Home > Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(4)

Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(4)
Author: Katie MacAlister

She stood up and scanned the crowd for a second before sitting down. "I don't see anyone as gorgeous as those two who aren't with someone already. Mind you, they could be gay and a couple, in which case I will still win, but let's go on the supposition that they're not gay, and not married. You go talk to them and see if one of them asks you out."

"This is not a contest, Denise."

"Sure it is. You think you're right, and I know I am. You think you can date someone as gorgeous as the two male model wannabes, and I say they won't even give you the time of the day. Prove me wrong, that's all I'm asking."

"They could have wives or girlfriends who aren't here," I protested, a slight feeling of panic making my stomach tighten. "Or maybe they just broke it off with someone and aren't looking for a relationship. There are any number of reasons that they wouldn't want to ask me out."

She flicked the wadded-up paper straw wrapper at me.

"That's a cop-out, but I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. How about this: you walk past the two guys - just walk past them - and see if one of them is interested enough to watch you."

I opened my mouth to protest that catching a man's eye wasn't going to prove anything, but the triumphant gleam in her eyes was too much for the tenuous grasp I had on my temper. If nothing else, I would be able to escape her presence. "All right, you're on. I'll walk past them."

"I'll be here, waiting, when you come back. Alone," she said with a smile that made my palm itch with the need to smack her.

"I am not a violent person," I muttered as I gathered my things and shuffled my way around the people at the café. "It is illegal to kill a tour mate, no matter how provoked I am."

The square was still partially empty as people took the opportunity offered by the band switch to refresh themselves at the cafes and food stands that lined the area. I paused a moment at the edge of the square, having no trouble in finding my quarry.

The two men continued to stand in the shadows cast by a tall, sculpted stone building, evidently having some sort of a conversation, since one of them periodically nodded, while the other spoke, his hands gesturing quickly.

Glowing bluish white lights suddenly blinked on around the perimeter of the square, causing me to squint for a minute as my eyes adjusted to the brightness. The sun in this area of Iceland never quite set during midsummer, but it went far enough down on the horizon to bring on a sort of twilight, what was called "white night." The sky was a glorious palette that ranged from a gorgeous amber to deep blues, the glow enough to see by, but dark enough to leave everything a bit softened about the edges. A little ripple of excitement filtered over to me as people started to drift away from the square, heading to the nearby park that sat overlooking the waterfront, where the evening fireworks were to be held.

I eyed the two men who stood in conversation. They were both clad completely in black, one carrying a leather jacket, the other wearing one despite the heat of the day. The jacket wearer was farthest from me, his face too shadowed to see in detail, but I did notice he had short curly chestnut brown hair. The one turned slightly away from me, holding on to his jacket slung casually over his shoulder, had long black hair pulled back in a ponytail.

Despair welled in my gut as I edged my way around the square toward them, my mind frantically trying to find a way out of the untenable situation I'd managed to create. "What on earth are you thinking, you foolish woman? So Denise has stung your pride with her constant cracks about your appearance and likelihood of getting a man. Do you seriously think there's any way on this green earth that you will ever be able to garner even a momentary flash of interest from those two gorgeous men, let alone a second glance?"

I glanced back at Denise, hoping against hope that she might have given up on me and gone to see the fireworks, but doubting she'd miss the opportunity to do a little old-fashioned gloating when I failed at my goal.

"I hate being right," I said under my breath. Denise stood at the table, the café nearly empty now as more and more people headed to the park. She made shooing gestures toward me.

I edged my way past a tiny clothing shop and pretended interest in racks of dusty books that sat outside an even dustier bookseller. This must be the spider-filled shop Denise had mentioned. I glanced toward her. She had her back to me as one of the men on the tour stopped to talk, gesturing in the direction of the park. Excellent! She was distracted! Now was my chance.

I ducked into the spider-filled bookshop, scurrying to the back, grabbing a couple of books with English titles to pretend interest. "She's not likely to come looking in here for me if the spiders are as bad as she said. I'll just hide out for a little bit. There's no shame in hiding. She'll figure I skipped out, and go look elsewhere for me, right? Right."

My relief lasted about two minutes, after which shame got the better of me. Being a coward wasn't my style. I started toward the front door, stopping when a tiny, wizened old man coughed at me, looking meaningfully at the books in my hands. Hastily I dug out a couple of bills and gave them to him with a word of apology.

A careful and covert survey of the square from inside the bookshop confirmed my hunch. Denise was disappearing down a street opposite, clearly on the hunt for me. "Yay for insight into human nature."

I strolled out of the bookshop, adopting a casual, not in the least bit stalkerlike air as I meandered toward the two men, eyeing them critically as I got closer. "Maybe I'm just too cynical. There's nothing wrong with me, other than there's a bit too much of me. I don't have any vices or bad habits other than talking to myself. I like animals. I am open to new experiences. Is it so out of the bounds of reason that one of those two guys might actually look at me?"

One of them gestured in my direction. The other turned to look. I spun around and feigned interest in a bakery window. When I glanced back, they were continuing their conversation.

Denise was still nowhere to be seen, but I was not about to chicken out now. This had gone beyond a silly dare. "My honor is at stake, dammit!"

Ignoring the fact that the very same sense of honor had been lacking a few minutes before, I squared my shoulders and turned to face the two men. "Just get it done, Pia. Think positive, and get it done."

The two men loomed closer as I strolled confidently toward them, my belly roiling with anticipation of what was sure to be a deflating experience. "Maybe I could bribe them. Maybe I could offer them a few bucks if one of them would walk back to the hotel with me... Ugh. Is this what it's coming to? Bribing men to pretend an interest in you? For shame, Pia. For sha - oof!"

   
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