Authors: Anya Bast
Dedicated to all those who found love where they least expected it.
“Afternoon, Richard, what will it be? Pig, cow or goat?”
“What kind of cow do you have on tap, Kylie?”
“The Holstein’s on special, but we got a nice bottled Ayrshire in just this morning. Don’t get that one in very often.”
Richard frowned, deciding, then opened his mouth and flashed her a little fang. “You sold me. Ayrshire it is.”
“Coming up.” Kylie Mitchell grabbed a lukewarm bottle of cow’s blood and slid it across the polished bar of the Twisted Kiss to Richard’s pale, waiting hand. “Nice and room temperature for you.”
Richard lifted the bottle to his lips and took a long drink. When he set it back on the bar, a bit of blood marked the corner of his mouth. It was a sight that would send most humans running, but Kylie only went back to wiping down the bar. She was human, but she’d lived among the vampires and werewolves of Sweet Rock, Minnesota, her whole life. At times it was a lonely existence, being one of the few of her kind around, but she’d learned to accept it.
It was only a little after sunset and the bar was still pretty much empty. Another hour and she’d be slinging every kind of animal blood known to man. She’d learned to accept that too. It was her livelihood.
“Heard about the council’s proclamation.” Richard’s voice was deceptively soft.
Kylie stiffened. She’d been waiting for one of her patrons to bring it up. When she’d received the news that morning, she’d almost run home to hide under the covers, but she had too much pride for that. “Yeah, you and the rest of the town. Everyone’s talking about it.” She tossed a glass into the sink a little too forcefully and the rim cracked. Swearing under her breath, she fished the pieces out. “I reject it. I’m not a supe. These things don’t apply to me.”
Richard took a sip from his bottle. “You were born here, raised here, live here. You breathe our air and eat at tables alongside us. I guess that makes you one of us, at least enough for the council.”
She rested her hands on the counter and glanced over her shoulder at him. “I’m proud to be counted a member of this community, Richard, just as my father was, but I don’t want Michael
Christian, let alone both of them. I don’t want anyone and
, especially not the Supe Council, can force me.”
The old vamp took a long pull from his bottle. “I wouldn’t be worried about the council as much as those two young bucks they’ve paired you with.”
Just then, the door to the Twisted Kiss opened. Kylie was busy staring down at the edge of the towel she used to wipe up spills, trying to ignore the fact she knew
who had entered the bar. All the hair on the nape of her neck rose and gooseflesh pebbled her skin.
“You mean like him?” she muttered under her breath.
The vamp let out a low laugh.
She picked up the towel, threw it to the counter and went to the back without looking at her new patron. He wasn’t there for a drink; he was there for her.
Of course, her retreat didn’t stop him.
Michael Sanborn walked partway up the hallway and watched her rummage around in the storage room for things she already had up front and didn’t need. She stopped with a hand on a shelf and drew a deep breath, refusing to look his way. This was the last thing she wanted right now. It wasn’t as if her life was complicated and this was adding to it. Far from it. In fact, her life was very simple. She had the bar, her artwork…and that was pretty much it.
More than anything, she wanted to keep it that way.
Hearing more patrons enter the building, she knew she couldn’t hide any longer. At least Emma and Becca would be in soon to wait tables, Alec would be in to bartend and she could retreat to her office. Be alone. Just the way she liked it.
“Hey, boss,” said Becca from the hallway, making Kylie jump. “Heard what the council said—”
“Yep, just like the rest of Sweet Rock.” Kylie brushed past her, clutching a bunch of coffee stirrers. Becca was dressed in green tonight. It matched her eyes and set off her deep-red hair. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“The whole town’s going to be in here tonight, you know,” Becca called after her.
Without turning around, Kylie waved a hand at her. “I know.” It was a small town in a small post-doomsyear world. Any bit of juicy news brought everyone out to gossip. That’s why she planned to hide in her office. “At least it will be good for business.”
“You’re lucky, you know. Having two fine men like Michael and Christian. Hard enough to find one in this world.”
Shaking her head, Kylie rounded the corner of the short corridor that led out to the restaurant and ran smack-dab into a broad chest covered with black leather. She took a step back and looked up at Michael Sanborn. Dark, tousled hair framed a strong face that was just a shade too rough to be called handsome. His eyes were a deep brown—
, her father would have called them. His mouth was the kind that made a woman want to nibble.
“We have to talk, Kylie.”
She shook her head. “No, we really don’t. Look, Michael, I’m not a supe. This whole thing is ridiculous. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bar to run.” She tried to push past him, but he grabbed her arm.
She went still, trying to calm her temper, which had skyrocketed through the ceiling the moment he’d laid a hand on her. She gave him a
and he removed it. Good thing, or she’d have hurt him. Every post-doomsyear woman, especially a human one, knew how to take care of herself. Not when there was such an overabundance of testosterone in the world, and a lot of it supe.
“Just give me a few moments of your time, Kylie.”
Bowing her head, she pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. She’d known Michael since childhood…well, known him as much as anyone could know such a secretive person. She couldn’t just stonewall him. “Fine, but not now. After the bar closes, okay?”
He nodded and she took off, practically running away. She did not want to deal with this. The restaurant and bar were filling up fast. Everyone stared at her as she melted behind the bar and started taking orders. Of course they were talking about her. It wasn’t every day the council announced a mating, and they were almost never as odd as this one—a human woman to a vampire
It just didn’t happen.
First off, humans tended to stay away from the supe towns. Mostly they lived in little clusters, scattered across the United States in small, frightened communities. Post-doomsyear, the supe population was large and scary to the non-supes. With good reason. The supes were bigger, stronger…and sometimes had a temper. There were human-supe pairings, of course—more all the time—but rarely were they
by supe councils.
Secondly, the vamps and the weres didn’t get along. In most supernatural enclaves, Sweet Rock being no different, they tended to fight like cats and dogs—or maybe vamps and wolves. Three-way pairings by councils weren’t out of the ordinary since females had been hit so hard during the doomsyear and had yet to recover—there were more men than women these days—but three-way pairings with a vamp
a were? Nearly never.
Lucky her. All she needed was for Christian to show up and her day would be complete. Though that was unlikely in the Twisted Kiss, a vampire establishment.
The bar became really busy and she spent her time filling drink orders and helping the wait and cook staff instead of obsessing over her man problems. The werewolf to whom a council of freaky supe psychics had mated her was nowhere to be seen.
Michael took up residence in a back booth and watched her broodingly. Once Alec arrived to tend bar, she deemed the place under control enough to slip away and hide in her office.
After spending a few hours with accounting and paperwork, she closed the place up at dawn and slid out the back door with her weapon securely on her—a gun that shot bullets made of a mixture of silver and wood. They were twofer bullets, able to kill both wolves and vamps. They were expensive, but practical. Of course, one had to be a really good shot to have any hope of them being effective.
Kylie was a really good shot.
Michael hadn’t arrived to chat during close, so she figured he’d changed his mind. That was just fine by her. She wanted to get home and do a little sculpturing before she headed down for the day. Living in a supe community meant she kept supe hours.
She stood near her ten-speed, unlocking the chain. Once upon a time, oil had been plentiful. Man, she wished that were still the case. Those had been the glory days. She owned a car, but fuel came dear, so she rode her bike when she could. At least it kept her in shape. Footsteps sounded behind her. Pulling her revolver, she dropped her backpack and whirled, safety off and muzzle pointed vaguely at heart level.
Christian held up one big hand to ward her off. “Whoa.”
She sighed and holstered her gun. Stooping to scoop her backpack off the ground, she growled, “What do you want, Christian? It’s late.”
“What do I want?” He snorted. “What do you think I want?”
“If it’s me, it’s not happening.”
He remained silent a moment before responding. “You heard the council’s proclamation.”
“Of course.” She faced him. “Everyone on the planet has heard it, so why not me?”
A hank of dusky-blond hair had fallen over one eye. He flicked it back and grinned at her. Hell’s bells, at least the council had paired her with two devastatingly good-looking men. She couldn’t fault them for that. His gray eyes crinkled at the corners. “You don’t seem too happy about it.”
She’d known Christian since childhood too. He’d been a few years older than her when they’d gone through school together.
being a conference room in the town’s dilapidated hotel, taught by a handful of townsfolk who traded off subjects. That was education in the post-doomsyear world.
She closed her eyes and sighed. “I don’t want to be
with anyone right now, Christian, okay? I don’t want to be mated with anyone
, actually. And obviously, I wasn’t expecting this since I’m human. Look, you’re a really great guy. So is Michael. I’m just not into it.
I don’t want you.
The US government would call that sentiment mighty unpatriotic. And maybe it was selfish. After doomsyear there weren’t many people left, and she guessed she should be trying to pop out a bunch of babies just like every other god-fearing, country-loving woman of childbearing age. Maybe she was selfish for just wanting to be left alone. Maybe she was a horrible person for not doing her
Honestly, she didn’t care. She had her reasons and they were damned compelling.
Christian’s face clouded with something close to anger. He stepped toward her. “Yeah, well, I want you.”
Her stomach dipped and her hand went to her gun. There was nothing like having a muscular werewolf advancing on you with lust on his face, especially when you were alone with him in a back parking lot at five in the morning. Yes, she’d known him from childhood, but he was a
“Have dinner with me.”
She blinked. “What?”
“Dinner. Like a date. I’m just asking you to spend some time with me.”
Her hand eased away from her gun. “What about Michael?”
He looked impatient for a moment. “He can do his own wooing.”
Her eyebrows rose and she snorted. “Wooing? You’re going to
Favoring her with his famous lopsided grin, he took another step toward her. He was so close she could smell him now—a faint trace of cologne and leather. Why did he have to be so attractive? “I plan to do a whole lot more than just woo you, Kylie.” His head dipped toward her and she feared for a moment he’d kiss her—feared even more she wouldn’t stop him from kissing her. “Like I said, I’ve been coveting you for some time. The council just gave me one more reason to pursue you.”
“Pursue me?” Suddenly her mouth had gone dry.
His head dipped a little more and his lips grazed her cheek, very close to the corner of her mouth. “Dinner isn’t asking much. Say
He was right; dinner wasn’t too much to ask. So why did it feel like she was making a deal with the devil? “I don’t really want to date anyone right now.” There was a quavering note of doubt in her voice, probably brought on by the jig her hormones were currently doing. Just because her head told her to stay away from men, didn’t mean her body agreed. “Ever, in fact.”
“If this is about—”
She held up a hand to stop his flow of words. “
is not a topic of discussion.”
“Okay, I get it.” He grasped her shoulder and spoke close to her ear, making the gooseflesh rise along her arms. “Just dinner. I promise to be a perfect gentleman.”
He backed away from her and she let out the breath she’d been holding. “I’ll pick you up tonight at seven.”
She nodded once, jaw locked. What the hell was she doing? She had the willpower of a gnat. He was still standing there in his tight, faded jeans and T-shirt as she pedaled away. Of course, his looking the way he looked, she could probably be forgiven.