed, this was a dance I’d moved to over and over again, the tactics almost always the same - though the circumstances this time were quite different. For one, Isla Roy wasn’t really a target. From what I’d managed to glean, she was particularly well-behaved for a vampire, especially since she was Christian Roy’s younger sister.
For another, it was always Opal who stood beside me during these missions. Not Rebecca.
Not that I minded the werewolf’s company. Rebecca’s acting was brilliant, playing the role of my innocent, wide-eyed friend whom I probably dragged out here for a bit of fun and release.
“What is happening?” she muttered now, her eyes darting between Isla and I like she was watching a ping pong match, her eyes glued to the ball, waiting to see who’d slip up first.
A good question. The same one that’s been racing through my head for years. At the university campus, watching an eighteen-year-old Elijah step into the sunlight; what is happening? That same day, witnessing that same boy rip apart my dad; what is happening? Cedric, leading me to the safehouse as the city began to fall into chaos around us; what is happening? Being ambushed by vampires, Kenny’s death, Mom shouting at me to run, losing my brothers...
What is happening what is happening what is happening?
And here I am, seven years later, still without an answer to that simple question.
I didn’t allow any of these thoughts to show in my expression; I kept my eyes fixated on my target, even as my smile grew at Rebecca’s question.
“This is why I insisted you get out more,” I said to her. “You need to meet somebody. Rebound. It will help you get over Zachary,” I almost winced at the name that popped out of my mouth. I couldn’t help it. Whenever I thought of ex-boyfriends and past relationships, Zachary was the first name that popped into my head. Needless to say, the boy who the name belonged to came with the thought.
I brushed away the hint of a memory, nodding my head toward a man standing a few feet away from Isla. “Go talk to him.”
Rebecca blinked. “What? No! I - I couldn’t.”
Honestly, I think the role I picked for Rebecca fit her perfectly. I definitely couldn’t imagine her on a normal day going up to a random stranger to... talk.
I forced out a laugh, my years of practice knowing that even to the sensitive hearing of a vampire, it still sounded genuine. I’d drilled Rebecca on such things on the way over to this club, making her go through basic acting gestures in order to sell the character she’d be playing. To my relief, she was a natural.
Tearing my eyes away from Isla, making it seem like it took a lot of effort to do so, I faced Rebecca, making a show out of adjusting her dress - pulling it down an inch, to reveal more of her cleavage. Inching the hem up to show off her thighs. Rebecca reached down a hand to, I assumed, instinctively yank it back down, but I swatted her away before she could do anything, fixing her with a sharp glare. She swallowed hard, every inch of her radiating some discomfort. I don’t think all of it was fake.
“Now go,” I said. “By the time I’m done, I want to see you having fun.”
“I can have fun at home,” she grumbled. I crossed my arms, and she sighed. “And what will you be doing?”
My smile reappeared, and I turned back to Isla, knowing she could hear every word that we said. When I knew I had her attention, I winked. The vampire bit her lip.
I didn’t bother to check if Rebecca did what I said. I knew she would. The man I’d pointed her towards? He was here with Isla - probably at the insistence of her brother, no doubt. If there was something I knew a lot about, it was overprotective older siblings. I saw it in Cedric. I saw it in myself, interacting with Thomas. Hell, I even saw it in Elijah - it had practically cleaved him in half to allow Rebecca to come with us.
Confidently, I practically strutted across the floor towards Isla, secure in the knowledge that I had a stake secured in my hair, concealed from view. Only Rebecca and I knew it was there. Of course, I’d had to find a natural way to take the stake out of my hair without sparking any sort of suspicion, but I’d cross that bridge when I got to it.
I came up to her side. Her gaze slid down my body, resting for a brief moment on the cleavage I was showing - almost as much as I was the night I killed Marcus Chauncey, but at least my breasts weren’t in danger of popping out.
Still, I hated this dress just as much as the other. Though it shows less skin, it doesn’t have any pockets.
Isla’s eyes snapped up to mine. They sparkled, scarlet flickering amongst the deep brown. A sign of a vampire holding back their leporem - she had it ready to use, ready to enchant me to do her bidding.
Still, something told me she wouldn’t use it in the same way Chauncey had. He’d used it to seduce me, to erase my nerves and have me willing to leave with him. No, the fact that Isla was holding hers back told me she’d only use it unless she absolutely had to.
A flicker of guilt blossomed in the pit of my stomach at what I was about to do to her. Isla had never really been a target for me. Even now, she was just collateral damage. She was practically innocent - she only had the unfortunate luck of sharing blood with Christian Roy.
I forced the guilt away. Focus on the mission. Accomplish this, and you’ll be able to see Opal. You’ll be able to start figuring out how you’re going to get out of this mess.
She held my gaze, unaware of the turmoil roiling within me.
“Hello there,” she said. Living up to the attractiveness of vampires, her voice was just as alluring as her looks. Soft, melodic, and intoxicating. It was seductive without her even trying to make it so. Something more vampires than I could count had tried to do with negative effects.
“Hi,” I blinked at her, looking up through my lashes. Something that apparently worked a lot in novels, especially when flirting with a taller person. And Isla was taller than me; maybe only by an inch or two, but it was enough. I nodded toward the drink in her hand. “I’d ask to buy you a drink, but it looks like somebody’s already got that covered.”
Her smile broadened. Damn, had that actually worked? I was much better at this when playing the sweet and innocent role. I guess it helped that all of my targets had been major pricks who liked to be in control.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” she said. “Are you new?” as she spoke, I saw her hand inch towards mine out of the corner of my eye. A corner of my lips curled upward. Good. Progress.
“Possibly,” on impulse, I lifted my hand over hers and began caressing the back with my fingers. She didn’t pull away. “The clubs down my by place got old. Nobody there wants to... play anymore,” my fingers slid up to her wrist.
She inhaled. Reactive. Interesting. “I can understand that,” she said slowly. “This is the only place my brother allows me to go anymore.”
“Oh?” I cocked my head, batting my lashes.
“Enough supernatural beings are crawling around here that he thinks any... threats will be noticed quickly,” she was distracted, her attention fixated on my gentle caresses up her arm. Who knew that’s all it took? Then she paused. “You’re human.”
I didn’t stop, allowing my crooked smile to sharpen into a wicked grin. “So what if I am?”
“Most humans tend to stay away from us. Vampires especially,” a warning look came into her eyes, and she flashed her teeth, though she appeared hesitant to do so. Allowing me a chance to reconsider where she thought my mind was wandering to. Another bought of guilt swept through me. I pushed it away just as quickly as it came.
Instead, I swept my other hand over to her waist, allowing my eyes to darken in a way that looked natural. Hopefully seductive. “I’m not most humans,” with relish, I swept back some of the hair covering my neck, revealing the twin scars on my throat.
Scars from vampire fangs. Ones that Opal didn’t have the chance to get rid of. The marks I’d gotten after Chauncey had the audacity to fucking bite me. But she doesn’t need to know that he bit me just before I killed him. I just had to lead her in the direction I wanted her mind to go in. I knew what having sex with a vampire included. Lots of biting. Pretty much certain death for a human, and if not, either becoming a Blood Bag or being Turned. Humans who survived such events, however, clearly knew what they were doing. How to pleasure a vampire enough that they didn’t need as much blood to feel.
Of course, I wasn’t such a person. Still, rolled up the sleeve of my jacket just the barest bit, revealing another set of twin scars on my wrist. These marks were almost invisible, years old. Opal had offered to erase them, but I never let her. They were a reminder. A reminder of the darkest time of my life, when I lost everything. Everything.
The vampire who’d given me those marks had nearly killed me. Had ambushed me in the streets just days after I lost my brothers. Had stolen the one thing I’d had left, the one thing I had been certain would never be taken from me.
I was wrong. I’d nearly died. I had been lying broken, bloody, and bruised, cold and naked in the alleyway as my hands grasped at that bit of jagged wood. I’d sent it straight into his heart.
It was the second time I’d intentionally killed a vampire. The second time I’d looked straight into its eyes it died. But unlike the first time, this one was centuries old. It decomposed into ashes. The first one had been young, newly turned, his body still young and ageless...
I brushed the thought away as Isla’s gaze dropped to the second set of scars. Watched at awareness dawned in her eyes. Witnessed as the unquenchable lust of a vampire flooded through her. Some of the red specks faded, her leporem retreating away further. Like it would have done her any good against me anyways.
She stepped closer, her body pressing against mine. She lowered her head, pressing a kiss against my neck. Oh, okay. That was remarkably easy. Vampires are so fucking horny.
Now I just had to get her outside before this escalated much further. I seemed to have been turned off vampires after my... ordeal five years ago.
Her lips burned against my neck. And not in a pleasurable way. It was painful, like I was sticking my hand into a fire pit. There was a tugging in my stomach, like I was on one end of an invisible tether.
I glanced up, and locked eyes with him.
Of course he was in here, despite saying he’d wait outside in case I - in his words - somehow screwed up.
Apparently, he wasn’t pleased with me. For whatever reason. His scorching glare gave it away.
Wait... grinning, I tilted my head, brushing a kiss of my own against the vampire’s neck, all the while maintaining eye contact with him.
Another burning pain shot through me, this time from my lips. There was another tug in my stomach.
He shifted in his seat, his glare growing more intense.
Was he... maybe...
A gleeful rush overtook me, as well as a burst of mischief. So, I did what only a rational person would do in such a situation.
I tightened my grip on Isla’s hips, my other hand abandoning her arm and coming up and around to cup the back of her neck. Then, without allowing myself a moment to rethink my actions, I brought my lips to hers.
And regretted it immediately as a searing, breathtaking pain ripped through my abdomen. I gasped, my head spinning.
Fortunately - or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it - Isla’s teeth happened to graze my lips at the exact moment, and she apparently mistook my gasp of pain as one of pleasure. She pulled away, grinning. “My, my,” she said, her voice darkening. “Somebody’s eager. Do you want to leave?”
As the pain faded away, I nodded, forcing myself to not pull away from her. “My car’s out back,” I said. “Come.”
I grabbed her hand, drawing her after me as I wound through the crowd, leading her to the back exit.
“Wait, my friend...” Isla glanced back. I followed her gaze, spotting Rebecca flirting with the vampire I’d pointed her toward.
“He’s fine,” I said. Sure enough, he seemed utterly enraptured by Rebecca - the beautiful, alluring werewolf I’d somehow found myself friends with. Is that what we were? Friends?
As I watched, Rebecca giggled, and her hand spasmed as her side. I paused, frowning, but when she didn’t react, I brushed the action away, turning my focus back to Isla. She, too, was watching them, then shrugged and turned back to me.
Making sure my smile was giddy, I pulled her out the back door and into the alley.
Immediately, Isla pressed me against the wall, already licking at my throat. The burn returned, even more painful than before. Fucking hell, I need to end this, now. I brought my hand up to my own hair, pulling it loose, sliding the stake free as my brown waves descended around me.
Isla let out a growl of approval, and smashed her lips to mine. Wasting no time.
It was worse than before.
The agony started in my abdomen, the tug in my stomach becoming insistent. I wondered for a moment if I’d suddenly developed appendicitis, but realized that was a stupid thought. I had none of the symptoms.
As the kiss grew deeper, more insistent, the pain suddenly spread, searing into my heart. I yelped, pushing her away and staggering back. I was fully convinced that I was burning, burning from the inside-out, my flesh melting away, my heart failing...
A clatter sounded next to me. As if in a trance, I glanced down, surprised to see the stake lying on the ground next to me. I’d dropped it.
My thoughts froze. I dropped it.
Awareness returned. I was fine. I was not burning. A flickering of the white-hot pain that had spread through me still remained, but it was no longer unbearable.
No, my attention lingered on the stake, lying at my feet, for half a moment. Then quickly looked up, remembering the vampire in the alley with me.
Isla’s eyes had turned wholly red, her powers flooding to the surface. She fixed her burning gaze upon me, and a wave of red washed over my vision, along with the vertigo that usually came along with the influence of a vampire’s leporem. I brushed it away, swallowing.
“Hunter,” she hissed, as fear clouded her expression. Then cleared. She darted forward at an inhuman speed, kicking the stake out of my range, and smashed me into the same wall with a bone-jarring force. I was pretty sure my skeleton rattled inside my body. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
We’ll be outside, making sure she can’t get away if you somehow screw up.
I’d been offended. Insisting I never screwed up a mission. Apparently, neither of us had accounted for my body deciding to randomly want me dead.
“Nobody’s seen you in quite some time,” Isla said, not even bothering to conceal her fangs now. “Most of us hoped somebody finally got the best of you. Hunted the Hunter. Maybe even killed you. Of course, Christian thought that was ludicrous. That you wouldn’t allow yourself to die with unfinished business. I guess he was right,” then she paused. “I’d hoped, at least, that you wouldn’t bother hurting me. I’ve never bitten a human without their consent. I’ve never posed a threat to them. I thought that, at least, would grant me with your mercy,” her hand grasped at my throat and squeezed. Even now, when she was about to kill me, she refused to bite.
Another spasm of guilt. I shoved it down again.
“You were right,” I gasped. “You weren’t a target.”
“Then why come after me now?” she pressed down harder, almost blocking my windpipe. “Why make me the first person you go after in months?”
“Things... change...” I needed air. Badly. “I didn’t want to...”
She shook her head, fury shattering any softness remaining in her. Her hands tightened... then paused.
Her nostrils flared, just as the sickening smell of rust and salt flooded my nose.
“Blood,” she hissed as her pupils darkened. Her predatory instincts taking over. She bared her fangs, then, without a moment of hesitation, sunk them into my neck.
The venom seared through me, though the pain was nothing compared to what I just went through minutes before. My eyes closed. A minute passed. My head began to spin.
A furious snarl ripped through the darkness. Another few seconds. The fangs were suddenly ripped free from me, and I sank to the ground, too woozy to stand.
Still, I pried my eyes opened. Saw Elijah, picking up the stake. Stabbing it through her leg, her arm, her stomach - anything but her heart. Prolonging the death. Drawing it out. Taunting her with the relief death would bring her.
The door to my left clattered open. Saw Rebecca’s golden hair glisten in the light of the waxing moon. I forced myself to stand, leaning against the wall. Opal’s healing magic was still inside of me, helping me recover remarkably quickly from the blood loss.
“Reese!” Rebecca darted to my side. “Are you - ” her body shuddered, cutting her off. Her arm spasmed. Then her leg. Her other arm. “Eli...”
Elijah was still tormenting the poor vampire. Refusing to kill her just yet. I blocked out the sound of Isla’s screams as he drove the stake into her once again.
Rebecca convulsed again. “Elijah!”
His sister’s cry tore his attention away from Isla. The vampire took the opportunity to vanish, darting away into the night. Elijah turned to face us, his eyes wide...
A loud snap, crackle, pop! sounded from beside me. Breaking bones. Rebecca’s body was... transforming. She was Shifting into her wolf form, but it wasn’t like what I’ve witnessed. Werewolves don’t take this long to Shift. Between one moment and the next, they change forms.
But this... it was like the Change was forced onto her, like she had no choice but to yield to it. She screamed, a sound of pure agony, as her femur snapped and reformed. As claws exploded from her fingers. Canines burst from her gums.
“Reese,” Elijah’s voice was soft, quiet. “Back away.”
I couldn’t move. I could only watch as Rebecca neared the end of her Shift, her screams morphing into whimpers.
“Reese!” Elijah’s voice sounded again, more insistent, more... scared?
The wolf crouched before me, shuddering against the aftereffects of her transformation.
Gently, I took a step toward her. “Rebecca?”
Her head snapped up. Familiar emerald eyes met mine - and narrowed.
A snarl ripped from her throat, utterly alien. Predatory. Animalistic.
Finally, finally, Elijah’s warnings registered in my head, and I backed away.