Emma frowned in frustration. “For all I know- for all you know- once someone is bit they can’t be bit by someone else. Wouldn’t it make sense for you to be that person, the one person who can bite me?”
Regan shook her head. “No. Just no. We don’t know how any of this works, really, and I’m not going to put you in danger by drinking your blood.” She looked over at her life-long best friend while they drove. “The answer is ‘no’.”
“And what if that blonde gets to me first? What if she catches me out in the open?” She turned to look out the window. “I’m starting to put this together, Regan, and it’s starting to scare me.” She sighed. “Geez, I don’t even know what’s safe any more.”
Regan did not know either, but rather than say so, let an uncomfortable silence over take them. She drove on, unsure how to assure her friend that this was for the best. There were too many unknowns, too many variables. Then there was the possibility she would not know when to stop. Every time she took hold of Shannon, the young woman who came twice a week to drop off packages and share a ‘kiss’ with Regan, there was a moment of horror that this would be time she did not stop. With each bite into the girl’s flesh, Regan feared she would not let go. How could she put Emma in that position? How could she take that responsibility?
“I’m trying to keep you safe,” Regan said, ending the uncomfortable silence in the car.
Emma sighed. “I know.”
Regan dropped Emma at her apartment, and gave her a hug. Emma wished her good night and disappeared through the security door. Regan watched it latch before starting back into the night. She pulled Stacy’s little two seater into one of the guest spots, and walked up the steps to the porch of her townhouse. Humble it was, it was home. And right now Regan needed that comfort.
She stepped out of her heels just inside the doorway and padded across the plush carpet in her silk stockinged feet. Every little sensation was a spark of energy; she could feel each fiber of the carpet reaching through to tickle the undersides of her feet. She ascended the stairs to the small landing and her bedroom where she started to undress. A warm shower was absolutely necessary and Regan was not going to delay it. She tossed her blouse towards the laundry bag, resolved to have Shannon take it with her as a delivery tomorrow night, and stepped into her bathroom.
The warm water splashing over her had the desired effect. She felt more alive and could feel her blood flowing again, warm in her veins. She missed being able to reach this state with just a warm blanket or cozy sweater; now she either had to feed, and from a human not a cup, or take a hot shower. It was annoyingly inconvenient.
She stepped from the shower, dried and wrapped herself in a long soft towel. She considered her robe but was too hungry to wait. She would just put a cup of blood in the microwave, bring it up to body temperature and then come back upstairs to slip into some pajamas. Then she could just sit, relax, and sip her blood in peace.
Slipping down the stairs, she turned through the open doorway into the kitchen and froze.
“Good evening, Ms. Fairchild.” Jeremiah Windsor, Blood of the Book, Master of the Library of the Straits, was sitting at her kitchen table. His arm rested casually along the table as he had turned one of the chairs to face the entrance.
“Good God,” Regan shrieked. “Did you have a master key made for my house?”
Jeremiah smiled back at her, his short cut blond hair framing a perfectly handsome face. “Perhaps I have. Such is the price of having my blood and kin save your life on more than a few occasions now.”
“Debts I’ve paid in full,” Regan snapped back. “Now get out of my house.”
He held up his hand and waved a finger disapprovingly. “Tisk tisk. Is that any way to treat an honored guest? You should consider yourself lucky one of my station is coming to meet with you in person. I understand that our good Lord Earl has his knickers rather knotted over your recent snubbing of his invitations.”
Regan’s eyes narrowed. “I said, ‘Get out of my house.’” She clutched her towel tight over her chest and pointed her free hand toward the door. “Now.”
Jeremiah sat back in the chair and folded his hands carefully. “No.”
The two glared at each other a moment. Regan’s anger continued to build as she considered what to do. She could try to talk him into leaving. She was getting better at making the absolutely preposterous seem downright logical, as long as the matters related to money. And so far, at least, she had not sensed any effort on his part to employ his Jedi Powers on her. She snorted angrily and stomped her way around the the table towards the refrigerator. “Fine,” she spat, “but I’m not offering you a glass of blood.” She removed the bottle of the red vitae, poured some into a coffee mug which declared the truism, “It’s taxing being an accountant.” She put the mug in the microwave, slammed the door and set the timer. She turned to her guest. “Now, what?”
Throughout her miniature tantrum, Jeremiah had sat passively. He smiled at her and reached a long slender hand to stroke back his hair, delaying his answer. The microwave beeped. They continued to glare for a few heart beats, Regan was forcing her own to keep a steady time, and then she turned and took out the mug of warmed blood. He let her take a sip before he spoke. “I need you to take delivery of an item for me.”
“I’m not doing any more favors,” Regan answered. “I’m sorry.” She held her towel up with a hand while she leaned on the counter and took another sip. She desperately wanted to retreat upstairs to dress but did not trust Jeremiah enough to leave him alone in her house. The sooner she knew what he wanted, the sooner she could tell him no, and the sooner he would leave, or so she hoped. “My debts are cleared and I want to keep them that way.” She gestured at him with the mug. “Plus you’ve got Stacey under house arrest. What makes you think I’m doing you another favor?”
“My dear, Ms. Fairchild,” Jeremiah said slowly. “Let’s be clear. I have done you favors for which you have repaid me. At no time have you done me a favor on your own. This, if it really were a favor, would be the first you have done me.”
“Fine. I’m not going to start doing you favors. There. You’ve asked me for a favor, I’ve said ‘no’, and you can go now.”
“Oh, I’m afraid it’s hardly that simple.”
“What?” Regan stood up from the counter. “Are you going to bring in another stone guardian in to make me do you a favor?”
“I have no need to use force.”
“Right, you’ll just create situations where I feel compelled to offer you a favor. I’m not going to offer to do something for you in exchange for letting my friend leave her apartment. If that’s what you’re hoping for you can show yourself out.”
“Your friend?” His smirk was shifting from annoying to infuriating.
“Yes,” Regan clarified, “my friend, Stacy.”
Jeremiah began to laugh, a deep rich laugh. He shook his head. “Regan, oh dear sweet innocent Regan, what makes you think you are anything more to her than a pawn to play, to shift around the board and provide protection to herself and her own plans?”
Regan stared back mutely. Stacy had been there to help her learn about her new life as a vampire. She had provided Regan a safe home. They had explored the night together, revelled together, fed together. For nearly a month they had been been practically sisters. How could Stacy have been just using her for some other purpose? What was the game?
Her mind raced back to the night she had met the diminutive vampire.
“Thing is, think of it a bit like chess. In a game of chess you've got thirty four ‘things’ at work. Two players, and two sets of sixteen pieces. So really the majority of the ‘things’ are just pieces that the two players push around. You and me? We’re more than likely pieces. You don’t get to be a player until you've been around a long freaking time. Even then, it’s not a sure thing.”
“How do I know you’re not one of the players?”
Stacy failed to hide her grin. “There’s hope for you yet. If you’re not asking that question of everyone and everything you meet, you’re doing it wrong.”
And Stacy had never really answered her question.
Jeremiah spoke again, bringing her back to the present. “You know it is quite possible that you just a pawn to her, a means to get out into society and forget for a while that she is unsuited for this life. She should be in the library, safe and secure, free to feed as she needs without societal norms forcing her to produce false identification or send thralls to hunt for her. You have played the part, masterfully, of her keeper and for that she owes you, not vise versa.”
Regan straightened her back. “I don’t care what you say, I’m done doing things because some elder vampire tells me to jump. Either use your mind trick, or get out of my house.”
He shook his head and reached into his finely tailored coat. Carefully he withdrew a vial of crimson liquid: blood. He held it up next to his smug face. “Perhaps you would prefer to spend eternity standing watch over your ‘friend’, then? You would look so lovely in black marble. It’s been so long since I have made a servant anything but the traditional white.” He shook the vial to emphasise his point.
“That’s not a favor, that’s blackmail.”
Jeremiah clicked his tongue. “Such an ugly word, blackmail. I prefer to think of it as encouragement with pointed incentives.”
Regan put down her mug and pulled her towel back up against her chest. She was starting to wish she had gone and dressed after all. “It’s blackmail and it’s a bluff.”
“I do not bluff.”
“You’re holding the blood.”
Jeremiah chuckled. “My ‘tell’ is that I am holding something?”
“You can’t make a gargoyle by touching the blood. That’s why you needed me to collect it from the hunters for you. That’s why when I collected it, you had me give it to the gargoyle, not you. If you could touch it, you wouldn’t need all the ritual, so I know that blood can’t be used to make me one of your servants.” She folded her arms.
Jeremiah snarled at her, his hand tightening around the glass vial until it shattered in his grip. The crimson blood splattered over her table and ran down his hand. He sat a few moments, his eyes seeming to glow with his anger. Slowly he stood and Regan realized how much taller than her he was.
“You will listen very carefully, Miss Regan Fairchild, Blood of the Coin.” Regan could make out the line of his fangs starting to become more pronounced. It was not so much that they were getting larger as they were simply more noticeable. Why her mind was drawn to that observation, Regan could not explain. Perhaps it was as simple as not wanting to think about the fact that this elder might be on the verge of tearing her apart and ending her relatively short stint among the living dead.
He continued in his low rumbling voice. “You will do as I instruct you to do because it is what you do. You may have the wisdom to call my bluff, but it does not change your nature. You are a follower, child, nothing but a sheep looking for a shepherd to guide you.” He took a step forward. “Gifts of blood, bargains made, these convenient excuses for what your heart knows you are meant to do: to take orders from better men and women.” He moved closer still. “That is how you found yourself in a loveless betrothal, how you found yourself about to accept the ring of a man who gave you no satisfaction. You were there because someone told you to be, someone expected you to be, and by your nature you followed those directives easily.”
He was now close enough that she could smell the blood on his hands, feel the warm of his breath on her cheek. She wanted to push him away but could not bring her arms away from her body to do so. She bowed her head, ashamed that he was right.
Her eyes shot open when he touched her, his hand rough on her neck, forcing her to look up at him. “That is why you were made. Your maker did not create an equal; she created a pawn, and that is all you have been, all you are, and all you will be. Compared to me, you are nothing and you know, deep in the core of your being, that your only hope is to-”
His fingers were around her neck. “Do.”
He closed his grip slightly. “As.”
His nails were starting to bite into her flesh. “Told.”
With a simple gesture he cast her to the side, releasing her and sending along the counter to the refrigerator. She slid down the surface, a blast of pain shooting through her tailbone as she fell to the tile floor. She could not open her eyes to look at him.
“You will meet with the Earl tomorrow. There you will take possession of a parcel to be provided by one of those I hold sway over. You will bring that package to the library, promptly.” His footfalls echoed along the floor as he walked towards the living room. “You will do this because I wish it done, and you do not have it in your nature to refuse me.” He turned, but she could hear him finish under his breath, “Or anyone.”
She could hear the door slam shut but could not bring herself to move. The towel had slipped down her body as she pulled her knees to her chest and wept.
* * *
Regan woke suddenly in pain. She must have fallen asleep on the kitchen floor. Bright sunlight streamed in through the kitchen windows, flooding the white room with its burning rays. A direct beam shone down on her leg, causing the skin to bubble and sear. There was a moment where she marveled that simple sunlight could cause such destruction to flesh before she screeched in agony. She started to scramble out of the light, but the room’s white surfaces only reflected the painful rays to nearly every corner. The basement door was still open, her best chance at survival.
Regan crawled towards it, feeling the warmth of the sun searing into her bare skin. She turned to reach for the towel, modesty was second nature to her, only to catch a view of the blue sky out of the window. The image burned and darkened her vision, causing her head to feel as though it would explode with the pain. She turned back towards the door and the darkness. She could make it.
It seemed like an eternity before she pulled herself to the opening. She reached up to pull at the power cord where her cell phone was plugged in, and yanked it from the counter. The phone hit the floor with a dull thud, thankfully not breaking on impact. She dragged her body onto the basement stair and started down into the cool safety of the dark underground chamber. Her body shifted as her legs refused to comply fully and she tumbled forward, rolling down the stairs. She felt and heard something crack when she reached the unfinished concrete floor and she knew she had shattered her collar bone. She tried to look around but each movement only brought with it pain. Her phone had landed nearly within reach, the light from its display casting a beam up into the darkness.
She needed help. She needed blood.
Instinctively she knew that a meal, fresh from a mortal, would get her through the day.
But from whom?
Our story continues in Chapter 18
Our heroine is at a crossroads. What, dear reader, shall she do?