I stepped down the stairs effortlessly. The boots I wore were more practical than fashionable. I think that was the appeal of the Goth club. I could wear practical clothing and still fit in as long as it was black. I had pale skin and long black hair, so by adding a black dress, black tights, boots, and a military jacket, I automatically appeared Goth. I added black eye makeup that made my pale blue eyes pop, and I was right to go.
When I reached the basement level of the club, I moved through the crowd and slid into an empty space at the bar.
“Evening, Spectra, the usual?” Tommy, the British bartender and owner of the club, acknowledged my arrival. He didn’t smile; I don’t think I’d ever seen him smile in the years I’d been frequenting this bar. He was your typical punk Goth, hair that should have been blond dyed shock black, makeup, and piercings to go with it.
Compared to the other club patrons, I was definitely the most conservative. My ears were pierced, I bore a couple of tattoos - nothing big and flashy, and I steered away from the studded cuffs that adorned several necks and wrists throughout the crowd.
I nodded at Tommy and pulled my purse out to pay. Tommy put the still-sealed bottle of water on the bar and waited while I cracked the seal myself and handed him the lid. It was an understanding between the staff that served me that I needed to open my own drinks, and if my drink ever left my sight, even just for a second, it was trash.
I handed Tommy cash to pay, and he shook his head, “I’ll put it on your client’s tab like usual when you’re working.”
I frowned, wondering if I’d missed an email from a client. “I’m not working tonight.”
Tommy raised a heavily pierced brow, and I wondered how much more attractive he’d be without the steel. “Well, the guy asked for you specifically. He’s been waiting an hour.”
Tommy’s eyes drifted down the bar to an attractive man in a suit. He stood out like a sore thumb for more than just the outfit. He was obviously uncomfortable in his surroundings, but was making the most of it and enjoying what looked to be a scotch. He was watching Tommy and I talk, his eyes casual. Despite the noise in the club, I held no delusion he hadn’t heard my name when I arrived and had been listening to the exchange.
My eyes grew angry as I looked down at my water. I shook my head and handed Tommy the money. “Not my client. I don’t work with his kind.”
Tommy nodded understandingly and took the money as he moved to serve someone else. I picked up my water and drank most of it down in one hit, intending to leave straight away. I didn’t like a stranger asking for me by name. Usually, if a client recommended my services to someone new, they would arrange the meeting with me via email. Not since the early days had anybody simply turned up at a club I frequented and asked for me.
Tommy approached as I finished the bottle. “Thanks, Tommy, I’m out of here.”
“Spectra, he wants to meet you.” Tommy slid a business card across the bar to me and continued on.
I picked up the card. It was blank except for a phone number. I flipped it over and lifted my brows. In beautiful cursive writing, it said I’ll pay whatever price. I flipped the card again and looked at the number, still not looking down the bar to the suit.
I sighed. I looked to Tommy and gave a small nod before turning as if leaving for the door. Cutting through the writhing bodies on the dance floor, I made a sharp turn towards the back corner of the club where the crowd was minimal.
When I got to what Tommy had affectionately nicknamed as my office, I put my back to the wall and waited. The suit emerged from the crowd a few meters away, though he was tall enough that I’d been able to track his naturally dark hair through the crowd. He was pale enough that if he ditched the suit and slipped into some black jeans and a heavy metal shirt, he could have blended right in. He looked to be in his late twenties, early thirties at the most, but that meant nothing when it came to his kind.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me,” his accent was aged, Welsh. “I’m sorry I wasn’t aware there was a standard protocol to engaging your services. I’ve heard you’re the best.”
“You should have also heard I don’t work for your kind.”
“I did, but I need someone good, and quick, and you come highly recommended.”
“By who?” I lifted a brow, wondering who was whispering my name in the wrong circles.
His ice blue eyes focused in on me a moment, weighing his response options. “I’ll pay whatever price you ask.”
“Your firstborn.” I didn’t smile with the sarcasm.
“Died centuries ago.” His face stayed emotionally blank.
“Then I guess you’re out of luck.” I held his business card out in front and ripped it in half before dropping it on the floor. “Forget my name, forget we met, and whoever is using my name in your circles needs their neck broken. I don’t work for predators.”
I took two steps towards the crowded dance floor. He grabbed my arm firmly but not aggressively. I met his eyes and noticed the strain around the edges. “Miss...” he looked puzzled for a second.
“Michaels,” I answered for him. “Spectra Michaels. And you are?”
“Mr. Bay Ryder. I need a full set of documents in two days.”
I closed my eyes in annoyance. “Damn it!”
I took the two steps back to the wall, grabbing Mr. Ryder by his expensive-looking suit jacket and pulling him hard against the front of me. He was surprised, but his eyes nearly left his head when I started pulling his shirt out of his waistband. He opened his mouth to object, and I gave him my best death stare.
“Shut it. You come here asking for me by name, with no formal introduction, and then proceed to state your business openly, even after I politely turned you down. You’re not a cop, so I’d say you’re NSIO.” The Nachtwelt Security and Intelligence Office is the law in the Nachtwelt. It keeps the supernatural hidden from humans. Forging identification documents definitely impinged on human Federal law, but for obvious reasons, was a service the Nachtwelt utilized regularly. However, helping citizens of the Nachtwelt change their identity and disappear entirely may just infringe on Nachtwelt law enough to get me in trouble. I had no intention of being busted by them.
I slid my hands in against his bare abdomen, caressing up with splayed hands to his upper torso, before circling around and searching his back. As I brought my arms back to the front, I started unbuckling his belt. Mr. Ryder grasped my wrists, his eyes fierce on me. While the search of his upper body seemed to bore him, this more invasive search angered him.
“I don’t believe this is the place for a strip search, Miss Michaels.”
I smiled. “See that girl over there.” I tilted my head and watched as he turned to look. He found the man with his back to the room, his hips moving back and forth. I saw his pupils dilating when he realized there was a girl kneeling in front of the man, her face hidden by his body. “I don’t think she’s searching for a wire, so trust me, no one is going to think for a second what we’re about.”
I unzipped his fly as his angry eyes met mine. I maintained eye contact as I slipped my hand in smoothing down to the base of his flaccid member, circling around, feeling around his sacs, and down his inner thighs. I was impressed when the most he reacted was a slight pulse against my forearm. I slipped my hands around to check for anything at the back. When I was sure he was clean of any listening device, I withdrew my hands from his pants. He stepped back a small step to right his clothing. I took out the small bottle of hand sanitizer I kept in my bag and cleaned my hands till I could access the bathroom.
“You look disappointed I didn’t get hard for you.” Even his voice was tight.
“Relieved actually,” I responded honestly. “Admittedly though, you are the first of your kind who I’ve let get this close to me. So, I’m not sure if that’s just a physiological thing for you, that you prefer men, or that you’re so old you need pharmaceutical intervention.”
“If you are satisfied that I’m not setting you up?” He stepped closer, and this time his height made him very imposing as he pressed his hands to the wall on either side of my head and put his mouth to my ear. I only came up to his shoulder, so it forced him to move his lower body away from me. “I require a full set of documents that could pass the most rigorous scrutiny within two days. You will take me on as a client and once you provide what I’m after, I will happily forget your name and where to find you. The only option you have in completing this service, now that we are so intimately acquainted, is how much you are going to charge.”
Wow! I’d really pissed him off doing the wire search. I met his eyes with the same fierceness and pulled my own business card out of my bag. It was a black card with just an email address on it in silver print. On the flip side, I quickly wrote a figure using a silver pen. It was a ridiculous amount to ask for. Nearly four times my usual fee for a rush job. I added the name of a church and tomorrow morning’s Mass time.
“I need passport photos and clear copies of your current documentation. If you are going to change any details other than age, I need that listed as well. Mass is at six in the morning. I’m gathering holy ground isn’t an issue for you?” Because I’d run across enough of his kind in daylight to know sunlight wasn’t. He shook his head, his face back to a mask of emotion-free patience as he took the card. “Good. I expect a quarter of the fee as a deposit, the rest upon delivery of the goods. I’ll give you a pickup point tomorrow.”
“Here is my most recent birth certificate.” He pulled out two folded pieces of paper, one that looked old. “I just need the birth year to change, and my parents’ names. The rest I will get to you tomorrow. I will email you the address of a party I am attending on Sunday night. That is where you will deliver it to me.” His voice was matter-of-fact.
I shook my head, taking the folded papers and putting them in my pocket. “I’m not going near any party of yours.”
Mr. Ryder slipped my business card into his pocket, bored already. “The party is not mine; I’m merely a guest. The majority of attendees will be your kind, Miss Michaels; you will be perfectly safe. I will see you at church tomorrow.”
He turned on his heel and walked towards the exit, the crowd of bodies parting easily as if repelled by him as he moved through. I swallowed hard. Never in the past five years was I ever out of control of a situation as I was just then. I avoided predators of any kind. I could have been very rich very fast if I took their business, but I’d kept well away. I didn’t like that my name was even mentioned in their circles, and I especially didn’t like how easily Mr. Bay Ryder just took away the one thing I worked very hard to keep.
I blew out a breath in frustration and made for the exit. If I was going to deliver a full set of forged documents in two days, I was going to need to start tonight.
I waited in the dark outside the club for her to leave. There was something about her that made me more curious than I’d been in centuries, starting with the way she looked at me. I didn’t have to wait long. She made her way out of the club and immediately crossed the road, dodging traffic. I waited for her to be quite a distance away before I stepped out of the darkness and into her drift. A person’s drift was like a smoky trail of their aura.
Hers was fainter than most other humans, making me even more curious as I casually followed the fading color channel of her aura. Most humans ignored the predators amongst them, but even those who were aware didn’t know that they could be hunted by more than scent, and Miss Michaels was obviously very aware of what lurked amongst her own kind.
When I’d started looking for a master forger, her name came with a warning. Apparently, predators who tried to deal with this master forger had a tendency to disappear altogether. There was only a couple, and no one could say for certain they approached the forger or that she was involved in any way. Her name just came automatically with that warning.
With the whispered warning that came with her name, I’d expected something different when I finally found her, and it took quite an effort to track this human to one location. Lots of effort and a lot of bribes to people who wouldn’t normally deal with my kind. She was beautiful, not in the model way, but in that old world natural beauty that let you know she put no effort into her appearance, and in fact tried to detract from it. So when the bartender called her name, I’d looked past her and at the woman nearly twice her age. It took a moment to realize the young girl, who barely looked old enough to vote, was my forger.
Her age was the first thing to surprise me. That she recognized me immediately for what I was, floored me. But when she watched me approach her, and touched me, without an ounce of attraction, her fingers sparking electricity under my skin, I was speechless. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been surprised by anyone, but it was all nothing compared to the moment she made my cock twitch. Two hundred years since I grew tired of women for anything except sustenance, and this young human caused me to react.
I followed her drift through the many twists and turns of the city streets. It took me fifteen minutes to notice I’d completed a full loop of the city area the club was based in. I realized she’d taken evasive maneuvers to ensure she wasn’t followed. To cover her tracks, Spectra walked past fast food outlets and the backs of clubs where the stench of beer hung in the air to cover her scent. She turned enough close corners that anyone following by sight would quickly lose her.
Her aura led me to the government business area of town before it disappeared into the back door of a building. The aura was quite faint as I approached the building, as if it was already hours old instead of minutes. In fact, the aura was faint enough that had I been a younger predator, I would have lost her trail several blocks ago. I took note of the “Employees Only” sign on the door and the number pad entry before making my way around the block to find the front of the building.
I stood across the road from the births registry office and felt the strange sensation of smiling for what must have been the first time in decades. I made my way down the side street and located a dark niche to hide myself in, which allowed me to see the back of the building, but also if anyone walked down the main street. An hour later, a well-dressed woman walked out of the building next door with a man. They kissed, and he hopped into his car to drive away while she walked quickly in my direction. As she passed by my hiding spot, I moved quickly to pull her into the darkness, hand covering her mouth before my mouth found the pulse in her neck.
Her neck was heavily perfumed in a horrible floral concoction and the man’s scent. Her blood, however, was full of endorphins and feel-good hormones produced from recent sexual satisfaction. I closed my eyes as I took enough to sate my thirst and enjoyed the taste of pleasure. I released her gently and set her aside so she could sleep off her blood loss. When she woke, she would wonder why she had collapsed here, but nothing would remind her of me. The bite on her neck would appear merely as a bruise and would be mistaken as the work of her lover.
Three hours later, I started to think I had missed Miss Michaels leaving while I was distracted by dinner. Then I noticed her faint drift leading away down the street even though I’d never seen her physically leave the building. I checked on the woman who was sleeping off my feed at my feet and stepped out to follow the forger.
The aura became stronger again a few blocks later. Another few turns bought her raven hair and fit body back into view. She stood at a late-night food vendor making a purchase with a few teenagers as she chatted with them. I watched her pay for the food and distribute it to her companions before waving goodbye and continuing on.
I was starting to think Miss Michaels was a night owl when she finally entered a swanky apartment building. This building I knew all too well, and if Miss Michaels were visiting one particular occupant, I would not be happy.
The building next door was too quiet to be a nightclub but possessed enough foot traffic at this time of night to tell me it was a business dedicated to pleasure. Another predator like myself made their way up the street and into the business, sparing a look in my direction as they entered. It was annoying that predators of the same age could sense each other nearby.
I heard a familiar male voice as a door to a balcony slid open on the third floor of the apartment building and Miss Michaels stepped out with a male in his mid-twenties. I felt my anger ignite at his proximity to this girl. For his age, Alexander Williams made a very quick name for himself among the Nachtwelt as someone not to be messed with. That Miss Michaels knew such a powerful sorcerer well enough to come to him at this early hour told me she was a lot more deeply embedded in the Nachtwelt than I’d expected.
Alexander’s brown hair was disheveled, as if he’d been asleep when she arrived, and his athletic upper body was bare, with just dark jeans pulled on. He lit up a cigarette and leaned back on the railing, watching Miss Michaels with interest.
“I don’t know what you think I can do. You get good at what you do, of course, the unsavory clients are going to come knocking. You should just take the money. You’d be raking it in if you dealt with both sides of the coin.”
“I don’t want or need their money, and I want to make sure tonight doesn’t happen again.” Spectra’s voice sounded annoyed.
Alexander shrugged. “So handle him. You’ve handled other predators before.”
Spectra shook her head. “This one is too old, and I really pissed him off when I searched him for a wire.”
I felt my hands clench at the memory of her hands on me. Not because I’d hated it. It was, in fact, the opposite, which was the problem. For centuries, every woman looked at me with lust, and I couldn’t stand them anymore. But this one, she looked at me with loathing, but her touch was full of curiosity and wonder, which fascinated me.
“You did what?” Alexander coughed, choking on his cigarette. “You not only let one get close enough to touch, you actually searched him? You thought he was a cop?”
Spectra shrugged and leaned against the wall opposite. “He pissed me off. I was really looking forward to just chilling out tonight.”
Alexander stood straight, putting his cigarette out. “How did the exams go?”
“All done. Graduation ahoy. Now I can get a legitimate job and earn an honest living.”
I frowned at the sadness in her voice. Alexander stepped towards her and bent his face to hers, capturing her mouth in a slow, careful kiss. I felt the ball of anger that was building within slam into my chest as it tried to escape. I knew that my outward appearance was still and calm, but inside, as his mouth caressed hers in the most tender of kisses, I wanted to grab the next person to walk near me and rip them limb from limb.
Spectra put her hand on Alexander’s chest and gave a gentle nudge. Alexander pulled back to look down at her. “Stay with me tonight. I’ll celebrate your graduation with you.”
Spectra smiled shyly. “If I stayed, I’d miss morning Mass, and I have an angry client to meet.” She stepped towards the door. “I should get some sleep.”
Alexander dropped his head in disappointment but didn’t try to convince her to stay. “What’s the name of your predator? Maybe I can find out more about him.”
“Bay Ryder,” Spectra replied easily.
Alexander’s shoulders squared, and his body went rigid at the mention of my name, and I understood that reaction. Spectra didn’t miss it either. She waited patiently for Alexander to explain his reaction. Alexander lit another cigarette. “Stay the night.”
“I just explained...”
“I’ll come with you to the meeting in the morning, make sure he doesn’t try anything.”
“He won’t. I don’t think he’s into women.”
Alexander laughed. “He’s not into anything and hasn’t been for centuries. But he is a predator, Spectra, and I don’t want him near you.”
“Why would he be in such a rush for this stuff?” Spectra folded her arms across her body, still halfway inside the balcony door.
Alexander took a long drag before he spoke. “He runs a business that has been awarded a government contract. They are due to sign this week, and he’ll need to prove who he is for the deal to go through. Stay with me.”
Spectra gave Alexander a sad smile. “If you were still that guy I knew in high school, the answer would be yes. But you’re the popular guy now that all the girls want, and I’m the quiet nerd without a chance at more than being a drunken party hookup.”
Alexander caressed a hand down her cheek. “You were the popular girl in high school, and you dated the most popular boy, but you always gave me the time of day, Spec. Everything changed out in the real world, but even flipped around, I will always give you the time of day. You will never be a drunken party hookup.”
He kissed her again and this time the kiss was more insistent, but Spectra ended it quickly. She stepped back, and I saw she was crying.
“Dating the popular boy got me killed, remember? I’d rather not repeat that experience.” She turned and moved back into the darkened apartment.
Alexander took a deep breath, pulled out another cigarette, and lit it before turning to look down at the front door of his building. I stayed still amongst the shadows. Miss Michaels emerged from the building and made her way down the street. Alexander watched her till she rounded the corner a block away then stubbed out his cigarette. I’d met Alexander on several occasions and never once seen him smoke, and several times we’d been in each other’s company for hours. His behavior around Miss Michaels suggested he was a chain smoker, but I’d never caught even a whiff of smoke around him.
Alexander stood to his full height, and his power swirled his aura around him like a kaleidoscope in a tornado. I smiled again as understanding dawned on me. The cigarettes were guilt. Her presence caused him pain for some reason. Alexander’s head tilted, and his eyes turned angry as they fell upon the place I waited. I knew the moment he’d recognized my presence.
I stepped out of the shadows and gave a small nod before following Miss Michaels’s drift. I saw the anger set into Alexander Williams’s features and suddenly understood what would make such a powerful young man feel guilty. Love. Alexander Williams loved Spectra Michaels so much it hurt.
My phone rang a few minutes later. I answered, already knowing who it was. “Mr. Williams, I trust you are enjoying this beautiful evening.”
“Leave her alone, Ryder.”
“She spiked my curiosity; that’s all. I just like to know who I am doing business with. My interest goes no further.” I continued following the trail of her aura.
“She’s been through enough, Ryder. We are not friends, but she doesn’t deserve to be brought into this.”
I paused to assess his words. “A lesser man would exploit a weakness like Miss Michaels in his adversary. I have no such intentions. I learned a very long time ago that love will make a man stronger, not weaker.”
Alexander didn’t deny his feelings, which impressed me further. “Thank you.”
“Mr. Williams, if I may offer some advice?” When Alexander stayed quiet, I took that as approval. “You do yourself no favors hiding who you really are from her. If she is to love you, she should love you for who you are.”
Alexander chuckled. “Only someone who has never truly been in love would think it is that easy.”
I rounded the corner in time to watch Miss Michaels walk into church grounds and cross the gardens to the convent. “She lives in a convent?”
Alexander audibly swallowed. “As I said, she’s been through enough.”
The phone disconnected, and I slipped my mobile into my pocket, curiosity taking seed as I thought through all the reasons a young civilian girl might live in a convent. Her interaction with Alexander suggested they were lovers at some point in the past, if not on occasion now, so she didn’t intend to take vows. I watched for a light to switch on, telling me where I could find her should I want to, before I turned and went in search of supper.