Regan woke up feeling a chill throughout her body. Emma had picked her up and driven her home, using her spare key to let them in. Regan had taken a shower to wash the blood from her face, and then slipped into a silk shirt to wear as pajamas. It was part of a matched set she and Harrison shared. He had always slept in just the silk pants, and she had worn the button down shirt. It was big on her, falling mid-thigh. When she had eased into the garment she could still smell him on it, that faint scent of his aftershave. It felt comfortable.
Now she regretted her bare legs. She rubbed them once as though the action would actually warm them again, and then settled for climbing the stairs from her basement to begin planning her night. She wondered if the blood in her refrigerator would still be safe to drink, nearly a week later. Did blood go bad?
She entered the kitchen and headed straight for the fridge, her mind still fuzzy with her usual just-woke-up haze. She opened the door and reached for one of the blood bags still sitting next to the carton of soon-to-expire milk. She really needed to clean that out before it started to smell. She took another sniff. She could smell roses, and a touch of sexual excitement.
“Uh, hi, Miss Fairchild.”
Regan leapt with surprise and turned quickly. Seated at her small kitchen table was the delivery girl from earlier in the week. Her blonde hair was pulled back through her ball cap, and hung down in a neat tail. The cap was adorned with a courier company name and logo, “Celerity.” She was wearing another tight biking shirt, this time in neon green and black, the tones making her green eyes seem to come even more to life. Regan paused and tried not to think about the fact that her first real meal of blood was now sitting in her kitchen, smiling at her.
The messenger must have recognized Regan’s concern, her smile fading quickly. “I’m really sorry for coming in. When I picked up this job, I said that I was really not okay with waiting inside, and then my boss just starting talking and it just made so much more sense than waiting outside.” She started to wring her hands in her lap. “And the client paid up front with a massive tip so it was a bit easier to just, you know, let myself in and wait here.” She blinked and then pushed a small parcel across the table towards Regan. “He didn’t say you’d be coming up from the basement though. Where you, like, here the whole time I was?”
Regan took it all in. Was nothing in her life sacred any more? She looked at the girl, trying to ignore the scent of excitement coming from her. She remembered being fed upon, Regan could smell it it on her. “Who hired you?” She began to cross the small space to the girl.
“Uh,” the messenger paused, flipping open a small notebook on the table. “This package is from J Windsor. My boss said it was my only delivery tonight.” She looked up at Regan. “I’m really sorry for letting myself in. I told my boss it was a bad idea.”
Regan’s mind was no longer hearing the words. She reached down and put a hand to the girl’s chin, encouraging her to stand. The blond rose slowly, her eyes fixed on Regan’s. It was as though she wanted to be here, wanted to be fed upon. Regan wondered if the girl would say so if asked. She could smell the desire, mixing with her sweat, and her rose scented shampoo. Regan swallowed, trying to keep the beast within at bay. She could feed without being a monster. She just needed to focus. “What’s your name?”
The girl hesitated. “Shannon,” she said, finally, her eyes still on Regan’s. They looked at each for a few moments. Regan knew what she wanted to do, but something was holding her back. This was different. When she had been with Stacy, the smaller vampire had ordered their victims to allow them to feed. A week ago, it had been the beast within her that had attacked the girl. Perhaps that was what felt off, treating Shannon like a person, rather than a commodity.
“If it’s okay,” Regan started with a shaky voice, “I’d like to kiss your neck.”
Shannon nodded back. She lifted her chin slightly and looked up at the ceiling. It was the final invitation Regan needed.
Leaning in she kissed the skin, sucking at the flesh and savoring the taste. If she was going to do this, she was going to learn how to do it right. Shannon let out a low whimper as Regan took her into her arms. She bit down and began to drink of the girl, feeling the blood flow easily into her mouth and warm her body instantly. Regan opened her eyes, rolling them back a little as she savored the rich honey of Shannon’s life blood. Where the last time she had fed, the sensations were tangy and sour, this blood had the sweetness of pure honey, and the richest liquors. It was unexpected but far from unwelcome. She no longer could hear anything but the sound of the girl’s heart in her mind. It was as though the two were one being, moving together, sharing a single living essence.
Regan could feel more of Shannon’s weight pulling down on her. She pulled back from the girl’s neck and practically dropped her into the chair. Again, all the remained of her feeding were two small puncture wounds, already healing over. She took a step back and collected her thoughts. Shannon slumped forward against the table, naturally laying her head on her arms as though she would simply fall asleep. Regan froze looking at her.
The girl stirred slightly and rolled her head from one side to the other, exposing a wide grin of contentment. “Yes?” She did not open her eyes.
That was confirmation enough for Regan. She wondered how often she could safely feed on the girl. Her mind started to work though the numbers, estimating how much blood she had taken, how often she had been to give blood, and of course Shannon’s natural health. Her mind continuing to work, she left Shannon to rest and went to find her laptop.
She eventually found it nestled between the couch and the end table. Returning to the kitchen she fired it up and started to brew a pot of coffee. She did not make much, as she had no intention to drink it, but she missed that smell filling her kitchen. Just scooping the grounds into the small hopper made her sigh happily.
Shannon started to regain herself, sitting up and rubbing her neck absently. “Did I mention that you kiss really good?” she dreamily asked.
Regan resisted the urge to correct her. “Thank you.” She came over to the table again and sat down. “How do you feel?”
Shannon grinned back, her eyes still half closed with drunken contentment. “I feel amazing.”
“I would like to put you on retainer,” Regan began. “What is your usual delivery fee?”
“It’s ten bucks for a pick-up plus another ten every mile.” She paused. “Retainer?”
Regan retrieved a business card from the side shelf. “I would like you to stop by every Saturday and Wednesday to see if I have any deliveries for the evening. Please be prompt at nine. If I do not I will still pay you for the pick up as well as an additional fifteen dollars tip.” She offered the card. “Is that fair?”
Shannon took the card and looked at the table, nervously. “Will you be kissing me again?” Her voice was low and hopeful.
Regan reached out to put her hand on Shannon’s. “If you allow me to, yes.” She thought she was being noble but at the same time part of her mind was racing through the possibilities of what prolonged feeding might do the girl. Would Shannon become addicted to her bites? Would she eventually become dependent on them? Was she really doing the right thing in creating a regular person on which feed?
But she could not continue to live on the charity of Jeremiah Windsor Book. That much she knew for certain. Shannon was the first step towards independence.
Regan walked her out of the townhouse and gave her a hug at the door. She watched Shannon staggerdown the steps to her bike, the tight shorts showing every curve of her body. Regan was a little jealous, wishing she had looked half that good herself. She shook her head and closed the door, one task for the evening done.
Next up was to draft a letter of resignation. It was more or less a form letter, professional and vague, giving no particular reasons and offering apologies for the short notice. She agreed to continue to manage any accounts that could not be immediately transferred to someone else. Then came a round of emails to everyone she had ever filed tax returns for, inquiring if they needed personal consultations now that she was working for herself. She was basically a mathematical hermit from January first through April fifteenth, so somewhere in there she had to be able to find some good leads to independent work. She ran through a few drafts of the letters before finally stepping away from the laptop unsatisfied. An office would be a must as well, and probably some kind of personal assistant or secretary. She sighed as her to-do list continued to climb.
She emptied the coffee pot and poured herself some wine. She swirled it in the wide mouthed glass and enjoyed the smell of it. She had no desire to drink it-- that had not gone well last time-- but again, the scent was comforting on its own. To give herself a break she turned her attention to Facebook and checked her notices.
“Harrison Bennett is now single”
She slammed the laptop shut with enough force that the sound of the shattering display filled the kitchen. Regan stood up and stormed away from the table. She knew she had no right to be upset, no right to be angry. Harrison was getting on with his life, and she should do the same. She forced herself to calm as she wound up the power cord and put the laptop next to the trash. She would have make a point to get out early one evening to have it recycled. Emma would kill her if she just put it in the trash.
The sound of her phone ringing brought her back into reality. She looked at the display to see that it was a number she did not recognize. Normally she let those go to voicemail but her curiosity won out.
“Yes?” she said, slipping the phone between her shoulder and her ear. She picked up the parcel Shannon had left for her.
“Hey, Regan,” a bright voice on the other end of the line chirped at her. “It’s Stacy.”
“Oh,” Regan said, frowning. “I’m sorry I didn’t call last night. You probably thought something happened to me.” She peeled off the paper to reveal her handbag, left in Jeremiah's stretch SUV several nights ago. The night she had fired a gun for the second time, had been shot through with a half dozen bullets and nearly bled to death. It had been an exciting night, even without Daryl sweeping in to rescue her unconscious body.
“Don’t worry,” Stacy responded. “Word travels pretty quick and I would’ve heard if things went too bad. Plus, I’ve got someone here with me that is proof you survived the night.”
“Pardon?” Regan checked and the only thing missing from her handbag was the gold Cross Pen she had won in poker from that human Paul. She put the bag down and tried to focus on Stacy.
“It’s really hard to explain on the phone.” Stacy sounded matter-of-fact about it all, which made Regan even more curious. “How about Daryl picks you up and you see for yourself what I’m talking about?”
“I don’t know,” Regan said looking at the broken laptop. “I’ve got a ton of things to get done tonight if I want to start having anything that resembles a life.”
Stacy sighed. “Well, I didn’t want to say this at the start, but Jeremiah expects you to be here.”
“Well,” Stacy was clearly struggling for words. “Like I said you have to see it for yourself.
Regan looked at the parcel that Jeremiah had sent over, and thought about the last week. He had provided her blood to escape her coffin, blood to get through her first night, and one of his bloodline had sheltered her for several nights while she adjusted. Her debt to him was climbing at rates that made her uncomfortable. Every debt will eventually come due. She shook her head. “I don’t think I can accept any more gifts from him right now.”
There was a long pause before Stacy said anything. When she did speak her voice was low. “Regan, Daryl is going to be there in about ten minutes. Trust me. Get in the car with him. I’m not playing you and I’m not trying to freak you out, but this is not the time to get independently minded. Please.”
Regan pressed her lips together and transferred the phone from one ear to the other. Stacy now had her full attention, that was sure, but it was not a feeling she liked.
“Okay, then,” she said. “Ten minutes.”
* * *
One of the best things about living in the Detroit area was that you could get anywhere in about an hour. One of the worst things about living there was that it took about an hour to get anywhere. Daryl steered the car through the late night traffic, which was light for a Saturday night until he pulled out into one of the more posh suburbs. They passed over hills and through ever-thickening clusters of trees until they reached an old road overshadowed with massive trees.
Daryl had said little as they drove. He had politely inquired about the previous night. Regan had not been in the mood to disclose the results of seeing Harrison, so simply gave a light recounting of the meeting and her money-talking escape. Daryl had seemed interested but he offered little to the conversation. Instead he seemed distant, distracted.
The car turned onto a dirt drive. Tall, ancient oaks stood sentinel on the flanks of a grand iron gate. Two human-sized gargoyles, their lifelike faces frozen in snarls, perched on stone columns alongside the road. Daryl slowed the car for the gate swing open, automatically. Regan looked over her shoulder as the mechanism swung it closed behind them. She felt a cold chill through her body as the car continued through the darkness. The car emerged from the treeline upon a wide sweeping lawn. The drive lead up to a grand gothic mansion, dark bricks stretching from the base up to the third story windows. More stonework creatures clung to the roof, perching along the peaks or peering out from from under the eaves. Some were pensive, others challenging. Regan could not remove her eyes from them, even when she had to twist her neck at an odd angle to continue looking up at them.
Daryl stopped the car at the front doors, and got out, walking around to open her door. She blinked and tried to clear her head of the odd feelings that were overtaking her.
“Welcome to the Library of the Straits,” Daryl said with a tone of indifference. Where Regan felt unnerved, he seemed more annoyed to be there. Had she done something to upset him? Was he hurt that she did not ask him to come to the recruitment meeting?
They were met at the door by Stacy. Her usual bright smile was replaced by a dark, grim frown. She was dressed in a long skirt this time, layers of lace and cotton dancing down to stop just short of her witch boots. Regan’s own slacks and blouse felt ultra modern in comparison to Stacy’s Victorian inspired attire.
The smaller vampire lead the way down a stone staircase into the mansion’s cellars, leaving Daryl to wait in the massive foyer. Massive kegs and long racks of wine bottles created a maze in the open space. Regan’s senses were swarmed with the scents of age, of timelessness, and of blood. Stacy said nothing as she walked and the general silence was starting to eat at Regan. What were they doing here? What was this place? She did trust Stacy and Daryl, but this was beginning to push against the boundaries of that trust.
Then she smelled the fear.
Regan stopped as they rounded one of the kegs. There the two people were bound, back to back, in a pair of chairs. She recognized them instantly. The woman was one of the two sisters she had met the at the recruitment meeting for vampire hunters. With her was one of the men from the meeting as well. They struggled in their bonds, cloth gags keeping them nearly silent. The two looked up at Regan and Stacy as they approached, narrowing their eyes in anger when they recognized Regan. She could smell the fury in them as the man’s face started to redden. His muscles shook as he pulled at his bonds seeking release. The woman’s anger was different; Regan could smell her tears mixed with her rage. There had been two blond women, sisters, at the meeting. Now there was one. Regan could not bring herself to ask.
“He needs your blood.” Stacy’s voice was flat and disconnected.
“What?” Regan was still staring at the two captive hunters. Less than twenty four hours ago they had wanted to kill her, and now they were the prey. She looked at Stacy. “Who needs it?”
Stacy’s discomfort was evident, though Regan did not understand its source. The hunters were securly bound, held in the cellars of an ancient manor, perhaps one that was build back when the city was first established. They were not any threat. “I can’t really say much more.” She paused. “The master of the Library of the Straits, Jeremiah Windsor, Blood of the Book, wishes a donation of your blood for a ritual he plans for these two hunters. He wants it clear that your cooperation in this will clear you of all debts to him and his bloodline.”
Regan hesitated. She had been growing concerned with the amount she owed to him and a chance to clean that slate should be welcome. She shifted her gaze to the two hunters again. The woman, the sister, had been crying.
“What ritual?” If she was to contribute, she should know to what cause.
Again Stacy hesitated. “I am forbidden from saying.” Her words were almost mechanical, as though she were reciting lines from a script. “It’s probably, really, better not to know.” She gave an involuntary shudder.
“He just wants my blood? A lot of it?”
Stacy shook her head. “The amount is actually, as I understand, unimportant. It’s the essence in it he needs. And for you to collect some of theirs.” She held up three glass vials, each with a sharp point along its upper rim. “For that he will consider your boons to him paid in full.” She smiled weakly.
Regan did not like how uncomfortable Stacy looked, or that Jeremiah himself was not overseeing this. It gave her a bad chill, but it also provided her a chance to clear another thing from her plate and give her more room to continue to build her own second life.
“Why isn’t he, Jeremiah, here for this?” That would settle it, she reasoned.
“He is engaged in other preparations. It is a... complicated ritual. The blood is just one of the core components. You don’t have to stay for it.” She looked at the two hunters. “I’m not.”
The story continues into the Chapter 11 Addendum
Our heroine has reached a crossroads, dear reader. What shall she do?