Two LinesMelissa Marr
To J, Vicki, and Mark,
for far more than I can ever say. You’re the best.
Eavan pushed through the crush of dancers at Club Red: sweat-slicked, alcohol-saturated prey swayed and gyrated in time with the music pulsing out of a wall of speakers. It was—as it had been every other night—tempting, but lately, Eavan had been letting herself be carried away by the crowd, enjoying the too-brief touches of strangers, near-drunk on the energy on the dance floor. But tonight wasn’t for indulgence. Daniel was in the club. She’d felt it the moment he crossed the threshold, felt him in an unacceptable thrum under her skin. For reasons she didn’t know, she could find him in a crowd without looking.
He was moving through the room, a beacon among the waves of swaying bodies. In another life, she would’ve run away from—or perhaps to—him. Instead, she waited, proving to herself that she still held some measure of self-control. Each time she caught him mid-crime, she whispered a silent prayer that he’d stop poisoning girls, that he’d become innocuous, but hoping and praying were no substitute for action—not that action was proving particularly effective, either. Trying to single-handedly rescue the worst of Daniel’s zombies was futile. For every one she saved, there were a dozen more she couldn’t reach.
He was only a few bodies away from her now. Tiny electric zings bounced over her skin as she came closer to him. He was tempting enough that it hurt. And he knows.
Foam poured onto the dance floor as Daniel took a far-too-high girl into his arms, and the time for waiting passed away. Swirling violet and crimson lights gave an ethereal cast to the humans who squealed and writhed around them as the dance floor became a slippery mess. A predator’s banquet. The question of which of them was the better predator wasn’t one Eavan wanted to answer: either answer meant she lost.
Daniel glanced back at her and then moved toward a side door with the girl. He cut through the crowd with an ease that made him seem Other. He wasn’t though.
He’s just another mortal. She had repeated that assertion every night these past six months. There was nothing particularly exceptional about him. Except for the way he provokes me. Putting a final end to him made good sense, but she couldn’t be the one to do it. There were two steps needed to wake up her maternal heritage—sex and death. So far, she’d avoided both, but if she did both in the same month, she’d become a full-blooded glaistig.
In another few moments, he’d be out of the club, out of reach, and the girl would be lost.
Not this time.
Some nights, she’d lost their quarry. Many nights, she was at the wrong club. Once in a while, she found his prey before Daniel could. Tonight, she’d decided to step up the confrontation.
She intercepted Daniel and grabbed the hand of the barely conscious girl.
“Chastity!” Eavan squealed her name with false excitement, an act for the crowd around them. She had no clue what the girl’s real name was. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Eavan was taking the girl from Daniel. The two men on either side of him stepped closer. If they wanted to, there was a good chance that they could take the girl out of reach. Eavan was banking on Daniel’s dislike of scenes.
She smiled at him, a flash of teeth that animals still understood as aggression. She didn’t bother glancing at his employees. Daniel waved them away as usual when she was near. He either didn’t see her as a true threat or was amused by her efforts. She hadn’t figured out which it was, but she knew that he preferred to be alone with her when he had a chance.
Once the men vanished into the sea of bodies, Daniel stepped closer to Eavan. He didn’t let go of the girl, but he didn’t do anything obvious to keep her out of reach, either. “She’s with me, Eve.”
“Is that what you really want?” Eavan let her conservative habits slip farther away and turned her full attention to Daniel. It wasn’t a hardship to look at him: he was a pretty specimen, wrapped up in Armani and attitude.
For a few heartbeats, he said nothing, but he wasn’t immune. Real humans never were.
“She’s not meant for my bed.”
“I know,” Eavan admitted, enjoying his momentary meekness. “I know your taste, Daniel. Unconscious isn’t it.”
“So tell me, little Eve, what is my taste?” He came closer, still holding the barely standing Chastity. “Say it aloud for a change. Give me that much.”
It was painful to let those tendencies come closer to the surface; hungers best left unfed were already omnipresent when he was near. Eavan sized him up openly, caught and held his gaze just long enough to be too-bold. “You look good tonight.”
He smiled then. “Admitting you’re tempted?”
Ignoring that challenge was hard, but Eavan had been too close to the edge with him for weeks. If she didn’t know he was a monster, she’d want him. I do anyhow. If she had been thinking clearly, she wouldn’t be talking to him at all. I’d miss it. If she didn’t want to stay human, she’d take him to her bed and kill him tonight. I am not a monster.
She reached out and lifted the girl’s eyelid to peer into her extremely dilated pupil. “I’m taking her with me.”
“Fine.” He relinquished his hold on the girl. “There are dozens more just like her.”
Chastity was swaying, barely sober, and soon to attract attention. She was so far gone that Eavan wasn’t convinced she could be saved. Anger threatened to surface—at herself, at him, at the inability to make a real difference.
Daniel stepped closer, invading the bubble of personal space she usually kept between herself and regular humans. “You need to start saying hello when you arrive at the clubs, or say good-bye and come home with me…”
Despite her growing anger—or maybe because of it—Eavan enjoyed his aggression. Something about him made her want to push the rules a bit further, made her want to see how close to forbidden she could get without crossing over. Nice girls don’t hunt; human girls don’t like murder. She knew the boundaries; she knew she wanted to stay on the right side of them. He’d be such fun to kill though.
Daniel’s smile made clear that he sensed her interest, even though he undoubtedly read it as merely sexual. He was close enough that she could taste scotch on his breath. “Can I give you a lift tonight? Anywhere you want to go. Or we’ll call someone for her so we—”
“No.” She moved so the girl was farther out of his reach, so she was farther out of reach too. Glaistigs drank down a mortal’s last breath. He’d sweetened his with a peaty scotch.
I’m not hunting him.
“We could go to the Chaos Factory.” He reached out and ran a finger over her bare midriff. “Tell me what you want, Eve. What’s it going to take to get you home with me?”
“It would be a bad idea,” she said—not a lie, but not an answer. She stepped backward, retreated from him. Not everything was about dominance. She’d rescued Chastity; she’d taken the prey from his hands. Now she needed to get away.
“So we’ll do this another night.” He leaned in and brushed a kiss over Eavan’s lips, unknowingly teasing her with his sweetened mortal breath. “Unless you’re planning on running already?”
“I’ll be back.” She couldn’t do otherwise, and they both knew it. “I’ll be at your clubs.”
“And I’ll find you.” And then he vanished into the crowd of feverishly dancing mortals. It was easy to see why people came willingly to his feet. He was everything a man should be—dangerous, sexy, and just ever-so-slightly aware of it. In many cases, he’d be the alpha predator.
Which is why I want to kill him.
Logic insisted that her macabre fixation on him was basic animal law, but it was outside logic to stalk Daniel. He dealt in magicks that made the Other community—at
the prompting of Eavan’s own matriarch—set a geis, a ban forbidding fraternizing with him. That ban on contact with Daniel was as law for Others.
But Eavan wasn’t purely Other. Glaistigs were female only, each one born of a human father and glaistig mother. Unless she crossed the two lines into adulthood, she was technically mortal—with a few extra traits. Geasa don’t apply to mortals. That was her excuse, at least. Not that I’m going to “fraternize” with Daniel. No sex. No death. I can do this.
Muriel opened the door before Eavan could knock. She didn’t quite scowl at the sight of the mostly unconscious girl in Eavan’s arms. Her usually welcoming expression vanished, but she kept her tone light. “For me? You spoil me.”
“I’m sorry.” Eavan carried the unconscious girl inside the apartment. “She’s…I know better. I know we talked about it…I just…Daniel had her and—”
“Later.” Muriel’s blue robe was the only color in the black and white room. It made it impossible not to stare at her as she closed the door. The generous bit of bare skin didn’t help matters.
“I had to,” Eavan whispered.
“I know. That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Muriel took the girl and carried her into the den.
As with every other time, Eavan went to the kitchen and fixed herself a drink. She couldn’t drink on the hunt, but afterward she was shaky enough that she needed a few fingers of whiskey. Tonight was worse than usual. It had been growing worse every time she saw Daniel.
Muriel’s voice was too muffled to make out the words, but the tone made clear that the words were some comforting lie. Muriel could do that, lie at will. Eavan didn’t have that luxury: partially fey things could lie sometimes, but it wasn’t a predictable sometimes.
After glancing toward the closed door of the den, Eavan emptied her glass.
If Chastity survived, she’d be slipping into withdrawal soon; if she didn’t survive, she’d still be better off than with Daniel. Girls like Chastity went to bidders with sadistic habits that Eavan couldn’t bear pondering…not when so many Chastitys had been sold already. They had no control over their sexuality. Drugged to the point of being zombies, they were reduced to nothing more than sex toys to be used until they were destroyed. The beauty of sexuality was something she cherished—and couldn’t have; to have it sold for base coin was beyond intolerable.
Or Muriel’s right and I just have a fucking savior complex. Several more ounces of whiskey splashed into the glass. Or a death wish.
Eavan hated that there wasn’t a better answer to the problem, but if not for Muriel, she wouldn’t have much of a solution at all. Muriel drank enough of the girls’ blood to pull the poisons out. If they survived, Muriel had ways to get them wherever they needed to go next. Alive and out of reach: those were the goals. Beyond that, there were no constants.
It depended on who Chastity really was. If she had a home and resources, Muriel would have one of her coven use those funds to set the girl up in a new city. If not, Muriel would see her to a shelter or halfway house under some pretext. Or she’ll put her into the ground. There were far too many that ended up dead despite Eavan’s efforts. That was how Muriel got involved in the first place: the vampire had a system for dealing with corpses. Eavan had needed that system one night, and the only other resource she’d had for disposal of bodies was her grandmother, and asking Nyx for such a favor had too high a price.
Muriel’s willingness to remove the toxins was an added bonus—one that gave Eavan the ability to try to rescue girls who were much further gone on Daniel’s drugs. If not for Muriel, Eavan would’ve been at a crisis months earlier. Even with Muriel’s help, the situation was akin to attempting to hold back a wave with a single hand: it was impossible. Eavan couldn’t stop Daniel from destroying people; she couldn’t stop herself from hunting him; and she couldn’t see any way to avert the disaster that would follow if something didn’t change.
Eavan poured a drink for Muriel as the petite vampire came into the kitchen. “Well?”
“She’s alive.” Muriel took the glass and emptied it. She swished the whiskey around her mouth and spit it into the sink before adding, “You’re going to have to ante up something clean if you’re going to keep asking me to drink all these toxins, or”—she gave a coquettish grin—“you could give me a taste.”
Eavan blushed and looked away. “No.”
“You can’t really kill me, and maybe it doesn’t count as sex if it’s—”
Eavan shook her head. “Sex with women is real sex, and we’re not crossing that line. Casual sex wouldn’t be my thing even if—”
“You’re a glaistig, darling; of course it would.” Muriel lowered one hand, sliding it over the blue silk covering her hip.
Transfixed, Eavan watched—and then scowled. “No, it wouldn’t. I don’t want casual, and you don’t do commitments. Discussion closed.”
“Really?” Muriel stepped closer, much as Daniel had earlier, and whispered, “Your heart is racing awfully fast for someone who doesn’t do casual.”
“Interest doesn’t mean consent.” Eavan forced herself to look at Muriel’s face. “I can say no. I’ve been saying no for years. No sex. No death.”
“If I tried you tonight, truly pushed you, could you still say no?” Muriel was gentle, but she knew that the answer was liable to be different than it had been before the Daniel obsession. The more Eavan hunted Daniel, the harder it was control either appetite.
Being mortal means keeping control. Over centuries a few glaistigs had tried to stay human, to not kill, to not fuck. Eavan knew about them from journals and letters Nyx had hidden away. They’d all failed or were simply killed by their matriarchs. “Culling the weak, Eavan.” Nyx had stalked her as she lectured and punched her when Eavan admitted to seeing the forbidden texts. “Is that what I need to do with you?” Eavan forced away the memory of Nyx’s fists and said, “I want to be mortal, Muriel.”
“That doesn’t mean refusing both sex and blood, Ev,” Muriel said. “Just have one to take the edge off. Too many rules and hang-ups will be your downfall…sooner than later if you keep stalking him.”
“If I can’t live by my own rules…”
“Friendship is like a commitment.” Muriel tilted her head and gave Eavan her best disarming look.
Eavan laughed at her best friend’s faux innocence. “It is, but it’s not enough for me.”
They’d been having the same discussion for several years. Muriel had a host of partners. To her, it was like shoe shopping: there were many choices for many moods. It wasn’t an emotional thing or a cruelty thing. It did mean, though, that their occasional boundary pushing stopped short of sex.
Teasing set aside then, Muriel took the bottle of Middleton from the counter. “The junk Brennan’s peddling ruins even virgin blood.”
“As pure as you.” Muriel took two clean glasses, added a couple cubes, and poured the whiskey.
Eavan shuddered. The idea of an innocent—especially one who had her will stolen by Daniel’s zombie mix—being sold to a sadist was more revolting than normal. “He’s a sick bastard.”
“So kill him,” Muriel said. A drink in each hand, she hopped up on the counter. Neither drink spilled. She kicked her feet in the air like a child on a swing and held out a glass. It was hard to remember that Muriel was a monster; she looked like a hand-crafted doll, one of those delicate pieces of art that belonged safely on a shelf.
Eavan took the whiskey. “No. I’m not going to sacrifice myself over him.”
Muriel snorted. Now that the flirting was out of the way, she could relax into her less charming habits. “Some sacrifice…It’s not like you’d be throwing yourself on a sword, Evvie.”
“No, I’d just be throwing away my humanity.”
“Humanity’s overrated.” Muriel warmed to the old argument. She’d been Other for more than a century now and saw nothing wrong with it. “Humanity
Humanity meant a lot of things. It meant ethics, joy in the brevity of life, compassion…and yes, dying. Dying didn’t seem as oppressive as the alternative. At least for me. Muriel wouldn’t understand though: vampires didn’t grow cloven hooves when they stopped being human. They didn’t have tendrils of hair that writhed like serpents or need to sate not one but two depraved appetites.
“No. Humanity is wonderful,” Eavan insisted. “It’s what I am. Daniel isn’t going to steal mine.”
“So maybe you should stop trying to save the girls he gives the zombie powder to?” Muriel’s voice grew cold. “Something’s going to break, Ev. You keep pushing and he’ll push back, or your family will find out what you’re doing…You’re walking a foolish path taunting Brennan.”
“I’m handling it.”
“You think Nyx would agree?” Muriel put a hand on Eavan’s wrist. “Your grandmother finds out you’re taking risks without any safety nets, and she’ll be livid. You need to kill him or back off.”
“Just a little bit longer, Muriel? I need to find a way to get him to stop. I can’t just let him sell those girls…I can’t…” Eavan leaned her head back on the cabinet behind her, putting a bit of artificial distance between her and Muriel.
“If Nyx comes calling, you know I can’t cover for you.” Muriel’s expression was gentle, but the words were anything but reassuring. “I won’t.”
“I know.” Eavan closed her eyes. Thinking about her matriarch’s reaction was the last thing she wanted to do, but it was sobering. “But until then?”
Muriel took her hand away. The only sound in the kitchen was the soft slide of feet on the stone floor as Muriel walked away. Eavan didn’t follow, didn’t open her eyes. She waited.
Ice clicked together in Eavan’s now empty glass. The splash of whiskey followed. “For now, yes,” Muriel whispered, “but not forever.”
Eavan opened her eyes and accepted her glass.