Chapter 1: Steps Toward (first half)

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The full moon rode high in a murky mauve before Jared Stern turned his steps toward a subway station, on the evening a star-crossed meeting would turn his world upside down.

Confined between the closeness of the muggy air and the pressure of the dinner helpings he'd been too polite to refuse, his pace was slow. But it being a Friday, he was in no hurry to get home, and the longer his walk the shorter his stay in the sweltering subway below. Tonight, however, he strayed from his usual course, plodding beneath the starless sky, fingers tugging at his scratchy cuffs and collar, his mind dipping in and out of an idle fantasy.

The story playing through his head was born of the workday's most outrageous article—a piece on a homeless man who'd claimed to have seen the aftermath of a vampire attack—the publication of which had resulted in yet another uncomfortable episode at the office. An irate customer, who'd picked up the week's issue only to find the headline story quite serious, had barged in demanding a refund. The woman had put it to him that there were no such things as vampires and that she shouldn't have to pay for news that wasn't news. Jared had wholeheartedly agreed with her and had been prepared to reimburse her out of pocket, when his boss had gotten back from his coffee run and thrown the woman out for disrespecting his publication.

The unpleasantness of the encounter, though suppressed under talk at dinner, had bubbled up again upon setting out for home. Heat built in his cheeks at the memory of the woman's scorn, and the knot reformed in his stomach at replaying his failure to get a word in to help her. Over and over it played, but each time a little differently—the office backdrop now that of the latest detective novel he'd been reading, the woman now there about her missing brother, the brutal story of the vampire's victim now headline news across the city. Familiar faces shifted through shadowy scenes, accompanying him toward the section of town where a monster allegedly lurked.

Nothing like prowling Manhattan at night to help hard-boiled fictions along, and soon he imagined another murder behind a blank window high above. An intrepid private eye was set on the case. Tense conversations staged on the same crowded sidewalks he was jostled down. A chase begun inside a cab squealing past him. Detective and partner placed beneath the glare of a neon sign as he walked by. By the time the noise and bustle of Midtown faded to the darker streets of Hudson Yards, his actors were in position for the climax.

...she takes a drag from her cigarette and blows smoke out bloodred lips. Arranging her gams she goes on, her tone as loaded as a souse on a Friday night. "I am afraid you will find, Mr. Starr, that my girls...bleed their clients dry."

The moonlight filtering through the blinds catches on her pointed smile.

"You don't have to tell me, darling," I sigh. "I'm well aware the lot of you are vamps."

"Ahh," Miss Moon replies, her smile widening into an upended picket fence, "but I do not think you are."

Her coworkers appear, creeping over couches and up brocaded curtains onto the walls.

I break out my stake gun. "I was afraid it'd come to this."

"Well, well, a hunter? Looks like we were the the dark."

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