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The winner is Dianne Casey
“What are you drinking?” A frisson of pleasure rolled down Chelle’s spine as a very seductive and sexy male voice spoke softly and close to her ear.
She glanced to her left to check out the person the voice had come from. Gorgeous blue eyes captured hers, and she smiled at the guy they belonged to. He was tall, and she had to tilt her head up to see him. Dark waves cascaded down to his shoulders. He had sexy stubble covering his jaw, and she wondered if he kept it that way all the time. It sure did look magnificent on him.
“Um...rum and Coke,” she supplied then swiveled back around on the stool she’d perched on at the bar. She didn’t want to keep staring at him. Well, she did, but she didn’t want him to know she wanted to keep gawking at him. She hoped he wasn’t asking about her drink because he figured she was underage—she wouldn’t be twenty-one for another eight months. She had the fake ID she’d gotten from an ex-roommate when the girl had to renew her license, but this was the first time Chelle had ever used it. Brandon, the guy she’d come in with, glanced at Mr. Gorgeous Eyes and made some huffing sound. Brandon and Chelle weren’t a couple. They were just friends from SF State, but sometimes, Brandon acted as if they were more.
“It looks like you could use a refill,” the guy said, and Chelle’s shoulders instantly relaxed as she glanced at the almost empty glass in front of her.
She swiveled back around on the stool to face him and propped her arm on the edge of the bar, affecting a pose of confidence. “That’s very perceptive of you,” she said, feeling slightly more assured that her fake ID was working. The guy at the door had given her a suspicious once-over before he’d examined the California driver’s license she’d handed him. She could have sworn he’d studied it for an entire sixty seconds—or longer—as if there might be a test later and he’d have to recite the age of every female patron in the place.
“It’s one of my many talents.” Mr. Gorgeous Eyes nodded toward the bartender.
“Jory, another for the lady and her friend. On the house.” He grinned. Oh, what a sexy grin it was.
“I’m Lane,” he added, and Chelle wasn’t sure what he meant. Was that his name?
“Lane? You mean like…like a road?”
“I suppose. Or you could think of it as a beautiful pathway with a multitude of flowers gracing each side as you stroll down without a care in the world holding hands with your lover.”
Oh. That was…quite remarkable, she had to admit. She instantly felt bad for her snippy response because his description was so much better than just a road, but who named their kid Lane anyway?
“My name is Chelle,” she supplied before he had a chance to ask, hoping it would ease some of the awkwardness and lessen her rudeness.
“Chelle, like from the sea or the snail?”
She smiled. He was quick. She had to give him that. And he had a delicious accent. English, very refined and elegant as though he came from some time long ago. At any rate, his voice was very sensual and pleasant to listen to.
“Touché,” she said.
“Hey, man, I’m Brandon.” Her friend, whom she’d almost forgotten about, stuck his hand out in front of Lane. Lane glanced down at it and smiled before shaking it.
“You’re with the band, right?” Brandon added rather enthusiastically. Geesh, you’d think he was meeting a real celebrity or something.
“You guys are great. That last set you did tonight was sick. You know, I come in here every Saturday night just to listen to your band.”
Chelle gave Brandon a quick glance. She hadn’t realized he’d even been in this particular bar before tonight. In fact, she hadn’t known Brandon even liked classic rock. She loved rock from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and this guy who’d approached her and was talking with her was in the band. She may not be as enthusiastic as Brandon, but she was interested in the guy. He was hot, and he seemed very enamored with her. She just hoped that having Brandon sitting next to her hadn’t hindered any of that.
“Thanks. I’m glad you and your girlfriend like us.”
“Oh, we’re not a couple,” Brandon quickly supplied. If he hadn’t, he knew she would have, and she was glad he’d covered it with finesse.
“We attend State together,” she said with a smile.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all night,” Lane whispered close to her face. So close that his lips practically grazed her neck and his warm breath tickled her ear, sending shivers down her spine, leaving her suddenly and completely aroused. Music wafted through the club again. She glanced at the stage where a deejay wearing headphones fiddled with knobs and switches on the large display of electrical equipment in front of him. Foreigner’s Waiting For a Girl Like You gently floated from the speakers and couples entered the dance floor.
“This is one of my favorite songs,” Chelle said with a great amount of yearning in her tone. She closed her eyes and swayed to the sweet, slow rhythm.
“Come on, then. Let’s dance.” Lane grabbed her hand and tugged her to the middle of the dance floor.
He pulled her in and tucked her against him, and she stiffened slightly, not sure of his intentions. She’d danced with strangers before, and while some were gentlemen, others were not.
“Relax. It’s just a dance,” he whispered, his voice heavy and dripping with sex. God, he was gorgeous. She had a difficult time keeping her hand still as she placed it on his broad shoulder. The desire to lower it and rub it over his chest was strong.
After a few minutes, she realized what a great dancer he was and relaxed, letting him lead her smoothly around the dance floor. When the song ended, he released his strong hold on her, but kept her hand in his as he guided her back to her seat.
“That was nice. Thanks,” she said as she sat down and picked up her drink, but his hand came down on the glass and he tugged it away.
“Let me get you a fresh one. You never know what might have landed in that one while we were on the dance floor. Your friend is out there dancing now, too, and I’m sure he didn’t even think about leaving your drink unattended.”
Chelle glanced out at the dancers and smiled when she saw Brandon having a good time with someone other than her, then frowned at the thought of someone slipping something into her drink.
“Thanks, but I’ve probably had enough anyway.” As much as she’d enjoyed dancing with Lane and would love to know more about him, she had an important day tomorrow and needed to be on her A-game one hundred percent in the morning. “I’m kind of tired, and I should really go home. I’ve been working all day, and I have an exam tomorrow to study for.” She managed to catch Brandon’s eye and waved at him, indicating that she was leaving. As usual, whenever they went out together, they’d brought separate cars; never wanting to put the other out if one of them wanted to leave earlier.
“Do you need a taxi? I can call one for you.”
“No, I have my car. It’s parked down the road, just half a block.”
“Then I’ll walk you to it. This isn’t exactly the best neighborhood for a beautiful woman to be out walking alone.”
His gallantry was impressive, and he was very considerate. He sure seemed to be concerned about her well-being. Not like most of the jerks she usually met at bars. First, with the drink, then with an escort to her car. Add his chivalry to his handsomeness and height, and he was someone she could most definitely see herself falling for. If he walked her to her car, maybe he would ask for her number.
He glanced at one of the other guys in the band and gestured with his hand that he was leaving. The other guy nodded and smiled. “This way,” he said and placed his hand on the small of her back, leading her through the club and out a back door.
She was pleased when she realized that the exit opened up into an alleyway, right next to where she’d parked.
“That’s me,” she said, pointing at the light blue 1999 Honda at the curb under a streetlight. “How did you know that door would lead right to my car?”
“Lucky guess. You said it was parked a half block down, and this is the only area where parking is allowed.”
“Oh. Right. Well, thanks for walking with me.” She turned to open her car door, but his hand covered hers. Pulling it away from the handle, he used her hand to spin her body to face his. When his lips grazed hers, she didn’t stop him like she normally would have after having just met a guy in a nightclub. She wasn’t the type to give in or be taken so easily. Except, this guy was so damn sexy, it was very difficult to resist him—the plumpness of his lips and the sweet taste of his tongue as it slipped inside, her mouth barely open on a gasp. There was no denying the fact that no matter what her brain told her, her body reacted of its own accord, giving in to his sweet kisses and the tender touch of his hands on her body. His lips were so, so soft on her neck as his tongue made tiny little circles just below her earlobe, driving her crazy with lust. He spun them and backed her up until her back came into contact with the wall on the nearest side of the alley. Their bodies shrouded in shadow.
What the fuck? He’d bitten her?
She tried to pry herself from his grasp and shoved at him as his sharp teeth penetrated her skin. He began to suck slowly and she became filled with a great sense of nirvana, something hot and sweet flowing through her veins. She stopped resisting. It was almost like an exchange. Her blood for a powerful high she had no desire to stop. She relaxed in his arms, allowing him to suck. His intake grew stronger and stronger, and her legs gave out, but his strong arms held her up against the wall before she could fall. The narrow street behind him became distant, and she began to lose consciousness, or so she thought. Although she couldn’t move any part of her body, she heard him gasp after his teeth retracted from her skin.
“Oh, fuck!” His voice sounded panicky. Then she was in his arms as he carried her back inside the club and placed her body down on a cold floor in some room.
“What the fuck did you do?” another male voice similar to Lane’s barked.
“I…don’t know. I guess I took too much.” Lane lightly tapped Chelle’s cheek. “Wake up. Please. I didn’t mean to take so much. It’s just been so long since I fed, I got carried away. Damn it. I didn’t even need to compel her, she just accepted it all and gave herself to me without any struggle.”
From somewhere above, Chelle watched the two men, the body on the floor, her body, then her eyes took in her present state in bewilderment. Her spirit floated above as Lane frantically pressed on her corporeal chest to wake her up, but her body didn’t respond to his efforts. Her existence now just a transparent essence, a light beamed to her right. She wanted to go to it. The lure of it was so strong and peaceful.
“Let her go, Lane.”
“I can’t. I’m not a killer. I can’t just let her die.”
As the draw of the light urged her closer, she looked back at the shell she’d once inhabited on the floor. Lane scored his wrist with his fangs and shoved his arm against her lips. To her spirit, the light was strong, warm, comforting. Tranquility she’d only found in dreams. Pleasant dreams. But then something tugged at her.
There was still so much she wanted to do. So many things she hadn’t experienced, yet. The light would have to wait. She wanted to live.
Eight Months Later
“Where are you going? Lane yelled at me over his shoulder.
I waved him off and headed down the alley in the opposite direction, but he was quick, and as I took my next step, I plowed right into him as he stood, blocking my way. His hands were on my shoulders, preventing me from moving. I could have just vanished from his grip, though I’d never wanted to. Until now. Something in me was changing. I wanted to be stronger, independent.
“I said, where are you going?” he repeated. His condescending tone made me flinch. I hated that he could do that to me, make me feel like a child with only a few words, but I was determined not to let him notice.
He smiled and skimmed the back of his finger down my cheek. He was gentle, and I hated it. I hated that he was so fucking gorgeous it made every inch of my skin tingle with desire. I hated him—for that and so much more.
I glanced up at the sky. There were no stars, not even the moon. The fog had rolled in about forty minutes ago, stealing the heavens from our view. Just another indication of how fucked up my life was. It was my twenty-first birthday. Or would have been. And we were out on a celebratory feed.
“I thought this was what you wanted, Chelle. To go out and get your own sustenance.”
“I do. But…”
“It’s not exactly on my own if you’re with me,” I managed, even though he had me under his control.
“But you’ve never done it alone before.” He brushed my short hair back away from my face. “I told you I wouldn’t interfere, that I’d let you do it all. I’ll just watch and make sure you don’t overindulge.”
He worried a lot about that. He knew firsthand how easy it was to lose control, and I could appreciate that, especially since I’d been the one he’d lost control with. But I was determined and stubborn.
“I don’t need a babysitter, Lane. I’ve got this. Just leave and let me do it. I promise I can handle it. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
He hung his head as if in defeat. “I can’t.”
“For fuck’s sake, Lane, I want to be alone. Can’t you understand that? Please, just go. I’ll meet you back at the club later and we’ll drink to my success and celebrate my birthday there.”
He sighed, then smiled. “All right. But if you’re not there in an hour, I won’t let you go out alone again for a long time.”
“Two hours,” I said. “Give me two.”
He shook his head. “One.”
“Two, please. Two.”
“What’s so fucking important that you need two hours?”
“Trust me this one time. Please.”
He gazed into my eyes, and I watched his silver-blue irises soften. He closed his lids, briefly, then took in a deep breath and nodded. “It’s against my better judgment, but okay, two hours. Happy birthday, Chelle,” he said and vanished into the darkness, leaving me alone at last.
I strolled down the narrow street behind a row of houses where Lane had left me. A man sat huddled against the building. A dirty vagrant. Since this was my first time alone, I wanted it to be memorable. I didn’t want just anyone, and I didn’t want an ugly old beggar. I wanted someone I could actually get off with.
I headed out of the alley and turned down El Camino Del Mar. Music floated out from a small bar across the street. A shiny, silver Harley was parked on the street just outside. Perfect. My nose twitched as the smell of stale cigarettes and Pine Sol assaulted my nostrils as I entered. San Francisco was a non-smoking city, but this was an older bar, and after years of seeping into the woodwork and fixtures, the fetid remnants of tobacco still infused the air. But the establishment itself was sort of swanky and upscale; much different from some of the dives down on Geary Avenue, where I’m sure I’d probably have better success. But it was my birthday, and I wanted nice. Not trashy.
My eyes settled on an attractive man playing pool. He wore a light blue shirt, untucked from his pants and unbuttoned at the collar. A silver tie patterned with little blue diamond shapes hung loosely around his neck. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. A relaxed, just-got-off-work look. He bent over and positioned his cue at the white ball, then glanced up at me with the most gorgeous blue eyes I’d ever seen. They were almost translucent. As difficult as it was, I quickly looked away. I was too hungry and too horny, and someone like that just might make me lose control, so I set my eyes on the other guy playing pool instead. A large man, sporting black leather. Biker gear. Perfect. This was what I was looking for tonight. His brown eyes locked on mine, and I smiled. Yeah, he would do. He would do nicely. He stood with a cue stick in his hand, rubbing the tip with a square of blue chalk, and he smiled at me as I sat down on a stool at the bar. I gave him my best sexy smile and held his gaze for a few seconds. He had a clean-shaven face, which surprised me considering the way he was dressed—jeans and a well-worn jacket with some club’s logo inscribed on the back. Maybe a weekend warrior. He was tall and muscled, and I didn’t think there would be much danger of me taking too much. He looked like he would give me just what I needed. The bike outside had to be his since he was the only guy in here dressed for the ride. The other guy playing pool was handsome beyond comprehension. Not more than Lane, but different, and though he would probably make for a tasty treat, there was something in my gut that told me no. I thought the biker dude would be exciting, and I had a feeling he’d take me for a great ride.