He should have left days ago.
Asher Evans hesitated at the corner of Third and South Park. If he was even half-smart, he’d turn around now. He’d go back to his shitty studio rental, toss everything he could get his hands on into a duffel bag, and get the hell out of town. San Francisco had made it pretty clear it didn’t want him anymore.
Asher jammed his hands in the pockets of his battered leather jacket and started forward again. Another half hour wouldn’t make a difference. In any case, he was already here. He was already committed.
He was going to a tea shop. At close to midnight. Looking for a girl.
It was hands-down the most ridiculous thing he’d ever done.
Asher quickened his pace. He couldn’t even say what it was that had made him notice Grace Alan in the first place. She wasn’t overly attractive, hadn’t spoken more than two words to him each time he saw her. And she worked at a place called Cross Your Teas. Cross Your Teas. That by itself should have sent him running in the opposite direction.
In fact, he might not have noticed her at all except for the single, fascinating thing she’d done the first time they met.
She’d looked at him. In the eyes.
People didn’t look him in the eyes. If they weren’t too afraid of him, they mostly weren’t looking at him at all. But Grace Alan had looked, and she’d kept looking. After the first few times, he’d started to wonder what it was she saw.
He’d tried to put it out of his mind, had told himself it probably meant nothing, but it was no use. Lately, that one simple question had grown from a simple prick of curiosity, to a gnawing fascination, to a preoccupation bordering on obsession.
Tonight, he would have his answer.
Cross Your Teas came into view up ahead. Asher quickened his pace. They would be closing soon, and the last thing he wanted was to have come all this way for nothing. He drew closer. The lights were still on; a good sign. He came to the large front window with the outline of a teapot on it, and peered inside.
Grace’s older sister, Lena Alan, was standing behind the front counter. The drawer of the register was open, and she appeared to be counting out the cash. Then she stopped, a wad of bills in one hand. She quickly swiped at her eyes. Her mouth trembled. Asher blinked.
She was crying.
Lena visibly sighed, and started over. Asher scanned the rest of the shop for Grace. There was no sign of her. He took a deep breath and listened for movement in the back kitchen. No use. There wasn’t so much as a mouse sneeze. Asher ground his teeth together.
Grace wasn’t there.
Now he really should leave. He didn’t have time to be trailing one girl all over the city. But even as the thought passed through his mind, he was already turning his nose into the air, breathing deep. He caught Grace’s scent almost immediately; the bitter-yet-oddly-comforting scent of patchouli. She hadn’t been gone long. Asher followed it up the street and around the next corner.
The darkness grew thicker, despite the thin light of the streetlamp overhead. A stiff wind kicked up, buffeting him with the sharp, briny aroma of the Bay. Asher pulled his jacket a little tighter and fought to hold onto Grace’s trail. Something cold and unsettling moved in his stomach. A mere block or two over, there were wider streets, streets with better light and plenty of traffic. What the hell was Grace thinking, coming this way?
What the hell was he doing, following her?
She wasn’t even his type. His type was blonde, smiling and empty-eyed. Grace Alan was the opposite of his type. Dark-haired, pensive. When she smiled, he could read the sadness behind it. And her eyes were anything but empty. When she looked at him, he got the distinct feeling she could see right through him. That alone was more than enough reason to leave now.
He had almost convinced himself to do it when he heard her scream.
Asher was running before the sound even had time to register. Grace’s scent grew stronger, and with it he smelled something else: fear. Asher’s chest hardened. The unmistakable sounds of a struggle pricked his ears. A second scent mingled with Grace’s: male, a few days unwashed. Sweat. Arousal.
Suddenly, something thick and fragrant flooded his nostrils. Reflex stopped Asher in his tracks. Blood. His mouth instantly started to water. His fangs descended from his gums. He’d come here well-fed, but fuck, whoever’s blood that was, it smelled delicious. There was a subtle bitterness to it, a smell like…
Asher took off again at a dead sprint. Grace was in trouble. Grace was hurt. A small, snide voice in the back of his head questioned why he gave a shit. Asher ignored it. He slowed, ducked down a narrow, graffiti-plastered alley and took in a deep breath. The male’s scent had faded. Asher squinted. Near the end of the alley, a familiar figure sat slumped against the wall.
He drew a little closer. “Grace?”
She didn’t turn. In the semi-darkness, he could vaguely see her lips move, but no sound came out. Asher closed the distance between them, his footsteps unnaturally loud against the brick buildings on either side.
Asher sank to his knees in front of her. She was more than just hurt. He reached out to touch her face, at the last minute thought better of it. His fingertips hovered over the crushed area that had been her cheekbone. Blood gushed from her obviously-broken nose. Asher trailed his gaze lower, sucked in a breath.
Her throat had been slashed wide open.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Asher bit back a hiss, reached out and rearranged the shredded flesh as best he could. Grace’s pulse thumped against his fingers, quick and erratic, like a scared bird. With each beat, more blood streamed from her neck.
Had it been anyone else, Asher would probably have admired it. Arterial blood was beautiful: thick and heavy and a brilliant shade of red. But this wasn’t anyone else, and all he could think now was that with each fluttering heartbeat, Grace Alan was bleeding to death.
She looked up at him with dark, glassy eyes. Asher didn’t move. Could she still see him? She opened her mouth again, coughed, and pitched forward.
Asher did the only thing he could, and caught her. He gritted his teeth at the feel of her delicious blood seeping onto his jacket. Carefully, he lowered her head into his lap. Grace blinked up at him and tried to speak. Blood gurgled between her lips.
“Shhh.” Asher lisped a little around his fangs. “Don’t try to talk.” He swallowed hard. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”
She clearly wasn’t, but it seemed to be the thing people said in situations like this. Asher tuned his ear to her heartbeat again. It had grown slow, dull. He bit back a curse. At this rate, she was going to bleed out before he could figure out what to do.
After a second’s hesitation, he raised his wrist and bit a hole directly into the vein. Blood flooded the puncture. He held his arm out, let it drip and spatter into the gaping wound in her neck. Then he pressed it to her mouth. Twin jets of air puffed from her nose, hot against his skin. Her lips moved weakly against him.
He wasn’t prepared for the intense rush that accompanied the sensation. He’d never fed anyone his blood, not even his donors, though some of them had begged. Asher caught his breath. “That’s it. Drink up.” He hesitated, then smoothed his free hand over her hair. It was as silky as he’d imagined it would be. He did it again.
Some of the tension seemed to leave Grace’s face. Asher stared down at her. A sick feeling gathered in his belly. They couldn’t keep this up for long. His blood was a temporary fix, but it couldn’t heal a mortal injury like the one she’d sustained. There was no escaping the cold truth of the situation.
Grace Alan was dying.
Asher locked down the heavy feeling in his chest, and touched the side of her face that hadn’t been brutalized. Her skin was warm, smooth. He slid his fingers back, over her ear, into the soft brown tendrils of her hair.
Grace’s eyelids fluttered. Asher let his wrist fall from her mouth, stared at the dark smear of blood left behind. His blood. A single word materialized in the dark corners of his mind.
His heart sped up. He’d never converted anybody before; had never even considered it. He’d certainly never considered converting a woman. To the best of his knowledge, there were no female vampires in existence. The Watchmen had seen to that. Creating a new one would be a blood crime.
Asher smirked in spite of himself. If Isabella could only see him now. She’d probably be delighted for the excuse to put him in his grave.
And what would Lynch say? His patron’s voice echoed in his head. You’ll be responsible for her. She’ll be bound to you forever. If anyone finds out what you’ve done, they’ll kill you both.
Asher turned his attention back to Grace. Her face was starkly pale against the dark sea of her hair. His chest tightened. She was beautiful. And she was young.
Too young to be drowning in a pool of her own blood.
That settled it.
Asher carefully adjusted their positions until Grace was cradled in his arms. He leaned down and spoke against her ear. “Don’t worry, schatzi. I’m going to fix you.” He took a deep breath and let the honeyed perfume of her blood wash over him. Then he grazed his lips lower. “I’m going to fix everything.”
He sank his fangs into what remained of her throat, and prayed she’d forgive him.