Authors: Rachel Caine
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Vampire, #Urban Fantasy
She didn’t see Amelie anywhere, or Myrnin, or Oliver, and they were all pretty notable by their absence. She did see the unpleasant Mr. Pennywell, though, looking smug and remote and sexless in his plain black jacket and pants. He was sitting at a small table near the stairs, watching everyone pass. She had the strong feeling he was like those people who stood in front of the lobster tank to choose what was going on their plate.
“Everything okay?” Shane asked her, and she realized that he wasn’t talking about the vampires or anything else like that. He quickly amended, “You know, between us?”
“Oh. Uh—yeah. I guess so.” She must not have seemed too confident, because he stopped climbing the stairs, looked around, and headed her toward a small group of chairs off to the side at the landing. Nobody near them. It was a darker corner, kind of intimate in the glow of the light on the wall. People moved past in a stream, but nobody seemed to look.
“I need to be sure,” he said. “Because I don’t want you to think Kim is competition. She’s not. Until today, I hadn’t thought about her twice.”
But, by implication, he was thinking about her now—comparing her to Claire. And Claire couldn’t be totally sure she was winning, either. “It’s just that everybody thinks she’s so interesting. And I’m just—you know.”
“A supersmart apprentice to a bipolar vampire, not to mention just about the only person in town Amelie listens to these days? Yeah. You’re dead boring.” Shane’s warm hands cupped her face and tilted her chin up so he could meet her eyes in the dim light. “There. That’s better.”
“Why?” The word trembled on her lips, a restrained wail of bitterness. “So you can see how ugly I look, compared to Kim?”
“You got some layers of skin burned off,” he said. “Big freaking deal. In a week you’ll have a killer tan, and everybody will be wondering where you got the spray-on stuff. It doesn’t matter. Not even a little. Get me?”
She didn’t want to cry, and for a wonder, she didn’t. She gulped in one hitching breath, held it, and let it slowly out, and that was it.
Then she smiled. “I get you.”
“All right then. Because I love you. Remember?”
Warmth zipped through her nerves and took up a hot glowing spot somewhere just below the pit of her stomach. “I remember,” she said. “I love you, too.”
He kissed the tip of her nose. “Jealous. I kind of like it.”
Hand in hand, they headed for the concert hall.
Mr. Pennywell blocked their path.
There was something really, unpleasantly wrong about Pennywell, in ways Claire couldn’t put her finger on; the vampire looked awkwardly built, female in one light, male in another, but that wasn’t the thing that made him frightening.
It was the complete, soulless absence of feeling in his expression and eyes. Even when he smiled, nothing happened in the top half of his face. It was just muscles, not emotion.
“Move,” Shane said, and Claire felt his hold on her hand unconsciously tighten. “Dude, you are not crazy enough to go after us in the middle of neutral ground, in front of witnesses. Right?”
“That would entirely depend on what I planned to accomplish,” Pennywell said. “But I am not here to threaten you. I am here to summon you.”
“To our seats? Thanks. Don’t need an usher.” Pennywell stayed right in their path. The crowd was thinning out around them. The last thing Claire wanted was to be alone out here with him, everyone else inside and cheering and clapping and covering up her all-too-likely screams. She traded a look with Shane.
“Oliver would like a word,” Pennywell said, and made a graceful gesture to his left. “If you please.”
“He is not taking appointments. Yes. Now.”
There didn’t seem to be many options available, but Claire could see that Shane was tempted to tell Pennywell to beat it. That would be bad. Pennywell wasn’t someone who took rejection well.
It didn’t come to that, and for the worst possible reason.
“Shane? Shane Collins? Are you kidding me?” A girl’s voice came from over Pennywell’s shoulder, and was followed by the girl sliding around the vampire and throwing herself all over Shane. He dropped Claire’s hand in surprise, and to catch the girl before they both toppled over.
It took a second to put the dyed-black-and-pink hair and voice together, but Claire knew even before her brain supplied the name.
Kim. Oh, perfect.
And Kim was kissing Shane.
It wasn’t like he was kissing her back . . . more like he was trying to push her off his lips. But still. Her lips. Touching Shane’s.
Even Pennywell looked thrown.
“Hey!” Claire protested, not sure what she ought to do, but she wanted very badly to grab a handful of that black hair and yank, hard. She didn’t need to. Shane picked Kim up, bodily, and set her at arm’s length—and held her there.
“Kim,” he said. “Uh—hi.”
“How’s it going, Collins? Wow, it’s been a while, huh? Sorry about the family stuff, that sucks, man. Oh, did you hear I’ve got a loft now? I’m selling on the Internet. Very cool.” Kim’s wide eyes were fixed on Shane’s face, and there was a sickeningly delighted expression on her face. “I just can’t believe it’s you, Shane. Wow. So great to see you.”
“Yeah,” he said, and looked at Claire, just a quick (and panicked) glance. “This is Claire. My girlfriend.” He stressed the word. It didn’t seem to register, or if it did, Kim shrugged it off. She barely glanced at Claire at all.
“Cool,” she said. “Hey, you’re the one from the coffee shop. Eve’s friend. Small world, right?”
“Claustrophobic,” Claire said. “What are you doing here?” She knew she sounded angry; she just couldn’t help it. Pennywell looked from her to Kim, clearly trying to decide whom he should kill first. From his expression, he was leaning toward Kim, which didn’t distress Claire much at all.
“I came to hear Michael Glass,” Kim said. “I mean, Eve told me all about it. Michael’s always been the coolest guy in town—present company excepted.” She winked at Shane. Winked. Claire wanted to vomit. “I just wanted to show my support.”
“I’m not interested in you,” Pennywell said to her. “Go away.”
Kim blinked and turned to look at the vampire for the first time. Then she reacted as if she hadn’t even known he was there. Seriously? She got a part in the play? Because that was the worst reaction Claire had ever seen, outside of really old silent movies. “Oh my God! What the hell are you? I mean, yes, obviously—” She held up two fingers in what Claire thought was a peace sign before realizing it was probably a V—for vampire. “But damn, you’re freaky.”
Pennywell had no idea what to do, from the frown that grooved that smooth, high forehead. He cocked his head and looked at Kim without saying a word, just studying her.
Then he said, “You are the historian.”
Kim smiled. “Bingo, dude. I’m the historian. And you’re kinda new, am I right? I have got to get you on camera. Make an appointment, okay? Here. Here’s my number.” She dug in the small black bag strapped to her wrist, came out with some kind of business card, and handed it to him. Pennywell took it—mostly in self-defense—and tucked it in his coat pocket. “Word of advice? Nehru jackets went out with the groovy sixties. Go for Brooks Brothers. You do not want to be preserved for posterity in a bad look, right? Also, maybe some work with the hair, butch you up some. Think about it.”
While she was talking, Shane took Claire’s elbow and quietly hustled her around Pennywell, whose eyes remained fixed on Kim as she chattered. By the time the vampire realized what was happening and thrust Kim aside, Shane and Claire were slipping through the door into the hall, out of his reach.
“Did she do that on purpose?” Claire asked.
“Don’t know,” Shane said. “But I wasn’t about to waste the chance. Call Oliver. Find out if he was really wanting to see us.”
Claire nodded. The crowd in the hall was still buzzing around, and the noise level was high. Nobody would notice her on the phone; there had to be a hundred or more of them glowing like jewels in the tiers of seats as people caught up with their friends, gossiped, made dates.
Claire speed dialed a vampire and got voice mail. Oliver didn’t bother to identify himself, but just told the caller to leave a message, which she did, and then she put her phone on vibrate.
Shane kept looking at the closed doors they’d come through. Claire suppressed the urge to grit her teeth. “You’re worried about her?” she asked, and tried to keep her voice neutral.
“We left her alone with Pennywell,” he said. “Dammit. I thought she was following us.”
Well, Kim hadn’t followed them. Claire tried to be more worried, but the best she could really summon up was a dim sense of annoyance. And that really wasn’t like her; she was always trying to find excuses for the worst people, and somehow, she just couldn’t get on Kim’s side, no matter what.
But she knew the right thing to do. “We should go look for her.”
“No,” Shane said. “You stay here. I’m just going to see if she’s out there. I just want to be sure she’s all right.”
Because you don’t at all care, Claire thought, but had enough sense to keep it to herself. She just nodded. Shane let go of her hand and moved to the doors, which he eased open and looked out. After a moment of hesitation, he let it close and came back. “Not there,” he said.
“Both.” Shane sounded tense, and she couldn’t blame him. He tended to take a lot on himself, and if something ended up going badly with Kim, he’d see it as his failure, which was nonsense, but it was how Shane rolled. “I need to—”
“Need to what?”
Kim again, coming up from right behind Claire. Claire squeezed her eyes shut and almost screamed in frustration—not relief—but she managed to control herself, turn, and say, very calmly, “Need to be sure you were okay. Which you are. Obviously.”
Kim looked at her for a moment; then a knowing smile slowly spread over her lips. “Obviously,” she almost purred. She transferred the look to Shane. And the smile. “You were worried about me? That’s sweet, but gender-bender vamp back there wasn’t about to hurt me.”
“Why not?” Claire asked.
Kim shrugged. “Eh, you know. Damn, I really haven’t seen you in forever, Collins. What you been up to?”
“Not much,” he said, and reached out for Claire’s hand again. “We’ve got seats down there. Sorry. Thanks for the intervention out there.”
“Sure,” Kim said. “Catch you later, then.”
Their seats were close to the front, and by the time they’d reached them, the lights were going down. Claire looked back, but couldn’t see Kim anywhere in the shadows.
“I think I might really hate that girl,” she said.
Shane kissed her fingers lightly. “Don’t be jealous. I’m not into her. Now or later.”
Claire wished she could believe that, but there was still some small, difficult part of herself that was too aware of her own flaws.
Then the spotlights came up, the house lights went down, and Michael walked onto the stage, to a sudden rush of applause, and he wasn’t the Michael Claire knew—he wasn’t the one who hung out in the living room and played video games and noodled around on his guitar and picked terrible Westerns for movie night.
This was someone else.
Someone almost frightening, the way he grabbed and held the spotlight. He’d looked good earlier, but now Claire saw him the way that Michael Glass had always been meant to be seen . . . center stage. The light turned his hair brilliant gold, made his pale skin glow like moon-stone, turned him into something exotic and fabulous and untouchable—and, at the same time, something you wanted to touch. Badly.
Someone pushed into the chair next to Claire. Eve. She’d put on her best, mostly backless black velvet gown, fixed her hair into a chic, gleaming black cap, and when she crossed her legs, the slit in her dress revealed an acre of leg and stiletto heels.
She was out of breath.
“Oh God, I thought I’d never make it,” she whispered to Claire, and snapped open a black silk fan, which she fluttered to cool herself off. “That’s my boyfriend, you know.”
“I know,” Claire said. She’d been prepared to not talk to Eve, but in two sentences, she found herself smiling. There was something so happy in sharing her joy. “He’s okay, I guess.”
Eve smacked her with the folded-up fan. “Bite your tongue. My boyfriend is a rock god, baby.”
And this, with the first few notes of his song, Michael Glass proved vividly to the entire hall.
The concert was great. The after-party was overwhelming, mostly because Claire hadn’t really known there would be one, and she wasn’t up for being stared at by a few hundred strangers who were all pressing around, trying to get to Michael and wondering why she was so special that she got to be behind the autograph table, instead of in front of it. Michael had barely had time to say hi since he’d come out the stage door into the lobby; he’d been mobbed, and not even Eve, standing there looking gorgeous and movie-star sleek, could get private time with him while the fans circled. There was no sign of Kim. The vampires didn’t bother to mix with the crowd, but as each of them left the building, they stopped to look at Michael, and nod. Claire supposed that was their version of a standing ovation.
As the number of autograph seekers finally died down, there were only a few people left. One was Pennywell, leaning against a marble pillar a hundred feet away, looking bored but eternal, as if he could wait another ten thousand years if necessary without a change of underwear. One was Kim, who was locked in animated conversation with a couple of TPU guys who looked, to Claire’s eyes, like liberal arts students. She kept casting glances at their little group, and Claire figured that any minute she’d kick her holding-pattern boys to the curb and make straight for Shane.
The last person, though, was a human—an older guy dressed in a black tailored leather jacket and jeans—kind of like business tough, if there was such a thing. He had great hair, and one of those nice, even, white smiles people had on TV shows—and a tan.
“Michael, great show,” the man said, and leaned over to shake Michael’s hand. “Seriously, that was out of the park. My name is Harry Sloan, my daughter, Hillary, goes to school here. She wanted me to come and check you out, and I have to say, I was very impressed.”