"You look ravishing."
Thomas smiled that genuine smile that made Regan's cheeks burn with nerves. She turned and faced the long mirror hanging in her living room. She had work to do this evening, possibly a life to save. That was if her suspicions were true and Jeremiah, Lord of the Library of the Straits, did have something planned. Regan was making a point not to think about the number of vampires that would be at this party and the fact that this was her own first introduction to most of them.
She had to admit that she looked good. The dress fit like a glove, tailored with the kind of precision that only a master, and fourteen thousand dollars, could produce. Emma had been waiting at dusk with her tackle box of makeup and a stylist friend. Henri had already come and gone, insisting on making some last moment adjustments to bust and to the back draping. He had looked tired and Regan was forced to wonder if he had slept at all from the night before. His work done, he had kissed her cheeks and gave her a final look, his eyes a little wet. Regan supposed it a mix of professional pride and fatigue overtaking him. Even Shannon, her newly hired personal assistant, had arrived promptly at nine thirty to provide Regan with her first meal of the day. She was currently sleeping it off upstairs.
Regan had believed, since the age of six, that the one time she would ever feel this beautiful, this desirable, this perfect, would be the moment she saw herself in her wedding dress. But that scene had already played, and it had paled compared to what she saw now. Perhaps it was a product of her more acute senses, she could smell the excitement around her, could all but taste the desire radiating from her mortal companions. Even Emma, who she had thought would be jealous of all the attention that Regan was demanding, was excited and even a little attracted to her. Was this why she had not been able to say "I do"? Was this what her wedding day should have felt like? Or was it a simple matter that when you drop five figures on a dress it cannot compare to the gown you found on consignment?
The only complaint that Emma had lodged in regards to Regan's wedding plans had been the dress. It was lovely, and fit well with only minor alterations, but it had been previously owned. According to the consignment shop owner, it had been put on sale by a woman whose own wedding plans had unraveled several weeks before the big day. At the least Regan would be the first to walk down the aisle in it, and she would be able to have a thousand dollar dress for only a few hundred dollars, plus the fees of adjusting the fit. It had been a no-brainer to her at the time.
There was a knock at the door, bringing Regan back to the moment and out of her thoughts. She pulled herself from the mirror to see Emma opening the door. Stacy stood on the small porch, her petite frame dressed up in an amazing gown. The high collar with lace and ruffles, as well as the detailed corset reminded Regan of a Civil War era dress as did the full sleeves, also trimmed with lace. Or it would have if the skirts had not stopped mid thigh, exposing her fishnet encased legs and knee-high lace up boots. A black top hat with goggles affixed to it perched on her head, allowing her wisps of blond hair to frame her cherubic face. Regan shook her head with a smile; the kid had flair.
"Is everyone ready or should we all come in to wait?"
Regan turned to look at herself one last time in the mirror. "I'm as ready as I'm going to be," she declared and turned to Thomas offering her arm. "Shall we away to our chariot?"
Thomas looked confused. "Who else is coming? I thought it would it just be you, me and your friend."
Stacy jumped in. "Oh, don't worry, I got us a limo for Miss Fairchild's entourage."
This did not appear to settle Thomas' doubts. "Just how big is this entourage?"
"Just enough to make it clear that Miss Fairchild is someone to reckon with, but not enough to seem like she's trying too hard," Stacy said with a mischievous grin. "Just remember that Daryl is all mine tonight. And Emma."
"What?" Emma's face noticeably paled. She spun to look at Regan with wide eyes.
"She's kidding," Regan reassured her. "Aren't you, Miss Stacy?"
Stacy's lips turned down into a pout. "Not even one little taste? Puh-lease?"
Regan folded her arms. "This isn't funny."
"No," Emma added quickly. "Very not funny."
Stacy's face lit back up, her wide smile returning. "The looks on your faces sure is."
Thomas raised an eyebrow. "I take it that Punky Vampster is coming with us as well?"
"Punky who?" Stacy asked, clearly unsure if she should be offended or not.
Regan put her hand over Thomas’ and started to guide him towards the door. “Be nice. Stacy has been a big help planning for tonight. She gets a bit of a break on the tasteless humor.”
“Tasteless?” Stacy started to skip down the steps towards the waiting limousine. “I think I was pretty clearly talking about taste.” She spun on her toe at the bottom of the stair so she could smile up at Emma and lick her lips pointedly.
“Still not funny,” Emma shot back.
“High-Larious,” Stacy answered.
“Is she going to be like this all night?” Thomas looked tired already.
Regan forced a smile and cleared her throat. “Let’s just get in the car and be on our way.”
Thomas stepped to the side to allow Regan to slip into the limo first. It was just as she had expected, large and luxurious. It was also already rather full. Scanning the faces of the men already seated, Regan felt like she was sitting in a living Who’s-who of the last three months of revelry. Jordan, the last man she had spent an evening with, sat closest to the door.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t call,” he offered immediately upon seeing her. “I’ve been meaning too, but it’s been so crazy, you know?” He opened an arm to invite her to sit next to him on one of the long seats.
Regan hesitated, glancing over her shoulder at Thomas who was now sliding in next to her. “Another friend from your time before?”
“Before?” It seemed that it was Jordan’s turn to look confused. Thomas' clear implication was that of the time before Regan had joined the ranks of the living dead, a transition she had not revealed to Jordan or the other occupants of the limo.
“Actually, no,” Regan said, hoping to avoid making this moment any more awkward. Stacy had assured her that it was common to bring mortals to these events, and that they would all be shuffled off to other rooms when the real vampiric events began. “This is Jordan, a friend I’ve made fairly recently.”
“Lover,” Jordan corrected with a sly smile.
Several of the other men shared the smile as well. Clearly they had been comparing notes while they waited. Regan had no idea what had been said but the fact that they all seemed at relative peace with each other gave her hope for the evening. They had arranged themselves so as to leave room next to Jordan for her, it appeared, implying some agreement as to who would appear on her arm first. For a moment Regan started to doubt this plan.
Thomas gently eased her forward, his hand on her shoulder. "Go on," he said gently, "it will help make room for the rest of us."
Regan slid into the seat next to Jordan, adjusting her gown and then watching as Thomas slid onto one of the rear benches. He turned a little and stretched his arm over the back of the seat as he did, making room for Emma to sit next to him. Stacy was the last to enter, her skirts rising up even more to show the tops of her stockings and the black garter bands helping hold them up. She shimmied onto the bench opposite and curled up into Daryl's arm. For the moment Regan forgot how young Stacy's body was, the clothing and the makeup making her actually look old enough to be in Daryl's company as a date rather than a little sister. Regan felt Jordan's hand close over her bare shoulder and pull her a little closer. Rather than feeling comforted by the touch, she felt even more exposed.
"So where is this party?" One of the men asked as the limo eased from the curve. The question came from someone whose name Regan should have remembered but could not.
"Oxford," Stacy answered. "Should take about an hour."
"So, Stacy," Thomas asked after several minutes of awkward silence. "Which of these fine strapping men are here with you?"
"Just this one," she answered, reaching up to give his five o'clock shadow a scratch. She purred and then pointed at Emma. "And that one when she's done denying how cool this hat looks on me."
Emma recoiled more into Thomas, his arm sliding off the back of the seat to fall around her shoulders and hold her. The motion was not unnoticed by Regan who felt her cheeks warm again, this time with envy. Before she could say anything she felt Jordan's lips against her cheek.
"You look amazing, Reg. If it were just you and me in here, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to hold myself back." She felt his breath on her ear. "You even smell sexy."
That had been her goal, actually. Given the price of the perfume she had expected it to achieve the desired effect though at the moment that desired effect was starting to slide towards a markedly undesired circumstance.
"Hey," Stacy snapped with a grin as she prodded Jordan with a boot. "You better not mess with all that work she did getting dressed up. At least not until the ride home."
Regan could sense Jordan's smirk. "We will definitely need to get you a private limo for that hour."
"And miss out on all this attention?" Regan gave a nervous chuckle.
She felt a hand on her knee through the gown's drapings. "Oh I'm sure you'll get plenty of attention." It was the one whose name she still could not remember. Part of her wanted to say Kyle but she could not be certain. She reached down and removed the hand. "This is my party, boys. No uninvited touching." She hoped to sound confident, though she was somewhere between flattered and panicked. Stacy had promised to help them remember that she was fun to be with, not re-enact the Love Limo Adult Film. It was a good business model, really, and one she admitted to envying for it's simplicity and profit potential, setting aside her disgust at its exploitive nature. She could hate the product but still respect the sheer volume of money it made for the producers.
Being honest with herself, Regan had to admit that it was rather exciting to have so many pairs of eyes on her at once, all because she was beautiful and sexy, rather than for the more common reason that she could cut their individual tax burdens in half.
Emma giggled, cutting into the nervous tension in the limo. Regan saw that Thomas was whispering something to her. She nodded and let out another nervous chuckle. Regan's eyes narrowed, slightly. Why was he showing her so much attention? He was there as part of her, Regan's, entourage, of which Emma was supposed to also be a part. The two were not supposed to be that close to each other. They were supposed to want to be that close to her.
The return of the hand to her knee forced her to focus on the matter at hand. “C’mon,” he said. “Lighten up a little. We’re all just here for the fun, right?”
Without hesitation, Regan locked eyes with Kyle. She held his gaze with her own and focused her anger into him with all her will. She growled and felt herself starting to bare her teeth, transferring her frustration at Emma and Thomas to the man with his hand, unwelcome, on her body. His eyes widened and he pulled back. Regan sat back in the bench and smiled, trying to calm herself before she managed to panic the entire assemblage of men. She glanced over at Stacy who grinned and flashed her a thumbs-up.
“Right, so, yeah, maybe a drink is a good idea then,” Kyle said as he settled back onto his own seat and reached for the set of bottles next to himself.
He did not get a chance to lift the lead crystal bottle from the tray. The limo rocked as the driver slammed on the brakes. The rear of the vehicle started to swing to one side, the sounds of rubber on pavement seeping into the seating area, barely audible though the sound proofing. It was a distinct enough sound, and one that created an instant spike in tension.
The limousine lurched again, this time to the other side, the sound of an impact on the driver's side echoing throughout the space. The tinted glass windows, so black as to obscure the outside, cracked as white spider webs arched across them from the collision. Metal tore against metal with the wail of destruction as the offending vehicle slid down the side of the limo, the occupants clearly able to track its progress with the sound.
"What the hell?" Kyle looked panicked as he dropped the bottle back into the tray, the crystal cracking from the impact.
Regan and Stacy exchanged looks, and in a moment Regan knew exactly what was happening.
"Hunters," Stacy had been the first to say it.
"But it isn't Tuesday!" Regan clung to Jordan as the limo swerved left and right, additional impacts sounding along the side of it as the driver fought to keep control. How had she been so naive? One of the largest gatherings of vampires in the tri-county area was happening that night. How could she not think that the hunters would likely find out and try to thin their ranks with attacks? She had let Stacy make all the arrangements for the evening. Did she ensure that their limousine was bullet-proof?
Regan did not have to wonder long. The reports of assault rifles filled the air as the rear window of the limo was turned from a single pane into millions of tiny glass pellets. The tempered glass shattered and showered them with the small globes. Clearly the windows were not.
"Are you in the mafia?" Jordan shouted over the din. "Because that would be so cool."
Regan pulled back to look at him in shock but did was unable to respond before the vehicle slamming into their side finally hit their corner at just the wrong angle. There was a screech as the rear tires lost traction and the limousine began the long slow skid to the side. Regan could feel her seat rise up as the entire vehicle began to pitch before that final moment when the tires regained traction, pitching her up into the air and sending them all into a roll. The limo tumbled along the highway, glass shattering and metal groaning with strain as vampire and mortal was tossed along inside. Regan lost count at six as to the number of times she was slammed bodily into one of the surfaces before it ended, somehow with the wheels again in contact with the road.
Immediately the strobes of automatic gunfire filled the dark space as bullets ripped through metal and wood. Regan felt someone fall on top of her; Jordan was trying to protect her with his own mortal body. She snarled once and tried to get out from under him. She may not be bulletproof, but she healed a lot faster than he did. Keeping low, she managed to free herself, ripping fabric as she did.
She had been wearing a fourteen thousand dollar dress.
Someone was going to die.
Regan looked at Jordan, intending to tell him to get out of the limo on the far side and to take cover. She did not need to.
Someone had died.
She looked away from Jordan's motionless body, trying to find out who was still moving and who else was headed towards room temperature. Stacy was squirming out of Daryl's grasp, as he clung to her protectively. He was actively trying to keep her down, affirming his "still living" status. Thomas was stretched across the rear bench, his eyes closed. Regan could not tell if he was breathing but she already feared the worst. She blinked and scanned for a sign of Emma. The side door of the limousine was gone, ripped free during the rolls. Emma's bright green shoes could be seen just outside where she had been tossed when it had come to rest. At least she was on the side away from the hunters, protected from their gunfire, for now. Regan started towards them when the sounds of gunfire erupted again, sending shards of wood paneling into her face, leaving red streaks of blood where her flesh was parted by their passing.
Every myth she had heard of vampires extolled the virtue of their blood for healing. But could she risk it? Was it too late already?
Our Heroine has reached a crossroads. What, Dear Reader, shall she do?
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If you enjoy Mind the Thorns, perhaps consider Bastion: The Last Hope, a story of the end of days as told by those who survived them.
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