Caroline leaned closer and rubbed the towel harder and faster back and forth across the top of the bar as her heart sped up at the sight of him. He glided in with supernatural gracefulness, but he was no angel floating on a cloud; he was a demon on the prowl. With his devilish good looks and mesmerizing appeal, it was obvious he was one of them.
He scanned the bar as he slipped around the tables, his steps purposeful but his eyes searching, flicking like snake eyes from one potential victim to the next, dismissing one after another as he stalked her way.
This time, her fingernails scraped the bar top, gouging into the lacquered wood as she dragged the towel back again, leaving jagged scratches in the wake of her shaking hands.
His eyes landed briefly on hers, the golden glow of the dangling pendant lights reflecting in the deep, black pools. Their magnetism pulled her in even as she fought to look away. He gave a wicked smile like her fear had triggered his arousal. His kind fed off the fear of humans. When they weren’t sucking their blood.
Caroline’s heart and lungs stopped beating for a long moment, frozen as he stared at her, and every hair on her body raised in a pathetic human defense. Only when his piercing eyes let go of hers and swung towards a woman sitting at the end of the bar did she finally release the breath she'd been holding, and her body functions restarted again.
Chills rippled down her limbs as the excess adrenaline drained out of her. She didn’t relax, though. Her mind and body stayed in a suspended state of hyperawareness as she watched the predator zero in on his intended prey. He might not be a threat to her, but if there was a vampire around, Caroline stayed vigilant.
Despite the laws that prevented them from feeding on humans and the newly created enforcement agency tasked with policing them, his kind still ran rampant through the streets of Modesa, and she knew from experience just how dangerous and out of control they really were.
The demon in designer clothing latched his gaze on a middle-aged brunette in a too-tight, black polyester dress that emphasized the fact that her figure wasn’t what it used to be. When the woman looked up and noticed his stare, her eyes lit up, and a smile deepened the makeup-caked wrinkles at the corners of her eyes.
Caroline wasn’t sure if her extreme aversion made her more conscious of vampires than other humans were, but she always recognized them the minute they walked in the bar. Was the woman as aware of his nature as Caroline was and thrilled by the prospect of spending the night with a blood-thirsty stranger? Or was she just foolish enough to think she could still attract a man as alluring as him? Caroline felt compelled to warn her, either way.
The woman had been in here once or twice before. She was a divorcee named Lisa on the prowl for some male companionship, based on the conversations Caroline had overheard. Was she desperate enough to fall for his supernatural charms?
The man slid onto the oxblood leather barstool next to Lisa and whispered something in her ear. He ran his nose seductively up her neck, and his mouth curved in a smile that revealed one sharp fang. Lisa smiled back at him and tilted her head, exposing her jugular. When his hand covered Lisa’s, Caroline’s body shivered, imagining his icy touch. He lifted the other hand and glanced towards Caroline, beckoning her with a twitch of his finger.
Her body tensed, and her heart rate soared again. She should be running the other direction, but instead she forced her reluctant feet his way. This was her job, and until she found a better way to pay the rent on the tiny, run-down apartment she called home, she had to serve the customers who visited the bar, human or not.
As she approached, the man swung his gaze away from Lisa and aimed it at Caroline again, a maleficent smile still curling his lip. Up close, she could see a thin scar crossing through it, evidence he was turned, not born.
“Another appletini for the lady, please, and a bourbon for me.” There was nothing inhuman about his voice, but it still grated down her spine, making her cringe in revulsion.
She tore her eyes away from him and flicked them towards the woman. “Lisa, is this… man… bothering you?”
Lisa’s head twitched in surprise at the use of the name she didn’t remember giving, followed by a slight scowl at Caroline’s meddling. “He hasn’t done anything but offer to buy me a drink. So far, anyway.”
Lisa turned to him with an eager, wanton look on her face that made Caroline’s stomach curl. “Although who knows what he has in mind for later?”
Anxiety ricocheted through Caroline’s body like a bullet as she imagined how Lisa’s night would end. She grabbed her arm, digging her nails into her flesh. “Lisa, don’t! Don’t you know what he is? He’s a… a…”
She couldn’t bring herself to say the word. Vampire.
Pictures of Lisa’s blood-drained body flashed through her mind. Caroline imagined finding her sprawled on the floor, face down, then lifting her head off the ground and looking into her lifeless eyes. Sometimes the face was Lisa’s, sometimes it was someone else’s.
The vampire’s eyes glinted at Caroline’s fear. “A law-abiding citizen making the acquaintance of a lovely young lady who seems perfectly happy to have my company. Isn’t that right, Lisa?”
Lisa pulled Caroline’s hand off her arm with a scowl then nuzzled closer to his cold, hard chest. “And a handsome one, at that.”
The vampire bared his teeth at Caroline. “Now, if you don’t mind, we’d like our drinks, please.”
She whipped around and stomped away, past the martini glasses and shot glasses and the colorful bottles of liquor glimmering in the soft light. Despite the elegant appearance, this bar was just as dangerous as a dark alley, maybe even more so. Here, the monsters stalked their prey in plain sight.
Caroline pushed through the door at the end of the bar and down the narrow hallway, her pulse pounding in her ears, drowning out everything but the sound of her own accelerated breathing. She veered into the break room, clutching her stomach.
Gray looked up from his locker and rushed towards her. His blue eyes flashed with concern. “Caroline! What’s wrong?”
She threw herself into him, burying her face in his narrow chest, and let the fresh, clean scent of his cologne soothe her. He wrapped his arms around her and patted her back while her body heaved against his.
“There’s a… a… vampire out there, seducing Lisa.” She whispered the word like saying it out loud gave him more power.
Caroline shook her head and frowned at him. Didn’t he hear what she said about the vampire? “She’s just this woman who’s been in here a couple times lately.”
“Did he threaten her?”
“No, but she’s acting like she’s going to go home with him.” Her fingers dug into Gray’s form-fitting, black silk dress shirt.
“Some people really get off on the whole vamp thing.” Gray plucked a piece of her hair off her damp cheek and tucked it behind her ear.
“But they’re dangerous! It’s obvious he wants to take her home and feed on her. We’ll probably see her picture splashed across the paper tomorrow — another victim of a vampire attack.”
Gray stroked his hands up and down her goose-pimpled arms. “They’re not all like that, Care. If they were, there’d be attacks every night.”
She pulled away from him and slammed an open locker door. The clang of the metal vibrated through her body. She shivered and crossed her arms over her chest. “Even if he doesn’t kill her, he’s still going to feed on her. It’s against the law!”
Gray pulled his apron from his locker and wrapped it around his waist. “Listen, why don’t you go home? It seems kind of dead out there tonight, anyway. I’ll keep an eye on the vampire and try to talk some sense into Lisa.”
Caroline nodded, taking a deep breath. “Yeah, okay. If you don’t mind. I don’t think I can go back out there and serve him.”
“No problem. Go home, get some rest, maybe watch a chick flick, or something. Take your mind off it. I’ll come over later, and we can give each other facials.” Gray blew her a kiss and winked at her.
She shook her head and grinned at him as she pulled off her apron and stuck it in her locker. “Sounds good. That’ll keep you from going home with him, too.”
“Ew, no. Not my type. I like my men submissive.”
Caroline scrunched her nose.
“Too much information?”
She nodded, smiling, but her voice grew serious again. “Call the agency, Gray. Tell them what’s happening. Maybe they’ll send an agent who can stop him before it goes too far.”
“Okay, I will.”
She waved goodbye then headed out into the hallway towards the back exit. Lisa came out of the ladies’ room then and almost ran into her. Caroline grabbed Lisa’s arms and looked at her with pleading eyes.
“Lisa, listen to me. That man is a vampire. He’s dangerous. Please, just go home or find another bar for tonight. You’re a beautiful woman. I’m sure there are plenty of human guys who’d be happy to keep you company. In fact, I think it’s ladies’ night at that bar on East Avenue.” She’d heard that the security there had little tolerance for vampires. Hopefully, Lisa would be safer there.
Lisa stared at her for a moment, considering. “Ladies night, huh?”
“Yeah, half price on drinks, and it always draws a big crowd.” Her boss would kill her if he knew she was sending patrons to another bar, but Lisa’s safety was more important.
“Maybe I’ll check it out. I’ve never been with a vampire before. It sounds exciting, but…” Lisa dug her fingers into her sequined clutch and swayed on her high heels.
Caroline shook her head. “It’s not worth the risk. Please, take it from me. I know what I’m talking about.”
She’d never been out with a vampire before either, but she'd seen the aftermath firsthand. It was a sight she'd never purge from her mind. One that played in a loop every time she closed her eyes.
“Come on, you can go out this way.” Caroline waved Lisa towards the back exit, and she followed her out into the cool, foggy night.
Caroline watched as Lisa climbed in her car and drove away before she turned the key in her old, red Neon. The engine sputtered to life with a few pumps to the gas pedal. She backed out and headed towards the exit. Movement caught her eye, and she glanced in her rearview mirror to see the vampire coming out of the front door. His head swiveled back and forth, probably looking for Lisa, but his gaze latched on the back of her car, and she could swear he recognized her eyes reflected in the mirror. His lips curled in a snarl.