The fact that he felt like vomiting seemed a sad commentary on where he was. The desperation was, literally, nauseating.

“This is not about you,” she said. “Or anybody else. I want to take care of myself. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best not to rely on other people, and if I don’t start being independent now, when is it going to happen—”

“That shithole you’re in now is not safe.”

“I really appreciate your concern.” Her eyes were luminous as she stared up at him. “But it’s a no-thank-you. And I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Removing her hand from under his own, she patted his arm, in a classic just-a-friend kind of way, and then slipped by him. As she passed so close to his body, he closed his eyes and breathed in her scent. Then he turned and watched her go. She was going to work with that blond human all night long, and Trez was willing to bet they were going to share inside jokes, and the bastard was going to offer to take her home at the end of the shift. How far would things go at that point?

As the urge to kill resurged, Trez argued with his biochemistry. He was not bonding with her, goddamn it. That was crazy.

This was all crazy.

He was all crazy.

Leaning back against the cool wall, he breathed deeply and tried to ignore the smells from the kitchen, the sounds of people talking in the building, the low-level howl from the storm outside. He could not control his thoughts or his body when he was around that female, all kinds of haywire happening. So the easy solution was to not come here. Not see her. Set up boundaries that were high and wide and accessorized with barbed wire.

And yet he kept throwing himself at this gauntlet of his own invention. To the point where that female, who had asked for none of this, and didn’t even know the half of it, was the one putting up the “No Trespassing” signs.

It was too fucked up.

Forcing himself to get moving, Trez kept things slow as he went down toward the kitchen so he didn’t catch up with her. The last thing he needed was to add stalking to his list of career choices. Like pimp and drug dealer weren’t enough on his LinkedIn?

The back of the house was utilitarian, nothing but painted concrete walls, and serviceable spaces like iAm’s office, the locker room, and the staff break room. And then there was the kitchen itself. As Trez emerged into the huge space, he blinked in the glare of the bright lights and the stainless steel. Everything was spotless, well organized, and, due to the inclement weather, nothing like the hotbed of activity that usually hustled around the stoves, the ovens, the prep counters, and the staging area.

“What the hell?” he muttered.

Something was burning on the stove, and where was his brother? Where was the sous chef?

“iAm?” he called out as he went over to the sixteen-burner and moved a pot of sauce off the heat. “iAm!—”

“—here, I’m right here.” His brother came rushing out of the pantry, a twenty-pound bag of flour in one hand, a flat of eggs in the other. “Hey, how are you?”

“I’m good.” Yup, just fantastic. I’ve been upgraded from suicidal to self-annoying. Next stop: Lunatic. “Where is everyone?”

“Most of them couldn’t come in because of the storm.” iAm dumped the bag on the counter. “I just sent Enzo home, along with my other two chefs. I’m just going to handle things myself tonight.”

“Whatever’s in there was burning.” Trez pointed to the pot. “I moved it over.”


Instead of going over to check on what was up with the sauce, iAm put his egg load down like he meant to get started on whatever it was he’d intended to make. Except then he seemed to lose focus, bracing both hands on the counter and lowering his head.

Trez frowned. “What’s going on? What’s wrong?”


“You sure about that?” Trez glanced at the pot. “When was the last time you burned something?”

There was only a heartbeat of a pause, the kind of thing that almost no one would notice. And then iAm’s black eyes looked up and he appeared perfectly normal, perfectly calm, as he lied:

“I’m fine. Really.”

Guess two could play at this game, Trez thought.

* * *

“This is bullshit. I’m out of here.”

As the words were pushed out of an angry, lipsticked mouth, Therese glanced across the water-filling station. Liza, a female human who was one of six servers supposed to be on, had evidently decided to jump ship and was determined that everyone not only know that she was leaving, but also be aware that she did not approve of the weather.

Like someone inside of Sal’s was in charge of the blizzard button and had negligently greenlighted the storm.

“Fucking snow.” Liza reached around to the small of her back and yanked at the ties on her half apron. “I’ve got rent to pay. There are two tables filled, and neither of them are in my room anyway. I swear that fucking hostess hates me.”

Therese looked away. Liza Drama was something she had learned to stay out of, although God knew it was a big pool to fall into.

“Maybe more customers will come in.” Emile leaned out around the ice bin and the stacks of plastic refill containers. “It’s early.”

“I’m not waiting around.” Liza wadded up her apron and put her hands on her hips. “What are you going to do.”

Therese went about her business, taking one of the pitchers, opening the ice tank, and getting some chips out. Liza was not talking to her. Liza never talked to her. The woman couldn’t have made her dislike more obvious if she had tattooed her forehead with “Back Off, New Girl, He’s Mine.”

“I’m going to stay here,” he said. “I need my shift money.”

“How am I supposed to get home?”

Therese graduated from the ice bin to the water dispenser, pushing the lip of the pitcher against the toggle. The stream of cold water that came out was steady but small. She wished the damn machine peed like a racehorse so she didn’t have to listen to this.

“I don’t know.” Emile shrugged. “Call an Uber?”

“You are my ride, Emile.”

Okay. So all Therese could hear in her head was Faye Dunaway gritting out, No more wire haaaaaaaaaangers!

“And I am staying here.”

Therese felt the sting of the woman’s glare on the back of her neck so acutely, she had to roll her shoulders to release some tension.

“This is bullshit,” Liza said. “And you better call me to make sure I get home safe.”

With that, she huffed off, and it was only when the coast was clear that Therese glanced over. “You know, if you want to go, I can handle—”

“No.” Emile shook his head curtly. “She needs to do her own thing. I don’t know what her problem’s been the last week or two.”

You haven’t noticed that she’d like to stab me with a fork? Therese thought. And every shift she’s denied the chance, she gets even crankier?

Emile looked over. “We’re not dating. Just so you know. She lives two streets away from my apartment and I give her rides. That’s it.”

Therese stepped away from the water machine. “She doesn’t bother me.”

Emile’s smile was relieved. “That’s good. That’s… really good.”

To break the eye contact, Therese took a couple of steps over and made a show of assessing the main dining room. There were twenty or so tables of various sizes and configurations, and just as Liza had reported, only two were filled, one by a human couple, and another, a four-top, by a male of the species. The bar, which had banquette seating, was totally empty, and the other front room, which was Liza’s territory, was empty.

And then Therese realized something.

“Wait, are we the only servers here?”

There was the sound of ice rattling into a container. “Now that Liza’s gone, yes, I think we are. The hostess left.”

Therese sensed the human man staring at her, and she wanted to tell him to stop. Not because he was being offensive or invasive and not because she felt threatened. It was because she felt absolutely nothing at all—and also because he only thought he knew who she was. Humans assumed vampires were a Halloween myth, and that secret needed to be kept. But more than that, she wasn’t looking for any kind of a relationship, not even a casual-dating or friends-with-benefits one.

If she was going to get involved with somebody—which she was not—it was going to be that Shadow—

Stop it, she thought. Just frickin’ stop it—

“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

Therese shook herself and focused on Emile. His handsome face was stricken, his skin pale.

“What?” she said.

“Look, I don’t…” He put his water container down on the counter. “I don’t want to make things weird.”


As he stood there, looking downcast, she cursed under her breath. She must have spoken the red light out loud.

She put her hand on his shoulder. “Oh, my God. No, no. I was talking to myself. That wasn’t directed to you. I’m sorry.”

As his features eased and he started to smile, she almost went to find Liza and suggest she be the one to work with the guy. What the hell was going on tonight? There seemed to be trouble happening everywhere she turned, even though she hadn’t dropped any trays or spilled wine on any customers.

Yet, she tacked on. She hadn’t done a dropsy yet. The night was still young.

Before she could figure out a way to kindly pump the man’s breaks—although maybe she should lead with a flash of her fangs and then dematerialize right in front of him; that would take care of things—Emile smiled like the prospects of the evening had just gotten so much better.

He nodded out to the dining room. “You see that blond guy?”

Relieved to have anything else to focus on, Therese glanced toward the hearth. “Yes?”