Though she'd laughed at Alec's suggestion of a nap, Harper ended up lying down, anyway. She thought she'd dream, but when she woke sometime later, she couldn't remember doing so. She stared up at the unfamiliar ceiling, trying to decide if she wanted to get up.
There wasn't much of a choice, though. The others were waiting for her. She put on fresh clothing and went to Alec's living room. It was dark and quiet. She considered a light but decided against it. Instead, she went to his fridge and stared in at the contents.
He had plenty to cook. Not much for quick snacks. She chose a cinnamon roll, wondering if they were homemade. As she put it on a plate to warm up, she laughed. Of course, it would be. He'd had over a hundred years to perfect his baking.
The frosting on it was delicious, and… sticky. She licked her fingers afterward, rinsed the plate off that she'd used, and then hunted down her purse.
Most of the Afterlife team had gathered in the back room — the bat cave — and they turned to look when she came in. Chloe was on her feet in seconds, headed to her side. She slipped an arm around Harper's shoulders. "Hi! Good morning? Evening? Harper, I was so worried about you. After what happened today, you must be so freaked. Don't worry. We'll get this taken care of in a jiffy. I mean, hopefully. But you're safe and sound, at least for now. What's Alec's apartment like?"
Harper stared at her. She cleared her throat, shrugged off Chloe's arm, and said, "Don't you know?"
"No," Chloe said. "He doesn't let us up there."
Chloe laughed. "Figures. Does he have bats?"
Harper glanced over at Alec, just in time to see him roll his eyes. "No, no bats. Just coffins. Lots of them."
Chloe giggled. "I told Conner he wouldn't have bats. What kind of vampire would? That would play into the stereotype a bit, don't you think?"
"A little." Harper went to the fridge, grabbed another soda, thought about how many she'd had recently, then shrugged and opened it. "Anything new?"
"You need some practice," Alec said. "Chloe's going to hit the club with you. I doubt you'll get attacked, it doesn't make much sense, but just in case, I don't want you alone. Just make your rounds, work on picking out supernatural people. Once you spot someone, try to decipher what they might be."
"I don't know if I can," Harper said, fidgeting with the can.
"You can," Sarah said. She was on her phone, fingers flying fast on the keys, and she didn't look up as she spoke. "You just have to believe in yourself."
Harper could hear generic advice a mile away, but the woman was frowning at her screen, and she decided not to push it. "Uh-huh. Okay, you think I should change? I didn't think about it until now, but there's a dress code, right?"
Alec shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Nobody will care too much. At least in jeans, you can move quickly should you need to. If you get attacked, Harper, get back here. This room. Lock the door. Chloe will hold them off, and if they make it past her, I'll handle them."
He smiled, and for a moment, Harper could see him for exactly what he was. The black aura pulsed around him. She saw his gleaming canines and dark, swirling eyes. She cut her eyes away, then back. He was normal again.
"Come on," Chloe said. "This will be fun. You'll get to know Afterlife a bit better!"
Harper wasn't sure about the fun part, but she followed Chloe out the door, gulping down her ginger ale on the way. She tossed the can into a wastebasket and winced at the onslaught of noise. The DJ was playing some popular hip-hop song, and there were tons of women out on the floor.
"Girls' night," Chloe told her. "Come on, act like you belong. Loosen up, get into the music. Then people will come up to you, trust me."
As if to prove her point, four men approached. The one in front smiled at Harper. "Care to dance?"
"No," Harper said.
He looked a bit affronted, and she tried to temper her response. "Sorry, hurt ankle."
He rejoined his friend, and then the two went toward another group of women. These were more amicable, and soon they were all dancing together.
"See anyone?" Chloe asked, right next to her ear.
Harper felt a flash of irritation. How was she supposed to focus on anything in here? Still, she said she'd try, so she looked around. There was a man close to them that caught her attention. As she narrowed her eyes, she saw a pink aura grow around him, soft and pleasant. She stepped toward him, curious.
"Chloe, look at him," she murmured, grabbing at her arm. "He's different."
"How?" Chloe asked.
Harper tilted her head. He was cute, she thought. Nothing too special, though. But as she watched, his face seemed to change. It rounded, became rosier. And were those… no, impossible. She must be imagining the wings that seemed to flutter from his back. He leaned into the girl near him, breathing out. Pink mist, much like his aura, floated from him to her. Her smile faltered, then grew until she was beaming.
He touched her arm, then gestured at someone in the crowd. The girl was flushed, excited. She went to the man.
"He did something," Harper said. "He breathed on her, and he has wings. Chloe, he's got wings!"
"They're not that great," Chloe said, rolling her eyes. "You know, I have them too, Harper. How do you think I levitate? Did you say he breathed on her?"
"Yes," Harper said, not getting distracted by the comment about wings. "Then she went into the crowd and… look!"
The woman approached the man who'd been pointed at. She touched his arm, smiled. He looked at her, then smiled back. Soon, they were laughing. Then he held out his hand. She took it, and they joined the dance floor.
Harper looked back at the pink man. He looked content.
"Is he… Chloe! Is he… is Cupid real?"
"Sort of," Chloe said, watching too. "Cupid isn't a person, Harper. But there are matchmaking fairies."
"That's him then."
She stared at him still, watching him head toward the bar. He stopped to speak to a man who was alone. They were quiet, serious. Then he breathed out again, the pink mist floating to the man's face.
"I could watch this all night," Harper admitted. "Look, the guy's smiling. He's going to—"
"Great," Chloe said. "You're doing good, Harper. Let's move on, though."
"Sure," Harper said. But as she followed Chloe, she shot another look at the fairy. A woman had approached him and the man. She might have been plain on her own, but in the pink aura, she was radiant.
A few minutes later, she saw another supernatural person. This was a woman, short and plump. Her hair was a curly brown, and her eyes wide and sparkling. She kept throwing back her head and laughing so hard her stomach bounced. As Harper stared, her skin changed to emerald green, her nose lengthened, and her ears stretched.
She grinned to herself, watching the woman stroll through the crowd, occasionally poking someone to move them out of the way. Nobody seemed to notice. Then she snatched a man's drink from his hand and drained it in a long swallow before belching. He looked at her, then past her, unfocused. She patted his cheek, put the empty cup in his open fingers, and moved on.
"Oh god, she's great," Harper said, laughing.
"That woman, right there," Harper gestured at her.
"No, to the left, she's right there!" She described the woman.
"Oh!" Chloe said, laughing. "She's a leprechaun, Harper! She must be. The green, the ears, yes, must be. It's why I'm not able to focus on her. She's trying to blend in."
"She stole a drink."
"Figures," Chloe said. "They're tricky little things, leprechauns. It's their nature. Can you believe Conner tried to say that's what I am? Do I look like a leprechaun?"
Harper glanced at Chloe and then stepped back, surprised. Her skin was now perfectly smooth, her eyes shining. The color was high in her cheeks, and there was a pastel radiance surrounding her. The wings she'd mentioned earlier seemed to be made from glittering lace.
"No," Harper whispered. "You don't look like a leprechaun at all."
"Thank you," Chloe said, unaware of Harper's shock. She turned toward the crowd, graceful and light on her feet. "Who else can you see?"
Harper struggled to look away, but when she did, her eyes landed on a man near one of the small tables. He was leaning against it, smiling at the woman keeping him company. There was a black aura around him that grew sharper and more intense the longer she stared.
Attention caught, Harper moved closer. His skin was pale, and when she'd gotten close enough to see his face, she saw his black eyes and the canines that matched Alec's.
"Chloe! Chloe, god, that's a vampire!"
"Quiet!" Chloe said, grabbing her arm. "Don't scream it, Harper. Where?"
Harper gestured at him, her heart racing. There was something eerie about him, much worse than what she'd seen in Alec.
Chloe stared, her eyes narrowing.
"Well, I can't tell," she admitted. "He might be hiding, but I'm not a Seer. Alec won't be happy. He doesn't like seeing vampires here."
"Not all vampires are like him," Chloe said. "He's very… rare. Most of them give in to their more primal urges. They eat… and eat… and eat."
"Wait, you mean, that woman he's talking to…?"
Chloe smiled, but Harper could see the fury lurking just behind it. That startled her; she'd never expected to see the woman anything but happy. Hadn't Alec said she was always like that?
"Buttering her up," she muttered. "Oh, it's all charm with them. Get someone to talk, make them feel good about themselves, then take them somewhere alone. Then…"
She snapped her fingers.
Harper stared at Chloe, then made her way toward them. As she passed a group of women, she reached out and snatched a glass from one of their hands. The girl said something, and Harper almost laughed, thinking how easily the leprechaun had gotten away with it. She kept moving.
When near the vampire, she tripped and tossed her drink on the man.
The woman with him whipped around, shocked. "Jesus! Watch where you're going!"
"Oh my gosh," Harper said as if struck with horror. Then she giggled. "I'm so sorry!"
Harper ignored her, swaying on her feet and staring at the vampire. She kept that silly grin in place, despite her urge to recoil from the intensity she felt from him. When he opened his mouth, she reached out and grabbed his arm, stumbling.
"Whoopsie! I think I had too much to drink! Wow, you're cute. I'm sorry about the drink, must have been distracted by how cute you are."
The woman spoke again. "Excuse me; we're talking here."
"Cool," Harper said, glancing at her only for a second. Then back to him. "Now we're talking. Hey, I know how to make up for splashing you. Want to go, uh, somewhere private? I'm a great kisser."
He still didn't speak, but when she grabbed his hand, he followed. The woman yelled at them, but Harper wasn't listening. She just kept tugging him through the crowd. Eventually, near the exit, she stopped to make sure Chloe was nearby.
"Well?" he asked, his voice a low baritone.
She dropped his hand and then leaned against him. With both hands on his shoulders, she put her mouth next to his ear. "This is your one chance to get out of here. Next time, you're dead."
He recoiled. "Excuse me?"
"That's right," Harper said, her voice low and savage. She remembered Chloe's face. "You picked the wrong club to hunt in."
He tilted his head, then asked, "How did you know?"
Harper didn't answer.
He leaned down, his breath hot on her neck. "Why aren't you scared? I could bite you, right here…" he nipped at her neck, then continued. "Maybe you'd like that. Come with me, let me show you how it feels to give in, to give up control. It will hurt only for a moment. Then you'll have an entirely new world to explore. Infinity, girl, that's what I offer…"
Her fear vanished, and Harper felt a sudden urge to take him up on the offer. It would be nice, she thought. She wouldn't have to worry anymore, and what he'd said, infinity, that would be glorious.
Then Conner was there, appearing from what felt like thin air. His hand shot out, fingers gripping the vampire's shirt. He pulled him close, whispering. As he did, his true self became apparent, if only to Harper.
Red tattoos pulsed on his skin. He had two long, dark, spindle-like horns and a dangerous-looking tail. He was beyond muscular, more of a god than a man, and beautiful in his terror.
Harper watched the vampire leap backward, eyes wide. He turned, fleeing out of the club.
When she looked back at Conner, he'd focused his furious expression on her. Terror welled up within her, and when he grabbed her by the hand, his fingernails more like claws, she almost screamed. He shook her. "What were you thinking? He could have killed you!"
The words bore deep and snapped her out of her fear. She glared at him, yanking her arm away. She didn't doubt his strength, but in his surprise, he let her go. She pushed him, hard. "Shut up, Conner! He would have killed that woman!"
"You should have asked for help," Conner said, taken aback. He returned to normal. "Chloe said you walked off, without even talking to her about your plan."
Harper shot Chloe a glare, but the fairy just met her eyes.
"Let's go," Conner said. "Alec wants you in the back."
"I'm still practicing," Harper snapped.
"And now you're taking a break from practicing," he snapped back.
Chloe moved forward, touching Harper's shoulder. "You've done well so far, though."
Harper wanted to bite Chloe's head off for speaking to Conner, but she also knew that neither was wrong; if she had been on her own, she might have gone with the vampire. That didn't help her mood, so she followed them back to the room, keep her lips pressed together.
Alec and Sarah were waiting when they arrived.
Chloe spoke first. "We had a visitor. A vampire in the club."
Alec glowered. "Where? I'll take care of it."
"Harper already did," Chloe said, raising her eyebrows.
Alec rounded on Harper. "What does that mean? What did you do?"
"I told him to get lost," Harper said, defiant. "Nothing happened, so get that look off your face. I don't need another lecture. Conner's got that down perfect."
Conner looked down at his feet. "Harper, about that. I should have—"
Alec glared at all of them, then shook his head. "You were supposed to be practicing."
"I was," Harper said. "How do you think I found the vampire? Look, what did you want? As much fun as it is to be yelled at for stopping a potential murder…"
"Sit down," Alec said.
She blinked. "Why?"
Sarah was the one to speak. Her voice was calm. "Harper, he's right. You'll want to sit for this. I'm sorry."
Harper didn't move. "What? What happened?"
Sarah frowned and picked up the remote that Chloe had used prior. "Third monitor."
Harper looked up at it, aware that she was holding her breath but unable to let it out. The screen was dark, but then Sarah turned it on, and images flashed across it.
"Oh my god. That's my apartment."
Sarah started to turn it off again, but Harper reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Don't. Let me see."
Fire trucks were pulling up to her complex. Several men were working together to put out the flames that raged all over the building. The stairwell she'd been up so many times was fully collapsed, and there was charred glass everywhere.
She sank into the seat she'd ignored. "But—but… my things… my bed, my computer… god, my neighbors…"
"They're okay," Sarah said. "I saw the couple that lives beneath you near one of the trucks; neither were harmed. We're lucky we left when we did, though — I think the fire originated in your place. We'd be dead if we would have stayed."
"Arson," Chloe said, disgusted.
"They wanted to make a statement," Alec said, his voice cold. "They wanted to let her know they've found her, and they're after her. Harper, how was practice?"
She turned toward him, sick to her stomach. "Are you kidding?"
Alec stared at her. "Yes?"
She saw his confusion and had to bite back the urge to yell at him, much as she'd done with Chloe earlier. Instead, she tried for a neutral tone that sounded flat and bitter. "I saw several people. A leprechaun, a matchmaking fairy, the vampire. And all of you, I suppose, I can see you all. Except for Sarah."
"They use camouflage," Sarah explained. "It comes naturally. Their body mimics human appearance, so regular people don't recognize them for what they are. But I don't have to. I'm a shape-shifter; when I change into my bestial forms, everyone sees those. No need to hide either way."
Harper did her best to listen to this explanation, nodding along. But her eyes returned to the monitor showing her apartment.
Alec reached over and grabbed the remote. He turned it off. When she looked at him, he said, "It's time we find out who is in charge here. Conner, Chloe, you're with me. We'll ask the right questions. Harper, you need to stay with Sarah. You can practice in the club, or you can go to my apartment."
"I want to help," Harper said.
"You said you needed me," Harper reminded him. "You can't see who is supernatural without my aid. Come on, let me help."
Alec frowned, then waved a hand. "Fine. Stay with Conner or me at all times."
"I'll stay with Chloe."
Harper raised her eyes to the dark monitor, a chill spreading through her. She stood, nodding agreement. "Fine. Let's do this."