Thorns and Fangs
Gillian St. Kevern © 2016
All rights reserved
I will never be the same again.
The premonition was a cold whisper against the back of Nate’s neck. It spread like frost, cool tendrils sliding down his shoulders to take root in his spine. Hard to shake off, even harder to ignore.
Nothing will ever be the same.
“So your regular doesn’t show. It’s not the end of the world, Aki.” Nate turned, but no one stood next to him. The mixologist polished glasses at the far end of the bar, and the couple nearest Nate were only interested in each other. He was alone.
Or as alone as possible in the most popular club in New Camden.
The house DJ had turned up the lights and music to fill the gap left by the live band, and the dance floor was packed. Nate only had to stretch out his arm to touch someone. Strobe lights caught the lingering dry ice from the stage show, and the teasing play of light on the insubstantial mist gave the dancers a hint of its incorporeal mystery. Nate loved that, loved the thrill as he stepped onto the floor, as if the dancers might vanish before he reached them. The warmth of the bodies brushing against him always gave him a rush of triumph.
Tonight, with the premonition clammy on his skin, it looked more like smoke. Nate glanced over the bar. The red emergency box resembled an ordinary fire alarm. It was only when you noticed that the contents included a string of garlic, a flask and a sharpened wooden stake that the words registered—In Case of Vampires, Break Glass.
Vampires. I’ve been here six months and haven’t even seen a single bat! Nate snorted, turning back to the dance floor. New Camden might be home to the biggest population of supernaturals in the world, but none of them were getting in without strict adherence to Century’s dress code. The club’s security system was better than some banks, thanks to its unique nature (and New Camden’s unique risks), but management believed “better safe than scandal” and for very good reason. The club existed only through a very careful balancing act. It had the respectability afforded by success, just risqué enough to titillate its clients without alarming them. Security was a selling point, from the uniformed bouncers, prominently positioned at the front of the house, to the plainclothes security guards who mingled with the guests, and the alarm built into Nate’s wristband that connected directly to Department Seven, the branch of law enforcement that dealt directly with supernatural threats.
“Dracula himself couldn’t get in here without a spot check.” Except for the occasional newspaper headline about an empty tomb or werewolf attack, New Camden was just another big city. And the sooner Nate kicked this weird feeling of danger and remembered that, the better.
“Did I hear ‘pick up for table three’?” Aki leaned against the bar beside Nate. “You’re never going to make your repayments slacking off like that. Look at me. A round of seven cocktails, and that’s only the start.”
Nate looked over his fellow host’s head to table three. A cluster of girls in evening dresses. A hen do, or maybe college girls on a rite of passage. “Sucks to be me. You with a table full of girls, and me with only one client to my score.”
Aki was instantly suspicious. “It’s not even been a half hour.”
“Forty minutes.” Nate smirked. “Blow job, bonus, and I got time left over.”
“No way.” Aki snatched Nate’s wrist. “Show me your band.”
Nate grinned, letting Aki see the wristband. The thin strip of plastic hadn’t left his skin since he’d started working at Century. Where Aki’s displayed a thin green line down the middle, indicating that he was available, Nate’s was a dull black, invisible in the dark. Until the internal timer finished its slow countdown, Nate was a free agent.
“Un-fucking-believable.” Aki dropped Nate’s hand. “I don’t know how you do it.”
Nate stretched, enjoying the tug of his tight clothing against his body. “I’m just that good.”
“Just that desperate.” Aki shook his head. “I have got to teach you standards.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my choice of clients.”
Aki raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow. “Would I have done the guy?”
Nate bit his lip. He’d seen the man at the bar, toying with his glass as he watched two of the other hosts grind against each other on the floor. His blond hair was so thin it gave the unfortunate suggestion of baldness, and he was short enough anyone could see it. The older hosts definitely had. They made a point of avoiding eye contact.
Nate had ducked his head as he approached the guy. He couldn’t hide his height, but he’d emphasized the country drawl he usually downplayed. His youth did the rest. Presented with a challenge within his abilities, the man eagerly proved himself. He’d gone for a blow job in a partially lit corner of the club, fucking Nate’s mouth with overcompensatory fervor.
Method and means left much to be desired, but Nate got a kick out of being on display. Secure in himself, he’d played up to the guy, getting him off with charitable ease. In return, Nate got a bonus and hadn’t needed all his allotted cooldown time to freshen up. He considered his remaining twenty minutes of freedom worth it. But Aki?
“Only if it was the end of your shift,” Nate admitted. “And it was a slow night.”
Aki drummed his fingers against the bar. “How did I know? From now on, only hot guys count to the tally.”
“So no drink orders?”
Aki gave Nate a sour look as the mixologist slid a tray of drinks across the bar to Aki. All he was going to get from his table was drink orders. “Fine. Reset from now,” he said, struggling to lift the tray. “And no poaching. I saw you looking at the girls.”
“They’re looking at me.” Nate placed a hand beneath the heavy tray to steady it. “What are you going to get out of them besides make-up tips? Customer satisfaction above personal kicks.”
“Don’t quote training at me. I’ve been here an entire month longer than you.” Tray firmly in hand, Aki started toward his table.
Nate grinned at his back. Bickering with Aki was one of the perks of the job. Only a couple of months younger than Nate, Aki used his status as a New Camden native to win arguments. He lived up to the fast-talking, irreverent stereotype of the city, hands and mouth constantly in motion—when he wasn’t looking at his phone.
He was also extremely easy to wind up. Nate settled back against the bar, feeling the most like himself since he heard the whisper. Leave it to Aki. And he still had fifteen minutes of freedom.
The chill went through him before the voice spoke. Nate stood before a force implacably deep, so powerful it would change his entire world. As he struggled to understand the warning, the voice. Rich, warm, and inviting, it spoke straight to Nate’s core, stirring instincts Nate didn’t recognize as his own. He stared at the speaker, all poise forgotten.
The man smiled. Like Nate, he was dark haired and athletic. His slate-gray shirt and dark jacket clung to his trim form with the intimacy of expensive tailoring, and he stood with a confidence that made Nate, tall and broad shouldered, feel shorter. Somewhere in his late twenties, he looked from Nate’s metallic studded T-shirt to his face. The smile deepened into amusement. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had a man buy you a drink before.”
Nate looked down to the two glasses on the bar beside him. A lime wedge and a generous splash of mint leaves marked it as his preferred on-the-job drink. “A mojito?” He deliberately leaned against the bar.
Nate realized his mistake at once. Hosts didn’t accept anything they hadn’t seen made. Century commissioned safety wards from the best magic-users in the city, but they were designed to combat hungry werewolves or starved vampires, not mundane threats like drugging.
How can I refuse the drink now? Nate looked up to find the man’s smoky eyes locked on his. Date rape drugs? This man doesn’t need to resort to anything beyond that smile. “Either you just read my mind or you’ve been watching me.”
His companion was as impressed as Nate should have expected. Not at all. “Watching you,” he said, white teeth suddenly bared as his lips drew back. “Or rather”—he sauntered closer—”watching this.”
Nate tensed a moment too late. The man’s hand was cool despite the thin fabric of Nate’s T-shirt, a confident pressure as he followed the curve of Nate’s back to grip his ass beneath his tight jeans and squeeze roughly.
Smile sharp at Nate’s discomfit, the man retrieved his own drink from the bar. “Finish your drink and join me upstairs.” His voice held the expectation of obedience. “All of it. I don’t want to taste your previous client.” Before Nate could react, he turned and strode toward the stairs.
“Easily avoided.” Nate raised the glass to his lips. He hadn’t just brushed his teeth; he’d changed his T-shirt, too. “Go fuck yourself.” If the guy thought the steep price of drinks included other compensation, he would be very disappointed.
People didn’t come to Century for a quick fuck. They came for an experience. A few years of legalization was not enough to remove the stigma of prostitution, but Century took the stigma out for a few classy cocktails, a change of wardrobe, and sent it home at the end of the night with a decent bill.
The result? A club that attracted attention—even in the city infamous for the largest population of supernatural creatures in the world. Its hosts were as much a part of the club’s successful branding as its location—a beautifully refurbished theater in the downtown area—or the music, the envy of many a festival planner. The air of exclusivity created by the steep entry fee extended to the hosts. They were attractive, came with a high price tag, and had full powers of veto. The man’s assumption of Nate’s compliance was an instant no.
Now that the shock passed, Nate saw the possibilities. Century attracted those experimenting with something new. Nate was used to gently guiding. Someone so confident they rejected the niceties entirely? Not only rare, but promising.
Promising enough to overlook the guy’s attitude?
The central staircase was crowded with spectators watching the stage. The man parted them without effort. He didn’t gesture. He simply moved with his destination so firmly in mind that everyone else compromised.
Fuck. Confidence like that is as dangerous as it is hot. A sharp clink of ice drew Nate’s attention to the fact that his glass was already half empty.
Half empty? When had that happened?
Nate’s mouth twisted. Even aware of the man’s effect, he was not immune.
Nate threw back the last of the drink and shouldered through the milling crowd. This place is packed. God, how closely had he been watching to see my earlier client? The thought excited. Nate took the staircase—a beautifully restored relic of the building’s theater past—two ornate steps at a time.