Regan walked through the front doors of O’Patrick’s Pub, Grill and Common House as she had nearly every night for the entire duration of her college career and the several years following. There was a stool towards the back door, that had been her home four nights out of five where she had studied, written term papers, met with a friend to discuss class, or just sit and enjoy the atmosphere. It was far enough from the front of the pub that she could have some peace, but the bartenders were never too far to hear her request for another mocha, or to change up her drink to something potent. She made her way, as though tonight was any other night, to her stool and took a seat.
The fact that she was dressed in the long flowing satin of her wedding gown was the furthest thing from her mind. The other patrons gawked as she passed, her train now filithy with dirt and grime, the result of leaving a fair portion of it outside the car door as she had sped away from the church. Harrison was probably still there, or had gone to her townhouse expecting to find her, to talk some sense into her. Emma would do the same. Her current cubicle-mate, Drake, would probably be finding a barely-polite way to ask if there was still a reception even if the wedding was off, and if it still featured an open bar.
She perched, familiar action giving her a small sense of peace, and twisted towards the mahogany rail that had made the journey from Clare to here, along with many other features of the pub.
“So,” Dirrah, one of the bar girls asked as she slid down the space to stand before Regan. “What’s it going to be tonight?”
Dirrah was, simply put, awesome. Long black hair, and a face that was slightly too small for her head, she was the least intrusive, yet the most supportive of the wait-staff. Regan marvelled at her ability to ask just enough questions to make Regan feel welcome, but not so many as feel that she was fishing for a higher tip.
“Something red,” Regan sighed. “And start a tab for me; I’m going to be here awhile.”
Dirrah nodded and took a wine glass out from under the bar. “Still need to put a credit card back here to run a tab, hon.” She smiled and gave a small disarming shrug.
Reflexively, Regan reached for her left hip, where her purse was commonly slung, forgetting for a moment that she was not in her common attire here to unwind after a particularly nasty meeting with a buyer. She had no purse, and thus no money. She reached into the top of her dress and produced her cell phone. “Can I leave this with you for a while instead?”
Dirrah took the phone with a smile, and moved off to find a bottle of wine. Regan turned and looked around the pub, most of the patrons having accepted that, yes, there was someone in a wedding dress at the end of the bar and that, no, there really was not anything out of the ordinary in that. Normally at times like these, her mind would race with possibilities, with probabilities of outcomes, and calculations and formulations as to how to reach at the most desirable option. She had left her fiance of seven years at the altar; what possibilities came from that?
Her wine arrived and she sipped it quietly, draining the glass as she tried to decide if going to work on Monday was a good idea. She had taken two weeks off for the honeymoon, which she was not going on now. Did she still have the time off if circumstances had changed? What would she do with two weeks of solitude? She had considered writing a novel, a tell-all book detailing the trials and tribulations of a woman making her way to be respected as an accountant, and still find love and happiness on the side. It seemed a bit forced, now, to call it anything but a tragedy, and she was fairly sure it would take more than two weeks to write. She still had a plane ticket back at the townhouse. She could go to Ireland for the two weeks, though she had no idea if Harrison had planned the same. Sitting next to him for the duration of a transAtlantic flight would be awkward to say the least, as would most of the tours they had pre-booked.
It killed her inside to see all those non-refundable expenditures going to waste. Her mind turned to options for reselling the tickets while Dirrah refreshed her glass.
Several glasses later, Regan was coming to the realization that she was beyond the point she could drive, had no means to pay her bill, and was completely unsure who to call to get her home. She could leave her phone here as a collateral, Dirrah was cool about such things and knew Regan was good for the money, but she could not remember if there was cash in the house to pay for a taxi. She could have the cab take her back to the church to recover her purse, then take her home, but she could not remember if changing rooms were locked up at night. She assumed they would be, otherwise any drunk could wander in and steal her purse.
She raised a hand, the motion feeling odd and exaggerated, and caught Dirrah’s attention.
“I need to go home, but you’ve got my phone, and I still don’t have any way to pay you. Can I-”
Dirrah interrupted her. “Oh, wow, I totally spaced.” She turned around and pulled the phone out of the tumbler it shared with several credit cards and receipts. “The woman over in the far booth said she had you covered. She said it seemed like you needed a friend tonight.” Dirrah leaned in and dropped her voice. “She told me not to make a big deal of it, or I would have said something sooner.”
Regan took her phone, set it on the bar, and turned to the last booth at the back of the pub. The hallway beyond it lead through to the restrooms, and then out the back door. A woman, her long brown hair perfectly styled, rose from the booth, nodded once at her and turned to go up the hallway. Regan watched silently and then followed, one hand holding up the skirts of her dress as she walked, drunkenly, along the corridor.
Her benefactor did not look back as she opened the back door to the pub and stepped out into the warm summer night of the alley. Regan hastened her steps to keep up, to keep the curious woman in sight. She pushed the door open herself, and stepped out into the night.
And then she died.
* * *
“Why?” Regan asked, realizing that the Earl may know the real reason for her transition to the land of the undead. That was, of course, assuming he had been close to her maker as he had implied. He had just threatened to kill her, again, but there was something to his eyes when he mentioned her maker that gave her pause, gave her hope.
She had replayed the events of night of her death over and over in her mind’s eye since she had risen again, a member of the living dead. There had to be a hint, or a clue in her recollections that would tell her how, of all the women in the world, her maker would single her out, would draw her over the line of death, and do so when such an act would be at the cost of her own unlife. Nothing had ever come to her. There had never been a moment of clarity.
The Earl smiled and raised his eyebrows. “I ask myself that question often as well, Miss Fairchild.” He sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers together. “She had asked me permission to bring another into our fold a few weeks prior. I imagine you were her planned progeny and she wished to have my blessings before taking such a step. You were to be her first, surprising given that she herself was reborn during the age of Prohibition.” He shook his head with a chuckle. “A feisty thing she was back then even as a mortal. A wicked mind for the books that the rum-runners kept, and a sharp tongue to match it. It was a man’s world then, perhaps the only reason she never ended up on a tug heading out into Lake Erie, knee deep in settling concrete. None would think a woman a danger in that time.”
“Did you give her your blessing?”
“I gave it, but I warned her the time was not right,” he answered. “We are at capacity and until someone moves on to a larger county, or meets with the final death, I am forbidden to allow any more creations.” He pressed his fingertips to his lips briefly. “To be honest I do not know why she chose to create you, knowing that I still had not given her permission.”
Regan pressed on. “But why did she select me, even? What made me special?”
“You would have, I am told, made an ideal assistant,” he answered without hesitation. “Her financial empire was growing, and she was becoming distrustful of the thralls contracted by the Library to our daily service. She needed a right hand, a lieutenant she could commission to see to the night to night runnings of her operations and free her to other pursuits. From your resume, you presented her an ideal candidate, competent and compliant, satisfactorily skilled while sufficiently submissive.”
Regan turned away, unable to look at his cool, smiling face.
“There is no shame in being who you are, Miss Fairchild. As with wolves, there are alphas that lead, and the rest of the pack that follows. The strength comes only from ability of those without the aptitude to be alphas to accurately and astutely obey the commands of their betters. A wolf pack comprised entirely of alphas would descend almost instantly into chaos and starve for want of a kill.” The roll of his words felt like the waves of information she would hear in any lecture hall, the dispassionate recitation of tribal hierarchy from an anthropology professor, as though her place in the night were no more than a mark on an organizational tree, flashed before several dozen students to digest.
She could not leave it at this. She had to know.
“But if she had selected me for my,” her voice faltered for the briefest of breaths. “For my submissiveness, why would she have selected that night for me? Why disobey you just to seize me then?”
The Earl opened his hands in surrender. “I cannot say. I surmise it was because that night was to alter you, regardless of her intercession. We do not select our childe lightly, Miss Fairchild. Weeks, months of effort go into the process. A candidate is observed, researched. We investigate their personality, their temperaments, their mortal ties. Perhaps in seeing that you had fled the altar, she believed you were on a course to change your life, changes that would make her months of work little more than empty voyeurism.
“Perhaps she saw that you were on a path to become an Alpha.”
He drew himself from his chair, with an unusual grace. He touched her hand, his fingertips icey cold and the skin almost blue. He spoke in the same calm, paternalistic tones. “Be glad that she did, my dear, sweet, Miss Fairchild. You would have been wretchedly unhappy in that role.” He drew himself to his full height and started towards the sitting room’s doors. “Please see yourself out. Good evening.”
Regan remained in the tall, comfortable reading chair for some time, reflecting on the Earl’s words. Her emotions flared and receded, like wet kindling that smoulders and smokes, always on the verge of bursting into hot flame, or going completely cold. Was cruelty a hallmark of the undead? The life she had known before was over, but little had changed. As a mortal she had been “the girlfriend” for most of her adult life. When she needed guidance there was always a lover there to take hold and guide her, to advise her, to lead her. Why would a vampire not select her to be the ideal attache and aide?
In a haze she stood and walked from the room, leaving the stacks of bookcases behind as she crossed over into the central hallway of the large home. She had always been praised in school for being a team player, for being there to get the job done. She was good at defusing tense moments, getting a group back on track, and, if she was being honest with herself, appeasing the personalities that needed it the most so that the project would be completed on time and under budget.
She neared the door to the house and paused. She recognized the man leaning casually against the wall of the front hall, idly sifting through data on his smartphone. It was Paul Wright, a human she had met only a few days after becoming a vampire. He was a gambler, a not a very accomplished one from what she had seen. His temper had gotten him thrown from the table, but not before he had lost quite a bit of money and a gold plated Cross pen. He did not see her approaching.
There was no desire in her heart for a confrontation. She turned her head away from him and tried to slip past with as little noise as possible. He stank of alcohol and cologne.
“Right,” he said as she cleared the space before him and began to approach on the door and the salvation of the night. “Just walk right past me like you weren’t the one to steal my lucky design pen out of my pocket.”
Regan paused, her emotions starting to test her ability to hold them in check. An outburst in the Earl’s home would not do her well and she was already on thin enough ice as it was. She turned and affected a polite smile. “You lost it in a fair game of cards, specifically to Mr. Roise.”
Paul laughed. “That old codger, yeah.” He ran a hand back over his neatly trimmed hair. “Well it still ended up in your pocket if I remember right. You know that pen signed everyone of my designs for the last ten model years? You see that old pile of cow droppings, you tell him I’ll buy it back for an even grand.”
“I will,” Regan said, flatly, anxious to be away from him and his continued attitude.
“Of course,” Paul continued, turning back to his phone. “You probably won’t see much more of him. Lost quite a bit last night; he just couldn’t get the cards.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Oh, I’m not. I’m just here to pick up my winnings and here she is now.” He looked up at the stair that rose from the hallway to the second floor of the house. At the top of the stairs was the young woman who had been their dealer. That night she had been dressed simply in a blouse and tie, a dealer’s visor covering her artificially red locks. Her hair was still the same shade of brick red, but now it was coiffed with care to frame her round cheeks and small smile. Gone was her blouse and slacks, replaced with a short black dress that draped over a shoulder, and showed off her flawless skin. The hem was short enough that when she walked, the lace tops of her stockings peeked out to the world, teasing those around her with hints of what did and did not wait beneath the black satin.
She descended to them but said nothing. She simply folded her hands and bowed her head respectfully.
“Ms. Harper is my date for the evening. Mr. Roise made a bet he really should not have, and lost not only a night of her blood, but tonight as well.” He reached out to brush the hair out of the girl’s face. “And while I might not drink her blood and leave her half dead, I do have hungers any mortal man would have.” His hand traced over her bare shoulder and down her arm. “We just came back here so she could change into something more suitable for what I have planned.”
Harper did not flinch when she was touched but her breath quickened nervously at the touch. Regan could smell her fear as easily as she could see her blush. Bets or not, this was not right, but who was she to interfere?
Our story continues into Chapter 20.
Our heroine, it seems, is at a crossroads. What, Dear Reader, shall she do?