As I shrugged on my black pressed shirt I tried to ignore the aching protest of my muscles, the slow burn in my stomach, the painful sensitivity of my skin as the cotton slid across it. I caught my reflection in the mirror. Dark shadows marred my lids and my skin was pulled taunt over my bones.

And my eyes showed it all.

Hunger. Deep, unadulterated hunger.

Damn.

Work was going to be a bitch tonight.

As I lifted my cell from the bedside table I paused. Chrome and glass caught the light. But that wasn’t what held me captive.

Inside sat the only picture in the entire apartment. Light glittered through the trees and I could still remember the warm breeze that had danced across my skin. Her wintery hair caught in that playful torrent of air. The soft smile that glittered in her eyes, the richest shade of mahogany. A smile that spread across my own lips, right beside her. That moment of innocent happiness, suspended forever by my bedside.

Without conscious thought my fingers stroked the cool glass. My heart clenched as the bitter wave of grief rushed over me. Then, as I did each time the image captured me, I steeled away my emotions and returned to the task at hand.

Pushing the wet hair out of my eyes I strapped on my watch and left my bedroom. I poured some coffee with vanilla creamer into my thermos. Grabbing my car keys and ID, I checked the magical wards that protected every entrance then locked up.

In my car I gripped the soft leather of the wheel and tried to roll out the tension in my shoulders. No such luck. With a sigh I started the car, eased a little by the gentle purr of the engine.

Bright street lights flashed over head as I drove. The closer I came to the clubs the whiter my knuckles became on the wheel, the harder I clenched my jaw. I really shouldn’t have waited so long to feed.

I pulled swiftly into my space in the staff only parking lot under the club. Taking the sleek spotless elevator up the club, bypassing the first two floors that were already filled with patrons, I stepped out into the back of house. Sharp white walls and hard black floors greeted me.

Standing just outside the doors was Jake, bag slung over his shoulder. He gave me a nod and took my place in the elevator.

“Easy night tonight, Bas,” he told me with a lazy smile.

“Are you referring to the work, or the girls?”

His laugher boomed around the small room as the doors began to slide shut, “Both man, both.”

I was still chuckling as I entered the staff room, the muted base from the towering speakers giving me no room to doubt the club was in full swing. The scent of lust and need even managed to find me through the thick walls. The demon in me quivered in delight while the man tried to hold it in tight restraint.

Because, as an incubus, I fed off the potent scent of lust, the raw energy of sex. The pulse of life that danced in and around us, an aura of colour and emotions. It fed me in a manner no food could, and far more richly satisfying. And while working in a club gave me easy access to any and every variety of flavours I desired, doing a shift while the hunger was a heavy ache in my bones was my own personal Hell.

The thought made me shiver. My 25th birthday loomed, five months and counting. My internal clock grew louder each day. Soon I would learn exactly what Hell was. The fire of it licked at my veins, the signature written in burning blood on my contract. A contract I had never had a choice in, one that had been in Hell’s archive the moment of my birth, my demonic blood sealing my fate.

On my next birthday my contract would transform into a full time gig, and I would be pulled into Hell approved training. The idea made me feel sick. I had always been alone, without a father or mentor to guide me. I had learned my own tricks, my own skills. I learnt the extent of my own abilities, my limits. The idea of someone suddenly taking control of my life, my powers, everything that made me who I was – my stomach rolled. I’d fight it with every breath.

Viciously I shoved my jacket, cell and keys into my locker. Taking a swig of hot, sweet coffee I threw on my ID, grabbed my radio from it’s charging dock and clipped my keys to my belt. Time to get to work.

“This is Bas calling in for duty. Status?”

Static fuzzed through the speaker for a moment before Brian’s voice came through.

“Activity is normal, no trouble…yet. Only regulars taking a smoke round back. Got a good crowd, should be good money tonight. Thomas has had one or two drunks at the door, but none with the balls to try anything.”

I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me, “I’ll take the east balcony. Keep me updated.”

When I slid through the staff door, heavy locks clicking into place behind me, the dull beat of music turned into an all out assault. I weaved through the scantly clad women and buffed up men. Dancers were few and far between up here, the balconies more attractive to those who wanted to conduct business under the protective cover of the overwhelming noise.

Dealing, of any kind, was something that was strictly prohibited in Blue Moon, anybody caught was handed over to the police. No amount of money could bribe us out of that policy. We had a reputation for being a clean club, a safe club. That wouldn’t change, not as long as Cleo Deroux was in charge.

Of course, not all those who chose the secluded booths of the balcony came there for business. I chuckled as I passed a couple in the throws of passion, the woman firmly pressed atop of an eager male. A shudder ran through me as the succulent scent of their pleasure soaked into my very pores, brown sugar and tart cherries.

Distracting myself from the gnawing ache that spread through my system I looked down onto the dance floor, bracing my hands on the railing. Below me I watched them move, shamelessly thrusting against one another. Desperation stained the air, threading the already heavy scent of sweat and sex. They withered together in near painful need. To be desire, to be touched, to be wanted. The need to make their lives less pitiful, even if just for a moment.

My eyes slid over the bar, where barely of age girls giggled and fooled themselves into thinking they could handle the sexual demands of the power hungry corporative jackals, all for the sake of a free drink. They flaunted their bodies, unaware they would at best receive a disappointing and potentially humiliating quickie in a limo, if those men could wait that long.

Beside them older women in dresses that barely contained their breasts flirted with men half their age. Ensnared by the promise of money and the reputation that came along with bagging a cougar those overgrown boys tumbled into the arms of women desperate to reaffirm their youth.

I felt my own slow burn of need. For a moment I wasn’t just observing their ridiculous mating dance, but felt as if my heart raced as I pursued my target. My vision warped, smooth skin wrapped in scented oils filled my senses, a lusty gaze stared back at me. My body tingled with anticipation. Sweat slid lazily between her breasts, disappearing under the fabric of her dress. I reached out and –

With a violent jerk I found myself back on the balcony, sucking in air through my teeth, trying to calm my pounding heart. Roughly pushing aside the painful desire to hunt, to gorge myself on the body of a lover, I continued with my patrol.

I kept a strict eye on the dark booths, looking for suspicious activity. A vampire slid up beside me and kept pace. Her dark smooth skin glowed under the dancing lights as she smiled. Tonight she remained silent by my side, her usual sleek seduction, the scent of decadent fur and wine, muted.

“How have you been Sasha?” I asked, remaining alert.

“So, so,” her words, as always, were few, but her rich tone was like a balm against my skin.

I watched her scan the pulsing crowd, her eyes sharp, intelligent, and on the hunt, “Looking for dinner?”

Her unexpected laugh curled around me, deliciously inviting, “They’re all so tempting.”

Again the hunger clawed at me. A woman, all curves and silken hair, caught my attention below, “Yes,” I replied, watching that exotic body sway to the beat, “Yes they are.”

Sasha’s soft skin whispered against my arm, “You are testing your control tonight, Bastian.”

I said nothing, just watched her steadily. Her sharp eyes bore into me, as if reading my mind, my desire, “Be sure you don’t snap.”

And then she was gone, disappearing between the bodies around us in the effortless grace only the Others possessed, her black silk dress rippling at the edge of my vision.

I continued on my patrol, looping the east balcony twice before shifting onto the ground floor.

The lights spun over the dance floor, painting it green, blue and pink. For a moment the bodies warped into something different, beasts with strange skins and primal urges. Then the colours would move on and once again they would become ordinary humans, united in their desires.

Of course that didn’t fool me, I knew there were plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing slinking around their unsuspecting prey. I watched them hunt, checking for signs of bloodlust, of overwhelming violence glinting in their eyes. None raised any alarms so I let them continue to enjoy their hunt.

Envious, I checked my watch.

Only three long hours to go.

I rolled my neck, the bones popping. I took up post by a strong beam to the side of the dance floor that gave me a clear view of the door and the bar. My radio buzzed to life at my belt.

“Bas, got a couple of jocks heading down. They’re questionable. Not on anything hard, just potential trouble.”

“Copy that” I watched the door for the guys in question. There was no mistaking them when they entered. Their booming voices filled the room, stealing the attention for a moment, until everyone realised they had better things to do. Like say, the person in their lap.

They headed straight to the bar, ordering shots, dirty mixes and cheap beers, but it became clear over the next half an hour they weren’t going to cause any trouble. After their initial bravado they quietened down, intimidated by the far more impressive patrons.

As welcome as their spineless behaviour was, it was a little disappointing they hadn’t started anything. I could use a good fight to burn off some of this restless energy. The sooner my shift ended the better.

Then someone answered my prayers. Nadia, one of the few female bouncers, paused in her patrol to stand beside me, “We may have a problem. There’s a woman on the Deck who’s drawing a lot of attention to herself. Definitely Other. If she keeps it up she’s going to cause a fight.”

I didn’t need to ask what she meant, half the fights caused in clubs were over provocative women, “I’ll keep a close eye on her, stop anything before it gets ugly.”

“She’s conveniently under the spot light, you can’t miss her. Not with that white hair.”

Shock tightened it’s grips around my heart and for a moment I couldn’t move. White hair. Not a natural colour, except for a few Others. But most likely it was a dye job, white hair was quickly becoming the height of fashion.

Reassured I made my way to the Deck. It was a slightly raised structure on the far side of the club, furnished with leather chairs and couches. It was designed to be a more comfortable place to sit that was still situated in the pulse of the club, but not as secluded as the balcony.

Unnerved by how the crowd thickened, and how there didn’t seem to be a single woman in it, I went in search of the mystery temptress. The throng was so solid that I had to skirt round it to the back of the Deck, slipping under the railings.

I didn’t have the look far once I had a decent view of the area. The rest of the Deck had been abandoned, all attention focused on the woman lounged lazily in one of those oversized chairs.

From my position all I could see of her was long wintery hair, falling in a fine silky waterfall, her arm resting on the chair, it’s smooth skin a startlingly warm complexion.

No way to get that radical contrast without dyeing it.

The supernatural often had strange and intense colouring, but even that distinct clash of shades was near impossible for one of the Others.

A hint of crimson lace framed her shoulder and she held a martini glass in one hand, it’s colour leaving no room to doubt it was touched with blood. Either a vampire, or someone with a disgusting fetish. I inhaled deeply, trying to pick up her scent, but the heady aroma of lust masked it.

All around her men doted, stroking her hair, passing her a new drink the moment her glass was empty, or just staring adoringly at her. As I pushed my way round the crowd more of her slid into view.

Her legs were bare and shining with oils, a rich caramel colour. Her lace dress, while high in the neck, was provocative on a level that should be criminal.

The plain scarlet material underneath the lace barely brushed her breasts, the deep V ending two inches above her navel. Again the length of the dress insinuated modesty, the lace nearly reaching the knee, but the daring slit up it’s side killed any pretence of that. Her thigh taunted the viewer, enticing him to think of things barely concealed, but hidden none the less.

I shivered. The sheer level of desire make the air thick, my mind hazy. The urge to over power the men contending for her attention and take this woman as mine was a rough kick to the gut. If I could barely fight the need to possess her, a rowdy group of men all thinking the same thing wasn’t going to end well.

Narrowing my eyes, my chest tense with tenuous control, I stepped forward, ready to break up the scene. And then she turned, no longer looking at the man on her other side.

My heart stopped, I forgot how to breathe. Deep brown eyes met mine. The exact shade of mahogany.

Garnet.

Her eyes widened in surprise, those long pale lashes shining under the spot light. The kind of lashes only someone with the true locks of snow upon her head would possess. Her hand tighten on the glass, a sharp clink cut the air and a hairline crack appeared on it’s clear surface. Her easy smile faulted, then spread into a more genuine one.

She rose, abandoning her entourage, sheathing that tantalising thigh under blood lace. She strode towards me with a grace she’d never possessed in adolescence, with a natural swing to her hips and power in her stride.

When she reached me she paused, not quite in front of me, not quite by my side. Her fingers slid along my arm in a way that made me close my eyes in silent restraint. The innocent familiar gesture warped into something else. The need to clasp her, to take her rose up again, blinding me momentarily to who she really was.

Then she spoke, jolting me back to reality, “Bastian.”

I swallowed hard, “Garnet, what are you doing here?”

Her ruby lips quivered, “I believe I’m hunting.” Her eyes slid away from my own and over my shoulder.

I went to grab her arm, to pull her away from the hungry crowd. To tell her this was no place for her, that she shouldn’t have followed me here and to go home. But she was gone, shifting silently through the masses. And all I could do was stare.

Especially when she walked right into the arms of another man. A man dressed in a very expensive looking suit, with a purple silk tie and cold violet eyes. Garnet pressed her body against his, looking seductively up at him, whispering something to him that made his eyes burn with a twisted desire.

Protectiveness rose inside me and I stepped forward, about to rip the girl I’d sworn to protect with my life from his unyielding arms. But the instant I took that first step, aggression making my muscles hard and my temper flare, he started. He shoved Garnet away from him, pulling a gun from his jacket, and smashed through the crowd, looking for escape.

His sudden flight surprised me, until Garnet sprang to her feet, pulling a gun from under her skirt. She went in pursuit, her heels already lying on the hard wood floor of the Deck. I darted after her, confused but determined.

“He’s running! Back up would be great right about now!” Her fingers pressed against the small device in her ear, something that had been hidden under her heavy hair.

What the hell are you playing at Garnet?! I knew my thoughts wouldn’t reach her, but the question still pounded in my mind.

She dashed up the stairs and out onto the street, into the wind and the rain. Gun shots sounded before I emerged from the club. Thomas threw me an astonished look, filled with a million questions. Then he was moving, sealing up the club door as protocol required, protecting the patrons inside from any gun fire. The people queued outside scattered like rats, screaming.

Ahead of me the man narrowly missed being hit by a cab, which braked with a squeal. Garnet leapt onto the hood in her bare feet and flew off it’s roof without hesitation, not even slipping in the rain. Another shot rung out and my heart clenched. I had no way of knowing whose gun it had fired from.

In a blind panic I ran around the other side of the cab.

And found Garnet straddling the back of the runner. She was pulling cuffs from another mysterious place under her skirt with one hand, her gun pressed against the temple of the dazed man on the floor.

“Mr. Yun, you are under arrest for the physical abuse of minors in your care under the Protection of the Species Act 2002, s.2b. Anything you do or say will be held against you in the court of law, before the Council and a jury.” She jerked him to his feet, gun still trained on him, “But lets face it, you’re going away for a long time.”

My jaw all but dropped. Even with strands of pale hair plastered to her face and a gun in hand she looked glorious. And nothing at all like the small town girl I’d grown up with.

“What the hell is going on?” I yelled at her over the thundering rain.

She gave me a panicked look, “Um…”

Before I could yell at her again a guy I was pretty sure was a hobo, lacking the stink of layers of dirt, popped up between us, grinning at Garnet, “Nice one G. I’ll bag and tag him, better get yourself back to HQ for debriefing. Get that shoulder looked at too.”

Only then did I notice the darker stain on her shoulder, camouflaged under the dark red material. Clearly she hadn’t dodged that last bullet. My hands shook, fear chasing my hunger away.

Tucking away her gun as the undercover agent dragged the half conscious criminal into a car, she nodded and took off down the street.

I ran after her, grabbing her arm. My palm tingled and warmth shot through my body, “Garnet, what are you doing here? You’re meant to be in Pentwater!”

Her expression turned sheepish before hardening. She scowled at me, “Where I go and what I do is none of your business. Not since you left.”

I was so stunned by her hostile words I froze. It gave her enough time to sprint to a car and speed down the street, narrowly missing me where I stared on the side of the road.

I was left standing in the heavy rain, my heart pounding in my ears, with no answers and even more questions.

Cover Bit 2

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