‘Rebecca? W… what are you doing here?’ I blinked a few times to ensure my eyes did not deceive me. Sure enough, my best friend sat before me, clear as the day I would never see again.
‘I work here now.’ She employed a simple tone suggesting her presence ought to be obvious when it was anything but.
She reeled me closer with the beckoning hook of her index finger and lower her voice. ‘Since I followed you the night Seraphina turned you.’
Perching on the edge of her desk, I leaned in and whispered, ‘You know about the damned?’
‘But you’re still human?’
Another silent affirmation.
Locking the pieces of information together like a grotesque jigsaw puzzle of a Bosch painting, I gaped at her. ‘The Duke enslaved you?’
She averted her gaze, telling all me all I needed to know. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Fuck Bex, we’ve gotta get you out of here.’
‘I will not leave my master. It is not safe to do so.’ She spoke like a robot.
That jerk probably programmed her like one too. A tear trickled down my cheek as the severity of the situation sank in.
‘Why are you crying, Hayden?’ She rose from her chair, bringing her eyes level with mine.
‘Why do you think? I’m upset for you and I’m so damn sorry I got you mixed up in this.’
‘Don’t be sad for me.’ She wiped the moisture from my face with a tissue. ‘This way, we can still be friends even when you leave your old life behind you.’
‘But what about your life? What about your freedom?’
She shrugged like none of it bothered her.
Maybe it doesn’t anymore. I had no idea how the Duke’s mind tricks worked, but I was keen to learn how to negate them.
‘You need to finish your paperwork, Hayden.’ Rebecca’s words snapped me out of my musings. ‘Your fledgling needs you.’
Sighing, I returned to the other desk in the brightly lit office and slumped into the seat. I had a feeling it would take me a lifetime to wrap my head around vampire politics. Fortunately, eternity was on my side. Although, I was not sure I wanted to live forever in such a dismally oppressed society. Tamping down on my depressing thoughts, I picked up a pen and focussed on Sheena. The spunky little punk girl was an innocent victim, trapped in a web spun by generations of predators and I was the vicious bloodsucker who had captured her. Ensuring her transition went smoothly was the least I could do.
After signing the final page of the document, I looked up to see Seraphina enter the room. ‘Everything okay?’
Frowning, she shook her head. ‘Have you registered her yet? We need to hurry back to Sheena.’
‘Yeah, just finished.’ I handed the forms to Rebecca and turned to leave.
‘Hayden,’ Rebecca called after me. ‘You still need to book that appointment.’
‘Make it for Wednesday night,’ Seraphina ordered before stepping up to inspect the redhead. ‘You look familiar. Have we met?’
‘Once, My Lady. The night you damned Hayden. My name is Rebecca Ainsley.’ After typing something on her computer, she filled out an appointment card and handed it to me.
‘Thanks, Bex.’ I forced a smile before leaving the room.
Seraphina stopped me in the corridor and cupped my face in her soft hand. ‘Is she your friend?’
‘Yes,’ I replied glumly.
‘I’m sorry darling,’ she whispered. ‘I had no idea my father’s men were watching me that night.’
Channelling my rage toward the woman who brought all this misery down on me and my dearest friend, I pushed past her and stomped toward the exit. ‘Let’s go.’
A tense silence hovered in the air of the limo like a thick fog. A multitude of questions plagued my mind as we drove across London. Eventually I glanced at Seraphina and found her eyes fixed on me. ‘Why the fuck did you do this to me Sera? I never asked for this life.’
She hissed, sounding more feline than human as her fangs protruded. ‘I’ve already warned you about using that tone with me. Do it again and there will be consequences.’
‘Like what?’ I snapped. I know I sounded like a petulant child, but it was hard not to when she treated me as one.
‘Unlike my father, I’m not fond of punishing my fledglings, but if you push me, I will consider corporal punishment.’
I smirked. ‘You think a little pain worries me?’
‘Hmm, good point. Thinking back, I recall how much you enjoyed my bites.’ Her gold eyes glowed as she lost herself in the memory of their first night together. Clearing her throat, she glared at him. ‘Fine. I’ll lock you away in the naughty corner if it comes to it. To answer your question, I turned you because I need more people like you on my side. Oh, and you did ask for it, you just don’t remember all the details yet. It can take fledglings weeks, sometimes even months to recover from the trauma of rebirth. Our minds throw up roadblocks to protect us and navigating the mental labyrinth is hazardous. Hypnotherapy can help, but I’d give it a fortnight at least.’
I wanted to ask her why she needed me, but the car pulled up outside the large Victorian manor that Sheena called home. ‘So now what?’
‘Go be with her. I trust you to use your discretion and instincts to answer her questions. We will reconvene after sunset and I will guide you both through the hunt.’
‘You’re not coming inside with me?’
She sighed and gripped my hands in a firm hold. ‘I’m sorry, darling, but it’s best for you and Sheena to spend this time alone. Try to keep her out of the sun and please don’t let her feed on her housemates.’
Even though Seraphina had not used the term vampire, I figured the word was as good as any to describe us, and the aversion to sunlight detail supported my theory. ‘What happens to us if we soak up some UV rays?’
‘Fledglings burn to ash quite quickly. The older we get, the more tolerance we develop, but sunlight still weakens Elders.’ She withdrew a phone from her purse and typed a brief message. ‘I’m sending my number to you. Call me if you need help with anything. I’ll be back to pick you up tonight.’
My own mobile chimed a moment later. ‘See you then.’ Not knowing what else to say, I got out of the limo and walked toward the house. Stopping at the gate, I grimaced at the stench of stale beer and fresh vomit. The music had ceased, but the party continued to thrive as inebriated kids stumbled about on the lawn shouting at each other, while others made out on the porch. Thanks to my enhanced senses, I could even hear moaning and banging noises before stepping foot inside. The neighbours must love these guys.
It was easy enough to enter the place unnoticed, but my luck ran dry once I reached the first-floor landing. A tall brunette emerged from the bathroom and her eyes lit up the moment she spotted me. She sauntered forward with an exaggerated swing of the hips. ‘Hey gorgeous, you look older than most of this crowd, but not old enough to be anyone’s father.’ Giggling, she placed a hand on my chest. ‘Although you could my daddy if you wanted.’
I tensed when she touched me, trying hard to resist the intoxicating odour of the sweet nectar surging through her bloodstream. ‘No thanks. I’m here for Sheena.’
Her eyes bugged out. ‘Seriously? You can do way better than that skank. Come with me and I promise you much more fun.’
My blood boiled and my vision blurred with a red haze when the bitch insulted my girl. Scowling, I pushed her away. ‘I doubt it.’
As I continued along the hall, she tugged at my shirt. ‘Oh, but I will.’
Spinning around, I slammed her against the wall. ‘Get the fuck off me!’
Rather than scream or cower like a sane person, the brunette grinned, filling my nostrils with the scent of her arousal. ‘I like it rough,’ she rasped. ‘Unlike Sheena. She may act tough, but she is far too sweet for a man like you.’
I stared at her with wide eyes. ‘You’re fucking crazy.’
She shook her head. ‘Nope. Just horny.’ Her tongue trailed along her lips in an obvious attempt to lure me.
But my attention shifted to the throbbing artery in her neck, a far more tempting prospect.
‘You can do anything you want to me,’ she added. A groan escaped my throat, and her victorious smile suggested she mistook its meaning. ‘I can already see how much you want me. Stop torturing yourself and take me already.’
The leash tethering my primal beast snapped. ‘Anything?’ Interpreting her nod as consent, I shoved her into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. The speed with which she stripped down to her underwear amazed me more than the sight of her rakish figure. I preferred my women with more curves and meat on their bones, but I was less picky when it came to mealtime.
‘Leave it,’ I commanded as her fingers moved around to the hooks on the back of her bra. Lowering her gaze to the floor, she obeyed me without question and waited silently for further instructions. Christ! This girl is too young to be so well trained. If I did not hunger for a taste of her, I might have given more thought to how, or even who had taught her. Instead, I propped her up on the vanity counter and covered her mouth as I pierced her jugular. She did not even flinch as I drank her sweet juices. Her blood tasted even better than Sheena’s, giving me a dizzying high as it merged with my own lifeforce. Where Sheena had sated a deep, gnawing hunger, this girl energised me, lifting me above the clouds. I swallowed every last drop, but I needed more.
One room at a time, I hunted. I fed. I took them all. Until I reached Sheena.
Seeing the pink-haired girl lying lifeless in her bed startled me from my trance. ‘Oh shit! What have I done?’ I dropped to the mattress beside her, clinging to her as if my survival depended upon it. As the reality of my actions trickled into my consciousness, I remembered Seraphina giving me her number. My hands trembled as I fumbled with my phone. It took four attempts to get the pin right before I could retrieve the text message and call her.
‘Hayden?’ Seraphina answered in a curt tone.
‘I… I fucked up. I’m s… so sorry Sera.’
‘What happened?’ she asked calmly. Too calmly.
‘I k… killed them.’