"You need a sidekick," Marc announced. He'd just finished his second plateful of steak and eggs. I was sticking with tea and honey.

"I've already got one," I said gloomily. "My friend Jessica."

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"I mean a badass, not someone from the secretarial pool."

I stuck a finger in his face. "First of all, do not mock secretaries, nor their pools-I was a secretary until last week."

"Then you died?"

"No, I was laid off. Then I died. In fact, I should take a drive by the place...it's probably gone up in flames by now." I chortled evilly. "When they laid off the admin staff, they lost the capability to call their clients, make their computers work, make the sorter on the copy machine work, place orders for office supplies, update the database, figure out the postage machine...oh, the humanity." I grinned at the mental image, then got back to business. "Second, Jessica is at least twice as smart as anyone sitting at this table. Third-cripes, how much are you going to eat?" During my scolding he'd flagged the waitress.

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"I've been a little too depressed to eat lately," he said defensively. "Besides, you're just jealous."

"You're right about that. My mom fixed my favorite meal the other night and I threw it up all over her bathroom."

"But you can drink...?" He nodded toward my tea.

"Apparently. Doesn't do a thing for me...sure doesn't make me less thirsty. But it's familiar, you know?"

"Sure. That's why I stay in the ER. It's depressing as hell and you get no closure, but at least I know where everything is."

"That's ridiculous. If you're so unhappy in that job, leave. Go work in a nice family clinic somewhere."

He shrugged, looking down on his plate. "Yeah, well..."

"I mean, it must be hard. Working in a children's hospital."

"It's unbelievably awful," he said gloomily. "You would not believe the evil shit people do to children."

"I don't want to hear it," I said hurriedly.

"I don't want to talk about it, but it's all I do. Actually, I want to talk to you about it. You've got to-to feed, right? Well, I could get you a list of abusive parents, the ones who like to use their babies as ash trays, the ones who decide to press a hot iron to the kid's back because she slammed the door a little too hard. And you could-fix things."

"A blood sucking vigilante?" I was horrified. And intrigued. No, I was horrified. "Did you not hear me? About how until last week I was a secretary?"

"Not anymore," Marc said smugly. Now that he'd thought he'd found a purpose, his entire demeanor-even his smell!-was different. Gone was the slump-shouldered sad-eyed boy. In his place was the Cisco Kid. "You told me you thought you'd fight crime to atone for your feeding habits, right? Well, where better to start?"

I just shook my head and stirred my tea.

"Well, what's your alternative? You don't seem the type to skulk in the shadows and lure the unwary into your fiendish embrace."

The mental image made me laugh.

"And another thing-vampires don't giggle."

"This one does. And before I forget..." My hand shot out. I pulled him toward me and looked deeply into his eyes. "I'm glad you're feeling better, but if you should relapse, you won't. Kill. Yourself."

He stared back. His pupils were dots; the lights in this all-night cafe were ferocious. "I'll do...Whatever. The hell. I want. But thanks. Anyway."

I stared harder. Come on, vampire mojo. Do your thing. "Don't. Kill. Yourself."

"Why. Are you. Talking. Like this?"

I dropped his hands in disgust. "Dammit! I've been able to make men do my bidding since I woke up dead. What's so special about you?"

"Thanks for sounding so disgusted. And I have no idea. I-uh-" His jaw sagged and I could practically hear his I.Q. dropping. He stared dreamily over my shoulder. I looked-and nearly shrieked. The psychopath from the cemetery was standing in the doorway of the cafe, looking straight at me. Ack! His hair was a mess, I was happy to see. I couldn't see his back, but he smelled like burned cotton. Good!

"Oh my God," Marc rhapsodized. "Who is that?"

"An asshole," I mumbled, turning back to him and picking up my tea.

"He's coming over here!" Marc squealed. "Oh my God oh my God ohmyGod!"

"Will you get a hold of yourself?" I hissed. "You sound like a girl with a crush. Ah-ha!" Realization hit, a little slowly as usual. "You're gay!" I realized I'd shouted and everyone in the cafe was staring at us.

"Duh."

"What, 'duh'? How was I supposed to know? I just assumed you were straight."

"Because you are." He was still staring over my shoulder, trying to fix his hair which was so incredibly short it could never be mussed. "I always assume everyone is gay."

"Well, statistically that's pretty dumb."

"I don't have to take criticism from an undead breeder...hellooooo," he cooed. I felt a weight drop on my shoulder: Jerkoff's hand. I shrugged it off.

"Good evening," Jerkoff said.

"Fuck off," I said warmly.

He slid into the booth beside Marc. I heard a muffled gasp and thought Marc was going to swoon. "I don't believe we've been formally introduced."

"I was just about to take care of that when you stuck your finger in my mouth." I thought about throwing my tea in his face, but the jerk would probably use Marc as a living shield.

"Ah. Yes. Well, my name is Sinclair. And you are...?"

"Really pissed at you."

"Is that a family name?"

Marc burst out laughing. Sinclair favored him with a warm smile. "Is this a friend of yours?"

"None of your fucking business."

"She talked me out of jumping to a grisly death," Marc informed my archenemy. "Then we came here to plot about all the abusive parents we're going to put an end to."

"We did not."

"Did too!"

Sinclair's nostrils flared, he leaned in close for a good look at Marc's neck (a bruise was rapidly forming, but there were no signs of teeth marks), then he looked at me. "You have fed on this man?"

I blushed. Or at least, I felt like I blushed-who knew if I still could? "Again: none of your fucking business."

He drummed his fingers on the table. I tried not to stare. They were sooo long and slim, and I had a vague idea of the power in them. "Interesting. And here you both are now. Hmm."

"Want to join us?" Marc piped up. I groaned, but they both ignored me. "Have a cup of coffee or something?"

"I don't drink...coffee."

"Oh, very funny," I snapped. "What are you doing here, Sink Lair? If it's about the bill for your coat, too damned bad-you brought that on yourself."

"Indeed." His gaze was cool. "A matter I will bring up with you shortly, but as to your question, I am here for your benefit, my dear."

"Don't call me that."

"You can call me that," Marc chirped helpfully.

"Nostro wants you dead for your actions tonight. The vampire who brings him your head will be richly rewarded."

"Who the hell is Noseo?"

"Nostro. He's-I suppose you would call him a tribal chief. Sometimes-often-vampires band together and the strongest is in charge."

"Why in the hell do they do that?" I griped. "Why don't they just go about their own business like they did before they died?"

"Because they are not allowed to. The vampires are forced to take sides."

"Nobody's forced me."

"We will attend to that later-"

"What?"

"-but to answer your question, the undead band together for protection. For a sense of security."

"So this guy Notso is torqued off because I didn't play the game?"

"That, and because of the peals of hysterical laughter which burst from your chest."

Marc had been following the conversation quite closely, and now he stared at me. "The head vamp wanted you do to something, and you laughed at him?"

"For quite some time," Sink Lair added helpfully.

"Betsy, jeez! Didn't he try to smack you or something?"

"He visited upon her the worst punishment a vampire can endure...and she laughed at that, as well." Then, "Betsy?"

"Yeah, Betsy, wanna make something of it?"

"Indeed, no." Was the asshole actually hiding a smirk? I looked, and he stared back, expressionless. Must have been my imagination.

"So you're here to try to bring Notso my head?"

"Nostro. And no, I am not. You're far too pretty to behead."

"Barf. Is Nostro short for Nostrodamus? Is the tubby twit that unimaginative?"

Sink Lair looked pained. "Yes, and yes."

"Ugh."

"I quite agree."

"So why are you here, Sink Lair?"

"It's SIN-clair, and I should think that would be obvious, even to you. You are newly undead and clearly a menace to yourself. You don't know any of the rules, and there is now a bounty on your head not seventy-two hours after you first rose...a neat trick, by the way. I will take you under my protection."

"And in return...?" I didn't mean to sound like there was a bug in my mouth, but I couldn't help it. I didn't trust Sink Lair as far as I could throw him. Hmm...better come up with a new cliche.

"In return, we will discover why you are so different from the rest of us. You should have been in agony when they flung holy water on you. Instead it gave you the hiccups. Once I deduce--"

"No thanks."

"Really. I insist."

"I don't give a shit! You're not my father-although you're probably old enough to be, creep, and-"

"How old are you?" Marc asked breathlessly.

Sinclair spared him a glance. "I was born the year World War II was declared."

I gasped in horror. To think I was attracted to this fossil! Well, it wasn't entirely my fault...Sinclair looked like he was in his early thirties. There wasn't as much as a speck of gray in his inky black hair, no wrinkles bracketing his fathomless dark eyes. "Ewwwww! So you're, like, ninety years old? Yuck! Do you have a truss under that suit?"

"You are the most ignorant, prideful, vainglorious-"

"It's more like he's in his early sixties," Marc interrupted hurriedly. "And both of you, mellow out. I don't want to be in the middle of a vampire fist fight."

"Indeed. Go to sleep."

"But I'm zzzzzzzzzzzz..."

I shoved my hand out, so instead of Marc's head connecting briskly with the table, he snored into my palm instead. I slowly pulled away and gave Sinclair a good glare. "What'd you do that for?" And how did you do that? I'd have to try that on the Stepmonster sometime.

He looked back, cool as a baby lying on a pile of ice cubes. "It was inappropriate for him to hear so much about us. Which is another matter I mean to take up with you. Is it true that you have told your family you are still alive?"

"I'm not still alive, it's none of your business, how'd you find out?"

"You must not do such things. You endanger the very ones you would seek to protect."

"Has anyone ever told you, you don't use contractions? Everything is 'you are' and 'I am' and 'you would'."

"Has anyone ever told you that you lack focus?"

"Sure," I said. I drained my tea and set it down, hard. Marc snored on, oblivious. "Now listen up. I don't appreciate being grabbed, I sure as shit didn't care for your digits in my mouth-"

"I'm tempted to put something else in your mouth this minute," he said silkily.

"Shut up! And I don't like you following me and I don't like you putting my friends to sleep."

"He is not your friend. You only met this evening."

"He's a friend I haven't known very long, all right? Now buzz off. I can take care of myself, I don't need you, I don't want you-"

"All lies."

"-and I don't want your stupid vampire tribes, either. Just because I'm dead doesn't mean I can't have a life." Sinclair blinked at that one, and I hurried on before he could interrupt again. "Yeah, I told my family I wasn't dead...why the hell not? They're not going to stake me in the middle of the night-well, my real parents won't. I'm coping as well as I can, thanks for nothing, and I don't plan on hooking up with any of you undead losers."

"Finished?"

"Uh..." Let's see...can take care of myself...it's my business who I tell...undead losers... "Yeah."

"We will speak again. There will come a time, Miss Rogue, when you will badly need my help. I hold no grudges, and will gladly give it." He grinned at me. It was terrifying...all white teeth and glowing eyes. "Provided you let me put something in your mouth again. Good night."

Poof! Vanished. Or he moved so quickly I couldn't track him. Either way, he was gone, I was shaking with rage and-oh, no!--lust, and Marc was drooling on the Formica.

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