Of all the scents assaulting his nose, only one took over his thoughts. She wasn’t even the only one in the room that held that scent, that had the coppery tang linger on clothes and skin and waft every once in a while with movement. The new bartender was rubbing her heel raw, the man nursing his vodka in the corner had scratched off a scab, and a few of the sorority sisters at the front were on the tail end of their cycles.
Nathan didn’t know her name. He didn’t know of her existence before he sat down. He was two beers into his visit before she sat down five stools away and quietly gave her order. He hadn’t been listening then, wouldn’t have known what was in her glass if his nose hadn’t picked up the sweet scent of tequila, wouldn’t have cared one bit about the way her voice lilted over his ears.
But she was bleeding, smelling absolutely, utterly delightful, and it was only years upon years of control that kept him in his seat.
“I’m not surprised to find you here,” a newcomer said, his proper British accent identifying him just as distinctly as his scent. He slid onto the stool to his right, between Nathan and the woman. “You always seem to enjoy the bars.”
Finishing his drink might have been an overused avoidance tactic, but it sure didn’t stop him from using it.
“I often wonder if maybe the alcohol doesn’t dull the nose.” The man shifted as he removed his coat and draped it over the bar. “You’ve never said.”
“You’ve never asked.”
His new companion huffed out an indignant snort Nathan was almost certain he practiced, but he didn’t say anything else until they both had a filled glass of beer in front of them.
“Would you answer?”
It was a good question. The two of them had never truly seen eye to eye and rarely got along. For most of their acquaintance, only necessity kept them civilized and even then, Nathan wasn’t certain he actually liked the man or if he simply enjoyed annoying him. It was weird to think it changed, but the animosity that used to be present when Colin showed up simply wasn’t there.
“I might,” he eventually ceded. “Depends on the day.”
The answering snort was a little louder than the first.
“So why are you here?” Colin asked instead and Nathan smiled into his glass.
“I wanted a drink.”
“And yet there are countless other establishments you could find a drink.”
He shrugged under his jacket, fingering the lip of his beer. “I like this bar. Just enough people coming in and out to ignore what’s going on.”
If he looked at Colin, he would get a good glimpse of her in the background. He shouldn’t, really. She had ordered her second glass and was steadily working her way to the bottom, but everything about her sent off a very clear message. The woman wanted to be alone.
“It’s an interesting clientele.” Colin’s murmur brought Nathan back to immediate company. “Though doing nothing for my appetite.”
He froze at the words, finally realizing that all that blood he could smell was calling Colin, too, in very different ways. The poor bartender was really working through those blisters and the man’s cut had finally scabbed over, but she was still bleeding. And the thought of Colin going after that scent sent a foul unease to the pit of his stomach.
Nathan tried for nonchalance. “Anyone in particular catch your eye?”
Colin turned and he was surprised again at the hazel he saw there. Nathan always expected a darker color, one to pull in and entice, and yet was always greeted with a light wash of color reflecting out. “Why do I have a feeling that question has a wrong answer?”
Damn, he hadn’t even tried to hide that bit of information. Turning back to his drink, he figured he might as well own up to the truth. “Because it does.”
“I know it’s not the man, your tastes don’t run that way.” Colin nodded for another glass and waited until they had more privacy to continue. “And the ones up front seem a little young for you.”
“I didn’t realize you paid such close attention to my preferences.”
“I like my face free of your claws.”
They wouldn’t be claws this time.
Colin stilled next to him, almost as if he had heard the thought. Nathan waited with baited breath as he took another pull from his beer. The buzz from the alcohol was slowly building and began the dull the sharp edge of his senses. Not terribly so, but enough that he could finally take a deep breath without knowing what everyone on the block had for dinner.
He could still smell her, though, just as clear as if he hadn’t touched a single drink.
“She’s a mistake.”
A low growl rumbled from his chest on instinct, shocking both of them.
“Whatever it is you’re thinking, don’t.” That crisp accent lost some of its form, widening and hardening into the less-enunciated drawl from Colin’s home town a bit further west than he liked to claim. He took a breath and Nathan had the sudden urge to beat the scent back out of him. “Leave her alone. She’ll only bring you trouble.”
The hair on the back of his neck was standing, muscles tense and wanting to jump, but Nathan pushed it all aside. It was an unnecessary reaction, one he wouldn’t feed. He wasn’t entirely certain where it came from or why, but he knew Colin well enough to know how to attack with words alone.
Plus, he didn’t know the woman enough to warrant a fight over flippant words.
“What makes you say that?” he drawled.
“Call it a hunch.” Colin masked his next breath from a pull of his beer. “I merely suspect she could do without your complications.”
It was Nathan’s turn to snort. “She’s an innocent. You don’t waste your time concerning yourself about anything beyond your next meal when it comes to them. What’s making you start now?”
“I care enough to keep myself safe.”
“You care enough to feed.”
“And you should care enough to be smart.”
He bared his teeth at the implication. “Meaning what, exactly.”
“Meaning you should leave her alone.” Colin pinned him with a hard stare, but not one he had seen before. “I’ve come to appreciate your presence breaking up the monotony of my life, I’d rather not see that end.”
“You know her,” Nathan breathed, some pieces fitting into place. “Who is she?”
“No, I don’t know her,” came the correction. “I simply…”
The words trailed off, but Nathan was patient. Colin liked to do this, act like he was sorting his words when really he was manipulating the situation. He’d continue—his pride wouldn’t allow him to let it go—but Nathan had long learned not to play into the man’s games. It was much easier to ignore and gain the same end.
“Something isn’t sitting right,” he finally answered, his scent wavering over the truth and a lie. “Leave her alone. You’re only noticing her scent because there’s so much of it. Any other day and she wouldn’t catch your attention.”
Something deep in Nathan highly doubted that.
The man in the corner stood from his table and headed toward the bathroom. Colin’s nostrils flared. It was no surprise when he finished his drink and followed the man down the corridor. Give him ten minutes and that man would stumble back out into the bar, dazed and pleased and all set to continue his night in a better mood.
If only Nathan’s hunger was satisfied that easily.
This is Nathan and Colin’s current introduction into the story. It’s too soon to say whether or not it will stay, but I like the moment between them.