Chapter 1: Phoebe
It was the end of my shift at the karaoke bar in Brooklyn. Just one more table. Just hand the credit card back to the customer and punch out. Then I could escape from this rut for the night.
I smiled at the asshole who’d stared down my white t-shirt with the bar’s logo poised below my left shoulder the entire night. I slid his card and receipt into his waiting palm. He leered at me as I muttered “Have a nice night” and started to scurry away.
“Oh, I’m sure I will, sweetheart,” he sneered, grabbing my ass.
Before I had a chance to smack his hand away, another hand snagged his wrist and twisted it at an awkward angle. A painful one.
Asshole groaned as a tall man with a lean yet muscular form, short dark hair, and gleaming green eyes contorted the wrist he held. “Now, now. That’s no way to treat a woman,” he said, his accent either Spanish or Italian. Twisting Asshole’s wrist a little more, he added, “Apologize.”
“You the boyfriend?” Asshole asked.
“Does it matter?”
Asshole snickered and tried to look over his shoulder at the foreigner, but the foreigner twisted Asshole’s arm farther, making him groan louder.
“All right, all right!” he cried. “I’m sorry!”
“It’ll do,” the foreigner replied. He then torqued the man’s arm farther just a fraction as he added, “Now, I’m going to let you go, and then you’re going to walk out of here without even looking at the lovely lady again. Understood?”
“Yeah, I got it,” Asshole gritted out through clenched teeth.
The foreigner did as he’d said he would, although Asshole did glance at me for a split second, causing the foreigner to say, “Oi, watch it!” as a warning, making Asshole cast his eyes down and dart out the door.
The other man turned to me. “Buona sera, signorina,” he said.
“Yo hablo español, no italiano,” I replied.
“Mmm, español es una prima cercana de italiano.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I guess you could say they’re cousins, and with French as well.”
“French is a more distant cousin, yes.”
“Like German and Dutch are cousins to English.”
He smiled, giving me butterflies in my belly. “You know your language families.” He sounded impressed.
I grabbed Asshole’s leftover beer glass as I teased with a smirk, “It’s called college. You go there to learn things.” I started to turn away, but I stopped when I saw his eyes shine a bright purple. It was only for a moment, but it was enough to tell me he wasn’t human.
He spoke again in my hesitation to leave with the beer glass. “I’m Dante,” he said, placing a hand over his heart.
I swallowed quietly. This gorgeous man in front of me wasn’t human, which meant he was probably only speaking to me so he could get close enough to feed from me. That’s what most of the monsters only I could see did. I gestured to the beer glass and replied, “I’m working.” I turned on my heel and rushed away, placing the glass into a busboy’s tub as I passed him. I had to weave through tables to get to the back, and I glanced behind me at the foreigner for a heart-stopping moment. When his gaze met mine, I scurried into the back. Gathering my things, I clocked out and went through the back door into an alley. I pulled my jacket and gloves on as I walked out of the alley to the street and left for home. The early night air was already starting to chill as the sun went down. I yanked my jacket’s zipper up to the top as I sped down the sidewalk, shoving my hands into my pockets.
As I kept walking, I felt like someone was watching me. Stalking me. I turned and glanced back. There were people on the phone while crossing the street; couples huddled together, clutching steaming cups of coffee; taxis driving by and honking at passing jaywalkers. Everything seemed normal, but the feeling didn’t go away. I was usually paranoid while walking home on my own, but this was different. I wasn’t simply expecting to see monsters everywhere I looked, like I usually did. This feeling was pointed. Threatening. I wondered if Dante had followed me from the bar, but when I didn’t see him anywhere, I turned and started walking again.
There he was, leaning against a store window ahead of me. His foot was propped on the wall beneath the window, and his arms were crossed over his broad chest. He wore a black leather jacket over his black t-shirt now. He turned his head and stared at me then, a small smile spreading over his lips.
I could either pass him, or I could cross the street and try to avoid him. If he was human, the choice would’ve been a no-brainer; I’d want to sass him by pointedly ignoring him as I passed. But I knew he wasn’t human, and he must’ve only wanted to feed on me. If he had to, he would use all of whatever abilities he had to get to me.
I hurried across the street when there was a lull in traffic. Glancing over my shoulder as I went, I saw he only watched me go. Once I was on the sidewalk on the other side of the street, I stared at him for another moment. To anyone else, he’d be mesmerizing. Hell, he mesmerized me with his flawless skin and features carved from light olive marble. The bright green eyes didn’t exactly help. I couldn’t let him have what he craved. I didn’t want to die, least of all at the hands of someone like him.
But something felt different. The threatened, vulnerable feeling I’d felt before seeing him again lessened as I stared at him. It didn’t make sense. I knew he wanted to hurt me, but with him there, I felt–cherished, almost. Like he seemed to care about me even though I knew he saw me as food.
Suddenly, he pushed away from the window. Terrified, I turned and sped away before I saw him do anything else, but I glanced back a moment later to see if he was still following me. He was nowhere to be found.
I felt icky when I got home, so I jumped in the shower and spent an hour letting the hot water rinse soap and a long day down the drain. After, I pulled on blue mesh shorts and a matching camisole, crawling into bed with SpaghettiOs and Netflix to keep me company until I fell asleep.
It was the middle of the night, and I wasn’t alone. The wind blew my curtains, flapping them loudly. I threw my comforter aside, slid out of bed, and went to the window. As soon as I lowered and locked it in place, there were hands on my shoulders, breath on my neck, lips at my ear.
“Miss me?” a deep, accented voice whispered. Dante.
Dante was here. In my apartment. In my bedroom. In the middle of the night. But I wasn’t terrified. I wasn’t absolutely appalled by his complete disregard of locked doors and windows. I was glad he was here. Glad he was holding me. I didn’t want him to leave. Did I?
I automatically leaned back against him as he slid his hands under my arms and around my waist. I laid my head against him, inhaling his scent: cedar with a snowy freshness. The smallest sigh pushed through my lips.
He laughed, the sound rumbling through his chest, vibrating against my back. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, his mouth at my temple.
I turned to face him without a word.
He slowly grazed his fingers over my neck and into my long, brown hair. He leaned close to my ear again, saying, “You left the bar so quickly you didn’t even say good-bye. A little rude, but I’ll let it slide just this once.” He pressed his lips to the hollow below my ear gently, searing my chilled flesh.
The bar. The asshole. The beer glass. Dante.
I remembered. Dante’s eyes had flashed purple when I’d spoken to him at the bar. He wasn’t human; he was supernatural. A monster.
He pulled away from my ear and stared down at me. He hooked a finger under my chin and lifted my face toward his. His eyes glowed purple; he was using some sort of power, and he was using it on me.
No. I couldn’t let him do that. I couldn’t let him take what he wanted. My arms were already between his chest and mine. All I had to do was push. But I still didn’t want to. He was warm, and the room was still cold from the window being open.
But he wanted to feed from me, didn’t he? His eyes proved that.
He tilted his head toward me, and pressed his lips to my cheek. “Bellissima,” he muttered seductively, moving his lips to my jaw. The hand that wasn’t holding my chin laid on my hip and slowly slid around my waist, cradling me to him. Never before had it felt so good to be touched; he was warm and gentle. I’d only ever had one boyfriend before, and while he put a lot of pressure on me to let him be intimate, I could never bring myself to take that step with him because he’d been harsh and uncaring whenever he’d wanted me. Dante was completely different.
As he lifted his head from my jaw, his breath brushed my face, sending shivers down my spine. I didn’t understand why he made me feel so safe even though he came into my apartment uninvited. It was like he didn’t want to hurt me at all, despite him using some kind of ability on me. His mouth hovered above mine, and I could see his violet gaze beseeching mine as if asking permission to continue. That was all I needed to see to know that I could trust him.
I slid my hands over his shoulders and around his neck as I pressed closer. His arms came around me almost lovingly, and the tip of his nose bumped against mine. I was just about to kiss him when I felt the same thing I had on my way home from the bar: threatened. It was like something malicious was targeting me, and it wasn’t coming from Dante; I could feel that now.
Glancing over Dante’s shoulder, I saw something dark and shapeless waiting for me. Fear overtook me, and I stumbled backward and dropped into the seat behind me, bumping into the cold window.
My eyes opened, and I sat up in my bed. My sheets and my hair were soaked with sweat, but I was shivering. I still felt like something was threatening me, but I couldn’t tell what.
Tossing my comforter to the side — for real this time — I stood and grabbed the Doctor Who throw blanket I kept on the foot of my bed. Draping it over my shoulders, I crept up to the window.
Dante was standing across the street, his fists hanging at his sides. I thought I could see his eyes fade from purple back to that shimmery green from before. A frown was plastered on his face, though his eyes didn’t look angry; they looked concerned. At first anyway, but then they shifted. They became fierce, and it might’ve scared me if I didn’t still feel safe with him near.
He took a step to cross the street, and as a reflex I yanked the curtains closed. I froze for a moment, the threatening vibe still pulsing inside me. Not wanting to be caught off guard, I rushed to the front door, making sure it was locked. I also took a moment to glance out the peephole, but nothing was there.
When I turned back to the living room, the door to my small balcony was open. I had closed and locked it before I’d gone to bed. Didn’t I?
I swallowed and crept around the couch to look out the small doors. The space was empty. I took a deep breath before inching toward the balcony. I stepped out and glanced down into the alley below; there he was, gazing up at me. I tugged the blanket tighter around me in the chilly night air. After staring down at him for a moment longer, I retreated back into the apartment and locked the door behind me.
I went back to bed, but I couldn’t go back to sleep easily.
Chapter 2: Dante
I watched the woman from the bar creep back into her flat and heard the lock on the balcony door click into place. My heart rammed against my sternum as I leaned against the wall of the alley. I couldn’t believe I didn’t realize she was an empath when I was speaking with her at the bar, and I was shocked that she didn’t peg me as an incubus either. She must’ve known I wasn’t human with how she’d reacted to me; she was so scared. I could understand why.
Empaths were highly coveted. Extremely rare and powerful, they made the ultimate ally, to say the least. Once they develop a strong emotional attachment to someone, that connection is impossible to break, and the empath would do anything for that person, no matter the consequences. This woman was very young, so she must’ve just matured recently, which also meant she was likely undevoted.
She was in danger if that was the case. Much of the supernatural community would kidnap her and attempt to cultivate her devotion. Others would kill her to prevent anyone else from triggering her attachment. That is if she was known to the community; she must’ve been in hiding, whether she knew it or not.
I couldn’t leave her to fend for herself when I could help her, and I couldn’t reveal her to the community either. Making my way around the building, I found the fire escape that led to her window and climbed up the five flights of stairs to reach it. I knew she probably locked it, but I took out one of my cards and a pen. After I wrote the words Please call me if you ever need help on the card next to the NYC Police Department logo, I slid it beneath the window as far as I could so she’d hopefully see it in the morning.
I jogged back down the escape but glanced up at her window when I heard it open. I watched her pick up the card and stare down at me. After I nodded at her, she shut and locked the window, before drawing her curtains shut once more.
There was a wraith who owned a nightclub nearby. It was a club only supernaturals knew about, so many supernaturals preferred it to human-owned clubs. If anyone knew anything about a newly matured, unattached empath, Roman would’ve heard the gossip about her. If he hadn’t, I could ask him to listen for anything related to her. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t common knowledge that she existed, or where she was.
To humans, The Maiden looked like a small, private ship that never left the port, but to supernaturals, it was Roman’s nightclub. The bouncer took one look at me as I sauntered down the dock, and he had the front door wide open just as I reached it; I didn’t even have to break my stride.
Roman had his own booth in the main chamber of the club, as well as several back rooms he rented out for private feedings–or other encounters. He also had many humans on-site specifically for those feedings. It was vulgar, but with a lot of competition for untainted food these days, there was a market for it, one Roman happily took advantage of.
I stood at the bar for a moment, then closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger, trying to stave off the headache I was already getting from the lights and the noise Roman called music.
“You okay there, Dante?” one of the bartenders asked. He was a hydra named Tyler who worked for Roman at night to supplement the income from his butcher shop and be able to give his large family the life he wanted for them. Not that Roman knew any of that.
“I’ll be all right, Tyler. Grazie,” I replied, giving him a small smile.
“Here.” He set a glass on the bar in front of me and poured a small amount of bourbon into it. “On me,” Tyler added. “I know how tiring Roman’s idea of fun can get.”
“Grazie, amico mio,” I replied, dumping the bourbon down my throat.
I turned from my place at the bar toward Roman’s VIP area. He nodded at me when he saw me, and I weaved through the crowd toward him. His security, stout ogre lackeys, glanced at me as I approached the VIP area, but they didn’t try to stop me. I paused in front of the couch and rolled my eyes at the gemini girls fawning all over Roman.
“What can I do for you, brother?” Roman asked before taking a sip of champagne from one of the gemini’s flutes.
“Could we chat in private, Roman?” I asked, crossing my arms.
“We are in private.”
“What do you call them?” I gestured to the gemini.
“Too drunk to care what the hell you came here to discuss,” he replied with a laugh.
As if to prove his point, the gemini giggled and cuddled closer to Roman, running their hands dangerously low on his torso.
“Please, fratellino,” I tried one more time to gain his attention; he knew whenever I said please, or called him little brother, I was serious.
He audibly sighed, and then tapped on each of the girls’ faces in turn. “Why don’t you girls go grab a spot on the dance floor?” he suggested. “I’ll join you in a bit.”
The gemini pouted and whined, but they stood and moved away from the couch, grazing their hands over my shoulders as they passed me. I assumed it was supposed to be seductive, but they were obviously too tipsy for my taste, to say the least.
Once they were gone, I focused on Roman again. “I need to know about the recent gossip.”
He shrugged, nonchalantly, and asked, “Anything in particular?”
“A young woman living in Brooklyn,” I replied evasively.
He chuckled. “There are countless young women living in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for a specific one, you’re doing something wrong.”
“According to you.”
“Still, if I don’t know what you’re looking for, we could be here all night.”
I still hesitated. He was my little brother, but while he clued me in on the gossip train, he also was a source for others with more nefarious intentions. I didn’t want to give him information that could lead to that innocent girl’s kidnapping–or worse.
“Does she at least have a name?” Roman asked in my silence.
I thought back to the karaoke bar; the woman had been wearing a name tag. “Her name is Phoebe,” I informed him.
“I don’t know it yet.”
“The name Phoebe isn’t much to go on.”
“Have you heard anything about her?” I reiterated the question.
“Not that I can think of,” he replied. “There was one rumor I heard out of Brooklyn. There wasn’t a name attached to it; it was very vague, so I didn’t give it much credibility.”
“Where did the rumor come from?”
“A druid named Colin. He was drunk at the time, but he kept going on about a woman he met at the animal shelter when he picked up his new dog. Said she was as kind as an empath, but he passed out before he gave anyone any other details about her.”
“Did he say which animal shelter?”
“Nope, like I said, he was very vague about it.”
I nodded. “Thank you, Roman.” I turned to leave.
“Why do you care about a vague rumor about a woman who may or may not be an empath?” he called after me.
I paused and glanced over my shoulder at him, but then I moved to leave without another word.
A moment later, I felt Roman’s hand on my shoulder. “Hey, you look like hell. When was the last time you fed? A couple of weeks ago?”
I stayed silent and even turned away from him, ashamed that it had been closer to a month since my last full feed.
“Come on, Dante, you can’t starve yourself like this,” he said.
“That’s easy for you to say; you’re not a sexual predator. You only have to scare the shit out of people,” I replied in Italian.
“Just because you feed on sexual energy doesn’t mean you force people to have sex with you.” He also spoke Italian, though when he spoke English, his accent was all but nonexistent.
“Might as well be.”
“D, I’ve never been fed on by an incubus — or a succubus for that matter — but I’ve heard it makes the sex so much more satisfying. What you do is give them a good time; I cripple people with their fear, if temporarily.”
I didn’t reply.
He spoke in English again, “Come on, you need to feed. You’re starting to show your age.” He placed his hand on my arm and tugged me toward the back rooms.
He led me to a private room that was modest by his standards, yet impressive by mine. He muttered something about being right back, and a moment later, he returned with a redheaded woman I’d seen in the main part of the club several times before. From what I could tell about her through my observations was she gladly provided both incubi and succubi with meals.
After Roman shut the door behind him as he left, the woman approached me, laid her hands on my chest, and said, “It’s all right, I know what you need.”
I didn’t have the energy to reject her; now that she was here, my hunger came to the forefront of my mind as she pushed me back onto the bed, crawled over me, and kissed me deeply.
Afterward, the redhead was up and dressed before me. “Take your time,” she told me before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.
As I was pulling my shoes back on, Roman stepped into the room again. “Feel better?” he asked.
“Much,” I replied, my voice full of the shame I always felt from having sex just to feed.
“I would’ve thought being with someone who mostly dealt with incubi and succubi would be comforting for you.”
“What would be comforting would be having someone in my life that I actually want to be with like that, someone who also wants to be with me.”
His wide eyes blinked at me in astonishment. “Dante, you’re an incubus; you’re not built to be monogamous. Even Mother and Father have an open relationship, for both their sakes.”
“Sometimes I wonder if that’s how you’re a wraith and Enzo is an angel rather than incubi like Father and I, if Mother was less than honest about both of your paternity.”
“Obviously, we have ancestors who are not incubi and succubi, much to Mother and Father’s dismay, but why would Mother tell everyone that we’re Father’s children if we weren’t his? They’re honest about their relationship with each other, and that’s how it actually works.”
“Yes, well it’s not what I want,” I said, standing and heading for the door.
“Life isn’t always about what you want,” he called after me before I was too far away to hear him.
I left the Maiden and started to make my way back to my apartment. Part of me wanted to figure out who Phoebe was so I could better keep an eye on her, but I needed to check on Enzo, my youngest brother. The fifteen-year-old could spend a night on his own, but I also needed sleep after such a full meal.
Danielle Huntress is a student at Central Michigan University, majoring in Outdoor and Environmental Recreation. She will be graduating in December 2019 and spends her free time reading, writing, and singing.