A few hours before the body was just a body, it was a person. I'd watched him lurch around the club, drunk out of his mind and talking to every girl who made eye contact. It wasn't even ten yet but this guy looked like he was having the time of his life.
Rudy leaned over to get a glimpse of him.
"He's like a newborn horse. Did you ever see them in those nature documentaries? It's kind of endearing, isn't it?" he said. I took a sip of my drink.
Candyland was the new hot club in Cresent Springs, which was saying something because our little city was becoming the new Ibiza by the looks of things. We'd end up raising most of them in the end, but it was nice to just stand there and enjoy it.
"Not my type," I said. Rudy glanced at a hipster looking guy with a beard who looked a bit like an Albanian goat farmer.
"He's definitely mine."
My brother was so predictable. Rudy and I were related by everything but blood. His mother had fostered me once my Dad died when I was only thirteen years old. When I saw that I was going to be fostered by a single mom with a seventeen-year-old son I didn't get my hopes up. I'd already had three shitty homes. A group home, one with a perverted father and another where I had to go through the back door because they couldn't let the neighbors see that they had a rat living with them. Marcia was different. She bought me Christmas presents even though she had barely any money. She put up with my scowling and my huffing and my weird died hair. Rudy was the brother I'd always wanted. I had a family.
And a father who'd been killed by bleeders.
They were dancing in the club too, acting like everything was normal. As if vampires grinding up on humans and shifters buying drinks for them wasn't weird. A female vampire approached the bar and ordered a drink. She was wearing the same dress as me, a red strappy number I'd gotten in a bargain basket at the mall. This thing didn't look like she ever paid anything else than full price.
Rudy noticed me tensing up.
"Mia," he squeezed my arm, "It's ok."
"I know," I said calmly. The Bleeder ordered a vodka diet coke and thanked the barman when he gave it to her and got back to work.
"Who's that for?" I asked. Her face tilted towards me. It was pretty at first glance, the kind of beautiful symmetry that would look incredible in a photograph. However, it looked just a little too hard and severe in real life. ALmost frightening.
"Excuse me?" she said, raising one perfectly arched brow. I stood my ground. She wouldn't intimidate me. I'd dealt with much scarier bleeders in my short time on the force.
"Well you can't drink it, can you?" I said. Rudy's nails dug into my arm and he smiled at the woman. Or at least, the creature who looked like a woman.
"I'm sorry Miss. My sister is a little drunk. We forgot to eat before we came out. You know how you need that soakage before you go party, right? Well, I guess you don't. At least not anymore, I guess. Well maybe you used to?" he babbled. The vampiress scoffed and walked away in the middle of his babbling. I watched her make her way across the dance floor to a mixed group of humans and bleeders and point back at us with a scowl on her face.
"You didn't need to do that," I said. Rudy shook his head.
"Yes, I did. You were being a total bitch," he said. I frowned. Back when my Dad was on the force we weren't called guardians, we were called slayers. Bleeders didn't walk around so openly because they'd get fucked up if they did. They still existed, of course, they had done for centuries. They still committed unforgivable crimes. But they kept to themselves. Most of the time.
"Maybe I was being a bitch, or maybe I'll end up arresting that bleeder in a month for blood trafficking," I said. I could only hope. Most of the cases I'd been sent on lately weren't nearly as exciting as that. Check if an elderly woman's cat had been cursed was just one of a string of fantastic cases that my best-frined Daisy and I had to crack. Fluffy wasn't cursed in the end, she just had a very large hairball in her tummy that a decidedly nonmagical veterinarian was able to remove through the magic of surgery.
"Is Daisy coming?" Rudy seemed to read my mind. I knew he was trying to distract me from the bleeder situation, but I didn't mind. I needed to vent.
"Nope. She bailed last minute again. Listen to this -Hey Mia, I won't be able to come out with you guys tonight. Tony is feeling really sick so I have to look after him. I'm really sorry about that. See you Monday Sweetie. Ugh, typical," I said. I loved Daisy. She was the kind of best friend you dream of having when you're a little girl. She cheered me up when I was sad, made me laugh and was able to do the little flicky thing with my eyeliner that I always screwed up by myself. We'd been friends since before Daddy had died too, so she knew him. It felt good to have someone to remember him with. He didn't feel as made up that way. Her boyfriend Tony had been around for two years now and I'd hated him from nearly the beginning. At first, he'd been OK. A lot of guys had been intimidated by Daisy's beauty, as well as her many chronic illnesses. Tony went along to Daisy's appointments with her and was there every time she woke up from one of her surgeries. He cheered her on when she did well at work.
Then he showed his true colors.
"Tony seems like a drag," said Rudy, surveying the dancefloor.
"Don't get me started on him. The guy wears band shirts everywhere. Including weddings. And I think he showers like once a month," I said. To be truthful my bone to pick with Tony wasn't about his personal style or hygiene. The way Daisy was around him hurt my heart to see. My bubbly, happy go lucky best friend became an anxiety-ridden mouse around the guy. Even when she wasn't around she was nervous about him. We couldn't order pizza without her saying that Tony didn't like her to have too many carbs because they made her face looked too round. Who says that to a person?
"So don't end up with a guy like him," said Rudy.
"I won't end up with a guy at all."
I was only half joking. Being in a genuinely satisfying relationship was an incredible;e concept to me. A bit like being a billionaire, I couldn't quite understand it though I knew for some people it was a reality. I'd had a few regrettable one night stands in my almost twenty-four years on earth and a few friends with benefits who turned into enemies with problems. I'd sort of given up on the whole men thing. But I hadn't gotten laid in six months and I was hoping to keep things that way.
"Oh don't be like that, Mia! You're gorgeous and you have a good job and you come with a brother who is the best chef in Cresent Springs," He said, "I can cook you and your future husband a romantic dinner. Or a wedding cake."
"Rudy, stop being cringey," I said, which was like telling a songbird not to sing. Rudy was annoying as fuck. That was how I knew he was my brother. That's what big brothers do. Annoy the shit out of you.
"No, I don't want to. I want to find you someone," he insisted. I rolled my eyes. It wasn't like my brother was an expert in the dating department. Five boyfriends in four years, each relationship ending in a bigger disaster than the last one. Ricky had cheated, then he met Eric and Eric cheated too, with Ricky. Then Laurent was cool but he had an over controlling mother who kept referring to Rudy as his 'little friend'. I couldn't remember the last two but they had been awful as well.
"Tell me about your dream guy," I smiled. Rudy's eyes lit up.
"Let me think. Beard, six feet tall. No, six foot three. That's a good height. Muscles, but not too many muscles -I don't want to feel like shit about my skinny arms. Ooh, maybe an Italian guy? Like with an accent. And he'd own a restaurant and hire me as head chef and let me control everything. No, he'd buy me a restaurant. And he'd have a cute cat," he said, "Do you think that guy exists for me?"
"Maybe," I said. I was only lying a little bit. Stranger things had happened in the world before.
"We have to find you, someone, first," Rudy's head moved around the dancefloor and he pointed to someone, "Him?"
"No. He's not my type. Plus he's leering at every girl that walks by. I don't need that," I said. Rudy nodded in agreement.
"You're right. That won't work at all. How about that guy?"
"Hey," said a voice behind me. I turned around and my jaw nearly hit the floor. Not because the man was beautiful, even though he was. He was tall with wavy brown hair, deep brown eyes and a bright smile with sweet dimples and just the tiniest bit of stubble. His outfit was simple, a white t-shirt and blue jeans but it showed off his tattooed arms. He was perfect, even after all this time.
Rusy said it before me.
"Mitch!" he exclaimed, "Oh my god. I haven't seen you in years!"
It was Mitch Dawson. He'd gone to high school with us. He'd been in Rudy's class. He'd also been my very first heartbreak.
"Hey Rudy," he said. His eyes lowered onto me, "Hey Mia."
"What are you doing here?" I asked, my voice soft. I hadn't seen nor heard from Mitch in five years. He didn't seem to have any social media or even any evidence that he existed at all.
"Just wanted to check this place out. I don't get what the big deal is about it. These drinks cost five times what they should and the music sucks," he said, before adding, "But now I guess I'm seeing the upside."
Rudy stayed chatting to Mitch for a little while as I stood there too scared to say anything at all. His eyes kept sliding over to me. The way he looked at me made my skin flush.
Then Rudy did the worst thing. He left us alone together. Some guy he'd been talking to earlier suddenly decided that he was interested and that was that.
"Hey guys, Charlie wants to show me his bicycle. It's refurbished with a vegan leather seat. What is vegan leather anyway?" he said. Charlie shrugged.
"That's ok," I said, though my face said what I was thinking. That was very much not ok. At all.
Then we were alone. Well, we were in a giant room with a thousand other sweaty bodies and fluorescent lights, But we were alone. The last time I'd been alone with Mitch his hands had been all over my naked body. During the dark, sleepless nights I'd fantasized again and again about how he'd felt inside me. How he'd made me feel. No man had made me feel as incredible since. I'd never hurt so much for a man since either. The pain felt dull after my first heartbreak.
I just hadn't expected to ever see him again.
"This is..." the word awkward was on the tip of my tongue, "Nice."
"Yeah, it's really nice," said Mitch, without even the smallest hint of irony. Did he not remember? Did he not know? Or did he just not care? You would think if he was trying to get into my pants again he'd at least try to come up with a good excuse for leaving last time. I was only a little bit relieved that he didn't.
"You look great," I nodded at his tattoos, "Some of those are new."
"Yeah," he held up his arm and pointed, "The anchor I got on my twenty-first birthday. The eagle is just from a month ago, just healed. You got any?"
"Maybe," I said, attempting to make myself seem more interesting. I didn't think my black butterfly was all that impressive.
"So what do you do?" I ask. Mitch suddenly looked sheepish.
"It's hard to hear you with all this noise. Wanna come out for a smoke?" he asked. My head was telling me to say no but I had to say yes. This was the most interesting thing that had happened to me all night. Daisy would die when I told her that I'd seen Mitch again. I could hear her voice in my head. She'd tell me I'd be a fool to trust him again. I'd tell her I'd be a fool to take relationship advice from her, but she would be right. You never give someone a second chance to hurt you.
The outdoor area was an oddly ethereal contrast to the modern interior of the club. It was a little garden area with vines and fairy lights sprawling up the walls and little swinging benches to sit on. A couple was making out hardcore on one of them. A few girls were comforting they're crying friend on another. Some people were standing around, smoking and laughing. There was an empty bench.
"Let's sit down," said Mitch.
There were some flowers hanging from above.
"Is that mistletoe?" he teased, pointing up.
"No, that's holly. It doesn't have the same meaning," there was a lump in my throat, "Where have you been?"
"I've been working. Just like you. I hear you're a real force to be reckoned with. I knew you'd be an amazing guardian when you told me that's what you wanted to do," he said. I swallowed. I wasn't sure how he knew what I did. Had he been keeping tabs on me?
"No. I mean where did you go? After...after we, you know. After us," I said. Mitch bit his lip. Did he look guilty? Or was I projecting? I didn't know what I wanted from him. An apology, maybe. But that couldn't erase the hurt he'd caused me. I'd be lying if I told him I'd forgive him. Maybe I wanted him to kiss me? Clearly, that's what he wanted to happen. I knew that would be like reopening an old wound, but I wanted it anyway.
"I didn't want to go," he said.
"What were you dragged or something?" I asked, but my tone was bitter, "I waited for you all day. I called over and over again."
"I didn't want to go," he repeated, "I wanted to be with you."
"Of course you did, you had a really great reason to not be with me. You just can't remember it. Jesus, this is humiliating," I stood up, "It's been nice seeing you. Actually, it's been horrible but you know that. I hope to see that I'm still upset really boosts your ego."
Mitch got to his feet immediately.
"Please don't do this Mia. I came here tonight to see you. I need to see you," he said. I tried hard to listen to his words but my eyes moved past his face and onto the couple on the bench. The sobbing girls had moved away and the place had started to clear.
The girl came up for air while the man kissed her neck. He was the drunk fucker from earlier, but that hardly registered when her eyes met mine. I saw her and I knew right away.
"I'm sorry, I don't have time for this," I said. The couple got up and snuck out into the alleyway, her eyes never leaving mine. I pulled off my hoop earrings and kicked off my ridiculous heels, "Listen, there was a red-haired chick by the bar who was checking you out. You might have more luck with her. See you around, Mitch."
I really, really hoped that I wouldn't. The man and the monster were now dry humping against a dumpster. He could hardly stand, but she had his arms pinned behind his head.
"Hello," I said calmly.
The monster's beautiful head snapped back and looked at me.
"What do you want?" she snapped. The man groaned in angst. I pulled out my ID from my purse.
"I'm officer Amelia Fisher. I would just like to ask you two to help me out with an investigation," I said. I couldn't outright attack. Succubi were volatile. I'd dealt with one once and it had taken ten of us to take her down. We'd been unfortunate enough to interrupt her feeding when she was at her most explosive. If I played this smart she wouldn't get to that stage. I could handle this by myself.
Mitch stepped out behind me. So he was a dumb ass as well as a heartbreaker.
"Get back inside!" I hissed. Mitch shook his head and glared at the monster.
"That's not happening."
"Whatever!" I snapped. The monster giggled and the man scowled.
"What is this? Marriage counseling? We don't want to talk to you. If you don't have a warrant you can fuck off," he said.
"Sir, please stay calm. I just want to have a word with you two. You're not in trouble," I said. The monster's eyes went past me and landed on Mitch. She smiled.
"Darling! Oh, Mitch, I haven't seen you in forever!" she exclaimed. Her hands let go of the man's and he fell to the ground in an unpleasant sounding crash. She walked towards Mitch with her arms outstretched, "You look as gorgeous as ever!"
He stayed stiff but allowed her to kiss his cheek, leaving a deep red mark though her lipgloss was a pale pink.
"Hello Satine," he said. My eyes widened.
"You know her?" I said. What the fuck was he doing hanging around with succubi? You just didn't do that and survive. Especially not if you were a young handsome man. Mitch looked at me.
"We work together," said Satine. She smiled at me, "I wouldn't have been so rude to you if I'd known you were Mitch's plaything. Tell me, is his cock as big and beautiful as I've always imagined?"
I felt my skin flushing red. Talking about my sort of high school sweetheart's dick with a succubus while a man vomited next to a dumpster was not how I expected to spend my Saturday night. Being barefoot didn't help one bit.
It also didn't help that Mitch's cock was indeed, big, thick and beautiful. That was one memory that would never leave my mind.
"Can we all just sit down for a talk? Maybe a drink?" I said. The last thing I wanted was to fight this bitch myself. If I could get them into the club I might be able to call for backup. But if I had to, I would fight. I would fight Mitch too.
Maybe he'd been a criminal for the last five years. I couldn't bear the thought.
Satine gave me an imperious wave.
"All right Mitch, I've had quite enough of this. Take her away please, she's interrupting me," she looked at the diamond studded watch on her right wrist, "I wanted to get all of this done before midnight. There's still time if I hurry."
"Don't talk about her like that," Mitch growled. I looked up at him.
"It's all right. Go back inside. I can handle this," I said, but it was as if he couldn't hear a word of what I was saying. He was starring Satine down. She stood back, folded her slim arms and smiled.
"Are you playing with me, puppy?" she asked with a flirtatious smirk. The man got to his feet with the help of the dumpster and yelled.
"Come on. Let's finish this. I don't care if they watch," he said, "Let's just get it over with!"
Satine shushed him.
"The grown-ups are talking, pet," she looked at Mitch, "I'm here on orders."
"I know. And I'm ordering you to leave that man alone," he said. Satine laughed. Her laugh was perhaps the only ugly thing about her. It was the laugh of an ugly old crone with only evil in her heart.
"I'd like to take some orders from you, sweetheart. But not that kind," she said, "Now go play with your little human slut."
I clenched my fists.
"Ma'am, you're being aggressive. I'm going to have to arrest you for being drunk and disorderly," I said and she cackled again. I sure did feel small facing her alone. I wasn't counting Mitch, who had seemingly lost his mind.
"Go ahead and try," she smiled, "Sorry Mitch. Your pet's annoying me. I'm going to have to put her to sleep."
Before I could blink the beast lunged towards me. She moved so quickly, but I still caught a glimpse of her true hideous visage. Sharp teeth, gray skin and crazy eyes with a lust for blood. Her nails extended into sharp talons and she took a swipe at my neck, which I narrowly avoided. I brought down my elbow hard on her chest, knocking her back for a moment but barely making a dent.
"I like food that fights back," she hissed. Before she could take another lunge at me, Mitch shouted.
"Back the fuck off!" he bellowed. Before my very eyes, the beautiful man I'd known since I was a teenager disappeared in a wave of silver light that engulphed his silhouette. I watched in horror as his shadow morphed from a human into a huge silver wolf, frothing at the mouth and growling at Satine.
Well fuck. Mitch was a bleeder. And not just any bleeder. A shifter.
Satine had enough time to cry out before Mitch lept towards her with his jaws open. She pulled away but not before his teeth left two deep cuts on her otherwise flawless arm. She screamed at the sight of the blood.
"You bastard! You traitor bastard," she said, glaring at the wolf like I wasn't even there, "I was going to give this bitch a quick death but I'm going to make sure she feels everything."
She smiled at me and put her hands in the air.
"You ever been to Hell, little girl?" she asked. She brought her hands down and slammed them onto the ground. I screamed but no sound came out as the dark alley melted away and we were transported somewhere else. It was an open space, like the top of a skyscraper. The sky was red and the sun blazed from above, next to a moon that had no business being so close to us.
Immediately I began to choke. I gasped for air and clawed at my neck as the woman looked on and cackled. It felt as if someone had wrapped a cord around my neck and was garrotting me.
She just stood there, laughing and laughing as my vision blurred and my heart pounded in my head. The last thing I saw was Mitch leaping towards her. I heard a scream.
Everything went black.