“I told you not to touch the performers,” Candace said, wagging her finger in the man’s sweaty face before clutching his shirt and sending him flying through the entrance of Club Decadence with a flick of her wrist.
His body rolled several times along the asphalt, finally coming to rest on his belly. He groaned and tried to push up with shaky arms when he was quickly pancaked back against the street by a size 8 heel digging into his back.
“Did you tip your server?”
The man nodded the best he could from the position he was in.
“That’s a good boy,” she said, removing her foot and yanking him to his feet. She dusted off his shoulders and straightened his shirt. “This is a burlesque establishment, not a whorehouse. Now I have nothing against the world’s oldest profession and those who practice it. I just prefer to make a living selling good old-fashioned fantasy and theater rather than pussy.”
She leaned in close enough to whisper. “You’re banned for a month and if you ever touch one of my performers with so much as a pinky, I’ll drain you until you’re a human prune.”
Candace took a step back and flashed her fangs, running her tongue slowly across the pointed tips. The man’s eyes grew wide as fear stole his breath and loosened his bowels. He turned and ran, clumsily ricocheting off parked cars and street signs each time he looked behind for the death he assumed was coming for him.
Landry, the head of security, joined her while she watched the haphazard escape. “Did he just shit his pants?”
“Why do they always do that?” She crinkled her nose in disgust and examined her nails for any signs of damage. “Elimination functions are one thing I don’t miss about the old life. But I do wish people still had better manners. Grabbing performers…where is the chivalry?”
“Speaking of…” Landry said, clearing his throat. “You should really let me handle the unruly patrons, Miss Blanchard. That’s what I’m here for.”
“Oh Landry,” she said grabbing his chin. “I do love when you call me Miss Blanchard, but you’re always trying to take away my fun. It’s good practice for my throwing arm now and then.”
He laughed and offered his arm as they walked back towards the entrance. “Maybe every third one,” he said with a wink. “I hope we don’t have a potential repeat. It seems you have an admirer at table ten. You never know how these humans are wired, but he’s behaving himself so far.”
“Who? Mr. Money Bags? He’s been coming in for weeks. I thought he was obsessed with Tiffany.”
“Everyone is obsessed with Tiffany,” he said with a growl. “The way she swallows that sword makes me weak in the knees.”
“You know what they say … you can take the girl out of the sideshow, but you can’t take the sideshow out of the girl.”
Landry laughed and said, “That may be true, but you seem to be his main attraction. Watch him tonight, you’ll see.”
She stopped and grabbed his shoulders, turning him towards her. “Have I finally lived so long that I no longer notice the attention from a potential food source?”
“No, you’re just full. You’ve been enjoying too many rich meals these days.”
“Oooh,” she moaned with delight. “I do love when the poker championship takes over the town. It’s the best part about living in Las Vegas. All those Texas high rollers coming to have a good time.”
“You can practically taste the steak and money in their sweat,” Landry said, licking his lips. “I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.”
“We are so bad. I hope a vegan convention comes to town next. Lighter fare would do me some good. I need to watch my figure.”
Landry held open the door, watching Candace’s hips as she passed into the darkness of the club. It was more of a dance than a walk, a continuous wave of rounded hip and full thigh. Side to side. Repeat. He’d been with her for over a hundred years and the power of those hips to lure in partners for pleasure or feeding had not diminished with the passing of time.
They enjoyed a wonderful life by most standards, vampire or otherwise. Las Vegas provided enough human variety to rival any buffet offered in the massive casinos lining the Strip. You never had to feed from or fuck the same one twice. And despite her earlier threat to the handsy patron, there would be no killing. At least not by Candace or anyone she chose to associate with. Humans had taught her a valuable lesson about sustainability with their repetitive cycle of famines and wars — never fuck with your food supply.
Candace was more than Landry’s boss. She was his best friend. Lately he couldn’t help feeling she was needing more than just his witty banter and the occasional milk-fed poker player. It happened from time to time. Those pesky bits of human feelings lingering in the cells that longed for a soul-less being’s version of a soulmate.
Her last serious relationship ended badly. Landry was always attempting to find her a match and remembered Mr. Moneybags from the night he walked in. He earned the nickname because of how he chose to pay, solely with cash instead of any blood donations. That was unusual for Club Decadence. The male and female patrons were drawn to the club for the chance to have their blood consumed even more than they were for the entertainment and drinks.
“There he is,” Landry said, nodding towards a sandy-haired gentleman wearing a blazer and tie. “Handsome, well-dressed, and totally watching you now instead of the stage.”
“Damn. I spent a fortune on that mermaid tank. How dare he not pay attention.”
She crossed her arms and watched the performer in a shimmery mermaid tail spinning around the rectangular tank. What I wouldn’t give for a real mermaid. Lorelai was beautiful, but her fabric tail was no match for the real thing. While Candace tapped her chin in thought, she casually glanced over in the direction of Mr. Moneybags. He was staring right at her and quickly looked away. Caught you. She saw him fighting a smile.
“This might be fun,” she said, winking at Landry and turning on her heels towards the bar. She poured a strong Jack and Coke, fluffed her platinum blonde bob, and focused on the broad shoulders straight ahead. Probably has amazing pecs and biceps. He was fighting every urge to turn around and watch her.
“On the house.” She placed the glass down gently on his table and sat in the chair to his right. “Not a fan of mermaids?”
“She’s lovely. That set looks expensive.”
“It was, but a good show is worth it.”
He picked up the fresh drink and started to take a sip. “I’m so rude. Allow me to return the favor. What would you like to drink?”
“Bloody Mary, but I prefer mine fresh,” she said, leaning in closer. “And you can just hold all the ingredients except the…”
His casual response impressed her. Not so much as a bead of sweat or twitch of any kind. He smelled strong and healthy. Her fangs began to tingle as she examined the texture of his skin. He definitely gets in a full eight glasses of water each day. Looks perfectly hydrated. Candace always felt bad about this internal dialogue. It happened each time she interacted with a new human. Just once she wanted to not feel like she was examining lobsters in a tank before picking the one she wished to eat. She shooed the imagery from her mind and brought her attention back to the moment.
“That’s quite a bankroll you’ve got there,” she said, focusing on the fullness of his upper coat pocket. “Still paying with cash? That’s unusual for our crowd.”
He smiled as he watched the liquid swirling in his glass. “I have plenty of one resource and a limited amount of the other. I’m saving it for the right one.”
“Anyone in mind, Mr…”
“Conrad. Shane Conrad. Pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Miss Blanchard.”
“Miss Blanchard? Did Landry send you?”
“That pain in the ass,” she said with amusement. “The patrons almost never know my name and he knows how much I love being called Miss…”
Shane interrupted her train of thought by removing a black and white photo and placing it on the table. It was an image of Candace dressed in a showgirl outfit around 1947. The beaded bodice hugged her curves and the brief was cut high to accentuate the length of her legs. “I know your name. It appears you were quite the performer.”
“Oh my! Where did you get that? I look so young!”
“Well, you haven’t aged at all…with your lifestyle and all.”
“That doesn’t keep me from feeling old sometimes,” she said. “But where did you get this?”
“A friend of mine, Professor Wallace. He’s looking to open a new museum of sorts and he was doing a little research into the history of Las Vegas.”
“Those were the days.” She smiled and brought the picture to her chest as if the contact would somehow whisk her back to that time. “Bugsy Siegel really wasn’t a bad guy, you know. He had great vision for this town.”
“You probably know all the original city founders. Knew, I should say.”
“Present tense is appropriate for quite a few of them.” Candace raised an eyebrow and looked around. “My people tend to multiply rapidly when the conditions are right. You’d be surprised to learn who’s still with us.” She pretended to lock her lips and throw away the key before turning her attention back to the photo. “What kind of museum is your friend trying to open? Lord knows Vegas has one for everything else.”
Shane hesitated before removing another photo from his pocket. It showed Candace performing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris around 1895. Her eyes widened as she studied the blurry black and white image.
“I can’t believe my kicks were so high,” she mumbled. As Shane reached into his pocket again, Candace felt herself recoiling a bit, unsure of what might spring out.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s really quite beautiful.” He placed another photo on the table. This one was in color, printed on paper that was modern and harder. It made a flicking sound like a playing card when he released the edge. “The original would obviously be too large to carry around, so you’ll have to settle for a snapshot.” He laughed nervously, waiting for her reaction.
Candace wasn’t laughing. “Who are you, really?”
“I told you, Shane Conrad. I…”
“This isn’t something you just stumble upon. Why do you have this?” The photograph was a snapshot of an oil painting. It showed Candace reclining on a velvet chaise with long, dark curls pinned up loosely on her head. Her pale curves were exposed except for a swathe of silky fabric falling across her center. “One of my most cherished lovers commissioned this…around 1800.”
She crossed her arms and stared into his eyes. “I’ve made it a policy of not entering someone’s thoughts uninvited without probable cause, which in my case, means a bad feeling stirring up my vampy senses. I haven’t felt that from you…yet. I’m going to give you one last chance to tell me why you have these photos and what your intentions are, Mr. Conrad. Your answer better not involve you reaching into that bottomless pocket of yours either.”
He cleared his throat and said softly, “A vampire museum.”
“It’s the project Professor Wallace is working on. This town already has a museum for the mob, pinball machines … even retired neon signs have a home.”
“And you and your professor think there’s a lateral move between a retired neon sign and vampires? That’s a pretty low bar.”
“Don’t you think vampires deserve a historical record?”
“Umm…you do know what that historical record includes, right? Will you have a section with a murder tally dating back centuries? Vampires and humans are finally getting along, for the most part. I don’t want to encourage hatred towards my kind, which might then cause a killing spree going both ways.”
Shane shook his head, “No, it won’t be anything like that. It’s more of a love story. The human obsession with …”
“Things that go bump in the night? Isn’t that what Comic-Con is for? Do we need more people running around whining that’s not what I saw on Buffy? Fucking Buffy.”
“Professor Wallace assures me it wouldn’t be like that. He teaches at UNLV. This is important to him.” He stacked the photos together and fiddled with the edges. “Tough crowd tonight,” he joked. “I was hoping you’d be flattered.”
“Flattered? About the scale of mockery or horror show this could potentially turn into?”
“Then you should join us as an advisor. How about that? We’ll give you some sort of Vampire Approved stamp to put on everything.”
The thought made her quiet for a moment. It might be the only way to contain the situation, aside from killing him and the professor, which was tempting. “And why do you have so many photos of me specifically? It’s not exactly hard for my kind to get rid of stalkers. You might want to answer carefully.” Candace bared her fangs and growled in a display of strength. Landry noticed from across the room and began moving towards the table. She held up her hand and stopped him, wanting an answer from Shane.
She smelled the first trace of fear exiting his human skin. Shane whipped his head back and forth, trying to keep an eye on both Candace and Landry. “I…I…just appreciate beautiful things.”
“I am not a thing or an object to be stared at in some fucking museum for the fang obsessed. How about I start a museum for misguided history professors who’ve met untimely deaths and their unlucky sidekicks,” she hissed.
“No, you’ve got this wrong. My intentions are good. I found your photos and had to meet you. I couldn’t stop myself, really. I’ve been waiting for the right time to introduce myself. You’re just so busy tending to your business…or throwing people out onto the street. I…I’ve obviously worn out my welcome.”
He started to stand, but she quickly grabbed his arm and pulled him back down. She knew he was telling the truth. If she was being honest with herself, being involved with the museum intrigued her. At least I can class it up a bit. And if she was being more honest still, the human was intriguing as well. He had good manners and, more importantly, strong blood running through his veins. The throbbing rhythm was soothing, causing her to mentally count the pulse like some type of intravascular meditation.
“Sit.” She held up the photo of the oil painting and made a grimace. “This was before I met my first bottle of peroxide. Always hated my hair this color. Not a lot of choices in the 1700s, you know.”
“I can imagine.”
She pushed the photos away and looked him in the eye. “Maybe I’ll meet this professor of yours. If a museum is inevitable, I’d rather have some input and I’d rather it be run by you … and this friend of yours,” she added quickly.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Shane stared at her, taking in her blue eyes and the fullness of her red lips. He looked transfixed.
Candace decided to break her own rule and listen to his thoughts for only a second. All she picked up on was the word beautiful being whispered over and over. She laughed softly, breaking his self-induced hypnosis with the sound.
“Pardon? Did you say something?” he asked, still staring at her mouth.
She licked her lips slowly, amused as his eyes followed the pattern of her tongue. “Earlier you said you just had to meet me. You’ve met me. Now what? Are we on to museum planning?”
He shook his head and said, “Dinner.”
Candace smiled at his offer. “I don’t really eat. You know, that whole vampire thing.”
“Of course,” he said. “How silly of me.”
“I can watch you eat and you describe it,” she teased.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for weeks. You’d think I’d have this all planned,” he groaned. He thought in silence for a few moments before clapping his hands together. “I’ve got it. How about a ride around the lake?”
“Hmm…full moon in a few days. It’ll be beautiful out on the water.”
“I’ve always preferred the moonlight myself,” he said, trying to list something they might have in common.
“I’ll think about it.” She enjoyed the disappointed look on his face. I’m so mean. “If this is some fact-finding mission for you to steal my secrets and pass them off to that professor of yours without including me…”
“I swear it’s not.”
“And I would appreciate it if you could destroy all evidence of my life as a brunette.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said with a laugh.
“I better get back to work. Enjoy the rest of the performances.” Candace quickly grabbed the photos as she stood up. “I’ll just take these with me.”
Shane didn’t argue. He just watched her walk away, mesmerized by the sway of her hips. She had that classy vintage look he adored. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Knowing she could kill someone with one bite, while still looking like a lady, had given him an unlimited number of fantasies to enjoy. Her couldn’t deny her fangs sent a shiver through his body, but not all of it was from fear. The shiver was part adrenaline and part blood rushing to his cock now begging to be inside her.
“Need me to toss him?” Landry asked as she came closer.
Candace shook her head and showed him the photos.
“Look at you! These are amazing. Wait, you were a brunette?”
“I’d like to forget it,” she said, snatching the photos back. “Someone is trying to open a vampire museum.”
“Cue the spooky music and bats,” Landry said, rolling his eyes.
“I know. It’s some history professor from UNLV. I’ve agreed to take on an advisory role.”
“Then it can’t possibly be as bad as we imagine.”
“It will be if they keep digging up photos from my past. Like I’m the only vampire in Vegas with history or something. Sheesh.”
“If they find photos of me from my chubby teen days I will kill everyone.”
“You’ve always been handsome,” she said, stroking the side of his face. “At first I thought you’d sent him. I know how you love to play matchmaker.”
“Would it be so bad if you found someone? Haven’t you waited long enough?”
“I have you to keep me company.”
“Someone who is more than a friend. You know what I mean.”
“I don’t have the time.”
He looked at her and smirked. “Vampires have nothing but time. Was he nice at least?”
“Actually, he was. I may or not be going on a boat ride with him. Under a full moon.”
“That sounds downright romantic. It also sounds like a horror film I watched years ago. He does know what vampires can do, right?”
“He’s perfectly harmless. I didn’t pick up so much as a hint of deception from him.”
“I better check him out just in case. Name?”
“I’ll report back.”