Michael McKenna counts his time as a vampire in months, not centuries, but two of the most powerful vampires in the New World are dead at his hands.
That victory came with a cost. Friendships are frayed. Relationships are broken. Friends are dead. And Caitlin …
Now Dermot and Siobhan, the only creatures cruel enough to earn Liam’s gift of immortality, are seeking revenge for the death of their Sire. Michael must battle back against this new threat, show the ropes to two fledgling vampires, and shoulder the responsibilities of being the most powerful vampire in St. Troy.
Miami was freaking beautiful.
Going there was the best decision Kelly ever made. She wasn’t sure that she would ever actually graduate college–there were way too many beach parties to spend her time studying–but she was going to have a hell of a four years regardless. She was wearing a hot pink bikini that absolutely shone against her now-bronze skin. She needed to buy a few more, actually; she hadn’t worn real clothes in three days, and she was running out of bathing suits.
She’d had the best of intentions when she enrolled, honestly. She was going to become a marine biologist, help save the dolphins and the sea turtles and all that stuff. But it turned out that marine biology was a lot more about chemistry and anatomy and a lot less about swimming with cute critters.
Kelly dove into the pool. The splash of water briefly drowned out the music, but she could still feel the thump thump thump of the bass. She surfaced–she’d practiced coming out of the water without letting her hair get in her face, like the girls on TV–and crossed the pool in five quick strokes. The water ran down her skin like a waterfall when she stepped out of the pool, and Kelly hoped that she looked at least half as good as those girls in the movie always do.
“Lisa?” she called out. Kelly had just seen her roommate over–there she was. On the bar, of course. Not at the bar, but on it. Some guy had just poured a shot into her belly button and was slurping it out. Lisa howled and laughed, then rolled off the bar and kissed him.
“Hey tramp,” Kelly said to her.
“What’s up hussy?” Lisa said, then grabbed her around the neck, pulled her in, and kissed her full on the mouth. She tasted like rum. Kelly flinched, but when she heard all the guys starting to cheer, she mentally shrugged and kissed Lisa back.
“Hop up on the bar,” Lisa said. “I wanna do a shot.”
“I don’t …” Kelly began, but again the guys started to holler. “Oh, all right,” she said sheepishly.
She rolled up onto the bar. Lisa held out a wedge of lime for Kelly to grab with her teeth, then poured a line of salt between Kelly’s breasts. “Whoa there,” Kelly mumbled, but Lisa just winked at her.
Lisa poured the shot in Kelly’s navel. It wasn’t as cold as she anticipated, and Lisa’s tongue felt a lot more sensual than she had expected. Kelly ran her tongue from Kelly’s navel, up her stomach, and between her breasts, licking up the salt, then she grabbed the lime wedge from between Kelly’s teeth.
“I think you’re supposed to lick the salt first, love,” an accented voice said.
“Oh whatever. It’s not like you can screw up a … oh,” Lisa said.
The guy had just gotten out of the pool, and water dripped tantalizingly down his skin. His hair was a wet mess, too, but in a cute, almost roguish way. He had sparkling eyes and a cocky smile, and he looked like he belonged in the water. There wasn’t a gram of fat anywhere on his body, and his muscles were long and full without being bulky.
He was also the palest guy Kelly had seen since she moved to Florida. Seriously, the guy looked like he hadn’t gone outside in weeks. She had no idea how it was even possible to be that pale in this state.
“Why, uh,” Kelly said. Damn it, there was no reason to be so nervous. It was just a guy. A really hot guy, but a guy all the same. He was probably more nervous around her than she was around him. Right. “Why don’t you show us how it’s done?” Kelly finished, laying back down on the bar and offering him the salt shaker.
The guy took the salt shaker and set it back down on the bar. “I don’t drink … tequila.”
“Oh yeah?” Lisa said, wrapping her arms around him. “What do you drink?”
“Oh, something sweet and red, usually,” the guy said. “I’m Dermot, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Dermot. I’m Lisa, this is Kelly, and we’d love to take your clothes off.”
Well Jesus, Lisa. Why don’t you tell him how you really feel? “I’m sorry,” Kelly said, “my friend is really drunk.”
“That’s all right, love,” Dermot said. “No offense taken, no harm done.”
“Don’t listen to her,” Lisa said. “I’m only tipsy, and Kelly is a prude. I think she just needs to get laid, what about you?”
“Dermot? Who are your friends?”
Lisa turned her head toward the voice and saw the most beautiful redhead she had ever laid eyes on. The girl was about five and a half feet tall, almost as tall as Dermot, and in equally fine condition. Her body was long and lithe, and she moved with the graceful self-assurance of a jungle cat. Her skin–and it was pretty much all on display–was as white as Dermot’s, and her modesty was maintained–barely–by postage-stamp sized bits of emerald fabric held in place by extraordinarily thin floss. The girl’s hair, which was done up to keep it dry, shimmered like burning copper.
“Siobhan,” Dermot said, his eyes brightening. His smile could blind you. “This is Lisa, and this is Kelly. We were just getting to know each other.”
“And what was it you were saying about stripping off his knickers?” Siobhan asked.
“Oh, boy,” Kelly said. The last thing they needed was a cat fight. “Look, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean anything.”
“Because I was just thinking,” Siobhan said as if Kelly hadn’t spoken, “that Dermot has been wearing clothes for far too long.”
“Now that’s what I like to hear,” Lisa said, wrapping her arms around Dermot’s neck.
“One condition,” Siobhan said. “Actually, two.”
“Yeah?” Lisa asked. “What are they?”
“One, I get to play along. And two,” she said, looking at Kelly, “you have to join us.”
Kelly’s eyes went wide, and suddenly she found herself unable to speak. Or think. Or breathe.
“What do you say, tramp?” Lisa asked her. “Wanna party?”
“Lisa, I don’t …” Her eyes scanned back and forth, from Lisa to Dermot to Siobhan. All of them were staring at her. And all of them seemed dead serious.
“Oh come on. We’ve always talked about a threesome!” Lisa said. And that was true, but it was always a joke. Something to get the boys all spun up. Wasn’t it? Sure, Lisa was hot, but they were roommates. She’d have to look at Lisa the next day. Every day.
Siobhan pressed close against Lisa. Her skin was cool and supple. “Come on, love,” she said, “give us a kiss.”
And then she pressed her mouth against Kelly’s, and the last bit of hesitation melted away. What the hell, right? She was young, she was drunk, and she was only going to be in college once.
“Our room is back this way,” Lisa said, and grabbed Siobhan by the hand.
They practically ran up the stairs, and Lisa wasn’t moving fast enough for Dermot’s taste, so he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. The guy was strong. He was able to run faster than Kelly even with Lisa over his shoulder. Siobhan watched him race past, a grin on her face. She looked almost hungry.
“I can’t seem to find my key,” Lisa said. “It’s somewhere in my bikini, I’m sure of it. Would you mind helping me look?”
“Gladly, love,” Dermot said with a grin. He stepped in front of her and pushed her against their dorm room door. Lisa closed her eyes and moaned, and a few seconds later Dermot held up the key.
“Thanks, handsome,” Lisa said. She kissed him, grabbed the key, and led them inside.
Their dorm had never felt so intimidating before. It felt huge and exposed now, like there was nowhere to hide. Kelly’s cheeks burned red. God, was she really going to do this?
“We haven’t been properly introduced yet,” Dermot said to her. He gently cupped her head in one hand, placed the other on her ass, and pulled her in for a kiss. God, he tasted wonderful. Kelly’s stomach flipped at his touch.
“Hey,” Lisa pouted, “what about me?”
“Hush love,” Siobhan said, “there’s enough to go around. My boy has stamina.”
“I’ll bet he does,” Lisa said, looking Dermot up and down like she was deciding which piece she wanted to eat first. She pressed up against Dermot and nibbled at his ear.
Dermot laughed and stepped aside, pressing Lisa and Kelly together. Lisa pouted again, but then shrugged her shoulders and gave Kelly a hot, wet kiss. Kelly had to admit that, as weird as it was, it was also kind of a turn on.
Dermot pressed up against Kelly’s back, and Siobhan pressed up against Lisa. They joined hands, pressing everyone together, a hot little sandwich. Lisa’s mouth was moving all over Kelly. Siobhan was feathering kisses over Lisa’s shoulders and neck. And Dermot …
Kelly’s bikini top fell away, and Dermot’s hands were all over her. Kelly leaned back against him and moaned. Lisa’s head dipped down, like she was licking more salt off Kelly’s skin, but there was no fabric in the way this time …
“Ouch,” Lisa said. Her head jumped back up. “What did–damn it, I’m bleeding!”
Siobhan wiped a drop of blood off her lip and smirked. “Sorry, love. I play a bit rough sometimes.”
“Yeah, well, let’s keep this vanilla,” Lisa said. “As vanilla as a foursome with your roommate ever gets.”
“Cross my heart,” Siobhan said and slid her hands up Lisa’s legs.
Kelly’s eyes closed as Lisa began kissing her again … until she felt a sharp pinch in her shoulder. “Ow, I–what the hell? Why do you two keep biting us?” A small trickle of blood ran down from her shoulder.
“Sorry love,” Dermot said. “We’re both a bit mischievous.”
“Whatever,” Kelly said. “This was obviously a mistake.” She walked toward the door and swung it open. “So why don’t you two …”
Dermot and Siobhan doubled over, clutching their hearts. They fell to their knees, their faces writhing in pain. They screamed, the most terrible, pained, mournful sound Kelly had ever heard.
“Geez, guys,” Lisa said, “if it means that much to you, you can stay.”
“Liam!” Dermot cried out.
“Oh God, it can’t be,” Siobhan said.
Dermot groaned. “It’s not possible!”
“What? Who’s Liam?” Kelly asked. “What happened? Are you two …”
She stopped talking. She stopped thinking. Dermot was staring at her. What little color his skin had faded away, leaving him the color of bleached bones. His eyes were blood red. And his teeth, God, his teeth …
Siobhan stood up suddenly, grabbed Lisa’s hair, and twisted. Lisa’s neck snapped, and her body fell to the ground.
Kelly screamed. Dermot stalked toward her, his face that of a demon.
Bethany was starving.
Not “I have a date on Friday and need to fit into these jeans so I’m living on water and celery” starving, but “I haven’t eaten in days and I would literally kill you just to steal your lunch” starving. Except with Bethany, literally meant literally, and she wasn’t going to steal someone’s lunch, she was going to make them lunch.
Her stomach wasn’t rumbling. There was no pain in her abdomen. Her hunger manifested in her throat, a raspy burn, like she’d been walking through the Sahara desert in the blistering sun and chewing on sand. Her teeth hurt, particularly her canines.
It had been so much easier at Liam’s. Liam had entire rooms full of people who wanted to get bit, men who got off on the danger and girls who thought vampires were all soulful virgin millionaires. A wrist, a thigh, or a neck was never far away at Liam’s mansion.
But Michael McKenna ruined all of that. He took Liam away from her, and she wanted revenge.
That sounded crazy. Liam had done terrible things. He had done terrible things to her, before he turned her. She had cried when his claws scraped her skin, when his fangs pierced her flesh, but now those were happy memories. The thought of the pain was almost erotic.
Liam was Bethany’s Sire, the vampire that had made her a vampire. But it wasn’t like he was her father. That was gross. No, Liam had been her mentor and her lover and her savior. He had saved Bethany from mortality. From weakness, from fear, from growing old and ugly and used up. He had drained all of the imperfection out of her and replaced it with his own blood, his ancient, powerful blood.
God, his blood. His blood sang to her, whispered to her. She could feel his passion, his excitement. She felt the beast stirring inside of him when they hunted and heard it roar when they laid together. She could feel his desire for her, his pride in her.
And she could feel him die.
She felt the strength pulled out of his body by some dark magic. She felt Michael’s silver blade cutting into his flesh. She felt, and this might have been the hardest part, Liam’s fear. Liam, so old, so powerful, had actually been afraid of that blond asshole.
Bethany saw the end through Liam’s eyes. She saw Michael standing over him, triumphant, a silver sword in his hand. She saw him rush forward, the blade cutting through the air like lightning. And she felt the blade pierce his heart, felt his flesh crumble to dust and burn to ash.
When Michael ran his blade through Liam’s heart, he might as well have done the same thing to her.
Angelica took Bethany in. She was Liam’s Sire, and Bethany was part of her bloodline. She promised to look after Bethany, to take care of her, to teach her how to be a vampire. And she promised her one more thing.
Angelica had wept tears of blood when Liam died, and she vowed retribution. She wouldn’t kill Michael–Michael was her Scion, just like Liam–but Angelica had a lot of experience in causing people pain. Michael’s life would be spared, but they would take from him what he took from them: his lover. Caitlin Manning.
Caitlin was so proud of herself, with her blonde hair and big boobs and long legs. She was the reason Liam was dead. If she hadn’t come to St. Troy, if she hadn’t gone to Indigo, if Michael hadn’t fallen for her, Caitlin would have been just another delectable morsel and Liam would still be alive.
Angelica had a plan to deal with Caitlin. A beautiful plan, a perfect plan. Angelica kidnapped her and held her prisoner while she tortured Michael, draining the humanity out of him, and then he had turned Michael loose on her. It should have worked. It almost did work. Michael tore into Caitlin like a starving, wild animal, tearing her flesh with wicked fangs and fearsome claws. The scent of her blood had been intoxicating.
But then Michael–goddamn Michael McKenna–had killed Angelica. And he didn’t just kill her, her burned her freaking house down. Bethany knew the guy had anger management issues, but come on.
So now she was on her own. Bethany had no Sire to teach her, no friends to comfort her. All she had were the werewolves at Liam’s mansion, the few that Michael had left alive, and that hardly counted as company.
Bethany woke up shortly after sunset, already famished. She went to Indigo, the nightclub owned and operated by vampires. At least, it was owned and operated by vampires. Angelica was the real owner, Liam was her second-in-command, and they made Michael run the place for them, but Bethany figured a double murder and an arson counted as a pretty firm resignation. She wasn’t sure who ran the place now, but there were still vampires manning the doors, and they let her right in. They didn’t know who she was, but they knew what she was, and vampires always got the VIP treatment at Indigo.
She walked in like she owned the place. Every guy, at least every guy within sight of the door, turned to look at her, and more than a few of the ladies were licking their lips, too. She hadn’t made herself up for the club she hadn’t had to. She was a vampire now, and not to be boastful, but she fell out of bed hot. Her hair was this chestnut color now, thick and wavy, and she didn’t have to do a thing to it. Her skin was flawless and white, her lips full and red, she even had a six pack.
All gifts from Liam. All gifts from her murdered Sire.
The monster growled inside her, insisting that she feed. Like she needed the reminder. That dull, nagging ache burned inside her throat.
“Hi, um, Bethany?” Bethany whipped her head around and snarled. “Whoa, easy there! It’s just me!”
It was a guy from one of Bethany’s classes. He wasn’t particularly tall, like five-nine or five-ten, but he had a model’s cheekbones and hair. He was a fine arts major, like Bethany, but sculpture wasn’t really his thing. He only ended up in her class because he needed the credits. “Hi … Kyle?”
“Yeah, Kyle. Damn lady, who took you shopping? You look amazing.”
His eyes traveled up and down her body, never rising above her collar bones. Bethany smiled, a cruel little smile that wasn’t meant for him. He thought he was some kind of strong, aggressive male, that Bethany was going to swoon just because he said her name.
And human Bethany would have. Human Bethany would have been flattered and flustered and all atwitter. But human Bethany was a loser. Vampire Bethany had standards, and Kyle didn’t meet them, even if she could see the subtle dance of his carotid artery pumping hot, oxygen-rich blood to his brain. Bethany was hungry, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be choosy.
“I’ll see you in class, Kyle,” she said and brushed past him, walking deeper into the club. Indigo wasn’t human Bethany’s kind of place; it was loud and hot and crowded, overwhelming. But vampire Bethany saw it for what it was … a hunting ground. There were hundreds of victims to choose from, beautiful men and delicious women, all of them hot, horny, and sweaty. And there were so many places to hide in Indigo, so many dark little corners and hidden alcoves. So many places to get away for a quick bite.
Bethany wandered into the crowd, trying to choose the night’s donor. It was kind of cool the way the crowd parted around her. Everyone else had to push and shove to get anywhere, but people just sort of moved out of her way, sometimes without even looking at her. It was like they subconsciously recognized that she was something else, something dangerous.
Bethany made them uneasy, but it didn’t make them want her any less. That hint of danger might have actually made them want her more. Bethany earned hungry stares as she walked, and it made her feel powerful, confident. She stood up straighter and swayed her hips as she moved through the crowd.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Bethany muttered. Olivia, Bethany’s former roommate and candidate for Head Bitch in Charge at St. Troy University, was on the dance floor, grinding and gyrating away. No surprise, really. The girl liked good times and bad boys, and Indigo was the best place to find both. They actually ran a shuttle between the campus and the club every night, and it was always full.
Olivia was tall, tan, and blonde. She was wearing a black mini that showed ten feet of leg, and a backless (and sideless, and nearly frontless) top that showed off plenty of sideboob. She was a cheerleader, so she was as good on the dance floor as anyone else in the club, and she knew how to make people look at her. An entire pack of men surrounded her. The ones closest to her, the ones that actually got to touch her, were all on the football or basketball team: big, muscular, alpha men. But there were a lot of other men around her, shyer, quieter men, who were standing close enough to watch but far enough away not to get caught. Some of them were probably hoping Olivia would, by some miracle, choose to go home with them that night. The others were probably just saving up images for when they went home alone.
God, Bethany hated Olivia. And now she was actually in a position to do something about it. Bethany glided through the crowd like it wasn’t even there, slid up behind Olivia, and started to dance. She didn’t know how to dance, didn’t know any steps or moves or whatever the hell they were called. But it didn’t matter. She was a vampire, and her movements were as graceful as any ballerina.
The men voiced their approval. Olivia didn’t even bother to look back before she started to move along with Bethany. She writhed her hips and lifted up her hair and pushed her butt against Bethany’s pelvis, entirely ignorant of Bethany’s presence.
So Bethany grabbed Olivia, spun her around, dipped her back, and kissed her, long and hot and with lots of tongue. The men cheered and Olivia, always the showgirl, kissed her right back.
And then realized who she was kissing. She gasped and wriggled out of Bethany’s clutches and stepped back, face red and eyes furious. “Bethany! What the hell are you doing here?”
Bethany nibbled her own lip. “I didn’t know I needed an invitation.”
“And who did you steal those clothes from? Did Caitlin play dress up with you again?”
“Caitlin and I aren’t speaking anymore. But maybe you could lend me some clothes. I love that shirt … where’s the rest of it?”
“Bitch,” Olivia muttered and turned away. She grabbed the nearest guy, a six foot tall roid freak, and started dancing again. Bethany growled, but the pounding music drowned her out. She grabbed Olivia’s arm and jerked her around.
“What the hell is your–” Olivia began. She stopped talking when crimson circles appeared around Bethany’s eyes. Olivia mouth fell open when those circles expanded, filling Bethany’s irises with blood. And the color drained from Olivia’s face when Bethany’s teeth lengthened into fangs.
Olivia stepped back, holding out her hand like it would keep Bethany at bay. “Oh shit! Oh Jesus! Oh shit!” She turned and ran, her black heels clip-clopping across the dance floor.
Roid Freak wasn’t even Bethany’s style, but Olivia had wanted him, and that made Bethany want to take him. So she did: she just slid up to him and started moving along with him, letting her recently undead status do all the hard work. She danced with her back to him, and soon she felt his hands close over her hips, pulling her close. She could feel his eagerness. Her hands drifted back to grab onto his thighs, and she pulled him forward. Their bodies moved together, to their own special music. Then, suddenly, Bethany whirled around, grabbed the sides of his head, and looked into his eyes. “Take me somewhere private,” she told him. He looked hungry. Bethany knew that she had the same look, but for a totally different reason.
Roid Freak gave Bethany the “gonna do you right here” look for a second or two, then smiled, grabbed her hand, and led her toward the back of the club.
Indigo was filled with little nooks and crannies, plenty of places that were easy to get to but just out of the way enough to give you a little privacy. The first time Bethany had come here she’d wondered how many unexpected babies got made in those dark corners. Now she wondered how many people got bit. That’s what they were for, after all. Indigo was designed for vampires, and the shadows gave them a place to sneak a discrete snack.
Bethany’s man led her to an alcove behind a set of vibrating speakers. It was loud, but they were padded, so she heard more of a dull thump than actual music. She could feel the beat vibrating in her chest, shaking her bones. Her new friend didn’t waste any time; he grabbed Bethany around the waist, picked her up, and pushed her back against the speakers. His hands were all over her, up her thighs, across her stomach, trying to work their way beneath her shirt. Bethany let him kiss her. His breath was hot and his skin tasted like salt. His hand ran up her side and across her chest.
And suddenly Bethany wasn’t letting him kiss her, she wanted him to. She pressed her mouth against his, searching with her tongue. He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back, then trailed kisses along her neck. Bethany opened her mouth and moaned, her teeth lengthening once again. “Garret.”
He stopped. Stopped kissing her, stopped touching her, just stopped altogether. “What did you call me?”
Bethany leaned back against the speakers and undid one of her shirt buttons. “I said get on with it.”
That was good enough for Roid Freak. He was all over her, hot hands and wet breath, his pulse pounding in her ears. The monster roared, the fire in her throat became unbearable, and the hunger became irresistible. Bethany hissed and sank her fangs into Roid Freak’s neck.
Her fangs sliced through thick muscle and hot, delicious blood poured into her mouth. Roid Freak screamed, the sound lost in the music, and tried to get away from her, but Bethany was stronger than any human. She held him in a crushing grip, her claws sinking into his bulging arms, and pulled him in tight.
The relief was immediate, but that did nothing to quell the beast. No, it only made the monster bolder, more vicious. His heart hammered against her chest, reverberating inside of her, and the flow of his life-filled blood stirred Bethany’s own cold heart to life. All of his strength, all of his power, flowed into Bethany’s veins.
But his heart began to slow and the rush of blood became a trickle. He was nearly spent, and empty container. The monster demanded his life, but Bethany fought against the beast, forcing it back down. The vampires of St. Troy were tamed–Angelica had seen to that–and they didn’t take kindly to dead coeds on the dance floor. Feed and forget, that was the rule.
So Bethany forced herself to pull away. Roid Freak stumbled and nearly fell, but Bethany caught him. She had fed, and now it was time for him to forget. She looked into his eyes, as deeply and intimately as she could, and commanded him, “forget.”
Roid Freak gasped for breath. “Forget? Forget? You crazy bitch, you freaking bit me!”
“Aw crap,” Bethany muttered. She was just a baby vampire, and no one had taught her how the whole hypnotism thing worked. It had been so easy for all of the other vampires, and Bethany had assumed it would be easy for her, too.
Roid Freak pushed away from her and staggered down the hallway, holding himself up with a hand on the wall. Dammit dammit dammit, what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t leave some random guy wandering around, telling everyone about the crazy chick with the fangs. Olivia already knew about vampires, so that was one thing, but this guy … Dammit!
Bethany started after him. Roid Freak looked back, swore, and tried to run. He stumbled and fell, picked himself back up, limped toward the door. He slammed into the big red “Emergency” bar. The door banged open, letting cold night air in and Roid Freak out.
Bethany rushed after him. “Come back here! Damn it, I need to brain wipe you!”
Roid Freak stumbled down the alleyway, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. Bethany vamp-ran past him, appearing directly in front of him. He stared at her with wide, terrified eyes. “What do you want?” His voice cracked.
Bethany stared hard into his eyes. “I want you to forget this.”
“Okay, sure, whatever. Nothing happened. Please, just let me go.”
“Damn it, why isn’t this working?”
“It’s working! I promise! I won’t remember a thing. Never talk about it again.”
The emergency door banged open again, and a girl started out into the alley, dragging a boy behind her. Bethany glared at her. “Get your ass back inside.”
The girl gasped and hurriedly closed the door.
Bethany turned her attention back to Roid Freak. She bored into his eyes. “I’m serious, forget about this.”
He spread his hands in surrender. “I said all right!”
Bethany looked around. Part of her was looking for help, part of her was looking for witnesses. She shook her head. “Sorry, pal. I should have practiced ahead of time.”
“What the hell are you tal–” Bethany grabbed his head and twisted, snapping his neck and cutting off his words.
And now she had to hide a freaking body. Damn it, being a vampire was hard work.
Movement at the end of the alley caught her attention, but it was just another vampire, leading a girl to her doom. Or her magic-roofie hangover and anemia, anyway. That vampire probably knew how compulsion worked. Maybe she’d stick around for a minute or two and see how he did it.
And then Michael appeared.
Bethany hissed and her fangs came out. But she wasn’t going to attack Michael, God no. Michael was terrifying. He had killed Liam, he had killed freaking Angelica, so what was she supposed to do?
She crept toward the far end of the alley and hid behind a Dumpster, peering around with one eye.
The vampire didn’t waste any time. The girl’s clothes were already torn and her neck was already bleeding. The vampire was caught up in the ecstasy of the feed, the glorious, almost sexual release that came from taking another’s blood.
He never saw Michael coming.
Hell, Bethany almost didn’t see Michael coming. He moved faster than any vampire Bethany had ever seen, almost as fast as Angelica. A blur shout through the night and suddenly the vampire stiffened and fell, a silver dagger sticking out of his back. He gagged and started to crumble.
Michael took the blonde girl’s chin in his hand, said a few reassuring words to her, then sent her on her way. Another human who knew the truth about St. Troy. Another danger to vampires everywhere. Bethany wondered if that was Michael’s plan, if he wanted to leave witnesses around, if he wanted to burn St. Troy, and everything Angelica had built here, to the ground.
Michael retrieved his dagger, then stopped, his head cocked to the side like he’d heard something. By the time he looked toward Bethany’s hiding spot, she had disappeared into the night.
Michael arrived home half an hour later. William, his butler, greeted him at the door.
Michael had had a year to adjust, but having a house and a staff was still a bit weird. The house was actually a mansion, set far back from the road and hidden by trees, on the outskirts of St. Troy. For a long time William, the head of staff, had been the closest thing Michael had to a friend in the city.
All of it, the house, the staff, the car Michael drove, even the clothes he wore, had been given to him by Angelica. As her Scion, Michael was a reflection of her, and it wouldn’t do to have him squatting in some derelict building, covering himself with garbage to keep the sun at bay. But it had also been a leash, a means of control: she had given him everything, and she could have taken it away, too.
But she was gone now, and for the first time the mansion was starting to feel like his home.
“Good evening, Sir,” William said. “Happy hunting?”
“Successful, at least,” Michael said.
“Very good, Sir. Damsels around the world breathe easier knowing you are on the job. Have you eaten?”
“No, I’m starving, actually. What do we have on tap?”
“The butcher made a fresh delivery this afternoon, so we have enough cattle blood to see us through the week. I also received a shipment from a wildlife reserve in Georgia. Lion’s blood.”
“Huh. That has potential,” Michael said.
“I took the liberty of preparing a glass for you,” William said. He produced a tray from out of nowhere and presented Michael with a tumbler full of rich, red liquid. It was warm to the touch.
“Thanks, William,” Michael said, and sipped experimentally. “Hm. Smokey flavor, hints of oak, pleasant aroma.”
“No,” he said, scowling. Nothing could compare to the blood he had tasted three nights ago. But Michael drained the glass anyway, and handed it back to his butler. “Thanks.”
“Of course, Sir. How is our guest?”
“I’m going to check on her now,” Michael said, and headed upstairs.
Angelica had tortured and starved Michael for days on end. By the time she was done, by the time she turned him loose, he had become a feral beast, a monster in every sense of the word. His humanity had been stripped from him, leaving nothing but bloodlust and rage. It hadn’t been a person in front of him. It hadn’t even been a victim. It had been nothing but a desperately needed source of food.
When Michael’s chains fell away, the animal took over. He didn’t remember the specifics, couldn’t explain the details. All he remembered was the taste, the indescribable taste as hot, coppery blood gushed and foamed and filled his mouth. For the first time in its existence the monster drank its fill.
And then he heard two words. Michael. Please.
Those words were seared into his brain. They were inescapable, a ghost that chased after him, accusing him. That’s the dichotomy he faced, monster and man both living inside of him, at war with each other. The monster remembered nothing but the taste of blood. The man remembered nothing but her pleading words.
The man won that night, but it was a pyrrhic victory. When his humanity resurfaced, Michael was faced with the bleeding, broken body of an innocent girl. The monster had nearly taken her life’s blood, and she was clinging to this world by the thinnest thread.
The blood of a vampire is powerful. Those who taste it often find themselves addicted. Those who drink too much find themselves transformed. But in just the right amounts, the blood of a vampire can heal almost any wound, repair almost any injury.
Michael bit into his own wrist and fed his own blood to the still, fragile girl, praying to any god that might have been listening that she would be all right. But even his blood, even the blood of a vampire, wasn’t enough. Her injuries were too severe, and she was too far gone.
Michael killed Angelica that night. That was the price she paid for bringing out the monster he had so carefully hidden. But that offered him little comfort. He still had to face the consequences of his, and his monster’s, actions.
The door to the master bedroom swung open silently, revealing the cavernous chamber within. Michael lit a set of candles, bathing the room in a soft amber glow, and sat in an old leather armchair next to the bed, leaning back and steepling his fingers. There, wrapped in white cotton and resting on black silk, lay the corpse of his lover, Caitlin Manning.
It might be cliche to say that the dead look like they’re sleeping, but it’s true. Her face was relaxed, her eyes closed. Michael had cleaned the blood and soot from her, leaving her skin white and radiant. Her hands were folded over her stomach, and her hair, thick golden curls, fanned out around her head.
She didn’t look like a corpse. There was no sign of the violence he had done to her. No bruises, no wounds, no broken bones. But no matter how she looked, she was still dead, and it was still his fault.
Michael sat by her side, mourning and anxious. Suddenly, the deep peals of an old church bell rang out, signaling midnight. The noise echoed through the mansion, hanging in the air long after the bells themselves stopped ringing.
It was then, just after midnight, that Caitlin opened her crimson eyes.