He should have left days ago.
Asher Evans hesitated at the corner of Third and South Park. If he was even half-smart, he’d turn around now. He’d go back to his shitty studio rental, toss everything he could get his hands on into a duffel bag, and get
the hell out of town. San Francisco had made it pretty clear it didn’t want him anymore.
Asher jammed his hands in the pockets of his battered leather jacket and started forward again. Another half hour wouldn’t make a difference. In any case, he was already here. He was already committed.
He was going to a tea shop. At close to midnight. Looking for a girl.
It was hands-down the most ridiculous thing he’d ever done.
Asher quickened his pace. He couldn’t even say what it was that had made him notice Grace Alan in the first place. She wasn’t overly attractive, hadn’t spoken more than two words to him each time he saw her. And she worked at a place called Cross Your Teas. Cross Your Teas. That by itself should have sent him running in the opposite direction.
In fact, he might not have noticed her at all except for the single, fascinating thing she’d done the first time they met.
She’d looked at him. In the eyes.
People didn’t look him in the eyes. If they weren’t too afraid of him, they mostly weren’t looking at him at all. But Grace Alan had looked, and she’d kept looking. After the first few times, he’d started to wonder what it was she saw.
He’d tried to put it out of his mind, had told himself it probably meant nothing, but it was no use. Lately, that one simple question had grown from a simple prick of curiosity, to a gnawing fascination, to a preoccupation bordering on obsession.
Tonight, he would have his answer.
Cross Your Teas came into view up ahead. Asher quickened his pace. They would be closing soon, and the last thing he wanted was to have come all this way for nothing. He drew closer. The lights were still on; a good sign. He came to the large front window with the outline of a teapot on it, and peered inside.
Grace’s older sister, Lena Alan, was standing behind the front counter. The drawer of the register was open, and she appeared to be counting out the cash. Then she stopped, a wad of bills in one hand. She quickly swiped at her eyes. Her mouth trembled. Asher blinked.
She was crying.
Lena visibly sighed, and started over. Asher scanned the rest of the shop for Grace. There was no sign of her. He took a deep breath and listened for movement in the back kitchen. No use. There wasn’t so much as a mouse sneeze. Asher ground his teeth together.
Grace wasn’t there.
Now he really should leave. He didn’t have time to be trailing one girl all over the city. But even as the thought passed through his mind, he was already turning his nose into the air. He caught Grace’s scent almost immediately; the bitter-yet-oddly-comforting smell of patchouli. She hadn’t been gone long. Asher followed it up the street and around the next corner.
The darkness grew thicker, despite the thin light of the streetlamp overhead. A stiff wind kicked up, buffeting him with the sharp, briny aroma of the Bay. Asher pulled his jacket a little tighter and fought to hold onto Grace’s trail. Something cold and unsettling moved in his stomach. A mere block or two over, there were wider streets, streets with better light and plenty of traffic. What the hell was Grace thinking, coming this way?
What the hell was he doing, following her?
She wasn’t even his type. His type was blonde, smiling and empty-eyed. Grace Alan was the opposite of his type. Dark-haired, pensive. And her eyes were anything but empty. When she looked at him, he got the distinct feeling she could see right through him. That alone was more than enough reason to leave now.
He had almost convinced himself to do it when he heard her scream.
Asher was running before the sound even had time to register. Grace’s scent grew stronger, and with it he smelled something else: fear. Asher’s chest hardened. The unmistakable sounds of a struggle pricked his ears. A second scent mingled with Grace’s: male, a few days unwashed. Sweat. Arousal.
Suddenly, something thick and fragrant flooded his nostrils. Reflex stopped Asher in his tracks. Blood. His mouth started to water. His fangs descended from his gums. He’d come here well-fed, but fuck, whoever’s blood that was, it smelled delicious. There was a subtle bitterness to it, a smell like…
Asher took off again at a dead sprint. Grace was in trouble. Grace was hurt. A small, snide voice in the back of his head questioned why he gave a shit. Asher ignored it. He slowed, ducked down a narrow, graffiti-plastered alley and took in a deep breath. The male’s scent had faded. Asher squinted. Near the end of the alley, a familiar figure sat slumped against the wall.
He drew a little closer. “Grace?”
She didn’t turn. In the semi-darkness, he could vaguely see her lips move, but no sound came out. Asher closed the distance between them, his footsteps unnaturally loud against the brick buildings on either side.
Asher sank to his knees in front of her. She was more than just hurt. He reached out to touch her face, at the last minute thought better of it. His fingertips hovered over the crushed area that had been her cheekbone. Blood gushed from her obviously-broken nose. Asher trailed his gaze lower, sucked in a breath.
Her throat had been slashed wide open.
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