Ethan Connor, Vampire Prince and total douche bag, had been back in Royal Oak for less than an hour, and already he was pissing me off. It may have been a new record, even for him.
I watched him run his fingers through his jet-black hair for the fifth time in as many minutes and contemplated going over to him and punching him in the face. I knew it would make me feel better, no matter how childish.
"Jamie, if you don't stop staring at him, people are going to think you don't hate him as much as you claim to." My sister, Beth, dropped another mead off in front of me on her way down the bar to take care of other patrons.
She enjoyed shooting barbs at me while she was working since it made it harder for me to retort. When we were kids, she did the same thing, running up into my group of friends, with her green eyes shining brightly, and telling them a horrifically embarrassing story. Then off she went again, too quick to catch. If I didn't love her so much, I probably would have staked her in her sleep years ago.
Draining the mead in a few swallows helped take off the edge. You could almost feel the pulse throughout the clan at Ethan's return. I'd heard he'd fallen for a mortal and had followed him to Chicago. Apparently, it hadn't worked out. Too bad.
I motioned for Beth to bring me another drink. She shook her head at me but dropped it on her way by me anyway. She hated when I got drunk, not that I blamed her. Even I know I can be a dick when I've had too much. But she didn't have much recourse since I'd bought into The Kiss a few months ago. I was a silent partner, which pretty much just meant Beth took care of the actual running of the pub while I drank up the inventory, and no one could call me on it.
Ethan looked as if he were working on a good drunk, too. His laughter grew in volume with every mug he drained, the sound of it giving me goose bumps for no good reason. I knew I had to get out of there. I didn't want him to decide it was a good time to fight with me like he had the night he'd left town. We'd managed to beat the piss out of each other before his mortal boy toy had rescued him from me and our "barbaric clan of vampiric idiots".
As far as I could remember, it was the only time Ethan had willingly left the clan. Like most vampires, he seemed more comfortable around his own kind. I wondered what the mortal had offered to make him go but then decided I didn't really care that much. I would much rather find out what had made him come home.
I checked to see where Beth had gone and, of course, found her busy at Ethan's end of the bar. She flipped her long auburn hair over her shoulder and laughed with the rest of his court. I grabbed a bottle of Absinthe from behind the counter and started to walk out.
I turned to see Sasha, one of the waitresses, running toward me.
"Don't call me that," I said with a sigh. "What do you need?"
"Well, I was just wondering if you needed a glass or any sugar for your drink, sir."
"Jamie. My name is Jamie. And no, thank you, the bottle will be fine."
I walked out into the cool night air, shaking my head. Most people had stopped calling me by that title years earlier, but there were still a few who had problems adjusting to Ethan being the Vampire Prince, even after fifteen years. Usually, it didn't bother me. I would correct them and move on. But just being around Ethan had gotten me in such a foul mood that it stung to be reminded of my past.
I'd been Prince, but the death of my parents had ended the short-lived role. Ethan's parents had taken over the clan and, in the eyes of their subjects, had saved us all from certain death, so the heroes' son now held the title. Good for Ethan.
I headed for the town square, knowing it would be pretty empty with the impending storm growling overhead. Most people would be in their homes, avoiding the rain. I loved the rain, had loved it since I was a child. Sitting in the park, drinking with the thunder sounded like Heaven.
I lay on the cool grass, head propped up on my jacket while I drank the Absinthe. The harsh licorice flavor wasn't my favorite, but it would do in a pinch. I heard people out on the streets now and realized that the bars must have closed.
I heard singing growing louder and cursed to myself. Someone was coming to the square. I wasn't ready to leave. I was quite enjoying the crisp autumn air and the smell and sounds of the storm. I could only hope that whoever was coming over would shut the hell up and let me be.
"Jamie McHale? Jamie, you son-of-a-bitch, is that you?"
Fuck. Of course, it was Ethan. Who else could it have been?
"Ethan, go home." My voice was slow and careful. I didn't want to start a fight with him if I could help it. I just wanted him gone.
Unfortunately, Ethan was even drunker than I was. He dropped to the ground next to me, grabbed the bottle from my hand and drank deeply from it. He made a pained face and handed it back, coughing.
"Why are you drinking that garbage? Ugh, tastes like...like...gross."
I laughed, sitting up and clapping my hand over my mouth quickly, but he heard it. He grinned broadly at me, showing his perfect teeth, fangs safely retracted away. He slapped me on the back, a little harder than was comfortable, but I wasn't sure he'd meant to hurt me.
"You're a funny guy, Jamie, and I think your eyes are the same green as this booze. And you have great hair, all dark and red and shiny. You're like...I don't know. How's come we don't like each other? " He was even drunker than I'd thought he was.
"'Cause you're an asshole," I said, shrugging his hand from my shoulder.
"Hmm, well that certainly sounds like me. But what did I ever do to you and your pointy cheekbones?" He took the bottle again, and I let him. I was confused by the situation, but as I wasn't eager to get my ass kicked, I figured I would let it go as peaceably as possible.
"We've done a lot of terrible things to each other, Ethan," I blew out a sigh, snatching my bottle back for a quick drink. "I would say you probably started it by stealing Jeremiah Sorenson from me, and it just got worse from there."
Worse in the sense that I was pretty sure his family had hired the hunters who had murdered my parents. Though the investigators for the clan had completely cleared the Connors of any wrongdoing, I'd never been able to let go of the theory. The whole situation just seemed too damned convenient--the hunters finding my parents on vacation in another state, the Connors' quick rise to take over the clan before the elders began fighting amongst themselves. Everything had clicked into place so easily for them; it had just never sat well with me.
Ethan laughed, which with my current train of thought was not what I expected from him. I narrowed my eyes at him, feeling my blood start to boil in response to him.
"I'm so glad you can find humor in the situation, Ethan."
"Oh, calm down, mate--"
"I am not your mate."
"Christ, Jamie, that was years ago. Besides, Jeremiah was an idiot. You were better off without him."
He reached for the bottle again, but I pulled it to my lips, trying to calm down as I drank from it. Of course, he'd been laughing about the boyfriend discussion. He couldn't have known my mind went where it almost always did when I spoke to him--to the death of my parents.
"Well, thanks. But it would have been nice if I'd had the opportunity to figure that out for myself."
"Quit hogging the booze, you big cry baby," he said, lunging for the bottle again and falling into my lap in the process.
"Ow, get off me." I shoved him hard, but he didn't budge. "It's mine anyway. Go get your own."
"Can't," he said, sitting up and wrenching the Absinthe out of my hand. "No more alcohol tonight. Fuck, this town sucks."
"Then why did you come back?"
A bolt of lightning spread across the sky, and Ethan's ice blue eyes flashed with it. "None of your fucking business."
Oh good, I'd hit a nerve.
"Did your mortal come to his senses and kick you to the curb?"
His lips moved, but the words were drowned in a crash of thunder. Before I realized he was even coming at me, he had me pinned to the ground. He was obviously pissed, but I was too drunk to even try to understand why.
He swung at me, and pain exploded in the right side of my face as his fist connected with it. I shoved up as hard as I could, managing to knock him off balance. I jumped on him, my hands closing around his throat.
"You asshole," I screamed. I lifted up his head, slamming it into the ground. My knees were on either side of his hips as I tried to keep my balance over him. Lightning flashed again, and I felt it surge through my entire body. As my skin burned with heat, I fell off of Ethan, panting on the ground next to him.
I looked over to find him trying to catch his breath as well. He looked pretty good for having just been struck by lightning. His eyes were wide, shining in the light from the lampposts overhead, but his skin looked smooth and soft, and his hair was still the shiny jet-black it had been since the day I'd met him. I watched a trickle of sweat roll from behind his ear down his neck, and I tried to figure out why he was suddenly so fascinating.
The longer I looked at him the more I wanted to reach out and touch him. Before I could move, his hand found mine. As soon as our fingers intertwined, I started to feel better. My head began to clear, and the burning sensation on my skin lessened.
"What the hell was that?" he asked, his voice breathy.
"I think we might have been struck by that lightning." I felt slightly superior that my voice sounded stronger than his. Of course, I had been choking him when we'd been hit, but I still felt good about it.
Ethan let go of my hand, and my stomach rolled. I managed to get to my knees before I started heaving. After a minute, I heard Ethan vomiting, as well. We must have looked excellent, two drunk, electrocuted vampires puking their guts up in the park. How proud my Gran would be of me.
Thinking about my Gran, who was High Priestess for the Anaboris Clan, made me begin to think that maybe something else had just happened to us, not necessarily electrocution. I thought about it for a second then threw up again. Ethan seemed to have gotten himself composed and had come over to check on me.
I shot him a dirty look, which he chose to ignore. He put his hand on my shoulder, and the world stopped spinning. I let him help me to my feet and stared at him. Something strange was definitely going on, but I wasn't sure what.
"Let go of me," I said.
"Dude, I just wanted to help."
"No, I mean thanks. But I want to see something. Please." I had to force out the "please", but I really wasn't trying to be rude.
He moved away, and the nausea hit me again. He must have felt it, too, because he groaned and leaned against a tree for support. Our eyes met, and I was sure the fear in his would be reflected in mine. His touch really was making my world steady, and I had to assume that he noticed it, too. But I didn't know what it meant.
At that moment, the sky opened and rain poured down on us. The water felt wonderful on my skin, as it had started burning when Ethan had moved away. I raised my face to it, letting it wash over me for a moment. I was still drunk, but the combination of fear and water helped to clear my head--at least, enough to realize that something about this wasn't right.
Ethan stumbled back over to me, gripping my hand tightly, and that did even more to help me think. I looked up at him. He wasn't much taller than me, just a few inches, but it was enough of a difference that he got to feel superior about it every chance he could.
But he didn't look superior at the moment. He looked lost and confused and maybe even a little pained. In the twenty years I'd known Ethan, I'd never seen him look so unsure of anything before. It scared me almost as badly as the thought that if I stood on my toes I would be tall enough to kiss him.
"Ethan, I need you to stay calm for me, okay? You look like a scared rabbit about to bolt."
Some anger seeped into his eyes, and I was glad for it. That I could handle.
"I am not scared, you stupid fuck." Good, much better.
"Okay." I took a deep breath. "We need to make sure we're all right. If we really were struck by lightning, we need to get help." I didn't add that I wanted to also find out why I suddenly wanted to touch him, to grab him and never let him go. That was scarier than the thought that we had just been electrocuted.
"Jamie, do you feel...different?" Ethan clung to my arm, and the closer he was the better I felt.
We'd started walking toward the Spring Temple, where Gran would most likely be found. If anyone could explain what was happening to us, it would be her. And hopefully, she'd be able to make it stop.
I turned to look at Ethan. He took a step closer, so near me now that if he lowered his head he could kiss me. I watched as his face drop, tilting my own face up so our lips touched. My eyes flew open, and I stepped back, letting go of him and almost falling from the pain that swept through me at the loss of his hand on mine.
Ethan fell into the building next to us, sliding to sit on the sidewalk with his head in his hands. I gripped a nearby light pole, barely staying on my own feet. There wasn't even a whole sidewalk separating us, yet it seemed as if he were miles away.
"What the hell is going on?" Ethan yelled over to me.
"I don't know." I looked at him and groaned, dropping to the ground myself. I felt so weak and confused. My brain screamed at me to just crawl over to him and touch him, to kiss him again but not to stop. I was completely terrified and more than a little pissed at Ethan. I knew that somehow it was all his fault, and when I found out what he'd done, I'd kill him.
"Come on. Gran should still be at the Temple." I forced myself to my feet, but Ethan didn't move. I turned back to look at him and realized he was on the verge of passing out.
I went to him, putting an arm around his waist to help support him. After a few steps, he seemed stronger, but every time I let him go, he stumbled.
"Jamie?" Ethan's voice was so pathetic I almost laughed. I might have if it had been anyone else or if the situation hadn't been as frightening as it was turning out to be.
"Gran is going to make this better, right?" he asked.
"I hope so. Come on, we're almost there."
As we turned the corner, I could see that the Temple was lit up inside and said a silent prayer of thanks. The door opened before we'd made it up the stairs, and there was Gran, silhouetted in the doorway with her hands on her hips as she walked out onto the top step.
"What the fuck have you two done now?"