As promised, I’m back today with part two of three parts! Enjoy!
I didn’t miss the smoke. It curled in the air around me, simultaneously acrid and cloyingly sweet as it fought for access to my lungs.
I breathed it in, getting it over with – subtly choking on it as I lingered in the fringes of the crowd. Clearing my throat, I finally stepped forward, into the crush of patrons that always occupied BB’s with my head held high and any nerves pressed together in a tight, suppressed ball.
This was not the place to feel afraid.
They’d smell it on me, and I couldn’t have that.
The family couldn’t have that.
My choices so far had already been controversial enough.
I felt eyes on me as soon as I entered the throng of bodies, but unlike with Desmond, I paid them no mind. I had a very specific destination, and no intention of being distracted from it.
The heavy beat of music in the bar vibrated through me, so invigorating that I had to fight against the compulsion to stop and focus on it, letting my hips move to the beat. I wasn’t here for leisure though, hadn’t been since I came of age to… “fulfill my destiny”, or whatever the community wanted to call it.
In human years, I’d just passed thirty. With good decisions, I could have hundreds and hundreds ahead of me. I reached my age of independence without causing any trouble, without any static.
I’d be damned if I allowed what was supposed to my first “decision” to be made for me.
Instead, I’d just… moved out.
And now, here I was, back behind the veil.
As I approached the door that marked my destination, someone stepped in front of it. Arms crossed, lips curled, wearing a sneer, Bastian looked me up and down.
“What the hell do you want?” he asked, addressing me as if I were some commoner walking in here.
I gave him back the exact same energy, propping my hands on my hips, feet planted in the thigh-high leather boots I’d chosen for this little adventure.
“I don’t see where that’s your business. Move.”
He scoffed. “And if I don’t, little girl? What exactly are you gonna do?”
My nostrils flared as my fangs sprouted in my mouth unbidden, fueled by my anger. I closed the short distance between us, raising my hand to point a stiletto-shaped nail right between his eyes.
“I would say I’d slit your throat right here and watch you spray out, but that would be so… messy. So maybe instead, I’ll just oblige any vampire in here to rip you apart for me. How about that? Or maybe… Mmm. Maybe I’ll oblige you to rip your own heart out, and offer it to me as a tribute? How about that?”
Bastian blinked, hard, and I watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed even harder. Without another word, he stepped aside, granting me the access he had no standing to block me from in the first place.
“That’s what I thought.”
I slipped past him through the door, finding myself in the hall. Red-curtained walls struck a clear path down to another door, marked only with an ornately carved letter “B”. Light spilled from underneath that door, drawing me to it. I didn’t bother knocking – everyone on the other side already knew I was there, had probably sensed me from the span of a city block, if not further.
There was no need to announce myself.
“Well. I surely wish you’d made a bigger deal about leaving, so I could throw it in your face now that you’re back,” I heard, as soon as I walked through the door. Those words were spoken by my mother, who stood from the head of the card table.
Of course, the game stopped.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” I said, keeping my gaze only on my beautiful mother, Bahati, as she stepped away.
Immediately, she waved me off. “Oh they’re set anyway,” she laughed, referring to the opponents she and my aunt, Bahira, were playing. One of the men scoffed, opening his mouth to joke with her about it. But she shot him a glance that immediately had him pressing his lips together.
“My daughter is here. You can go,” she said, as she turned her gaze back to me, and extended her arms. Both men stood and left, understanding the weight of their dismissal from this inner sanctum.
Bahira got up to leave too, but stopped to press a kiss to my cheek, her smoky eyes glinting with happiness as she smiled at me. “Welcome back into the fold, baby girl.”
She left then, to hopefully stop and talk some sense into Bastian on the way out. He’d always been insufferably annoying, but my rejection of my “destiny” seemed to bring the worst of him out.
It wasn’t until we were alone that my mother finally folded me into her arms, hugging me tight.
“You haven’t been feeding,” she muttered into my hair, eliciting a sigh as we separated.
“I didn’t come to talk about that,” I told her, shaking my head. She was right, but that wasn’t the matter at hand. “Desmond showed up, at my job.”
She scoffed. “Job, Lyrah?” Her expression was completely disgusted, nose wrinkled, lips pursed. “Tell me about this job that’s so important.”
“As if you don’t already know,” I said – not accused, because I was too certain to accuse. I knew. “It’s a night club, in a prestigious hotel. I was a hostess, and now I’m being trained for management.”
“When I tried to get you to deliver a drink around here you’d turn into a surly old man, but you’ll go serve mortals?”
“The owners aren’t mortals.”
Her eyebrows lifted.
Okay… maybe she had been willing to give a little space, if she hadn’t known that.
“Vampires? Witches? Werewolves? What?”
“None of the above,” I answered. “Or at least, not that I know of. Just… powerful immortals. The woman, Khalida… she’s descended from sorcerers, but isn’t one.”
My mother nodded. “And the other?”
“Aram? I don’t know. He’s just… a king, is the most I can say. They’ve been good to me. Really good.”
“And they know what you are?”
“Aram knew as soon as I walked in.”
“Hm. I’ll have to look into this. It may be on the other end of the city, but we need to know our surroundings.”
I shook my head. “Can we backtrack a little? Because again, all I’m really here to discuss is Desmond. He’s not supposed to be seeking me out.”
“He’s been independent a while, Lyrah, waiting for you to come of age. Can you blame him, for wanting his wife?”
A deep sigh pushed from my lips as I took a seat at the card table, my gaze flitting over the abandoned game of spades. It was… a difficult question to answer.
Well… not really.
I just didn’t like the answer.
Could I blame him?
Just like me, Desmond had been born into this, it wasn’t a choice. Our betrothal had been decided amongst our families before he and I were even born, and simply withheld until Desmond came of age.
Before then, I’d actually liked Desmond.
Okay… I was a bit obsessed with him.
He was strong, and fine and… very committed to the equal pleasure of anyone lucky enough to share his bed. This I knew from experience.
But imagine my surprise when, at his official Age of Independence ceremony, I was announced as his decided mate.
Desmond and I – along with our parents, and theirs – were both descended from the first vampires, with origins deep in the Islands. The vampire race itself wasn’t an overflowing group, but we were certainly plentiful.
Descendants of First Vampires were not.
These rules around mating and pairing were only for us, and weren’t discussed, so I was blindsided by the whole idea. Official pairings – marriages – didn’t happen until after you came of age, that much was universal, but I never thought I would have the decision – such a major, eternal decision – stripped from me.
I didn’t do very well with being told what to do.
I was never really one who craved danger or destruction, so my mother had it easy with me, and honestly, I had it easy with her. As long as I wasn’t doing anything too ridiculous, she allowed me to govern myself. Besides that, as firsts we were something like… royalty. I lived with a certain sense of both duty and protection that made it fairly simple to live without much trouble.
Three years after Desmond’s coming of age, was mine.
I didn’t even show up for the party.
If it was supposed to be my Age of Independence, I would not kick it off with a forced marriage.
Even to a man I very well may have been willing to marry otherwise.
“I see you still haven’t answered the question,” my mother spoke, pulling me from my thoughts as she propped a hip against the table. “Could it be that you’ve finally come around to understanding the gravity of all this?”
I scoffed. “I highly doubt my relationship choices can be considered grave.”
“Oh, but you would be wrong about that, my dear daughter. You are a first, my dear. Descended from royalty, and power. It may look different from what it did back then, and our numbers may be fewer, but the power is not diminished, because it lives in you, and Desmond, and Bastian, just to name a few. You should know by now I will not force you to do anything. If you choose to marry and procreate with a mortal, our particular thread stops with you. Another vampire, it lives on, but it’s… frayed. Diminished. But with Desmond… you will help rebuild what was lost.”
Any dismissal I may have had for her words died on my lips with that. Years and years ago, when I was a child, there had been an ugly clash of power between many different breeds of immortal. Luckily, vampires had come out of it in a good position… politically speaking, at least.
Many of our warriors were wounded and weakened.
We were vulnerable, but so were the other factions. An accord was reached, declaring peace among all of us.
The hunters weren’t part of the pact though.
They waited until then to attack, and… many of my kind were lost.
My father and uncle included.
I understood, really, the urge to repopulate, especially with first blood, but it didn’t make me feel any better – any more conducive to the idea of this arranged marriage… bullshit.
I hated it.
And in turn, I hated Desmond.
Which was maybe unfair.
“Only the first five years,” my mother spoke, once again drawing me out of my own head.
“The first five years,” she repeated. “That’s the only period after you come of age where procreation is possible. You were the next female descendant born after Desmond, that’s why you were chosen for him. He already waited three years for you to come of age, and when you did, you ran away. That was a year ago. He only has a year left to have children. That’s why he sought you out.”
I huffed. “So I should fall in line because his clock is ticking?” I asked, rolling my eyes. “I barely even know him.”
“That certainly didn’t keep you off him when you two were younger,” my mother countered, crossing her arms. “What did you see in him then that is suddenly missing now?”
“A choice,” I lobbed right back.
“So you’d end my bloodline to avoid marrying a man I couldn’t keep you away from before, simply because you found out it was already determined that you’d be together?” My mother shook her head, pinning me with clear disappointment in her eyes. “I could see if he was some stranger, or if there was someone else…”
“There could be someone else,” I said. “But he’s a mortal… an oblivious one. How could I ever be with him, without explaining what I am? Without scaring him away, or ending up in an asylum, or a jail cell?”
My mother’s harsh gaze softened into something more sympathetic. “Honestly, I… I don’t know. When I found out I was chosen for your father, I was honored, and excited. We spent the time before I came of age getting to know each other, falling in love. I considered my wedding day a gift, not a curse. I don’t have an experience to offer in guidance, but… I do know that love took lead for us, in many ways. Maybe if you’re able to get to know this man and build a relationship… maybe by the time you’re ready to reveal your truth, he’ll be ready to hear it. Just make sure you wear some really good sunscreen,” she teased, making me laugh.
“So… you really won’t be disappointed if I don’t marry Desmond?” I asked, and she scoffed.
“I will be incredibly disappointed if you don’t marry Desmond,” she corrected me. “But your life is your own, Lyrah. I will find acceptance, and eventually happiness, for whatever choice you make, as long as you are satisfied with it. For the record though, I do not believe you’ll be satisfied with a choice made purely out of defiance. You need a better reason than that, my dear.”
The only thing I could do in response to her words was nod, because… she was right.
I just didn’t care to focus too much on it at the moment.
“So now that we’ve discussed that, can we talk about you not feeding?”
I let my head drop back as I sighed. “Seriously, mama?”
“Yes, seriously,” she nodded. “I know, running around biting people can be considered “uncivilized”, but we have more options than that. I can give you a donor blood injection now – I can tell you need it.”
“I feel perfectly fine.”
“You’re weak. Your senses are dulled, and so is your skin. You look… mortal.”
“Thank you, mother.”
“Don’t get mad at me because you are running dry. If you weren’t at the bottom of your reserves, you would have smelled Desmond coming a mile away, and you know it. Why are you so opposed to such a primary part of who you are?”
I sighed. “I’m not. It’s just… I thought it would make it easier to… cut ties. Thought it would make it harder to find me, if I could wean myself away from needing it.”
“You’ll only age yourself,” my mother told me, correcting my ill-conceived notion as she stood, walking over to a cabinet hidden behind the curtain-lined walls. “Here,” she told me, pressing several cold vials into my hands as she retook her seat. She held up a syringe, showing it to me. “Ethically sourced and processed,” she assured, but said nothing else, waiting for my consent to continue.
“Fine,” I told her, after a few moments had passed with me thinking through it. I pulled off the leather jacket that matched my boots – an ensemble that felt completely appropriate for showing up at the biker bar my mother co-owned with her sister.
“Ah,” she grinned. “Finally, you listen to your mother.”
“I caught you, Lyrah.” Sam said from behind me, as I gathered my things in the break room to leave. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were avoiding me today.”
Sam did know better, and I was avoiding him, but I still turned to face him with a smile on my face.
“It was really busy tonight, Sam. And you know Khalida has me on manager duty, putting me through the gauntlet. I was busy.”
That was true, but I was still avoiding him.
Not because I wasn’t attracted to him, or because I didn’t like him, but because as I told my mother a week ago in the bar, I didn’t know what to do with him. I wasn’t just being cocky when I said Sam couldn’t handle me.
It was the truth.
I didn’t believe for a second that he, or most mortals, honestly, could handle the truth of me.
It made his flirtations sting, knowing they couldn’t go anywhere.
Or… maybe I was putting a bullet through the idea without even giving it a chance.
Like my mother had said… maybe I just needed to give it some time, some opportunity, before I immediately shot it down. Otherwise, it really made no sense for me to not go ahead and just be with Desmond.
I should at least… try.
“I’m hungry,” I said to Sam, even as my stomach turned with an unfamiliar feeling.
Ever since I accepted my mother’s offer of the donor blood I’d been feeling off. Or maybe it was more like… back to myself. Things looked different, felt different, smelled different, tasted different.
And in some ways… I wasn’t sure I preferred this.
The heightened vision part was cool, but I didn’t want to smell the city in the way that I could now, didn’t want to hear most of the pointless, incessant mortal chatter.
And the taste thing?
That was totally a loss.
Not partaking in blood over the last year had given me a surprising affinity for mortal food, something which had never been a thing for me before. Now though, my taste buds seemed to be working in the opposite direction. Every morsel I put in my mouth seemed incredibly bland and dry and just… ugh.
Maybe it was psychosomatic.
I was looking for a reason to go back to not partaking in blood.
Or… maybe the food really was just bland.
But I’d seen Sam’s food, and had seen people’s reactions to it, had smelled it cooking, and tasted it before now. If anybody could remind me why I enjoyed it… he could.
Sam raised an eyebrow at my words. “You’re hungry, huh?” he asked, rubbing his hands together. “I’ve definitely got a cure for that. I tell you what – the kitchen is closed for the night here, but I live just a few blocks over. Why don’t you let me fix a little midnight snack for us?”
I didn’t have to think about it very long.
“As long as you understand that food is the only thing we’ll be in indulging in tonight.”
He put his hands to his chest. “Lyrah. Come on. I am a gentleman. I’d never expect to take it beyond dinner on the first night with you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Just on the first night?”
Sam smirked in response to my words. “Beyond that I can’t make any promises,” he teased, in a tone that made it clear he was really just joking with me.
And from what I’d seen of Sam, there was really nothing that led me to believe he would have pressured me for anything more anyway.
I just had to make it clear.
Now though, a different feeling twisted in my belly, one I quickly identified as excitement. This was really the closest thing to a date I’d ever been on before, even with this little obsession of mine with being “normal”.
I was really looking forward to this.
“Can I ask what made you finally decide to stop playing like you didn’t want my body?” Sam asked, once we were out on the sidewalk, headed for his place.
“Wow,” I laughed. “That’s how we’re putting it, huh?”
“Is that not what it is?”
“Not exactly, no, but I’m gonna let you rock,” I told him, doing my best not to react as he covered my hand with his, keeping it in his grasp as we moved. “Um… Just letting myself take a chance I guess.”
“A chance? That makes me sound dangerous or something,” Sam teased. “What, you think I’m some type of player or something?”
“I actually don’t,” I admitted. “It’s more about my personal hang ups than anything I think of you.”
“What hang ups do you have?” He squeezed my hand. “Just come on and run down a whole list for me, let me dispel them all.”
I shook my head. “Nah – can’t do that. If I tell you all my red flags, you’ll just know not to do those things. Throws off the baseline.”
“Fair enough. You want me to tell you mine?”
“A woman fine as you, who isn’t already taken. I feel like something has to be up, like I’m being punked or something. Cause this is way too good to be true.”
I laughed at that, because he… really had no idea. “How about we just take it slow then, huh? That way the risk is minimized for everyone.”
“I notice you didn’t deny something was up, but that’s cool – like you said – we’ll take it slow.”
He wasn’t kidding about living close by – it didn’t take long to get to his place, which was set in an older building, with a loud, creaky elevator. The sound was so discordant that it gave me the same feeling as nails on a chalkboard and made me feel… just so uneasy.
“Yeah, it takes some getting used to,” Sam said, in response to what must’ve been a pained look on my face. I was relieved when it finally stopped on his floor, and I hurriedly followed him off of it, down a dimly lit hall. I wasn’t sure what – if anything – I’d expected from Sam’s living space, but this felt… off.
My uneasy feeling was somewhat soothed as soon as we stepped through his apartment door.
“Welcome to my humble home,” he said, motioning around. This felt more like the space of a young chef – exposed brick and soft leather, lots of grays and black. It wasn’t luxurious by any means, but everything was clean and neat, and… comfortable.
“Let me take your coat,” Sam said, and I obliged, stripping my bulky outerwear off. He left my stuff near his by the door, then led me to his small, spotless kitchen where he encouraged me to take a seat at the counter.
Opening the fridge, he made such a big production of peering inside that I pushed up on my seat, peeking around him to try to catch a glance into his… empty refrigerator.
What the hell?
“Ah damn,” he said, turning to face me with this strange expression. “I forgot, something came up earlier and I didn’t get a chance to make it to the grocery store today,” he claimed.
“Oh wow. What are we gonna do now?”
“I’ll tell you what… How about we order something from a late-night spot, watch some TV? Or… We can just skip all this and get straight to what we’re really here for.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Which is what?”
An unfamiliar smirk bloomed on Sam’s face, giving it a sinister quality I’d never noticed before as he moved closer to me. Unbidden, my fangs pushed out, and my fists reflexively clenched on the counter.
From what seemed like nowhere, Sam pulled out something that made my skin crawl, and flipped my senses from defense to offense.
A sharpened, polished stake.
“Sorry to be so unprepared. I truly wasn’t expecting to get my hands on you tonight.”
He wasn’t getting his hands on me at all.
I didn’t even give him a chance to get around the counter – he was fast, but I was faster, thanks to my recent infusion of donor blood. Without it, there was no telling if I would’ve even reacted in time to not get staked right there at his counter.
As it was, I made it back to the front door before realizing I was trapped.
“Yeah, you’re not getting out without this,” Sam spoke up from behind me, showing me a key around his neck. Obviously, it had to be the one that went to the padlock I’d been too busy to notice, checking out his decor.
“I’m not sure why you think I won’t just rip you apart and take that from you,” I snapped. “Or that I won’t just compel you to put it right in my hands.”
“You can’t right now,” Sam laughed. “Because you haven’t been feeding, Lyrah. Trust me, I’ve read enough to know the signs.”
“You don’t know anything!”
“I know I’m about to tie you up, and torture you until the sun comes up. You will tell me where the rest of your fellow creatures are hiding. I tracked your kind all the way to Blackwood and lost the trail… until you came waltzing into Onyx.”
“I’ll die before you touch my family. Ugh!”
I was done talking. I launched at him, teeth bared, fists high. I couldn’t decide what I was more angry about – that he’d been hunting me, that he thought he could beat me, or that I’d talked myself into giving a mortal a chance only for this to be the first thing that happened.
He would pay no matter what.
I kicked that damn stake out of his hand, then started raining blows at him, before he could recover. I could fight, sure, but it didn’t take me long to feel the drawbacks of a year without feeding.
I wasn’t what I used to be, and one injection couldn’t fix it.
Sam and I were going toe to toe.
For every blow I threw, only about half managed to connect, with him moving and dodging. And it didn’t help that I was getting hit too, missing my usual dexterity and stamina that would’ve made this easy.
There was hope though.
I could get away, and the door wouldn’t even matter – I could go through a window, we weren’t on a very high floor.
But then… Sam caught me under the chin, with a blow that completely dazed me, and I dropped to the floor.
My body wouldn’t move.
As hard as I willed myself to just get up, to not give up, the message didn’t seem to be getting through. In my peripheral I could see Sam moving, and a moment later, he was standing over me, the stake in his hands raised high.
I closed my eyes.
And the next thing I heard was a loud, deafening crash.
My eyes sprang open, just in time to see Desmond take Sam down. Suddenly, my limbs were working again, and I scrambled to my feet. Just inches away, Desmond had Sam pinned to the floor.
He looked up at me, fangs bared, terrifying and sexy all at once.
I didn’t have to be told twice.