Frolicking through a daydream of sexual fantasy, written by one of her favorite romance authors, Melissa did not see or hear the approach of an interruption, that would painfully extract her from the erotic escape.
“Okay. This has got to stop,” said a beautiful, tall redhead, whose eyes flashed hotter than her hair.
Reality slapped Melissa out of the fantasy world and back into the real world.
Anger and frustration welled up so fast she barely restrained the impulse to lash out at the intruder invading her privacy.
Her assistant and best friend, Casey, loomed over her, hands on her hips, bent down retrieving the romance novel that fell to the floor. She quickly glanced over its contents. “This,” she said, waving the book around, “is not real.”
Melissa sucked in and blew out several breaths. Casey’s annoyed expression flattened becoming more concerned, acknowledging that there was more going on in Melissa’s mind other than the words from the romance novel.
“You followed me? Again?” Melissa’s patience thinned. This night held a lot of bad memories and she couldn’t wait for the sun to rise and whisk her away into oblivion. “And what would you know about real?” She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth, but grief held back an apology.
Casey flinched. “I can fantasize with you,” she offered. “You don’t have to spend this night alone.”
“Yes, I do,” Melissa muttered. “Two hundred years and the memory of her murder still destroys me. Anger eats away at my confidence and the hate I feel for my long dead father refuses to subside.”
“You’ve locked yourself away on this day, every year since I’ve known you. There are other ways.” Casey paused biting into her lip.
Melissa knew she wasn’t going to like what Casey would say next, but instead of walking away, she bowed her head.
“You need to get out and live. You won’t survive much longer if you don’t.”
Melissa’s head snapped up. “I go to work every night…Don’t I?”
“I listen to people for twelve hours every night, puzzling out where their lives went wrong. I help them.”
“I even get together with you and other people from work for the occasional social chat.”
“Rarely,” Casey groused.
“I do live. I live the way I do to survive.” Melissa stood and headed for the steps leading to the front of the library.
Casey stepped in her path. “I want you to do more than live. I want you to be happy.”
Melissa took one step down and turned around. “I am fine.”
“I know you think so.” Casey smiled. “Let’s go out. Have a few drinks.”
Melissa took another step down. “Funny.” She should have run, fast and far as soon as she yelled at Casey. Guilt was her worse enemy, and Casey always managed to get what she wanted by using it against her. Melissa stood on the step below, looking up at Casey smiling as if she had won.
“It’ll be good for you. You need to refresh and regenerate. You can’t give your patients clarity if all you know is them and their problems. You need different perspectives. Perceptions and settings that have nothing to do with Psychiatry.”
Melissa pushed past Casey. “I’m going home.”
One long blue fingernail tapped the banister. “I’m going to keep bugging you until you give in,” Casey warned.
Melissa’s foot froze inches above the bottom step. “Why can’t you just let this go?”
Casey walked forward taking Melissa’s hands between her own. “I know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s why I came looking for you. It’s the anniversary of her death and I decided it’s time to make this date a little bit easier on you.”
Melissa slumped against the railing. “That’s not possible.”
“It’s probable.” Casey winked. “That’s why we are going out to celebrate her love and not her death.” Casey stepped in close. “You need socializing. Feed that over worked brain with nonsense and laughter.” Casey pushed. “You know I’m right.” She put her right hand over her heart. “I promise. One drink and I’ll set you free?”
“No.” This time she would stick to her guns. She would not be bamboozled into a night out. She would not let Casey’s pouting lips distract her. She was not going anywhere and that was that.
“This is the last time I’ll be able to check in for a while,” Mick said, to Antalyce. He cupped his hand over the phone and his ear to hear over the din of the noisy club. “My targets are about to meet.”
“You have eyes on them now?” Antalyce asked.
“One. The other is set to arrive in a few minutes.” Mick tracked the beautiful bartender as she moved from one end of the bar to the other, serving patrons and smiling. Mick saw the man who started this all, watching her as well. Mick couldn’t wait to end his miserable life.
“You’re sure you don’t need help?” Antalyce asked, but Mick heard the warning in her tone. “I can send Pete or Al to help.”
“Unnecessary. I’m in place and handling every step with precision. Pete or Al’s involvement will add more variables and throw off all my calculations.” And he owed it to Melissa to get this right since it was Mick was tricked into destroying her life. He would never admit that to his boss. They were all just weapons in Antalyce’s arsenal to use against her brother.
“This needs to happen soon, Mick,” she said. “Their involvement is crucial to the next mission.”
“I know what’s at stake,” he said, holding back his temper. “I’ve got to go. The first round is about to start.” Mick hit disconnect and watched, with anticipation as Melissa with her red-haired friend approached the bar.
Melissa stepped back from the blaring lights and music, kicking herself for being weak. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said, staring at the word Domino flashing black and gray over a small building. “Besides, I prefer small intimate taverns, simple drinks and a leave-me-be ambience.”
“What about the stink of body odor and death. Lice, knife fights and foul tasting blood?” Casey countered.
Melissa groaned. She’d already spotted three fang jockeys before stepping inside the building. Casey winked at them having no inhibitions or rules for whom she fed from. She would take it anywhere and anytime. It made perfect sense knowing how Casey survived the era of being hunted by doing what she needed to survive. Melissa considered her a free feeder. Melissa, on the other hand, kept to a set of solid rules on who she fed from and when.
Casey grabbed her hand and pulled her forward.
Loud music spilling from the entrance, beat against the inside of Melissa’s ribcage. She glanced at the ample crowd waiting anxiously to get in. She couldn’t see how far the line went because it disappeared around the building.
“I don’t want to stand in line for hours. I have things to do.” Melissa grimaced at the pathetic whine in her voice.
“Not the things you should be doing. Besides, I have VIP cards that will get us in right away.” She waved the cards in the air with a mischievous smile. “Our first drink is on the house.”
Casey handed her a card. The name Domino, like the flashing sign, took up one whole side. On the other was a personal invitation to get in without the wait. “How’d you get these?” Melissa asked.
Casey winked. “We received them in the mail a few weeks ago. They were addressed to you. I held on to them for a just-in-case moment.”
Melissa grudgingly trailed behind Casey. “One drink,” she said, hoping this gesture would waylay Casey’s concerns. She loved Casey and even though true happiness had personally eluded her, she’d make Casey happy with this small effort.
When the bartender turned to face them, the flesh on Melissa’s chest tingled and burned and she immediately lost herself in hooded, sunburst colored eyes, the heat in them reminded her of the sun she hadn’t felt in over two hundred years.
The bartender smiled. “What…” her voice wavered but she recovered quickly and turned up the brilliance of her smile. “Can I get you?”
Casey jabbed her in the back. “Hot woman’s talking to you,” she whispered. “Say something.”
Melissa cleared her throat, delaying her response so she could remember how to speak. “Red wine, please,” she sounded stilted to her own ears.
“Smooth,” Casey said.
The bartender smiled and leaned over the bar to get closer. “Dry, sweet or something in between?”
Melissa caught the swell of large breasts straining to be released from the tight red and black vest and looked away before lust betrayed her. She’d thought lust had died along with her love.
“C-chianti,” she stammered over the storm of the conversations. She needed to get out of there. This woman, this bartender had caught Melissa’s monster’s attention. Even though she’d fed recently, hunger disturbed the dust on her libido.
The beautiful bartender was back in moments. She slid the glass across the bar to Melissa.
Melissa grabbed the wine glass and finished the liquid in a few swallows.
“Melissa?” Casey whispered. “I thought you fed?”
“I did.” Melissa responded in Casey’s mind.
Melissa did not like the way Casey drew out the word.
She caught the bartender smile at her while attending to another patron, and Melissa couldn’t remember a single solitary reason to remain celibate. “Shit.” Strength based on a life of solitude and independence, shattered under the assault of this compelling woman’s presence.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” The bartender asked, biting into her melon scented lower lip.
Melissa stifled a groan wondering if she was reading the signals wrong.
“This is Melissa,” Casey said to the bartender. “In case you were wondering.” She added.
The blonde licked her bottom lip and grinned. “Sage.”
Mortified, Melissa forgot to breathe. Her mouth moved but no sound rushed out. Sage blushed, and the sides of her mouth twitched as if she’d wanted to say something, but instead she tucked her lip between her teeth again.
Casey, damn it. What are you trying to prove?
For a very long time, Melissa existed without needing anyone. One woman long gone still owned her broken heart. She should…no would heed that lesson. She would never allow that kind of pain back into her life. Never again. For one thing, she wasn’t insane and second—okay she wasn’t insane.
Sage’s proximity, her lavender spice scent, the sultry sound of her voice and those damn eyes, snapped centuries of practiced control. Melissa’s fangs lengthened simply from the vibrations of Sage’s racing heart.
Sage broke eye contact. “If there’s anything else you want; Gabe will help you.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s time for my break.”
Melissa’s heart broke a bit more.
Gabe shot an annoyed look at Sage’s fleeing back.
Despite the rejection, her body refused to take the hint. Melissa’s nipples scraped pleasurably against the cotton blazer. The slight caress from her silk blouse and shift of the soft fabric of her slacks made her aware of how affected she was by this stranger. Sore echoes from old memories, she wished she could forget, filtered through the moment reminding her why she’d chosen a solitary existence. Melissa clenched her jaw to keep from screaming.
A fang jockey squeezed into the tiny space between Melissa and another patron. Unwelcome fingers caressed the back of her arm. “I’ve got plenty of what you need,” he whispered.
Melissa turned savage, baring her teeth at the man invading her space. His hand dropped to his side and he disappeared into the crowd.
Melissa stared at the door Sage had disappeared behind. Sage’s rebuff stung. She’d kept to herself for so long, she didn’t know how to deal with the upsurge of messy emotions.
Melissa turned an accusing stare on Casey.
“I. Am. So. Sorry.” Casey sent the apology directly to Melissa’s mind, emphasizing the depth of her error. Telepathy was a more prolific usage of communication between vampires and the more sensitive human. Less than twenty percent of humans could receive messages sent in the form of emotion and energy and only if the vampire made direct eye contact. Though she knew Sage wouldn’t feel it, she projected deep sorrow in her direction.
Casey sandwiched Melissa’s hands in-between hers. She brought them to her lips, kissing each knuckle and then embracing them against her chest. The distressed look on her friend’s face chased away the sharpest points of her anger. Melissa forgave Casey. This was the kick in the heart she needed to validate the life she’d chosen. Unfortunately, the damage was done and Melissa would need time to heal.
Sage’s sensuous gaze had touched her heart and it still pulsed with expectancy. Something about how that woman walked, the way she talked and moved with familiar gestures had stealthily picked the lock to Melissa’s soul. Each time Sage smiled, Melissa’s long dead heart ached with hope. Now Melissa felt worse than empty. She felt alone.