if it’d appeal to a vampire. “Hey, Ryder? Would you say that I’m cute?”

This time, she peered over her computer at me, her gaze wary. “That’s a loaded question. Why?”

I shrugged. “Just curious.”

“Well, let me think,” she said, getting up from her desk for another cup of coffee. Ryder mainlined caffeine like it was going out of fashion, which was probably why she was so wound up all the time. “I’m going to say no, I’m afraid.”

I scowled at her. “You’re a shitty friend, you tete de cochon.”

“See, there’s reason number one. Girls with a potty mouth are never cute. Daring, yes. Cute, no. The French is a nice touch, but not quite enough. Number two, you can’t be cute if you keep wearing that eyeliner.”

I eyed her perfectly made up face.

“I’m serious,” Ryder said, stirring sugar into her coffee. “Throw that cheap garbage out. It makes you look like you have massive circles under your eyes.”

Well, I did have massive circles under my eyes from lack of sleep. I’d thought the eyeliner would distract from it. “So you wouldn’t date me?”

At my wounded look, she waved her hand at me. “Get a haircut. Do something with those bangs. Ditch the glasses. For God’s sake, wear something other than a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. And pluck your eyebrows. After that, we’ll talk.”

I frowned, then squinted at my reflection in the monitor. My eyebrows were fine, damn it. “Okay, let me rephrase. Do I look cute enough for a desperate vampire to date?”

She sat down at her desk and took a sip of coffee. “I don’t know. You’re really not much of a people person. What’s your blood type?”

“O positive.”

“Then yes, that makes you cute to every vampire out there.” Her perfect, lovely gaze narrowed on me. “And again, whyyyy?”

I shrugged, then dared to ask a question of the only person I trusted. “If I set up a date with a vampire while I’m supposed to be working, will you cover for me?”

Her jaw dropped.

“With the whole sunlight thing, this has to be at night, and since we work at night . . . ”

“It’s against the rules,” she hissed. “Humans have to be cleared to date through the boss. And you heard what Beau said about shifters earlier.”

“I know. That’s why I want a vampire. I want one to turn me.”

Her eyes widened. “Are you crazy?”

I was starting to think so.

• • •

Despite Ryder’s protests, I wouldn’t be deterred from my plan. I put up a fake profile on the dating agency site and left it vague. My fake name? Minnie Michigo, cousin to the otter clan of Michigos. I’d be in a hell of a lot of trouble if a Michigo came in and found out the profile existed, but I’d cross that bridge when I got there. Anyhow, Minnie’s profile stated that she loved vampires, late nights, moonlight, and was open to exploring new avenues. If that didn’t bring them crawling out of the woodwork, I didn’t know what would.

Sure enough, Minnie got a hit at one in the morning from a vampire. Did she want to go out on a date tomorrow night?

Hell, yeah, she did.

Could Minnie send a picture of herself?

Damn. I ran to the bathroom and quickly took a picture of myself with my phone, removing my glasses and striking what I hoped was a sexy pose, then sent it back.

He accepted. Must have been sexy enough.

I replied quickly and named a spot that wasn’t on the usual Alliance list of date hot spots. Nice and safe.

The next night, before going to work, I picked out a sweater to go with my jeans and put on lipstick. I was date-ready.

Once I got to Midnight Liaisons, I told Ryder I had a date with a vamp and begged, “Pleaaaase will you cover for me?”

“No,” she said fiercely. “Absolutely not. Not while everyone’s all ultra-pissy about the new girl shifter. If you really want to date a vampire, and God knows why you do, do it next month when everyone’s got the stick out of their asses.”

I couldn’t wait a month; I didn’t know how long I had. My mother had degenerated over a year, but my case had kicked in early. What if its course was accelerated? I clasped my hands under my chin and gave her sad eyes. “Pleeeeeease, Ryder?”

“No,” she snapped again. I sometimes thought I was the only one she dropped her effortlessly chirpy act with. She only pretended to be sunshine and puppies because it got her places. “Now go sit at your desk and work. You know, that thing you’re supposed to be doing for a paycheck?”

“Ryder, come on. Just this once. It’s important. Look, I even put on lipstick. You know this date is a big one if I’m wearing lipstick,” I told her, maintaining a perfectly serious expression.


I sighed, then pulled out the big guns. “Ryder, this means a lot to me. It’s because . . . I’m dying.”

She rolled her eyes.

Well then. Miffed, I sat back down at my desk, staring at the clock. One hour until my date. I drummed my fingers on the desktop, waiting for the phone to ring, but Tuesdays were always slow.

After half an hour, she sighed and glanced over at me. “Are you going to do that all night?”

“Do what?” I looked up.

“Drum your fingers on the desk?”

I gave her a hopeful look. “Yes?”

“Okay,” she grouched. “You can go on your date. But if anyone asks, you went on a Red Bull run and I have no idea where you are. Understand me?”

“You are my best friend ever, Ryder,” I said with a grin. “I mean it. We’re total BFFs now.”

She raised her pinky into the air in our traditional signal. “Hey. I keep your secrets, you keep mine.”

I got up and hooked my pinky through hers, sealing the deal. Then I returned to my desk, grabbed my purse, and ran out the door. “I’ll fill you in on all the details when I come back, I promise.”

“If you’re dating a vampire, I don’t want the details,” she called after me.

• • •

I opted to walk to the restaurant. It was a cute little sushi place, picked for its low risk of other shifters frequenting it (too fishy for their sensitive nostrils) and the fact that it was close. It was pitch black outside, the night skies overcast and crisp. That was okay. I liked the night. Always had. There was something so peaceful about being up late when the rest of the world slept.

I snagged a pair of Red Bulls from a corner store to lend credence to Ryder’s cover story, then headed over to the sushi place. The restaurant was empty, except for one table in the far corner of the blazingly bright interior. Probably not the best choice for a vampire date. Still, all that fluorescent lighting gave me a good look at him.

He wasn’t . . . cute. Well, that was fine. I wasn’t picky. I had barely glanced at his photo, because it didn’t matter what he looked like—not if it bought me more time here on earth. Perhaps “not cute” was being generous, though. He looked more like Uncle Fester. Weren’t vampires supposed to be gloriously sexy? This one was balding, pudgy, and wearing too much black. He was pale, which I expected, and mopping his sweating forehead with my dinner napkin, which I did not expect.

“Hi,” I said, expecting him to stand at my arrival. “I’m Marie.”

He just wrinkled his brow. “Minnie?”

“Yes, that’s what I said,” I amended quickly.

He studied me for a minute. “You look familiar.”

Next time I’d have to change my appearance a bit more. Obviously he’d recognized me from the office. “I

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