Humans are such mundane creatures. They carry on with their lives, unaware of just how vast the world truly is.
They’re unconscious of the immense number of demons roaming through their cities, living secret lives among them. Demons hide behind magical glamour spells to make themselves invisible to mortal eyes, but many of them just blend in with only the subtlest indications of their natures. Vampires have stunning, heart-wrenching beauty—shifters, the sweltering heat of their skin that is far hotter than a human’s and trolls have impenetrably thick skin and a brief flash of red in their eyes when they grow angry.
That was one of the things Ava loved most about humans. They were simple-minded. Where her world was filled with danger, darkness and children of the underworld, humans were oblivious to the mystical existence around them.
She envied that about them. To be able to live their lives with no clue that they were always surrounded by creatures that go bump in the night. It was miraculous how blind they were.
Yes, envious indeed. Yet, at the same time, she couldn’t help but admire them.
To have a demon strolling past them every day, even serving the food at a restaurant they frequented—cough, cough—yet never even knowing… She only wished to trade places with them. Maybe then she’d be able to get a full night of sleep.
“Don’t tell me you’re daydreaming again, Ava,” a friendly, yet gruff voice called out.
Ava turned a smile on her boss, who was raising a bushy gray eyebrow at her through the small square window separating them. Though he was a rough-looking old man with a perpetual scowl, he had a heart of gold. He’d give the clothes on his back to someone in need.
A trait lacking in the majority of demons.
“Sorry about that, Mr. Tommy,” she said. She picked up a thin white rag and tasked herself with wiping down the countertop. The diner she worked in was fairly empty at this time of the morning. The early morning rush had ended, but there were a few customers seated at the tables, finishing off their meals.
Tom’s Place wasn’t anything special, but there was a certain charm about the diner that made Ava feel comfortable working there. A gray-and-white checkered tile floor complemented baby-blue booths and metal tables. The walls were the same blue, with aged pictures from the diner’s first opening in the twenties hanging on the walls. The windows had a faint tint on them to keep the inside cool and shaded, which was perfect for Ava.
She had a mild allergy to the sun’s rays.
In all honesty, she didn’t need this job. She’d managed to save up a considerable amount of wealth over the years to keep herself comfortable for a while.
However, as a waitress, it was a great way to interact with humans. She enjoyed studying them, learning more about their ways. She’d been sheltered from them until she reached adulthood. When she’d gone off into the world to discover for herself what was out there, she’d developed a substantial fascination with the fragile beings.
It had quickly become her small bit of joy in life—which is rather…bizarre, isn’t it?
They were a puzzling race. The smallest of incidents could be fatal for them, and they were foolishly driven by their emotions rather than their minds. She didn’t understand it in the slightest, but she wanted to. It was intriguing.
But no matter how much she enjoyed watching humans, she couldn’t get involved with them any more than that. She’d never forgive herself if anyone was hurt because of her carelessness.
Especially not that human. There was one in particular her body craved like no other, which was a very, very dangerous thing in her predicament.
The bell above the diner door rang and the delicious scent of sandalwood filled her nose. Speak of the devil… She frowned to herself and looked up at the two men who took a seat at the diner bar, right in front of her. As always.
They were both dressed in uniform and both as handsome as could be. However, it was the one to the right who made her heart skip a beat. The human cop was so good-looking it was almost painful. In all her hundred-plus years of living, she’d seen her share of handsome men. But this one? He took the cake.
He had a crew-cut hairstyle, his hair cut close to his head on the sides, while the remaining dark hair on top was longer and neatly brushed backward. His eyes were a bright golden color, framed by thick, dark lashes that were long enough to make any woman seethe with jealousy. He had a thin, straight nose and a chiseled jawline so sharp that only a master craftsman could have sculpted it with such perfection. And his lips? Full, flawless and made to please a woman.
And when he smiled…
Good gods, when he smiles. His teeth were even and white, his cheeks bearing the deepest set of dimples she’d ever seen. Add to that his six-foot-three muscular build and he was a walking sexual invitation affecting women within a five-mile radius. And Ava was no exception.
Which was what frustrated her more than anything. She couldn’t get involved with anyone right now—least of all a human—no matter how much her body ached for his touch.
“Good morning, Aaavaaaa,” Marc drawled, those dimples flashing when he grinned.
Ava kept her face blank at the lazy way he drew her name out, but inside her heart was pounding. Even his smooth voice had her shifting her feet as heat began to pool in the pit of her stomach.
She gave him and Duncan a simple nod, ignoring her body’s reaction to the sexy male. “Good morning,” she responded, avoiding Marc’s simmering gaze. “Edith will be over to take your orders shortly.”
His dimpled smile never wavered. “Ahh, still too shy to talk to me, are you? It’s been how many months now?”
Ava didn’t respond as she turned to walk through the door to the kitchen area of the diner.
Too shy to talk to him? Gods. If he knew how bad she wanted him, he’d be running in terror until he reached the Atlantic Ocean.
Shaking the thought from her head, she headed toward the stock room where the other waitress, Edith, was gathering a few items.
She looked over at her. “I was not expecting that morning rush today,” the aged woman said. “I know it’s Friday, but golly.”
Ava nodded in agreement. “Right? I have no idea where that crowd even came from. Is there some sort of special event going on in the city?”
Edith’s gaze turned thoughtful. “If there is, I haven’t heard about it. Chicago is pretty big, so there’s no telling.”
“Hmm. Well, your favorite customers are here. I’ll finish stocking while you take their orders.”
Edith blinked in surprise, her wrinkled gaze turning dreamy. “Marc and Duncan?” She let out a little happy squeal, dropping her handful of straws and condiment packets. “Oh, cripes,” she muttered, crouching down to pick them up.
Ava got down to help her. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get these. You go on.”
Edith gave her a small frown. “Ya’know, Ava, I’ve been wondering for a while now… You’re so nice to everyone that comes in but you always avoid those two. Why is that?”
Ava felt her cheeks heat just a bit. Damn those old eyes of hers.
She kept her head down, focusing on picking up the dropped items. “No reason,” she mumbled. And damn herself for not being a good liar. What was the purpose of being a demon, known for their manipulation and cunning mental prowess, if she couldn’t even master the art of telling a lie?
She knew that pathetic excuse wouldn’t stop the other woman from prying. She was like a fluttering grandmother, always attempting to piece things together.
“Child, they’re both drop-dead gorgeous,” the woman continued. “They’re cops, and neither of them has a ring on his finger.” She paused for a second. “Wait! Could it be because they’re cops? I know some people who tend to avoid the law at all costs. Is that the reason?” She looked around suspiciously before lowering her voice to a whisper. “Are you on the run from the authorities? Are you worried about getting deported? Don’t. I won’t rat on you.”
Ava let out a small chuckle. In the few months since she’d been working there, she’d learned how much of a chatterbox Edith was. She voiced all her thoughts and opinions without a care in the world. Half the time Ava was sure the woman didn’t even realize it. “Deported?” she asked, smiling.
Edith nodded, tapping a bony finger to her wrinkled cheeks in thought. “Yes, deported back to Mexico where you came from.”
Ava shook her head. “I’m Italian, Edith, not Mexican. Two completely different countries on two completely different continents.”
Edith waved that away. “Whatever. I’m not so good with all these different accents. Too many of them sound alike.”
Ava only continued to smile. Despite Edith’s claims, Ava’s Italian accent was very faint. She’d spent a great number of years all over America, so she often picked up on their ever-changing lingo. The only time it became noticeable was if her emotions surged, which had yet to happen since working here.
“There are plenty of other police officers who come in here, and I have no trouble talking with them,” Ava responded. “Honestly, I don’t have an issue with either Duncan or Marc. Let’s just say I’m fairly shy around men who look that good.” It was a lie, but she couldn’t very well tell the woman she didn’t talk to Marc because his very presence was enough to make her body tingle with desire. Talk about embarrassing.
“Oh well, I suppose that makes sense. Ever since you started working here, you would clam up and act all shy with only those two. Especially Marc. That’s the one you need to shag.”
Ava shook her head again. “Shag? What does that even mean?”
The woman stood up, raised a brow and put a bony hand on her hip. “You know what I mean. He’s young and virile. You’re young and gorgeous. You’re both single. And I see the way you look at each other when no one’s looking.” She winked at that. “If I was just a few years younger, I’d mount that stallion in a heartbeat.”
Ava bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud. A few years younger? Yeah, right. They both knew full well that Edith was in her seventies—wrinkles, gray hairs and all. “Polite pass, Edith. I’m just not interested in seeing anyone right now.”
That much was true, at least. Dating or even purely sexual relationships were impossible for her. Hell, with my bad luck, it’ll probably always be that way.
“Oh well, your loss then, honey,” Edith said, shrugging. She smoothed the front of her apron and straightened her thin shoulders. “How do I look?”
Ava rose as well, smiling warmly. “Fabulous.”
Edith grinned and made her way back to the front, putting a little sway in her steps. Ava shook her head, still smiling. That woman is really something else. She was living proof that anyone is only as old as they feel. Well, to humans anyway. Time had no meaning to most demons.
She’d grown quite attached to the woman and her husband, Mr. Tommy. Though they had incredibly different personalities, they were both so sweet and generous. There’d been a few times when she’d seen them take people off the streets, offer them a hot meal and warm bed, clean them up and give them a job at the diner before helping them find something better. There weren’t very many demons, if any, who would do such a thing without expecting something in return. It was the kind of pure, human love that made them want to help each other.
She placed the fallen items into the trash and washed her hands. She then pulled on a fresh pair of latex gloves, grabbed more condiments and went back to the front, where Edith’s flirtatious giggling could be heard.
Ava hid a smile and began stocking the bins underneath the counter a few feet away from them. The woman was married and old enough to have great-grandchildren, yet she still flirted away with the younger men. It was fairly amusing, and the guys all went along with it.
As always, she was aware of Marc’s presence. Over the smell of grease, butter and the other employees and customers, his scent stood out the most. It was a mix of his aftershave and his own personal aroma that filled her senses, making her head spin. That alone was enough to drive her mad with want.
And it was such a nuisance. She loved humans, but he stood out like a sore thumb—a very sexy, enticing sore thumb. And it was bloody frustrating because she didn’t even know why. Why was it just him she felt so enamored with? Why did she feel such an intense reaction? Why did her heart jump every time her eyes met his? Yes, he was extremely attractive. Then again, so was his partner and several other men she’d come across. So why only him?
Speaking of his partner, she looked over at the Scot out of the corner of her eye.
Duncan looked normal enough, but he wasn’t human. Oh, he very much smelled like one and did well to hide it, but she knew better. Demons could always sense another demon’s presence.
Unlike Marc, Duncan’s reddish-brown hair was longer and brushed back, the tips curling around his ears. His face was clean-shaven with a faint scar running from his chin up to his ear. However, it did nothing at all to take away from his handsome features. If anything, it gave him more of a gruff, sexy look, like those proud Highland warriors she’d seen on the covers of romance novels. But there was just something in the air around him that was demonic—a deadly, powerful aura that never failed to make her wary.
Oh, she wasn’t afraid of him. She could hold her own against most demons. She did, after all, possess the blood of Royal vampires, some of the strongest demons to ever walk the earth.
However, Duncan was… Hell, she didn’t know. His eyes were dark green with flecks of yellow around the pupil, but they held a predatory gleam that hinted at his demon side. It was like he was always searching for his next meal. That made her think he was some sort of shifter. Whether it was canine, feline or something else, she had no idea, but either way, he’d be a dangerous adversary.
Duncan was talking to Edith, making her laugh. When the woman turned away to place their orders, he looked over at Ava out of the corner of his eye, catching her watching him at bay. He winked and gave her a knowing smile. He knew she was a demon as well. It had been evident when they’d first met each other months ago, though neither of them had ever once mentioned it.
And why should they? Most demons were naturally private creatures. It wasn’t like they often sat around a campfire holding hands and singing songs about peace and love. The thought made her give a soft snort.
Still… More than once she’d wondered what kind of demon he was and why he was parading around as a human cop. The intelligent look in his eyes told her he was far older than he appeared. He was a demon who’d lived a long life and had many stories to tell.
She gave another small shake of her head. Oh well. No need for dwelling on such trivial thoughts. Even if she had the answer to that question, it wouldn’t change anything. As much as it would be nice to have demon friends she could feel comfortable around and let her fangs down with once in a while, so to speak, she would just have to keep dreaming. She wasn’t the safest person to be around. And Marc…
He was a human. Getting involved with one was something she’d sworn to never do. She’d interact with them, even take their blood when she needed it. But with Marc, she wanted him in a way she hadn’t ever felt before.
That in itself was dangerous. She would have to keep her distance from him. She feared that once she gave in to her carnal desires, it would be hard to stop.
And she would never forgive herself if something were to happen to him, all because she’d brought him into her world.
“Hey, Ava, come listen to this story,” Edith suddenly called out. “It’s intense.”
Jarred from her thoughts, Ava bit back a sigh. Damn you, Edith, she thought. She was a character, but she was nosey as could be—nosey, and always trying to play matchmaker between her and Marc.
Ava picked up a clean blue towel and slowly walked over to them. The closer she got, the more Marc’s scent clouded her mind. He was smirking as if he knew the effect he had on her. Damn him too.
Even as she silently cursed him, she was powerless to fight the way her body clenched in response to his look. I’m worse than a harpy in heat, for crying out loud.
“Thanks for joining us,” he said playfully. Ava shrugged, annoyed that her tongue was dry. The more she looked at him, the more drawn she became. He was undoubtedly human, but he had a certain pull about him that could rival that of a full-grown incubus.
She began to dry the already-dried coffee mugs under the counter, setting them in their proper places as she listened.
Duncan was the one continuing the story. From what she’d learned from Edith, he had been born and raised in Scotland up until he’d been a teenager, then he’d moved to the US where he’d become a full citizen. He still had a thick accent when he spoke.
Although, with him being a demon who probably aged much more slowly than humans, it was no doubt just a cover. Not that he wasn’t Scottish… The thick brogue and powerful aura gave him a warrior’s presence that couldn’t be faked. However, he could have spent several centuries in his homeland before coming here. Who knows?
“Anyway, one day we got a call about this drunk guy running down the street in this old neighborhood. It’s broad daylight and he’s just running, screaming at the top of his lungs. So we answer the call and roll up on this guy, expecting him to be high as shit. When we found him, he was rolling around in a field of grass screaming ‘They’re inside of me!’ This wasn’t the first nut case we’d come across, so the procedure was pretty standard.”
While Duncan continued with his story, a prickling sensation slid down Ava’s neck, causing her to look up. She glanced around the room, but none of the patrons were out of the ordinary. The feeling became stronger and it was one she was all too familiar with. She narrowed her eyes, peering out of the large, shaded windows. She trusted her senses more than anything, and right now they were telling her something sinister was nearby.
She was never wrong.
Sure enough, across the street in the narrow alley stood a lone, cloaked figure. Even with the daylight outside, it was still dark between the two buildings. The humans on the other side of the street continued walking, completely oblivious to the danger standing within feet of them. To anyone who could see it, it would look like an ordinary person dressed for the changing weather.
To Ava, the figure stood out. It wasn’t a human. It was hidden deep in the shadows, but she could make out two glowing-red eyes from under the hood it wore. Even with the distance, her enhanced eyesight allowed her to see the creature open its mouth in a wide grin.
Found you, it mouthed.
Her heart raced in her chest as she broke out in a cold sweat.
Damn, damn, damn. She’d known it might only be a matter of time before she was discovered, but she’d been too reckless. She’d hoped she had finally shaken the ghouls off her tail and had allowed herself to get too comfortable. Curse it all.
There was the sound of glass breaking, followed by a sharp pain in her hand, but she didn’t even flinch. She glanced down at the shattered cup she’d grasped too tightly, watching as her blood flowed onto the sink and countertop.
She hissed, quickly running the water and holding her hand under the faucet.
By the gods. Now, with the scent of her blood in the air, it’d be even harder to make an escape. She’d just dug her own damn grave.
Edith appeared at her side, trying to help Ava with her wound, even as she was beginning to panic. Even Marc and Duncan look alarmed, and she could see Duncan’s nostrils flaring, his eyes widening as he caught her scent.
Shit and double shit.
She had to make a quick escape.
Though most ghouls preferred night over day, there were a few who were strong enough to withstand the burning sunlight for a certain amount of time—like the one across the street, for example. And they were definitely not afraid to kill any humans who came between them and their target. If she stayed much longer, no doubt everyone in the diner would be injured…or worse. They would be collateral damage.
Wrapping her hand in the blue cloth towel, she turned to the small square window separating her from Mr. Tommy. She clutched her bleeding hand to her chest. “Sorry, Mr. Tommy, but I’ve got to go.” She didn’t even wait for a response. She took off her apron and sped out of the back, ignoring calls from her coworkers. She burst through the door and raced down the street. She knew the ghoul was following. She could feel it moving swiftly through the streets and alleys, following her scent. Her superior speed was near blinding compared to the ghoul’s, but even then she didn’t have much time. Once one of those creatures caught a scent, it was damn hard to get rid of them.
She only prayed her sudden departure would cause the creature to avoid harming anyone near the diner.