Then a darkness clouds Eli’s eyes, and he lowers his head, presses his mouth to hers, and kisses her.
I’m frozen to the floor, unable to breathe, much less move. I actually wheeze as my breath leaves my lungs. It’s painful, and a little dizzying. The crowd seems oblivious of me as I stare, paralyzed, while Eli seductively makes out with the redhead. Emotions run through me fast, and before I finish with pain and sorrow, fury takes over. I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s Noah, and I reach behind me and grab his hand. My eyes are locked on to Eli and the woman. I start to move toward them. The overwhelming urge to kick her ass takes over me. My body tenses. Noah squeezes my hand.
And that’s when the woman breaks Eli’s kiss and looks dead at me.
Her tongue runs across her lips. And then she smiles and beckons to me with a long, delicate finger. I hear her voice, melodic tinged with an ancient accent, in my head.
Come here, Riley Poe. I’ve got something to show you. Something that’s mine. . . .
I hear Rhine’s voice over the mic, his sexy sound crooning over the crowd. Drums. Keyboard. Fiddle. Bass. My feet start to move, as if they’ve been instructed to do so against my will, and my hand drops Noah’s as I weave through the crowd.
Toward the woman and Eli.
The music almost lulls me into a trance as I ease through the crowd. I don’t understand why my body is complying, and why I’m not running full force at the woman, knocking her back, and grabbing and shaking Eli until he snaps out of whatever weird zombie state he’s in. But I can’t. I just keep walking toward them. The woman continues to beckon me, and she slips her hand inside Eli’s jacket. She places her head against his chest, and Eli’s arm drapes around her shoulders and pulls her tightly against him. He’s not looking at me. Not meeting my gaze now.
Even with my eyes glued to the chilling smile on the woman’s face, I can’t stop.
When I step through the last couple, dancing and singing along with Rhine’s band, the lights are now flickering to keep with the beat. The music hums just under the surface of my skin, a fierce vibration that keeps me fixated on only what’s in front of me. Eli and this new woman. I’m now less than two feet from them both, and the woman looks at me with icy blue eyes. Her full lips tip upward, and her tongue darts out to lick her bottom one. She smiles.
My eyes are locked onto the woman and Eli less than two feet away as she tips her head to the side and draws closer to Eli. His eyes, those cerulean blue and sometimes stormy orbs that I fell in love with, pierce me now, and for a split second, I see hesitation. A flash of anger in his eyes. Then he stiffens, and those eyes now stay focused on my gaze as he lowers his head and moves his mouth over the woman’s. His hand threads through her hair, pulling her head backward just a bit, and his other hand skims her throat and grasps her jaw. His tongue sweeps hers, the light glistening off its moisture, and their passion is as palpable as my own pulse. Not once does his gaze leave mine as he kisses her. The lights flash, the music thumps, and I can’t do anything except stand there and watch them. As if I’m rooted to the wooden floor beneath me, paralyzed in place to stand and watch my fiancé engage in a sensual, sexually charged kiss with another woman.
I try to turn my head, but I can’t. Literally, physically can’t. Inside, I’m screaming. I’m dying. I’m having a mental Jerry Springer moment where I’ve kicked off my boots, yanking that bitch off the chair by her hair and whipping her ass for kissing my man. But it’s all mental. I can’t do a single thing except watch.
The woman drops her hand from Eli’s chest and lets it drag slowly down his abdomen. He pulls her closer, and her hand moves over his crotch. Eli’s mouth leaves hers and he kisses her throat, and his eyes are hazed and locked on to mine as his mouth tips up in a grin. All the while, Rhine’s music jams the club, and everyone around us is rocking and singing, having a swell time. It’s as if no one else notices that Eli and this woman are nearly having sex, right out in the open. Like no one else sees them but me. Like no one sees me, either. Where the hell is Noah?
What the hell’s wrong with me?
I concentrate. Focus. I stare hard at her, then at Eli. Stop, Eli. Let her the fuck go.
For a split second, something flashes in Eli’s eyes. It’s so fast, and so short-lived I almost question if it really happened. He wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her onto his lap. He’s now sitting on a barstool, and he drops his mouth to her temple. The woman smiles.
Then the smile vanishes. I see nothing but hard, ice-cold hatred in her eyes.
In a blurring motion, she waves one hand in a gesture over the crowd. Her lips move, but I don’t understand the low murmur coming from them.
I feel the movement before I see it. It’s a low-frequency hum that nestles beneath the music, gains tempo, and then just like the sonic boom in the forest, explodes. The windows of Hush 51 blow completely out, sending shards of glass pummeling into the streets. Screams begin penetrating the trance I’m in; lights are flashing and then extinguish. Shadows and the scent of human terror wash over me, and I’m dazed, standing there, paralyzed on the floor. One second, I see the blaze of Eli’s eyes in the dark. The pale white skin of the woman he’s holding.
Her face, completely morphed into full-blown vampire. Incisors twice as long as the rest of her jagged white teeth drop from her gums, and her face extends forward, bones accommodating the change. Her eyes flash bloodred. Dark veins snake across her alabaster skin.
In the next second, amid the crowd’s panic, they’re gone. She, Eli. Vanished.
Slowly, after a few seconds, my paralysis lifts. I shake my head. Even my vision has gone blurry. I shake my head again, and then my shoulders are grabbed and I’m yanked around. I’m shocked to see Rhine standing there, looking down at me. I didn’t realize the kid was that tall.
“You okay, lass?” he says. “You’d best get out of here!”
“I’ve got her,” Noah says, suddenly by my side.
Chaos is all around me. People are running, knocking into me now, and my stupor is slowly vanishing. I glance at Rhine. “Thanks,” I say. “Let’s get these people out of here.”
Patrons are running around, frightened and screaming, and everyone is trying to fit through the narrow, double oak doors of the club. Rhine and his band members have dispersed, trying to calm people, get them to calmly exit the club. It’s not working.
My mind is jumbled. Eli, the woman. She’s a vampire. I know that now. The Hush 51 patrons. Priority seizes my brain, and I push vampires out of my thoughts.
I focus on the human crowd.
As if I’d pushed the PAUSE button on a DVD remote, everyone stops in their tracks. I waste no time in hurrying to the front doors. I kick open the props so they both stand wide. After a brief scan of the sidewalk and street, I notice people there have stopped, too. Amazing what a panicky human with tendencies can accomplish.
I run back inside, weaving through the stone-still patrons. Noah’s standing there, right where I left him. Not moving.
I grasp his hand, and catch his gaze. Let’s go. I say that only to Noah.
His eyes immediately brighten, and then he scowls. “Yes, ma’am.” He leads the way out of Hush 51, and once we’re back outside, I glance at the patrons behind me, standing in a building that might not be so stable.
Everyone, fall into two single files and walk calmly out through the front doors.
As if a bunch of zombies being commanded by a voodoo priestess, the patrons all fall into two lines inside the club. Slowly, they start moving outside. I see now that they’re not running one another over, stampede-style, so I grasp Noah’s hand and pull.
“Let’s go,” I say.
Now he’s in front of me, pulling me by the hand. “Pretty impressive, Poe,” he says as we run side by side up the street, toward the river walk. “Not even sure I can pull something like that off.” He grins and faces the street. “Human shenanigans never cease to amaze me.”
We’re running down High Street now, and it’s a no-traffic, pedestrian-only road. Most of the businesses are closed for the night, but the streetlights illuminate the paved sidewalks, and the occasional open storefront beams its light’s hue, causing shadows to stretch from sidewalk to sidewalk. The road itself is cobbled, not as old as Edinburgh, I imagine, but still pretty damn old. I’m barely paying any attention to Noah’s comment as we hurry along. I’ve now got only one thing on my mind. Well, two.
Eli and that female vampire.
Who the hell was she? And why does it matter so much to her to see me suffer?
No words are spoken between me and Noah, yet we both know each other so well we’re simultaneously searching the streets, the shadows, for Eli and the female. I home in on movements, too. Shifts in the air. Off-key sound waves that belong to neither a rat, nor a human, nor a hedgehog. I sense nothing.
Not at first.
My mind is working so hard, trying to sense and make sense of what’s just happened, that I now realize we’re at the curving walkway of the river Ness. I stop and stare into the water, its black depths glimmering with shards of light casting down from the streetlamps holding my gaze as I try to ignore the images of Eli embracing, kissing the female. Pain sears my insides. I feel as if someone a lot larger and stronger than me has sucker-punched me in the gut. I physically hurt. It almost doubles me over. I can’t hear anything right now except the cries of my own self–pity party.
“Hey,” Noah says, and he drapes his arm over my shoulders and pulls me against him. His body is hard, not so warm, but not so cold, either. Kinda like Eli’s. It’s weird, getting used to that lukewarm skin. I can feel it through Noah’s clothes, even. Yet I take full comfort in it right now. I slip my arms around his waist and lay my head against his rock of a chest. “Don’t beat yourself up, Poe. Even I was overpowered.” He squeezes me. “That’s one strong bitch. Must be old as dirt.”