Excerpt from Forever Starts Now

When Claire sat down at the bar, a little past nine, she noticed the fleeting look of surprise that crossed Leo’s features.

“I didn’t think we’d see you again so soon,” he commented as he started reaching for a cocktail glass. “Your usual?”

“Not tonight, no. I feel like having something different. And why wouldn’t I come back?”

Returning the glass to the shelf below the bar, Leo leaned against the counter. His voice dropped a little lower, but it held none of the flirtatiousness Claire would have expected from his demeanor.

“You were pretty spooked, last night. Customers who get scared rarely return.”

Claire looked down and smoothed the material of her dress across her thighs.

“I wasn’t scared.”

Leo didn’t reply until she had looked up at him again.

“Yes, you were. And you’ve got to know, if anyone threatened you in any way or tried to impose themselves on you when you made it clear you weren’t interested, you can talk to the manager. Brett will review the tapes with you, and whoever it was will probably be banned from the club.”

A small part of Claire, the part that still half-believed the stories Jonas had once fed her, breathed in relief at hearing this. Another part, however, the part that had decided it couldn’t be all that bad to dance or flirt with the vampire if he returned, felt a little self-conscious at being reminded of the presence of cameras in the club.

“It wasn’t like that,” she replied when she realized Leo was waiting for an answer. “I got scared without a real reason. It’s been a long time since anyone tried to chat me up. I guess I’m not used to it anymore.”

Leo’s smile returned as he shook his head. “Hard to believe. You never seem to mind when I flirt with you.”

Claire laughed, and looked pointedly around them. There were a few other patrons at the bar, men and women, and almost all of them were looking in Leo and Claire’s direction with curiosity.

“You flirt with everyone, so it’s hard to take you seriously.”

“Part of the job,” he said on a tone of confidence. “Speaking of, what can I serve you tonight?”

“I’m not sure. Any suggestions?”

Right away, he reached beneath the counter and pulled out a glass and a bottle of wine that he uncorked in a matter of seconds.

“We just received a crate of this nectar. You’ve got to try it.”

Claire accepted the glass Leo had filled with wine, and he winked at her before turning to another customer who had called on him. Glancing down at the glass in front of her, Claire traced a finger over the condensation, leaving a wavy line in her wake. The wine was of a very dark red, almost, she thought, like blood. She picked up the glass gingerly. It smelled of berries, and the first small sip she took left the same impression on her palate. She had never been very fond of wine, preferring cocktails and mixed drinks, but if this was what she had missed, she could easily change her mind.

She watched the people around her as she took small sips, and for each of them, whether they were alone at the bar, chatting at a table or on their way to the dance floor, she tried to figure out whether they were human, or vampire. Her breath caught in her throat when she noticed a woman, just disappearing down the staircase. Until now, she had always seen her come down those steps on the arm of the vampire who had tried to talk to Claire the previous night. The vampire that she had come back to the club to see.

She turned around to look toward the entrance, wondering if maybe he was following his companion, but she did not see him. She had just the time to tell herself that she might as well go home if he wasn’t going to be there when her eyes fell on him, standing by the coat check counter. Unable to hold his gaze, she turned back and took a larger gulp from her glass. The wine slid down her throat, cool but strangely warming. Before she had placed it back down on the counter, the vampire was sitting on her right and ordering the same thing she was having.

His first words to her held the same surprise she had read on his face across the room. “I didn’t think you’d be back.”
Claire snorted as she brought her glass back to her lips, but she could admit to herself that it was nervousness more than thirst she tried to appease with one more sip of the smooth wine.

“That seems to be the general impression. And still, here I am.”

“So I see. I have a feeling you’re not one to back away from a challenge.”

Just the previous night, Claire wouldn’t have dreamed of talking to the vampire as she did now. But with her annoyance at having fled when he had approached her, and with the help of that delicious wine, she found that her nervousness receded, replaced by a boldness that was more unusual for her.

“Is that what you are? A challenge?” She shook her head. “From what I saw, it’s rather easy to catch you. Half the girls in here did, at one time or another.”

He laughed and inclined his head, as though granting her that round.

“I’m not a challenge,” he agreed. “How about a mystery?”

She let out a laugh at the affected tone his voice had taken on the word ‘mystery’. The sparkle in his eyes made it clear however that he wasn’t taking himself seriously. That realization made her a little more comfortable, enough to tease him back.

“The mystery would be whether that line ever worked before.”

He flashed her a disarming smile. “You’ll tell me at the end of the night, seeing how it’s the first time I’ve ever tried it.”

“At the end of the night, huh? You’re awfully sure of yourself.”

Taking another sip of wine, Claire tried to see on the vampire’s face if he was mocking himself again or if he truly meant his words. She couldn’t help hoping that he was truly interested enough in her to be trying to seduce her. After all, he was here, now, talking to her when he could have had a dozen girls fawning over him. At the same time, she wondered what he could possibly see in her, and refused to believe he was doing anything more than play.

He returned her look levelly, and if she hadn’t known any better she could have sworn he could read her thoughts as clearly as an open book. When he spoke next, his words did nothing to appease her.

“You seem to be in denial, sweetheart. Why do you even try to resist the charm of the one vamp you came to see?”

Her forced laughter rang false, and she buried it into yet one more mouthful of wine. She was coming to the end of that glass rather quickly. How would she hide when it was empty?

“You think I came to see you?” she asked, trying to sound as though the idea amused her.

The vampire didn’t seem to fall for it, and answered with barely the hint of a smile touching his lips. “I know you came to see me.”

She offered him a pointed roll of her eyes. Even if he had been right, and she wasn’t admitting he was, his overconfidence needed to be brought down a notch.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re arrogant?”

… continued in Forever Starts Now

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