L.E. Royal © 2019
All Rights Reserved
“Pick it up.”
Scarlett watched with lazy eyes as my hand shot forward to grab the apple. I hated her a little for how easy she found this.
“You’re scowling, Princess.”
I dropped the apple the minute she let me and did my best to straighten my face.
The revelation that Scarlett and I were blood bound was old news, but its implications were still new to both of us. We’d been spending time when we were alone learning to overcome the phenomenon—or trying.
The vampire stretched, reclining before me on the black satin bedsheets, and I wondered if she felt me compelling her at all. I tried to recreate the feeling inside myself from the rare times I had succeeded in bending her to my will. Silently, I concentrated and willed her to pick up the apple.
Raindrops ran down the sleek glass doors of Scarlett’s balcony, the sky a dreary gray. Even from the great height of the thirteenth floor, I could see little beige specks below that I knew were actually humans. They came from the outskirts of the city—the Fringe, brought in to work around the decadent skyscrapers that housed Vampire families, like Scarlett’s. High up in Pearce Tower we could live under the illusion of safety, for the moment.
Below, the streets of Vires teemed with vampires, Deltas who were genetically advanced enough to walk in the daylight. The non-Deltas would join them at sunset.
A flash of curiosity disturbed me, pulling me back off the dark path I was traveling, thoughts of society in Vires starting to consume me. Without looking, I could feel her watching me, taste her curiosity. Her wish to know what was going on inside my head was clear through the emotional connection we shared. I tried to lock her out, to shield my feelings from her. She tipped her head and when I met her dark eyes, their intensity burned. I figured I was successful.
Pick up the apple.
Her voice was liquid smoke, lingering in my mind, penetrating every corner. My pale hand darted forward and grabbed it again. She smirked. My stupid, smug, beautiful vampire.
My fingers released their grip the moment she bade them to, and the abused fruit fell back onto the sheets.
I wanted to grumble, to ask what the point was. We both knew I couldn’t resist the commands she gave. We also knew she could resist mine effortlessly most of the time. I smoothed my hands over my jean-clad thighs and tried again.
“I’m not resisting you, sweetheart. I haven’t felt any compulsion to resist yet.” She was amused. It danced in her eyes, in the little tug at the corner of her mouth, but I knew she was trying to be diplomatic, at least.
“Why is this even important?”
She had been playful and light-hearted, secretly enjoying the little game we shared. The minute I asked the question I felt her growing cold, uncomfortable. The pleasant hum of her emotions as they lapped at me waned before they shut down altogether.
The subject we were avoiding hung between us, heavy and suffocating. After almost a week of sleepless nights and uneasy dreams I knew sometimes she could share, I was ready to drag it out into the light.
“I don’t ever want it to be used against us.” She was somber, her expression dark and unreadable.
“Scar, if I’m going to be a vampire anyway…”
She hissed. I prepared to backpedal, wishing I had been a little more tactful, but she was already speaking.
“Why are you so obsessed with becoming a monster?”
“Jade’s not a monster and she’s a vampire.” Dark eyes softened at the mention of her younger sister, one of the people she loved most in the world. Through our connection I had quickly grown to love her too.
“Jade has struggled more than you know.” It was cryptic and caustic and an answer that was oh so Scarlett.
“You’re not a monster, really.”
We were silent for a few seconds, my reply dancing on the tip of my tongue. It was a large part of what had been keeping me up at night, but I was too afraid of her answer to voice the topic.
“Say what’s on your mind?” It was only half a question, and I could tell it took some effort for her not to command it out of me. Beneath the cold indifference she had painted on her face, tiny tells and miniscule shimmers of her feelings told me she was nervous.
“I don’t want to get old when you’ll always be young.”
She laughed, and the sound was ever so slightly bitter.
“I’m three hundred and sixty-nine years old, Princess.”
I wondered if I would ever stop being staggered by that fact.
“Besides, I don’t think aging is something we have to worry about. I’m almost certain you’ve already stopped, being as you are.”
“Hybrids don’t age?” My voice was an octave too high with surprise, and maybe a little bit of joy.
We hadn’t much discussed what I was, what I had become, what she had made me. Her cool and careful handling of the subject frustrated me, and it gave me the uncomfortable feeling she was making plans without any of us.
“Just a hunch.” She tried to curtail me before I got too fixated on the fact. “But if I’m right and age isn’t a factor, are you still so eager to be turned?”
I shrugged, unsure.
“Being a hybrid is still dangerous. What if the Government eventually discovers that us sharing blood is what caused this? What if they find out we’re blood bound? Wouldn’t it be safer if I was less…breakable?”
Even alone in the room I lowered my voice as I spoke. Vires had taught me quickly in the months since my arrival that it was a cruel city. The mysterious vampire Government who ruled were bloodthirsty and resolved in their belief that vampires were a superior species, humans being their chattels—a fact they loved to celebrate. The thought made me shudder.
They had laws, etiquette, and a social structure I was still learning, though I had known their most absolute law since my arrival—once a vampire bites a human, they must be killed. Scarlett had broken this rule with me, and through using her blood to heal me an emotional connection had formed between us, making us blood bound.
Scarlett watched me, her dark eyes following as I smoothed my fingers along tender flesh. The scar on my cheek burned. I forced the memory of being deep in the Government bunker, before the hooded panel of vampires who would decide if I lived or died, away.
“You’re so naïve, sweetheart.” There was no malice in her voice, only a fond sort of sadness.
“Do you really think we’re not breakable? That you can’t be broken and bent and used to someone’s will as a vampire?”
I guessed she was thinking of her father.
“Why are you so against me being like you?” I tried to keep any accusation out of my voice, to keep my question simple—it had haunted me and caused so much insecurity this last week.
She seemed to consider her response. For a long moment I was afraid she wouldn’t answer. Somewhere in the seconds that stretched out between us, I felt her again. Her fear was hot and anxious. Coming from the strongest person I knew, it surprised me.
“You won’t be any old vampire. Perhaps if you were just an accidental turn in the Midlands, you could fade into the background, but you’re already in the spotlight. You’re already a Pearce.”
She scoffed, and a little flutter of nerves and excitement flickered in my chest. I was well beyond the age where it was appropriate to be writing my girlfriend’s name in my notebooks, but something about sharing her last name gave me the same slightly giddy feeling I imagined it would bring.
She was staring at me and, caught, heat poured into my cheeks.
Her expression cracked into a smile. I smiled shyly back at her, and for a minute our fraught conversation was curtailed, only our mutual feelings flowing back and forth between us.
When Scarlett pulled me across the mattress and onto her lap, I went easily, lying against her chest on the pillows. I couldn’t see her face from my position, so I just watched the raindrops chase another one down the windowpane and listened.
“I have no idea what life would be like for you, as a vampire in my family. I can’t guarantee my father won’t be interested in…making you like me.” She paused, and I wrapped my arms around her waist and held her tight.
“You know about the Government standards, or some of them anyway. It’s going to kill you to have to whip someone, or beat someone, or kill someone…and eventually it will become the reality of your life, if I change you.”
My blood ran cold at the thought. My plan to accept the Government order to turn me seemed more like a nightmare than a solution now.
“I just figured I would be like Jade.”
She shook her head, her chin brushing over the crown of mine before I felt the soft pressure of a kiss there.
“Jade is a unique situation, a situation cultivated over years and years of manipulations and different agendas and a lot of blood on my part. I do enough punishing and display enough power for both of us, so she’s able to fade into the background some. You know even that isn’t guaranteed.”
The memory of Scarlett’s back split open and bleeding last time she had stepped in to save her sister from the consequences of refusing to act as society said a vampire should came to me unbidden. I didn’t want to be the reason she was hurt again, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt she would step in to save me when inevitably I was unable to hurt humans as a vampire.
The solution to our problem was sand, slipping constantly through my fingers; the more I tried to cling to it the faster it fell.
“I can protect you better like this.”
The words were well-intentioned, but they rankled anyway. I knew from experience that Scarlett needed someone to protect her too. She seemed to bear so much of the burden from the horrors of this society—the price of her being so involved as a powerful Government figurehead.
“Who’s going to protect you?”
I asked the question quietly, my lips against the skin of her neck.
“No one.” There was no hesitation in her answer. “But you’ll be here whenever it ends, you’ll save me.”
I pushed up onto my knees until I was straddling her legs, her face between my hands. The words were a statement with the slightest sliver of a question, and her eyes echoed the uncertainty.
“I’ll save you.”
I wasn’t sure what she thought I would save her from, but my reply was strong, sure, determined. I would save her from the dark that so often came close to consuming her. I would try to save her from harm too. I had done it before—or helped at least. I’d stolen the cure to the toxin killing her and the chain of events I’d started sent me spiraling right onto the Government’s radar and resulted in the discovery that I was a hybrid.
She didn’t kiss me, though I felt the collision of our lips coming, the pull to her overwhelming me. First, her eyes held mine and her presence radiated inside my chest, in my head, my soul. A soft fire glowed bright where we met emotionally. When she did kiss me the fire flared, heating from both sides, love spilling over into lust.
Scarlett pulled away, one arm around my waist and the opposite hand in my hair. She urged my head back so smooth teeth could run rough up the side of my neck. When her teeth became sharp, I ached for her to bite me, even as I flinched. I was well versed with the initial burst of pain accompanying a vampire bite, though I had never experienced it on my neck.
She laughed, that dark coffee and gravel laugh, before her tongue replaced her teeth.
My blood was baying for her to take it. It was undeniably erotic when she drank from me, but it was also romantic. Our connection was renewed and replenished. Something about feeding her lightened my soul, filled me up, and made me content in a way nothing else ever had, or I suspected ever would.
“If you become a vampire, there’ll be no more of this.”
I smacked her shoulder lightly for the tease.
She flipped us and pushed me back until I fell onto the mattress. She hovered over me, her dark eyes captivating, oddly colored irises, one green one brown, swirling like molten gems as she raised my left wrist to her mouth.
“Still want to be a vampire?”
She was infuriating and beautiful, her hips pressed against mine in all the ways that were too much and not nearly enough. Though the ache for her physically registered somewhere far away, in that moment all I wanted was her mouth.
“I never wanted to. I just wasn’t completely against it if it was the easiest solution.”
Her tongue felt scalding as it licked a path over the delicate veins across the inside of my wrist. A soft whine slipped from between my lips a few seconds before I sealed them closed, killing the sound.
The tongue became teeth, running up and down over the sensitive area, the single white puncture scar that lived there, aching to be used again.
“Wouldn’t you miss this?”
She was still teasing, though I could see her commitment to the cause waning as her lips, teeth, tongue, cheek ran over my arm. I knew her resolve not to drink was crumbling by the second.
I tried to grind out some clever response, but my chest was heaving, my breath ragged with want and all the control I didn’t have. We studied each other, her hips grinding down against mine, a delicious backdrop to my focus on her mouth.
“What do you want, Princess?”
It was the first time she had been so bold as to ask, and caught in the moment as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to be bashful.
The words surprised me. They were rich and low and sounded pornographic even to my own ears. I felt her desire rage against mine, and then a sharp sting was followed by the hot wetness of a tongue lapping the single puncture wound on my wrist.
Her eyes were almost black, and swirling. She was torturing us both. Sitting back to grind her body against mine, she let a thick ribbon of blood flow down my forearm, as she held it in her grasp. Finally, she chased it with her tongue.
Drinking hadn’t always been like this. At first it was scary, a little uncomfortable, though still somehow sort of satisfying. Now it was a guilty pleasure, as gratifying physically as it was emotionally.
A thrill flared hot down our connection at my pleading. I was no stranger to her love of power, but her reaction to it still surprised me. I had too little time to think about it, because, finally, her mouth covered the puncture and she sucked, sending a soft pull through my body. As she swallowed, everything washed backward like the tide. It stole my breath, still. She was beautiful, powerful, and vital in these moments when she needed me, and on some level it satisfied me to no end. The feeling of contentment washed back and forth between us. I tasted her soul, dark and fractured with shards of light so bright they were blinding.
“Open your mouth.”
The command snapped me back to reality. Scarlett raised her own wrist to her bloody lips, before opening a twin puncture there which was bleeding.
This was new. Her apprehension twisted around mine, and though I sensed she wanted it, I wasn’t compelled to do as she said. The choice was still mine.
I let my lips part slightly in compliance, curiosity winning out over fear. She leaned down to kiss me, her blood-slick tongue pushing into my mouth past my teeth and across my own. We moaned into the kiss, our connection going wild, and I wanted more.
Her voice was breathy against my ear. She pressed her wrist against my lips, which opened on instinct, and then her blood was spilling into my mouth and my head was spinning. She kissed my neck, licked the soft skin there. I felt far away from myself, one hand pinned above my head, her thumb pressed on the wound, the other grasping her arm tight, holding it to my mouth as I sucked. The pull of the tide from the opposite direction was dizzying, intoxicating. I was barely beginning to sate my appetite for her when she pulled her arm away.
She sat up breathless. I watched as she pressed our wrists together, both wounds closing. Hers disappeared into smooth tan skin as if the blemish had never existed. Mine returned to its perpetual little white scar.
With it done she looked down at me, studying me with love and marveling I could feel as much as see.
I flushed, shy in the face of what had just happened.
She laughed a soft breathy laugh, and leaned down. It surprised me when instead of kissing me, the tip of her tongue slicked around my mouth.
“You are beautiful with blood on your lips.”
The words were reverent, and I knew they would stay with me. Apparently content with her cleanup, she rubbed her cheek against mine. I pulled her down onto me. The two-way sharing only seemed to have enhanced the affection and contentment she always displayed after drinking.
“I love you.”
I twisted my fingers in her hair and tried not to think about the future, about anything outside of right now.
She didn’t reply aloud, but I felt the response inside my chest.
When I woke, the sun was dying outside the windows, brilliant reds and gold behind the wall at the edge of the city. I was still naked, the thrum of Scarlett’s blood potent in my veins. Though our connection was quiet, I tasted the darkness she was slipping into.
Pushed up on the pillows, I watched her finishing her makeup in the mirror. Smoky eye shadow, thick black lashes, blood-red lips to match her nails—this was her battle armor, as beautiful as it was deadly.
“Do you have to go?”
When she turned, the eyes of a killer looked back at me, cool and hard before they softened into the woman I recognized.
“You know I do.”
The last dregs of her contentment, her softness at our earlier encounter rescinded, leaving behind a nothingness I knew she’d put between us to hide the dark.
She turned back to the mirror to fix her hair from loose waves into soft curls, and I wondered why she went to all the effort.
This had become our routine: long days spent together, and longer nights apart, me sleeping in her bed while she disappeared into the city. She rarely spoke about where she had been. Every day she slipped under the sheets with me at five in the morning, hair still wet from the shower, small in an oversized T-shirt and nothing else, and I knew she’d been at the Punishment Center.
A form-fitting black dress peeked out from beneath her leather jacket, the presence of which told me she would be leaving soon. I rolled out of bed and wrapped my hair into a messy braid, and then tugged on some leggings and a large black sweater belonging to Scarlett.
“I was thinking of making a pie…”
It was a weak play, and I knew she would see right through the offer.
I ached to be able to accept where she went at night, to end the distance my feelings about it put between us. As much as I loved her, knowing she went off to effectively torture people was hard to bear.
“Save me some.”
Her answer was cool and clipped and it spoke volumes about her headspace.
Defeated, I trailed after her as she opened the bedroom door. Her killer heels swung from her fingers as she started down the hall.
She paused so abruptly that I ran into her, my shoulder colliding with her upper arm, though she didn’t seem to notice. Her biceps was like a rock under my hand as I gripped it to steady myself. Leaning forward to peer into the open door of Jade’s room, I tried to see what had caught her attention.
Camilla was over. I hadn’t realized, and apparently neither had Scarlett. Jade and Camilla reclined on her bed, the TV playing a movie I didn’t recognize. Its blue glow illuminated their bodies pressed close together.
I thought it was sweet, if a little creepy. I cringed internally at the memory that Scarlett and Camilla had previously been…involved. Camilla was drop-dead gorgeous, even by vampire standards, and she and Jade had been growing noticeably closer since the untimely death of Jade’s previous almost-girlfriend.
The corny horror music on the TV continued to rise in a crescendo. Jade reached out and wrapped her long fingers around Camilla’s on the comforter.
White-hot anger shot through my chest and I’d taken half a step forward, ready to rip their hands apart, before I stopped myself.
Scarlett’s eyes were murderous. I tried to force a feeling of calm down our connection to extinguish some of her apparent anger at the situation.
The vampires on the bed jumped again. I laughed silently as Camilla whipped her hand away.
“Scarlett, come to join us?”
I knew the playfulness in her tone was supposed to hide her true feelings. I didn’t understand why they were acting like teenagers who’d been caught in the act. Whatever was happening between them was admittedly kind of odd, but walking on eggshells around Scarlett just made it even weirder.
“No. I’m going to work.” Her voice was devoid of emotion, and for a long moment the four of us all held our breath. A storm was brewing, twisting and turning and broiling inside Scarlett, and feeling its perimeter from the outside, I loathed to be there when, finally, it was unleashed.
“Rayne’s making pie.”
I silently damned her to another death, not in the mood to pull out all the ingredients and go through the motions. I’d only offered the distraction in the hopes of persuading her to stay home, though I was glad for a break in the tension. I made a note to ask her later what had gotten her so upset about Cami and Jade dating.
“I love pie!”
Jade’s eyes were like saucers and I rolled mine. I was definitely making pie now.
“Rayne’s pie—vampire crack. Who knew?”
They laughed. Scarlett dropped a soft kiss against the side of my neck and bent to put on her heels before she was gone in a blink, the ding of the elevator ringing her out.
The loose hair around my face had just settled when Cami paused the movie.
“Do you want to join us?”
It was an olive branch, but with Scarlett gone and having napped too long during the afternoon, I was restless.
“I think I’m actually just going to start the pie.”
“We’ll help.” Jade popped up off the bed and I was once again grateful to her. I loved her like a sister, part of the emotion mine and part of it Scarlett’s, though it didn’t matter. She was the one to bring me to Vires and the only one to accept me and understand my relationship with Scarlett and the struggles it brought, no matter what.
Cami seemed less enthusiastic but followed anyway. Though it stung, I knew her disapproval of my relationship with Scarlett came from worry over what it could cost her if we were exposed. Now I was, for all intents and purposes, scheduled to become a vampire. I wondered if that was the reason for her slightly improved attitude of late.
“Peach pie?” Camilla asked.
Although the dessert had been a big hit in the past, it wasn’t what I wanted to bake tonight.
“Blackberry… It’s Scarlett’s favorite.” Jade replied for me, as she gave me a sympathetic smile and hooked her arm through mine.
I let myself be towed along toward the kitchen.