The moment Naia meets sexy Cortez, passion sparks between them... But Naia’s secrets could ruin everything.
What the hell am I doing here? Naia DeVoe asked herself. She wasn’t a friggin’ spy. And yet here she was, crossing the nearly deserted parking lot toward the building on the corner of Chester and Fifth. Ever Nights: the most popular nightclub in town. It didn’t look like much now, but every evening, this place was hopping.
There were a few cars peppered throughout the lot. Most belonging to the staff, she assumed, or to those cut-and-paste individuals who practically lived at every bar, whose friends consisted mainly of servers, bartenders, and the women on stage with their faux smiles, gyrating hips, and eyes on their wallets. She knew those types all too well. Not because she shook her ass on stage, but because she worked as a part-time singer and waitress at Dante’s Pit, otherwise known as The Pit, or more crudely referred to as The Pussy Pit.
Naia never liked to call it that.
She opened the door to Ever Nights and stepped into the darkened foyer where a bouncer was usually stationed during the bustling late-night hours. Right now there was no need. It was too early for rabble-rousers.
In the lobby Naia marveled at the high-end decor. This place was like the Sistine Chapel of nightclubs, a touch of elegance lingering in every feature, from polished wood floors to the coffered ceilings and sparkling chandeliers throughout. There were several rooms allocated to the different shows that went on each night, a flavor for every taste.
She’d visited this establishment only a handful of times before, always looking for work, always rejected. The excuse? They either weren’t hiring, or were only seeking experienced top-tier acts. Ever Nights was known for providing over-the-top performances, incorporating burlesque with other genres of entertainment such as acrobatics, theatrics, music and dance, which is why she so badly wanted to work here. A position at Ever Nights could slingshot her toward bigger and better things.
Of course, all she needed at this point was some quick cash. This time she had to get hired, if only for a couple of days. So much was riding on it.
She peeked into one of the main ballrooms, spotting several tables scattered throughout, some occupied, others set with white tablecloths and clean glasses awaiting purpose. A woman on stage was getting intimately acquainted with a pole. The only other employee whom she could see resided behind the bar, his back turned to her as he dried and put away glasses for the evening to come.
Before entering, Naia checked her reflection in a full-length mirror that hung in the lobby. The employees at Ever Nights were all attractive. She’d taken extra care with her appearance today. Her makeup was perfect, her curls just right. Her ombre-dyed hair merged from her natural chestnut to a brilliant jewel toned purple. The ends were tipped by a sultry sapphire; a homage to her stage name.
Her outfit was designed to entice. The tight purple and black crop top covered her chest while revealing her stomach and slim waist. Her black mini skirt hugged her hips. But the piece de resistance was the sleek, knee-high fuck-me boots that she had borrowed from her friend, Goldie, and was seriously considering confiscating for life—if she didn’t think Goldie would straight up tackle her to the ground to retrieve them.
Completing the ensemble was her most prized possession: the vintage, floral-etched locket given to her by her mother. Pure silver. The only thing she owned of value. She rarely took it off.
After adding a last touch of lip gloss, she was ready to nail this interview. Well, if she even got an interview. I have to.
As she approached the bar, her heels clacked on the hard floor. The bartender faced her.
Attractive was an understatement. This man was one step down from godlike. A full head of tousled brown hair framed a set of whiskey-iced eyes, so unbelievably iridescent they nearly glowed like a mocha-colored sun. She didn’t normally like facial hair on a man, but his five o’clock shadow made him look rugged and dashing while the sport coat over a black T-shirt gave him an urban sophistication.
In short, everything about his appearance was lick-worthy.
She smiled, hoping to charm him from the start. First impressions were everything, and he was an obstacle on her way to Cortez, the club’s owner and her best chance at getting hired.
The bartender’s quick perusal of her body was like a whip to her spine, forcing her to straighten to her full height and crank her chin higher.
“Hi,” she said, realizing instantly how lame and unprofessional that sounded. She cleared her throat. “Hello. I’d like to speak with Cortez, if I may.” She’d been instructed to ask directly for Cortez and deal with no one else. He’d see it as a ballzy move and a sign of initiative, according to Dante.
The bartender’s brow arched and his lips quirked on one side as though he found her request rather amusing. She tried not to be insulted by that…or drawn in by the way it made his features all that more handsome.
Her chin went up another notch. “Is he available?”
“What is this regarding?” His voice. My god, his voice! How could a simple, rumbled sound tap directly into her knees? The weakness quickly traveled north, invading the rest of her body. If vocal cords could cause spontaneous orgasm she’d be ripe to put on a better show than the woman on stage.
She mentally shook away the ridiculous thought. What was wrong with her? She never reacted this strongly to anyone from the opposite sex.
Psyching herself out here, she decided. Dante had to be mad to have asked her to apply for a job at Ever Nights in order to spy on Cortez and his crew. She should have declined, but the money was too good to pass up, especially now.
“I was told to speak with Cortez,” she said. “I believe my talents can benefit his establishment greatly.” A true enough statement.
The hottie’s eyes darted to the stage, where the woman had taken to spinning around the pole upside down at jet speeds while dressed in skimpy lingerie, then came back to her for another inquisitive body-scan…as if he found her lacking?
Turning his back to put away the glass he’d been drying, he told her. “We’re not hiring new talent at the moment.”
“Not that kind of talent,” she said, giving his back a derisive glare.
“Oh?” Over his shoulder, his gaze shot to her cleavage, indicating something more salacious had entered his thoughts. “We’ve got plenty of T and A too.”
What an ass! She balked, instantly cured of her attraction to him. “Not that either! If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to take it up with your boss.” And because she wanted to belittle him the way he was belittling her, she added, “Not some unimpressive bar monkey.”
He chuckled at that, and her traitorous knees responded, growing gelatinous once more. She locked them down tight. His laugh was not bedroom-sexy. It was grating!
He grabbed another glass out of a soapy sink, rinsed it off, and began drying.
She recognized his type: good looks, charm, the guy who never got rejected by anyone he wanted, whose off-the-chart arrogance only made him more attractive to those of the opposite sex. His type took advantage of that natural power…
She had the scars to prove it.
“I don’t think anyone has ever dubbed me unimpressive.” He cocked his head at her. “In fact, quite often the opposite.”
She opened her mouth for a snappy retort, then reminded herself, if hired, she could be working next to this guy for the foreseeable future. Best to keep their interaction civil and her opinions to herself. Plus, he could roadblock her if she wasn’t careful.
Softening her features, she worked a smile over her lips and shrugged. “Hey, some of my best friends are bar monkeys. A noble profession. Look, I know Cortez is going to want to hire me.” I hope Cortez is going to want to hire me. “He wants the best this town has to offer working for him, right?” She gestured to herself.
At first, he looked unconvinced. Then he went still and tilted his head, as though he was listening to something in the distance. All trace of humor gone, he examined her closely for a second, a crease forming between those intense amber eyes. Almost incredulously he glanced at the stage, then in turn at each patron before landing a narrowed gaze on her once more.
What in the world? She almost felt exposed. Like he somehow knew what she was. A spark of adrenaline shot through her and she had the very strong urge to bolt.
But no. He couldn’t know. That was impossible. Psyching myself out.
Finally his expression relaxed, and once more his half grin took her aback. Rag still in hand, he laid his arm atop the bar, studying her like one might a textbook. “Boss man is a busy guy.”
She saw it then. Fangs! Peeking from behind his grinning lips.
Very likely he was part of Cortez’s inner circle. And she’d practically insulted him. So bad at this.
Think cute and flirty thoughts, Naia.
She flashed him a smile dipped in honey. “Would it be possible to set up an appointment to meet with him?”
He returned to drying glasses, his expression now shuttered. “He’ll be available later tonight. Why don’t you come back after-hours?”
She snorted. “This place doesn’t have any after-hours. It’s open twenty-four-seven.”
“Except on holidays,” he quipped.
She rolled her eyes.
“I’ll schedule a meeting around one. How does that sound?”
One in the morning was like afternoon to vampires. “Sounds perfect.” She pivoted around to leave before she said or did anything to screw this up.
“Wear something sexy,” he called after her.
Tension stiffened her shoulders. She glared over her shoulder. “I told you, I’m not that kind of talent.”
He only shrugged and then faced away from her. Before leaving, she stole an extra couple of seconds to appreciate his physique. There was a hint of titillating muscle under that sport coat, and a glimmer of powerful legs under his perfectly fitted slacks.
He glanced back at her as well. Then his lips formed a smile that was both arrogant and knowing. “Still unimpressed?”
Whirling around, she hurried out to the parking lot.
The contrasting light of day seemed to crush her as she stepped out of the slightly darkened foyer, and for some reason, her heart was racing, her cheeks flushed. Had he been flirting with her?
She felt a ridiculously girly giggle threatening to rise.
Inner shake. She knew better than to allow a frivolous attraction mess with her judgment. Especially at a time like this. Too much was at stake.
She checked her watch. Eight in the morning. It was going to be a long day.
The trek to her apartment on the edge of town was brutal in her high-heeled boots. Eventually she took them off, walking the last stretch barefoot. She had a few hours till her mid-day shift at Dante’s and could get in a quick nap beforehand.
Dropping her boots by the door, she passed the couch that doubled as her half-brother, Cole’s, bed. He must still be at work. After they paid off their debt and saved up a little money, maybe they could finally get a place with two bedrooms.
That dream was a long way off.
In her room, she relaxed on her bed and closed her eyes. Visions of whiskey-colored irises invaded her mind. Her lids popped open. Why the hell would she be thinking of him right now? She mentally shook herself and once more closed her eyes.
A cocky smirk flashed. She groaned and sat up, rubbing her eyes till she saw stars. Then her mind called up the memory of his roughened voice. Wear something sexy, he’d practically ordered.
So why was her body warming at the idea?
Irritated, she flopped back down, covered her face with a pillow, and bopped herself in the head. She wasn’t going to nap any time soon.
She went to her closet and riffled through her clothes, most of which were second-hand bargain buys. Functional, faded, and stretched out. Which meant not sexy.
She was going to have to borrow another outfit from Goldie. She cringed at the thought. Already everything she wore was a Goldie exclusive. Everything but her undergarments, of course, because ew.
She hated asking for more favors, but if doing so would add to her chances of landing a position at Ever Nights she would kick her pride to the gutter and step on it three times over.
The walk to Dante’s was even longer than her hike home from Ever Nights, but this time she had on a sensible pair of tennies while she carried her boots in a plastic tote looped around her shoulder.
She wasn’t waitressing tonight. And though she only had one ten-minute time slot on stage, it was a much needed performance. She could feel her skin itching for it. Her vocal cords were throbbing to get to work; it had been too long since her last gig. She shivered, recalling another time she’d gone too long.
The parking lot of Dante’s was barren. One unfamiliar car was parked in the stumble spot, the spot so close to the entrance no one, no matter how inebriated, could get lost on the way to their car. She glanced up at the three-story building. Paint was chipping off nearly every surface. The neon sign was so old, several portions were snuffed out so that it looked like it read: DAN E’S IT. A couple of the windows showed cracks, but the security bars kept B&Es to a minimum.
Compared to Ever Nights Dante’s was a shithole. The dichotomy so much more stark now that she’d just come from the other establishment.
The cloying scent of ashtrays and booze billowed around her as she entered dust mite central. Sun rays sliced through shuttered windows, sparkling fragments of dust in the air. The sight alone made her feel like she needed to sneeze.
Her sneakers stuck to the surface of the floor as she passed the stage where Jayney was busy contorting herself for the amusement of their single patron. One surprisingly toned leg went over her head as she pivoted on the poll, her other foot sweeping the floor. She was practicing her new routine.
Naia waved at Cole behind the bar as she sidled around toward the dressing room. He grinned and jerked his chin in greeting. He had no idea where she’d been today, or where she would be going tonight. She hated keeping things from him, but Dante had been explicit in his instructions not to tell anyone—anyone!—what she was up to. And Dante was scary enough…that order was only lacking an or else. If she had any question about her task not being on the up and up, that clenched it.
In any case, she didn’t want Cole involved. He was already in enough trouble. The Boyle twins were breathing down his neck.
Naia checked her reflection in the grungy backstage mirror, waiting for her time slot. Five of the ten bulbs that lined the mirror were burned out, but the remaining light softly illuminated her skin. Ignoring the harsh crack down the middle of the glass, she applied one last layer of lip gloss and sat back, satisfied.
She practically vibrated with anticipation. It was the same before every performance, but it wasn’t from nerves. Excitement surfed her bloodstream. She felt alive on stage. It was home to her; her voice stoking and guiding the mood of the audience lit her up like nothing else ever did.
Unlike the other ladies getting ready for their turn on stage, her clothes would remain on. Her talent was in singing, not stripping, though she’d been told she’d make bank doing both. Many of the girls teased that she was wasting the goods, and that she could clean up, but they never really pushed her to join the ranks. Truth be told, they didn’t want the added competition. Goldie had told her once, “With that sick voice and rad bod, you’d put the rest of us out of commission.”
Just then, Goldie stumbled into the dressing room on three-inch-high platforms that sparkled like diamonds with each step, even in this dim light—well, cubic zirconia.
Judging by the wads of bills sticking out of her bejeweled thong, the room must be packed now. As soon as the sun even hinted at setting, patrons began meandering in. Each night was the same. Naia could almost set her watch to it. It was as if men clocked out of work and beelined it to the nearest dive. Many of them wore wedding rings—or a telltale tan line around their ring fingers. Scum. If Naia had a partner waiting for her at home, she certainly wouldn’t spend her time at a broken-down place like Dante’s. But then, men were stupid.
Two vanities down, Tiffany applied a generous amount of mascara to her fake lashes. “Nice haul,” she said to Goldie. “I hope you left some for the rest of us.”
Goldie turned the money into a fan. “Ooh, suckers are just begging to hand over their cash tonight. Though they’re awfully rowdy. One guy grabbed my ankle and wouldn’t let go. Finally Landon noticed and came over to pry the guy off me. Bastard took his time, though.”
Landon was one of the bouncers. Nice guy for the most part, but he definitely had his favorites. Naia and Goldie weren’t among them. But then, they’d never given him any favors.
Naia said, “You should have kicked him in the balls with those bejeweled clodhoppers you’re wearing.”
“Who, the client or Landon?”
Goldie lifted her leg forty-five degrees and twirled her ankle. “And scuff these beautiful babies? Besides, I could see Dante’s response now. Oh, wait, no I can’t, because I’d be dead.” Goldie plopped down in the seat next to Naia, counting her bills. “Maybe you could sing something soft to calm them down a bit, Sapphire.”
Naia contemplated that, already coming up with a list of songs that would do the trick.
“Boss don’t want ‘em calm,” Boomer scoffed from the doorway. Skeevy letch that he was, he always liked to linger there when the girls were changing. “Boss wants ‘em good and loose. Especially their pockets.”
Naia never liked to engage Boomer in conversation—or eye contact, for that matter, but sometimes she didn’t have a choice. There was something about him that gave her the willies, which surprisingly had nothing to do with his grotesque potbelly, perpetually stained shirts, greasy hair, or the green tint to the few teeth his gums managed to cling to, though none of that worked in his favor. Without all that, the guy would still be a walking sleezeball. But she had to play nice if she wanted to remain on the evening schedule. Piss Boomer off and you might never work nights again. Some of the girls would cuddle up to him for the best time slots. Ew. Gag. And ew again.
“Hi Boomer, baby,” Goldie beamed. She shared Naia’s view of the man, but a girl’s gotta work.
Naia forced an easy smile. “I can loosen them up all right. Just give me that mic and they’ll be as loose as you want.”
“Not too loose, honey. We don’t want ‘em falling asleep out there.” He tossed something at her feet. “Why don’t you wear these instead of that top you got on?”
Naia glanced at the old tattered pasties that could have been living in his pocket for the better part of a year.
Hold back the dry heave.
She turned her lips down into a pout. “You know that’s Crystal’s signature look. Wouldn’t want the other girls to think I’m encroaching on their style. Could cause discontent among the staff.”
Tiffany snatched them up and tossed them back at Boomer who managed to catch only one of them against his big belly while the other flopped to the ground. “Go on, you dirty old man.” She said playfully. “Stop teasing our little Sapphire. And you know you’re not supposed to be back here during work hours.”
“The club never closes,” he said. “All hours are work hours.”
Tiffany countered, “Then it’s a wonder you’re always back here. You’re going to have to start coughing up some dough for all the peep shows you get.”
He chuckled and scratched his gut. Then with a lingering look at all of them he backed out of the door.
“What a dickhead,” Goldie muttered when he was gone.
“He’s just a horny old fart,” Tiffany lightly defended.
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you had to work the day shifts like me and Sapphire here usually do.”
Tiffany shrugged haughtily. “Give him a little slap and tickle, and you might get better time slots.”
Naia shuddered. “No thank you. I’d rather swan dive into concrete.”
Goldie folded her cash over and secured it with a rubber band. “That’s only because you don’t rely on randy fellows throwing dollar bills at your crotch while you’re taking off your clothes so that you can afford to buy the clothes that you’ll later be taking off.”
“True,” she allowed. As a waitress, she worked for salary and tips. It wasn’t much, but, in her book, it beat the alternative. And she got a cool fifty every night she got to sing. Bonus!
Double bonus, actually, considering, were it to come down to it, she would sing for free. Nobody needed to know that, however.
She was lucky. With the economy in the bucket, times were rough. Many would grapple to slip into Goldie’s glinting plastic shoes for a night. And not just women. On Wednesdays, Dante hosted an all-male revue. He’d gotten the idea from an Ever Nights’ flyer, though he would never admit that.
Most of the town’s income came from entertainment facilities such as Dante’s Pit. But it was Ever Nights that brought the crowds. Tourists flocked there since it was also a hotel.
“But I also don’t get paid the big bucks like you and the other girls.” Naia applied a final layer of powder to her face. “I get a flat fee per performance, and my money is strictly for food and shelter.” And paying off my brother’s debt, she didn’t add. “New clothes are a luxury.” Once more, she admired the borrowed boots climbing up her calves.
As if reminded, Goldie pointed to the boots “Scuff my shit, and I’m going to have to kill you before I snatch them off your cold, rotting corpse.”
Naia lovingly petted the smooth leather. “Don’t let her scare you, babies, you can stay with me as long as you like.”
“Oh, god. You’re getting attached. I knew this was going to happen. Not a shoe person my ass!”
Tiffany pointed out, “If you want a pair of your own, you could probably have Boomer add you to the roster tonight. That is if he’s feeling generous. A little skin goes a long way, sugar.” She winked. “A lot gets you everything.”
Goldie moaned, “Ew, Tiff, really? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.” She turned to Naia. “Don’t listen to her. If I had a voice like yours, I might sing for my bread, too, rather than shaking my ass for it.”
“You sure about that?” Tiffany reached out and snatched Goldie’s cash, then hopped back and fanned herself with the pilfered loot.
Goldie leapt up and ripped the wad back from Tiffany’s clutches. Shoving it in her purse, she chirped, “The key word was might. I do have expensive taste after all.”
Tiffany laughed and turned back to her mirror.
Through the scratchy backstage speakers, Naia heard her introduction. “You just enjoyed the beautiful and talented Goldie,” the announcer said, “and now for the girl with the golden voice, let’s hear it for the sexy Sapphire!”
“Good luck,” Tiffany called after her as she hurried to the stage.
“You’re supposed to say break a leg,” Goldie chided then added something else but Naia didn’t catch it.
As the steady beat of music started, she pasted on a smile and sauntered to the microphone at the center of the stage. Typical, she was greeted by a barrage of hoots and hollers.
Some of the men in the crowd sidled up to the edge of the stage with dollars in hand, looking as though they thought she was another stripper. Most of the regulars knew her as filler entertainment, intermission while they refreshed their drinks and did a little gambling in the back rooms.
That didn’t mean they could keep their eyes off her. She wondered if some of them ever realized how often their gazes strayed to her, many having to squint through latticework that walled off the gambling tables while the dealers claimed their winnings. Were they ever curious why they just had to look at her while she sang?
Though her performance didn’t call for her to disrobe, she had moves. Her routine was provocative. Yet a little pop of her hips and sway of her body wasn’t the reason they found it difficult to tear their eyes away.
It was the siren in her blood. In her voice.
Several years ago, she learned she descended from an ancient line of sirens; the kind from mythology said to lure seafarers to their deaths. Everyone believed she had worked tirelessly to perfect her voice, but it was a talent she’d been born with. A natural ability. A natural curse.
No one but Cole knew what she was. She spotted him behind the bar serving drinks. She gave him a wave. Some of the other men thought it was for them and waved back.
She’d managed to get Cole this job a couple months ago, just after she’d been hired. Good thing too, because they would need all the money they could get if they were to pay down his gambling debts.
The Boyle twins, hard-ass bookies, had been circling him like sharks for the last month. It was either pay them off, or run for their lives. And without a decent amount of cash, neither option was feasible.
Cole responded with a double thumbs up accompanied by a funny face with his tongue sticking out to one side. She smiled, but it didn’t trip her up in the least. She was used to his fun-loving, sometimes childish, personality. He almost seemed too innocent for a place like this, though she knew better. He was only a few years younger than her, and just as hardened.
She hated that he had to work here. However, he was having the time of his life. He got propositioned daily by many of the female patrons looking for a little fun—as well as some of the working girls—because he was, according to what people told her, a hottie. Blech. If she had to think about that too much, she’d give herself a headache. To her, he was just her little brother; the kid who used to whine to their mother about an ouchy on his finger or a tiny scrape on his knee.
Yet, at some point, when she wasn’t paying attention, he’d gone and turned into a man. Since their mother’s disappearance ten years ago, she’d done her best protecting him, raising him, and he’d done his best keeping them both in the black with his talent at counting cards. That is until his luck had run out six months ago. A string of bad games had them fifteen grand in the hole. He’d never lost so badly in his entire life, even when he was wet behind the ears.
Part of her suspected those games had been rigged, but you don’t go around accusing gangsters of cheating unless you’re prepared to get shot in the face for your trouble.
When they decided he should step away from gambling for a while, supporting them had fallen on her shoulders.
Before this gig had come along, she would sing outside busy establishments while Cole manned a bag for donations. But as much as people loved to stand around and enjoy her voice, getting money from them was like pulling teeth. Everyone was hurting for funds these days thanks to the human/vampire wars that had ripped through the country over the last century. The world couldn’t seem to pick itself back up.
A lot of people believed the fighting wasn’t over, that some factions were still recruiting for the next assault. Naia wasn’t even sure what they were fighting over. Money? Power? Territory? Guess what, bitches. We all lost. Time to give it up.
Her grandmother used to spin tales of a nation that had been united by a strong government. Of opulence and excess. If you wanted something, you just ordered it over the Internet and wham bam it was yours. Naia couldn’t even imagine that kind of world.
Must have been nice.
The Internet still existed, but most people couldn’t afford it, and from what she understood, it was mostly used for porn anyway.
On the same token, very rich people had cell phones, and could call other very rich people and talk about very rich things.
Dante’s Pit had a general landline. It rarely ever rang.
In some parts of the world, she’d heard folks had gone as far as rejecting paper money all together, returning to the barter system. But no matter where you were, commodities were always preferred; jewelry, stones, precious metals.
When she had offered to pawn her mother’s locket, Cole had vehemently objected.
Accelerating her tempo, she drowned out her thoughts and let her song carry her mind away. Her enthrallment tonight was just a light dusting over the room, drawing energy from those who were caught in her snare, as she liked to call it.
She often wondered if her ancestors ever hated what they’d been compelled to do. If Naia didn’t sing, over time she would weaken, eventually growing ill. She’d been just a teen when her siren nature emerged. Her mother warned she could even die if she resisted the need too long.
But she hated having to suck energy from the unsuspecting. It made her feel like a leech. A freak. Unnatural.
At sixteen, she’d tried to go cold turkey. She could still remember the extreme exhaustion that dogged her. But she had persisted, hoping to change what she was, push past it. Be like everyone else.
But that turned out disastrous.
One terrible night, something dark had taken her over. She had awoken in the middle of the street that fronted their home, singing her lungs raw with no recollection of having left her bed in the dead of night. She’d decided later she must have sleepwalked.
Terrifying, yes, but that wasn’t what still sent shivers through her bones to this very day.
Barefoot and frightened, she’d spotted several males from the neighborhood coming for her with lust in their eyes, some half-dressed. Some not dressed at all…
Horrified, she had sprinted back inside to her mother’s room as deranged men started banging on the doors and windows. Without even packing, her mother had snuck them out the back.
They’d never returned.
Her mother warned her later that she could literally have driven men to insanity with her voice. She’d claimed that was what happened to sailors eons ago. Ships would pass by islands inhabited by Sirens who’d been trapped by the ocean, alone and mindless with starvation, never dying courtesy of their pureblood. They could not control their hunger, and the poor men, unable to resist the Siren’s song, would hurl themselves into the ocean, drowning as they battled waves to reach that beautiful sound.
Mindless with starvation, she thought. Yup, that was what it had felt like. Ever since then, she strived never to get to that uncontrollable point again. If she felt as though she was getting close, she would amp up her wattage ever so slightly—like tonight.
However, lately it didn’t seem to be enough. Last week, that same starved urge had unexpectedly come over her. This time it had jerked her awake at dawn, her vocal cords already hard at work.
Her instinct had been to run—what if the neighbors had heard? Cole was immune, but even still, he’d already left for work. There’d been no one to help her keep a lid on it. And the lid had been about to explode. If she let it, they’d have to move yet again, something neither of them could afford.
Dressed in nothing but her nightgown, hand slapped over her mouth, she had tripped through the living room on her way to the back door. Their building complex was nestled against woodland foothills—the whole reason why they’d rented the ground-floor apartment.
She’d raced into the surrounding woods, down the familiar path she and Cole had carved for just such an occasion. The plan was like a fire drill. She was to seek complete isolation in the foothills and let her voice free till the danger passed. Then, when she was more in control, she could feed freely without zombifying anyone. That was the theory. Except, in all their planning, Cole was meant to be there to help.
After what felt like half an hour of hiking the rocky hills, her vocal cords fighting every inch of the way, she finally unleashed her voice—
—and had immediately started to feed.
A hunter’s tent, hidden in the darkness, was several yards from her. But she couldn’t bottle it back up. It was too late to stop…
Two men had emerged wearing fatigues. They appeared dazed at first, but quickly focused on her as if she were their next prey, burgeoning madness in their eyes.
There was no churning ocean to stand bastion between them. A few terrifying seconds more and she would have discovered what happens when an ensnared male catches his Siren.
But before they reached her, they had turned on each other like wolves, grappling and clawing each other like savage dogs. Fighting for the sole right to claim her?
She hadn’t stuck around to find out. Able to finally cage her voice, she’d slipped away, racing back down the mountain.
After slamming the apartment door closed and engaging the lock and chain, she had hunched by the back window, puffing out harsh breaths and watching for her doom to stalk out of the forest.
The two hunters didn’t seem to have followed her. Perhaps they had killed each other. If so, their blood was on her hands.
That same morning, she had confessed everything to Cole.
He’d been a ball of positivity, reassuring her that he would protect her, that everything would be fine, that they just have to figure out how to keep it from happening again. Then he had instructed her to feed a little more than she had been. Even joking with her. Don’t forget, you’re a growing mythical creature. Got to make sure you eat your veggies. Though his voice had been teasing, she could tell he was worried more than he was letting on—
She gasped, her voice stuttering to a halt as she completely froze up on stage.
One of those hunters was sitting at the corner booth! And he was staring straight at her!