“Oh, gosh, I know that.” Nica shook her head, those vibrant red curls bouncing around in an annoyingly perky and perfect way as she did.
Who the fuck said “gosh” nowadays? Beryl rolled her eyes. The kid was too much. Kid for her porcelain skin and easy, girly giggles. Though something in her eyes spoke of volumes of living, not much of it as good as that gentle, friendly smile she used to get her way around the club.
“He’s such a pain in the back end. Some nights, I’d rather not be anywhere near him at all.”
“But the owner wants something.” Beryl sighed and raised her hands to pick at her cuticles. The conversation was turning boring again. Nica wanted something, that much was clear, but what Beryl couldn’t care less, nor did she have much patience for this beating around the bush shit.
“Yeah, exactly. I’m supposed to be the go-between, but Crandall has something against me.”
When Beryl looked at the girl, she was chewing on her lower lip, her chest heaved like a bad romance novel. Beryl narrowed her eyes. This woman was too weird for her. It was time to write Chaos off for the night.
“What’s wrong with my breathing?” Nica asked as Beryl stood.
“Sarcasm, bitch. Everyone breathes.” Beryl grabbed her purse – a small blue leather backpack – and headed for the door. “He doesn’t like anyone. Don’t waste your time trying to change that. Just do whatever it is and move the fuck on.”
As Beryl reached the door, it swung open, and the members of Dead Inside strode in, filling the room with their bulk. Chaos’s gaze locked on her, looking her up and down, taking his time. Beryl’s knees felt weak. She hated that he could make her feel like a tweener standing in line to see sparkly vampires. This is how a vampire should look. She frowned at the thought. She didn’t buy into his stage persona, but if she did, he was definitely scary enough to be a monster when he wanted to come off as intimidating.
“Hey beautiful, wanna fuck?”
About as charming as a monster too. She gave him a skeptical look despite the heat wave between her thighs at his suggestion.
“Out. Now.” At the sound of that demand, the normally cocky group turned as one and shrunk away from the woman standing just inside the doorway. She was of average height, lean and slender, but something in their demeanor warned Beryl this woman was dangerous. Four broad-shouldered, thick-muscled men giving one small woman a wide berth as they slunk out of the room. Beryl stared at the woman trying to figure out why. Beryl, too, had an almost irresistible urge to leave with them, though the reaction of the band had her feet fixed to the floor. A deer in headlights? Perhaps. But she’d rather believe it was curiosity over fear, despite the men’s hasty escape.
Once the band left, closing the door behind them, the new arrival stepped closer to Beryl. She had a stare like Crandall – direct and cold. “Where is your singer?” she asked in a low voice.
Beryl blinked. She wanted to answer when normally she’d tell the woman to fuck off. What the fuck? “How the fuck should I know?” Beryl trembled as she replied. She took an involuntary step back. “Who the hell are you?”
“It’s okay.” Nica was there, at Beryl’s elbow, touching the small of her back. Normally she’d snap at the girl for thinking she needed some kind of comfort or support, but Nica seemed to drain away the unease that filled Beryl’s chest as soon as the men left the room.
Nica gave Beryl a gentle push. “You should go with Chaos. I know you two have a date tonight.”
As Beryl moved past the strange woman, breaking eye contact, she relaxed. “Date? Hell no. I don’t date. We’re just going to have some fun.”
“I’m sure you will.” Nica opened the door, and guided Beryl through. “I’ll see you around,” she said as she closed the door.
Beryl stood in the hallway for another minute, processing the surreal interaction. Certainly she missed something. The stranger was nothing more than average, and yet Beryl felt relieved to be away from her presence. Maybe she should skip the fuck, and go home early. She had been sleeping a lot lately. Maybe she was coming down with something.
“Come on, beautiful,” Chaos called from the far end of the hall. “Let’s go ride.”
Beryl smiled. Yes, a ride on his bike would do her good. Clear her head, and help her forget the stranger. Stupid bitch, acting like she owned the place.
“She can’t help,” Nica said.
M’Rhal stared at her, unmoving. It was creepy, very creepy, that she could stand so still. Not breathing. Not moving. Not blinking. The older ones could do that. Probably didn’t even realize they were so very still. Max could sit for hours, like the gargoyle’s watching over his villa in Firenze.
Nica nodded automatically. Then she blinked and tore her gaze away from the older vampire. M’Rhal wasn’t as old as Max, but she used all those old-vampire-tricks that Max didn’t. Mind games. Max would never do that to her. She wanted to talk to Max.
“I am taking charge of this errand of yours. Max has plenty else to do.”
M’Rhal snorted a quick, humorless smile. “So you do know how to curse.”
“Look, I tried,” Nica said quickly. She’d heard rumors about this one. She was strict and demanding. She also rewarded loyalty and hard work well – very well, from the rumors Nica’d heard. She didn’t want a prize. She wanted to get back to her life. Why Max thought she’d be helpful in this crazy prophecy stuff was beyond her.
M’Rhal raised a hand, silencing any further objections. “You will try again, and you will make peace with these hunters. If not, I will make your life as miserable as mine. And I am very miserable hosting a bunch of guests in my very private life. Capisce?”
“Yeah.” Nica nodded vehemently. “Yeah, got it. I’ll go tomorrow.”
“You’ll go tonight, and you won’t come home until you have something worthy of reporting to me.”
Nica sucked in an unnecessary breath. She didn’t mind being expected to cancel her date tonight, but she had no control over whether or not Crandall agreed to talk to her this time. None. He was such a belligerent jerk.
The vampire turned and walked out of the room, leaving the door open, and Nica shivering in her cold wake.