Fatal Harmony / The Vein Chronicles

Fatal Harmony – Chapter One

Hello my lovelies,

So we’ve got three weeks until you get to sink your teeth into (see what I did there) Fatal Harmony. I’m hopping on foot to foot with impatience to share this with you. I know it’s  completely different than anything else I’ve done, but PNR was my first love so I hope you can love this one too.

Here’s a peek…because I can’t help myself. And a warning, this is a long book, therefore this chapter is longer than most. Grab yourself a glass of Pinot and settle in.

 

Chapter One

 

Every story has an antagonist and a protagonist. Hero and villain. Good and evil. Yada, yada, yada. Thing is, I bet in each story the villain doesn’t consider themselves the epitome of evil. Even the evilest of minds have justification for their acts. They’re the hero of their own story; it just depends on where you stand.

I gingerly stepped my Louboutin out of the ever-increasing pool of blood at my feet, wiping my mouth delicately with the silk kerchief I carried for situations such as this. The man stared at me, his eyes glassy, the empty stare of the recently dead. The wound was still gushing. I probably could’ve continued the meal, but what can I say? I was on a diet.

I shook my head at the pants around his ankles, showing off his less-than-stellar package.

“A death you’re worthy of, Stan,” I informed the corpse lightly.

He continued to stare.

“Don’t look at me like that. You’re the one who got his jollies attacking women. Should’ve expected one would return the favor sooner or later.”

I took my phone from my Celine.

“Cleanup on aisle twelve,” I greeted the bored-sounding voice, looking around distractedly at a drunken group of women stumbling past the mouth of the alley.

Any one of them could have ended their night with Stan groping them, likely giving them scars that would never heal. I got my entrée and did my bit for mankind.

I’m a philanthropist. Someone get me a Nobel Prize.

“Isla? Shit. Seriously? Another alley job?” the voice perked up, going from bored to fan girl in two-point-five seconds.

I inspected my nails while I walked towards the end of the alley, my heels clicking against the concrete.

“Hey, Scott.” I tried to stay patient. It was hard. Patience and bagged blood were two things I wasn’t hot on. But Scott was harmless really, like those puppies that humped your leg. It was frowned upon to kick said puppies, so I had to practice the feeble human emotion of patience. He was still getting used to his new world. He was young; another hundred years or so and he might be vaguely bearable. I could deal with the humping puppy for a mere hundred years. Maybe.

“Isla! You gotta take me with you next time. I’ll be, like, the best student ever. You won’t even know I’m there. Wait, can I turn invisible? Is that a thing? Can you teach me? Then it’ll be like I’m really not there. You could do your thing and I’ll just be the watcher, taking it all in like a sponge,” he babbled.

Forget a hundred years. I’d be lucky if I didn’t stake him myself in the next ten seconds.

“Scott, focus. Dead human. In need of disposal so we don’t get humans and, in turn, the slayers on my pert ass,” I reminded him. Not that I was worried about the slayers—I could wipe the floor with them—but I’d just gotten a manicure and I didn’t want it ruined.

“Right, right, sorry,” he said quickly.

“Corner of Smith and Sunderland, dingy alley, terrible decorator, dead guy at the end of it. You can’t miss him,” I said. “Short, pants around his ankles, gaping neck wound, sideburns that should be illegal.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sending someone now.” His keyboard tapped in the background with frantic speed.

“Great,” I responded with only the teeniest bit of sarcasm. I scanned the street. It was reasonably deserted at three in the morning, just the odd taxi screaming past full of partyers dragging their inebriated bodies home. I could tell, since the one who hurtled past reeked of mojitos and the girls were babbling to each other about men who were assholes.

“Amen to that, sista,” I muttered under my breath.

“What?” Scott piped in.

Shit. I’d totally forgotten I was still on the phone with him. He didn’t hang up and treat me with coldness bordering on disgust like the rest of the dispatchers did. That was on account of the fact that my lifestyle fascinated instead of disturbed him. Give him time and education that half breeds didn’t get until they were turned. He’d come to despise me like the rest of my race and my family.

“I wasn’t talking to you, Scott,” I replied in a tight voice, directing myself to my cherry red convertible across the street.

I was strictly meant to blend in and not call attention to myself, but hey, why try to fit in when you were born to stand out? Or more accurately died and then came back to life as a bloodsucking monster created to stand out. Potato, potahto.

“Do you have someone with you? Like a sidekick?” he asked quickly.

I paused at the door to my car. “No. I fly solo. And don’t ever say the word ‘sidekick’ again,” I ordered.

I could practically taste his sigh of relief over the phone. “I can totally do that. Not say sidekick, I mean. Shit, wingman? ’Cause wingman seems totally more appropriate considering there’s this man I know who would like to be your wing.” He paused. “He’s me,” he clarified.

“Good-bye, Scott,” I said into the phone.

“But—”

I hung up before he could finish his no-doubt Pulitzer prize-winning sentence. Not that such a gesture would offend nor hamper him. The kid seemed to like it when I was a bitch to him. I shook my head and threw my bag on the passenger seat.

I should have probably been nicer to him; he just wanted to be my friend. Sidekick. I mentally cringed. I wasn’t exactly full to the brim in the friends department. Actually, that particular part of my life was decaying with cobwebs. I had one person on the entire planet who I could say with almost absolute certainty didn’t want me dead.

Well, at least not this century.

I pulled out of my parking space and hurtled back into the night, heading for my penthouse in Upper Manhattan.

Although I had plenty of others that were overflowing, one area of my life was lacking. In addition to my closet, there was my kickass apartment in New York, villa in Italy, cabin in Sweden—you get the picture. I was also gloriously attractive, had great fashion sense, and was forever frozen in my fashionable and attractive state. Immortality didn’t suck. Though I did. Har har.

“I’m hilarious. How do I not have friends chomping at the bit to have late-night hangs?” I asked myself.

Maybe because I talked to myself after snacking on a rapist.

More likely it was because the only particular humans I snacked on were of the disgusting variety. Dregs of society: murderers, child molesters, rapists. Scum that the world deserved to be rid of. I made sure every soul I took was one that was heading for a long, hot stay in the underworld.

I hoped the day would never come when my own immortality was snuffed out. There was no doubt I’d be heading to the underworld, and I’d be facing a lot of pissed-off vengeful douchebags when I got there.

A nice motivation to keep breathing. Or not breathing, as the case may be.

Plus, Chanel had a new collection coming out in a month.

My phone rang in the Bluetooth system of my car as I pulled into the underground parking of my building. I cringed at the caller ID.

“Why, God? Why?” I asked the almighty.

I got no answer, mainly because if the almighty was up there and gazing at my auburn head, he’d most likely be trying to figure out ways to smite it, abomination that I was.

“Mother,” I greeted through gritted teeth, maneuvering my way towards my parking space.

“Isla.” Her terse voice dripped with disapproval, regardless of the fact that she’d not even started speaking to me. Like the big man upstairs, my entire existence was a disapproval to her. She’d smite me in a second if she could.

“To what do I owe the displeasure?” I asked, pressing a button so the phone was to my ear as I got out of the car. “Let me guess, you want to book a spa day with me? Or perhaps go see the latest Nicholas Sparks movie?” I continued in a sickly sweet tone, my heels reverberating on the concrete in the deserted building.

There was a loaded pause at the other end of the phone. I could practically see my mother rubbing her temples together, even though she couldn’t get headaches. “I am calling to make sure you haven’t forgotten.” She spoke tightly, ignoring my previous words.

“Forgotten what? To floss? Don’t worry, Mom, dental care is my top priority. Gotta take care of my fangs,” I replied seriously, my brows knitting at the human I sensed rapidly approaching behind me.

Another pause. “You refuse to act with any semblance of maturity, nor show our race the respect it deserves, and you constantly sully our family name,” she said, her voice even.

“Gee, Mother, I do love your little pep talks,” I responded sweetly, stopping my journey to the elevators as I felt the presence behind me. I sighed, turning.

The human was dressed all in black, a black beanie yanked over shaggy, dirty hair. His eyes were darting around the empty lot, stubble obscuring half his face. He pointed a gun at my head.

“Give me all your money,” he demanded.

I stared at him, raising my brow, the only warning he was going to get.

My mother was oblivious to my current situation, though I bet she would have been pleased it was unfolding on the off chance that a garden variety mugger might be equipped with copper bullets and handy with a head shot. “You are expected at the event to—”

“Hold that thought, Mommy dearest. I’ve got the nicest man pointing a gun to my head right now,” I interrupted her, my voice bland.

“Bitch! I am not fucking around!” the man roared. “Give me your fucking purse, and those earrings.” He shook the gun at the direction of my head and my beautiful diamond earrings.

“Dude, you do not want to do this,” I warned.

“I’ll fucking shoot you. You want to die today?” he snarled.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m already dead,” I muttered, stepping forward and snapping his neck. It didn’t seem fast to me, but to his useless human eyes I would have been nothing but a blur. The blur would be the very last thing he saw on this earth.

I regarded the crumpled body. I probably shouldn’t have killed him. Yes, he was planning on mugging me, and potentially killing me—I could smell the rage and desperation leaving his lifeless body—but still. I normally researched the humans I killed, made sure they deserved to die, but I was cranky. My mother did that to me.

“I don’t have all night, Isla.” I could picture my mother tapping her foot.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine,” I told her, my gaze darting around to make sure no pesky witnesses would be a complication. I was slightly pissed off that this guy could even make it in here. We were in an upscale part of town and the security in this building was meant to be tight, yet a tweaker with a gun managed to get in. I’d be writing a strongly worded e-mail to the building manager on the morrow.

“Tomorrow night. The new king is holding a feast. It is imperative that you do not continue to besmirch the family name. Your presence will bring only slightly less shame than your absence,” she informed me coolly. Only my mother would call the monarch who’d been reigning for almost a century ‘new.’

I didn’t flinch at the venom in her tone. I’d been getting it for hundreds of years. A girl got used to it.

“Sorry, I think…” I pretended to pause. “Yep. I’m washing my hair tomorrow night. Say hey to the king for me,” I said breezily while I dragged the body of my would-be mugger to my car.

“If you do not come, your brothers will deliver the bodies of three dead children to your apartment at dawn. Children who will have died because of your disobedience,” she stated, as if she expected nothing less than my refusal.

I paused, my blood running cold. Colder, anyway. “Why?” I choked out. “Why don’t you just disown me? Instead of blackmailing me into attending events such as these every few decades?” My voice was devoid of any sarcasm or humor. My mother’s threat was not an idle one. I knew from experience.

“Because as much as I hate it, you are a Rominskitoff. One of the greatest families of our race. That name will always stick to you, no matter what I do. So I do what I must,” she snapped. “You know where it is. Dress appropriately,” she ordered before hanging up.

I sighed, sagging against the door of my car and dropping the body I’d been holding. It didn’t matter that I was hundreds of years old; I was still a slave to a psychotic mother. One who despised me. Along with most of my family, of course. I was surprised to hear they were even in the country. They hated America, found it tacky and vulgar. They usually stayed as far away as possible, hence my residence here. Their social climbing and power-hungry aspirations caused them to forget their hatred for the country, and for me as well, if I was being summoned to the gathering.

One I was loath to attend.

But I did not want to have three more bodies on my conscience that night. The death count was enough to damn me ten times over already.

“Fuck,” I hissed into the air.

Vampire politics. I wanted to stay out of it. Far away from it. But I was a member of one of the greatest families of our race. Despite the fact that I was a disappointment to not only that family, but my entire race. Change the record.

“Yo. Need another cleanup,” I sighed into the phone.

“Isla?” an overexcited voice greeted. “Another one? You’re busy tonight. What’s going on?”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Just another fun and exciting night in my world,” I muttered. “Get the cleanup crew to the basement of my apartment building. I really don’t need a murder investigation fucking up my night any more than my mother already has.”

I heard the tapping of keys. “On it.”

For once he didn’t babble, didn’t ask questions. I was grateful for it.

“Thanks, kid. They got no one else manning the phones tonight?” I asked, unsure of why I was even making conversation with my not-so-secret admirer.

“No. I mean, yes, but I kind of… requested your calls,” he stammered shyly.

I looked to the roof for patience. Though I should’ve been looking to the ground.; the king of the underworld was going to be the one granting me favors, not his estranged daddy. “Of course you did.”

New vampires, especially half breeds with no connections to the old families, were given menial jobs in our public sector. Jobs like manning the phones at the cleanup centers. Manning the cleanup crews themselves. Doing the dirty work of the so-called superior families, or older vampires who had clawed their way up the aristocratic totem pole. It was a shitty job. One Scott seemed to think was the freaking best thing on the planet. I seriously wondered if he was the first vampire to be born missing a chromosome.

“I meant what I said. I want to help. Learn from you. Do what you do,” he pleaded in my ear.

Maybe because I had just been verbally lashed by the reptile that was my mother, I was feeling unusually charitable. Or maybe I was feeling uncharitable to said mother.

“You free tomorrow night?” I asked with a grin.

Scott’s response was in the realm of excited teenager at a One Direction concert.

After I hung up, I looked down at the dead guy and grinned. Mom was going to hate him. Perfect.

 

*****

 

“Stop fidgeting,” I commanded Scott as we walked through the opulent double doors of an ostentatious mansion on the outskirts of New York.

He immediately stopped yanking his shirtsleeves. “Sorry,” he muttered sheepishly.

I glared at him. “Don’t fucking apologize, to anyone. You’re a vampire, for Lucifer’s sake. Act like it.”

He swallowed. “Sorry.” He paused. “I mean—”

I waved my hand to shut him up.

He pursed his lips and moved his head, his eyes turning to survey the room. They popped out in amazement. “Holy shit,” he exclaimed.

I rolled my eyes, already regretting my choice of date. I guessed to his sparkly new vampire eyes, the grandeur of the place was something. Something incredibly tacky. They had strung up various tapestries, centuries old and blood-red, of course. Everything was blood-red—the tablecloths, the waiter’s outfits, the fricking carpet. I wrinkled my nose in distaste and immediately snagged a glass of champagne off a tray that was coming past me. I avoided the red liquid that was mixed with the champagne, my stomach turning at where it came from. Definitely not free-range blood.

“Is the king seriously going to be here?” Scott asked, his eyes darting around as if he was expecting a man with a crown to jump out from behind a curtain and cry “Worship me, peasant!”

I surveyed the crowd. Most were familiar, some were not. I grew up around these stuffy, bloodthirsty assholes. Went to school with a lot of them. They say the world was small, but when you’ve been on it for a few hundred years, it felt tiny. The same people seemed to circulate these wretched things. People I loathed, and by the looks I got, the feeling was mutual. The downfall of being immortal, you couldn’t even look forward to death taking someone you hated off the guest list.

“So I’m told,” I replied, downing my first glass and procuring another. Increased metabolism meant I had to drink fast in order to get drunk enough not to rip someone’s limbs off before midnight.

“The real king? Do you think we’ll get to meet him?” Scott asked with excitement.

I took a huge gulp of my champagne and rolled my eyes. “Only if you’ve been a really bad boy.”

“You don’t want to meet him?” His question made it sound like I was proclaiming I drank animal blood. I didn’t. No vampire did. We couldn’t survive on the stuff. Though, now that vampires were trendy sex symbols, popular culture had to make us a bit less… icky. Hence making up the fact that we sucked on Bambi’s blood rather than Martha’s.

Not an improvement, in my humble opinion.

I pretended to ponder, cradling the flute to my chest. “Do I want to meet the high and mighty majesty of our race? A man who most likely grew up being fed willing young blood bags on a platter and expects everyone to bow down and kiss his alligator loafers? And obey his every whim? Of course. I can think of no other way to spend my Saturday, I wouldn’t rather claw out my own fangs or anything,” I responded, my voice saccharine sweet with sarcasm.

Scott’s face turned positively pale. More pale than it already was, anyway. He wasn’t gaping at me, but at the space right behind me.

Shit.

“He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” I asked through gritted teeth.

Scott nodded slowly.

“Fuck,” I muttered under my breath. Though why I muttered it was anyone’s guess; everyone in the room most likely could hear, if they so desired.

And they’d desire nothing less than to watch the king strip the skin from my arm for daring to disrespect him at his own party.

I wasn’t just making that shit up. Apparently that happened to some vampire who criticized his choice in blood.

“I’d hate to disappoint you, but I’m not wearing alligator loafers, though I’m sure I could command someone to procure them for me so you could kiss them.” A deep voice floated into my ear. It was smooth and pleasing, with no underlying hostility suggesting imminent skin flaying.

I glared at Scott. “A hand signal, a freaking warning. You couldn’t give me anything?” I hissed at him before downing my drink and slowly turning. I tried to plaster an apologetic look on my face, though I worried I just looked deranged. Technically I could be severely punished for my little monologue. Monarchs were stiff like that.

I was momentarily shocked with what I was presented with. The king was hot. Like smokin’. It looked like he spent his days tanning instead of ruling, and his features were dark and masculine. Eyes the color of two shiny emeralds and a thick smattering of stubble covering his sharp jaw. His hair was shaggy and brushing his shoulders, a jagged scar sweeping through his brow.

Pre-turning, I thought to myself. Vampires could get injured, by someone very determined or very stupid, but we couldn’t scar. At least not after we’d come of age, died and turned into our immortal selves. Before, we were a little more breakable, though we didn’t exactly like to broadcast that, which had me wondering why our king hadn’t found a little witch to take care of the scar. Though, it was sexy as sin.

Maybe that was why, though I’m sure his crown already got him a lot of tail.

He was huge. Like huge. He towered over me, and I was tall for a woman—and in six in heels, no less. Though his tailored suit covered all his body, save his corded neck, it didn’t hide his muscular form.

I swallowed, not expecting to be attracted to the monarch I loathed on principle.

“I’m sure your lackeys have better things to do than help perpetuate crimes to fashion,” I responded evenly. I glanced down at his feet, but no snakeskin to be found. Only very expensive, very classy midnight Gucci dress shoes with a slight point to the heel. His slacks were black, Armani if I wasn’t mistaken, as was the black shirt that was unbuttoned, showing off the thick cord of his neck.

My eyes snapped up to meet his once more. “Plus, your shoes are a comfortable surprise.” I swallowed. “Your Majesty,” I added with effort.

I supposed I should curtsey or something, but thought better of it. We had gathered a bit of an audience, so everyone had obviously heard my little speech. I wasn’t going to demean myself by trying to suck up to my king like the rest of the masses. I’d just have to hope he wasn’t feeling particularly wrathful.

His eyes weren’t full of wrath, only amusement. “I’m glad my choice of footwear pleases you….” He quirked a brow at me in question.

“Isla,” I said quickly, though I didn’t think for a second that he was ignorant of who I was. I wasn’t arrogant… well, actually I was, but I figured his ever-present aides and advisors warned him about potential troublemakers. I’d been at the top of that particular list for well over four hundred years.

“Isla,” he repeated, my name sounding delightful in his raspy tone.

Oh my God, I was getting all squidgy at this guy. I didn’t get squidgy.

Stop. Now.

The squidgyness intensified as his gaze traveled the length of me. I was wearing a pure white gown, mostly to piss everyone off. Vampires seemed to think it compulsory to wear dark and violent colors in order to perpetuate stereotypes.

I wanted to stay as far away from stereotypes as I could. My dress was skintight and strapless, molding to my body, and had a slit up to midthigh. White strappy stilettos snaked up my calf. At his gaze, I was totally happy I didn’t skimp on the hair and makeup. My auburn locks tumbled around my shoulders and down my back in soft curls. I had gone for a smoky eye to accentuate my green irises and went nude for lipstick instead of my signature blood-red. A girl had to keep some stereotypes alive. Or undead.

“I’d have to say, your choice of footwear pleases me greatly too,” he said finally, once his eyes met mine once more.

We held this long intense gaze for a split second before he gave me a polite nod and turned to disappear into the crowd. Two men trailed him. Bodyguards, I suspected. He looked like he could well and truly take care of himself, but these were uncertain times.

“Isla,” a sharp voice hissed.

“No respite,” I muttered, my back going ramrod straight.

A firm hand snatched my elbow. I met eyes identical to mine, narrowed into a look of almost pure hatred.

“Hey, Mom, how’s death?” I greeted with a grin.

“Tell me that was not just the king you were speaking to,” she demanded.

“Okay, that was not the king I was just speaking to.” I sipped my champagne, my eyes already scanning the room for the closest waiter. I needed to be drunk to stay dead for this evening, and thanks to my accelerated metabolism, I needed about twenty more of these to be sufficiently sloshed.

Her grip tightened and she glanced around, mindful of the various eyes on us. She smiled tightly. “We’ll talk about that later.”

“Can’t wait.” I smiled tightly, draining my glass.

Her eyes moved behind me, taking in Scott.

He scrubbed up well, if you asked me. I honestly expected him to be some overweight kid with spectacles and red hair.

Yes, vampires could be overweight. All shapes and sizes, not just tall, dark, and sparkly.

Actually, not sparkly at all. Unless you counted my personality, which I did.

Scott was none of those things, but he wasn’t bad to look at. Like, I wouldn’t need the paper bag in the bedroom. He was shorter than me and a little on the skinny side, but he worked it. His blond hair was artfully messed in the way the kids loved to do these days, and his features were sharp and defined. He had a scattering of freckles, no doubt inherited from his human father.

“Who’s this?” she asked, her mask of society vampire slipping back on. “You’ve finally found a man to survive your company longer than twelve minutes, congratulations.”

I snatched another glass off a passing waiter, ignoring the Devil’s Mistress’s glare. “Mom, this is Scott,” I introduced, glancing at my watchless hand. “Been in my presence for approximately… fourteen minutes. Though I doubt we’ll get to fifteen with you around.”

My mother ignored me and held out her gloved hand. Not for Scott to shake, but to kiss. Seriously.

He stared at her outstretched limb in confusion before he jumped forward and clumsily executed the kiss.

“Ma’am, nice to meet you,” he fumbled once he’d released her.

She gave him an appraising eye. “Charmed,” she murmured, though her tone betrayed she’d be more charmed to be chewing on a dishrag. “You’re….” She stared at his cheap suit, then at his freckles before she bristled.

You could taste the ice in the air, originating from her utter distaste of half breeds. I reasoned if she could find a way to discreetly and immediately burn the glove he’d set his mouth on, she would.

Me? I thought he needed to spray antifreeze on his lips.

“Half human and he works the phones at the Sector,” I finished for her, enjoying the way her face froze immensely. “Now, if you’ll excuse us.” I snatched Scott’s hand. “We’ve got something very important to do, over there.” I gestured vaguely to the farthest side of the room.

I didn’t wait for her to say anything else, dragging Scott out of reach of her fangs, both literal and figurative. She most likely wouldn’t do something as uncouth as lunge at my date at such an event, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

I nodded to the various people who stared at me, grinning at the ones who openly glared.

“So, that was your mom,” Scott said, swallowing tightly.

I snatched another champagne off a passing tray, handing it to him. “Yes. A total peach, isn’t she? A shining example of the wonderful people who attend these glorious gatherings,” I said, grinning inwardly at the people who stiffened as they heard my hushed tone. Vampires. Great hearing meant I could insult a huge group at one time. Totally awesome.

I directed us to a corner of the room where we had the best vantage point to look down on the rest of my vampire kin.

“This is…. These are all of the families?” Scott asked, glancing at the sea of attractive, eternally young bodies wearing an array of black, crimson, and other equally depressing colors.

I nodded, scanning the group and locating my brothers and father, though they were hard to miss. My family was tall. Yep, vampires had genetics, just like any other living, or technically dead, species. Every member of my family had thick, auburn hair—though mine was the best—and a statuesque frame. However, unlike me and my mother, my father and brothers weren’t slender; they were built with muscle, like they spent hours in the gym. They were just one of the ‘great families,’ good looks and favorable physiques part of the deal. These traits were ensured by ‘selective breeding’ of only the purest of blood.

Mixing or dirtying the Vein Line with anything that didn’t err on the side of blue was an ideal way to get yourself shut off from the ruling elite quicker than you could say ‘shotgun wedding.’

They all looked like GQ models, and the same ages, despite there being a couple of thousand years between them. You’d have to cut them open and count the rings if you wanted to distinguish age. Though, my father’s hair was slicked back and he was leaner than my brothers.

“There’s the rest of my cuddly family.” I nodded to them, giving them a finger wave and a smile.

Father glanced at me with an empty gaze, the chasm of his eyes betraying nothing but perhaps the smallest bead of distaste. Viktor and Evgeni just ignored me.

“Don’t let their good looks fool you. They’re fucking psychopaths,” I said through my smile.

“Aren’t all vampires?” Scott muttered, surprising me. His tone was somewhat jaded and full of revulsion, as if he was distancing himself from those in the room whose legs I’d been certain he was going to hump.

I glanced to my side to regard him. He was staring at the room, that puppy dog look gone, replaced with something older and arguably wiser.

“I think we’re going to get on just fine, Scotty,” I said, looking back to the room.

 

 

*****

We had only been swimming in the shark-filled waters for about half an hour before a thick silence blanketed the room. One that had me looking up from the tray where I’d just snatched my twentieth, or fortieth champagne.

The king stood in front of the crowd, slightly raised on a small stage in front of a tapestry depicting The Battle of the Four, where the four supernatural factions fought against each other. Casualties on all sides were heavy before a peace treaty was signed. Then every faction’s respective rulers commenced in dividing every major city into four sections, so no such battle would be fought again.

There were summits every decade to reevaluate with the growing cities. From the whispers I’d heard throughout the party, one had just ended in Prague, where some controversial decisions were made.

I wouldn’t know, it was New York Fashion Week last week and the only big decisions I knew about was the decision to bring back velvet. Obviously the vampires at this party loved that particular choice.

The king radiated a cold sort of authority that made the greatest vampires—I use that title with a heavy dose of sarcasm—quiet and focus on him. Some did it begrudgingly, like my mother with her pinched face, but all still gave him the most precious thing an immortal could give—their attention.

His emerald eyes darted over the room before they settled on me for a moment. Then they were gone.

“I appreciate your attendance,” he started, his smooth tenor traveling over the crowd of vampires in the ballroom. “I know many of you have come far to be here and hear the announcement I brought you here to make.” He paused, long enough to be uncomfortable, yet not a vampire muttered a thing. They wouldn’t dare. The king’s menace was legendary and every vampire there had too much self-preservation to interrupt the king’s speech with an ill-timed whisper.

“With traitorous factions causing trouble for themselves, an alliance has been made.”

The words settled over the room with such a force that I couldn’t hide my grin. Even I couldn’t piss off every single vampire so easily. Kudos to King Markandeya.

Vampires considered themselves to be at the top of the food chain. We were created by gods, for Pete’s sake. Our Vein Lines had the Ichor, the substance of eternal life running through them. Werewolves were just freaks of nature, witches were pagans, and demons were merely soldiers of a long-forgotten king. Vampires were elite. Or that’s what the attendees of this soiree thought.

“This alliance between supernaturals has been a long time coming. The world is changing and so must our society if we are to maintain our position,” the king continued. “But be warned, this isn’t, and never will be, a democracy. You may disagree with this decision, but I do it for the good of our race, so you must find a way to accept it. Or you face the punishment that those rebels caught after the explosion in Prague.” His threat held heavy in the air as cold eyes focused on various members of the marble-faced crowd.

Silence thick with malice and anger filled the room. The king remained at the front of the space, daring anyone to challenge him. When the silenced yawned, he nodded once. “Enjoy the blood, the company, I urge you.” Then he nodded and glided off the stage.

Muted conversations resumed after his exit, but no one dared to criticize the king’s decision, though I was sure there would be more than enough outrage behind closed doors.

Me, I lapped up the discomfort of the vampires I’d long despised. I held my glass up to my mother’s blank face. Her eyes flickered with rage before she masked it.

I grinned, sipping from my glass.

Scott leaned in. “Did something bad just happen?” he asked, oblivious as a child.

I gave him a look. “Oh no, something great just happened.”

 

*****

 

“I need to get some fresh air,” I muttered to Scott as we walked away from a conversation so drenched in verbal barbs, I was surprised I wasn’t bleeding.

Though if words could wound, the vampire we were walking away from would have been a headless corpse added to the décor.

Centuries of this meant I had been able to hold my own.

“You gonna be okay in here?” I asked Scott, who was now on his fifth champagne. He hadn’t touched the amber liquid either.

He glanced to me, grinning. “Of course.”

I shook my head. “I may have been wrong about you, my friend.” I was serious. He’d handled the vipers perfectly, insulting them in ways just veiled enough to be considered good manners as a response to every comment about his lineage, or lack thereof. He was from an unknown family, and a half breed to boot. His father was human, or had been. That’s the thing about those humans; they had a nasty habit of dying. And there was nothing his mother could have done, since all that shit about vampire blood being a mystical cure was pure Hollywood. Humans died, vampires lived. It was that simple.

Half breeds like Scott were still technically immortal but were a lot more breakable than their full-blood counterparts, which was only a small reason why those in proper society tried their best to shun them away to desk jobs. Mostly it was because the assholes of the ‘superior race’ considered humans to be little more than meals with a vocabulary. Some, of course, did the horizontal tangle with them, before they sucked them dry. But falling in love with one, breeding with one? Well, that was akin to filing down your fangs.

“Stay cool.” I winked at him, clinking my glass with his before wading through the sea of assholes.

Luckily, the balcony leading off the French doors of the ballroom was deserted, which meant I could have a moment to myself and shake off the filth that came with attending such things.

The estate was outside New York, sprawled on acres of manicured gardens. It was dark, but that didn’t mean much to me; heightened eyesight and hearing were one of the things setting us apart from the human race.

Oh, and immortality and the fact that we sucked the blood of the aforementioned human race to stay undead.

Small things.

I leaned against the railing, resisting the urge to vault over it and run from this godforsaken party. It wasn’t just the damage to my outfit that stopped me. It was Mother’s words.

“If you do not come, your brothers will deliver you the bodies of three dead children to your apartment at dawn.”

It wasn’t an idle threat. I’d learned that the hard way.

I’d never been the prodigal daughter my parents had wanted, even before I turned. I spent my childhood reading human literature instead of the vampire gospel, which of course wasn’t something you found in Barnes and Noble, or its sixteenth-century equivalent.

I cried when I was six and saw my father and mother kill a human. Something a vampire, even before they’d fully matured, should never have done.

From then, my family made it their mission to hide my habits of humanity from the rest of the society. All done through force, obviously. If I didn’t act how they wanted me to, they’d kill children, entire families, in front of me. And then made me sleep in the same room as their corpses.

It had worked for a while. Their methods were grisly and designed to make even the most devout saint into a sinner. Since I hadn’t been devout, nor a saint, I turned dark, sinning enough to make even Ted Bundy blush. I’d turned after they killed the life I’d made for myself and after, I escaped the cold and unfeeling atmosphere of Russia.

When I turned twenty-three and the chance presented itself, I ran. Didn’t look back. I had planned on going as far away from the motherland as possible, chasing the sunshine while I could live in its warm rays, before I was sentenced to a life in the shadows.

I arrived in post-war Paris at the end of the 1600s, when Louis was crowned and the city was blooming with their newly grasped peace. Both the Parisians and I were blissfully ignorant of how fragile that peace would become. How it would shatter and be replaced with blood, death and anguish.

I was quickly besotted with the growing city and the pulsating life that emanated from its streets. Despite goals to travel to the edge of the world to escape my family and try in vain to hold onto my humanity, I stayed. Made friends with aristocrats, thanks to my mystique, Russian accent, and apparent lack of family.

A young, attractive and wealthy woman in those times did not travel alone.

Times were delicate, as was life. Women in such a time were considered the most delicate of all. I wasn’t concerned about the horrors or dangers the human world offered me; it was nothing compared to my childhood.

I was naive and somehow thought I was invincible, although I was at the most fragile stage in my immortal life. Many vampires died when their life force was the closest to a human’s as we ever got.

I didn’t worry myself with such things at that time, I worried about sunshine, dresses, champagne and parties. And it was at one of the parties at the newly constructed Versailles that I met him.

I floated around the grass, my skirts trailing on the ground as I smiled up into the sunlight, basking in its glow and in the slight fuzz at the edge of my thoughts thanks to the excellent champagne.

The hum of conversations calmed me, the lack of murders and screams I’d grown used to jarring yet comforting.

An electricity snaked up my skin with the telltale sign of a stare landing on my back. I glanced across the garden to see the owner of that stare sidling through the crowds, nodding at men and bowing at ladies as he approached.

His caramel eyes never left me as he came closer. I did little but gape at the young man with skin kissed by the sun. His auburn hair curled around his face in shiny waves, setting him apart from the other men I’d met. His attire was less unusual, the stark white ruff snaking up his neck, contrasting with the intricately designed leather jerkin worn over the matching doublet. His paned hose matched and added to the crisp and opulent look. I wasn’t impressed by his tailoring, nor his resources which made him able to procure the finest fabrics. It was the warmth that seemed to travel with him, the eyes focused on mine which were two tiny balls of light, comforting me with their heat.

            He made it to me, bowing low and eating me up with his gaze.

            The heat of my blush crept up my cheeks. It wasn’t unusual to be the subject of male attention. I had had my experience with it since my arrival in the strange and vibrant city and though it had excited me, nothing had curled in my stomach at a mere gaze like it had right then.

I forgot my manners momentarily and scurried to curtsey as was proper.

A shadow of a grin lit up his boyish face as I rose.

            “Mademoiselle,” he greeted.

            I dipped my head, if only to escape the pull of his gaze. Immediately I yearned for it. “Monsieur,” I returned. I feared my greeting was not as smooth as his. The way his tongue rolled over the single word betrayed him as a native and me as a foreigner.

            He glanced around me, as if expecting someone to come and snatch me from his very presence.

“You do not have a family, a chaperone to protect your honor?” he asked, as if he expected to have to unsheathe the dagger at his belt to take up the post.

I laughed. “Protect my honor? No,” I replied softly. Damn it, maybe.

“Your family, they’re dead?” His eyes searched mine, warm with concern.

I nodded, sipping my champagne. “Dead,” I agreed.

It wasn’t a lie. They just happened to be walking, talking and murdering without a heartbeat. Hence my voluntary seclusion in Paris. I’d been there almost a month and they hadn’t come to fetch me. I was surprised, figuring the wayward Rominskitoff daughter who mingled with humans would be the scandal of the century.

They weren’t quite ready to turn me themselves; I’d bet they were hoping this dirty and death-filled mortal world might snuff my existence from the planet before I had the chance to permanently besmirch their legacy as an immortal. Or they were hoping my rejection of cold-blooded murder and sadism was just a phase. Humanity a nasty rebellion, instead of a way of life, or undeath.

Whatever it was, I was glad to be without them, and I felt confident enough to manage life in Paris alone. Even this stuffy society party was somewhat enjoyable, especially with this sharp-jawed gentleman with riveting eyes and a lean body under his attire.

He stepped forward. “It is a crime that a young lady such as yourself is in society without protection. I’m honor bound to provide my services.”

I quirked my brow, mostly to hide the strange feeling his lack of hesitation had brought. The way his proximity, slightly closer than was proper, made my heart flutter like a sparrow.

Made me forget that I could turn at any time into a bloodsucking monster that he would need protecting from.

“It’s not exactly a position that needs to be filled,” I argued. “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself, Monsieur.”

His eyelashes fluttered. “I disagree. You, in society, beautiful as a rose in spring? I would not let anyone pluck you and tarnish that beauty.”

I swallowed. I should politely excuse myself, pick up my skirts and run from those whiskey eyes and his endearing scent. But it was as if those eyes had lassoed me and I couldn’t leave his presence.

I didn’t want to.

“You flatter me, sir,” I murmured.

His eyes twinkled. “No, I tell the truth my heart commands me to tell. Otherwise, I shall drop dead, right here at your feet. And since I have renewed motivation not to do that, namely to spend more time in your presence and learn your name, I must tell my heart’s truth.”

My blush crept up my neck, my whole body humming with a reaction that would have been impossible if I had turned. But I hadn’t. Which meant my body was controlled by whatever human impulses lingered before we turned and they were all extinguished.

“I would hardly wish for you to drop dead at my feet, especially here,” I remarked, looking around the garden. “It would be most improper at such a party, and a dreadful way to go. Wouldn’t you much rather have an interesting story of your demise? Perhaps a duel?” I grinned at him.

His returning grin was blinding. “Yes, perhaps a duel. That is, if there’s another suitor I must face for your affections. In that case, it will be to the death. Otherwise, my demise is most suited to be winning the affections of the most breathtaking creature I’ve laid eyes on.”

I sucked in a haggard breath. “Monsieur, I’m afraid you must stop saying such things, for your barely know me and I do not deserve such heartfelt declarations.”

He stepped forward, closer than was socially acceptable and I didn’t find it in me to care. I didn’t care about what the entire vampire race thought about me, so why should I care about French aristocrats murmuring about me standing close to a handsome man unchaperoned.

“I disagree. I know you, for I have watched you glide around this entire wretched party, lighting it up with your presence. You laughed with the children other ladies shoo away, even hitching up your skirts in order to play with them. You bespelled Lord Durand, even made the old man laugh when it is known that Louis himself cried in his presence. Finally, the moment your eyes met mine, my heart stopped and started, for I laid my eyes on the woman I intend to marry.”

His declaration, which my twenty-first-century self might have scoffed at and ran from, instead set my whole world aflame with warmth of true, genuine human affection, something that had been entirely absent from my existence.

We married a mere month after the party.

My family murdered him one week after our wedding.

Five weeks. That’s what I got. Five weeks of happiness, of the truest and purest form of love that humans live and die for, wrote poems for, and breathed for.

I lived for almost five hundred years, and five weeks of those I had in a box in the bottom of my shriveled heart, a shadow of what humans stayed breathing for.

What I would most likely die to avoid.

Because I couldn’t live with having something like that taken from me. Not again. Forever was a long time to live with heartbreak. Humans had it for a blink of an eye, but I had it always.

Four hundred years of the ever-present hole in my heart because I’d spent five weeks in ignorance of true love, thinking it would conquer all.

Then I came home to that house we’d talked about raising children in to see him, and every single person we’d been connected to, lying on the floor. Their throats ripped out.

My mother was wiping her mouth demurely when I walked in, dropping to my knees beside Jonathan’s corpse.

            “I should hope you now understand,” she said evenly, “what will and will not be tolerated in this family.” The skirts of her dress bristled as she made her way to me. “And what will happen should you decide to shame our name and your entire race again.”

On that note, she’d walked out of the room, leaving me cradling the man who had been the center of my fantasy. The center of my world.

Then I turned. Right then and there. Amidst the blood and remains of what had been my human life.

Every vampire was different when they came into their full selves. Their true selves. Extensive research had gone into the study of how our bodies underwent a natural death in order to bring forward an unnatural afterlife. There were many theories about evolution and Darwinism, but I didn’t trouble myself with much of that. It was a fact of our undeath and it was never consistent. You didn’t turn twenty-one and have the ability to buy your first drink, grow your fangs and live forever. Some vampires turned when they were teenagers, some middle-aged. Most were early twenties.

Various scientists of our race had tried to pinpoint the reasons behind turning and what the catalyst was.

Well, the catalyst for us all was death.

Our hearts literally stopped beating.

Mine shriveled up and exploded.

I went dark after that. The darkest. Much to my family’s delight. I left a blood trail throughout half of Europe. Ironically, my blood spree came at a time of unrest in the continent, when horrors committed by the human race far outweighed the sins a single vampire could accomplish. But that didn’t mean my soul wasn’t stained forever with the blood of those I killed.

I decided that if I died that day, I would try and kill every part of me that I thought was me. Because if I killed all of it, the humanity, the mortality, maybe I’d kill the pain. Since I couldn’t kill myself without great effort, I decided to kill everyone else.

Fifty years I was notorious, respected in my community. Not that I cared. I didn’t mingle with any of them. My life was blood, nothing else. My family didn’t bother me then. I was towing the family line, so there was no need.

Then it changed. Like I’d been in some kind of nightmare, I’d woken up. Stopped.

I didn’t stop killing; I just realized that I was turning right into what my family wanted. I had dishonored Jonathan’s memory.

So I changed my life. Or my death.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Just not the history taught in human schools.

“Thinking of jumping?” a gravelly voice interrupted my journey down memory lane.

Good thing too. That lane was littered with corpses I tried to forget, yet I carried them with me for eternity. Or until someone finally succeeded in killing me.

The source of the interruption brought me out of the frying pan of my memories and into the icy depths of his presence. His voice was flat and cold, yet able to singe my skin with its edge. I didn’t turn, just continued contemplating the grounds.

“As tempting as it is, I don’t want grass stains on my dress,” I replied.

He leaned beside me, regarding the night much like I was, holding a glass of what smelled like well-aged whiskey in his large hands.

He wasn’t indulging in the world’s finest blood. Curious.

“And that would be a crime that I would have to punish you for,” the king said, his voice drenched with double entendre.

I glanced at his profile. He was making me uneasy. No one made me uneasy. “I don’t do well with punishments,” I replied truthfully, hiding my unease behind my well-practiced bravado.

He turned his head to lock eyes with me. “You would if I was the one administering them.”

Well, fuck. Was the notoriously ruthless, callous and coldest king of all vampires flirting with me?

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” he continued.

I kept his eyes. “All bad, I hope.”

He tilted his head, his gaze speculative, as if he were figuring out a particularly hard puzzle. “No. None bad. All good, in fact.” He twirled his crystal tumbler between his hands. “The way I understand it, you only kill a certain kind of human.”

I stayed silent, figuring it was my best bet.

“The kind who have committed depravities against the human race,” he continued. “You don’t kill innocents.” He regarded me, no judgment either way, which was surprising. Or maybe he just had a really good poker face. You didn’t rule a society of sociopaths for two hundred years and stay undead if you didn’t perfect a mask of indifference.

I sipped my champagne. “What can I say? I prefer my meat bitter.”

He kept staring. My uneasiness was like a snake slithering in my belly, and I didn’t like it. Or maybe I did. Which was why I didn’t. I abhorred my entire race. Getting all weak-kneed over the king of them all was a tad hypocritical.

“Stop doing that,” I snapped, unable to take any more.

Surprise flickered across his face, his mask cracking. “Doing what?”

“Staring,” I clarified. “It’s unnerving. And also makes you look like you’re a few candlesticks short of the entire box.”

Shit. Did I just insinuate that the king of vampires was mentally impaired?

Yes. Yes I did.

Fuck.

“Okay, if you’re gonna kill me, can you at least wait until I’ve touched up my lipstick?” I asked, trying to charm my way out of this.

Respect was big in certain circles. Interestingly, the ones who were the cruelest of us all, the vipers at this party, revered manners, in person at least. All the backstabbing was done in accordance with well-established laws, ones which forbade anyone from spilling another vampire’s blood at a gathering where human blood was shared.

I guessed the king could find a loophole if some red-haired idiot decided to let her mouth run away from her and suggest he was mentally handicapped.

He tilted his head so his curtain of hair fell like silk across his shoulder. “Kill you?” he repeated, then downed the last of his liquid. “Now why would I do that? You’re much too interesting.” He gave me a pensive look before pushing off the balcony and sauntering back into the party.

I watched him walk away, admiring the cut of his suit and the fluidity of his gait.

Then I turned back to regard the midnight air. I so needed to find a way to get out of these things before I was the first person to break a rule that had been in place for thousands of years.

No vampire shall spill immortal blood when Theoxenia has been granted or Zeus shall feast on their flesh.

I scoffed, feeling the premonition of death curl around me like the wind.

Read the rest on the 31st of January…

 

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