ND NOW … A NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN LOOK AT
THE REAL FIRST TIME PATCH AND NORA MET …
FROM PATCH’S POINT OF VIEW!Patch rocked his chair back on two legs, stretched out his arms, and folded them behind his neck. His gaze was nailed to the doors leading inside Enzo’s Bistro. He’d asked for a table at the back, in a shadowy corner where the light didn’t quite reach. A votive candle flickered on every other table, but Patch had snuffed his between his fingers upon sitting. Across the table, Rixon was sprawled in his chair, eyes tracing the ceiling in overdone boredom.
“I’ll wait for you till I turn blue,” Rixon sang in a mutter. “There’s nothing more a man can do. Ya drank with demons straight from”—he broke off and, arching a suggestive eyebrow, pointed beneath his feet—“hell. They almost nearly won as weeeell.”
Patch smiled. “Warming up for your American Idol audition?”
Rixon kicked him under the table. “When are you going to tell me what you’re up to?”
A waitress swept past, dropping off two coffees.
Patch took a drink. “Up to?”
“We’ve been coming here—Enzo’s, is it?—every Thursday night round eight. Five weeks in a row. And you thought I didn’t notice.”
Rixon gave a theatrical eye roll. “The lad can count.”
“They have good coffee.”
“Right, then. Trouble with that is, you can’t taste it,” Rixon pointed out. “Moving on to lie number two, then?”
“I like the atmosphere.”
Rixon’s eyes bugged with astonishment. “Every girl in this place is under twenty. What do you say we scam up some birds a little closer to our own age … seven hundred, at least.”
“I’m not here for the girls.” Just one of them. His eyes flicked to his watch, then back to the doors. Any minute now.
“Not here for the girls,” Rixon echoed. “Not here for the gambling, the drinking, the fighting. By all accounts, we’re blowing a perfectly good night in a reputableestablishment. Either you’ve started listening to the wee little angel on your shoulder, or that iniquitous brain of yours is tossing around some scheme.”
“And I’m betting on the latter. What I want to know is what worthwhile scheme involves a squeaky-clean high school hangout?” he asked, casting a baleful eye about the place.
Outside, a familiar silhouette jogged past the bank of rain-splattered windows. The girl had her arms crossed over her head, doing an amusing job of trying to shield the rain. She hurried inside, giving the door an extra shove to allow her blond companion time to squeeze in before it slammed shut. They stood in the entrance a moment, shaking off rain and stamping their feet dry.
Rixon was still poking around for answers, but Patch had tuned him out. He was immensely conscious of the shorter of the two girls, a slim redhead with straight shoulders and a chin she held slightly raised in a gesture that could be mistaken for conceit. He’d watched her long enough to know it was something else. He toyed with words like “cagey,” “unassuming” … “prudent.” She’d raked her hair up into a stringent bun, but a few rogue pieces had fallen loose, and the effect brought the slightest curve to his mouth.
Even if he hadn’t memorized her schedule, the black span-dex running pants and wide-necked sweatshirt that she seemed engaged in a battle of tug-of-war with—one moment it would slide off her shoulder and the next she’d hitch it back into place—would have told him she’d come from the gym. Among the growing list of things he was discovering about her: She was a fair-weather exerciser. Once a week at most. And only when the blonde, a yo-yo dieter, dragged her along.
The hostess led the girls in Patch’s direction. Patch slouched, discreetly angling his baseball cap to shield his face. Every other week he’d watched the redhead from across the restaurant, making sure she never had reason to glance his way. She typically sat with her chin propped on laced fingers, listening attentively as the blonde went off on guys, miracle diets, celebrity breakups, or her horoscope.
The hostess weaved to the side suddenly, seating the girls a few tables down. A slippery feeling of anxiety tumbled inside Patch, and the sensation almost made him laugh. When was the last time he’d felt boyish nervousness over being caught in a reprobate act?
But he had to play this safe. When he finally introduced himself to the redhead, creating the illusion of meeting for the first time, it had to appear random. Only after he knew her inside and out would he nail down a strategy to gain her trust.
Then he’d drop the proverbial ax.
Rixon was wrong. The angel on his shoulder had long ago been bound and silenced. Patch was driven by his own highest good, his moral compass a function of utility. He had a plan in everything, but the end result was always the same: to satisfy his wants.
After all this time, he was going to get a human body. Because he wanted it, and he had a plan. And the very heart of that plan sat feet away, stabbing at her ice water with a straw.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking we need to start sopho-more year off with a bang,” the blonde announced loudly to the redhead. “No more ho-hum. This year is gonna be epic. No holds barred. And nothing could make this year more epic than snagging Luke Messersmith as my boyfriend. I already jump-started my this-is-how-I’m-gonna-get-him plan. I Sharpied my phone number on his garage door. All that’s left now is to sit back and wait.”
“For the restraining order?” The redhead was full-on grinning, lighting up her whole face. Clearly she didn’t know the effect it had, Patch thought, or she’d do it more often.
“What, you don’t like obvious?” the blonde argued.
“His parents are going to blacklist you. Any way you look at it, seven digits Sharpied on a garage door doesn’t make for the best icebreaker.”
Patch couldn’t take his eyes off her. This week more so than the last. Come to think of it, that had been the pattern from the start. It was inconvenient that she didn’t resemble Chauncey’s long-lost descendant; killing her would have brought him significantly more enjoyment. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but not this. Long legs, but a cautious, reserved stride. Prim features. A laugh that wasn’t too loud or too soft. Everything in its place.
Another near smile crept to his mouth. He was seized by the urge to put a crack in her. To make her carefully constructed world topple. One line was all it would take to make her blush. He’d bet money on it.
“Maybe next time go with a text,” the redhead suggested. “‘Hey, Luke, here are my digits.’ Works for the rest of the population.”
The blonde blew out a sigh and plunked her chin on her fist. “Fudge it. Snagging Luke Messersmith was a crapshoot anyway. What we need is to set our sights elsewhere. Road trip to Portland. Man, that would make Marcie blow steam out her ears. You and me hanging out with college guys while she models slutty swimsuits at J.C. Penney in front of drooling, prepubescent freshmen.”
Rixon’s chair scraped forward. “I give up,” he said, drawing Patch’s attention. “I. Give. Up. What are you after?”
Patch took another sip of coffee. “Quality time with you.”
“See, when you lie to me it hurts,” Rixon said, swiping an imaginary tear. “I thought we had something special. I thought our joint eternal sentences of damnation were our bond. I know you’re up to something and if I have to, I’ll beat it out of you.”
“Give it a rest.”
“I’d like to. Problem is, I’m not stupid.”
“You act stupid.”
“Right. Thanks for that. For your information, there’s a difference between acting stupid and being stupid.”
“It’s a fine line, but someone has to draw it.”
Rixon flattened his hands to the table with a resounding thud. “What are we doing here other than taking an honest stab at death by boredom? And if you don’t come clean in the next three seconds, I’ll make good on my threat to make a punching bag out of your arrogant smirk.”
Patience. When I bring it up, this is what I’m talking about, Patch spoke to his friend’s mind.
Digging up each other’s flaws, are we? Tsk, tsk. That’s no way to kindle a friendship. As for your flaws, you’ve forgotten how to have fun. Why don’t we go find a group of Nephilim to terrorize? Rixon started to stand.
Patch began to rise as well, but the conversation three tables over penetrated his conscious thought, momentarily diverting his attention.
“Why can’t any of the guys at school look like … those two guys over there. Yowza.”
The blonde’s voice hung in the air. Patch barely had time to glance sideways and see that both she and the redhead had their eyes pinned on him, definitely and fully aware of him—when Rixon shoved his fist into his jaw. Patch’s head snapped sideways, giving him a direct but swimming picture of the redhead’s mouth forming a perfect and astonished O.
Well, this was inconvenient.
“Told you I’d beat it out of you,” Rixon cackled, dodging lithely around the table.
Patch was on his feet in an instant.
Rixon barreled into him, slamming him back against the wall and into a picture frame. It hit the ground, glass shattering.
From the edge of his vision, Patch saw the redhead blink in stunned confusion and, if he wasn’t mistaken, just enough alarm to bring him a certain satisfaction … and encourage him on.
Patch reflexively dipped, and Rixon’s next jab passed over his shoulder. With an upward swipe, Patch drilled his fist into the underside of Rixon’s chin. He attacked the core of Rixon’s body, aiming repeatedly for the ribs and flesh around his stomach, but the moment his friend dropped his arms to protect himself, he went for his head. Once, twice. Twice more. After five direct blows Rixon staggered out of range and flipped his palms up.
“You want me to scream uncle, that it?” Rixon panted, wearing a grin that said he was enjoying himself for the first time all night.
The blonde wedged her way through the tables to Rixon. She held out her napkin, gesturing at his face. “You’ve got a little blood …”
“Thanks, love.” Rixon dabbed the napkin to his mouth, then cast a sly wink at Patch. His voice slipped easily into Patch’s mind. Said I wanted a girl closer to seven hundred, did I ? I meant seven hundred … give or take.
Patch settled grim eyes on the blonde, wishing he could mind-trick her into obediently going back to her table, but Rixon would pick up on it and ask questions. He let out a slow breath. Twenty-four hours from now, Rixon wouldn’t remember her name. She, however, had a slightly longer attention span. A complication.
“So tell me, love,” Rixon drawled to the blonde. “Ever ridden on a Ducati Streetfighter? I’m parked out back.”
The blonde was already throwing her purse strap over her shoulder. “Does your friend have a bike too? He could take my friend, Nora.” To Patch’s surprise, she waved at him.
“Vee,” the redhead said with exasperation and warning.
The blonde didn’t bother listening. She turned to Rixon. “First things first. Someone should clean you up. I took a babysitting CPR course this summer. When it comes to nosebleeds, I’m your girl.” She grabbed Rixon by the sleeve and hauled him toward the unisex restroom.
True to form, Rixon slung an arm around her shoulder and nuzzled her cheek. “Lead the way, Nurse … Vee, was it?”
Patch found himself standing in disbelief beside the redhead. Two minutes ago he’d had things under control. He raked his hands through his hair. He might as well have plowed a Mack truck down the middle of his plan.
The redhead shifted her weight. She stole a look up at him, only to immediately swing her eyes away. She was frightened by him. He wondered if he had this effect on her naturally or if she sensed on some subconscious level what he wanted from her.
A strange war of desires battled inside him, pulling him in opposite directions. He wanted to make her uneasy. Ironically, he was also frightened of scaring her off. Now that he had her close, he wanted to keep her there.
She cleared her throat. “Think you could tell your friend to cut back on the slickness factor? If he gets any oilier, third world countries are going to start looking to him as a supplier.”
Patch smiled down at her. She was prettier up close. Cautious but expressive eyes, an aristocratic nose, a few freckles she probably hated, and that hair. Wild and rebellious. He had the urge to snap the rubber band and send her hair cascading around her shoulders. Other than his Nephilim mark on her wrist, Chauncey’s genes had done her the favor of sparing her any similarities.
“So,” he said. “You’re from around here?”
She craned her neck, searching the restaurant, clearly bent on appearing absorbed in anything but talking to him. “It would seem so. And you are … ?”
“Jev.” He could tell by the slight downturn of her mouth she thought it was an odd name. Most humans did.
“And you?” she asked. “Are you from around here? I haven’t seen you before.”
“I keep a low profile.”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
She flinched. He’d meant to kill the conversation and it worked. He knew he looked like a jerk, but given what he had in store for her, he could do a lot worse. He realized he should leave it alone, but now that he had her talking, he found himself drawn to her. The banter between them felt natural. And she was responding. Scared of him, sure, but equally curious. He could see it well enough in her eyes.
With conscious effort, Patch turned his body toward her, displaying interest. He smiled politely. “I’m in town on business.”
“What kind of business?” she asked after a minute.
“Genealogy. Tracking down long-lost family members.”
“Which family are you researching?”
“I’m not aware of any Langeaises in Coldwater.”
He rubbed his thumb across his mouth to quell a smile. “Sounds like I’ve got my work cut out.”
“How long are you planning to stay in town?”
“As long as it takes.” He bent his head toward hers as though they were conspirators. “It would speed things up if I had a tour guide, someone to show me around.”
Her mouth crooked with a wry little smile, as if she knew what he was up to, but she teased him by saying, “You’re in luck. Vee is an excellent tour guide.”
He recovered his surprise quickly. “But I prefer redheaded tour guides.”
She spread her hands in regret. “Sorry. I don’t know any redheads.”
“Check the mirror this morning?”
She tapped her finger to her mouth, a playful gesture that drew his attention to her lips, prim and sensuous, which he had already had the pleasure of noticing. She was cautiously warming up to him, and Patch felt the restaurant tunnel around them, the background noises dropping away. A part of him that had been locked up for so long loosened. He felt a strange satisfaction being near her. A teasing contact that made him want more.
Not missing a beat, she said, “I did. And I recall seeing a brunette.”
He laughed, trying to figure out this game she was playing. “Might need to get your vision checked.”
“So that explains why you have three eyes, two horns, and one very yellow fang where your front teeth should be.” She cocked her head to the side, squinting at him.
He grinned. “Busted. I’m a monster. Jev is my deceptively harmless—and shockingly handsome—alter ego.”
“And I’m on top of it,” she announced with witty triumph.
His bluntness caught her off guard. A self-conscious blush rose in her face. She stood uncertain a moment, then gestured with impatience at the restroom. “How long does it take to clean a bloody nose?”
He laughed low. “Not sure that’s the only thing they’re doing in there.”
Her eyes widened with shock … then narrowed in scrutiny, trying her hardest to figure out if he was teasing. For once, he wasn’t. “Maybe you should go knock on the door,” she suggested at last.
The suggestion didn’t appeal to him. He wasn’t in any hurry to end things. The thought of leaving her now left him with an impatient ache. He hadn’t felt this way in a very long time. As far as he was concerned, he hadn’t felt a spark of interest in so long, it was like feeling it for the first time. “Won’t do any good. The only thing that’ll grab Rixon’s attention is the sound of his bike starting. Someone breathes on it, and he notices the condensation. You want to get him out of there, that’s your best option.”
“You’re saying I should take his bike for a ride?”
“More like be my accomplice.” He let the idea dangle.
“And you want me to go with you, why?”
So I can get you alone long enough to erase your mind. And if he was being honest, to get her alone, period. His eyes dropped to her mouth, and he enjoyed a secret pleasure of imagining kissing her. “Let me guess. You’ve never been on a Ducati Streetfighter.”
“Ride one once, and that’s all it takes. You’re hooked.” He hitched his thumb at the exit. “Now or never.”
“I don’t run off with guys I’ve known all of three seconds.”
“And a guy you’ve known, say, twenty seconds? He stand a better chance?”
To his surprise, she laughed. He liked the sound of it, and against his own good judgment, he wanted to make her do it again.
“Actually,” she said, smiling with more ease, “that guy would drastically reduce his chances. Twenty is my unlucky number.”
“And your lucky number?”
She bit her lip, debating answering.
Over the top of her head, Patch saw Rixon emerge from the restroom pressing a folded square of toilet paper to his nose. Patch lifted his hat and scrubbed his hair in frustration. That was quick, even by Rixon’s standards.
“Is it between one and ten?” Patch asked on a stroke of inspiration.
“Hold the number behind your back. I’ll guess it. If I guess right, you and I go for a ride.
Doesn’t have to be tonight,” he added in response to the skepticism flooding her expression. “Next time I offer you a ride on my bike, say yes. It’s that simple.”
She held his eyes a long moment, then relented with a confi-dent shrug. “You have a one in ten chance of guessing right. I can handle those odds.”
Hearing him, Rixon looked up and his face split into a grin. I leave you alone for five minutes, and you’re already chasing skirts?
Fingers? Patch repeated.
What’s in it for me?
Next time we fight, you get to give me the bloody nose.
Get to? Rixon tipped his head back, silently laughing. I’ll happily remind you of an occasion just last week when I nearly punched out one of your teeth.
“Well?” the redhead prodded Patch. “Telepathy skills getting rusty?”
Tomorrow night you call the shots, Patch bargained.
Anything I want? Even if it includes terrorizing underage Nephilim?
Patch sighed. Anything.
All right, mate. You’re on. She’s holding up eight fingers. But keep the flirting to a minimum, will you? Seven minutes in heaven with Nurse Vee are up. I’m ready to roll.
Patch closed his eyes, tightening his face to suggest concentration. He opened one eye, staring down speculatively at the redhead. “Let’s go with … eight?” He said it with just enough uncertainty to make it believable.
The redhead’s mouth dropped. “No way.”
Patch rubbed his hands together, genuinely enjoying himself. “You know what this means. You owe me a ride, Nora.” Her name was a mistake. He’d agreed to treat her with cold-blooded detachment, limiting all references to her to the redhead. He didn’t think he was in danger of an emotional slip, but he was dealing with a beautiful girl. He’d learned his lesson once, hence the safeguard.
“You cheated,” she accused.
His smile widened. She didn’t sound that disappointed, and she knew it.
He played along, raising his shoulders, a display of innocence. “A bet’s a bet.”
“How did you do it?”
“Maybe my telepathy isn’t rusty after all.”
Rixon walked up, clapping him on the back. “Let’s hit the road, Jack.”
“Where’s Vee?” the redhead wanted to know.
On cue, the blonde emerged from the restroom, slumped against the doorjamb, pantomimed her own erratically beating heart, and mouthed ooh-la-la.
“What did you do to her?” the redhead asked Rixon.
“Put a smile on her face. There’s more where that came from,” Rixon added, and Patch shoved him toward the doors.
“Take it easy,” Patch told the redhead reluctantly, not ready to give up talking to her, but not wanting to impress any more of her on Rixon’s memory. For the time being, he wanted to keep who she really was to himself.
The redhead blinked. “So I guess I’ll see you around,” she said, wearing a what just happened here? expression. Given the circumstances, he should ask himself the same thing.
“Absolutely,” Patch answered. Sooner than she thought. Later tonight he planned on making house calls. First to the blonde, and then to the redhead.
If tonight had happened seven or eight months down the road, the timing would have been perfect. As it was, he had to erase their memories. He felt a jolt of regret at needing to wipe the redhead’s memory. He wanted her to remember tonight. He wanted her to remember him.
He imagined sacrificing her—a thought he’d turned over in his head a hundred times before—but the image stumbled. For the first time he looked beyond himself—seeing her. Not only did he plan to kill her, but he had it in his mind to betray her first. What would she think of him if she knew? It occurred to him to drag her outside now and get it over with. The image flared in his mind, impulsive and tempting, but he forced it aside. If he could do it now, he could do it tomorrow.
But his hesitation bothered him. Something told him killing her wasn’t going to be easy. He hadn’t helped his cause by flirting with her and, worse, enjoying it. More than he was ready to admit.
In an effort to refocus his thoughts, he shut his eyes briefly and pictured the end goal. Once he sacrificed her, he’d have a human body. It wasn’t complicated. Anything that stood in his way, including his own inner turmoil, was irrelevant.
Without thinking he turned, stealing a private look at her. He’d only meant to see her face one last time, but to his surprise, she was watching him, too, with a question in those exquisite gray eyes that would haunt him.