Chapters 7 & 8
Chapter 9 & 10
Chapters 11 & 12
Chapters 13 & 14
Cahapter 15 & 16
Sixteen: The Introduction, Part 2
“We’re too old for this place,” Sophie commented at the door. “You know that, don’t you?” She checked her lipstick in her compact.
“Yes, of course. It’s a teenaged hangout. And?”
“And nothing, of course. I just wanted to be sure you knew it.”
“You wanted to be sure I agreed with the we there. We’re not teenagers, Sophie. I’m not sure we ever were.”
They shared a long look, then shook their heads in mutual understanding. “Nah,” they agreed as one, and entered the Bronze.
The place was as advertised: A hangout for the young and, occasionally, for those who just wished they were young. Tara and Sophie were neither, but they were grifters, and in this case, it stood them in good stead. They wandered to the bar, where the bartender did them the favor of carding them.
His eyes travelled over their licenses. “Wouldn’t have believed it,” he offered chivalrously, of the entirely-made-up birthdates on their forged papers. “But you’re legal. Here you go, ladies, one whisky on the rocks and one sex on the beach.”
“You’re so sweet, thank you.” Tara overtipped and sipped her drink, watching the crowd. “So they come here often?”
“If they come out, it’s the only reasonable place to come out. Tara, what aren’t you telling Nate?”
“Nothing I’m going to tell you either, Sophie.”
“But Tara,” Sophie cajoled, “We’ve been friends for years. Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“Because one, knowing could get you killed. You remember the Diamond of Saleem?”
“Oh, that awful thing? And every thief in the world wanted to steal it, but there was no way to do it without dying awfully? I remember. And I didn’t tell you, because you were having one of those weeks where you had to steal everything nobody else could. Like the Lost Tome Of Ebackanial.”
“I still have that,” Tara admitted. “I couldn’t get anyone to believe that I had the real thing.”
“-Since the real thing can’t be stolen, of course. Buyers can be so stupid sometimes. Tara, what does this have to do with the Diamond of Saleem?”
“The things I’m not telling you, I don’t think you could keep your hands off of them. And they’re dangerous, get-you-killed dangerous, worse-than-killed dangerous. Are those are targets?” She pointed one well-dressed toe across the room.
“Dorky guy matches. Blonde girl matches, and there’s the dark-haired one, pretending not to be interested. Tara,” Sophie’s voice took on a lazy, cajoling tone, “is this about demons?”
“Sophie!” Tara hissed it out in an angry admonition. “What do you think…” She took out her earpiece and dropped it in a small silk bag, then did the same for Sophie’s. “What possessed you?”
“Nobody, today, although there was that one time in Berlin… relax. I’ve known about the demonic since I was a wee girl. And here we are on the Hellmouth.”
“Here we are on the Hellmouth…” Tara agreed slowly. “Sophie, why exactly did you call me in?”
“Call you in?” Sophie aimed an innocent look over her glass. “All I did was tell you where we were going. You filled in the rest.”
“We don’t grift friends.” Tara sat up straighter and frowned.
Sophie chuckled over her glass. “Oh, look at you. I’m sorry, but you’re as funny as Nate when you think you hold all the cards. Tara, I’ve known what you are since he first time we met, but I couldn’t very well say ‘I need an expert in demons, please come help,’ now could I? You’d have shut down and stopped talking to me for months. Like the Diamond of Saleem thing. Now hsst, here comes the boy.”
The boy sauntered over, goofy smile telling the world he knew he was ridiculous and, what’s more, he didn’t care, thank you very much. He put his elbows on the bar next to Tara before turning to both of them. “Ladies.” The waggle of his eyebrow was both corny and charming. “Buy you a, um, a non-alcoholic, legal drink?”
“You’re sweet to ask.” Tara waved her glass languidly. “Are all the boys in this town so sweet?”
So they were going Russian. Sophie shifted her position and got ready for the charm offensive.
Eighteen: The Escape
Xander smiled uncertainly between the two women.
“Uh, sweet? That’s, no, not everyone here, no ma’am, that is, no miss. Lots of people might be nice or kind or even gentlemanly, but sweet, that’s all me, just Xander. That’s what my girlfriend says, oh, well, that’s the thing.” He attempted something like a bow. “My girlfriend. She’s the one over there making dagger-eyes at both of you, which is probably of course because you’re lovely. So, can I buy you a drink and return to my seat before she kills me, ma’am?”
“He is so very sweet,” the blonde one repeated. Her accent was thick. Russian maybe. “We keep him?”
“Mm. Maybe we do. And girlfriend too.” The darker one ran her fingers up Xander’s arm. “Could be fun.”
Vampire? Xander thought, but they were far too warm for that. He was far too warm. Everyone was…
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