Addie wasn’t surprised by the flashes of cameras or by the pods of reporters lining the clichéd red carpet; she was not expecting them to be aimed at her. Once they realized she wasn’t a celebrity, heiress, party girl, or other notable figure, she was allowed to proceed unmolested into the ballroom.
Facing the crowd of well-groomed men in designer suits and bejeweled women in dresses worth more than a semester of law school tuition, Addie felt like a little girl playing dress-up. Her nerves and insecurity were about to have her searching for an exit and making a run for it, consequences be damned. A familiar hand took hers and placed it in the crook of his elbow. “I am the consummate predator, my dear. Perhaps I was too hasty when I spoke earlier. What could be more appropriate than for me to escort the most flawless prey I’ve ever seen through this tedious function?”
She felt relief flood her body and straightened her back. Addie’s fingers clenched against the well-muscled arm beneath them and she plastered a smile on her face. Lex marveled at the change in his curiosity’s demeanor and felt a jolt of pure masculine pride that his presence was the cause. When he’d felt her panic and insecurity, he’d vamped past the red carpet gauntlet to reach Addie.
Her insecurity was, in his opinion, baseless. While Pamela and Eric were both beautiful, the coldness in their eyes and mannerisms was off-putting. With her bronzed skin, golden hair, spring-colored eyes, and innocent blushes, his little fairy exuded a warmth that he wanted to wrap himself in. Her light was a perfect foil for his darkness, in more ways than one, and even unbiased eyes could see how stunning they were together.
Lex was making small-talk with one of his residents, a vampire that owned a reliable donor referral service. Beyond an inquisitive sniff in her direction that told the younger vampire that the sheriff’s blood (and claim) were present, Addie was disregarded and ignored like the pet she was assumed to be. She continued the ruse – watching, listening, and learning.
After the vampire walked away, a full-figured woman approached the pair. Her pale skin was almost pallor-like and the dyed black hair made her look ill rather than the “porcelain” she was surely going for. “Miss Brennan!” she exclaimed with a faint Creole accent, “I’m so pleased you were able to attend tonight…” her drab gray eyes scanned over the area sheriff, “…and with quite the distinguished escort.” The older woman looked up coyly through her overly-mascaraed lashes at the taller vampire and absently licked her flat pink lips. “Cordelia Rice, sheriff,” she introduced herself with a girlish sigh. Addie’s lip curled before she could school her features, embarrassed for the usually distinguished professor.
Lex was far more adept at hiding both his amusement and slight horror. So this was what an aged, educated fangbanger looked like. “Lex Anthony, Professor Rice. I’ve heard that you are the educator to have if you hope to specialize in vampire rights and government. Addie has had nothing but good things to say about your class.” A bent truth. The girl had questioned the validity of some of the “facts” she’d been taught and sought clarification from the source. To be fair, the woman did what she could with the vague information she’d picked up from various paramours over the years. Anything of importance or significance would have been withheld or glamoured away. Some things she was obviously making nothing more than educated guesses about.
In the sheriff’s opinion, Addie was more qualified to teach the vampire civics class than the overpaid groupie fawning over him. The student had grown up with vampires, Weres, shifters, and fairies. She was raised with training in supernatural etiquette. Case in point – at her introduction months ago, she’s bowed her head respectfully. Her professor, on the other hand, extended her arm as if she expected her (gaudy) ring to be kissed.
Addie’s voice interrupted the sheriff’s thoughts. “Is that Mrs. Shale over there? I would love to hear her thoughts on the book we discussed last semester. The idea of reincarnation of the original vampire is fascinating, right?”
It worked fascinatingly like glamour. The woman instantly turned and walked over to a pretty woman in her mid-forties. She was of average height and slender with dark auburn hair and golden-caramel eyes. At the approach, she looked down at the shorter woman as though humoring her. When the rounder woman gestured, those unique eyes turned toward the pair and widened. She smacked the arm of the well-dressed man next to her and nodded her head.
The married couple followed the professor across the ballroom. Before the aged fangbanger could make introductions, the other woman stepped forward. “Merida Shale,” she said with a New Jersey accent and a deep bow of her head. “This is my husband Richard,” she continued as the man awkwardly bowed his head. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Sheriff Anthony.” After he gracefully returned her nod, she held out her hand to the taller blonde. “And you are?”
“Addie Brennan, pre-law at Georgetown. It’s wonderful to finally meet you, Mrs. Shale. Professor Rice has spoken at length in our civics class of your activism for vampire rights.”
The older woman nodded. “It’s an ongoing battle against the Christian Coalition and the Bible Belt. Their practice of demonizing what they can’t understand has been a problem since colonization. Is that a field you’re interested in, Miss Brennan?”
Having heard the girl’s thoughts on the topic (many times), Lex used the time to scan the crowd. He saw Northman and his child loitering near a fountain of Royalty – proof that the board of this asinine charity was sparing no expense. Their eyes remained locked on Addie, no doubt waiting on her signal.
“… that whole TrueBlood debacle years ago set vampire rights back a century. No other company has had the courage to try rebranding it.” The socialite unknowingly set up the conversation perfectly.
After sending a little “mental tug” to make sure that Richard Shale was paying attention, Addie started to push. “I just had a friend come from Japan. Two vampires created a blood substitute called NuBlood. From what she tells me, the only reason it hasn’t been released here is FDA approval. The quality is so high that it can be used for human transfusions. They just aren’t sure how to go about getting in line for that approval.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Japan? What kind of studies have they done?”
Addie gave the man and his wife a large grin as Lex summoned the other vampires. “Why don’t you ask the source?” she suggested before stepping back to let Northman and de Beaufort give their spiel.
It seemed even without glamour or fairy-style persuasion, Richard Shale was interested in further testing of NuBlood. Pam and Eric were pleased with how receptive the man seemed toward advancement and progress. The trio, with intermittent input from the man’s human wife, spoke for close to an hour before the Viking handed the thumb drive to the shorter man, assuring him that he’d be happy to answer any questions as long as they were asked after sunset.
The pair of couples parted ways, as Mrs. Shale wanted to dance with her husband and both Eric and Pam wanted something more… exotic than a fountain of blood from low-ranking royal descendants. They exited the veranda that held a breathtaking view of the first cherry blossoms of the season and took to the air to hunt.