Chapter Four

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"Earth to Kiara? Hello in there?" Georgia clicked her fingers several times in front of my face until I blinked and turned to look at her.

I'd been distracted for my entire shift at the Waffle House, thoughts of Rachel and the menace she represented circling endlessly through my head. I'd misheard orders, delivered the wrong meals, counted out incorrect change – the works. Georgia was surprisingly patient with me, considering our past history of animosity, but she'd been here when a box of rat guts was delivered to the diner several weeks earlier, courtesy of Rachel. It seemed even Georgia knew when it was inappropriate to start making snide jibes.

"Sorry, what?" I said.

Georgia rolled her eyes. "Jesus, what is up with you today? You have a fight with Luke or something?"

Before Luke and I had got together – and even for a while afterwards – Georgia had had designs on my boyfriend. It wasn't the reason she hated me – she had disliked me from the moment we met, and that was long before I'd even laid eyes on Luke – but it certainly hadn't made things any easier between us.

Not that I cared. There was a time when Georgia's taunts had wriggled under my skin, but not anymore. I had far more important things to worry about than whether some petty little girl liked me or not.

I didn't answer, and Georgia rolled her eyes again.

"Whatever," she muttered. "Look, I've already locked the doors and the kitchen's all shut down. We've just got to mop the floors and take out the bins."

My shift was over already? I blinked and stared around the empty diner. Night had fallen and the huge window that dominated the opposite wall showed a street of shadows, lit sporadically by streetlamps.

"Where's Arthur?" I asked, looking around for my boss. He was a big man and hard to miss.

"He left about half an hour ago. He did say goodbye but apparently you weren't listening." Georgia narrowed her eyes, appraising me.

Vaguely I recalled Arthur calling goodbye and waving as he walked out the door, and me mumbling something in response. It was only the second time that he'd left us to close down the diner by ourselves, but he was training Georgia to be assistant manager, and that included giving her some big responsibilities.

"Seriously, are you okay?" Georgia almost sounded concerned.

"I'm fine."

She humphed, obviously not believing me. Let her think what she wanted. I couldn't tell her the truth, and I wouldn't invent some lie about an argument with Luke just to satisfy her curiosity.

"Fine," she said, the usual tartness snapping back in her voice. "Then get the mop and bucket."

In the kitchen, I filled a plastic bucket with hot water and floor cleaner, and lugged it and the mop back into the eating area. Georgia was ferociously attacking a series of ring-marks on the counter; she didn't look up when I came in, which suited me.

We worked in silence for a few minutes before someone knocked on the door. Georgia and I both glanced up.

A man stood outside, peering in through the little window that made up the top half of the locked door. His face was unremarkable except for a thick frill of beard, but his eyes were wide, his hands pressed flat against the small pane of glass.

"Ignore him," Georgia said, and resumed her attack on the ring-marks.

I turned my attention back to mopping, and the man knocked again, more urgently this time.

"Please, let me in," he cried.

Georgia continued to ignore him, but something in the man's voice caught my attention. I knew what fear sounded like, and that man was scared – scared of something out there in the dark.

He banged his hand against the window. "Please."

"For God's sake," Georgia snapped, throwing down her cloth. "Can't the idiot see we're closed?"

"Can't you see he's not here for a milkshake?" I shot back, hurrying to the door.

Georgia ran after me, throwing out an arm to stop me before I could draw back the bolts.

"What are you doing? You can't let him in. We're closed." She said it as if the rules of the Waffle House were some sacred religious text that no one should even think about disobeying.

"He needs help, Georgia. We can't just leave him out there."

She glared at me, her mouth flattening into a hard line. "I'm in charge here, and I'm saying no."

I could just have moved her out of my way. She was a couple of inches taller than me, but she was just a regular teenage girl, whereas beneath my red-and-white uniform, I was lean muscle. Forcing her aside would be easy, but physical force was a last option. The last thing I needed was for Georgia to report me for assault and for me to lose my job as a result.

"Please," the man cried, his voice catching in his throat. "I think – I think someone's chasing me." He looked over his shoulder in a quick, jerky motion.

Uncertainty flickered in Georgia's eyes, but she still didn't move out of my way.

Behind the man, something more solid than the shadows broke away from them, heading in our direction. He whimpered, pressing his face against the window. "Oh God, please," he said, tears gathering in his eyes.

"He's in trouble, Georgia, and we're not leaving him out there. Now get out of my way or I'll make you," I said.

Wisely, she moved to one side and let me unbolt the door.

"Come on." I beckoned to the man.

Georgia stood to one side, glaring mulishly as the man hurried inside. He grabbed my hand, pumping it up and down, and babbling thank yous.

"Okay, okay," I said, trying to disentangle my fingers from his larger ones. "If someone's chasing you, we need to call the police –"

He punched me.

I reeled against one of the booths, my ears ringing. My thoughts were scattered, thrown into utter confusion.

And then the man advanced and everything made sense.

White fangs gleamed in his mouth, little dagger points glinting through the forest of his beard. "You're too good to people, Kiara Morrow," he sneered. "One of these days it's going to get you killed."

Rage boiled through me, tightening my muscles and balling my fists. I'd trusted him – tried to help him. I didn't like to be tricked.

"Maybe it is, but it's not going to be today," I replied, and kicked him in the crotch.

Vampires could withstand a lot more damage than humans, but a shot in the balls is still a shot in the balls. His face turned white then red, and he folded over, both hands between his legs.

I didn't give him a chance to recover, dropkicking him in the chin and throwing him on his back.

From the other side of the room, Georgia watched, her jaw almost hanging to her knees.

Thinking up a suitable cover story was seriously going to test my skills as a liar, especially since the man had mentioned me by name. I couldn't pretend he was just some thief or coked-up psycho when it was clear he'd come here for me. I'd have to –

More vampires spilled through the diner door.

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