Neither of them spoke much on the way back to the club. Harper kept thinking of new questions, but she didn't ask. Most were about vampires, and she wasn't sure how much she was ready to learn, especially when Alec's expression was so grim and serious.
She remembered what he said about feeling ill in the sunlight, and if his tight grip on the wheel was any indication, they'd started the drive too late. He chain-smoked with the window open too, which made it hard to hear anything but the rush of wind and passing cars.
"You shouldn't litter," Harper told him after he'd flicked the third butt out his window.
"It's paper, not plastic," he shot back.
Harper gave him a skeptical look, but instead of arguing with his reasoning, she asked, "How long have you been in Vegas?"
"Seventy years, give or take," Alec said. "I've left a few times, but keep coming back."
"Here and there."
She looked out the window, thinking about the village. They turned a corner, and sunlight hit her full in the face. She winced and looked away, half-expecting to see Alec burst into flames. He didn't, but she saw him swallow twice.
Alec had a VIP sticker on his car that let him park on the first floor of the garage, and it was only a short walk over to the club. She expected him to use an employees' entrance, but they went through the front doors, passing a cleanup crew on the way. It was quiet on the dance floor and felt almost desolate.
As they headed toward the roped-off area in the back, Harper asked in a low voice, "Do your employees know what you are?"
"What do you think?" Alec asked.
He favored her with a curt nod and then unlocked the backroom door. There was nobody inside, and Alec locked it after her. She shivered as goosebumps formed on her arms. What if he'd made this entire thing up? Or he'd only told part of the truth? Maybe she was breakfast.
"I won't hurt you," Alec said, sensing her worry.
She flushed, realizing that her worries must have been obvious. "Sorry."
Alec shrugged, then took out his cell phone. He typed in a quick message, then motioned at a chair. "Sit. I'll make coffee."
"Cool. I didn't sleep much, in case you were wondering," Harper said.
"I figured. How do you take it?"
"Double cream, no sugar," Harper said.
He disappeared into a side room. She drummed her fingers on top of the table, feeling awkward and out of place. To distract herself, she studied the different monitors. Besides her home and Patrick's charred structure, she saw a school playground on one and a kitchen on another featuring an older woman scrambling eggs.
"Who is that?" she asked when she heard Alec return.
He set a mug of coffee in front of her. "Nobody important. We think the long-lost nephew that just popped up in her life might be a nefarian, though."
She frowned. "A… what?"
"Conman demon," Alec said.
"Huh," Harper watched for a moment longer, then took a sip of the coffee. It was stronger than she expected. "So you protect people."
"Amongst other things."
He sat down at the other end of the table, leaned back in his chair, and lit up a cigarette. Just as he took the first drag, Chloe burst through the door. She wrinkled her nose. "Sarah hates those. You know that."
Alec shook his head. "Had no idea, scouts' honor."
Chloe gave him a disapproving scowl that didn't reach her eyes, then turned and saw Harper. "Hey! You're back! Alec, you didn't tell me that Harper was here. I would have dressed up more…"
"You look fine," Harper assured her. "I'm sorry about how I left last night. It was just a lot."
"You're fine," Chloe said. Then she looked at Alec, tilted her head, and beamed. "You told her, didn't you?" She didn't wait for an answer before spinning back to Harper. "Well! When I learned he was a vampire, I tried to stake him. Imagine! He saved me from disembowelment the very next day. Good thing too, we've been best friends ever since. Right, Alec?"
Chloe winked at Harper. "He just doesn't like to admit how much he adores me, seeing how he likes to keep to himself so much. Even so, it's true. Is that coffee?"
"Cool!" She darted off to get her own cup.
"Is she always so…"
"Yes," Alec said. "Always."
Harper ran a hand over her face. "I didn't know that was possible at this time of the morning."
The door opened once more, and this time it was Conner who came in. Sarah followed him. Both were holding fast-food coffee cups.
Sarah raised hers in greeting. "Hello. Harper, it's good to see you again. You returned, I'm glad."
Conner grinned. "Well, who wouldn't come back to us?"
Sarah sat down. "I don't know. It took me a bit to warm to you guys."
"How did you guys meet?" Harper asked the two.
"Now that's a story," Chloe said, taking the reins as she returned to the group. She flopped down in a chair and grinned around. "Let's see. I told you I tried to stake Alec. Not a joke. Then we did some crime-fighting, we were pretty badass, but then Conner crashed our duo…"
Conner laughed. "Crashed? You invited me in with open arms. I was running a scam, and Alec stepped in. We ended up in a poker game, and man, he can play."
"He turned a new leaf after that," Chloe said. "Decided it was more fun to be on our side than against it."
"And you?" Harper asked Sarah.
Sarah offered a slow smile. "I was caught in a trap. They rescued me. I had nobody else, and they became home."
"I see. So what do you do?" Harper asked. "I mean, all of you. Alec said you protect people…"
"Yeah," Conner said. "Sounds about right. This and that."
"This and that?" Harper repeated. "No. I need more."
Chloe leaned forward. "Well, I mean, can you tell what we are? Having the Sight and all?"
"Well…" Harper paused, looking at each of them. None of them had anything close to the aura she'd seen around Alec that morning, but she thought she could feel something around Conner. "No, not at all."
"You will," Alec said.
Harper nodded, glancing back at Conner. "So what are you? I know Alec is a… what he is."
"You can say it," Alec snapped. "Vampire isn't a dirty word, Harper. At least not around here."
Harper flushed again. "Right, sorry."
"No harm, no foul," Conner interjected. He leaned forward, flashing her an enormous smile. "I'm an incubus."
"An incubus," he repeated. "I seduce people. Well, women. I haven't tried on any men. I know part of the seduction is my natural good looks and charm, but it's more than that too. It's a control. Most people can't resist or ignore me."
"I see. Are you a demon?" Harper asked.
"I am," he said. "Don't worry, though. I'm not going to seduce you. Even if I wanted to, my charm doesn't work on you. I know, I tried. When you first came to the club, I recognized you from the camera, so I tried talking to you. When you shot me down, I tried my charm. But you ignored direct orders — giving your name, staying put. That's how I knew you weren't a fraud."
"Why didn't it work on me?" Harper asked. "Is that a gypsy thing?"
"I don't know," Conner admitted. "I've used my powers on gypsies before, but some have unique attributes and powers. It's hard to tell."
Harper considered. "Well, I'm glad it doesn't work on me. So you seduce people, that's… interesting."
Conner shook his head. "No, not anymore. I just use my charm to help convince people to help with our cases as needed. It comes in handy when you're up against a dozen harpies, and there's no easy escape route."
"Harpies," Harper repeated. She looked at Chloe. "Are you a harpy?"
"She's a leprechaun," Conner said.
Chloe shook her head, looking offended. "Do I look like a leprechaun, Harper?"
"I, uh, don't think I've ever met one before," Harper said.
"Trust me, if you'd met a leprechaun, you'd remember," Chloe said.
Conner smirked. "She's actually a—"
"If you call me a wood nymph again, I'll hit you," Chloe threatened. She walked in front of Harper and twirled. "I'm a fairy."
"Oh?" Chloe repeated. "That's it? Oh? Come on! Fairies are wonderful. Look what I can do!"
She held her hands out and lifted a few inches from the ground. "Can you do that? No? Didn't think so. Just oh. Everyone underestimates fairies."
"Sorry," Harper said, bemused. "You're right, that's cool."
"Sure is," Chloe said. She sank into her chair, crossing her arms.
Harper looked at Sarah. "And you?"
Sarah rose, moved away from the table, and said, "It's easier if I show you."
She smiled, then without ceremony, turned slightly, and then transformed into a large panther. She sat on her haunches and looked at Harper.
"Woah!" Harper said, shoving back from her chair. She stared at Sarah with wide eyes.
"Oh right," Chloe said. "That gets the reaction. I levitate, and nobody bats an eye, but she turns into a giant house cat…"
Sarah transformed back. "I'm a shapeshifter. I've only known about my abilities for a few years, though. But I can transform into either a panther or a wolf. Nothing else yet."
"That's amazing," Harper said.
"Thank you," Sarah said. She returned to her seat. "When I said they rescued me from a trap, I meant a literal one. I'd been running as a wolf and got my foot caught in one of those metal teeth traps left by a hunter."
"Couldn't you just shapeshift out of it?" Harper asked.
Sarah shook her head. "I'd only been transforming for a few months, and my control over it was very poor. I was in pain, and whenever I got calm enough to become myself again, the trap would bite into my ankle. It took forever to heal."
"What about your clothes?" Harper asked.
"They change with me," Sarah said. "That took a lot of practice. It used to be that whenever I'd shift, I'd rip through anything I was wearing. But I got tired of shifting back to find myself naked and out of another outfit. I learned to extend the surrounding field to include them."
"That's amazing," Harper said.
"And cheaper," Chloe chimed in.
Harper looked around at them all. "So you do this and that. Tell me more about it, with details."
Conner rolled his eyes. "With details, guys. You want a blow by blow, Harper?"
She flushed. "I just meant…"
"He knows what you meant," Chloe said, reaching over to smack Conner, who pretended to flinch away. "He's just a jerk."
"We protect people," Sarah said, echoing Harper's comment from earlier. "There are people in the city — demons — who aren't like us. They don't care about keeping the peace. They want power and riches, and they don't mind hurting people to get it. It's our job to stop them."
"Supernatural crime fighters," Harper said, almost laughing.
Alec snorted and didn't comment.
"We're the good guys," Conner told her, shrugging.
"Yeah, without us, the city would have fallen," Chloe told her, giggling.
Sarah shook her head. "Don't be dramatic. We keep bad things from happening, that's all. And it's not like we're living like saints here."
Harper raised her eyebrows.
She shrugged. "Afterlife makes a decent income, and Alec supplements anything else we might need financially."
"We don't have someone with the Sight," Alec cut in, changing the topic. "You offer a lot of value to our team, Harper."
"Team," Chloe repeated. "God, Alec, it's like you think we're friends or something."
"The very best," he told her, his voice flat. She looked away but was smiling.
"This is crazy," Harper said.
"Are you going to leave again?" Sarah asked.
"No," Harper said, wondering if she was nuts too. "But yesterday, I was just working a crap job, barely making the rent on time, but you know, normal."
Conner snorted. "You never made rent on time."
Harper glared at him. "Fine. Sure, never. But now there's a group of supernatural people who want to recruit me into their superhero club to fight evil."
At her terrible summary, everyone laughed. Everyone but Alec. He leaned forward, completely serious as he put out his cigarette. "Harper, you need to hear this."
She looked at him.
"You have never been normal."