It’s Caitlin’s first night in St. Troy. Her first night at college. Her first night away from home.
There are two great girls in her suite, and two cute guys across the hall.
And two vampires fighting over her.
Now she’s all alone, locked up in an empty room in a monster’s mansion. And there are screams coming from outside just outside the door…
The vampire was right behind her.
The vampire. It was crazy. It was insane. It was something out of a dumb movie or a stupid book.
And it was real.
She ran as fast as she could, down the rough path that ran through the woods between the Student Life buildings to the dorms. Her heart pounded in her ears. Her breath came in ragged gasps. Her legs were on fire.
Tree branches reached out to snatch at her clothing and scratch at her face. Roots snaked up to snare her feet. Gravel and dirt crunched as she ran, crying out, here she is.
The blue light was just ahead. The blue light with its panic button, and the call box to the campus police. She almost collapsed when she saw it. She glanced behind her, making sure the vampire wasn’t there, then made one last push.
She leaned against the light pole and let it bear her weight, and smashed the panic button repeatedly. The blue light kicked on, and the path was filled with a sapphire glow, punctuated with white flashes. The speaker crackled to life. “Campus PD, what’s your emergency?” The voice sounded bored.
She fought to draw in enough air to respond. “I need help,” she gasped. “There’s a–”
She was cut off by the sound of tearing metal and hissing electricity. Her voice died in her throat, and she looked helplessly at the call box, lying on the ground in front of her. It was marred by four parallel gouges.
The vampire was there, calmly studying his hand as his talons retracted. He looked up at her with cool gray eyes. Studied her.
“Keep running,” he said.
She did. Down the winding path, across the bridge. She stepped on a loose stone and crashed to the ground. Fire lanced through her leg. She threw another harried glance behind her, then struggled to her feet. Her ankle gave out as soon as she put weight on it, and she winced, tears blurring her vision.
She hobbled forward as fast as she could. Down the empty sidewalk. Across the empty quad. Past empty windows in empty dorms, waiting for the Freshmen that wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow.
She fumbled for her key card. Swiped it through the reader. It made an angry little noise, and flashed red. She swiped again, same result.
“Come on, come on,” she said, and swiped again. Again, the red light flashed.
“Damn it!” she screamed, and slammed her hand against the door. “Please, just let me in.” She leaned against the door, and tried to breathe.
She whirled around. The vampire stood a few feet away, just outside the pool of light that illuminated the doorway. The key card fell to the ground.
“Please, don’t,” she said.
“Please, don’t? Is that really the best you can do? You’re pleading for your life, girl. Put some energy into it. Make me feel it.” He stepped forward, into the light. He was every bit as beautiful as he had been the night they met.
“My, my roommate is upstairs. She’ll hear you,” she stammered.
“Do you think she’d like to join us?” the vampire asked. He reached out and brushed a lock of hair back over her ear; she flinched away. He touched her chin, raising her head and forcing her to meet his eyes. A small, cruel smile played at the edges of his mouth.
“What do you want from me?” The world spun around her. She felt like she was going to collapse.
The vampire’s eyes traveled down her body, slowly, hungrily. He leaned in, his face right next to hers, and inhaled deeply. A small moan escaped from his lips. “I think it’s pretty obvious what I want, isn’t it, Lauren?”
“Liam, please! Let me go!”
The color drained from the vampire’s skin, leaving it chalk-white. Red rings appeared around his corneas and expanded to fill his eyes, and his irises became as black as the night. His teeth pointed, and the canines grew into a pair of wicked fangs. He rested his hands on the door, one on each side of her, pinning her in place. His talons screeched down the metal, ripping it open.
She tried to scream, but the vampire struck before she could make a sound.
The campus was beautiful. Caitlin had seen it before, of course, in the brochures and on the web site and when she took a tour last year, but she was still just a little bit overwhelmed. The whole place was surrounded by trees, which were just starting to turn red and gold. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves, and the sunlight made them glitter. She could hear the river that cut the campus in two running somewhere close by.
And the dorms? Calling them dorms didn’t even seem fair. They were more like apartments, like somewhere a real, grown-up person would live. There were twelve townhouses in front of her, arranged in a rectangle, and that was only one of the four quads.
And this was her home. She lived here now.
The cab driver looked at her impatiently, then at the meter, which was still running. “Oh, sorry,” she said. She grabbed her bags out of the trunk–her father had been right, she’d packed way too much–and dropped them on the ground, then counted out money for her fare.
“You can keep the–” she started, but the cab driver pulled away before she could finish. “Okay, then,” she said, watching him drive away. “Thanks for everything.”
The guy at the check-in desk was nice enough, but he looked flustered. He stuffed a blue folder and a keycard into her hands, and before she could even say “Thank you,” he was already saying “Welcome to St. Troy University” to the next girl in line.
She looked at the map that was included in her welcome packet, slung her duffel bag over her shoulder, grabbed the handle on her rolling luggage, and headed for her dorm.
The campus was swarming with new students, dragging their luggage–and sometimes their parents–toward their assigned housing. Caitlin walked to the center of the quad, waved to a group of boys that were playing Frisbee, and looked at her map again. Her dorm was straight ahead.
Two maintenance men were taking the big metal door off its hinges, and a small girl was standing nearby, hands on her hips, tapping her foot.
“Alexis?” Caitlin asked. “Alexis Dupree?”
The small girl turned, and cocked her head. She was about five foot one, and light as a feather. Her skin was just a beautiful mocha, and her hair hung down her back in tight little ringlets. She was wearing dark blue skinny jeans with a loose white top and a collection of gold bracelets.
“Caitlin!” Alexis ran over and threw her arms around her. Caitlin was nearly bowled over, and took a half step back. “Great to finally meet you! How was your flight in?”
Caitlin disentangled herself from Alexis’ arms, and returned the girl’s smile. “It was so long. LAX is a nightmare, and we had two layovers. But I’m here now.” She looked back at the maintenance men. “What are they doing?”
Alexis followed her eyes. “They’re replacing the door. Said something about the latch not working right, and not being able to get it open. They should be done soon.”
“Actually, we already are,” one of the men called. He was leaning out the window of their truck. “You girls should be all set.”
“Hey, did one of you cut yourselves? There’s blood on the door frame,” Caitlin said.
The maintenance men looked at each other. “Nah, one of the RAs did that trying to pry the door open or something. We’ll send someone over to clean it up.” The truck pulled away.
“Okay then.” Alexis took a deep breath and let it out in a puff, then looked at the duffel bag lying at her feet.
The thing was huge, nearly as long as Alexis was tall, and probably a couple of feet across. It was made out of heavy-duty green canvas. It was stuffed full, and must have weighed a ton.
“My brother’s,” Alexis said.
“He’s in the army?” Caitlin asked.
“Marines. Was. He was in Afghanistan. This came home.” Alexis glanced away for just a second. “He didn’t.”
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” Caitlin started.
Alexis waved her hand. “Yeah, I know, thanks. I’m okay, really, it was a couple of years ago.” She made a visible effort to look cheerful. “Come on, let’s go see our new place.” Alexis bent over and grabbed her bag with both hands, and started dragging it backwards. It made a scraping sound on the sidewalk.
“Do you need help with that?” There was a guy just coming out of the dorm. He was tall, maybe a hair over six feet, with blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and perfect white teeth. His eyes crinkled when he smiled. He was wearing blue jeans and a tight red t-shirt that revealed all kinds of muscles.
Alexis let go of her bag and turned. “No, I …” Her mouth dropped open a little, and she just looked at the boy.
He smiled. “It’s no problem, really.” He bent over and grabbed the bag, and slung it over his shoulder like it wasn’t a giant canvas sack stuffed with all of Alexis’ earthly possessions. “Which suite are you in?”
“We, um, I,” Alexis said.
“2B,” Caitlin finished.
The guy smiled again. “Great, we’re right across the hall, 2A.” He turned and disappeared into the dorms.
“He, um, arms,” Alexis said, and followed him.
Caitlin smiled, grabbed her own bags, and headed inside.
The suite itself was amazing, like pretty much everything else on campus. There was a living area just inside the door, with a couch, two chairs, a coffee table, and a television. A set of cupboards and a bar lined with stools separated the living area from the kitchen, which had a refrigerator, stove, microwave, and coffee maker. Everything was new and clean and fancy. It almost didn’t feel like college. Of course, that was one of the things that had attracted Caitlin here in the first place.
A girl was standing behind the counter, putting some boxes into the cupboards. Her brown hair was pulled back into a pony tail, and her eyes were hidden behind a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. She was wearing a simple, floral-patterned top.
“Hi,” Caitlin said. The girl jumped, and threw her hand over her heart.
“Sorry!” she said. “I didn’t hear you come in. Bethany Lourdes. Are you staying in this suite, too?”
“Yep! Caitlin Manning.” She walked to the counter and stuck out her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you. Did you travel far?”
“Oh wow, no, nowhere near as far as that. I’m like two, two and a half hours away, New Hampshire.” She looked at Caitlin for a second, then looked down at her feet.
“We tried to talk to you over the summer, so we could get to know each other a bit, but …”
“Oh, yeah,” Bethany said. Her cheeks were turning red. “I don’t … really go on line very often. Not my thing.”
“Oh, okay.” Caitlin sat on one of the stools at the bar. “So, what are you studying?”
“I’m, uh, I’m a sculptor. I’m studying sculpture. Well, I guess fine arts, but my emphasis is in sculpture.”
“Oh, that’s so cool! Maybe we can use a couple of your pieces to decorate the suite.”
Bethany blushed, and smiled. “You think so? I mean, I’m not that good.”
“Oh come on. This place is so hard to get into, you have to be amazing. I thought I was going to cry during my portfolio review.”
“Oh right, I’m sorry, I never even asked what you’re studying.”
“That’s okay,” Caitlin said, laughing. “So yeah, photography. My father kind of wanted me to go into photojournalism, said it was more practical, but I really think I’m going to focus on art.” Caitlin shrugged, and laughed again. “I guess I just like making pretty things.”
The front door banged open, and a stunning blond girl walked in. She was tall and lean, wearing white shorts that revealed a mile of tan leg, a white top that showed at least a C-cup worth of curves, and big, brown sunglasses. She walked down the hallway that led to the bedrooms without saying a word to the two girls. A tall, muscular guy with brown hair followed her, carrying her luggage.
“That must be Olivia Cross,” Caitlin said. “She’s the only one I haven’t met yet.”
“She seems kind of … fierce.” Bethany replied.
Caitlin chewed on her lip. “Yeah, I think she kind of is.”
“Okay, who took the corner room?” Olivia called from down the hallway. “I do not plan on listening to all of you tromp down the hallway all night, every time you have to pee or something. Jordan, just put those out in the hallway, and put my stuff on the bed.”
Caitlin’s mouth fell open, and she walked over to the hallway. Sure enough, Olivia’s little boy toy was stacking bags out in the hallway.
“Oh, it’s all right,” Bethany said in a low voice. “I mean, I didn’t have my heart set on that room or anything. It’s just the one I happened to pick because I got here first, and I had to pick one.”
“That doesn’t make it okay,” Caitlin said. “I can talk to her, if you want …?”
“No, no, let’s not stir anything up.” She grabbed her bags and dragged them into the third bedroom.
Caitlin watched her, and debated whether or not to say something anyway, but decided to let it go. If Bethany didn’t want to make trouble–even though Olivia was really the one making it–Caitlin wasn’t going to force her.
But she still didn’t like it.
Anyway, it was time to get settled. Caitlin grabbed her stuff and took it into the only remaining bedroom, the first one off the entryway.
The furniture was basic, but it wasn’t spartan. There was a desk for her computer, and a dresser. The closet was surprisingly big, which Caitlin was excited about, because she had a lot of clothes to hang up, and there was a full-length mirror hanging on the door. Caitlin sat down on the bed and bounced a little. Sunlight streamed in through the window, which looked out at the forest surrounding the campus.
Yeah, this could be home.
By the time she finished unpacking, Alexis and Arms Boy were sitting at the bar. Bethany was sitting there, too, but it looked like she was trying to be invisible.
Alexis turned when Caitlin walked in, and gestured toward Arms. “Hey, Caitlin, this is Evan. He’s right across the hall from us. He’s here on a football scholarship.”
“Hi Evan, I’m Caitlin. So, football, huh?”
Evan smiled a bit shyly. “Well, yeah, but don’t make a big deal out of it or anything. I mean, it’s a great opportunity for me and all, but, well.”
“So where are you from?”
“Wait, so you’re a corn-fed Iowa boy going to school on a football scholarship?”
Evan blushed. Actually blushed. Caitlin hadn’t been entirely sure that boys were capable of that. “I know, I’m a big walking cliché, right?”
Alexis ran her fingers over his arm. “Well, I wouldn’t say ‘cliché.’ Maybe ‘stereotype’ or ‘generic white boy.’”
“Generic? Hey! I will have you know that I’m bursting with defining characteristics.”
“So what are you studying?” Caitlin asked.
“Ooh,” Alexis said, “brains and brawn.”
There was a knock, and the door swung open. A bald, chocolate-colored head popped in. “Evan? You in here man?”
“Over here, bro. Everyone, this is Garret.”
Garret walked into the room and smiled. “Hey everyone.” Bethany perked up when she saw him. “Hi Bethany.”
She smiled like she had a secret. “Hi Garret.”
“What’s up, Gar?” Evan asked.
“Hey man, some of the guys from your team dropped by. They wanted to know if you were going to Indigo tonight.” He walked further into the room. Bethany followed him with her eyes.
“Indigo?” Alexis asked.
“It’s a club down in the city,” Garret said.
“Actually, it’s the club,” Evan said. “Everybody’s talking about it, supposed to be fantastic.”
“What do you think, ladies?” Garret asked. “You want to join us for a night out on the town?”
Bethany looked around at everyone; her face said that she was hopeful that she was included in “ladies.”
“I don’t know,” Caitlin began. “I kind of want to get settled in, and–” Alexis looked at Caitlin, and opened her eyes wide and pushed her head forward. “But,” Caitlin continued, “this is our first night as college students, so I guess we might as well have some fun.”
“Great!” Garret started back out the door. “We’re going to head out around ten. Ladies. Bethany.” She blushed.
Evan stood up and headed for the door, too. “Okay, I have some unpacking to do. It was great to meet you,” he said, looking at Alexis. Then, he looked at the other two girls, “All of you. I’ll see you guys tonight.”
“Wow … you’re beautiful.”
“Thanks, Bethany,” Caitlin said, laughing. She wasn’t arrogant about it, but she knew that Bethany was right. She wasn’t tall, about five two, but most guys didn’t like really tall girls anyway. She was lean without being bony, and her legs were strong from all of the running she did. Her hair was a thick cascade of brown and gold curls that fell almost to her waist, and her eyes were brilliant and green. She was wearing a pair of jean shorts and a black top that accented her substantial curves. She took care of herself, sure, but Caitlin knew that she had been born pretty, and she was grateful.
“What about you?” Caitlin asked. “What are you wearing tonight?”
“Oh, I … I don’t think I’m going. It’s … really just not my thing.”
“What about Garret? Garret seemed like he was your thing.”
Bethany’s face turned a fierce crimson. “You saw that, huh?”
Caitlin smiled. “Relax, I’m not judging. But yeah, I could tell that you were interested. You two know each other?”
“Only kinda. He helped me carry my stuff in, and we sat and talked for a while. He’s … fun.”
Wow. The boys across the hall sure were chivalrous. “So why don’t you come out with us?”
Bethany screwed up her face. “Because, Caitlin. I’m not you. I’m not like you. I’m not confident, I’m not fun, I’m not beautiful. Garret is cute, sure. But we both know nothing’s going to happen, and I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. So I’m just going to stay home and read, and maybe try out the massaging shower head.”
Caitlin was surprised. She had suspected that Bethany was thinking something like that, but she hadn’t expected her to be so, so blunt about it. She had expected her to make an excuse about being tired or something.
“Bethany, I don’t know what to say. No, actually, I do. You’re an idiot.”
Bethany did a double take. “I’m, I, what now?”
“You’re a big stupid-head. Have you looked in a mirror?”
“Um, yeah, I have. That’s the point.”
“No, it’s not the point. Have you seen those movies, where a girl’s wearing glasses and overalls, and then some boy comes along, and she takes off her glasses and puts on a skirt and lets her hair down, and then she’s totally hot? That’s you. You are totally the plain/hot girl next door.”
Bethany looked skeptical, but Caitlin wasn’t going to allow any argument. “Trust me. I’m a photographer, I’m supposed to know when a person can be pretty. And you, babe, you are. Tell you what … why don’t you let me do your makeup and fix your hair, and then we’ll just wait and see what Garret’s reaction is. Do you have contacts?”
“Yeah, but I, I don’t really wear them.”
“Well let’s start there. Go put in your contacts, and then we’ll fix you up.”
Bethany smiled a bit, and looked down at the floor. “Um, okay, then. But I don’t know what I’m going to wear.”
“Let me worry about that. We can look through your closet, or maybe you can borrow something. I’m pretty sure some of my stuff would fit you.”
“Okay,” Bethany said with another shy smile.
When she came back, Caitlin put Bethany in a chair and went to work. She was used to making people up for a photo shoot, and while she had to be more subtle for real-life, the principle was the same. You just needed to draw attention to the best parts, and play down any flaws. Then a little bit of work on the hair, and …
“Hey, can I get some help picking … whoa.” Alexis had stuck her head around the corner, and was looking at Bethany with wide eyes. “Who’s the hottie?”
“You really think I look good?” Bethany asked, smiling.
“Garret is going to be putty in your hands. Well, hopefully not for too long, but whatever. Can I get a ruling over here?”
“Sure,” Caitlin said. “What’s up?”
“Not entirely sure what to wear tonight. I was thinking black lace,” she held up a set of underwear, “but then I was thinking, maybe Evan is more of a white bread kind of guy, and that might be too much, so …” She held up a plainer set of cotton boy shorts.
Caitlin laughed. “You don’t think you’re moving a bit fast? I mean, you’ve known him for what, ten hours?”
“Hey,” Alexis said, “we made a real, deep connection in our long, long minutes together. And I plan to make a longer, deeper connection later tonight. Besides, what’s college for, if you can’t make terrible decisions with possible life-altering consequences?”
“Okay, okay,” Caitlin said, spreading her hands. “I’d go with black lace.”
“Me, too,” Bethany said. She was still staring at the flimsy material. “Where did you get those?”
Alexis laughed. “We’ll take you shopping this weekend. Okay, black lace it is. Now where did I leave my handcuffs …?”
Caitlin and Bethany looked at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing. Well, at least the girl knew what she wanted.
“Come on,” Caitlin said, “let’s go find you something to wear.”
They all fit inside Evan’s car, but just barely; Evan and Garret sat in the front, and the three girls had to squeeze together in the back. Alexis, because she was the smallest, was kind of on the others’ laps.
Fortunately, Indigo was only about ten minutes away. Less fortunately, it seemed like Evan was right; it was the club in town, and it looked like the entire campus had shown up.
The club was a big warehouse, two stories tall. Caitlin could feel the thump thump thump of music from where they parked, and strobe lights flashed through some of the windows. The entrance was a heavy metal door, and the line of people waiting to get inside stretched almost a block.
“Are you sure you guys want to do this?” Caitlin asked. “I mean, it looks like we’re going to be standing out here all night.”
“Of course we want to do this!” Alexis said.
“I don’t know,” Garret said. “I mean, I’m pretty sure there are a couple of places just down the road that we could get right into.”
“But doesn’t the line mean this place is popular?” Bethany said. Her eyes were on the ground, and her voice was a little hard to make out over the bass, but she pressed on. “I mean, there wouldn’t be this many people in line if it wasn’t awesome, right?”
“See!” Alexis said.
Caitlin smiled. “Fine. I’m in.”
“I suppose,” said Garret.
“All right! Let’s … go stand in line.” Evan said.
They hardly moved for the next twenty minutes. Then, the big metal door swung open, and a small commotion started at the front of the line. Caitlin stepped to the side and craned her neck to see what was going on.
An absolute giant of a man was moving through the crowd. He was nearly seven feet tall, with brownish-red hair that reached to his stubble-covered chin. His shirt, a tight knit thing the color of midnight, was positively struggling to contain the muscles that bunched and coiled as he moved, and he wore a pair of black leather pants. He looked down at the people huddled around the door like a king looking at his subjects, and smiled beneficently. The crowd surged toward him, like gravity was pulling them forward, but no one actually touched him.
He walked down the line, smiling, occasionally saying “hello,” or nodding his chin. People were calling out to him, but he never stopped to address anyone directly.
Until he got to Caitlin.
He looked at her, and for just a fraction of a second, his eyes widened. And while he continued to scan the crowd, he had stopped moving. Then, he focused directly on her.
He didn’t say anything, and as the uncomfortable silence stretched on, Caitlin’s face grew warm. “Um, hi,” she said.
A hungry grin spread over his face. “I don’t remember you … you must be one of the new Freshmen.”
Caitlin licked her lips and ground her foot into the sidewalk. She wasn’t used to feeling flustered by men, but something about this guy was just … more.More intense, more intimidating, more … sensual. “Um, yeah,” she managed to get out. “St. Troy University.”
“Excellent. I hope you haven’t been waiting here long.”
“About twenty minutes,” Alexis said.
The man ignored her. “I’m sorry about that,” he said to Caitlin. “Someone like you never should have been kept waiting this long. I’ll have to have a talk with the doormen. But for now, let’s just get you inside.”
“Um,” Caitlin said, and looked at the people standing around her. “I mean, I don’t want to make anyone mad or anything.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Please. If anyone has a problem, they can take it up with me.”
Caitlin looked around again. “Well, I guess. I mean, if my friends can come, too.”
He looked at them like he hadn’t even realized they were standing there. “Of course,” he said. “Follow me.”
Caitlin walked after him, and her friends followed her. “Hey, I didn’t catch your name,” she said.
The man turned back and smiled. “Liam.”
The club was like a jungle. The air was so thick and so moist that you could almost swim through it, and it was at least twenty degrees hotter than it had been outside. If this was the most popular place in town, Caitlin sure couldn’t understand why.
Alexis slid up next to her, and leaned over to whisper–well, shout, but it was a quiet shout–in her ear. “I think you’ve got a fan,” she said. “He looks like he wants to eat you.”
“Oh come on. He doesn’t even know me.”
“Sure, and he picked you out of everyone else in line because you look like a fantastic conversationalist. Come on, admit it, he wants to do you.”
“Eew! Please. He looks like some kind of Russell Brand wannabe. I’d wake up with a rash.”
“Russell Brand does not have an ass like that.”
The crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder, and people had to muscle their way through. But Liam moved effortlessly. The crowd just kind of dissolved around him, like he was walking around in his own invisible bubble. Caitlin and her friends tried to keep up. Everyone turned to look at Liam, but only a few–the most attractive women in the club–dared to approach him. Liam ignored them all.
He started gesturing around the club. “We’ve got three dance floors and six bars. But the main attraction is upstairs … the Blue Leaves are playing tonight.”
Evan’s eyes went wide. “Really? You got them to play here? Rumor is they’re just about to sign a major deal.”
Liam smiled. “I know. I set it up myself. They play here twice a month now.” Evan gaped.
They were interrupted by a girl with fire-red hair wearing a flowing black skirt and a black corset. “Sir,” she said, “you have a phone call waiting for you.”
“Tell them I’m busy,” Liam replied.
“It’s Angelica, sir.”
The expression slipped off of Liam’s face. “Excuse me,” he said to Caitlin. “I have to deal with this. You go and have fun. Don’t worry … I’ll find you later.” He turned and left, melting through the crowd.
Something about Liam bothered her. It wasn’t his “oh look at me I’m a rock star” persona, or the way he was showing off. There was something deeper that just wasn’t quite right. But Caitlin tried to shrug off her discomfort. “Well, what do you guys want to do?” She asked.
“Well, we could stand here in the middle of a sea of hot, sweaty people,” Evan said, “or we could go upstairs and check out the best band in Maine.”
They fought their way through the crowd and to the stairs; the girls had to grab on to each other to keep from being separated. The entire top floor was set up for the concert. It was standing room only, and the crowd was full of energy, moving and jumping along with the music. It was even hotter up there, and Caitlin almost felt claustrophobic. But the music grabbed a hold of her, and before long she was moving with the beat.
Some guys wearing St. Troy jerseys waved at Evan. “Hey, come on, guys,” he said. “Those guys are on my team.” They pushed through the crowd, and Evan did the hand-grab-back-slap-and-man-hug thing with his teammates.
“Nice of you to show up!” one of the guys shouted.
“Eat me,” Evan yelled back. “It took forever just to get in the door. We’d still be out there if the manager didn’t want to get in Caitlin’s pants.”
Caitlin blushed, and Alexis’ face split into a wide grin. “See? Told you so. Even he noticed it!”
They settled in to watch the show. Garret leaned against the wall, and Bethany leaned against him. Alexis was, of course, a little more forward, and worked her way under Evan’s arm, and was slowly running her hand across his stomach.
The Blue Leaves came to a slower part in their set, and the crowd settled down a bit. Slow, soft music filtered through the room, and the lights became a glacial mix of blue and white. Caitlin closed her eyes and let it all wash over her.
“God, does everyone in this club want to sleep with you?”
Caitlin blinked, and found Alexis staring at her. “What?” Caitlin asked.
“Look at that guy over there. He is clearly trying to impregnate you with his eyeballs.”
Caitlin followed Alexis’ pointing finger, and gasped.
He was beautiful. Tall, more than six feet, lean and muscular. Like he was a swimmer, or a dancer. He was dressed in a tight black shirt and jeans that must have cost a hundred dollars. His hair was dark brown, streaked with golden highlights, and wild. His jaw was strong, and his cheekbones were like razors.
But it was his eyes … God, his eyes. They were a piercing blue, as deep and clear as the ocean, and they caught the light like gemstones. She knew that it was totally cliché, but Caitlin felt like she was losing herself in those eyes.
And he was staring right at her.
His expression was hard to read. His face was almost blank, except for a slight set to his mouth, and a small crinkle around his mesmerizing eyes. It was simultaneously distant and intimate, playful and sad.
“Who is that?” she asked no one in particular.
One of Evan’s friends looked over. “He’s … I forget his name, but he owns this place or something.”
“Well,” Alexis said. “Go over and talk to him.”
Caitlin felt her legs moving. Her admirer watched her cross the floor, never looking away, never even blinking.
She licked her lips and swallowed, trying to moisten a suddenly-dry throat. “Um, hi,” she said. She smiled, but she could feel embarrassed heat crawling up her face. “I’m Caitlin.”
She offered to shake, but instead he kissed the back of her hand. “Michael McKenna,” he said. “Aren’t you a bit young to be in here?”
“Hey,” Caitlin said. “I’m a real live college girl. And one of your guys pulled us out of the line to bring us inside, thank you very much.” His face darkened and his eyes glinted, but the look was gone almost before Caitlin could recognize it. “I think his name was Liam?” she said.
His eye twitched. “You can do better than him,” he said. “He’s all ‘look at me, I’m wearing leather pants, aren’t I awesome?’ I think he’s just overcompensating for something.”
Huh. “So, one of my friends said you own this place?”
His eyes glinted again, and he looked around the room. “Not really. I’m kind of the manager. This is sort of a family business.”
“Wait, so you and Liam are related?”
“You can’t see the resemblance?” Michael said. But then he shook his head. “No, we’re not related. Not exactly. It’s complicated.”
“Oh. So, is this all you do?” Michael cocked an eyebrow. “I mean, not that this isn’t impressive and all, but are you in school or anything?”
“I was,” Michael said. “Fine Arts. Portraits, mainly. I had to drop out.”
He smiled. “I died.”
“Oh my God! What happened?”
“It really isn’t as exciting as it sounds. I had an accident, lost a lot of blood, and I was technically dead for a while.” He gave her a smirk. “I got better. Anyway, all of this,” he gestured around the club, “takes up most of my time now. I’m kind of an indentured servant.”
“Oh. I mean, yeah, I guess family businesses can be like that. It probably takes a ton of work to keep something like this running.”
“And what about you?” Michael asked. “Are you going to cure cancer, or are you just studying to become a hedge fund manager?”
“Oh, I’m a photography major. Actually, I’d love to take your picture some time. I mean, you probably hear this all the time, but you’ve got great bone structure.”
He smiled. “Are you hitting on me?”
Another flush of heat. “What? No! No, I really mean it, I think you’d be a great project.”
“Oh, so you want to fix me up?”
“No! I mean you’d, oh, stop it, you’re just being difficult.”
He gave her a brilliant smile. “I usually am.”
“So what do you say? Would you be willing to sit for me some time?”
“I don’t know,” Michael said. “I’m not real big on having my photograph floating around.”
“But you’re so pretty,” a man’s voice said.
Caitlin and Michael turned. Liam was standing behind them, leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets, giving them a cocky smile. “Besides, you’re only going to be young for so long. Don’t you want to remember what you were like in your prime?”
Michael’s eyes narrowed, and his upper lip curled into an almost-snarl, but he remained silent.
“So I see you’ve found my guest.” He looked at Caitlin. “We have the same taste in women. It can be kind of embarrassing sometimes.”
“Leave her alone, Liam,” Michael said.
“Oh, stop it.” Liam laughed. He looked Caitlin in the eye. “He’s so protective, like he’s everybody’s big brother. But you don’t need protecting, do you, Caitlin? I mean, you’re a big girl, aren’t you?”
“I, um, yeah, of course I am.”
“See?” Liam said. “She’s just fine. Would you like to join us for a drink?”
“Oh, I, uh, I don’t really, I mean, I have to … drive home, and I don’t want to,” Caitlin stammered.
“You’re so responsible! Then what about a tour of the club? We could even go back stage, if you want,” Liam said. Michael’s jaw muscles quivered.
“Oh, I’m not really the fan-girl type. Evan would probably cream himself if you introduced him to the band, though.”
An annoyed look flashed across Liam’s face, but his smile quickly returned. “Tell you what. If you let me give you a tour of the club, I’ll take your friends back stage after the show. Deal?”
“Oh, well, sure, that would be great. But I want to be clear, I’m just going on a walk with you. There isn’t going to be any hanky-panky.”
Michael blinked, his anger momentarily trumped by incredulity. “Hanky-panky? Did you really just–”
“Oh, leave her alone, Michael. You’re so judgmental.” He turned back to Caitlin. “Shall we?”
Caitlin started to follow him, and Michael fell in step behind her.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Liam said. “I forgot to tell you. I just spoke with Angelica, and she requires your … attention.”
“I’ll see her after we’re done with the tour.”
“She sounded kind of impatient, Michael. I’m pretty sure she wants to see you immediately.”
Anger flashed through Michael’s eyes. He turned to look at Caitlin, and seemed to be fighting to control his emotions. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I have to go.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Caitlin replied. “Maybe we’ll see each other again? I’d still like to do a photo shoot with you.” Michael didn’t respond, he just looked at her with heart-breaking eyes. “Okay, well, it was nice to meet you.”
“No, it wasn’t,” he said, and walked away.
Caitlin stared at him until he disappeared down the stairs. “What the hell was that all about? And why was he so angry about you showing me around the club?”
Liam led her down a hallway. “That’s just Michael being Michael. He’s afraid that I’m going to spoil your virginal perfection or something.”
“I’m not a–I mean, I’m not going to be spoiled. What does he think this is, the fifties?”
They turned down another hall, and Liam pulled open a heavy steel door. Cool night air rushed in, and Caitlin instantly felt a million times better. “Let me show you the view from the roof,” Liam said.
They walked up a short flight of steps, and stepped out onto gravel. Caitlin couldn’t believe how wonderful it felt to be out of the club. She hadn’t even realized how much she had been sweating, but her clothing was wet and sticking to her skin. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Michael is a bit old-fashioned sometimes,” Liam was saying. “But I have to be honest, in this case, he might just be right.”
Caitlin opened her eyes. Liam was crouched on the edge of the roof, looking at the street below. Apparently heights didn’t bother him at all. Caitlin was afraid to even get near the edge. “Right about what?” she asked.
“I’m going to ruin you,” he said without looking up.
Caitlin took a step backwards, and tried to casually take her cell phone out of her pocket. “What do you mean?”
Liam walked toward her. “You know exactly what I mean, Caitlin.” He reached up and touched her cheek; Caitlin flinched away. “You’re beautiful, you know. You might be the most beautiful girl I’ve seen in this city, and I’ve seen a lot of beautiful girls. But it can’t last. It never lasts, no matter what anyone tells you.”
Caitlin was back peddling toward the door now. “Look, I don’t know what you think is going to happen tonight, but I told you, I just wanted to look around the club. Actually, I didn’t even want to do that, I just wanted to get my friends back stage.”
“Poor girl,” Liam said, almost to himself. “You still think you have a choice in all of this.”
Caitlin turned and ran, jumped down the stairs, and yanked on the heavy door. It didn’t move. She pulled again and again, throwing all of her weight into it, but it it didn’t even budge.
“It’s locked, Caitlin,” Liam said. He descended the stairs slowly, one at a time. He was waving a ring of keys at her.
“I’ll scream,” Caitlin said.
“Yes, you will. Eventually.” He reached out, and Caitlin turned away, but he only took the phone from her. “And you won’t need this,” he said, and crushed it in one hand.
For a moment, fear froze her. A single tear welled up in her eye. But then she hit the door, gently, with one hand. Hit it again, a bit harder. Then she turned and slammed it with both fists. “Help! Help me! Help!”
Liam took hold of her wrists, and turned her around. “Look me in the eye, Caitlin.”
She did, and the world swam around her. Liam’s eyes were as deep as Michael’s. Deeper. And she had the same sense of losing herself, of drowning in the pools of his eyes. She wanted to scream, to fight, to hit him and tear the door open and run away, but her body wouldn’t cooperate.
“That’s a good girl,” he said. “That necklace. Is it silver?”
“Yes,” Caitlin said. She was terrified, but the words came out mechanically.
“Take it off.”
She felt her hands move up to her throat, felt them undo the clasp. Felt them drop the silver chain on the ground.
“Good girl.” He ran his fingers gently over her now-bare neck.
“What, what do you want from me?”
Crimson circles appeared around his irises, and a slow smile spread across his face. “Everything.”
And then the circles expanded, filling the whites of his eyes with blood, and his irises became as black as his soul. The color drained from his face, leaving it as white as death. His teeth became sharp points, and the canines lengthened into gleaming fangs.
He lunged at her, and she felt his teeth tearing into her flesh.
Caitlin tried to scream, but her body wasn’t listening to her any more.