Los Angeles, 1988

She ran out of reasons to stay inside. It was way too early but she couldn't contain her excitement anymore. Putting a stray strand of hair back into the clasp she pushed the sliding doors to the garden open and carefully stepped barefoot over the rough tiles of the patio.

Not carefully enough, though. A loose stone shifted underfoot, and she paid for it with a gash to her sole. She cursed softly, explosively puffing out her breath, and moved to sit on the low retaining wall. He hadn't arrived yet, and she frowned in disappointment. Another damned unreliable vamp. The hair clasp was bothering her as well, and she took it out, shaking her hair with impatient fingers, pulling through it to feel it falling free around her shoulders.

A quick search of her pockets yielded cigarettes and lighter, and she lit one, inhaling deeply. The flare of the lighter briefly illuminated the skin of her wrist, the scars there. She supposed it was one benefit of being dumped; she was free to abuse her body the way she preferred. The cut had gone deep, though. Being told your blood was no longer required was rejection on a cellular level.

Hidden in the shadows, Mick watched the woman curiously, her head wreathed in blue smoke, the scent of blood from her cut foot rising tantalizingly through the evening air, touching a chord in the primitive part of his brain, the smoke reminding him of the early days of his turning, smoky jazz clubs and hot blood pulsing into his mouth. He forced the thoughts from his mind. He was off that, these days.

"Those things are bad for you," he said, just loud enough to be heard.

Her head snapped up to look for him, but she took another long drag before answering. "I don't suppose it's really any of your business." She held her hand up and tapped a thumb sharply against the filter, sending the ashes scattering. "Mick St. John?"

"I understand we have a mutual friend."

"I hope we have a mutual enemy."

"I'd say that remains to be seen." Mick liked the looks of this one, long, lean, blonde hair silky as a child's. As that child he'd been watching, these last three years. He pushed that thought away, too. Tonight was business, and he needed to keep his head in the game. He walked across the terrace to stand beside her. "So. Our mutual friend said you might need my help. Want to give me details?"

She stood slowly, turning to face him, and blew out a cloud of smoke into the night. "Sure. It's straightforward. I had a—friend, you understand. He threw me out, two nights ago." Her expression hardened, the lush lips thinning. If not for the kindness of another woman, one who had been smart enough to hold onto the lease of her apartment, she'd have been on the street. "I don't mind that so much," she said, "but the check—the severance bonus—bounced. And I'm broke without it."

Mick nodded. "I'll take care of it. Give me the information you have." He held out a hand, and felt the warmth of her skin as she placed a folded paper in his palm. He'd avoided contact with humans, lately, and it was unsettling, to be so close.

She came closer, and he became intensely aware of her body, moving with a practiced seductiveness. He'd missed this, since he'd sworn to stick to bottled blood. Missed the feel of life under his hands, of a woman in his arms. And her bleeding foot still perfumed the air.

"So don't you want payment up front?" she asked, voice husky, intimate.

"I thought you didn't have any money."

"Maybe it's not money I'm offering." She licked her lips, slowly, and gazed at him in the darkness with glistening eyes. The invitation was unmistakable.

Mick drew her closer. Why not? he thought. There was nothing to hold him back from it. She was offering, and he did deserve payment for his services. No one else was going to help her. He plucked the cigarette from her hand, crushed it under his boot against the flagstones. Then he pulled her close, brushing the hair back from her neck. He put his mouth against her skin, his fangs pushing out, hungering for the feel of flesh.

She was waiting, feeling the pounding of her own blood rushing through her veins. The money was important, sure, and giving up a little blood to get it was fine. Especially when the blood donation would give her that one last chance to feel desirable, to feel special. She waited, knowing what was coming, ready to give this vampire what he wanted, so she'd get what she needed.

Drawing in a breath, savoring the scent of human skin, the coppery tang of the blood beating so close beneath, the temptation was almost unbearable. He could bite, he could feed, and where would be the harm. She was willing, after all.

Almost three years, almost a thousand nights, since he'd sworn not to prey on humans any more. He could throw it all away, go back to what he'd been. He could feel his resolve shattering. Then he opened his eyes, and a wisp of blonde hair brushed softly across his face.

He released her abruptly, turning away. He never saw the rage in her eyes. Dragging a hand across his mouth, he mumbled, "I'll get your money first. We can talk about payment…later."

When he'd gone, she lit another cigarette and stared out into the blackness. It was going to be a cold night, tonight.