She jammed the mascara wand into her left eye, causing it to water spitefully, streaking her foundation. The tissue that she applied with trembling hands succeeded only in smearing her eyeliner as well, and with a soft curse, she flung it to the floor.
She stared at the magazine before her. She had examined its pages with her precise and thorough mind, and had followed its instructions exactly. But she still looked plain. A creature of angles, not curves. Her hips jutted, and her chest was unblessed with any feminine abundance. Even her features were sharp.
Yet – to her astonishment and grateful surprise – she had a date in twenty minutes. Just twenty.
In a room across town, a man checked his watch and remembered her. He remembered her as neither sexy nor exciting, but the fact that he remembered her at all revealed his instincts, his predatory talent for culling the loneliest, and therefore the weakest, from the herd.
The mirror reflected his face with flat, silver approval. He was good-looking, quite handsome in a carefully groomed way. A man who could afford some generosity when choosing a date. He knew how to dress, how to speak and spend.
He had met her in a lounge, a dark spot on the other edge of town. It had been crowded that night, yet the stools on both sides of her had been empty. A sure sign. He had noticed her awkwardness, her nervousness, the way she’d accepted his invitation too quickly. Dinner and a movie. Yes, she’d said. Yes. Trying to disguise her relief.
He hoped it would go well. Easily. It probably would. He didn’t think he’d have to kill her, which was good. Bodies posed problems. The women he chose were usually not dangerously loud, a knife at the throat being ample incentive for silence. They might whimper, plead, moan, or even collapse in terror, but they rarely screamed, not even when he slit their blouses and camisoles, carving the clothes from their trembling bodies, leaving the fabric in a wounded pile on the floor.
When he was done, they cried. Never screamed. Just cried.
She absently chewed a lock of brown hair, a stray tendril that had escaped from the knotted bun at the back of her neck.
“He must come,” she thought. “I don’t know what I’ll do if he doesn’t.”
She suddenly realized how much his coming meant to her and she was sickened at her dependency.
Less than ten minutes. She took a deep breath, smoothed back her hair.
He was coming. Of course he was.
He examined the flowers he’d picked out. Flowers made women smile, and smiling women were less defensive, less suspicious. Roses were always a safe choice, but this time he’d opted for pink carnations with some delicate sprays of baby’s breath. The bouquet suited her.
He patted his pockets gentle, and the clean smooth line of the blade. Nodding in satisfaction, he turned off all the lights and popped a breath mint.
She seemed like a nice girl. He really hoped she didn’t scream.
She heard the knock, but didn’t move for several long seconds. She was trembling, and she hesitated both to collect herself and to dispel any suggestion of desperation.
She opened the door only a sliver, but he slid in as easily as a shadow. She smelled him – cologne and mint and something else. She watched his hand slide into his pocket. She saw the gleam in his eye.
He smiled. “Are you ready?”
She nodded, reached for the door. But he stopped her. And she figured it out then, what he meant. What he was ready for. They weren’t going out. She wasn’t sure she was reading him correctly, though – she wasn’t used to it being this easy – but the thought that maybe, just this once, it was going to be…
Relief flooded her. “I’m ready,” she said.
She fell upon him then with ferocious eagerness, fangs bared. He sharply sucked in his last breath just as she yanked his head back and sliced his throat open with an odd lateral stroke. The blood bubbled hot and sprayed into her mouth as she slammed him backwards against the wall. So intense, so demanding was her hunger that she barely noticed when he slumped heavily to the floor. She knew only the blood, and continued her desperate feeding sprawled across his crumpled body like a lover.
After many minutes, she was finally filled, and she sat up in embarrassment at the mess in her apartment, at the red floor and red walls and red streaks down her dress. She breathed slowly out of habit, not necessity. Deep breathing had calmed her in life and in undeath, she resorted to it again.
She noticed the flowers then, pink blossoms blood-freckled and crushed. Carnations. Her favorite. How had he known?
She stood, picking up the bouquet as she straightened her body. She licked the dark drops from the petals and sighed. If only she’d waited a few more hours, she’d have gotten a movie too.
Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in the Georgia Low Country. Her Tai Randolph/Trey Seaver series — featuring intrepid gunshop owner Tai and her corporate security agent partner Trey — has garnered starred reviews in Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.