And here is the writing I said I’d offer up:
Inside the crowded club, the smell of humans hung heavy in the air. Behind the counter, I stood with my back to the customers waiting for service, bit my finger and held it over my coffee cup. Three round red drops of blood plopped into the dark liquid below. I licked my finger, sealing over the two puncture marks and turned around to watch the room. As I sipped the coffee, the scalding liquid hit my stomach with the force of a cyclone. The infusion of blood would make sure it stayed there.
People swung and gyrated on the dance floor to the hypnotic sound of salsa music. Sweaty and panting, they came and stood at the counter demanding water, beer, munchies and just a bit too much attention. Their scent permeated everything. My clothes, my hair, even the gleaming mahogany of the bar. The monster inside me threatened to uncurl, wanting to luxuriate in the smell. Inhaling deeply from my coffee, I shut my eyes, concentrating on the slightly acrid odor. You don’t feed from humans, I told myself, the ever-deriding voice inside my head stern and edged with anger. The voice—sounding way to much like my master—taunted me, telling me I was a fool to think I could run a club catering to humans.
When I opened my eyes, Nikolai reclined on a barstool across from me—a trick only he could pull off and make it look comfortable. His black hair, slicked away from his face, brushed the upright edges on the collar of his floor-length leather coat. He couldn’t look more like something out of a B-grade horror movie if he tried. Sometimes I thought he dressed like that for the reaction he got from people. He smirked at me, only reinforcing my supposition.
I ignored him, and motioned to the fellow waiting in line at the counter. Sweat bristled on the guy’s forehead and he wiped at it with a damp rag. Exertion made the scent of his blood stronger. I wanted to ask him to move away from the bar. Couldn’t. When he asked for a Sleeman’s India Pale Ale, I popped the cap off and poured tawny liquid into a glass, sliding it across the counter for him.
“Come, Tavi. I need you.” Nikolai reached out a hand, but I turned away. “Let’s go.”
My gut clenched. I’d hoped when I moved out of the Streak that I’d cut my ties with him, or at least managed to loosen them.
“And you can’t just phone me or leave a message on my answering machine like a normal person? I’m busy.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Simone, my new employee, sidle a little closer. She stood less than a foot away, not bothering to serve the customers lined up three deep behind the counter. I waved her away. I’d have to talk to her later about minding her own business. I still hadn’t figured this girl out. Sometimes she laughed and joked with the customers in a confident manner. Other times, she hovered in the background, one foot on top of the other, arms protecting her body, and wouldn’t talk to anyone. I’d hired her at the recommendation of my chef. But considering the state of the business when I’d bought it from him three months ago, maybe I should have realized his choice in employees might be as lacking as his business skills.
A glass of dark lager appeared in front of Nikolai, followed by Simone’s beaming face. I’d also have to tell her not to cater to Nikolai’s whims. I glared at her. Deep scarlet crept up Simone’s face. She picked up a couple menus and walked over to a table close to the bar.
Stop playing with the mortal, I thought. Nikolai raised one eyebrow and the corner of his lips turned up a fraction. Leaning against the back of his padded bar stool, Nikolai watched me. Feigning disinterest, I lifted my cup. Before it could reach my lips, he pulled it out of my grasp and handed it to Simone, who once again stood too close to me. She smiled as if Nikolai had given her diamonds, not a half-empty coffee mug.
“Go back to work, Simone.” Arms across my chest, I waited until she dropped her eyes and walked away before I turned to look Nikolai. “Can’t you just stay out of my life?” I clenched my teeth so hard I could hear the bones crack in my jaw. “I’m not going with you. I have a business to run.”
“You can’t keep me out of your life forever, Tavi. Never forget you’d be dead without me. Now, I am in need of your services.”
One eye on Nikolai, Simone rinsed a beer glass. She put it in dishwasher and picked up another glass, repeating the process.
I leaned close to Nikolai, face almost touching his so she couldn’t hear me. “You can cover up your own kill.”
He sipped his lager. “Very true, but I require your services.”
When I lived at the Streak, Nikolai often expected me to spit on corpses to heal the bite marks, thus keeping us well hidden from human notice. In the three months since I’d left, he hadn’t once come asking for my services, after all my saliva didn’t contain anything more than his did. Apparently without me there he’d finally decided he could do the job on his own if he chose. It did make me wonder what made him come demanding my services now.
Yeah thanks. Flattered and all that shit, but I don’t have time to go across town just to spit on a corpse for you.
Nikolai swivelled to watch the dance floor. “This is an interesting place you’ve created. It would be a shame if your mortals found out what you are.” Nikolai turned back to face me. “Are you eating?”
The sudden change in topic disturbed me. He was skirting very close to my personal life, something I refused to talk about with him. “I’m fine. I know how to look after myself.”
“You look cold and very pale.” Nikolai took another sip of lager, watching me over the top of the glass.
“I said I’m fine.” I rubbed my cold arms with my even colder hands, effectively negating my comment. “And I’m not going with you. I’m done.”
“If you help me, I’ll make it worth your while.”
“No.” Picking up a cloth, I swiped at the counter, eradicating the rings he’d left behind on the mahogany surface. He had nothing to offer me. Or at least nothing I might want.
“Are you sure about that?” Nikolai turned back to watch the dance floor. His finger traced lazy circles on the bar.
Knowing what he could strip away from me, tears pricked unbidden at my eyes. I pinched the bridge of my nose, concealing my anguish, but it didn’t shut out his words. Scrubbing at my forehead, I sucked in a deep breath.
Nikolai’s smile held little warmth. “I’ve given you plenty of time to sulk. It is only my generosity that allows you to live on your own. It doesn’t preclude you from doing my bidding.”
He stood in a swirl of black leather. “The girl can look after things for you.”
It would be cold outside. Between my long hours starting a business and my refusal to feed from humans, I hadn’t eaten well in months—probably not since I’d left the Streak and Nikolai’s protection—making me very susceptible to the biting chill. Nikolai could wait until I got my black leather jacket that I’d left upstairs on the back of my chair. Slipping into the coat, I stared at the unending pile of paperwork on my desk and sighed. Through the window overlooking the dance floor, I could see lights twinkling on the harbour. I loved the view from up here and wouldn’t willingly give it up. Letting Nikolai back into my life had the potential to be like the thin edge of a knife, slicing away at all I had gained.
Outside, the wind had picked up, bringing the smell of rotting seaweed. And something very much like rotting flesh. I wrenched my coat closed and pulled the zipper stop up so high it dug into my chin. In the back of the parking lot, a light flickered, not quite managing to pierce the darkness, its slight buzzing seeming unnaturally loud. Even with Nikolai beside me, I checked the shadows carefully, but saw nothing.
The bouncer, Gabe, leaned on the wall, one foot placed on the brick like a stork, his arms across his chest. He straightened up and nodded slightly when he saw me. Hunched deep inside my jacket, I nodded at him and scurried for my vehicle.
“We’ll take my car,” Nikolai said. He grabbed my elbow and started to hustle me toward the passenger side of his sleek Ferrari Scaglietti before I could even pull my keys out. “This isn’t open for discussion.”
“No. You can at least let me drive my own car.” I once again extricated myself from his grasp.
“You know where we are going?” He raised one eyebrow. Nikolai’s black leather coat swirled out behind him as he pivoted. I stared unblinking at him for several seconds, as I weighed my options. If life is a system of give and take, maybe he wouldn’t take my independence if I gave in and went with him. With a flourish, he opened the passenger door for me. His car rumbled to life as I settled into the soft leather seat. Cold air blasted my face.
“Shit Nikolai can you turn that down? It’s winter.”
Thankfully he cranked the heat up so I didn’t freeze. Heading out of the parking lot, he drove along Dallas Road. The scent of decaying seaweed lay heavy in the air and I could smell the coming rain. After Cattle Point, Nikolai turned left into the residential area near the graveyard. We drove past 1920’s bungalows interspersed with older Victorian mansions. I could see Ross Bay Cemetery through the large oak trees. Nikolai pulling off onto a dark side street and parked the car.
A silver BMW sedan, belonging to Nikolai’s second in command, pulled up behind Nikolai. My stomach felt like I just plummeted down an elevator shaft. Not only had Nikolai come to get me, he’d summoned backup. What could be so big that he thought he couldn’t handle on his own? That he needed his two strongest vampires beside him. And me. That still didn’t explain why he’d come to demand my services. Unless he just wanted me under his control, like always.
Dante unfolded himself from the passenger side. As always, he had the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head. A fringe of black hair escaped the edge, falling over one eye. Wires trailed from to his iPod, which he fiddled with. His head bopped up and down in time to music only he could hear. His normally china white skin showed a blush of pink.
“Hey Dante, been out hunting,” I asked. He removed one speaker from his ear and cocked his head. “Been out hunting?”
He barely smiled in response. By the time I finished greeting Dante, Blake had sidled up beside Nikolai. He’d gelled his hair, carefully making the spiked ends look intentional, like an imitation of well-groomed sexiness. He’d be more at home in tights on a ballet stage than following a streak of vampires around a graveyard at one in the morning. And no matter how hard he tried, he’d never be sexy.
“Did you leave your tights at home,” I asked, even though I knew he hadn’t danced since something happened between him and Stravinski.
He crossed his arms like a two-bit thug. His gaze made me feel like he could see into the depths of my soul where I didn’t want his prying eyes. Even knowing how strong Blake was, how easily he could destroy me, I couldn’t help poking at him, couldn’t help how much I disliked him, and it came out whenever I came into contact with him. Blake rearranged the crease in his charcoal-grey pinstriped pants legs and glared at me. One corner of his lip rose, exposing one wickedly pointed canine and he turned away.
“Stop it Blake,” Nikolai said. “Get the package.”
Blake opened the trunk of his Beamer, reaching inside for a small parcel. The noxious smell of decay spilled out with the bundle. A long shaft of white bone, complete with decaying flesh, protruded from the cloth. He shoved it at Dante, who rearranged the wrapping, covering everything but the smell.
“Jesus. What the fuck.” I stared at him, mouth open. I stopped breathing so I didn’t have to smell the putrid smell of rotting flesh. I couldn’t even begin to frame the questions banging around in my head.
Like where the bones came from.
Or who they belonged to.
I could tell by the smell the bones didn’t belong to an animal, but not much more. They could belong to a vampire or a human. No wonder Nikolai brought us to the cemetery. What better place to dump a few bones.
“Cover those up Blake. Come on, let’s go.” Nikolai strode across the street, his entourage close on his heels. I trailed along behind, trying to assimilate what I’d seen. Nikolai never left bodies in such terrible condition. He was careful to make all his kills seem like death by natural cause. And he strictly enforced that rule for all of us. Had someone broken the rule? Or was that one of us?
We created dark shadows that few would notice. Rain started to spatter, and I pulled the hood on my leather jacket up over my head.
Enough graves to create a small city sprawled out in front of us. Ornate mausoleums stuck out like giant’s teeth between an assortment of grave markers and large, flat tombs flush with the ground. Most were so worn I could no longer read the names engraved on the headstones. Paved paths meandered in no logical order between looming pines and the few old growth cedars. Dryads lived in little clusters here and there, sheltering inside the trees. If I tried to talk to them, they would dart even deeper into the safety of their trees, cowering in wide-eyed fright.
“This way,” Nikolai said and set and inexorable pace towards the water. Mist drifted up from the ocean in waves, blanketing the bottom corner of the cemetery in dense fog. As the wind picked up even more, I could hear the waves from Ross Bay pound on the seawall the city had built years before to prevent the loss of graves during extreme weather. Weather like tonight—rain, wind and fog all rolled up into another sublime Victoria winter night.
Water squelched under foot, seeping up through a crack that had developed in the sole of my right shoe. Nikolai appeared impervious in his black leather coat—either that or he was too macho to let the rain bother him. He paused at a large crypt surrounded by an ornate wrought iron fence.
He kneeled down and studied the ground. His long black jacket swept out behind his body like wings. Unable to find anywhere to shelter from the steady drip of rain, I hunched beside him. Tendrils of my short rodent-coloured brown hair curled around my face, responding to the humidity as if alive.
Carefully arranging the crease in his trousers, Blake crouched on the other side of Nikolai, examining the ground as well.
“Someone has been here.” Blake pointed a number of footprints scuffed into the dirt in front of the tomb.
I rolled my eyes. In a graveyard with weekly tours anyone could have left prints here. I thought Blake was just trying to suck up to Nikolai.
Dante huddled under the outspread wings of a large stone angel that perched above us on top of the mausoleum. Its eyes appeared to watch me, and goose bumps rose on my arms. The feeling of dread it instilled angered me; it was only stone. The tinny sound of punk music escaped Dante’s headphones. His dark hair hung lankly from under the dripping hood of his sweatshirt.
Looking at him made me shiver. “Aren’t you cold?”
Fiddling with the wrought iron gate blocking the entrance to the crypt, Nikolai left the rusty lock alone. Knowing how easily he could open it, I wondered why.
“Can we not take all night admiring the scenery,” I said peering into the fog, hoping no one came through the cemetery right now. Nikolai could talk his way out of any situation with a mortal, but even with his smooth voice, it might be hard to avoid the smell of rotting flesh emanating from the bundle in Dante’s arms.
Motioning us forward, Nikolai moved on, once again heading towards the water. He set an unrelenting pace, heading deeper into the fog as we neared the ocean. I stuck close, not wanting to loose sight of him.
At a light touch on my shoulder, I spun around, landing in a fighter’s crouch, stiletto ready. I stopped the up-thrust just before I skewered my ex-boyfriend in the belly.
“Jesus. What the hell are you doing in the middle of a cemetery,” I asked. And in the middle of the night. He could well ask me the same question. Not that I’d tell him.
“I… I don’t know.” He shook his head in confusion, stared at the blade, then at me, eyes wide, face pale. I sheathed the blade as if daring him to comment on it. A small mind push would help him forget he’d seen it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. “I, Oc… Tavi, I want you back.”
I so didn’t want to discuss our relationship right now. Or rather lack of a relationship.
Drew looked between the Nikolai and me, mouth open. His shoulders lifted as he took a deep, shuddering breath.
“Can we go get a coffee? It is miserable out here.”
“Not right now. I have something to do.”
He blinked slowly. “In a cemetery? At one in the morning?”
He nodded as if that made perfect sense. “Look, Tavi. I’m sorry about that whole…” He waved his hand in the air ineffectually. “Thing. With Centhia.” He took my hand in his. “Jesus, you’re freezing.”
He pulled back as if the cold bit him and I winced. He’d never mentioned my body temperature before, but in the past, I’d always fed before seeing him. In a purely human gesture, I put my hands under my armpits. No more warmth existed there than in my fingertips.
“It’s cold out here.” Dead cold.
Drew nodded. “I don’t know what came over me. I miss you.”
Tears glistened in the corners of his eyes. Oh, god, I didn’t need him crying on me—or over me for that matter. Any show of weakness only made him seem like food.
And I couldn’t allow myself to think of the intoxicating flavour of human blood.
“Querida.” Nikolai’s arms snaked around me as his voice whispered low and throaty in my ear.
“Fuck, let go of me.” I shoved Nikolai away, angry that he’d snuck up and grabbed me as if he thought he could claim me. This possession thing had to end.
I reached for Drew’s hand but he shrank away from me. Nikolai still stood too close and the heat from his body hammered through me, reminding me I hadn’t fed tonight.
Drew stared at Nikolai and anger light flared in his eyes. “You’re seeing him aren’t you?”
“What is wrong with you? Would it even matter if I were? Or did you forget I broke up with you for sticking your tongue down someone else’s throat?”
“No, I didn’t forget. But maybe I’m not the one with a problem,” Drew said. “Centhia told me you have something to hide. Maybe she was right.” He spun around, disappearing into the mist.
I slipped into the whiteness behind Drew. Unless I wanted to lose everything I’d worked so hard to gain, common sense told me to stay and help, but right now I needed to cool off a bit. So instead, I headed diagonally across the graveyard in the direction of my business. Superstitious dread kept me from stepping on the graves; I knew what existed under the innocuous looking mounds of earth.
A hand on the back of my collar stopped me short, yanking me off the ground. Something enormous held me so tight the zipper on my jacket bit into my windpipe. My breath came in ragged gasps, and I caught a whiff of fetid breath and the stench of wet cement. Just great. A troll. I’d never heard of one this far from the mountains. Could this evening get any worse?
Unzipping my jacket, I fell to the ground and reached for the mist to cloak myself as I scrambled away from the troll.
His granite fist pulled me up by the elbow. “You not get away.”
Lunging at him, I sank my teeth into his forearm. Or tried to. Instead, I almost chipped a fang.