I’d never liked New York. It always felt like Los Angeles’s bitchy cousin with the gray teeth and the abrasive accent. The one who never wore makeup and refused to apologize for smelling like piss.
Surrounded by the snow and the traffic and the concrete and the cold steel, I had a sudden intense longing for California. My life there hadn’t been perfect either, but at least I understood my place there. I had a job and a home of my own and a life. A shitty life, but a life nonetheless. It was easy to forget that I’d also been lonely. Easy to gloss over the fact that my life had been in constant danger.
Someone bumped into me. “Watch it, bitch,” the man spat. He wore brown polyester pants and an ill-fitting sports coat.
I swiveled my head and glared at his back. Suddenly, that one mortal male became the breathing embodiment of everything I hated about New York in general and mortal New Yorkers specifically. Without putting too much thought into what I was doing, I followed him. I didn’t make it obvious. Just hung back half a block, tracking his progress.
My heart rate picked up. It had been far too long since I had hunted. As far as prey went, this tubby ass**le wasn’t much of a challenge. He strutted along with his flabby beer belly hanging over his cheap pants. As he passed pretty women, he’d rake his eyes over their bodies like they existed purely for his viewing pleasure.
Eventually, he made his way to a subway entrance. He waddled down the steps, totally unaware he was being tracked. Adrenaline coursed through me like a drug. I was a junky looking to leap off the wagon. With each step down into the tunnels, my need grew. There was no turning back now. After my aborted feeding on Adam the night before, that brief taste of fresh blood, my body yearned for a fix.
On the C train, I sat on the opposite side of the car. Every now and then, the bodies in front of me would shift and I’d get a glimpse of him sprawled on the bench. Directly in front of him, an elderly woman and a pregnant mother with a tearful toddler clung to the bars. I added his lack of chivalry to my list of justifications.
My vampire whispered seductively. An ass**le like that? He deserves it. No one will miss him. No one will ever know.
Several stops later, he hoisted his body from the bench and pushed his way toward the doors. He didn’t see me rise and follow him. Moments later, the train’s wheels squealed in protest and the doors opened. People spilled out like blood cells escaping a slashed vein. I rode the wave onto the platform and took my time following my prey up the steps. We emerged onto 8th Avenue in Bay Ridge.
Mr. Polyester was whistling tunelessly as he marched his way a couple of blocks and turned onto 7th Avenue before disappearing into a three-story building. I stayed across the street and waited.
A few minutes later, a light clicked on the second floor. Bingo.
It was already late—close to three in the morning. I was betting he’d turn in soon. Then I’d pay a visit to his shitty apartment and teach him what happens to mortals who don’t know their place in the food chain.
Just then, the window blinds opened. Polyester stood outlined by the lights in the apartment, like Alfred Hitchcock. I narrowed my eyes and clung to my indignation and my hunger. I’d come too far now to allow my conscience to intercede. Still, it knocked against the steel door I’d erected, demanding to be noticed.
The man turned and a woman joined him at the window. She had something in her arms. He took it from her and lifted it. The blankets fell away to reveal a squalling infant.
I froze. At that moment, the enormity of what I’d almost done hit me like a cartoon anvil. The guy might be an ass**le, but on my worst night—which might be that particular night—I wasn’t capable of slaughtering an entire family. I sagged against the wall and let the fight drain out of me. In its place, shame rolled in like the tide.
“What are you doing?”
I whipped around, dropping into a fighting stance out of instinct. Alexis stood a dozen feet away, watching me. “Did you follow me?” Stupid question. Of course she had.
She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall, casual as can be. “You were so focused on your dinner you didn’t even notice me.” She grinned, showing fang. “I’ve been trailing you ever since you left Vein.”
I closed my eyes and cursed. Gods, I needed to pull myself together.
“So you gonna do this or what?”
I opened my eyes and frowned at her. “What?”
She nodded toward the now-empty window. “You came all this way. Don’t tell me you’re planning on leaving hungry.”
I ran a hand through my hair. “Alexis, I’m not killing a family.”
She crossed her arms and leaned into the wall. “Jesus, you sound just like a mage.”
I pulled away from the wall. “Look, I made a mistake, okay? I thought I wanted to feed, but I changed my mind. Let’s go.”
I tried to pull her away, but her eyes were on the window. “I’m gonna hang here.”
“Bullshit. I’m not going to let you kill them.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You’re such a f**king hypocrite, you know that? Five minutes ago you were licking your chops at the chance of sinking your fangs into that guy.”
“Five minutes ago I was an idiot. Let’s go.”
“Aren’t you going to ask why I followed you?”
I sighed. “Would you tell me if I did?”
“Try me.” She shrugged.
“At first, I was going to just congratulate you on that spectacular takedown during the bout. But then I saw you trailing that mortal.” She tilted her head. “What can I say? I’ve heard the stories about you. I wanted to see if the rumors were true.”
She was baiting me and I knew it. “Which rumors?”
Her eyes sparkled with humor. “That you are ruthless.” She laughed. “Maybe you were once, but now?” She shook her head sadly. “Pathetic.”
“You’ve got no room to call anyone pathetic, Alexis,” I said. “You’re a f**king cliché, with your tight leather and your attitude. Jesus, I bet you even sleep with your knives under your pillow.”
Two red spots on her cheeks revealed my accusation as truth. She tightened her jaw and took a menacing step forward. “You got a problem with me, mixed blood?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” I raised my chin. “But you’re not worth it. I was kicking ass before your milk fangs fell out. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone, but especially not to some walking cliché who thinks a bad attitude can compensate for lack of substance.”