Santos knocked on the door and tried to still his racing heart. He’d been invited to this party, sure, but he truly had no business coming here. Other than to see her.
When the door opened, Santos allowed a tight smile. Any more and he’d be afraid he’d give himself away. That, or she simply wouldn’t notice, because the woman he longed to see stood just on the other side of the threshold.
“Welcome,” the sexy, dark-haired woman greeted him, her eyes not quite meeting his. “Come on in. I’ll take your coat and you can join the others down the hallway.”
She spoke like a tourist guide, as she did at every party. Her name was Erin. He’d overheard that somewhere. He wanted to tuck his finger under her chin and lift it enough to see the sparkle in her eyes. Enough to have her smile back at him, genuinely, and not because he was another guest. He wanted to start a conversation, ask her to dance, maybe even take her home later if she’d let him.
But, as with every other time he’d seen her, the chance to do any of these things slipped away. As soon as the door had shut behind him, she’d scurried off with his coat. He hadn’t followed because another woman had come up to link her arm through his.
He looked down at the woman — he thought her name was Tammy — and considered shaking her off to go after Erin, but his social skills weren’t that great. Being a demon whose only interaction with the human world was to collect debts did not lend him time to study the more charming aspects of this race. Until he’d laid eyes on Erin, human interaction had been strictly business-related. If he had to approach Erin — and he never wanted this to happen — to say, “It’s time to repay your debt,” he’d have no problem talking to her. Otherwise, he stayed with the social women who talked too much so he didn’t have to. He chalked up this time as learning experience.
In truth, there shouldn’t be a reason for him to want to develop these skills, but ever since he’d laid eyes on Erin last month, he’d been able to think of little else but her. She practically glowed. The strength of her soul shone so bright he’d questioned her humanity at first. Could she be an Otherworlder? Most humans he had experience with had souls that clung to their potential with dirty, clawed fingers. Santos felt drawn to Erin. Not to destroy her soul, not to corrupt her, but for a selfish, fleeting chance to be near such energy.
The woman on his arm began to giggle and chatter, so Santos shook his head and turned his attention to her. He’d continue to observe these humans, and maybe one of these days he’d figure out exactly how to get close to the one he wanted.
* * *
The louder the party grew, the more Erin Carmichael shrank against the wall. The music pumped through speakers set in every corner of each room, the liquor flowed like water from creative dispensers on the countertops, and the food seemed to never run out. There weren’t so many people in the penthouse that Erin felt crowded, but there prevailed an increasing sense of… over. Too much.
Which in itself was very strange as Erin loved parties. Ever since her first boy-girl dance in elementary school, she’d gravitated toward anything party-related. As a result, she could be counted on to always show up at someone’s party. She could be counted on to show the way to the beer, the chips, the bathrooms, the bedrooms. She’d often been told people should hire her out. But did they? No. If someone planned a party, Erin would be the first guest called and the first guest to show up, at which point she would be shown the layout. When the “real” party guests came, the host or hostess would invariably direct all traffic to her. Once the party was well underway, however, people forgot about Erin.
No one ever mingled with Erin. She was the consummate go-to girl. Even now, sitting near the bay window on a decorative chaise longue, alone, a decorative paper plate in her lap with small finger foods she’d moved around, not one single person approached her.
She’d wondered if it was her looks. She supposed she was attractive enough. She had some height on her. At five foot ten, she could look most men in the eye, especially when she wore heels. She was slender and curved in all the right places. Her pitch-black, shoulder-length hair framed an oval face. She wore her make-up conservatively and had impeccable manners, but for reasons beyond her understanding, no one seemed to want to remain by her side. Heck, she hadn’t even had a date in over a year. She hadn’t had sex in an even longer amount of time. Guys she found interest in would nod in her direction, but no one would approach her.
She looked with concealed longing around the sunken den. Furniture had been pushed to the sides to allow room for dancing. Men and women gyrated and wiggled and did a lot of bumping and grinding to the pulsating music, but was she in the mix? Would she ever be in the mix?
“I’ve never seen a longer face,” said a tall, willowy woman who sat down to Erin’s left.
“I’m sorry?” Erin stared for a moment, not placing the newcomer. Strange, since she greeted all the partygoers.
“The way you’re staring at the dancers. You have an I-want-to-be-there look stamped all over your face.”
“I do not.” Erin straightened on the chaise and scooted over a few inches, trying to put distance between her and the woman.
The intruder laughed. It was a slow, deep, sexy chuckle that drew Erin’s attention. “Do I know you? I don’t remember seeing you come in.”
“My name’s Nirvana.” She held out a long-fingered, perfectly manicured hand. Erin cautiously took the woman’s hand, surprised at the firm grip. Their hands held moments too long, but the touch felt warm and made Erin’s spine tingle. “I got here late. I’m a… friend of Santos. I’ve been watching you, and I think I can help you.”
Erin pulled her hand away, flushed yet puzzled over the woman’s words. She knew who Santos was. Everybody knew Santos. He was the sexiest guy she’d ever known. Average height, lean build, dark hair and chiseled features drew the eye of every woman who breathed. She thought she’d overheard he was from Spain. Or maybe Argentina? It made no difference to her; he fueled fantasies to last a lifetime.
Erin hadn’t spoken to him more than to greet him when he arrived at a party, as she did with every guest, but if there was one guy in existence she’d want to be locked away with, it was Santos.
She shook her head and forced her eyes off the man in question. Had Nirvana guessed her crush? “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. You can help me with what?”
Nirvana crossed her shapely legs, making her miniskirt pull high up her thighs. She leaned her arms over her crossed legs, coming close into Erin’s space, as if she were about to impart an important secret.
“I’ve watched you, Erin,” the woman began. Erin felt tremors of discomfort, but when she gazed into Nirvana’s gold-rimmed eyes, she became captivated. The music became a muted sound in her ears, and her attention riveted on the woman’s full, red mouth.
“Always at the party, but never part of the party. Right, Erin?”
Erin nodded, riveted.
“I’ve heard your thoughts. You’d give your left arm to be out there right now, rubbing your body alongside all the others, getting high on the energy of the gathering. You wonder why no one ever asks you to dance. You make your own drink and cast jealous eyes to those who have others gather for them. And for reasons unknown, men don’t seem to want to be with you. It’s getting to you, isn’t it?”
Erin nodded again, her eyes wide at the reality Nirvana spoke. “How do you know these things? I’ve never told anyone.”
Nirvana stroked Erin’s cheek. “It’s written all over your face for anyone who cares to notice.”
Erin winced. She’d hoped her longing stayed behind a mask of happy indifference, but apparently her mask had been slipping.
“It’s okay, Erin,” Nirvana soothed. She ran her hand around Erin’s neck and touched their foreheads together. “I can help you. That’s why I’m here. I can make it so you’re the one noticed at parties. I can shift perceptions, make these feeble-minded men and women understand you’re just as important. Even more important, because you’re the one who handles everything. And the men…” Nirvana paused to chuckle. “I can make it so the best part of your night will be trying to choose which stud to take home.”
As intoxicating as Nirvana’s words sounded, an old truth reared in Erin’s head. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. She pulled away.
“I’m sorry, Nirvana. I don’t think so. I don’t want to make someone want to be with me. I want them to genuinely want to be with me. For all that I apparently do right, this is one area where I fail.” She shrugged and stared at the dance floor, the music having shifted to a slower beat. Bodies paired off and moved sinuously together, dancing in that unspoken rhythm which promised the partners a more enjoyable evening to come.
What would it be like to be held like that? To have a man pull her close, his warm breath caressing her ear as his arms wound around her body? He’d whisper words of love — no, it didn’t have to be love. He’d simply whisper. Maybe of things he wanted to do with her, to her. Of how he’d been thinking all night of taking her against the wall, onlookers be damned. That she’d turned him on with her conversation, her knowledge, her body.
“I bet Santos could whisper the words, ‘I’m going to fuck you nine ways into Hell,’ and you’d come on the spot.”
Erin jumped at Nirvana’s words, spoken low and close to her ear.
“What? No.” Erin laughed a little too loudly because Nirvana’s words were probably true, to her mortification. “You may be his friend, but trust me, he’s not interested. I’ve seen him at several gatherings. He’s popular and handsome and always has a different girl on his arm. And they’re all sexy. Other than asking me where to put his coat, I can’t imagine him even giving me the time of day.”
“Uh-uh-uh,” Nirvana singsonged the words, straightening. “He’s noticed you, I promise. That’s why I’m here.”