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“Christ Almighty, what a fucking idiot!” Becky spouted at her reflection. Her mortification, however, did not stop her from applying the finishing touches; a flick of mascara, swipe of the lip-wand, puff or two of hairspray.

With a sideways pose, she issued a final desperate plea for approval from her image in the mirror. It was hard-pressed to materialise, but she wasn’t going to chicken out now; Riley - Hero of the Hour - was waiting for her in the foyer having allowed her time to freshen up. “Strike while the iron’s hot,” she said to the mirror in the last bid for confirmation she was doing this for all the right reasons. And they were -.

She chewed on the inside of her lip, deliberating. And they were - not forthcoming either. “Fuck!”

She thrashed her way out of the bathroom and checked the contents of her bag; purse, perfume, lippy, ID, phone. All a gal needed now was her wooden stakes, crucifixes and Holy Water.

She stopped dead. A loud laugh bubbled up from her belly, then she flopped down on her bed and contemplated some more. Had she learned nothing from Cain? The so-called ‘Tools of the Trade’ were mere folly, the produce of authors and film-makers.

The insanity of her decision to come to Chicago was evident in her trembling hands, her misplaced humour towards her predicament, and the rising guilt of putting herself in harm’s way - a definite no-no going by Cain’s ‘rules’. He was going to be genuinely pissed with her. Providing -.

She shuddered. That was a thought she had not wanted seeping into her consciousness. But, it burst forth anyway. Other than knowing the primal instinct of vampires, she had no firm idea what she was walking into. Numbers were another thing - how many were there? Was this nightclub just a den for bloodsuckers?

Then she huffed and chastised herself for being so melodramatic and even considering what she had been privy to with Cain and the Fallen - an entire nightclub of vampires? Come on! She shook her head. No! Riley had been twice he’d said, and well - he’d survived. Besides, did she not hear that most vampires had been driven mad; had not survived the transition; could not adapt? She quickly dismissed one in particular whom she did not wish to give any more consideration.

So, to add up; one had met with Nick and Craig. They knew for sure about ‘Magpie’, and yes, she had overheard there was a ‘nest’ - but that could be anything from three to maybe -. Don’t speculate, she warned herself.

She stood up, abrupt. There was no point dilly-dallying now. She had a date, so-to-speak. A human one at that! Other than a bit sickly looking, he was well enough dressed, and mannerly. Plus, he’d been to the very place she needed to visit; where she knew Cain would be going, and she doubted he would be pussy-footing around. Chances were, he would be there tonight as well.

Before she allowed herself to dwell further on his likely reaction at finding her there, she left her room and entered the lift.

Riley was still sitting where Becky had left him. He nursed another coffee, his fingers closing around the paper cup, nervous. A droplet of sweat trickled over his temple.

“You need to calm down,” a familiar voice said, husky and firm.

A pair of tan Chukka boots came to a stop in front of Riley. He looked up and felt instant dismay. “Cole. What are you doing here?”

“I was passing, and thought I’d see how things were progressing.” He sat down opposite the strained human.

“You were - passing?” Riley wheezed.

Cole was making a show of surveying the foyer; its tiled floor with petrol blue and slate-coloured diamonds running in unique formation; neutral coloured walls and fittings and the token splashes of red and yellow in striped cushions. Tall potted plants dotted throughout added some natural greenery.

The watcher’s dark brown eyes came to rest on Riley once more, a contemptuous smirk toying with the corners of his mouth.

“What’s your problem with me?” Riley asked, daring to maintain Cole’s calculating stare.

“I do not have a problem with you,” Cole replied, cool.

Riley scoffed. “You could have fooled me.”

Cole laughed. “I have fooled many. It’s one of my better qualities.” He shifted in his seat, reaching into his coat pocket. He produced a packet of dry-roasted peanuts. Ripping the foil, he offered some to Riley.

“No, thank you.”

“Suit yourself,” Cole said, sinking back into his seat and tipping some peanuts into his hand. “I’m quite partial to these little nibbles,” he smiled, popping them in his mouth. Pointing to the table between the seating, he said, “Pity they don’t have them here in little bowls for the guests.”

“There are plenty at the nightclub. Perhaps you should go there.” Another thin trickle of sweat traced down Riley’s temple and over his cheek.

Cole grinned. “Oh, I’ll be there. Tell me, how is Becky measuring up?” He flicked a few crumbs from his jeans.

“She’s -” Riley hesitated, unsure what to say.

“Delicious! I meant the nuts,” the watcher said, a rumble of low laughter vibrating in his chest as Riley squirmed. He slid forward, a move so swift, the human jumped. “Do you know what I am, Riley?”

Swallowing, trying with every fibre in his body to eliminate the unease this individual had coursing through him, Riley fixed Cole with a determined stare. Although there was no real comfort in the knowledge, he reminded himself he was under Luke’s ‘protection’, and so when he answered, it was with forced contempt. “Apart from unpleasant?”

Cole laughed, open, his dark curls rippling from his mirth. “Oh, I know you don’t like me, but considering I could snap you like a twig, let’s be civil, shall we? I am an observer. I watch, calculate, and plan. I have been doing this for - many years.”

“You’re still ‘new’ in the greater scheme of things though.” Riley felt a little boldness by his grasp of the nest’s timeline. “This Cain, from what I gather, has been around way longer than Luke’s coven. I somehow doubt any of you know what you are up against.”

The watcher’s lips stretched in an unsettling grin. “Do you? I don’t think you have the slightest clue what you have got yourself involved in.” The sound of the lifts arriving drew his attention away from the nervous human.

The lift door slid open, and Becky emerged. Riley turned and threw a panicked look at Cole.

The watcher stood and looked down at him, his eyes piercing, intense. “Just do what is expected of you. From what I gather, you wanted in!” He afforded a glance at the approaching woman and laughed, low before he looked at Riley once more. “Like the proverbial lamb to the slaughter.” Then smoothly, he turned and swept out of the foyer.

Riley faced Becky, who was almost level with him once Cole had vanished. She was staring at the revolving door, a look of disquietude creasing her brow. “Who was that?”

“Oh, just an acquaintance. His name’s Cole. He saw me sitting and came in to see how I was doing.”

Becky looked at him, questioningly; she didn’t seem convinced. Riley elaborated. “I know him from the Nitelife - and it’s only a few blocks from here.” Inwardly, Riley groaned. He quickly mopped his brow on his sleeve as Becky glanced at the door again.

He wanted to warn her but, he was floundering; how on earth was he meant to do that in the time allotted? Plus without sounding like a complete maniac? And, in the unlikelihood of having managed that, could she escape the clutches of Luke’s nest? Could he? He doubted the latter, but he couldn’t let this woman walk into a trap.

“Ok. Well, if it’s just a few blocks, can we walk it?”

Riley nodded, a little surge of hope rising that he might be able to forewarn her after all.

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