With a flash of self consciousness she tugged up the bed sheet to cover her nakedness. She still was not happy with her body, though finding any advice on how to improve her shape post-mortem was a bit of a challenge. They had not returned to the library, nor had they been summoned to it in the three weeks since she had helped condemn two humans to an eternity of stone servitude. She reflected on that; it was three weeks to the night since she decided that she had failed to live her first life to the fullest and she was going to make up for it all in her second.
That had been an amazing night. Daryl had introduced her to the band, saying that she was a friend. Stacy had fallen into the role of little sister and that had gotten them past the bouncers without any mind tricks. They had danced like women possessed during the set. The band was completely free of talent, and that made the night even more fun. During the break down, the band’s front man, the drummer, had asked Regan to take over managing for them, but she had declined. Instead she had eased into his arms and the two found a dark corner of the backstage area to discuss other financial options. His blood had been rich with alcohol and adrenaline from the show, giving Regan a rush. She had not intended for more than his blood, but something about the moment took over. Life before had always been quiet and content, but in that dark corner, she decided she wanted something more, something different. She had given her card to him afterwards, and hoped he would call. He had not. She tried not to think about it; she had spent so much of her life in quiet work and study. She did not have time to dwell on men who could not recognize what she offered.
A snore from her companion brought Regan back to the moment. Propping herself up on her arm she continued to watch him sleep. Gently she traced a finger up and down his chest, rising and falling with a natural regularity she almost envied. There had been times where her body had returned to old ways, gasping and breathing without her thought, but those were generally points of high passion. She had almost given up bothering with the illusion except when a human was close enough to see. It was just too much work. And she did miss it.
Regan stroked his soft, clean-shaven cheek with the back of her hand. He had a young face with soft features that reminded her of a friend from college. His name was Jim and they had flirted uproariously before and after their “Info for Decisions” lectures. If she had not been with Harrison, she definitely would have agreed to a date with Jim; he asked her, platonically, to join him for coffee on a fairly regular basis. She had never accepted, and when the term ended he had drifted away. Her mind drifted to questions of what he was doing now and he would still be so complimentary of her auburn locks.
The man in the bed next to her stirred and turned his head towards her hand, his eyes still closed. She came back to the moment and committed herself to the task of waking her lover and sending him on his way. She hesitated. Was his name Jim, as well? No, it was something else that started with a “J”. Her mind raced. How could she have forgotten his name? He had been so sweet and attentive, listening with the kind of compassion that she would have expected from Stacy, or Emma. She felt like they had a real connection; it was the only reason she had accepted the ride back to her townhouse from him, then invited him in for a quick cup of coffee. Even feeding on him had felt a bit like a violation of their bond.
He rolled towards her, reaching out blindly to pull her close. She slid into his arms and let him sleepily surround her with warmth. She savored his scent, rich and full of his sweat and musk. Her mind clicked. Jordan. His name was Jordan.
She closed her eyes and simply existed. Part of her ached to keep him for the day, to lead him down to her bed in the basement and let him hold her as she entered into the deep full sleep she experienced during the daylight hours. But she had just met him that evening and the consequence for misplacing that trust was far more dire than she could risk.
It was time. She kissed his chest and wiggled in his arms. He tried to pull her closer but she slipped an arm between them and gently pushed back. “Jordan, hon,” she said softly. “It’s time for you to go home.”
“Aw, c’mon, babe,” he groaned. “You’re not going to make me do the walk of shame are you?”
She held his cheek in her hand. “Drive of shame. We didn’t walk.” She smiled up at him, waiting for him to open his eyes and smile back.
Instead he turned away, rolling over and sitting up on the side of the bed. “I guess that’s fair. You’ve got work in a few hours don’t you? What do you do?”
Even his back was well toned. Regan enjoyed a moment to stare before answering. “Accounting. Mostly personal finance now so I make my own hours.”
He stretched, his arms reaching for the ceiling one after the other. “That’s right.” He bent down and found his discarded boxers. “I remember that now. And your ex, Harrison, is a money guy too?”
Regan was surprised that he had brought up Harrison at all. She had mentioned him once or twice, but that was it. “Lawyer,” she corrected.
Jordan chuckled. “Oh yeah. You talked about him enough last night, you’d think I’d remember that.”
“I did?” Regan hardly considered one or two mentions to be a case of “talked about him enough.” It was true that she and Harrison had dated or been engaged for nearly seven years. It was hard to adjust to being single again, even more so given that she had precious little experience with being without a significant other.
“Oh yeah,” Jordan answered, standing up and flashing his bare bottom before slipping the boxers up around his waist. “But I get it. It’s only been a week since you really ‘broke up broke up’.”
Regan opted to not correct him. It had been three weeks.
She watched him finish dressing in silence, then slipped from her protective sheet long enough to slip into her silk robe. It was the fourth robe she had purchased since her rebirth. It was a small fortune but the material was so smooth and soft. It was all she could tolerate against her skin. Regan had never been too particular about materials before, but now anything that was not silk, lace, or fine combed cotton felt like burlap against her skin. She lead him out onto the landing and down to the main room of her townhouse. Daryl rested on the couch, his head back, and his arm holding a woman close to him. Stacy was curled up in the woman’s lap, contentedly sleeping herself. Were it not for the fact that Regan knew of everyone’s true nature, she would have thought it the perfect picture of family clustered together. Regan wove around the furniture, one hand in Jordan’s until they reached the door. She turned and smiled at him, waiting for him to take her into his arms again.
“So,” Jordan said shifting his weight between his feet. “Thanks for the coffee.”
Regan grinned. “You’re welcome,” she answered, leaning into him. She felt his arms close around her, but it was not the same warm embrace he had shown her a few hours before. It was a softer, more mechanical hug. She was becoming far too familiar with it and its implication. She pushed back after a few moments and reached for her purse near the door. She fished out her card and handed it to Jordan. “This has my cell on it. I have it with me all the time so, you know, you can call me whenever.”
Jordan took the card and tucked it, without looking, into his back pocket. He reached for her, to pull her close, but stopped at giving her shoulder a squeeze. He kissed her forehead, and then let himself out. He did not even say good bye.
Regan watched from the open door as he jogged down the stairs and across the miniature yard to his car. He only looked up as he slid into the driver’s seat. It was a quick glance, and then he was gone, driving off into the sunrise. Regan yawned, feeling the fatigue of the coming day, and knew she would not hear from him again. On her way to the kitchen she poked Daryl to rouse him and either move Stacy to the basement, or get her home before sunrise.
She poured herself a glass of wine, and sat at her small kitchen table. The scent was rich and familiar. There had been a lot of late nights at this table, waiting for Harrison to come home from a late night at the office, or working on tax returns until the sun came up. She eyed the door to the basement, where she now passed the daylight hours. It was starting to gnaw at her, the sense of loneliness. She missed waking up, rested and refreshed, with a warm arm over her, holding her close. Lifting the glass, Regan drew in the aroma of the wine and closed her eyes. She wished she knew Emma’s secret.
Regan retrieved her phone from her purse and sent a message to her lifelong best friend. Maybe getting together for dinner would help clear her head. If nothing else it would give her more practice at being in public and putting on the appearance of eating a meal. Stacy had mentioned that it was the sort of thing that was not easy to do, but necessary to keep up the illusion of being alive.
She had just set the phone down when it beeped with an incoming message. She did not recognize the tone; it was not a response from Emma.
“Please call at your earliest convenience,” it read. Regan was still looking at it when Stacy wandered into the kitchen.
“I don’t want to impose,” she said stretching her arms wearily, “but can I crash here today? I really don’t want to get caught out and Daryl needs to drive Amanda home.”
Regan set down the phone. “Amanda is your friend?”
Stacy nodded and sat down at the table. “Yeah, and it’s probably best she not be here during the day incase she wakes up and wants to let some light in.”
Regan smiled and pushed the wine glass towards Stacy. The teen took it and smelled the liquid herself, smiling happily at the scent. “I think there’s room for you,” Regan said. “Do you know this number?”
Stacy looked at the phone. “I think I do.” She fished her own phone out of her back pocket and tapped at the screen a few times. “Yeah,” she said, thoughtfully, “that’s Klarissa, the Earl’s lap-puppy.”
“Calling her a lap dog completely understates my general dislike for her and lap-bitch just comes off as mean.”
“Okay, then,” Regan answered. “What do you think this is about?”
Stacy rose and pulled the door between the kitchen and the living room closed. “I don’t know, but it’s nothing Amanda needs to hear.”
Regan pulled the message back up and dialed the number. It picked up on the third ring.
“This is Stephanowski, thank you for returning my call.” Her voice was crisp and formal, despite the early hour.
“You wanted me to call?”
“Yes,” the voice answered politely. “The Earl would like to meet with you tonight. He expects you at his Grosse Pointe home at ten p.m. Will that create a conflict with your current schedule?’
Regan thought a moment. She had just offered dinner plans to Emma but had not heard back. “I’m actually waiting to hear back from a friend about dinner tonight, so, it might.”
Stephanowski’s voice remained polite. “Of course, he understands social commitments are important to Coins as well as Roses. He would hope that your loyalty to your Earl would, however, be a priority.” She paused. “Given your youth.”
“Of course,” Regan answered quickly. Stacy was staring at her with her eyebrows raised. “But you did ask if that would be a conflict,” she continued. “Please allow me a few minutes to confirm my arrangements. I will call you back.”
“Very well, Ms. Fairchild.” Her voice was now officially chilled. “I expect your call, shortly.”
The line went dead. “I’m so glad I just offered to make dinner plans with Emma only to have the Earl demand that I pay him a visit.”
“So tell him ‘no’,” Stacy answered.
“He’s the Earl.”
“You can still say ‘no’. Generally that’s not enough to get your foxed.”
“That’s what they call it when you’re hunted by your own kind.” Stacy frowned as she realized what she was saying.
“Like my Maker was.” The words hung there in the air between them, silence taking over. She rolled the phone over in her hands thinking. It rang, the kitchen filling with the sounds of a computer keyboard, rapidly being pounded on. Regan smiled and answered.
“You don’t call me for three weeks and then you think I’m going to skip out on Kendo for dinner with someone who doesn’t eat unless it has a pulse?” Her voice was harsh, angry, and terse.
“I’m sorry,” Regan sputtered.
“It’s fine. I’m just playing with you.” And her usual playful voice had returned. “Is seven thirty too early? I’d hate to cut into your ‘snack on the local pizza guy’ time.”
“She was a bike messenger. I’ve never fed on a pizza guy.” She was relieved that Emma was not truly angry with her having gone quiet.
“Something like that. But how about eight thirty? I don’t want to you to have to wait for me to, you know, wake up.” She would not be able to make it to the Earl’s at ten, but right now she did not care. She needed to see Emma and get some her trademarked advice. “Wait,” she added, “when did you start taking Kendo lessons?”
“It’s for a project I’m working on. I’ll tell you over dinner.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up.
“Now,” Regan looked at Stacy who had clearly been listening. “What do I tell the Earl?”
“I’d tell him you have plans and he should try another night.” She shrugged. “But then again, I can always retreat to the Library if he tries to fox me and trust me, that place is not one you fight your way into.”
“I really just don’t want to deal with the drama. The last three weeks have been amazing.” She was only partially lying, something she never was good at. They had been fun, but she also felt out of place. There was no income, really, from the few consulting jobs she had lined up between club sets, and while traveling between parties. Her bed was empty every day when she finally entered her death-sleep. She was still, at her core, alone.
But despite that, she felt free, with no one to answer to, and no real commitments to determine her nights. It was an odd state to be in, one she still was evaluating.
She pressed the icon to call the Earl’s assistant, still not sure what to say. The phone picked up on the second ring. “This is Stephanowski. Are you available?”
Regan hesitated. “I am not available at ten, no.” There she had at least stood her ground on that point.
Stacy gave her a thumbs-up. “If you meet him,” she said in a low voice, “make him come to you.”
“Very well,” Stephanowski’s voice responded on the phone. “Will midnight work better for you? He will still have a small amount of time before his next engagement.”
Regan considered. This was a chance, perhaps, to make some peace with the Earl, or possibly learn more about her Maker’s fate. But did she need him? She was enjoying, mostly, her new life without becoming part of the game of politics Stacy had cautioned her to avoid. She hesitated.
Our story continues into the Chapter 13 Addendum
Our heroine is at a crossroads, dear reader. What shall she do?