When Brittney joined her at the bar, Harper gave an embarrassed smile. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Brittney said. She waved over the bartender. "Can I get a Parrot, please?"
Harper had to smile.
"I'm not sure what goes into that," he said. "Is it rum?"
Brittney shook her head. "No. Really? You've never heard of a Parrot? Even the bartenders who worked at Patrick's know what a Parrot is. You add… what was it, Harper?"
"It's a cran-apple margarita," Harper told him. "Don't feel bad, she's exaggerating, so I'll feel better. I was the only one who ever called it a Parrot."
He chuckled. "We've all been there. Naming our drinks, I mean. I'll get that for you. Just you?"
Brittney glanced at Harper, who shook her head. "Yeah, just me. Easy on the tequila, though, I want to take the evening slow."
"You got it."
While he fixed her drink, Brittney said, "For what it's worth, I thought this was the safest bet for Conner. If we hadn't sent him, he would have gone on his own, and we'd be in the dark."
Harper looked at the bar. "Yeah, I get it. Look, about what I said…"
"Don't," Brittney said. "You were upset, and for a good reason. I heard what happened today. You watched a woman—"
"A demon," Harper corrected.
"You hang out with demons all day," Brittney said. "Doesn't change that she was a person too. Alec's an ass, that's all. I made sure he knew that too."
"He isn't," Harper said. "I mean, what he said earlier… he said it for a reason. I know that."
The bartender returned with Brittney's drink. Too much green apple, she thought as Brittney gave him a bill that made for a very generous tip.
She took a sip after he was gone and wrinkled her nose. "You make it better."
Harper took the glass and tried for herself. "It's not bad," she lied, a little pleased she'd been right about the extra apple.
"Well, I only wanted to cheer you up anyway," Brittney said, standing. "Come on, leave it. Let's go find Chloe."
Harper got up but didn't step away from the bar just yet. "Why? There's nothing we can do right now. Conner needs time, and heading back to the unders isn't happening."
Brittney rolled her eyes. "I wasn't saying that we should suit up, Harper. We can sit and talk, though, can't we? Relax for a while?"
"How?" Harper asked though she had to admit that she was feeling somewhat better than before.
"Well, for starters, walking away before the bartender comes back," Brittney said. "Come on. Nothing is relaxing about watching someone realize they suck at their job."
Harper laughed as they moved away. "It wasn't the worst I've had."
Brittney looped her arm through Harper's. "Not the worst is hardly something to brag about. This way, Chloe's supposed to meet us in the VIP lounge."
"She's here already?" Harper asked.
"You just missed her," Brittney said. "I swear, you'd been gone less than five minutes when she burst in. I filled her in."
"How'd she take it?" Harper asked.
"As you'd expect," Brittney said. "She's worried about Conner and hates the whole thing. Ah, there she is. Chloe!"
Brittney called out her name again, but the fairy didn't hear her. She was speaking to someone near the furthest VIP table.
They'd just reached the secluded area when Harper saw someone that drew her attention. "Go on," she said, pulling her arm free. "I'll catch up."
Brittney frowned. "Why?"
"Just someone I need to speak with," Harper told her. "It's nothing important, okay? I'll be right there."
Brittney didn't look convinced, but Chloe was now waving them her way, her smile large.
"Okay, but five minutes, then I'm dragging you over to sit and hang out," Brittney warned. Then she walked over to Chloe's table, gesturing in her direction as she spoke.
Harper lifted a hand to wave, then glanced past her table. She'd seen a vampire amongst the patrons, but they were missing now or hiding in plain view.
She focused on her Sight, and out came the dozens of people on the dance floor who were supernatural. She could tell by their auras. Looking at the VIP section again, careful now, she saw the woman.
There was a man with her, and Harper could tell that she was seducing him. With a pretty smile and a warm laugh, it wasn't hard.
Harper squared her shoulders and strode up to the couple.
"Hey there," the man greeted.
Harper nodded to him. "You should get out of here, okay?"
"Just do it," she said. Then she looked at the vampire. "We should talk. Right here? With this guy?"
"Watch it, lady," the man threatened. "You can't come waltzing up and demand—"
The vampire shifted feet. "She's right. You should go."
The man stared at her, confused. Then he stalked off, muttering.
"How can I help you?" the vampire asked.
"You can start by getting out of Afterlife and never coming back," Harper said. "This isn't your feeding ground, and trying to turn it into one will end badly for you."
"Oh?" Harper blinked. "Well, uh… good, yeah. So, get out of here, okay?"
"I heard this place would be welcoming," she said, her voice trembling. "I've been alone for so long. Please, I wasn't planning to hunt; I just want the music and lights."
Harper crossed her arms. "You weren't hunting? I saw you with that guy."
"Yeah, but…" she trailed off, looked in the direction he'd gone, and cried. It was the loud, ugly kind.
"Shh, stop it," Harper said, alarmed.
"I can't. I can't! I'm just so hungry all the time. I eat and eat, and it does nothing. I know what I need, but I don't want it. God, what do I do?" she heaved in another breath. "It wasn't supposed to be this bad."
Harper glanced around, aware of the attention people were giving them. "Hey, it's okay. What's your name?"
"Come on, Dana, let's go sit, and you can tell me about it. The hunger."
Harper took her by the arm and led her to an empty table. She pushed a napkin at her, then asked the passing server for some bottles of water.
"Okay," Harper said after they'd both gotten a drink. "Dana, you know what you are?"
"Dead," she whispered, frowning. Then the tears ran again.
"Not really," Harper said. "You'll have a long life if you're careful, that's all. That means not stalking Afterlife, though. It's protected."
"I wasn't," Dana said. "I mean, not at first. But what am I supposed to do? I never wanted this. Not even a little, all right? But I'm… I'm a monster."
"No," Harper said.
The vampire looked pitiful, she thought. Makeup running down her cheeks, sniveling, unkempt.
And Harper made a choice, reached forward and took her hands. "Dana, you're so much more than a vampire — you're a person. For as long as you choose to be."
"But how do I resist?" Dana asked.
Harper thought about Alec. The portraits on his walls. The people who shared his life, then and now.
"You find someone who cares," Harper told her. "You make them the most important thing in your life, and you work every day not to let them down."
"There's nobody," Dana said. "Could I… could I stay here? You have people. Friends."
Harper glanced over at Chloe and Brittney, who were both watching from their table while speaking in low tones.
She gave her an apologetic smile. "No. There's no place for you here, I'm sorry."
Dana said, "But—"
Harper tightened her grip as memories flooded her vision. A small girl, planting flowers in a window box. Older now, barefoot in a stream. Giggling in the grass, dreaming beneath the stars.
She smiled when she saw her reflection in the clear water of a lake that Harper Hawthorne had never been to.
"We need to find a tree, Dana."
"A… a tree?"
"I think I know someone who can help you," Harper said.
Harper glanced again at Chloe and Brittney, then stood and pulled Dana up with her. There were twin palms in front of Afterlife, and she knew Bretta would come.
"There are worlds within worlds, Dana," she said. "Don't worry; you'll be fine."