She could feel Beckham’s eyes on her, but he remained silent. And when she finally stopped her circuit, she stared into his eyes and saw hunger…desperate hunger…reflected back.

“Is it okay?”

“You look…exquisite,” he said.

She beamed at his approval. It was the most he had said to her in days.

He offered her his arm, and she rested her hand lightly on his sleeve, letting him draw her out of the apartment. They didn’t speak in the car. She was too nervous about what was about to happen. She had never been to a ball before and wasn’t sure what it was going to be like or how to behave. Couple that with her fears about Rowland and she was completely on edge.

When they pulled up to the giant building, Beckham helped her out of the car. A red carpet was rolled out for them, and as they passed the sea of reporters, cameras flashed, capturing their every movement. Beckham kept a tight grip on her hand. She felt safe in his grasp and wished he were like this all the time. But it was futile to wish for something that would never be.

Inside, the ballroom was enormous. The biggest room she had ever seen. The lighting was dim and crystal chandeliers dripped from the ceiling, casting soft light on the crowd. Beautiful men in black tuxedos and women in tiny black skirts and white button-ups carried platters full of hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Glitz and glamour was everywhere, from gold-crusted champagne flutes to glittering diamonds on all the women. No expense had been spared for an event that had been planned in just a few weeks.

The room was already filled with Visage employees, celebrities, and important political figures. It was both incredible and overwhelming.

“Wow,” she murmured.

“A bit pretentious, don’t you think?”

She startled and looked up at Beckham. Had he just made fun of the party for his boss?

She laughed softly, loosening up a bit. “A bit.”

“Let’s go make nice,” he muttered under his breath.

Beckham meandered them lazily through the crowd. Everyone seemed to know Beckham and want a few minutes of his time. At every turn, he stopped to say hello to a different person, and she was introduced to more people than she would ever remember. They were a blur of faces and tuxedos and ball gowns. All vampires. The only humans in the whole place were the servers, entertainment, and herself.

They finally made it to the front of the room and to his boss, Mr. Harrington.

“Beckham!” he cried. They shook hands like old friends. “I see you’ve brought the lovely Reyna. Rowland and Cassandra have just shown up with their Permanents. We’ve had a few others roll into the program as well, and they should be in attendance tonight. Jesse, I believe, was bringing his subject.”

“That’s great to hear, sir,” Beckham responded cordially. “Everything working out with all the new positions?”

“As good as we could hope. One had to be taken back,” Harrington said flippantly. It didn’t seem to occur to him that he was talking about a human being. Or if it did…he didn’t care. “They didn’t seem to work out. No worries though. Everyone else seems fine. Once the Blood Census goes into effect, we can start rolling this out company-wide.”

Beckham nodded. “Sounds like another success.”

“Indeed. Well, I need to go prepare for my big speech.” He nodded at Reyna once more and then disappeared.

“Reyna!” Sophie called, running up to her and kissing her on both cheeks. “I didn’t see this gown. I’m so jealous. That cow didn’t want me to have it, obviously.”

“You look beautiful, Sophie. Eclipsing, of course,” Reyna said.

“Of course,” she said, beaming.

And then Rowland snaked his nasty arm around Sophie’s waist and drew her close to him. “I have to agree. Innocent virginal white suits you, ma chérie,” he purred against her skin.

Reyna instinctively moved closer to Beckham. Her body tensed and felt coiled like a snake ready to strike. Everything about Rowland set her on edge, and it was worse because Beckham only vaguely knew how much of a threat he was. She was mentally chastising herself for not clueing him in. Especially as Rowland’s eyes crawled her outfit. She shuddered. She hated the way he looked at her.

“And you…” Rowland smirked. “You chose a different dress.”

“The other one made me feel uncomfortable,” she said pointedly.

“Either way. It’s a good choice. Beckham, your girl looks like a dream, don’t you think?”

Beckham had been staring off and away at that moment, but suddenly he snapped back to attention. His eyes landed on Reyna, and everything narrowed down to him. Only him.

“A dream. A daydream,” he agreed. “And a nightmare.”

“Her or you, Anderson?” Rowland asked. He laughed as if what Beckham had said was a joke. Reyna knew it was not.

“Me, of course,” Beckham said. “I’m the one with the fangs.”