Friday, November 8th, 5:10 pm
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
Katherine Colby glanced at the rooster clock on the wall behind the dessert counter on her way to the back of The Urban Country restaurant, and swore under her breath.
Where the hell is Jan?
Katherine’s shift normally ended at 4:30, but Jan was late again. Each time she peeked at the clock, the hands showed another ten minutes had flown by.
She didn’t want to leave Amy alone to wait on the customers until Jan decided to show up, but she didn’t have much choice. She had other responsibilities, like picking up her son. But before she did, she needed to stop at Wal-Mart. Once home, there was dinner to cook, a load of laundry to wash and dry, all before she could soak her aching feet and back in a hot bath.
Thank God she had Monday off. Gotta love a long weekend.
Although tired and sore, she mentally counted her blessings. First on the list was her job. Waitressing at the popular family eatery was by far the best job she’d had. Even though money was tight, the rent was paid on time, and she and her son had food on the table. Now if she could afford a new car, one that didn’t sound like a tank thanks to a hole in the muffler, life would be perfecto.
On the positive side, even while her car was a piece of junk, it worked. Things could always be worse, right?
She laughed inside. Things had been worse. Much worse.
Her main worry at the moment was Ike and his dentist appointment, and how she’d pay for it. Don’t forget why he needs to see a dentist. Yes, his…fangs?
A shiver danced through her. They’re not fangs.
She shoved that thought away and concentrated on finding Amy. On her way past the cash registers, Katherine spotted her friend, busily ringing up a customer’s bill. While waiting for Amy to finish with the transaction, Katherine refilled the mint dish beside the take-out menus on the glass counter.
After the customer left, Amy sighed and pointed at the front of her white uniform shirt. A brown stain covered her ample breasts. “Look at this.”
The blemish resembled a psychologist’s inkblot picture of a butterfly. Katherine tried to hold in her laughter, but it burst out.
Amy chuckled. “A little boy—or should I say brat—had a fit and spilled his chocolate shake. Of course it had to land on me.”
“I’m off, so you can use my shirt. And sorry I can’t stay until Jan shows up.”
Amy hugged her. “Don’t worry about it. Jan’s here now—and yes, I’d love to borrow your shirt.”
They walked down a short hallway and opened the door marked STAFF. The room smelled of burnt coffee and tuna fish—an odor that would forever remind Katherine of her boss. She walked over to a glass top table, and sat on one of the mismatched chairs.
“Bet Jan’s getting her ass reamed out by Michelle,” Amy said with a delighted smile.
Katherine laughed as she slid her bag closer. She unbuttoned her uniform top and handed it to Amy, then yanked a black hoodie from the bag and pulled it over her head.
“You’re a lifesaver,” Amy said as she took off her top.
“Just call me Lifesaver K.” Katherine stood. She released her long hair from the ponytail then ran her fingers through the strands before massaging her scalp.
As Amy tucked the shirttails into the waistband of her black slacks, she asked, “Oh hey, do you want to go to Cooter’s Pub Saturday night with Alice and me? And don’t say no like you always do. Get a sitter. ”
Katherine smoothed pink lip-gloss over her lips before meeting Amy’s stare. Sometimes she envied Amy’s carefree life: spur of the moment trips to the States to shop, camping, dating. They were both twenty-nine, but Katherine felt much older. But that was what happened when one got pregnant at nineteen. And raising a child alone tended to rocket a person into adulthood with no stops.
“I can’t afford it. I have to take Ike to the dentist next Wednesday.”
“No…thanks, but no.” Katherine was proud of how she made a life for her and her son, and if she couldn’t afford to go out, then too bad.
“Okay, but one of these days, I’m going to take you out for a night on the town. Don’t you want to meet someone and fall in love?”
Love, yeah right. Love was for naive idiots. “Amy, please. I’m not interested in meeting anyone right now.”
“Sorry, I just want you to be happy.”
Katherine grabbed her second-hand, blue jacket off the coat rack and slipped her arms into the sleeves. “I am happy. Honestly.” And she was. The last few years had been good. Finally, her life floated along on smooth—contented—waters. After the storms she’d weathered, it felt great to be sailing on calm seas.
Amy dug in her purse and pulled out a small compact. She finger combed her stylish, blond hair. “So, what’s up with my main man, Ike? Got himself a couple of cavities?”
A niggle of fear wormed through Katherine’s stomach, tarnishing her earlier feelings of contentment. “I wish it were only cavities.”
Frowning, Amy closed her compact and dropped it into her purse. “What’s wrong?”
“A couple nights ago, Ike complained that both sides of his mouth hurt. When I looked inside…” She let out a nervous chuckle. “Above his eye teeth, he has teeth poking through the gums. They’re sharp like fangs.”
Stop calling them fangs!
“Jesus. That’s…weird. Maybe they’re his adult teeth coming in?”
“He’s ten—he already has most of his adult teeth. Anyway, I called a dentist and told the receptionist what’s wrong, and she said some kids have an extra set of teeth. He has to go in for an x-ray. Most likely they’ll have to be pulled.”
Amy tossed her purse onto the pink floral loveseat. “Oh, well that’s not too bad.”
“I’m worried about how much it’ll cost. I have two hundred bucks saved from my tips, but if it goes over…”
“Ask Michelle to lend you the cash.”
“No way. Remember what happened when you asked for an advance? She flipped out.”
“That’s because she knew I went to Bellingham and blew my money on clothes and booze. Besides, you could pay her back with your tips.”
As much as she didn’t want to ask, if it came down to her pride or her son’s health, there was no choice—Ike’s well being won out over everything else. She’d wait and see what the damage was before she asked.
Katherine shrugged. “I’ll think about it. Anyway, I better get going. I’ll see you Tues—”
Amy crossed her arms. “Oh, for shit sakes, Kat. Do you want me to ask Michelle for you?”
“Ask me what?”
Katherine whipped her head toward the entrance. Oh shit.
The door banged shut behind their boss. She strolled across the dingy carpet and grabbed a tuna fish sandwich from the fridge. She sat at the table and cocked an ashy brown eyebrow at them. “Well?”
Katherine’s heart pounded like a drummer revved up on caffeine and speed banging away on a set of drums. She’d worked for Michelle for eight years and respected the hell out of her, but she was also afraid of her. “Ah…nothing.”
Amy elbowed past her. “Katherine has to take Ike to the dentist, and she’s worried about how much it’ll cost.”
Grabbing her friend’s arm, Katherine tugged her back. “Amy—”
“She has some money saved, but it may cost more,” Amy blurted out.
Oh crap, now you’ve done it. Thanks a lot. Katherine wished she could shrink down to the size of an ant and scurry to safety.
Michelle remained quiet as she methodically chewed her sandwich. Her steel gray eyes bored into Katherine. “Amy, don’t you have customers to serve?”
Amy touched Katherine’s shoulder. “I’ll see you Tuesday.”
Yeah, if Michelle doesn’t can my ass.
The door closed softly, leaving Katherine alone with her boss, whose harsh expression warned of the impending storm brewing inside her stocky frame.
Katherine’s knees trembled, but she didn’t break eye contact.
“How much do you need?” Michelle asked.
Katherine’s spine stiffened. Pride had her yearning to say she needed nothing. She’d learned early on not to rely on others. Her extremely religious parents taught her that lesson well when they disowned her for dancing with the devil as they called it after she got pregnant out of wedlock.
Don’t think about them.
Besides, this wasn’t about her. It was about her son. She pushed down her pride and rubbed her neck. “I’m not sure. I won’t know until after Wednesday’s appointment.”
The fridge in the corner clicked on, the hum loud in the uneasy silence.
Michelle took another bite of her sandwich, chewed then swallowed. “When you find out, let me know. Once I know how much I’ll be lending you, I’ll work out a payment plan.”
Katherine blew out a relieved breath. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. I’ll lend you the difference only because you remind me of myself, except my fucking family washed their hands of me because I’m a lesbian.” Michelle stood, tossed the rest of her sandwich in the trash, and walked to the door.
Katherine’s cheeks burned as Michelle’s words brought back memories of the spectacle she’d made of herself at her job interview eight years ago. She had been alone, scared, and penniless in a new city, with a two year old to feed.
And since she had no waitressing experience, Michelle had been about to say no. Strained beyond the point of snapping and with no dignity left, Katherine had told Michelle the whole sordid story in hopes she’d take pity on her. Which she did, to Katherine’s surprise.
Her boss tugged the door open, but didn’t leave. She turned to Katherine, her bushy eyebrows pulled low. “But instead of me lending you the cash, you should find that low-life bastard who fathered your son and haul his ass into court and sue him for past child support.”
The face of her one and only lover filled her mind, and her knees weakened. The picture was so clear, it was as if he stood in front of her: eyes the color of a summer sky, black hair that brushed wide shoulders. Straight nose, strong jaw, and a smile that had stripped away her common sense.
Five glorious months they spent together—five months spent falling in love.
Anger and hatred collided in Katherine’s gut, the force of the raw emotions made her nauseous.
If she ever saw Kal again she’d knock his teeth down his throat and kick him in the balls so hard he wouldn’t be able to seduce and lie to a woman like he had to her ten years ago.
Friday, November 8th, 5:30pm
Kal leaned back in his La-Z-Boy recliner and mouthed the word fuck as his mother’s voice droned on and on from the other end of his cell phone. He had to hand it to her—she was damn good with a hammer. With each word uttered, she tried to bang another nail into his bachelor coffin.
But he held his own…sort of.
“Did you get the package I sent you?” his mother asked in her rich French accent. Her voice brought back memories of her singing to him and his older brother when they were young.
“Oui," Kal replied. "The cookies were good. Thanks.” He knew she didn’t give a shit about the cookies. What she wanted to know were his thoughts on the photos.
He glanced at his lap. Four glossy pictures of vampire women stared back at him. All head shots, all airbrushed to perfection. Flipping them over, he almost laughed out loud when he saw they were complete with each woman’s stats. Just like all the rest his mother had sent him over the last three years.
“What about the sweater?” she asked. “Does it fit?”
Kal sighed and shoved the photos back in the manila envelope. “Mom, just ask me what you want to ask me.”
Silence met his ear before she cleared her throat. “Sweetheart, I’m only thinking of you and your future—the future of our house. You need an heir, and I’d like to hold a grandchild before I leave this Earth.”
Yep, here comes the guilt.
When he didn’t reply, she continued, “I’m already four hundred and thirty-two.”
Shit. She’s pulling out all the stops this time. “You’re still young. And I will get married and give you grandchildren, just not right now.”
“You know how quickly life changes—how loved ones are here one day, and then gone the next.”
Pain knotted Kal’s gut. He knew that she was referring his father and older brother. They had been killed sixty years ago in a demon raid. And since he was a warrior and his job risky, his days were most likely numbered.
For all he knew, he could be whacked tonight.
“You’re all I have left, Kal. I love you and want you to be happy. I also want to know you, your father and brother will live on through your children. Is that too much to ask?”
Kal picked at the duct tape holding in the stuffing on the frayed armrest of his green and yellow recliner. What the hell could he say to that? He loved his mother dearly and knew she still suffered from the loss of her mate and first-born son.
And since he became the head of the household, it was his duty to marry and produce not only an heir to his house, but sire future warriors for the war between vampires and demons.
The problem was he wanted more than a cold marriage of obligation, which was the norm for vampires. Rarely did his kind marry for love—although if the couple were lucky, love could grow between them like it had for his squad leader, Roarik and his wife, Celeene.
“Kal? Are you still there?”
“Ah, yeah. I’m here.” The words duty and responsibility swirled through his mind. He stood, knocking the manila envelope to the floor. The pictures spilled out, mocking him further. He cringed. Duty. Responsibility. Marriage. Pick me. No, pick me!
Kal rubbed the back of his tight neck, trying to relieve his tension. Fuck tension, more like panic. He needed to get off the phone and split from the base for a while and think.
“Hey, Mom. I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you later.”
“All right, sweetheart, but can you do one thing for me?”
Now what? “Sure.”
“Can you at least give what we talked about serious consideration? The females I’ve picked are all worthy of you. Their bloodlines are impeccable.”
Impeccable and beautiful, but he was in no hurry to be trapped in a loveless marriage with some snooty, high society female just for the sake of reproducing. He wanted a marriage based on love, not necessity. And at one time he was fool enough to believe he could have that.
Fuck, he was such a chick.
Kal cleared his throat. “I will. I’ll seriously think about…” He swallowed. “Marriage.” Same answer he gave every time they had this discussion, except this time he meant it. He couldn’t put it off much longer. Better to get it over with.
“Thank you, son. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom. Au revoir.”
He closed his phone. His fingers curled around the warm plastic, and he drew his arm back, ready to launch the thing against the wall. Watching it smash to a million pieces might help demolish his frustration.
Then he’d have to buy a new phone. And programming all the numbers was a pain in the ass. Instead he dropped it into the back pocket of his jeans.
Kal grabbed his remote off the coffee table and aimed it at his TV. The video game he’d been playing before his mother called remained paused on the fifty-two inch screen. Without saving his progress, he shut off the gaming system and the television. He scooped up the scattered photos and shoved them back in the envelope. As they slid inside, the flash of long black hair caught his attention.
Slowly, he extracted the picture. Light green eyes, surrounded by dark lashes, stared back at him. Pale skin. Pouty lips. The facial features, although perfect, were all wrong. But the hair was the same as hers.
Kal stroked the cheek of the vampire woman in the photo, but it wasn’t her soft skin he pretended to feel. It belonged to a human woman he’d known years ago.
Gazing at the snapshot, the female’s green eyes changed to a deep brown—the seductive look turned to one of love and innocence. The straight nose transformed into one with a slight upturn at the end, and the full lips parted into an easy smile.
His heart slammed against his ribs, and his knees almost buckled. Kal slumped onto his recliner as his forefinger traveled from her cheek to her smiling lips. Memories of their mouths meshed together—her hands caressing his body—flooded his mind.
With complete clarity, he remembered the silky weight of her hair as he tunneled his fingers through the dark strands, her breasts filling his palms as she straddled his hips and rode him. In answer to his sexy recollections, his cock hardened.
She was the only woman he’d ever loved. And after ten years, she still owned him, mind, body and soul.
Cursing out loud, Kal shook off his lustful fog. The photograph returned to the green-eyed stranger. He stuffed the picture into the packet then shoved it down the side of the cushion.
Emotions he thought he’d buried clamored to the surface. An all-consuming depression wrapped around him like barbed wire, embedding its hooks deep into his flesh.
The first year after he’d left Katherine, he’d functioned on autopilot, surviving on the knowledge leaving was the best—for her.
Pain constricted his chest, making it hard to drag air into his lungs. Kal surged to his feet and seized his jacket off the brown leather couch. He strapped a black scabbard containing a six-inch blade around his waist before storming toward the door. He yanked it open and stepped into the dimly lit hallway of the underground tunnel. The sound of his booted feet echoed off the concrete floor and walls as he made his way up the stairs leading to the main house.
Thank God he didn’t run into any other demon slayers—he wasn’t in the mood for yapping.
But he spoke too soon. Halfway up the stairs, the door at the top flung open. Breeana the human wife of Mel, his fellow slayer and best friend, carefully walked down the stairs. She stared at her feet as she held tight to the wooden handrail with her right hand, while a white ice-cream bucket dangled from her left one.
Trying to look like he was in a hurry, Kal took the stairs two at a time.
Breeana glanced up and stopped. “Hey, Kal. Where you off to?”
He plastered a smile on his face. “Howdy, Dudette. I’m headin’ to Wal-Mart—the video game I’ve been waiting for came out yesterday.” Which wasn’t a lie. He had decided to go there.
She laughed. “You and your games.”
“Yep.” Kal smoothed his hand over her protruding abdomen. “How’s the little dude or dudette treatin’ ya?”
Her answer was to hold the ice-cream bucket in front of his face.
A contented smile curled her lips as she rubbed her free hand over her belly. Jealousy wormed through Kal. Not because he was in love with his friend’s wife, but because Mel had what Kal craved. Love and a family.
Feeling like an asshole, he moved past her. “I better get going. Tell Mel to call my cell when he’s ready to head out hunting.” He ran up the remaining steps.
When he stood inside the foyer of the main house, he closed his eyes and concentrated on where he wanted to go—the small group of trees behind the Wal-Mart parking lot.
His body shook, and a tingle ran from head to toe. The next second, he heard the rush of car tires on wet pavement, and a cold wind blew drizzle across his cheeks. He glanced around to make sure no humans had spotted him. Satisfied he was alone, he zipped his jacket, stepped out of the clump of fir trees and walked across the lot.
The moment he stepped inside the store, warm air and voices greeted him along with the smell of McDonalds. He hunched his shoulders and kept his gaze on the floor as he passed the produce section, the cleaning supply isle, then the toy department. Inside Electronics, he stood in front of the locked glass cases and waited for the pimple-faced teen to finish with his current customer.
While waiting, his thoughts traveled back to the last time he saw Katherine. After making love, he’d held her for hours, hating himself for what he had to do. Just before dawn, he left her sleeping in the one-bedroom apartment she'd rented. No good-bye, no note. Just gone.
That was the hardest decision he’d ever made—the hardest and most heart wrenching.
Wonder what her life is like now? She’s probably married with a couple of kids.
Sadness engulfed him. Yep, she most likely had a happy, normal human life.
“Can I help you with something, sir?”
The kid’s squeaky voice pulled Kal from his thoughts. “Ah, yeah. I’d like the new Modern Warfare, please.”
After the purchase, he hurried through the electronics’ entrance, keeping his gaze focused on the floor. Why the hell couldn’t he shake this mood? Better question. Why was Katherine occupying is mind so much lately?
Feeling depressed and frustrated, he glanced at his wristwatch: ten minutes after six. Too early to head out hunting, but he didn’t want to go back to the base. Maybe he’d stop off at The Green Tree for a couple of drinks, then poof back to the base to strap on the rest of his weapons. Yeah, that was what he’d do.
Just as he passed the women’s underwear and purse area, he collided into someone. By the slight gasp, the scent of strawberry perfume, and how easily the person bounced of his large frame and fell to the floor, he knew he’d run into a woman.
“Oh shit. I’m so sorry.” She’d landed on her ass. A wall of long black hair covered her face. Her purse had flown from her hands and spilled its contents. Kal bent down to help her up.
She pushed her hair from her face and glared up at him with an angry set of brown eyes. “You moron. Watch where—” The words stalled out as her pale complexion turned ghostly.
His heart ground to a screeching halt. “Katherine?”