The music was louder than usual at the Burning Moon Bar. Or maybe it was just my mood that made everything, even the small things, seem annoying. Cole asked me to join him for drinks and a game of darts, and I’d considered blowing him off. Staying home and tinkering with my old Ford truck was more my speed lately.
The next day was Cole’s twenty-third birthday, and since our older brother, Liam, spent every spare moment with his new girlfriend, I didn’t feel right about leaving my younger brother hanging.
The Moon was usually one of my favorite haunts. Built at the turn of the century, the bar was a cross between an old Irish tavern and a western movie. Aside from the Wetherford hotel, it was the longest operating bar in town. And because this was a college town, it stayed busy all week.
“Are you going to throw or what?” Cole asked.
His question snapped my focus back to our game. I usually won when we played darts, but he’d managed to kick my ass twice--this would be the third time tonight. My losing wasn’t helping my sour mood.
“Yeah, yeah.” I stepped up to take my turn.
Pulling back my arm, I let the dart fly toward the board. It bounced off another dart and fell to the floor with a light thud--along with my pride.
“Ha! You buy the next round. I won again.” Cole was more energetic than normal, and normal for him was what I assumed a squirrel on crack was like.
I shot him an annoyed look before placing the darts in the cup next to the game board. Cole ran his fingers through his short sandy blond hair and studied me a moment. My younger brother’s scrutiny was making me uncomfortable.
“What’s up with you? You don’t seem like yourself lately,” he said, dropping his teasing tone for a more serious one. Shorter and stockier than Liam and me, Cole was as solid as a brick wall. You only had to underestimate Cole once to know better.
What was up with me? I’d been out of it for a few weeks now. Even though I knew exactly what he was talking about, I wasn’t in the mood to be analyzed by Cole, so I played dumb. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re moping around, and you’re letting me beat you in darts.”
“I didn’t let you beat me,” I said irritably.
“You know what I mean. You’re way too serious, and you haven’t cracked a single bad joke.” Cole eyed me before taking a sip of his beer. He was a cross between a college student and a cowboy, wearing jeans, western boots, and a belt with a big buckle. His vintage Van Halen T-shirt was probably thrown in to keep you guessing. Cole didn’t like to be put in any one box.
“Want to know how I know something’s off with you?” He leaned back in his chair with a smug expression.
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. “I can hardly wait to hear.”
“The way I know is you haven’t chased a single woman tonight. I don’t think you’ve been on a date in almost three weeks—at least that I know of.” Cole tossed back the last of his beer, then picked up where he left off. “It’s just not like you. What gives?”
I wish I knew.
“I don’t know what my problem is. I guess I’m a bit out of sorts, as Ma would say.” I waved my credit card at the bartender to get her attention.
“You can talk to me. I mean, what is family for? You know?” Cole grasped my shoulder with an encouraging smile. I knew his concern was genuine. This wasn’t like me and we both knew it.
“It’ll pass. Maybe it’s the letdown after all the excitement from the rogue vampire Liam put down,” I said. Was I turning into an adrenaline junky after one risky encounter? Ha. Aren’t most firefighters?
Cole looked thoughtful. “It has been quiet since the college fire and kidnapping. I’d hate to be the vampire that stood between Liam and Jessica,” Cole said, shaking his head.
I agreed with him there. Big Brother Liam was in love. He’d found his true mate, or fate had thrown them together. I didn’t want to imagine Liam if he’d lost Jessica. At times they were hard to be around. Their happiness either made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside or made me want to throw up.
Zoey, the bartender, walked over to take my card. She snatched it out of my hand and left before I could tease her. It was fun to pick on her. Her green eyes flashed from dark to light emerald when she was annoyed. Cole’s gaze followed the attractive redhead as she made her way to the cash register on the other side of the bar.
“When are you going to ask that woman out?” I asked, nudging his shoulder. “What’s the worst that could happen?” It was my turn to be supportive, and the new subject took the focus from me.
He turned a wary gaze my way. “I did. She shot me down, just like I knew she would. Just like she’s done every guy in town since she showed up.”
“Oh. She’s only been here a few months. Give her some time.” I squeezed his shoulder once more before I let it drop.
I assumed Zoey had a soft spot for Cole because she was always friendlier, gentler when dealing with him. Maybe she knew he liked her and felt bad that she didn’t return his feelings. Women like that were too much work. We’d all be happier when he moved on. I didn’t enjoy the idea of seeing him get his heart broken.
Zoey came back with my card and a bill for me to sign. “You boys heading home for the night or looking for the next party?” Zoey asked, looking at Cole.
He perked up and grinned. “Heading home. I’m pretty exhausted after kicking Seth’s butt in darts four times.”
“Three,” I corrected.
Zoey turned her intense gaze on me. “Is that so? What’s up with you, Seth? Not like you to let anyone beat you. And no barflies to take home? It’s a sad night for the middle child in the McKenzie family,” she taunted.
She wasn’t usually so talkative. Cole was riveted by the attention she was showing us. I feigned a hurt look and put a hand over my heart.
“Tomorrow’s your birthday, right, Cole?” she asked as we prepared to leave. Cole looked surprised.
“Yeah, how’d you know?” he asked.
She smiled at him. “A little bird told me. Can I be the first to wish you an early happy birthday?”
Cole nodded and watched as she turned away and began taking other orders. He turned to me as though he were in a daze. I swung him in the direction of the door and pushed him through the crowd. When we stepped outside, the chilled night air was a welcome relief from the stuffy bar.
He'd been crushing on Zoey since the first day he’d laid eyes on her, but she didn’t seem interested in dating anyone. She shot me down the first week. I’d made it a game after that, but she never took me seriously and didn’t seem affected by my charms—many of which I was damned proud of. Sometimes I messed with her just to bug Cole. Tonight was different. I thought she may have been flirting with Cole, whether she knew it or not.
“Don’t give up on her so easily,” I said. Warmly dressed people passed us on their way to restaurants or bars. The historic downtown area of Flagstaff was always active, especially the nightlife.
“Why do you say that?” Cole asked.
The sidewalks were suddenly deserted as we turned down a quieter street and made our way to Cole’s hard-topped Jeep. “I have a feeling about Zoey. It sure seems like she likes you. At least she likes you better than me,” I said, giving him a sideways grin.
When we’d learned that Zoey was a witch, the idea hadn’t dampened the flames of Cole’s attraction toward her. I believe it had solidified it.
“I don’t know. Do you think she’s gay? I mean, she turns down every guy that asks her out. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree,” he said. Zoey was the first person we’d met in a very long time who had to hide her true nature from the world, just as we hid our inner wolves.
“I don’t think that’s the . . .”
The alleyway where Cole had parked that night was dimly lit. Someone was in the shadows—two someones. It wasn’t the silhouette of two people making out against the brick wall that made us stop abruptly. It was the smell of blood.
There was another scent that made my nostrils flare and caused my wolf to stir. Cole growled low in his chest.
As my vision adjusted to the darkness, I could see a male figure peel away from a woman to step into the sparse lighting. Blood on his lips glistened and added to the tension building.
A soft moan came from the woman but she remained in the shadows. I had a suspicion her response had nothing to do with fear and everything to do with disappointment. Cole must not have picked up on the same vibe.
“Get away from her,” Cole ordered, his voice sounding like he had too many teeth in his mouth.
The vampire watched us like he was waiting to see what we’d do. “You’re upsetting my date,” he said, making no move to leave or flee.
I put a hand on Cole’s shoulder to calm him. It was a wolf thing—a touch from a pack member went a way to calm the other. Cole needed to get his wolf under control.
“Your date or your meal?” I asked coolly.
“Why is it any of your business?” The vampire took a bold step toward us.
Like Cole, the man had sandy-blonde hair and a goatee. He was tall, well-built, and looked like any other human we’d passed on the street that night. The only giveaway was his iridescent blue eyes that grew brighter as his emotions seemed to intensify. I’d noticed the same response with Olivia’s eyes.
“This is our town, our community, and our friends. When you hurt one of them, we take it personally,” I said, stepping closer but motioning for Cole to stay back.
The woman moaned again. The vampire glanced over toward her, a mocking smile on his bloody lips. “Be right there, love.” He turned his attention back to Cole and me. “As you can see, she’s perfectly happy. No harm has come to her and none will. You need to be on your way, little wolves.”
I bristled at his taunt but wasn’t about to let him provoke me. He was obviously ready for a fight, which may have meant he wasn’t alone or he felt confident that he could take us both in a fight. We needed to walk away from this one and figure out what to do about the vampires in the light of day and with a clear head.
Olivia had assured me that her kind did not need to kill to survive, and the victims had no memories of what happened when done right. Lorenzo had been an exception--not the rule. I hoped she was telling me the truth.
“I need to know for certain,” I said, staring down the vampire.
He glared at me for a few moments, then walked back to the woman and led her into the light. She clung to him as if in adoration.
“Lesley, my love, tell this man how many dates we’ve had so he will leave us in peace.” The vampire stroked the woman’s arm affectionately.
Lesley had the grace to look embarrassed. “This is our fourth date. I’m perfectly safe with Edgar, I can assure you,” she said, leaning her head against his chest.
Bite marks on her neck were obvious, but she didn’t look unusually pale or in any immediate danger. Still, I wasn’t certain how this situation was going to play out with the vampires. I didn’t see how we could all live in the same town without trouble.
I tried to walk cautiously past Edgar and Lesley, attempting to pull Cole along with me until he dug his heels in and stopped us both.
“What are you doing, Seth? We can’t leave her with that thing.” Cole jerked his arm out of my grasp.
“She’s fine, Cole. Let’s go.”
Cole glared at me as if I’d just betrayed some sacred oath. Then he directed his angry stare at the vampire for several intense moments. Finally, he stalking toward his Jeep.
I watched him get in and slam the door. When I turned to look back one more time, the vampire and the woman were gone. I wondered if I’d made the right decision. I knew that in Cole’s eyes I hadn’t lived up to his expectations, at least where the vampires were concerned.
One thing was certain--lines needed to be drawn, but I didn’t know how.