Dinner for one, as usual. Not that a pint of Friendly’s black raspberry ice cream could appropriately be termed dinner. It was more a psychological balm to soothe my frayed nerves. I’d pay for it later; I always did, but I couldn’t be moved to care at the moment.

I couldn’t be moved to do a whole lot of anything it seemed. I’d come home and immediately curled up in my favorite green armchair in front of the fireplace, detouring only to kick my shoes off by the back door. The chair’s dark fabric cocooned me, but the comfort it normally provided was nowhere in evidence. I fussed and fidgeted trying to find some solace in its softness.

The events of the day had thrown my mind in turmoil and I wished I had somebody to talk it over with. There were only a limited number of people I considered friends and none of them could help me sort through the jumbled mess that was my brain.

Luka would know what to tell me, but he was dealing with his own issues at the moment. I wasn’t about to heap my problems on top of his own. He’d stress out over my problems and neglect to take care of himself. Not exactly a recipe for a quick recovery.

I grabbed a magazine from the stack of mail on my table and thumbed through it hoping I could distract my mind for at least a little while. The first article I landed on was an interview with Miss Georgiana Aloisa Francesca Devalia, otherwise known to me as Mom. The media was all over her lately because of some charity or another she was sponsoring. Starving children in Omaha or something. I stopped paying attention years ago; she was always sponsoring something or donating to someone.

Oh, the glamorous life of a New Hollywood fashion model. After my dad died, I’d spent years running across the country with her from one gala to another, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, hob-knobbing with the stars, and being chased after by the paparazzi. It was enough to spin a girl’s head.

I despised the lifestyle, but that didn’t keep me from indulging in it as a way to run away from myself and my demonic nature. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll wasn’t just a cliché for me. For years I was the poster child for ill-mannered celebrity children. Then I met Jonas and he changed my life…

It wasn’t until later that I found out he wanted me clean for his own reasons and not because he loved me like he claimed, but he did me a favor nonetheless. I’d be a wholly different person if it weren’t for him.

I rubbed my eyes, banishing thoughts of him from my head, but a lingering memory of my partying days remained. Normally I didn’t mind the solitude of my life. I was a loner by nature and it suited me just fine. But tonight things were too quiet. My day had been filled with chaos and destruction and now I yearned for even a tiny undercurrent of darkness to feed on.

At the moment, I hated the quiet. I wanted action. I wanted to rend something to pieces. My blood surged in my veins and pounded forcefully in my ears. Tension coiled in my chest, making me restless and on edge. As much as I was loath to indulge my darker passions, I needed to bleed off some of this pressure before it overwhelmed me.

I had to get out of the house. It was too orderly, not a hint of chaos to be found within its walls. I didn’t even have a pet to distract me. They required a level of care I just didn’t have the patience to provide.

My spoon scraped against cardboard. I’d finished the entire carton without even tasting it.

I rinsed my spoon and tossed the carton into the recycling bin before I headed down into the basement to work off some of the calories. I hoped the workout would take my mind off my unfulfilled craving for destruction, but I wasn’t betting on it.

Nothing in the world could quite compare to squaring off against a flesh and blood opponent in a sparring match. It was a safe way to train for hand-to-hand combat, but there was always a chance for mistakes to be made and real injuries to occur. That small hint of danger added flavor to the match, goading the fighters to be at their best.

Compared to that heady excitement, shadow sparring was like watered down vodka – it looked the same from the outside, but lacked the necessary fire.

I stepped onto the mat without much enthusiasm. My weight automatically activated the enchantment, and a pure black figure materialized in the far corner. I sighed with resignation. There was no danger in this, nothing to get my blood pumping and send my senses into high alert.

Shadow opponents responded like living creatures, ducking and blocking in defense as well as launching attacks of their own, but there was no pain. No chance of injury. Landed blows were simply light taps of wind. Even knockdown strikes were harmless, the thick padding of the ring absorbed impacts to make landings feel like gentle drops onto a mattress.

In reality, I could have gone back to the Agency and found a sparring partner; the building was staffed twenty-four hours a day and there was always somebody in the gym working out. But returning to the Agency meant having to deal with Agents who’d want a complete rundown of everything that had happened at Liam’s. I wasn’t in the mood to answer questions at the moment.

Sweaty, sore, and feeling completely disappointed, I finally deactivated the shadow fighter. I was unpleasantly reminded of a several hours long sex session with a former boyfriend that had ended without an orgasm on my part. I was left with the same feeling of want and incompletion. Then, as now, I’d had to take a different tack and take matters into my own hands.

After a cool, somewhat refreshing shower, I pulled on a pair of my nicest jeans and a cute, low-cut black shirt along with a pair of strappy black sandals Mom had sent me from Florida and headed out into the night.

The Buc Lounge was once a cowboy-themed bar, but several changes of ownership and a complete decorative overhaul had turned it into a dance club frequented almost exclusively by humans. At least once a week the place was raided by the human police force for drunken brawling. I generally preferred more subdued Fey bars where fights were infrequent and the alcohol tolerances higher.

Tonight, however, The Buc suited my needs perfectly. Humans, not counting trained mages and sorcerers, and members of certain Eastern traditions, are chaotic by nature. Their short lives and internalized drive to reach the “top” were the main causes. Throw in any quantity of alcohol or other inhibition-dampening chemicals and this natural chaos became even more pronounced.

Just what I needed to take the edge off my yearnings, right?

For a Monday night, The Buc was in full swing by the time I made my entrance. Scantily clad young women clung to metal poles, swaying around them in mock seduction. I couldn’t tell if they were employees or simply patrons having a bit of fun. Everywhere people danced and drank, infusing the room with a welcome sense of bedlam.

I hovered for a moment just inside the doorway, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness occasionally punctuated with random bursts of colored strobe lights. I wrinkled my nose as the pounding beat of pre-Fall pop music washed over me. Would it kill them to play some Hellsing’s Madmen or The Punk-Eyed Piskies?

A long silver bar dominated the wall to my right, nearly invisible behind the horde of customers ordering drinks. I slowly edged my way through the crowd until I reached a clear portion of the bar. I caught the bartender’s eye and my mind completely blanked.

I wasn’t sure if they served anything other than normal drinks since they catered to a mostly human crowd. Outing myself as not fully human by ordering a Fey drink struck me as a bad idea. Sixteen years was nowhere near long enough for anti-Fey sentiments to die out completely, and I was only looking for mild excitement tonight.

“What can I get for ya, sweetheart?” Tall and overly muscular, the bartender probably played double duty as bouncer if things got too rough. He continued when I didn’t immediately answer, “Wait, let me guess, you’re a Golden Dawn kind of girl aren’t you?”

I flashed him a grateful smile, earning a dazzling one in return. His smile was full of just the right mix of boyish charm and sexual innuendo. I’m sure he used it liberally to fill his bed at night.

“Sounds like my kind of drink.”

He handed me an outrageously priced orange and red drink, which I sipped at experimentally. It was sweet and fruity, with just a hint of brandy underneath. I gave him a thumbs up and got hit with another smile. The jealous glares of several young women confirmed my guess that he used his smile to lure in potential lovers.

They were more than welcome to him. I had long since grown out of the urge to sleep with somebody just because they had a nice smile. Or, glancing over the bar as he served several young Latino men at the other end, a nice ass. I turned my back to the bar to signal my disinterest and avert any possible trouble from a jealous woman.

While I was warding off trouble on one front, it wandered up from the side in the form of a dangerous looking young man in a black leather jacket. It was only the beginning of May, but the weather had been warmer than usual. Too warm for a heavy leather jacket. Even a late-night motorcycle ride wouldn’t warrant such a thick jacket and there hadn’t been any bikes in the parking lot.

I was instantly on my guard. I didn’t have much to fear from one lone man in a crowded bar, but I wouldn’t take any chances that he wasn’t carrying a weapon. A jacket as large as his could hide any number of different implements of death.

“Hey Pinky, I’m Kurt.” The nickname pissed me off and I instantly disliked him.

I ignored his outstretched hand and simply stared at him with disdain. He didn’t take the hint, only grinned wider. I was a challenge, and his male ego wouldn’t be assuaged until he had conquered me. It was a shame human men were so easy to read.

“Come dance with me.” It wasn’t a request.

I waved my still full glass meaningfully. He was either extremely hard up or excruciatingly stupid because he didn’t back off.

“Come on! You’ll have fun. I promise.” He grabbed my free hand, seemingly oblivious to the bandage on it, and tugged me toward the dance floor. I yanked my hand out of his, careful not to slice him with my claws. His thumb had pressed roughly against my injury and now my hand was throbbing with pain again.

I opened my mouth to tell the jerk off, but I was “saved” by a voice from my right.

“Leave her alone, Kurt.” The voice was deep and husky, perfect for whispering naughty deeds in a woman’s ear. Whoever he was, the shadowy corner hid him well. “Can’t you see she’s not interested?”

Kurt stood up straighter and puffed out his chest, his left hand straying toward the edge of his jacket. I was instantly on my guard; if he pulled a weapon, I’d be ready to smack him down hard. Thankfully for him, he only tugged on the lower corner and cracked his neck from side to side.

“Mind your own business, devil’s spawn. If the lady isn’t interested, then she can tell me herself.” As annoying as the show of bravado was, Kurt was spewing forth a torrent of delicious chaotic emotions: anger, lust, hatred. Each one caressed my skin and burrowed into my soul. The hatred flowing between the two men was one bred from familiarity. There was a history between the two of them that spoke of blood and violence. I was instantly intrigued.

Instead of relieving the tension behind my breast, it wound tighter until I felt like I could barely breathe through the pressure. This might not have been such a good idea. I thought indulging myself in the darkness would ease the cravings, but they were growing more pronounced.

“Actually, I was just about to,” I broke in before it devolved into a fistfight. As much of a feast as a fight would be, I didn’t want or need the local police force being called. “You obviously didn’t take the hint when I refused to shake hands or introduce myself.”

Kurt’s ego immediately deflated, as did his stance. He sneered at me, pretending he wasn’t interested in me in the slightest, but he backed away with a muttered “bitch”.

“I haven’t seen you in here before.” My “savior” glided out from the shadows giving me a better look at him. He was tall and lean, corded muscles standing out under a midnight blue t-shirt. Brown hair hung to his shoulders in a multitude of thick braids. Large dark eyes, a long, aquiline nose, and full lips made him more striking than conventionally handsome. “I’m glad you were wise enough to see through Kurt’s charm – his bad boy looks generally appeal to most ladies.”

That jerk has charm? I mentally snorted, following the departing man with my eyes to make sure he didn’t circle back around to cause more trouble. I’d had my fill of bad boys, I wasn’t in the market for another one. They left you with nothing but a broken heart and broken bones. My arm twinged in sympathy with my thoughts. Dammit, why was my subconscious bringing up all of these bad memories about even worse boyfriends? What about the good ones? What about Enrique and Paul and Daniel? Why couldn’t I be thinking of any of them tonight? Or none of them, preferably. I came out to get away from myself, not wallow in my past.

I turned my full attention back to the man in front of me.

“I’m Sam.” He held a dark brown hand out tentatively, willing me to shake it.

I did, just as tentatively. I didn’t know what his motives were and I didn’t want to send the wrong impression. He had a firm, business-like handshake. Back on solid ground, I strengthened my grip, pretty sure he wouldn’t take it as a come-on.

“Alex. Nice to meet you.” He didn’t comment or make a face at what was normally a guy’s name. Points for him. He did, however, raise my hand closer to his face and peer at my claws with a good deal of interest. I self-consciously pulled my hands away and hid them behind my back.

Kurt’s earlier insult identified him as some form of Fey, either full blooded or a half-breed like myself. He looked completely human and there was no sense of a glamour about him. I wondered if he was some form of Were or Therian.

For a non-human to so blatantly make himself known in a place like this was foolish.

Glancing up at his face, I got hit with the soul-searching look of somebody using their Third Eye. A trusted friend looking me over was one thing, but having a random stranger in a bar do it felt like a violation. And I wasn’t shy about letting him see the displeasure in my frown.

Caught red-handed in an act considered by many, myself included, to be an invasion of privacy, he refused to be shamed. Instead his smile was sly, as if we shared a mutual secret he found amusing. I found his indiscretion annoying.

I scowled at him and his smile slowly faded into confusion, then embarrassment.

“Please forgive me. I’m not well versed in proper Fey etiquette. I haven’t had much interaction with non-humans.”

I was tempted to give him the psychic once-over myself, but decided it would be a waste of time – I wasn’t skilled enough to correctly pinpoint what he was and he would almost certainly take it as flirtation.

“Would you dance with me?” Sam’s words were nearly lost in the din of sounds swirling around us. I studied his face to figure out what his true intentions were. The club was too inundated with emotional energy for me to get an accurate read off him, so I was forced to go with the traditional methods of facial cues and gut instinct. Both of them told me he was on the up and up, all he wanted was a dance with me.

“I can’t dance.” Sad but true. As coordinated as I was in a fight, I was a hopeless klutz when it came to dancing.

“Everybody can dance. You just move your body along with the beat.” He laughed, holding both hands out to me.

“Nope, sorry. Can’t do it. I’m a complete disaster at dancing. I’d be liable to knock everybody within five feet of me on their ass.”

“You can’t be that bad. Besides, I’ll be right there to make sure you keep your hands… err… claws and feet to yourself.”

Laughing, I gave in, set my empty glass on the bar, and followed Sam out onto the dance floor. The frenetic energy increased ten-fold. It pounded into me just as hard as the thumping bass from the speakers. I breathed it in like air, feeling it fill me near to bursting.

At first I merely swayed to the music, uncomfortable amidst the crush of people. I still had razor sharp claws and slicing somebody open would make my life a hell of a lot harder. Gradually, the intensity of both the music and the energy loosened my limbs and I gave myself over to the rhythm. I let my body move with the beat, connecting myself to the current of energy.

The club was filled with death and destruction that only I could feel. Over at the bar, the death of innocence as a young woman took her first drink, goaded on by her friends. In the back corner, a man’s illusions were destroyed as he caught his girlfriend with another man. And right here on the dance floor, a woman’s dreams were crushed as her girlfriend broke up with her. I drank it all in. It was more intoxicating than the strongest liquor.

Deep reds, purples, blacks, and quick streaks of bright yellow and orange played across my mental landscape as the tide of emotions crested over me, washing my self away and leaving only a hollow vessel to be used as the energy moved me.

“I thought you said you couldn’t dance?” Sam shouted over the blaring music, jolting me out of my ecstatic trance.

I had the grace to look appropriately sheepish.

“I can’t. At least not usually.” I smiled, trying to find a tactful way of explaining things. “I think I just got lost in the music.”

He laughed loud and deep, startling several dancers close to us. They glared at him with reproach before moving further away. On an otherwise completely crowded dance floor, a sphere of space surrounded us. He moved in closer, pulling me against his chest and rocking slowly with the music.

“You’re beautiful when you dance.” Heat flared against my skin, making me grateful the lights were too dim for him to see the tomato red of my face.

Pinned under his admiring stare, I self-consciously smoothed back my hair. I may have been a rough and tough Vamyraset Agent, but I was horrible when it came to taking compliments on my appearance. When your Mom makes Maxim’s Hot 100 twenty years in a row, it can wreak havoc on your self-image.

No, I didn’t inherit my Mom’s looks. They’re not real anyway, just a magical illusion she created to better ply her trade. The whole “the Devil takes the form of a beautiful woman” shtick. However, it didn’t make me feel any better about myself. I was tall and muscular with my dad’s coloring – blue eyes and hair that was neither blonde nor brown, but a dull, ashy shade somewhere between the two – whereas Mom was slender and waifish with nary a golden hair out of place. Even though she was two inches tall than me, I always felt like a lumbering giant next to her gracefulness.

“Uh… thank you,” I stammered. It had been a long time since I’d received a compliment from a guy who wasn’t either my best friend or gay. It made me feel good in a way I hadn’t felt in years.

For a little while, the darkness was satiated. I had glutted myself on the shadows of human existence. I couldn’t help but feel like I was just one step removed from the monsters I hunted. How long would it take before I was causing the destruction I fed on, instead of just soaking in the ambient energy around me?

We danced for several hours more, but I refused to let my guard down and sink back into the whirlpool of emotions. I had sullied my soul enough. Sam knew something was different, I could tell by the looks he was giving me, part confusion and part disappointment, but he was polite enough not to say anything.

My body finally told me it had had enough. It was past eleven and I had a long day ahead of me. I thanked Sam for a delightful evening, politely pocketed the slip of paper he had written his phone number on, and set off for home and bed.

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