"What's the occasion?"
Curran's blond eyebrows came together. "Does there have to be a special occasion for me to take you out to dinner?"
He leaned to me. "I missed you and I got tired of waiting for you to come home. Come grab a bite with me."
Grabbing a bite sounded heavenly, except Andrea would be stuck here by herself. "I have to wait for the Biohazard to get here to pick up the jellyfish."
"I've got it," Andrea offered. "Go, there is no use in the two of us sitting here. I have some stuff I need to take care of anyway."
"I can sign forms just as well as you," Andrea informed me. "And my signature doesn't look like scratches of a drunken chicken in the dirt."
"My signature is just fine, thank you very much."
"Yeah, yeah. Go have some fun."
"I need a shower," I told Curran. "I'll see you in ten minutes."
*** *** ***
It was Friday, eight o'clock on a warm spring night, my hair was brushed, my clothes were clean and slime-free, and I was going out with the Beast Lord. Curran drove. He did it very carefully, concentrating on the road. I had a feeling he learned to drive when he was older. I drove carefully too, mostly because I expected the car to fail on me at any second.
I glanced at Curran in the driver seat. Even at rest, like he was now, relaxed and driving, he emanated a kind of coiled power. He was built to kill, his body a blend of hard, powerful muscle and supple quickness and something in the way he carried himself telegraphed a shocking potential for violence and an entitlement to use it. He seemed to occupy a much larger space than his body permitted and he was impossible to ignore. This promise of violence used to scare me, so I'd bait him until some of it came out. Now I just accepted him, the way he accepted my need to sleep with a sword under my bed.
Curran caught me looking. He flexed, letting the carved muscles bulge on his arms, and winked. "Hey baby."
I cracked up. "So where we're going?"
"Arirang," Curran said. "It's a nice Korean place, Kate. They have charcoal grills at the tables. They bring you meat and you cook it any way you want."
Figured. Left to his own devices, Curran consumed only meat, punctuated with an occasional desert. "That's nice for me, but what will your vegetarian Majesty eat?"
Curran gave me a flat look. "I can always drive to a burger joint instead."
"Oh, so you'd throw a burger down my throat and expect making out in the back seat?"
He grinned. "We can do it in the front seat instead, if you prefer. Or on the hood of the car."
"I'm not doing it on the hood of the car."
"Is that a dare?"
"Keep your mind on the road, your Furriness."
The city rolled by, twisted by magic, battered and bruised but still standing. The night swallowed the ruins, hiding the sad husks of once mighty, tall buildings. New houses flanked the street, constructed by hand with wood, stone and brick to withstand magic's jaws.
I rolled down the window and let the night in. It floated into the car, bringing with spring and a hint of wood smoke from a distant fire. Somewhere a lone dog barked out of boredom, each woof punctuated by a long pause, probably to see if the owners would let him in.
Ten minutes later we pulled into a long empty parking lot, guarded by old office buildings that now housed Asian shops. A typical stone building with huge store-front windows sat at the very end, marked by a sign that read Arirang.
"This is the place?"
"Mhm," Curran said.
"I thought you said it was a Korean restaurant." For some reason I had expected a hanok house with a curved tiled roof and a wide front porch.
"It looks like Western Sizzlin." In fact, it probably used to be Western Sizzlin.
"Will you just trust me? It's a nice place..." Curran braked, and the Pack Jeep screeched to a stop.
Two skeletally thin vampires sat at the front of the restaurant, tethered to the horse rail with chains looped over their heads. Pale, hairless, dried like leathery jerky, the undead stared at us with mad glowing eyes. Death had robbed them of their cognizance and will, leaving behind mindless body shells driven only by bloodlust. On their own, the bloodsuckers would slaughter anything alive and keep killing until nothing breathing remained. Their empty minds made a perfect vehicle for necromancers, who telepathically navigated them like remote controlled cars.
Curran glared at the undead through the windshield. Ninety percent of the vampires belonged to the People, a weird hybrid of a corporation and a research institute. We both despised the People and everything they stood for.
I couldn't resist. "I thought you said this was a nice place."
He leaned back, gripped the steering wheel and let out a long growling, "Argh."
"Who the hell stops at a restaurant while navigating?" Curran squeezed the wheel a little. It made a groaning noise.
I shrugged. "Maybe the navigators were hungry."
He gave me an odd look. "This far away from the Casino means they're out on patrol. What, did they suddenly get the munchies?"
"Curran, ignore the damn bloodsuckers. Let's go and have a date anyway."
He looked like he wanted to kill somebody.
The world blinked. Magic flooded us like an invisible tsunami. The neon sign above the restaurant withered and a larger brilliant blue sign ignited above it, made from hand-blown glass and filled with charged air.