Phoenix boasts many refined drinking establishments where a nice girl can chill with a fruity drink topped by a colorful little umbrella. She can lounge on a misted patio and enjoy tall palm trees swaying in the dry heat of the Santa Anna winds.
A nice girl can count on the certainty that one or two preppie college boys will weave their way through the lush, tropical fauna to deliver their latest line.
This isn’t one of those bars. And I, Jenna Bradley, am not a fucking nice girl…not any more. Not since a blood-sucking vampire sank his teeth into my neck, and that’s not the worst of it. The bastard murdered my best friend, Rosa.
I’m about to enter a dilapidated bar thirty miles from civilization in the sizzling Arizona desert. Under a cosmetic coat of chipped stucco, a million termites hold hands to keep the hovel upright. This place would give hellish nightmares to a nice girl.
I took a second to enjoy a sense of elation, mixed with a stiff shot of adrenaline, zinging along my nerve endings. My first step into the bar would mean that after nearly a year of non-stop preparation, I’d finally get to start the kick-ass part of my quest.
This is my chance to prove how much my best friend meant to me. And if I’m lucky, I’ll get a chance to kill the vampire who made me.
When I gave the rickety door a gentle push, it opened with a resounding whack against the wall. I pretended I meant to do it.
Everyone would’ve stared at me anyway…they just do.
I pushed my Hollywood shades into place because it bugs me when people comment about the unusual amber and green shade of my eyes. I’d tried to put “puked-up Skittles” in the color box on my driver’s license, but the DMV wouldn’t let me.
Besides, I wear the dark glasses to hide my obvious vampire abnormality. One little fit of temper and they start to glow. Nobody wants to see neon puked-up Skittles.
On a good day, I carry a chip on my shoulder, although I don’t think it’s noticeable. The loss of Rosa turned the chip into a log. Becoming a vampire made it into a fucking tree.
I hadn’t counted on how dark it would be inside, but at least I had an advantage. My fledgling vampire powers include super night vision.
I’d planned exactly how I’d look on the day I officially started the gun-toting, stake-carrying, hell-raising part of my mission. My fringed leather vest hid my gun perfectly. It cradled nicely against my waist.
For backup, I carry a four-inch, plain-edged knife hidden in a hot-molded sheath fitted to one of my custom boots. The other boot holds a pure silver stake.
A long, low wolf-whistle from a dark corner of the room made my heart start to race. Yeah, right. My heart may be a shriveled raisin for all I know.
“What can I do for you, little girl?” the bartender asked once I reached the corner of the bar.
Little girl? I’m four inches short of six feet and have been officially legal for over a year. Jerk. “I’ll have a shot of tequila and a Bud Light.”
No girlie umbrella drinks for me anymore. Besides, the closest thing to a novelty umbrella in this joint would be a cactus needle with a peanut husk attached.
Only two stools were occupied, but if I sat at the bar I wouldn’t be able to watch the room. Everything I’ve read about vampires tells me I should be lightning quick.
I should be able to zoom from one part of the room to the other in a blink of the eye.
I should be able to disappear.
The only good I can find in all of this…I don’t thirst for blood. I take supplements instead. Bunches of them.
“I need to see proof. Your ID.” The bartender reached his hand toward me while I dug my license out of my back pocket.
“Huh. Twenty-two. You look younger.”
Just what every twenty-two year old wants to hear. Fuck that. I almost asked how young I looked. If he said fourteen, I might shoot him, so I just stewed about it instead.
“You can sit next to me, honey,” one of two guys at the bar said.
“You got balls, Sam.” The guy sitting next to Sam, examined me like a piece of meat. “Looks like she could break you like a toothpick.”
“My kind of gal.” Sam winked at me before he patted the seat next to him.
Touching the edge of my vest, I had an urge to flash him. One look at my gun and I bet he’d take back his thoughtful offer. A woman accessorized with deadly weapons can have that effect on a man, a sane one anyway.
And hell yes! I think of myself as a woman. No girl could deal with the shit I’ve had to endure.
The bartender slid a salt shaker across the bar toward me. “You want some lime with your tequila?”
“Sure,” I told him. I’ve got a way with words.
“We get a bunch of guys in here every Saturday night—makes it worth my while to pull a few limes off my wife’s tree.”
Bingo on the guys coming in for the limes. They were the men I’d planned to meet, the men of Slayers Inc.—vampire slayers. They’d set up a training compound not far from the bar.
After the bartender delivered my drinks, I made my way slowly to the corner of the room and sat with my back to the wall.
The waitress approached after I’d tossed back the cactus juice. “Can I get you another one?”
I shoved the lime into my mouth and gave her the universal hold-your-damn-panties-on sign.
She waited patiently.
Maybe she wanted a reason to get a closer look, because the waitress critiqued every inch of me while she lingered. I returned the favor.
Her hair looked like she’d just stepped out of the beauty parlor. She had the kind of ’do you could duck behind for cover if you weren’t worried about the color making a good target. I guess you’d call it plain purple, consequently it wouldn’t bother me. Besides, I don’t have to worry about ducking for cover…I’m already sorta dead.
“Another?” she repeated.
“Sure,” I managed to squeak after a couple of tries. That fact that I still eat and drink is another curiosity. My appetites have changed. Now I like my meat rare and will choose it over chocolate.
“Be right back,” she said and smiled.
“Take your time,” I told her and meant it. From behind my dark glasses, I surveyed the room without moving my head. Seven men, with ages varying from about eighteen to fifty, nursed their drinks. Six of them took an interest in watching me. The seventh didn’t look at all. Now that interested me.
I peeled the damp label on my beer bottle and studied him. He had dark hair hidden under a red bandana and a neatly trimmed mustache with a popular, goatee-type tuft of hair under his bottom lip called a soul-patch. It made him appear street-wise and sexy.
I decided he could easily be one of the vampire slayers I planned to meet, but not anyone I recognized. When he got up and headed toward the john, I had an epiphany. That’s WASP speak for a sorry-ass idea. I grabbed my duffle bag and followed him.