You, again?

A Street in the Financial District

London's financial district echoes the financial districts of international cities the world over. Huge skyscrapers, monuments to wealth and power, tower over narrow sidewalks and congested streets. Zebra crossings delineate pedestrian safe-zones, and they're invariably crowded. Chic boutiques and upscale store fronts line the main floors of office towers in an effort to attract the well-to-do clientèle that work in the offices above.


Characters

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Aidan Jacintha

London's finanical district is actually busier in the evenings than might be expected, thanks to the simple fact that high rollers tend to work late. The sun has set, an hour gone — though it is still winter. So, that makes it earlier in the evening than one might otherwise expect. Having been worked through dinner, Jacintha Westlake only now emerges out onto the open street. It's only a few blocks between the Tower and her condo. And, there are times she actually likes being outside. Even in a busy urban environment such as this one.

There's anonymity to be had on the street, even with so many unshielded minds around. Jacintha's own mind is well-shielded, a habit well-honed and second nature to her, thanks to her work among psychics. And, it being winter — and not a trendy club — the fact she's bundled up goes entirely unremarked. Indeed, she'd look more out of place without her gloves and scarf on.

She walks past several boutique shops meant to cater to the high-class clientele that work in the buildings that tower above the narrow streets. But, she largely ignores them. There's nothing in them she wants.

~

Aidan wears a different mask depending on the situation. A night a club, and he's the charming flirt with the drink in hand, dancing across the floor. At the resturant, he's a jack of all trades; propietor, chef, host, server. Tonight, he's a businessman, though, beneath the leather duster, he refuses to wear a tie with his more professoional suit. Exiting the tall skyscraper after a meeting with his accountant, Aidan pulls on a pair of fine leather gloves. Not because he needs them, but again it's because it's important to fit in and look the part. Just another businessman heading home for the evening. Except that he isn't heading home at all, his day has just begun.

He crosses the street, enjoying the feeling — the smell and the sounds — of moving between so many bodies. Even muffled by the heavy winter coats and the cold, Aidan can still smell the sweet tang of blood beneath skin. He can hear the pounding of hearts within chests, an echo like a seductive drum beat calling him forth. Once or twice, he catches the eye of a passing human woman, but he's not interested in hunting or playing that particular game tonight. Not right now. He fed well before leaving his home, and he's plenty enough sated to last a few hours.

Rounding another corner, his gaze moves up the sidewalk and stops. Aidan can't help the slight upward turn of his mouth as he sees her moving in his direction. It's an odd coincidence, because here, tonight, he's not actively looking for her; though he might admit to only himself that he has been a damn shade too curious and tried to find her before tonight. After all, Aidan doesn't like losing.

Hoping that she hasn't noticed him yet, Aidan stops and turns to gaze into the store window front. Of course it's a jewelry store and there's a couple next to him oozing over a set of matching wedding bands. He rolls his eyes in disgust and focuses on her approach simply to resist the urge to rip their throats out because he can.

~

There's no reason Jacintha would particularly notice Aidan amidst the crowd. The gushing young couple, yes. Simply because they're so damned saccharine. Their thoughts make her teeth ache and her stomach knot. In blocking them out, it doesn't occur to her she hasn't had to block the man beside them out. He's just one more warm body… isn't he?

His reflection in the storefront window causes her to glance back swiftly over her shoulder as she passes, feeling a sense of familiarity. But her steps carry her past swiftly enough that the fleeting familiarity never quite connects.

She continues her way down the street, pausing only as she its the corner and its red light.

~

It's too easy. Aidan doesn't know whether to be relieved or annoyed by how quickly her attention skips past him. He catches the eye of the female of the couple in the window and flashes her a smile with a full bit of fang and enough malice to make her gasp and step closer to her boyfriend. A blink of her eyes and the moment is gone, and Aidan is already moving on with a bemused smile dancing on his lips.

He's faster than a human, naturally. It's easy to weave swiftly through the crowd, dodging bodies until he slows only a few paces behind her. Then there's a moment of indecision and hesitation, and while he knows he could probably follow her for hours with her none the wiser, Aidan decides that tonight is night for being transparent. Or at least as transparent as he could ever pretend to be.

Aidan steps up beside her, hands in the deep pockets of his coat. He glances over, and cants his head, a broad smirk tugging at his lips. "Are you stalking me?"

~

A gasp catches almost silently in the back of Jacintha's throat, a slight flaring of her nostrils as her head jerks around to where the unexpected voice materializes. The fleeting surprise on her features disappears with practiced ease, schooled behind a coolly arched brows. "Stalking you?" she echoes simply. "I rather think you're stalking me…"

Her back straightens some and her shoulders square. She is careful to keep her gaze from directly meeting his own — a precaution more than an necessity — but cannot keep the hint of challenge from it as she raises her chin.

Any number of further comments flit across her mind, but she chooses not to voice them, instead watching him for his response.

~

Ah, the smell of surprise in the evening, Aidan simply loves it. His smile doesn't waver a bit as he watches her, the straightening of her back and shoulders, the delicate and determined lift and set of her chin. It bares just a hint of her neck from beneath the scarf, enough to tease him at the thought of the pulse Aidan knows flutters somewhere beneath the muffling material. If anything, his smile widens, a hint of smug satisfaction and renewed intrigue.

"Hardly so," Aidan drawls, a hint of the old Irish brogue working its way into his voice. "Though I must admit, I do find it rather fortuitous to encounter you like this. After you left me so very disappointed." His brows rose a bit and he dipped his head, seeking and waiting to catch her gaze. "I think that fate might be trying to tell us something."

~

"Indeed. And what might that be?" Jacintha replies, head canting lightly. Her hair is rolled against the back of her skull, and as a bit of wind picks up, she raises her collar against her cheeks. "Perhaps it's more indicative of the fact the city is much smaller place than most people believe."

The light changes, she begins to walk. If he wants to continue the conversation, he'll have to keep up. However, she does toss a dry comment back over her shoulder. "A little disappointment is healthy for a man such as you." Healthy for her where a man such as he is concerned, anyway.

~

There's a flicker of disappointment as she clutches her collar to her cheeks, though his eyes linger a hair too long on the pink that the cold, abrasive wind calls to the surface of her skin. Still the grin does not vanish at her retort. He quite likes the challenge she presents. "Or maybe it simply means that you really should give me a chance."

Keeping up is no problem for Aidan, even if he had been human. He's taller and his legs are longer. Long strides bring him to her side, and then he swivels, crossing in front of her and walking backwards, gracefully avoiding any oncoming pedestrians. In this way, he can face her though Aidan suspects she would rather that he didn't.

"No, that's not it at all. Disappointment only makes me more determined." Light dances in his eyes, a challenge of his own writ there. Yet, there remains nothing in his words or his mein that speaks of glamour or compulsion. His brows rise beseechingly, his voice low and dry like whiskey, "Just one drink. I won't bite." His smile is two parts rogue and one part innuendo.

~

The grace with which the man maneuvers backward amidst the throng crossing the zebra stripes is, in fact, a trifle irritating. And it's another nail in the proverbial coffin. Vampire. If she doubted it before, she's not so inclined to doubt it now. Risking being drawn too deeply into the morass of minds around her, she lowers her shields far enough to confirm, once again, that his mind remains unpenetrated by the automatic light scan her gifts require of her when she doesn't consciously prevent it. It would take a far stronger, purposeful push to breach that void — if it can be breached at all. And she has no inclination to push like that.

So, she begins a slightly more intensive scan of the street, seeking more friendly minds… colleagues perhaps on their way to the same destination as she, or Mundanes that can provide a suitable buffer. The latter, she has little compunction about sacrificing; the former may be of some aid. The strongest minds she knows are in the upper echelon of the Foundation, people she associates with daily… but they're either well away from here, or still back at the office. In either case, it would take quite the shout to reach them — a shout that would mentally disturb the entire street at the very least.

So, there's no choice, much to her inward annoyance, but to play the game.

Damned Vampire.

"What a relief," she says dryly, almost sarcastically, as they reach the curb and she steps away from the crossing. "Surely there are other females out there far more amenable to you than I… Aidan," she says, recalling his name and cursing herself for not discovering his last name to allow for greater formality. "I expect a man like you could have almost any woman you wanted. Why pursue me when I'm clearly not interested?" What's the phrase? Right:

"There are other fish in the sea…"

~

Crossing completed, Aidan turns fluidly on his heel. He falls into perfect step with her again, almost as though they were a pair intent on walking together and she wasn't doing her damnedest to convince him to cast his attentions elsewhere. Truthfully, Aidan can't fathom why he doesn't do precisely that. The city teems with humans: lonely humans, happy humans, drunk humans. Humans of all flavors and walks of life. It truly would take no more than a thought to pluck up one of them — for a meal or for the pursuit of his darker desires. So many of them would come willing too with no glamour and no mind tricks, just a bit of charm and a flirtatious smile. It is what he does and, after three centuries, Aidan is bloody good at it.

Maybe that is why this woman bothers him so. It isn't often that he crossed paths with someone immune to his charms. Once a quarter century, maybe less. Grace is a challenge and Aidan likes challenges.

Then also, there is the fact that she is suspicious of him. Aidan strongly suspects that she knows precisely what he is, and still she doesn't flee in the face of it. She holds her own with him. She throws out challenges with her words and body language, as if she is immune to that simple human fight or flight response, that primitive innate thing that makes humans quiver when they recognize they are faced with a predator and they are prey.

Aidan cants his head as he strolls beside her, casting his eyes skyward as though he is truly pondering her statement. When he looks back to her, his grin is tight, mischievous like a child with his hand caught in the sweets. "The lady doth protest too much methinks." A beat and he lowers his voice, again that dry whiskey whisper, "I stand by what I said. You are the most intriguing woman I've met in a while."

~

Oh, lucky me…

The dry thought remains hidden behind mental shields, though it may — perhaps — scuttle briefly just behind her grey eyes. Still, she actually does know how to play the game. But, not as prey. She is highly unaccustomed to being prey of any sort. And, that colours her responses. She doesn't like feeling like prey… and she can't miss the fact he's a predator who's singled her out.

Is it any wonder she's unhappy?

It's all she can do not to become openly surly. But, she's been too well-trained for that. Don't give ground; and don't go alone. Maxims to live, and stay alive, by.

Which means she needs to keep this charade public. Fine.

"Now, see…" she says, putting one of her own charming smiles. Again, she pauses, chin lifting again, eyes clear. "That sounds like flattery, but… you're so very obviously a player. How can I trust a word you say?"

~

Her smile softens her entire face and her eyes are a crystal, clear gray and Aidan nearly smirks when she meets his gaze evenly. It's been plainly clear as they've been walking that she is quite averse to meeting his eyes. Not an unwise decision, all things considered, but he has no interest in working his way into her mind. This way is much more fun and sporting.

"A very good point," Aidan concedes to her. He's not denying the accusation as he does tend to sport and support the very ideal of the rich playboy. It's an easy game to play, and one he happens to enjoy because it provides all sorts of fringe benefits. "I suppose you can't, not really. And you'd probably be foolish to take me at my word but…" Aidan lets the sentence trail off, waits a beat and then continues with a boyish smirk. "But if you weren't intriguing, what would be the point of all this?"

~

"Mm," Jacintha concedes dryly. "What indeed?"

She has no idea. To irritate the piss out of her, because it's sport? She's not sure it matters.

"In my experience," she says, almost airly, "most players find the game far more important than the pieces on the board." Perhaps he's not one of those sort, however. It's hard to say.

She continues walking again, deciding it might be wise to choose a different route than the one she had intended when she left the office. It seems prudent, really, for her not to lead the creature to her own front door. She considers alternate destinations, eventually selecting one that's still within reasonable walking distance and redirects away from her condo further along this street — so she's not making a noticeable adjustment just at this moment. Instead, it will be a gradual change that would still be within the bounds of 'plausible'.

~

Aidan laughs. It's a genuine, amused laugh that crinkles the corners of his eyes and makes him appear even more human. She's got spunk and a dry wit, both of which Aidan does appreciate. "That all depends on the pieces in play. I prefer to pay attention to each piece individually. They're all so unique that it's important to consider each of them for their own… merits." Normally, this would be the point where Aidan dumps on the flattery, layering prose about lips and hair until his target is blushing and squirming, but he suspects that Grace won't be swayed that easily. This woman certainly requires a change of tactics, but he believes himself to be up for the challenge.

"I happen to know a coffee shop not too far from here. It'll get us out of the cold." The consideration is for her as Aidan isn't really affected by the cold at all, and he suspects that once they reach her end destination, Grace will shut him down again, as unsettling as that thought is. He glances over and down at her, eyes beseeching.

~

Oh, he's that type of player. Grand.

"I'll give you one thing… sir." Once again, twisting her smile wryly and glancing away, she wishes for his bleeding last name and the formality it brings. "You're certainly persistent."

For a moment, she actually considers letting him buy her a damned coffee, just to be rid of him. But, she sincerely doubts it would rid her of him. Quite the contrary… she'd be stuck with him for sure, then.

"I can't say I'm actually very cold," she says evenly. "And it's not actually all that further to my destination. Again, the offer's very kind, but, really, I'm not interested."

A beat.

"You're just not my type."

Which, okay, is probably open for debate… but she's not admitting that.

~

"I've learned that sometimes a little persistence can go a long way," Aidan replies easily enough. He lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug, "And I've been told that my tenacity is one of my best traits." The boyish smirk is back in place now, because even if she won't have a bloody drink with him, this is actually more fun that easily bespelling some weak-willed uni student.

His feet do truly stop for a beat when she delivers the last, and his brows rise clear to his hairline. Aidan can count on one hand the number of times that he's heard those words, and there was only one time he really believed them. Of course, having a woman pointing a crossbow at your chest tends to be very convincing.

Aidan sucks in a breath and lets it out in a low, slow whistle. His smile is thin-lipped but mischievous when he looks back to her. "It's because I'm Irish, isn't it?"

~

Jacintha arches a quizzical brow. "Because you're Irish?" She lets out a short bark of a laugh that belies her next statement entirely. "Absolutely. Couldn't possibly stoop to that. A woman really must maintain her standards, after all."

Look. The ice queen can be flippant. Who knew?

"Now, if you'll excuse me…" She starts walking again, willing him to leave, but recognizing it's probably a vain hope. Even she doesn't buy that excuse.

Were he a psychic, and not a vampire, she might be tempted by him… even with him being as big a player as he obviously is. There's no doubt in her mind as to his promiscuity. She didn't need to read his mind in the club to know he was hunting a one night stand — and would have been even if he weren't a Vampire out for blood. And there are times, she'll admit privately in the deepest, darkest parts of her mind where even the deepest scans don't go, that she has no problem with the occasional one night stand to blow off a little steam.

So, yes. Were he not a blood-sucking fiend straight from Hell, she'd might actually take him up on the offer.

More's the pity, really…

~

It's Aidan's turn to arch a brow when she looses the flippant laughter. Aidan is not daft, and yes, he's persistent, but he does have enough experience in such things to know that there comes a time when one should employ a tactical retreat. As much as he is loathe to do it, knowing that he might never run into her again.

It annoys Aidan to have to surrender, or at least let her have this particular battle, but everything he knows about humans tells him that there's only so far that he should push this one. Too bad, really… I could have so much fun with her.

There is then the moment he considers playing his trump card, but it would be a hollow victory. Aidan enjoys the banter and the dry witticism. He doesn't get the pleasure of it very often, and he'd forgotten how amusing some humans could be. Especially when he's well-fed and not crawling out of his skin with boredom, and seeking less savory amusements.

"You win," Aidan keeps pace with her, his voice pitched low. He catches her eye again and gives her his most beguiling and charming smile. "I hope that you have a pleasant evening."

~

Jacintha actually stops at that. The surprise is clear on her face and in her body. "Hmn." She lets out the hum with a curious arch of her brow.

Okay. Did not expect that.

Some of the tension in her body eases. No, she doesn't trust him. But she's actually… impressed he's backing down.

Thus, drawing herself up to her full height — made just a little taller by her heels, she offers him a gracious nod of her head. "Thank you… Aidan. You as well. I'm sure you'll find… someone… more amenable to your advances." She even smiles at him, though she skates past his direct gaze.

"Do enjoy the rest of your evening."

A beat.

"Good hunting."

~

Aidan watches her face color with surprise, and can even sense the tension ebbing out of her body. It's written in little subtle things, the soft shift in the stacatto of her heartrate, the slower pace of her breathing, the way the blood seems to flow a bit more freely to her face. All lingering doubt about her being aware of his true nature are banished, and Aidan is impressed that she held her ground so long and so well with him. It almost makes him regret his decision to give up the game so early. But Kim has out feelers, so there is always the possibility that he can pick it up at later date.

He thinks that he might have just received the first genuine smile from her, and the reckless part of him twitches to push the envelope again. He ignores that urge, however, in favor of a gracious nod of his own. Whatever he intends to say, however dies on his lips with her last words. She's avoiding his gaze again, but Aidan can't resist the urge to step just a fraction closer to her, his blue eyes pouring intently over her face. "It's not going to be worth it. I've already found what I want." Then it's a step back, and quiet, ever so polite, "Have a good evening, Grace."

~

I've already found what I want.

Jacintha opens her mouth and takes a breath at those words, her heart quickening just a fraction as any sense of victory she might have had sighs away into a puff of ashes. She closes her mouth again, nods an acknowledgement to his final good night, and takes a step back before she turns to continue on her way to her alternate destination.

This so isn't over. She can tell.

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