A tall glass of sparkly liquid emerged from his hand. “Leo, oh my God, this is crazy. Look at the big hole in the wall.”
“Look at you,” Leo handed me the drink and twirled me around.” You look fucking hot.”
“So, do you. I never get to see you in a suit. You look like an actual grown-up.”
“Oh no,” Leo pulled off his jacket. “it’s all coming off if you’re going to start with me, woman.”
“No,” I squeezed his biceps. “You look really yummy. Leave it on.”
“Kate said it was a grown-up party, and I needed to wear a suit.” Leo pulled at the knot in his tie and shook his wrist to adjust his watch. “I brought some condoms too, not knowing exactly what she meant by a grown-up party.” he made air quotes and took a sip of beer from the bottle in his hand.
“Of course, you did Sweetie,” I grabbed Leo by the hand and led him toward Emma’s group.
“Wait, wait,” he whispered. “Emma hates me.”
“Nope, she definitely doesn’t hate you. Emma, my friend Leo. I don’t think you’ve properly met.”
Emma looked at me suspiciously. “No, we haven’t, but friends? I got the impression you two were coupled.”
Leo quietly cleared his throat. “We are extremely close, but our clan only allows us to marry humans, so we can’t be coupled,” Leo explained, taking a sip from his beer.
A hush fell over the space. Some of the expressions looking back at me were pity others were confused. This wasn’t a normal werewolf policy, and it certainly wasn’t something most would discuss openly.
“So, Pax is working on a new vessel? Do you think he’ll have time to drop by?” Emma looked wide-eyed and shook her head slowly.
“He?” she asked. “You think Pax has a human gender?”
“Yes, Pax seems undeniably masculine to me.” I sipped my sparkly drink.
Emma popped out of her chair and wrapped her arm around mine. “Isaac, the vessel you met Pax in will be here soon. Let’s take a walk and see the bar.”
Leo, who makes friends with anyone, sat in Emma’s spot and seemed to be in deep conversation with several vampires.
“I think Pax is looking for a new vessel to please you. Toying with a powerful entity like Pax doesn’t ever end well for the powerless.”
I looked into her eyes and nodded in agreement. “Leo’s safe with them?” I tilted my head toward the clutch of vampires.
“Hmm, he’s fine for now,” Emma chuckled and leaned into me, knocking me slightly off balance. “None of the rumors are true, Alerie.”
“Really, what about killing for blood or staying out of the sun?”
“Fresh blood every three days,” Emma pulled the strap of her blouse aside, revealing a small but noticeable PICC line taped neatly to her skin. “Drinking blood in large quantities is a waste of supplies, but I do stay out of the sun. My skin is pale and tends to burn easily.”
“How old are you?”
“That’s a very rude question,” she whispered.
“Sorry, I don’t understand the rules yet. Forgive me for asking.”
“Listen to you,” Emma stood up on the bar. The music lowered. “How many of you will be turning one-hundred soon?” There were claps and howls from about twenty in the crowd.
“How many of you are close to one-hundred-fifty?” Some of Kates’s friends and many of the vampires yelled and clapped in appreciation. Leo looked excitedly around the room, taking in the ages of the people around us.
“How many of you are in the two-hundred club with me?” Many clapped, but in the back of the room, I heard a familiar voice yell out, “Three-hundred.”
“What about the three-hundred club?” Emma looked concerned she hopped off the bar and walked toward the voice.
“So how about the three-hundred club people?” Emma yelled into the room. One witch, one vampire, and one muscular man in jeans clapped. The two looked at each other knowingly for a moment before the music turned back up.
“Oh wow, I think I know him?”
“Of course, you do,” Emma commented sarcastically. “I’m going to go seduce you’re not coupled wolf.”
Walking closer to the man in jeans, I caught his scent. “Dagen?”
“You remembered?” he questioned with a smile. “These are my friends.” Two burly looking men with beers in hand smiled coolly and introduced themselves. The dark-haired friend introduced himself as Bruce. The more red-haired man nodded and with a faint admission of his name, Sean. Both men looked me over and scowled with veiled contempt.
I turned toward Dagen. “Your buddies seem like ass-hats,” I whispered.
“Yeah, they’re upset a female so young was chosen. Many wolves trained for decades, but you were chosen.” Dagen gulped his beer and walked over to the trough for a replacement. He took my drink, finished it, and set the glass in the dry ice.
“So, ignorant and bigoted. I won’t bother with either of them then.”
Dagen scoffed, “You are just like your father.” He put some fresh ice in the glass and seemed to be searching for the right bottle.
“I’ll take your word for it—never met the man.”
“Really,” He questioned, pouring pineapple juice in my glass.
“My father is Max Ganas. I don’t know anything about the other guy.”
“The other guy is our Clan leader. Ah-ha, there we are.” Dagen pulled a bottle from the bottom of the icy metal trough and removed its wax seal.
“Well, how nice for him. Not sure how he plans to lead anything hiding out in the Grove. Hey, you seem to know everything. Let me ask you something.” I turned my back to the room and leaned into Dagen’s chest. “Is an overwhelming desire to bite into your lover’s skin normal?”
He smirked and lightly pulled me closer to the wall. He added a thick liquid to my glass and swirled the mix. “That happens when you go slumming. Your half-blood and your human don’t have enough magic in their blood to satisfy you.”
“Hmm, never noticed this problem before.” I looked around, ensuring our privacy, taking a sip from my glass. “Yummy but strong.” I took another timid drink before swirling the ice cubes more vigorously.
Dagen let a genuine smile spread across his face. “Hey, you don’t believe me, take a pureblood or a high magic creature into your bed. You’ll notice the difference.”
Looking into Dagen’s eyes, I could feel a silent warning. “There is something off about you I don’t trust. You don’t smile very often.”
“I’m over three-hundred years old. I’m not easily amused.” Dagen took a long sip of liquor straight from the bottle. “There are many things about me you shouldn’t trust.”
“Hypothetically, what happens if you bite a half-blood?”
“Ah, the poor fucker. You bit him?” Dagen pointed in Leo’s direction.
“Maybe, but will he be okay? The bite healed quickly.”
“Yeah, but he’s going to be more aggressive and territorial for a few moon cycles. Entering into the White might speed up the process. You can’t bite your minions, Al. It’s a bad business practice.”
“Minions? Leo’s my person, my very best friend in this world or any other.”
“What about your human?” He took another swig from his bottle.
“That whole situation went down in flames. I need new armor now. Somebody from the gathering will volunteer. It will be fine.”
Dagen rubbed his forehead with his bottle hand and looked down at the floor. He appeared to be formulating what to say next.
Pax arrived and walked from the front door to the spot on the wall where Dagen cornered me. I heard fingers snap.
“Is this dog bothering you?” looking around, everyone was frozen but Pax and me.
“Not really. I’m grilling him for answers. I’m glad you made it tonight. I wanted you to see me in this outfit. One of the vampires dressed me.”
“You do seem happy wearing it. I prefer you happy,” Pax put his hand on my bare shoulder then ran his fingers softly down the exposed skin on my chest. “This garment exposes your heart?”
“We find exposed skin inviting,” I explained, trying not to let my quickening pulse overpower my mind.
“This vessel finds your exposed heart beautiful. I can feel his pulse race.” Pax put my hand on his chest. “The inside of the human body is more interesting to me than the outside. I like to see how all things inside work.”
Nodding in recognition of Pax’s odd comment, Emma’s words rolled in my head. It won’t end well. “Looking inside a body is a one-time thing.”
“Depending on the creature and the room temperature, that’s not always the case. What answers were you seeking from this ridiculous creature?” Pax flicked Dagen on the cheek.
“I want to bite my lovers now. It’s embarrassing, really.”
“You have no reason to hide your desires from me, Little Worm. I certainly will not judge you.” Pax took off his jacket and ran his hands through his hair. “You don’t want to eat them entirely, just bite into their skin?”
“Pretty much. Dagen says I need a high magic creature or a full-blooded wolf to ease my cravings.”
“And he suggested himself, of course.” Pax chuckled and looked up at the strings of lights.
“Not yet, but I’m pretty sure he’s headed in that direction.”
“This vessel is named Isaac,” Pax turned around in a slow circle showing off Isaac’s trim, youthful physique. “He is always happy to see you. Once Isaac accepts this new life, his magic will be quite strong. You don’t need a wolf. Any strong magical being will do.” He pulled at a curled lock of my hair and stared at my mouth.
Pax’s influence sat squarely in Isaac’s eyes. I walked closer to him, slid my hand across the back of his neck, and kissed him. His lips parted as his soft tongue brushed across mine.
My mouth burned and tingled—he tasted like psychedelic, honey, like pounding an entire bottle of ginger beer and chasing it with a shot of Sailor Jerry.
Pax moved his hand to my exposed back and pulled me closer to him. Time resumed. Dagen woke confused.
Smiling, I lightly pushed away from Pax. “I’m so glad you made it tonight. Can I get you something?” Pax smiled and extended his hand, motioning for me to lead the way.
I selected a dark beer from the icy water. “Here, try this while you can still drink non-blood products.” Pax took the bottle and nodded in appreciation.
“You don’t want your friends to see Isaac kissing you?”
“That wasn’t Isaac, and I don’t want to end up inside out in a freezer. Plus, I may never get another chance. Tomorrow might not...”
Pax put his hand up and closed his eyes. “Tomorrow will be fine.” He opened his eyes and stared into mine. “You are prepared. Remember what I taught you and live.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“The trick I used at the restaurant to get my blood into your mouth. We won’t discuss this with anyone, Little Worm. There are ancient rules. I’ve broken several to stand beside you. It won’t be the last time, but it complicates things for me.”
I nodded in agreement. “I understand.”
“You understand so very little. I’m ashamed to admit I allow you to go anywhere alone.” Pax ran his thumb across my cheek.
“I’ve survived almost twenty-four years now.”
“Proof miracles exist. I must speak with Kate and Emma. Enjoy your new friends.” Pax looked back at Dagen with contempt. Anyone could see a history existed between them. I doubted either would share the details willingly.