How did a two-hundred-thirty-year-old vampire find himself on a blind date with a human female cyber genius?
A remote part of Devlin Sinclair’s mind pondered this question with immense curiosity and astonishment while the rest of him focused on the task at hand.
“That seat is taken.”
The Hunter of the Dark Ones flashed his most engaging and disarming of grins, nearly blinding the occupants of the nearby tables at Raoul’s with its brilliance.
At the very least mesmerizing guests of the female variety.
“Mith, am I right?” he called the woman seated before him by her encrypted chat room handle, knowing full well that her name was actually Grace Elizabeth Darling. Twenty-nine years old, single, and wanted by several government agencies for her cyber hacking skills since the age of twelve.
She tipped her head slightly to one side and gave him a slow, meticulous, dispassionate appraisal from head to toe.
As if he were the restaurant’s special menu for the evening, and she found every item on the list less than appetizing.
“You’re not Azor Ahai,” she stated with absolute certainty.
Devlin mentally rolled his eyes and stifled a sigh.
No, he was not the Prince Who Was Promised, according to George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus A Song of Ice and Fire.
He wasn’t even the man who used the name as his online handle in the chat room where he occasionally traded conversational volleys with Grace.
No, Devlin Sinclair, Marquess of Hartington in his human life, was the royal henchman to the New England vampire queen Jade Cicada.
Devlin had in the past few months painstakingly insinuated himself into the role of Grace Darling’s chat room flirtation so that he could track the elusive cyber genius down in the flesh.
“I am,” Devlin said presently, blinking his eyes with innocence and injecting a slightly wounded look into his countenance at her immediate rejection of his identity.
She stared unblinkingly back at him, her expression unsmiling and devoid of any emotion.
“I expected you to be balding and pudgy, and maybe a foot shorter,” she said.
“There are no pictures of me anywhere, I made sure of that,” Devlin pointed out, though he knew that the real man was in fact as she described.
He’d chosen to get closer to her through this particular identity precisely because the man suffered from extreme paranoia and took care never to leave traces of himself. Who better to impersonate than a ghost on the Net and an invisible man in real life?
That, and the fact that he engaged in far more conversations and commanded more minutes of Grace’s time than anyone else in cyber space, where she lived for fourteen out of her sixteen waking hours each day, ostensibly as the work-from-home Enterprise Architect at the hottest new tech startup Zenn.
It was a stroke of pure luck that Grace herself initiated this face-to-face meeting just as Devlin almost gave up on tracing her, though his own digital abilities were substantial.
But not as good as hers.
“I hacked some satellite images and filtered the distortion. I got one of you walking through Central Park while eating a Big Mac a couple of weeks ago.”
There was no accusation or apology in her voice. She simply stated a fact and waited for him to refute or confirm.
Devlin had to admire her resourcefulness, but he was not surprised. He would have expected no less given her skills.
“I must have had some sun glinting off my hair that day, which you mistook for the bald spot, and I was bundled in a heavy coat, which probably made me look a bit…fluffier,” he suggested smoothly.
“It was nighttime.”
“How forgetful of me,” he corrected with another flash of teeth, but she didn’t seem the least bit distracted by their brilliant whiteness.
“It was the light from the street lamps, not the sun.”
She made no reply.
Instead, she unhurriedly took her napkin from her lap, put it back on the table, pushed her chair back, slung a small backpack onto one shoulder and got up to leave.
Devlin thought fast.
“How is Miu-Miu?”
She paused and looked up at him, her expression still a neutral mask.
“And Antony and Cleopatra?”
Devlin quickly glanced at his watch, quickly because he didn’t trust her not to disappear in a puff of smoke if he took his eyes off her for even a millisecond.
“You don’t need to go home to feed them for another few hours. Let’s sit down and have our dinner, shall we? I, for one, am famished.”
She stood there regarding him with that fathomless dark stare, and Devlin would have given half his considerable fortune to know what she was thinking.
He read people very easily; it was one of his many natural gifts. But this woman was a Sphinx as far as he was concerned.
Perhaps because in order for a human book to be read, there had to be emotional signatures, but in Grace’s case, there was only cold logic. Encrypted cold logic.
Seeing that she was hesitant enough to at least remain stationary rather than dash out the door and disappear without a trace, Devlin pushed his luck further by walking around her and pulling out her chair again.
“Please do take a seat. This is your favorite restaurant, isn’t it? It took some doing to get a reservation. I would hate to waste it.”
He held his position for several seconds, one hand on the arm of her chair, one hand ever so lightly settling on her shoulder to guide her into the chair, while she considered her options.
But really, any choice she thought she had was an illusion.
Now that Devlin had seen her in the flesh, she would only escape him if he allowed it.
The Hunter never lost his prey.