Wow. Even though I’d sworn off relationships decades ago, swearing that no man would ever have that kind of power over me again, this one was enough to make me forget my rule. His hair was dark brown and hung in shining waves to brush against his broad shoulders. Warm brown eyes smiled at me from a strong, masculine face that was more arresting than pretty. Strong dark brows, high cheekbones and a slightly crooked nose—added together with a killer smile—the package was enough to make me squirm on my seat.
“So what brings a pretty little vamp like you to a dive like this?”
Pretty? Hah. I have mouse brown, ruler-straight hair that hangs a few inches below my shoulders and very pale skin. I was pale before I was turned. Plus, I’m chubby, which isn’t supposed to happen with vampires. Blame my Greek grandmother for that one. About my only claim to anything out of the ordinary are my bright blue eyes with thick lashes—which I hadn’t bothered to enhance at all with makeup before coming out tonight. Sometimes I can be a real idiot. “My friends,” I murmured. “They seemed to think I should come with them tonight.”
”Well, I’m glad they did.” With a smile, he leaned his muscular forearms on the table. Crisp, dark hair curled against tan skin, and his hands were as big and powerful as the rest of him. Don’t ask me why, but big, strong hands are a huge turn-on for me. I shifted, trying to ease the growing ache in my pussy, and tried to remember why I’d sworn off men.
The corner of one full lip curled up as he searched my face. I looked down, unable to meet the intensity, the vitality of his gaze. I know I’m a pretty pathetic excuse for a vampire. My pink fuzzy sweater should have given that away. What kind of vampire wears pink? But the sweater had been a birthday gift from my friend Jess and, honestly, I absolutely loved it.
“You look a little pale,” he murmured, moving in closer and taking my hand with an unexpectedly gentle touch. “This is primarily a wolf bar, but we can get you something to help with that…a nice red, perhaps?”
He made a gesture and a waitress practically materialized beside him. He spoke to her in a low whisper that even with my vampire-enhanced senses I couldn’t overhear above the din of the pounding rock and chattering dancers. Then he turned back to me. “So what’s your name?”
“I’m Ariana,” I told him. “Ariana Stephanopoulos.” It rolled easily off my tongue, though I’d only switched to that name recently. Like most immortals, I had to reinvent myself periodically.
“Jackson Marceski at your service.” His wide smile flashed shining white teeth, and then it hit me. He’d said this was a wolf bar, and he’d tossed aside a werebear. Werewolf. I should have figured that out from the name—Lunatics. Now it made a little more sense that he’d pegged me for a vamp right off. Werewolves, even in human form, have exceptional noses. Drat. That meant he could probably also detect the fact I’d been soaking my panties since the moment he touched me.
“Do you work here?” Besides being the bouncer, I meant. I assumed that since no one had challenged him for sitting in the roped-off booth, he must have some pull. Maybe it was part of his job to keep lonely looking customers happy.
Just then the waitress arrived with a longneck beer and a big goblet full of something dark red. Jackson thanked the young woman and took the drinks, sending her on her way with a flirty grin. Then he turned to me and handed me the goblet. “I guess you could say that. I own the place.”
I’m sure I stared like a blithering idiot. The man wore self-assurance like a second skin. Of course he was the owner. I looked down at the thick crimson liquid in my glass, absorbing the rich scents of blood, cinnamon and a good red wine. I felt my fangs lengthen as the aroma filled my nostrils. Normally they retract, allowing us to blend in around humans, but blood, sex or violence tended to make them grow.
“It’s a mulled wine and blood mixture. If you don’t like it we can get you something else.” There was no pressure in his tone, just gentle coaxing. I sipped lightly, pleased with the pleasant taste. It had been a long time since I’d thought of blood as more than just a necessity to be obtained in the most civilized manner possible and consumed with expedience, not savored.
“So what do you do for a living, Ariana?” He sipped at his beer, though with a werewolf metabolism he could have probably downed a whole keg without getting drunk. Most immortals have a less-intense reaction to drugs than humans. If I chugged a whole bottle of wine I might get a slight buzz…but probably not.
“I’m a researcher and copy editor for several scientific journals,” I told him. “I’ve just branched out into an online ‘ask the experts’ website but that hasn’t really taken off yet.” My experience with men suggested this was more than he really wanted to know. My experience with werewolves was practically nil. I’d met a few through my friends Dani and Jess but mostly I kept to the fringes of their parties. Though the immortal community in Chicago was a fairly fluid social structure, I’d never really been much of a part of it. And there were class distinctions. Some vampires looked down on werewolves because they turn furry while some werewolves were down on vamps because we all started out as human and aren’t a true immortal species. Honestly I’d never quite figured it all out.
The mulled wine was good and I had been hungry so I drank down the cocktail more rapidly than I intended. The little symbiotic organisms in my blood that made me a vampire demanded regular feeding. If I didn’t keep them supplied with blood, they’d start feeding off mine.
“Which journals?” He made a motion with his hand and a fresh blood and wine drink appeared at my elbow. “I read a lot. Maybe I’m familiar with your work.”