By: Dannika Dark

Chapter 1

“So this is the place you keep raving about?” Christian asked, running his dark gaze over the diner and giving it a judgmental stare.

I smiled and continued examining the menu. “The fate of your meal lies in the hands of whether or not Betty McGuire likes you.”

He leaned in tight. “Betty sounds like a real joy. I already told you I’m not ordering.”

“Oh, you’re ordering. I don’t care what you get, but Ruby’s Diner saved my life more than once, so show a little respect.”

He snapped open his laminated menu. “In that case, is there anything that hasn’t been marinated in lard?”

I set my menu aside and gazed out the window. Condensation formed along the outer edges from the humidity and contrasting temperatures. Winter had arrived early, and a light dusting of snow blanketed the city, making even the filthiest streets pure again. It was an accurate representation of my life since joining Keystone.

Working for Viktor Kazan was an evolving lifestyle adjustment. After closing my first official case only a month ago, I’d taken Viktor’s advice and used the downtime to get my head together. I needed it, especially after discovering that the detective I’d gone out on a date with was the serial killer we’d been hunting all along. But downtime between job assignments was by no means a vacation. Viktor had given me a stack of cold cases to review before Wyatt entered them into our private database as part of his archiving project. It kept me occupied.

Betty sidled up to our table. “And how are you two this morning?”

“Grand,” Christian replied, lifting his gaze and staring at her as if he’d seen a ghost.

She steered her attention back to me and patted my shoulder. “Honey, I’ve been worried about you. I haven’t seen you around here lately. I’m glad you’re doing okay.”

I noticed white roots peeking through her light red hair. “How are the grandkids?”

She put her hands on her plump hips. “Where does the time go? Do I look old enough to have great-grandchildren? Well, now I have a third on the way. They did one of those fancy tests and found out it’s a girl. Back in my day, we just had to wait to find out. I guess kids today don’t like surprises.”

I smiled. “This is my friend Christian.”

She pulled the pen out from behind her ear and pressed the blunt end against her chin as she gave him a thorough appraisal. I waited for her reaction with bated breath. I respected Betty. She was intuitive about a person’s character.

Unlike me.

I still wasn’t sure about my own feelings for Christian, only that I had feelings that weren’t appropriate for our working relationship. Maybe it was normal when partnering with someone so closely, but it didn’t make sense. Christian was the opposite in looks and demeanor of men I was normally attracted to, and aside from that, he was a Vampire—the most loathsome creature imaginable. I’d spent a lot of time in the past weeks thinking it over and had finally decided to compartmentalize my feelings for Christian, keeping the affectionate ones locked up in order to keep our partnership functional and harmonious. Otherwise, it could bring consequences, and my life until recently had been one big consequence after another. In order to remain within Keystone, I had to learn to work with Christian as a team.

Christian averted his gaze from Betty and stroked his beard. “Would you have any meat and potatoes back there?”

She shifted her stance, still studying him closely. “We don’t get many Irishmen. Have you been in here before?”

He scratched the back of his neck. “No. I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have a grilled cheese, and she’ll be having the same.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Oh, will she now?”

“You’ve been staring at that menu for ten minutes,” he said, taking on an imperious tone. “Are you telling me you’re actually going to order something besides a hamburger and onion rings? Step out of your comfort zone and live on the wild side.”

I handed her my menu. “I’ll have a glass of water with that. And my friend will be having a glass of milk.”

He held out his menu. “I’m lactose intolerant. Bring me a bottle of red.”

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