Smiley Page 2

Vanni cringed inside. She wouldn’t be heartbroken if his father’s church faded into oblivion and hoped no one took to heart the crap she’d heard during dinner. The speech Pastor Gregory Woods had given had made her lose her appetite. She would have walked out if it hadn’t been for Carl. She’d tried to avoid an argument but hadn’t succeeded since a reporter had attempted to interview her right afterward. Her “no comment” remark had pissed Carl off and apparently his father as well.

“Shit,” Carl muttered. “Reporters at two o’clock. Get the hell out of here before they spot us.” He glanced down at her and his gaze narrowed. “Go upstairs and stay there until breakfast. We’ll discuss this in the morning.”

She spun away, eager to leave the banquet hall. The Carl she knew had radically changed once they’d arrived at the hotel and she wasn’t enjoying this new side of him. He’d been a first-rate dick. It made her seriously reconsider their future.

Pastor Gregory Woods’ personal assistant, Mable, was another nightmare for Vanni. The woman was rude and snooty. The idea of returning to the room they shared turned her away from the elevators. The bar sign beckoned. She strode toward it and entered the dimly lit area. The tables were occupied but she spotted an open barstool. She rarely drank and bars weren’t her scene.

The bartender caught her eye as he approached. He was in his mid-thirties and flashed a friendly smile. “What can I get you?”

Vanni smoothed the long skirt as she took a seat and shoved a hand inside her pocket, regretting leaving her purse in her room. She had a twenty-dollar bill and her room keycard though. Her license was in her wallet so she couldn’t prove her age if asked to show ID. Could my luck get any worse? “Just an iced tea but no lemon. Thanks.”

He nodded and turned away to fetch her drink. She kept her head down until someone cleared his throat to the left of her. She hoped it wasn’t some drunk about to hit on her—the reason she hated bars. One deep breath and she turned her head to face her fellow bar mate.

The gasp was automatic when she saw his features. It came as a shock to realize he wasn’t just any guy. He had the firm jawline, pronounced cheekbones and generous lips that told her he was New Species. Her gaze lowered to his jeans jacket and the way the sleeves were tight in the shoulder and upper arms. He wasn’t sporting the black NSO uniform that she’d spotted a few of them wearing from the brief glimpses she’d gotten of them in the lobby.

She lowered her gaze to glance at his jeans. They were molded to muscular thighs. Her attention jerked upward to gawk a little at his face again. I shouldn’t have asked. My luck can get worse. Panic struck her next. Carl would have a fit if someone spotted her sitting next to a New Species and told him or his father.

This New Species possessed lovely brown eyes with long dark eyelashes. He had silky black hair that fell just past his shoulders. He blinked before he spoke. “Are you all right? You’re really pale and your hands are shaking.”

His voice had a deep tone that sent chills down her spine. She wasn’t sure if it was from fear or because it was the kind of voice she found sexy. It was gruff, masculine and pleasant at the same time. She struggled to come up with an answer but acknowledged being tongue-tied.

He leaned in a little closer. “I’m not dangerous if that’s what you heard about my kind. I’d never attack you. Do you want me to go?” He tensed as if to get up from the stool.

“No!” She managed to speak. It made her feel a little guilty that he was ready to leave because of her deplorable reaction. “I was just surprised, that’s all. You’re fine where you are.”

He leaned back on his barstool. The bartender distracted her when he brought her iced tea and dropped off a dark-colored drink to the New Species. She withdrew the twenty. “I’ll pay for both of them. Keep the change.” It was the least she could do after making him uncomfortable.

“You don’t have to do that.”

The bartender fled and she faced the man with the whiskey voice. His nose was wider than most but his eyes were striking with the long dark eyelashes. Beautiful, even. “Call it my version of an apology. My mood has nothing to do with you. I’ve been on edge all day.”

He lifted his drink and took a sip. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He put down his drink, ran his palm over his thigh then offered it to her. “I’m Smiley.”

Her still-stunned mind scrambled for the definition of the word. Rumors speculated they picked their names to reflect their personalities. It was a nice one. “Vanni.”

His hand was large and warm. He took hers very gently, shook it and released her. “Vanni is a pretty name.”

“It stands for Travanni. My mother had a thing for weird names. I hate it. All my life I’ve just gone by Vanni.” She sipped her tea, trying not to babble. She did that when she was nervous and speaking to a New Species made her very much so. “My poor sister got stuck with Mortimia. She usually refuses to tell people her full name and just goes by Mia. We are certain that my mom was obsessed with vampires.”

He appeared a little confused. “I don’t understand.”

She smiled. “Travanni reminds me of Transylvania, home of Dracula. Mortimia, well, Mort translates into dead. Mia translates into me. Dead me.”

He chuckled now. It was a nice sound. “I see. Are there any other siblings with strange names?”

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