New York City in the early summer was warm but the air around our small little group was nice with a small bite of chill to it. Little lines formed around Mia’s mouth as she frowned at me. “Nox, stop showing off.”

I gave my best friend’s wife a wide toothy grin. “I’m not. It’s fucking hot out here.”

“It’s only June. What’s July and August gonna be like?” Jace complained. “Just be thankful he’ll be around to make our weather change. Outdoor air conditioning.” Mia’s arm was a blur of speed as she slugged her husband with a smile. “Ow!” Jace said rubbing his arms and grinning like a fool.

Jace swept Mia in tight against his body and kissed her. I turned around and surveyed the line – giving them at least a modicum of privacy. I could have given them complete privacy, but throwing up a veil just to hide what every other couple was doing as we stood in line at Club Aspect felt pointless.

It was my birthday weekend. Jace and I had been going to this club the Friday before my birthday every year since we turned 16. I could have walked up to the bouncer, flashed him my drivers license and flirted with him to get in to the club. It was an Aspect tradition. The bouncers usually only did it for girls, but the bouncer on the door tonight was just as into men flirting with him as the girls. Or at least he used to be, in my younger years it was exactly what I did.

But now I wasn’t sneaking into Club Aspect against Dae’lin and Dorian’s wishes; I was not eager to get inside the club. Outside was quieter and we could talk. It’s funny how growing up makes being able to talk one of the defining points of any outing. But we were here to celebrate my birth. It was a tradition.

Fingers entwined between my long fingers and I turned to see Mia. She reached up and ran her fingers through my chocolate brown hair with the fringe dyed sapphire blue. The hair color matched my nail polish and my shirt. She smiled up at me with her big brown eyes. I was happy for Jace, he settled down with the love of his life. They dated each other on and off for so many years it felt funny to have them together for so long. But they were happily married with kid number one. They were talking about kid number two.

Jace was all for it, but he came from a large family. Mia on the other hand was like most Venatori – one sibling and raised inside of the Apex Unlimited building by the community.

I’d been getting hounded for the past few months, my deadline for procreation was approaching. The Venatori unlike humans are a small contained race. We don’t limit procreation but we require it, and after graduation you were given 5 years to create a progeny of your own devices. If you failed to follow through on it during those 5 years, they would hound you and make you look for a partner that fifth year. That’s where I was.

Dr. Hillary Silas had been sending me emails and texts. She stalked my every move trying to get me to decide. The fact that I was half human had a big impact on the women who would sleep with me to make a child. However, being the most powerful Cesari offset that for some, but not for others. I only had to choose a girl, like it was that simple. I’d been avoiding it, and I was more than happy to ignore it tonight.

Mia put her hand around my neck which meant she had to stand on her tip toes and pulled me down to her level. “You so need a drink.”

I grinned at her. “I just need to get lost in the music with some random girl or guy and I’ll be good. No need to drown in alcohol when the music will do the same thing.” Dancing was one of the few things that calmed my anxieties. Dae’lin didn’t sanction it, she told me it was a foolish endeavor when I was growing up. But both Dorian and Margo encouraged it. They didn’t encourage my sneaking out to learn, nor my sneaking out to go to clubs to dance, but they encouraged the natural release – it was better than drinking or drugs.

Mia tugged on my hand and laughed. “Well that’s good birthday-boy cause we are up.”

Jace leaned against the red velvet rope that separated us from the entrance. He winked at the bouncer and put his wide hand on the bouncers bicep and smiled. He laid on the southern charm including that southern accent he kept hidden most of the time. “Ain’t that sexy.” He squeezed the man’s arm, but he shook Jace off with ease.

Mia laughed and dropped my hand to pull her husband away from the bouncer. “Don’t mind him, he’s not drunk enough yet to be smooth.”

Jace frowned. “Hey. I’m smooth.” My best friend turned with his blue eyes and his disheveled blond hair and a playful grin then said, “Ain’t I Nox. I’m smooth.”

Mia rolled her eyes. “Let him sweet talk the bouncer, Jace, you suck at it.”

“We are next. Why do I need to sweet talk anyone?” I complained. I didn’t see the point of flirting with the bouncer.

Mia goaded me, “Oh, come on Nox. Show us how you do it.”

I sighed but relented. With a wide smile and bright eyes I held my drivers license between two fingers and I laid the two painted fingers against the man’s arm. Unlike Jace, I would only do the barest amount of touching to a man with questionable strength. I wasn’t super strong like Jace, this man had arms the size of my legs and he could break me in half like a twig if he so wanted.

I knew my eyelashes were a defining feature – or so many girls informed me with ‘I wish I had your eyelashes’. And the eyeliner I wore around my eyes only made that more apparent. The small gesture had brought the bouncer’s attention with ease. There was no need to bat pretty eyelashes when you could just smile with your eyes.

I leaned across the red velvet rope and pressed my chest against his arm. If I’d been a girl, it would have worked better, but it was the closeness I wanted as I whispered into his ear. “It’s my birthday. Mind if you let us on in now, Duckling?”

The big black bouncer chuckled and took my drivers license from my hand with a smile. “It’s not till Sunday.” Jace was reaching into his pocket for his wallet, a big tip might let us in. But it wasn’t part of the game to get in. I put my hand on his arm to ask him to wait. The bouncer was watching me with coal black eyes.

“What would let you let us in early?” I asked with a sideways grin. I knew the answer already.

The man on the other side of the rope said, “You kiss your friends here and given the crowd a little show. I’ll let you in.”

Mia and Jace both laughed. “Seriously, that’s all?”

The man must have thought that I wouldn’t go through with it because he laughed with them. “You know the rules.” And we did. I’d seen it happen. A guy tries to flirt with the male bouncer to get in early and when the request for them to kiss another man came they’d be like all ‘oh I don’t do that’. I wasn’t most guys, I did.

I grinned at him and I offered Mia my hand first and she took it with grace. Her skin was soft against my fingers and I pulled her close to kiss her deeply. It wasn’t much of a show – but he said my friends here, which included Mia.

The bouncer laughed, “That wasn’t what I meant.”

I broke the kiss with Mia and she was looking up at me with those big brown eyes breathless. We’d never dated, but we had slept together – with Jace, but still we’d done so much more than kiss before, but we hadn’t since before they had gotten married. I grinned. “I know. I’m just getting started.”

Jace made a game of it. He hid behind Mia but she helped me as I grabbed his grey t-shirt and pulled him against me. He came with the gentle tug – he had wanted me to catch him. His blue eyes were sparkling with desire. Jason and I had never had sex. We’d been in the same bed with girls and guys. We’d touched each other and even spent the night alone together in the same bed. But we’d never done more than what I was about to do right now. I licked my lips and the sparkle in Jace’s eyes grew into a dark lust filled look.

I closed the gap between our lips and we kissed. The surrounding crowd cheered but my mind was on the man before me. The way his lips felt against mine. The taste of dinner lingering on his tongue as they danced inside our mouths. I tried to break away but Jace kept me close deepening the kiss. My heart raced and my breath was quickening. Jace knew how I liked it.

He broke the kiss and pressed his forehead against mine. “Happy Birthday, bro.”

I gave Jace a peck on the lips and smiled at my best friend. “Thanks.”

The bouncer behind us cleared his throat. “I’m feeling left out after a kiss like that.”

I laughed and winked at Jace before I turned around and laid a kiss deep on the big black man’s lips. He gasped and stiffened as I did it but he relaxed into it and then I felt a hand along my waist line pulling me closer. When the kiss broke he laughed. “I will remember you next time.”

I whispered into his ear as I walked past the now removed red velvet rope. “It helps when you like boys.”

He laughed hard as we walked through. I handed the man a twenty. “Been a pleasure.” I dropped my arm in front of me and I bowed with a flourish. And turned on my heel and went into the club. The music grew louder and Mia pulled me down close so she could whisper in my ear. “We’ll catch up with you in an hour. See what your plans are.”

I laughed into her ear and placed a tender kiss on her cheek, “I’m going home with you and Jace tonight. When you guys are ready to go just let me know.”

She stopped and looked up at me with confusion and Jace leaned down and whispered something in his wife’s ear. She smiled and nodded and then whispered in my ear. “Okay, we’ll find you when we are ready to go home. Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do.” Mia giggled as Jace dragged her off on to the dance floor. I watched my best friend and his wife disappear into the mass of bodies moving to the beat of the music.

The Last Phoenix (in order)