There is live music playing at one end of the bar when Zaira enters the waterfront establishment. Pairs of male eyes follow her as she walks closer to the music and selects a bar stool next to a thirty-something guy in a sports jacket. She removes the short sable jacket from her shoulders and drapes it over the back of her bar stool. This is a nice bar, but fairly local with a lot of regulars, and the music is not so loud that conversation is not possible. She’s hoping she won’t have to go down market this evening.
“What’ll you have?” the raspy-voiced female bartender asks her pleasantly. “Nice necklace,” she adds, surveying Zaira’s choker of black pearls.
Zaira thanks her with a nod and orders a gin and tonic. When the drink arrives, she swirls its swizzle stick and looks up at the large flat television screen above the bar. Monday night football. She’s hoping this ploy will give the guy in the sports jacket the opportunity to appraise her more thoroughly. He does.
She turns toward him and smiles. “Have you been to a Pat’s game this season?
“I’m taking a client to one next week. You like football?”
Zaira crosses her legs and takes a tiny taste of her drink. “When the game is close it’s exciting. Otherwise, no.”
She can smell his rising pheromones. Will it be too marked in this North Shore pub to be seen leaving with the guy after just one drink? She dare not drink a second without a blood chaser. She’s not known to the locals, so it’s probably okay to pick up the pace.
She swings toward the man on her stool. He’s dazzled by the cut of her strapless black dress, her smoky almond eyes that tilt upwards at the corners, alluring and exotic outliers on the bell curve of human beauty. She’s hooked him and she’s reeling him in with a quiet, polished expertise.
She’s vaguely aware of people seating themselves to her left at the bar, a woman and a man. The woman bumps Zaira’s sable jacket as she seats herself. The expensive fur slides to the floor. The woman picks it up and restores it to the back of Zaira’s stool and dispenses an energetic apology.
“I’m so sorry! What a gorgeous jacket.”
Decorum demands that Zaira acknowledge the woman and absolve her, which she does promptly, intent on resuming her hunt. But the woman has caught her eye and doesn’t release it immediately. She shakes her head in mock disgust and points to her companion, a polished-looking guy in a turtleneck sweater. “He can’t take me anywhere,” the woman quips, still in mia culpa mode about her knockdown of the fur. Her blue eyes widen. “Aren’t you the gal who bought the old Pearson property about a year ago? We’re just up the road in the yellow Queen Anne. I thought you looked familiar.”
Zaira is caught off guard. Have they been watching her comings and goings? Flustered, she tells the woman, “I’m not around very much, I’m afraid. It’s a weekend place mostly.”
“I’ve seen you at the Salem commuter station,” the woman continues. She’s now on a mission to get to know her neighbor better: an interesting neighbor who wears jeans to work and sables to a bar on a Monday night.
It’s hopeless. Having barely touched her gin and tonic Zaira settles her bill, and gives a hasty farewell to the blue-eyed woman. She doesn’t make eye contact again with the guy in the sports jacket, who is probably wondering what he did wrong.
Zaira drives on to Lynn and looks for a dive, a place she is certain that none of her tony Marblehead neighbors will patronize. Too bad, Sports Jacket looked healthy and young, a quickie feast for certain.
The place she finds has loud music from a CD player. There is a short pool table in the back; two men are standing there with pool queues and make occasional shots while they drink their beers. The four other customers in the bar, all male, are distributed along the bar like birds on a wire, silently hunkered down over their drinks. It’s a dismal little place and Zaira knows she looks like a total incongruity. She walks boldly up to the bar, sits down and orders another gin and tonic. She’ll need to make her choice quickly here, but make sure he’s also had enough to drink. She doesn’t want a struggle tonight.
She finds her quarry. He’s one of the pool players, a fisherman in his early twenties who has been knocking back a lot of beer with whiskey chasers. When he notices the strapless black dress and red hair at the bar he leaves the pool game and comes straight over to investigate.
Zaira turns to welcome him, and he slides onto the bar stool next to her, still testing the waters of his apparent lucky night. Zaira realizes she has created a minor drama in this little bar with her surfeit of glamour, but she is far more determined than embarrassed and presses on, locking eyes with the guy in faux fascination at his banal, inebriated banter.
They leave together and she hooks her arm through his to steady him as they walk toward her car parked two blocks away. He makes a couple of fumbled efforts to kiss her along the way, but he’s easy to manage without thwarting his enthusiasm.
“I love the ocean at night, don’t you?” She offers this trite bait as she turns over the Carerra’s brawny engine.
“Baby, the sea is my life!” he whisper-shouts at her, sending a blast of whiskey breath toward her. She gives him a dazzling, powerful smile that subdues him a little, while she pulls away from the curb and heads for the water and a deserted beach.
Zaira parks the car along a stretch of road in Swampscott. The tide is out, and there is a long stretch of muddy sand and rock below, accessible by steps. She descends the steps with the young sailor, who has his arm clasped tightly around her waist, his face pressed against her shoulder and red hair. It’s late and her acute night vision sweeps the beach ahead. There are no evening beachcombers to be seen. Good.
She lets the guy apply his drunken caresses to her as they walk along the damp sandy strand, farther and farther from the lights. With a quick light gesture she removes the caps that have been covering her canine teeth and tosses them onto the sand. She is no longer bothering with conversation, her attention wholly focused on the right moment for the strike. It’s now.
Zaira stops in the sand, and the sailor, misinterpreting her action, pulls her to him and then begins to take her to the ground as he nuzzles her neck and chest. She seizes him by his biceps, gripping him fiercely and looking into his eyes, beginning the mesmerization. He stares into her eyes, his lips parted, his body softening, wilting under her power. She lowers him to the ground and lies over him, holding the back of his head with one hand, and palpating his jugular vein with the other. She lowers her face to his neck, her red mouth now wide open, and suddenly sinks her teeth into his throat. The man’s momentary struggle is but a twitch; he lies prone in her arms, and she takes long, sensuous draws of the fresh pulsing blood. It tastes incredibly wonderful after the bottled fare she’s been living on. She wants to gorge, but she needs to be careful not to fatally bleed him. The deep pleasure of the experience activates her hormones and, gradually, she begins to feel sated, instinctively licking the wound. Her frothy saliva, now rich in natural coagulants, stops the flow of venal blood.
She rolls off the sailor and with easy strength pulls him upright and drags him, still unconscious, along the sand toward the protected rocks of the cliff. She finds a large flat rock and sets him down on it and positions him sideways on it with his face pointing away from the wind. The tide won’t start coming in for another two hours, and he’ll wake up in less than twenty minutes. For a moment she considers leaving her sable jacket draped around his shoulders for extra warmth, then remembers the woman in the bar who admired it. A neighbor. It could be traced to her too easily. Zaira checks the man’s pulse and his breathing. He’ll be cold when he wakes up, but he’s young and strong. He won’t freeze here in his leather jacket.
Zaira, high heels in hand, walks barefooted across the dark beach toward the staircase that leads up the cliff. She licks traces of blood from her mouth, and feels the familiar surge of rejuvenating exuberance, the ancient ecstasy that one only experiences after a fresh draw. Will Sandor ever allow himself to discover this?
— to be continued —