Moon Island (Chapter Three)

We were on our third date.

Russell Baker was twenty-four and a professional boxer. I wasn't twenty-four.

In fact, according to my driver's license, I was thirty-five. Thanks to the vampire in me, literally, I looked twenty-eight and possibly younger.

We were at Roy's Restaurant in Anaheim, a bustling place that consisted mostly of Disneyland tourist spillovers.

Still, a nice restaurant with great ambiance and just enough background noise to make it seem like we were alone.

Russell Baker was dressed in tight gray jeans and wore a tight black Ralph Lauren shirt open wide at the collar, revealing some of his muscled upper chest. He wore his own type of medallion.

It was a golden scorpion inside a golden disk, in homage to his birth sign. I'd heard about Scorpios. I've heard they could be the best lovers. The thought, perhaps not surprisingly, sent a shiver through me.

"You okay?" asked Russell.

"Just a little cold," I said, which was a half-truth. I was always cold. Always.

Russell seemed especially perceptive of me, and I was beginning to suspect the reason why. By our second date, I was certain he was picking up stray thoughts of mine here and there. Faster than what usually happens with most people who get close to me. After all, it had taken Detective Sherbet nearly a half a year to get to this point. Then again, Russell and I were getting close, fast.

Russell stood and plucked his light suede jacket from the back of his chair and came around the table and slipped it over my shoulders. He sat opposite me again, smooth as a jungle cat.

"Better?" he asked.

His jacket smelled of good cologne and of him, too. Essence of Russell. For me, it was a wonderfully exhilarating scent.

Despite the jacket doing nothing for me, I said, "Yes, much better." Which, again, was a half-truth. I loved his scent, and I loved his concern for me.

For me, dinner dates were a challenge.

Salads were great to order for someone like me. They scattered nicely about the plate and gave the impression and appearance that I was eating my food. The wadded-up napkin in my hand contained half-masticated lettuce and carrots and beets. Anytime Russell headed for the bathroom, or checked his cell, or called over the waiter, that wadded-up napkin was gonna disappear into my purse.

Lickety-split.

And so it went with me. A creature of the night – yes, a vampire, I supposed – attempting to date in the real world. Cold to the touch, unable to actually eat real food, and giving away her thoughts as if they were free.

"You're not like other girls I've dated, Sam," said Russell.

"Oh?" I wasn't exactly delighted to hear this. Lord knew I'd tried to be just like the other girls. Perhaps too hard.

And once again, I thought, Geez, what am I doing?

It was so much easier to be a single mom. Kingsley Fulcrum had quit calling – or trying to win me back – although I suspected I hadn't heard the last of him.

Fang was gone, having disappeared with Detective Hanner, a fellow freak of the night herself. To where, I didn't know.

According to Sherbet, Hanner had requested a three-month leave from the Fullerton Police Department.

Three months to turn Fang into a monster.

That thought alone turned my stomach.

Then again, it could have been that stray bit of vinaigrette dressing escaping down the back of my throat. Yeah, that was gonna cause me some cramps later.

Russell was looking at me, frowning.

"Who's Fang?"

My heart leaped. "Pardon?"

"You said something about a fang. I'm sorry, I'm lost."

"Oh, right," I said, thinking fast. I hadn't said anything about Fang, of course.

Russell had officially picked up on my thoughts, unbeknownst to him. I said, "Oh no, I said 'dang.' As in dang this salad is good."

"You said dang and not fang?"

"Uh-huh," I said, looking away and shielding my thoughts. Too early to shield my thoughts from Russell. We were connecting – and deeply.

"Could have sworn you said something else."

"Well, it's kind of loud in here. So, you were saying I was different than the other girls?" I said, praying like hell we would change the subject.

That is, of course, if God heard my prayers.

"Right," he said, looking at me sideways a little. He then looked down at his food and played with his fork a little.

Russell had very big hands, and heavily scarred knuckles. He had already told me he'd spent a childhood fighting on the streets of Long Beach. Finally, he said, "I guess it's because I feel like I can open up to you. Tell you anything."

"Is that a good thing?" I asked.

He reached across the table and took my hand. And to his credit, he didn't flinch at the cold. In fact, he never flinched at the cold. "A very good thing."

As he continued holding my hand and looking into my eyes, I think something inside me just might have melted.

I hated when that happened.