"So much for staying low profile," Sarah said to Harper, once they'd finished giving statements to the police who'd come to the scene.
Harper shrugged. "At least I didn't get a ticket."
Sarah shook her head. "That's the lesson you took from this?"
"Better him than me," Harper said, nodding at the other driver. With eyewitnesses in the area backing her up, he'd been the one to get a ticket for being on his phone. Harper didn't feel bad, not knowing what would have happened if she hadn't caused him to hit her.
They walked over to the corner of the street, leaving Sarah's car to be picked up by the tow truck. There were a lot of repairs needed before she could drive it again.
"Sorry about the car," Harper finally offered.
"I have good insurance," Sarah told her. Then she grinned and bumped Harper with a shoulder. "Now, if you'd used Conner's car, that would be different. It's his baby."
"Oh, I'm serious."
"Uh-huh. So, Conner…" Harper looked at her, grinning too. "You two came in together this morning; I saw that."
Sarah blinked, then burst into laughter. "Oh god, no, Harper. He's not my type."
"No. We grab coffee together every other day, though. It's our tradition."
"Why? Interested?" She flashed Harper a smirk.
"Hardly," Harper said. "He comes across very… full of himself."
Sarah considered. "He can be conceited, but he's a good man."
Before Harper could comment on this, the cab they'd called pulled up. The driver was a full-bearded man with a tattoo on his hand. He smiled at them. "Hello, ladies. Where to?"
Harper gave him her address, and they were off. To her surprise, he was a careful driver — taxi-drivers were often known for speeding, road rage, and taking turns on two rims.
It took twice as long to reach her apartment than if Harper had been driving herself. She was quiet during the drive, not knowing what to say to Sarah with someone else present.
Once they arrived, the cab driver put the vehicle in park and got out. He opened Harper's door for her. Sarah beat her to the punch in paying him, offering out a fifty.
"Keep the change," she told him.
"Thank you," he said, pocketing it. As she turned away, he called, "Ladies?"
"Yes?" Harper asked, looking back at him. He swung a fist at her face. She moved instinctively, and the blow only glanced off the side of her head. She saw stars, and her head spun with pain.
"Hawthorne," he said, his voice drawing out her last name. "Finally out of the woodwork. It's so good to see you. Crashing cars on purpose, saving little people. Good girl, so easy."
"Who are you?" Harper demanded, backing up a step.
He didn't answer, just leaped at her. But Sarah was there then, shoving Harper aside. She turned and pivoted a kick. It connected with the man's head, and Harper heard a solid thunk, but it didn't seem to phase him much. He just stepped back and lifted his fists.
"Bring it," Sarah taunted. Harper watched, almost stunned, as the two fought. Sarah was skilled in kick-boxing and landed blow after blow, only taking two herself, both of which were minor connects.
Then he landed a full blow against her shoulder, and Sarah let out a loud puff of air, then transformed in a sudden flash into her panther form. The driver, not expecting this, stumbled back, a comical look of surprise in place. Sarah didn't hesitate but pounced forward, swiping at his chest. She'd thrown him off his feet, her claws ripping through his clothing and the flesh of his chest. The long rakes quickly welled with blood, and Harper saw it was green.
She furrowed her brow, trying to see what he was, but there was nothing more than a faint yellow aura around him, the color of an aged newspaper. Sarah blinked at his prone body, then flashed back into herself. "Come on, Harper, move."
When she didn't, Sarah grabbed her arm and yanked her toward the apartments. Her grip felt tight on Harper's arm, and she wondered how much adrenaline flowed through the woman's veins.
"But Sarah, what about the… we can't just leave him here. People will see him."
Sarah didn't slow down, still pulling her along. "I'll explain inside."
Harper snapped out of her muddled mind, and she ran with Sarah now. Once up her stairs, she yanked out her key, unlocked the door, and the two went inside. She snapped the deadbolt in place and whirled around. "He was green. I mean, not him; he was yellow. But his blood. His blood was green."
"He was a demon," Sarah said.
"Did you kill him?"
"I injured him," Sarah said. "No more than that, I'm sure of it. Demons are tough."
"But then he'll come after us?"
"No," Sarah said. "He's too hurt. And don't worry, what you said about people seeing him? They're demons who take care of that. They'll come around, move him out. They've got a network."
"A network," Harper repeated.
Sarah nodded. "Yes. Neutral parties, as it were. They make sure men like that, demons, they're not found by the public. Can I get some water?"
Harper nodded and went to fill a glass. "Why'd he bring us here? I don't get it. Why not just take us somewhere remote and off us?"
Sarah shrugged. "Remember, Harper, they don't know your strength. I don't know anything about him, but if I had to wager a guess—"
"Please do." She handed her the water.
Sarah drank half of it down, then glanced toward the door. "A lower demon charged with getting information. Find out your apartment number, which unit is yours, you know? Then he acted on his own. Wanted some glory."
Harper grimaced. "Should I be expecting a house call then? Green-blooded men in the middle of the night?"
"No," Sarah said. "Sorry, Harper, you can't stay here."
"Okay," Harper agreed. "We can head somewhere else for a while."
"Not a while," Sarah said. "Think more long term. It's not safe here. You'll have to move."
"Move?" Harper repeated. "No way."
"You'll have to," Sarah insisted. "Now come on, grab a bag. Make it light. We can come back for more stuff later."
Harper narrowed her eyes and turned on a heel, stalking into her room. She knew it wasn't Sarah's fault, but anger burned through her. She loved her apartment and its odd charm.
She took a suitcase out of her closet and began stuffing it with some jeans, t-shirts, and undergarments. Then she snapped it closed and rejoined Sarah. "Where to? A hotel? I don't have money."
Sarah gave her a consoling look. "I know you're upset, Harper. I would hate to leave my home."
Harper slumped her shoulders. "It's just, this was my first place."
"The first place is the hardest to leave," Sarah said. "But think about it, the next time you choose a place, you'll have a lot more options. As for a hotel, no. I don't want you alone. We'll have to risk you at Afterlife. Alec's apartment is above the club. That should work."
"You want me to stay with Alec?" Harper stared at her.
Sarah shrugged. "He's probably safeguarded it."
"But… he's a vampire," Harper blurted out.
"And you're a gypsy," Sarah said, smiling. "Neither of you chose that, and you've got plenty in common."
"Are you ready?" Sarah asked.
Sarah stepped over to the door. "I'll go first, make sure nobody's lying in wait. You've got a car?"
"I do," Harper said.
Sarah unlocked the door and stepped outside. She strode forward, checking the surroundings. When she was sure it was clear, she motioned for Harper to follow. They went out, heading toward the parking lot. "Don't run; it could draw attention. But hurry. And stay close."
Harper did so, moving toward her car, keys in one hand, suitcase in the other. She couldn't help but glance over toward where the demon had attacked. She saw two men there. One was kneeling, the other standing with his arms crossed. The injured demon was nowhere to be seen.
"They're cleaning the blood," Harper whispered toward Sarah. "See, he's scrubbing and—"
"I'll drive this time," Sarah interrupted, snatching the keys from Harper. She opened the passenger door and waited for Harper to get inside. Once she had, she closed it, then got in the drivers' seat.
As if to counter the taxi driver, Sarah's driving was sharp and terrifying. Once out of the complex, she took corners as though they were nothing, sped through every light she could, and cut off a few cars here and there. Harper thought she was saving time to get to the club, but they went in what felt like circles for almost an hour.
"In case they're tailing," Sarah explained, glancing at Harper's pale face.
When they finally came to a stop in front of the club, the bouncer approached, knocking on Harper's window. "Can't park here, ladies. You'll find the garage—"
"It's me," Sarah said, leaning forward to look at him.
"Oh, Miss Clay, my apologies. I'll get you a pass."
"Thank you," she said.
Once they had a parking pass in the window, they headed inside. There weren't many people inside yet, just a DJ setting up his station and a few bartenders preparing their stations.
"Something's bothering me," Harper told Sarah as they passed the stalls. "The man, the driver, he knew why I'd crashed your car. How could he know it was to save someone?"
Sarah glanced at her, considered, then sighed. "He probably planted the vision. I didn't even think about it."
"Planted it? What do you mean?"
Sarah shrugged. "Some demons can do that. Usually only for something happening in the immediate future, and they can only change it slightly."
"He can change the future?" Harper asked, eyes wide.
"No. He can change your vision of the future, that's all," Sarah said.
"You mean, that woman was never in danger?" Harper frowned. "But the girl was there, and the driver was texting. It doesn't make sense."
Sarah gave her a cautious look. "Harper, I'm sorry. I don't know; I've never met a gypsy. We'll ask Alec, all right? Let's get to the others, tell them what's happened."
The back room was empty. Harper sank into a chair, watching Sarah send several texts.
"I don't have your phone numbers," Harper said.
Sarah held out her hand. "Give me."
After unlocking her phone and passing it over, Harper went to the fridge for a ginger ale. She was amused to see that Sarah had to double-check each contact number on her own phone.
"There you go," Sarah slid the phone back toward her.
Harper opened her soda, took a swallow, then checked the contacts to remind herself of last names. "Thanks. Is it safe here, you think?"
"Safe enough," Sarah told her. "I mean, no place is fully protected, but that's part of the reason that we own a nightclub. Too busy for a straight-up attack, like we said earlier. Nobody wants to try something in a crowd. Especially this crowd. Exposure, you know?"
"Gotcha. What's the other part?"
"You said it was part of why you own a nightclub," Harper glanced up at the monitors, noting they'd taken down the one at Patrick's. "I mean, it is odd. You don't expect it."
"It's an excellent base for operations," Sarah said. "People come in here at night to party. Good guys, bad guys, everyone in between. They drink, they talk. If you're good at conversation, like Conner, it's an endless well of information."
"People spilling their guts," Harper mused. "Both the secret kind and the literal kind."
Sarah shrugged. "You've got the right of it."
They sat there for a while, talking about the club, before Alec joined them. He waved a hand. "Well? What happened?"
"A demon attacked," Sarah said. "He wasn't great. Lower, I'd wager."
"He bled green," Harper told him.
Alec motioned again. "More info than that, please."
Sarah told him, starting with the vision and ending with the attack at the apartment.
He rounded on Harper at the end, glaring. "You wrecked her car? Seriously? I told you to lie low, Harper. Are you trying to get yourself killed? Damn it!"
She glared at him too. "So I should have just ignored what I saw? Let that woman die?"
"He planted the vision," Alec snapped at her. "Sugar fed it to you, and you gobbled it right on up. Scared you into acting."
"Well, how was I supposed to know that?" Harper demanded.
"If you had control of your powers—"
"I didn't even know about them!"
"Alec, enough," Sarah said. "She did what she thought was right. Let it go."
Alec scowled but didn't argue.
"She's staying in your apartment," Sarah continued. "So I thought—"
"You have an extra room," Sarah reminded him. "She can't go home, and a hotel is out of the question."
"No," Alec repeated.
"I don't want to stay with him," Harper said, lifting her chin.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Too bad. Alec, it's the best choice."
"Why can't she stay with you?" Alec asked.
"That's a good idea," Harper said, remembering how Sarah had fought off the demon. "I'm a great house guest, Sarah. I won't bother you."
Sarah shook her head. "Nope. My apartment had mold, and it's being renovated. I'm staying with Chloe, and there's not much room. I'm on her couch."
"Then a hotel will have to work," Harper said. "I'll keep the door locked."
"It's not safe," Sarah snapped, losing patience. "Alec, you'll just have to deal with Harper for a few days, okay? It's not the end of the world."
Alec grunted. Then he waved a hand at Harper. "Fine, let's go then."
He was already walking away with her belongings, though. She shot Sarah a plaintive look, but Sarah motioned for her to follow. Harper got up and chased after him.
The back door of the room led to a smaller one. This one had the coffee pot, a few shelves and cupboards, and miscellaneous boxes. In the back, a small flight of stairs. He led her up the steps, then took out a key. It unlocked a panel that required an access code. She tried to watch him input it, but Alec's fingers flew fast, and it was at least twelve digits long. After, it beeped, and he let them inside.
She expected something small, but the apartment was anything but. Harper stared around, surprised by the modern decor. Everything from the furniture to the kitchen appliances looked like they came straight from a home catalog: leather, stainless steel, chrome, and silver.
"It's nice," Harper said. "Spotless."
He glanced at her, clearing his throat. "Yeah. I don't have a lot of guests."
"Sorry," Harper offered.
He looked away. "I'm not a great host, that's all. Here, your room is this way."
The first door on the right opened into a spacious bedroom with its own private bath. The furnishings matched the rest of the house and included a large bureau, a queen bed, and a writing desk. The silver lamp on the nightstand was turned off, and the doors to the closet opened. She tossed her suitcase inside. "Thanks."
"I hope you're comfortable," Alec said, his tone stilted and awkward. He placed her suitcase on the foot of the bed. She wondered how long it had been since he'd had someone in the room.
She thought about asking, but he left too quickly. She wandered around, homesick for her own place. She liked her mismatched furniture and her colorful bed quilt. The plush blanket on this one felt comfortable when she sat down, but the silver and black colors that perfectly matched the sheet and skirt felt cold.
Once she collected her emotions, Harper got back up and went into the bathroom. She washed her face, then took a hairbrush off the counter and combed her hair.
Alec seemed to be waiting for her when she went out of her room. "Hungry?"
"I could eat," she admitted.
When he went to the kitchen, she followed from a safe distance. She didn't expect jars of blood to line his fridge, not really, but the fresh fruit, plastic-wrapped cinnamon rolls, containers of Greek yogurt, and packages of deli meats and cheeses surprised her.
He looked over at her, his expression amused. "Didn't think I ate, huh?"
"Do you have to?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No. I could survive on blood. But I like variety. Now, do you like eggs?"
There were stools lined up beneath his countertop, and she sat at one, crossing her arms. She watched as he took out a cutting board, knife, and several vegetables. He had a certain grace in the kitchen that she'd only seen with professional chefs.
Once she tired of watching him chop, dice, and fry, she looked around. There were no personal effects in the apartment that she could see. Or television, for that matter.
"You don't like clutter, huh?"
He added eggs to a wooden bowl, whisked them with some seasonings, and asked, "Used your Sight today?"
"Well, not much," Harper said. "Just on the man who attacked us. He was yellow, like a newspaper."
"Try me again," Alec invited. "I won't block you."
She pushed her hair out of her face, then stared at him, eyes narrowed. She tried to concentrate, to see him for what he was. His arms were long and muscular, she thought. Pale, too. She saw something then, a flicker of black around him.
"There it is," she murmured.
"You could see me?" Alec asked. "Tell what I am?"
"Well, not quite," Harper admitted. "But I saw something. Like an aura, you know?"
"It's a start," Alec allowed. He finished cooking, then moved her omelet onto a plate and set it in front of her. It looked delicious.
She almost felt terrible cutting into it, but the aroma made her ravenous. She cut off a bite and popped it in her mouth. "This is good, Alec. Seriously, it's great. Wow."
"I've had a lot of time to learn," Alec said.
Harper chowed down, wondering when the last time she'd had such a good meal was. When she was done, she got up and rinsed her plate off.
"I need to talk to the others," Alec said. "You can rest here, all right? Maybe try to take a nap or something."
"A nap," Harper repeated. She laughed without humor. "Sure, a nap."
"It's been a long day," he pointed out. "Go on, get some rest. Maybe take a shower. You've got some green on you."
She blinked, looking down, and saw that her shirt had droplets of green. She didn't remember getting splashed but wasn't surprised.
"Yeah, I'll take a shower."
"Come down when you're ready," Alec told her. "We've got a lot to discuss."
"We sure do," she said, her tone dry. "I'll see you, Alec."
He left the apartment, and she locked the door after him. She went to her room, impersonal that it was, and stripped. Then she got in the shower and wondered if anything would ever feel normal again. But honestly, did she want it to?