Katelina refused to be alone with Kale, so she stayed on the floor between the front seats. She clutched Jorick’s leg and fought to hold down her heaving stomach.
Oren gripped the steering wheel fiercely. Blood spots blossomed on his clothes like red flowers, and his amber eyes were wild. “What in the hell was that?”
“How should I know?” Jorick stretched out the front of his shirt to examine it. Light shown through multiple bullet holes. “Look at this!”
Katelina gasped and Oren snapped, “What possessed you to make such a scene?”
“It wasn’t my idea! You can thank Kale for that!”
As if summoned, Kale peeped out from the heavy curtain. He looked better since he’d fed; his skin had color and substance. Even his hair seemed less limp. The blood that stained his shirt and his face disgusted Katelina more than his wasted appearance had.It wasn't just the color, but the smell. Though she tried to move away, there was nowhere to go.
“What were you thinking?” Jorick demanded. “Why didn't you leave them to me? I could have controlled them!”
Kale shook his head. “Not all of them!”
“Yes, I could have easily handled two, and even five! Regardless, you only need to control the leader and the weaker ones follow!”
“There are better ways of killing!” Oren cut in. “You didn't have to make such a mess! Someone will have to clean that up.”
Kale grimaced. “I’m sorry, I was hungry! They’ve kept me down there without anything for days! What did you expect me to do?”
Oren gestured him to silence. “And what about the damned alarm, Jorick? I thought you said-”
“Hectia thought they were disabled. You noticed the other alarms didn’t go off.”
“Well who would have heard them if they had?” Kale asked. “I tried to tell you to enter the key code first!”
Katelina wanted to point out that they couldn't hear him, but she couldn't get a word in.
“The police couldn’t have been reacting to that alarm!” Oren argued. “They aren’t that fast!”
Jorick ran an irritated hand through his hair. “Maybe they are, or maybe we tripped a silent alarm at some point.”
Oren growled. “Probably when we went in the window!”
“Or maybe when you went in the office?” Katelina suggested venomously. “You’re so fast to blame everyone else!”
Kale cocked an incredulous eyebrow. “Well it doesn’t matter. Your friend will clean it up, I imagine.”
Jorick jerked towards Kale and roared, “He is not my friend!”
Everyone flinched at his sudden rage. Kale muttered an apology, and Katelina asked uncertainly, “How are they going to ‘clean it up’? They can dispose of the bodies, and maybe the cars, but someone heard the gunshots.” Unless they were all deaf.
Jorick shrugged. “They’ll call in a whisperer to convince the people that they didn’t hear anything, or that it was an explosion or a car backfiring, or some other ridiculous thing.” He scowled suddenly. “That idiot Verchiel could surely handle that much.”
“Verchiel?” Kale repeated the name slowly, as if looking for something in the sounds. “Is he an Executioner?”
“Yes,” Oren replied. “The Wind Walker some call him.”
“Oh, him.” Kale suddenly seemed to notice his condition and wiped at his face with his sleeve. “Claudius used to talk to him.”
Jorick slammed his fist into the dashboard. “I knew he couldn’t be trusted!”
The name Claudius had a different effect on Katelina. Instead of shouting, she tried to curl into herself. Claudius’ pouty, teenage face swam behind her eyes. His cold sneer was seared forever in her brain like an ugly scar that refused to fade.
Oren snorted contemptuously. “I might have guessed he was one of Claudius’.”
Kale took their anger in stride. “Not in that way. He’s the one The Guild sent whenever Claudius complained. He was the one who initially investigated Arowenia’s… disappearance, before Senya and her group took over.” He cleared his throat nervously, perhaps realizing for the first time that he’d been a member of their enemy’s coven and was now completely in their power. “As we’ve agreed, though, that’s all in the past.”
“Of course.” Jorick dismissed it with a wave and muttered under his breath, “What I want to know is why he let us go!”
Oren glanced at him. “Ask your human. She seems to be on good terms with him.”
“No, she isn’t.”
Under his angry gaze they all fell silent. Katelina tried to banish bloody thoughts from her head, but images popped to the surface: the policeman’s throat torn and gushing blood. Oren slamming a cop into the car. Jorick holding a limp body in his hands. Her stomach clenched. The face of the youngest cop wavered before her. He was someone’s son, brother, husband or father. She’d seen Jorick and Oren kill before, but their victims had been vampires in battle, not humans with families that would never see them again. It was nearly Christmas, and this year their celebrations would be held around a casket, with tears and anger their only presents.
She noticed Jorick watching her and looked away quickly, though she knew he’d probably seen the thought in her mind. She’d accepted him and the new life; the blood, the gore, the battles. Seeing them kill people… Somehow that was different.
Jorick spoke so low she could barely hear him, “What makes you think a vampire doesn’t have someone who cares for them? Oren mourns Jesslynn’s death, as does her brother. She had a family, the same as the policemen. Wouldn’t you be sad if I died?”
Oren made a noise in his throat. His face gave his negative opinion on the subject.
“Of course! But you’re different!”
“Because you care about me?" Jorick smiled but not kindly. “Does that make me different than the people you don’t care about? You once encouraged me to kill Hectia and Verchiel, then you balk when the blood is human. So long as the death means nothing to you, it’s acceptable. And you humans think we’re the monsters. “
“I never said that! I never said anything!”
“You don’t have to. And I didn’t intend to kill anyone until Kale-”
“I never said you did!” she snapped over him. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to bloodbaths! You might cut me a little slack!”
“The same could be said for you.”
With nothing else to say, she let the conversation drop.
At the next town, the vampires sent Katelina into a gas station with Oren’s money and a list of seemingly random items, including peroxide, several rolls of gauze, a box of bandages, and a pair of tweezers. The tweezers were the hardest to find, though she finally located a ridiculously priced manicure kit. As a fetcher’s fee, she picked up something to eat and drink, and pocketed the change. When she climbed back in the van, she tossed the bag in Oren’s lap with an expression that dared him to complain. He glared, but kept his opinion to himself.
She took a savage bite of her dinner and asked, “So what’s the peroxide for? It’s not like you need to worry about infections.”
Oren snorted contemptuously. “No, but I am hoping to salvage this shirt.”
The sudden image of Oren carefully cleaning the blood from his clothes made her choke. It was just like him.
It was barely after four a.m. when they pulled into a motel. Jorick checked in and returned with the assurance, “The attendant won’t remember us by morning.”
They all piled out of the van. Though they’d rented two rooms, they headed into one. Oren gave Katelina a dirty look as she dropped the gym bag into a chair. “Perhaps we should go to the other room?”
“She’ll be fine,” Jorick replied. “She can stay in here.”
With no explanation, he motioned Oren and Kale to follow him into the bathroom. The door snapped shut. She stared after them and commented to no one, “That’s weird.”
Alone, she peeled off her coat and flopped on the bed. When the vampires didn’t reappear, she turned on the TV. The late night programming didn’t hold her interest. As minutes ticked past, she grew more and more curious. What kind of meeting were they having in the bathroom?
She muted the TV and pressed her ear to the door. The only sound was running water. She imagined the three of them in the shower together and choked loudly.
Jorick’s muffled voice commanded, “Go watch TV. We’ll be finished shortly.”
She tried unsuccessfully to banish the image from her head. “What are you guys doing in there?”
There was no answer. She grabbed the door knob and Jorick called, “I wouldn’t do that, or you’ll see more of Oren than you want to.”
She jerked away from the door, hands in front of her. “What in the hell are you doing?”
They didn’t answer, and the mental pictures she conjured were both horrifying and intriguing. Determined to banish them, she unmuted the TV. She managed a handful of minutes before Kale shouted, “Ouch! Watch it!”
Oren followed with a surly, “I’m finished. Get out of the way.”
That was it.
She swept to the door and jerked it open. The three vampires stared back at her. Kale sat on the edge of the bathtub, naked from the waist up, patting his chest with a wet, bloody towel. Jorick, similarly undressed, leaned over the sink, his palms pressed down on the countertop. Bullet holes riddled his back like pock marks. Oren stood behind him in the same attire, a pair of bloody tweezers in his hand and an exasperated expression on his face. Katelina tried not to notice the freckles on his shoulders.
“Can we help you?”
Words failed her. Oren rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Jorick. With more violence than she thought necessary, he jabbed the tweezers into one of the bloody wounds.
“Got it.” Oren pulled a bloody metal fragment from the hole and dropped it in the sink where it plinked softly. Katelina stepped forward and peered down into the basin. Several bits of smashed metal were collected around the drain.
“If you’re done staring, you might go away? Or perhaps you’d like a try?” Oren offered her the tweezers sarcastically and then went back to his work.
Jorick met Katelina’s eyes and forced a smile that was more a grimace. “How did you think the bullets came out, little one?”
“I don’t know.” She stepped back and leaned against the doorframe, watching with a mixture of fascination and horror. Bullets were something you shot, not something you pulled out. In the movies they went all the way through and left a big, gaping hole and movies were her only experience with gunshots - until now.
Bullets plinked in the sink, one after another. Oren finished Jorick’s back, then the dark haired vampire turned around and Oren worked on his chest.
“There are two in my right leg,” Jorick said. “I can get them myself.”
The last bullet landed in the sink and Oren answered, “Suit yourself.” He dropped the tweezers into Jorick’s hand and picked up the roll of gauze. “Kale?”
He stood reluctantly and dropped the bloody towel into the sink. Katelina bit back a gasp; his chest and torso were like a piece of meat that had been chewed up.
Oren wrapped the mess in layers of gauze, using first one roll and then a second. “That should do.” He looked to the open box of bandages on the back of the toilet. “Do you need help?”
Jorick shook his head and indicated Katelina.
“In that case, we’ll be back.” He snatched up his wet, but bloodless, shirt and motioned Kale to follow him.
They left Katelina staring at the gory towel in the sink. Jorick followed her eyes and commented, “He took a full magazine in the stomach, at point blank range. His own fault, of course.”
She cringed. “I thought the human blood would have healed that.”
“It did, partially, but it healed around the bullets. We had to dig them out.” He tossed his jeans aside and perched on the edge of the sink, one foot balanced on the towel rack. Silently, he stabbed at a hole in his thigh and fished out the bullet. When he finished, he started on the other wound, just above his knee. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“Are you sure?” Her instincts said that bleeding holes were a very bad thing.
“I’ll be fine. By tomorrow night there won’t be a mark left.” He dropped the bullet into the sink, then turned to her. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. I was in the van the whole time.”
Something smoldered in the depths of his eyes. Then they dropped away. “That isn’t what I meant.” He handed her the box of bandages. “If you want to get the ones on my back?”
She stared at them as if they were foreign objects.
“What? I didn’t think you’d want me to get blood all over. I heal faster than you, but not that fast. If it bothers you ...”
“No, it doesn’t,” she said quickly, and peeled one open. “You just don’t normally use bandages.”
“I’m not normally riddled with bullets.”
She finished his back and threw the heap of bandage wrappers in the garbage can, just as a knock sounded on the bedroom door.
“Ah, that will be Oren and Kale. Go ahead and take a shower and I’ll deal with them.”
“What is there to deal with?”
He tossed the bloody towel in the tub, then scooped the bullets out of the sink and into the trashcan. “You know Oren. We’ll have to talk the night to death.” He gave her a wink as he tugged on his pants. “I’ll bring the bag in for you.”
He left, shutting the door behind him.
A shower wasn’t a bad idea, so she peeled off her clothes and climbed in the tub. She kicked the bloody towel to the far end and tried to ignore it, just like she tried to ignore the thoughts raging through her brain. Like others before him, the cop’s screams echoed in her ears. She tried to drown them out with half remembered song lyrics, but the tune moved to the beat of bullets.
When she finished, she found the bag perched on the sink. She hadn’t heard Jorick come in; another of his vampire skills.
She dried off and paused before the mirror. Her eyes lingered on her scars. Though some of them, including the long jagged one that ran from her hip to just below her breast, should have been life threatening, they’d healed with Jorick’s blood when he’d linked her.
There were still moments when she missed the Linking, but they were growing fewer. When they’d been linked, she could feel his emotions and sense him in a way that she couldn’t now. The trade off was that he could hear her thoughts, whether he wanted to or not. As it stood now, he could read her mind when he chose, but when linked, there’d been no way for him to shut her out. It was only Kateesha’s blood that had broken the bond, and that was her own fault. In a fit of rage, she’d claimed the vampiress’s heart and drank from it, something she’d learned to regret.
She shook off the memories and stared at her reflection. Though she was pale and shadows lurked in the depths of her blue eyes, she looked healthy - not like she lived on a diet of convenience food and soda. Jorick had told her that vampire blood would change humans; make them stronger and more resilient. She didn’t feel more resilient, but maybe she was? It made her wonder just how much blood she’d had.
Her eyes dropped to the scar above her right collar bone: a vampire bite with a small cross cut beneath it. It was Jorick’s mark, to claim her as his - what? Property? She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, but she understood. It was one of a myriad of vampire laws concerning their relations with humans. She assumed it was a hold-over from the old days when people could be identified and tracked by unusual scars. Now they just needed to use GPS. When the vampires updated their laws, they’d probably make RFID chips mandatory.
The thought made her shiver. She turned to her discarded clothes and pulled out the contents of her jean pockets: a receipt, her change, and a tarnished silver cross.
It was an odd thing for her to keep. It belonged to Jorick’s dead wife, Velnya. He’d thrown it into the fireplace with her old letters; a symbolic gesture to prove to them both that he’d let his ghosts go. Katelina had saved it, though she couldn’t say why. Since then, she’d transferred it from pocket to pocket, like some kind of perverse good luck charm.
Thinking about Velnya depressed her, so she dressed quickly and strained to hear the conversation on the other side of the door. The vampires’ voices were too low.
She walked out of the bathroom to find Jorick in the middle of the room, dressed in new clothes, hands on his hips. Oren leaned against the dresser, his eyes on Kale, who sat in one of the chairs. “You’re sure you don’t remember what happened?”
“I told you, one minute I was hunting and the next I was in that cage. I already said it wasn’t anyone from my coven!”
Oren nodded impatiently. “None of them came to rescue you. We only found out because it was published in a human newspaper. The Executioners showed up when we did, so they probably found out the same way.”
Jorick appeared neutral. “I doubt very much if it was the doctor, or even a human who captured you. It had to be a vampire. They probably helped the institute get the room prepared before they caught a specimen.”
Oren groaned. “But why? The humans’ goal was to use our altered genetics to improve themselves and create a ‘super race’. What vampire would want that?”
Katelina cleared her throat loudly. “Kateesha wanted to start a war with them, remember?”
Oren threw up his hands. “Yes, but not give them an advantage!”
Jorick’s lips tightened. “Leave it.” He motioned Katelina to his side, then wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her to him. “Kateesha is gone, but perhaps her plan survived?”
Kale rubbed his forehead. “With who? We know where everyone is. My coven isn’t carrying on Kateesha’s ridiculous campaign. We didn’t even know about it before she died. She wasn’t like Claudius; she kept her plans in her inner circle and the rest of us followed blindly.” He cleared his throat and his eyes shifted away. “And though Anya took a few from Kateesha’s coven, I can’t imagine that she’d want that. Last I heard, she wanted to fight The Guild, too.”
Jorick nodded. “That may be true, but how do we know where everyone is? Hectia was unaccounted for after Claudius died. Alistair was a member of Kateesha’s coven and we thought we knew where he was.” Kale looked blank at the reference, so Jorick explained. “He left the coven he'd joined in order to attack me and Katelina and avenge Kateesha's death.”
Oren tugged at his shirt, fixing imaginary wrinkles. “Yes, we had more than one encounter with him. In fact, we dispatched him only last night.”
Kale’s attention snapped to Jorick. “You didn’t mention that when I saw you at the Citadel.”
“It hadn’t happened yet,” Jorick said.
They fell into a thoughtful silence that Jorick broke. “It’s nearly dawn. We should rest.”
The other two left with pointed goodnights and Jorick dropped into one of the chairs. His shoulders sagged and he sighed heavily.
Katelina moved behind him. “Are you all right?” When he didn’t respond, she placed her hands on his shoulders and repeated her question.
He lifted his head. Something dark shifted in his eyes, then he caught her hand and brushed his lips over her surprised fingers. “I’m fine. Just tired.”
She glanced at the window. “Are you sleeping in the bed or…” she hoped the rest of the sentence was unnecessary.
“I don’t know.” He stood and surveyed the window and furnishings. “I think I can manage it.”
“Good. It’s been a horrible couple of days.”
“Yes, it has. But it’s better now.”
He caught her face and held it with his fingertips, as though it was something fragile and precious. She gazed into his eyes, drowning in the smoldering, silky depths. Her breath caught in her throat. The world seemed to fall away and all that remained was the heat of his eyes and the steady thumping of her heart in her ears.
He leaned close to kiss her, but stopped a hairsbreadth from her lips. A smile spread over his face and he dipped his mouth to her jaw. Warm kisses fluttered against her skin and trailed down her neck. He paused at the mark he’d made. His tongue ran over the small ridge of scar. A shiver raced down her spine at the contact and she wrapped her arms around him.
He nipped at her mark and she tensed in anticipation. His lips on her neck did as much to turn her on as they would in more intimate places. Though there was pleasure to be derived from the physical act of sex, the real pleasure came from the bite; the connection between her mind and his, a pleasure that could be gotten by no other means. That was what made sex with a vampire overwhelming and addictive.
She felt his fangs scrape the scar. He released her before he broke the skin, saving the most intimate contact for later.
He tugged her shirt over her head, and tossed it aside. His hands moved over her naked back and his lips crushed hers. She melted against him, her body flowing effortlessly into his, molding against his hard chest. She slipped her fingers under his shirt and he pulled away long enough to cast the garment aside.
He captured her lips, but abandoned them too quickly, first for the soft skin of her neck and then for her shoulders. A low moan reverberated in her throat as he dropped the straps of her lacy bra and traced his tongue over the round curve of her breasts.
“Jorick.” Her hands moved over his back. His skin was like a smooth ocean punctuated by small bandage islands. She skimmed around them, and traced the contours of his muscles with her fingertips.
He kissed his way back up her shoulders to her neck. His hands were large and warm as they wrapped around her breasts and his thumbs traced over her hard nipples. His teeth scraped against her skin and she could feel his desire, as thick and hot as her own.
She moved her hips against his and murmured his name again, her voice more urgent. His erection pressed into her thigh, and she dropped her hand to open his pants and tug it out. She wrapped her hand around it and felt a flush of satisfaction as he moaned and ground his hips into her.
As one they moved towards the bed. She backed into the mattress and fell back onto it, Jorick on top of her. He kissed her deeply, then slid away so she could pull her legs up. When he came back, his clothes were a heap on the floor.
She reached for him, but he ducked away and unfastened her jeans. She wriggled out of them impatiently, now naked except for the bra hanging from her arms. He left it where it was and settled into the hollow between her legs, sliding easily into position. She moved her hips, urging him on, but he stopped, teasing her, and lowered his lips to her neck. One hand supported her head and he shifted to trace the other over her stomach and then dipped it between her thighs. She gasped as his fingertips exploited her most sensitive spots, teasing her, tantalizing her and driving her closer and closer to the edge.
“Oh, Jorick,” she sobbed, desperate for more, for him. She bit her lip and tasted blood. Strangely, the flavor fueled her excitement. She caught his mouth with hers, the kiss hard and sloppy. His tongue darted out and licked the blood from her lip. He moaned with matching desperation.
He moved his hand away and quickly dropped his hips into place. She wrapped her legs around him and pulled him into her. Her back arched as he filled her and she moaned his name as he thrust deeper. She gripped his back. The muscles moved and tensed beneath her eager palms. His lips wrapped around her throat, just above her right collar bone, and she could feel the pressure of his fangs against the tender flesh.
Though she urged him on, he hesitated, as if savoring the building desire. Impatiently, she bit his shoulder, at first teasing. The feel of the flesh between her teeth sparked something and she bit harder. The coppery taste of blood splashed onto her tongue. Jorick stiffened in surprise and then let out a heated moan. Something stirred in her subconscious; dark primitive memories of a thick, spicy liquid slipping down her throat. Instinctively she clamped down tighter, her need and desire overriding everything else.
Her heart pounded in her ears. Over the sound of it she heard Jorick give a strangled cry. Then, he sunk his teeth into her and the world turned into a shimmering place of ecstasy. Strange images flashed behind her eyes, foreign things that moved too fast for her to understand or comprehend. She could feel him everywhere, inside, outside, all around her, hot and pulsing.
Lost in the sensation that his bite brought, she didn’t notice her teeth grind into him, forcing his blood into her eager mouth. As it burned down her throat, the flashing images began to sharpen and grow clear. The muddle of voices and words turned into something she could almost understand. A desperate part of her subconscious pushed her onward, telling her that she was so close, that she was almost there, almost done, almost-
And then it stopped as Jorick ripped away from her. His chest heaved and his eyes were clouded with a mixture of passion and bloodlust. “What are you-” She got no further before he came back. His hungry teeth pierced her again and she was lost to the tides.
Though much of the driving intensity was gone, the pleasure was still overwhelming. Seconds crashed into one another and minutes disappeared in a smear of moans and sweat. Then the world exploded and she was left floating in a sea of ecstasy.
Jorick buried his head in her hair, his breathing hard and ragged as he gasped for air that he didn’t need. She opened her eyes and looked down to see his pale shoulder. The skin was sealed; healed by her blood, but a bright smear of crimson told the story.
She wiped at it and fought the urge to lick her fingers. What in the hell is wrong with me?
“Nothing,” Jorick said softly. He tightened his arms around her. “You’re just getting a taste for it.”
“A taste for it?” Her eyes went wide with horror and her cheeks tinted pink. “What in the hell?”
Jorick sighed against her and then moved to rest his forehead against hers. His dark hair fell around them like a curtain that shut out the rational world. “It happens. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“Who the hell said I was embarrassed?” She tried to jerk away but there was nowhere to go. “I don’t know how I’d have a taste for it. It’s not like I’ve had a ton of it!”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “You’ve had more than you think. Ever since the Linking you’ve been… when we...” His eyes skipped away, uncharacteristically uncomfortable, as though reluctant to share bad news. “When we make love, you’ve been ingesting small quantities.”
“Of what? Of your blood? I’d have noticed that!” Would she? Once he bit her the world faded away. Would she know if she was… but she did know. She’d known all along, whether she wanted to or not. Her cheeks burned and she looked away. No matter how bizarre her surroundings, she was at least normal, but now - How is drinking someone’s blood during sex normal?
“I do it,” he pointed out to her unspoken thoughts, teasing. When she didn’t answer, he turned serious. “It’s all right, little one, so long as you don’t take too much at a time. That’s how a linking is done, after all.”
“It can’t be that easy, and it doesn’t hurt!” He looked confused and her embarrassment doubled as she stuttered out, “I don’t know… I mean… I just thought that… you know, a linking would…”
He slipped his arms around her and nuzzled her cheek. “It isn’t meant to be a painful process, Katelina. I’ve told you before that you don’t need to be near death for it to work. I imagine it could be possible to get caught up in the moment and then regret the consequences later.”
She choked on the implications. “Well it would be easy to get rid of. You just need another vampire’s blood.”
A strange noise ground in his throat and his hold tightened in an almost hostile way. “No, it isn’t. Depending on whose blood you’re drinking, it’s tantamount to cheating.”
“You’re saying I had an affair with Kateesha?” she asked dubiously.
“No, but killing her is different than approaching someone to get rid of a linking. It’s the intent that matters.”
“Is it?” The intricacies of vampire relationships gave her a headache.
Though he didn’t move, she could feel his body tense. “Who would you ask?”
The conversation was veering into territory she couldn’t deal with. “I don’t know. No one. It was hypothetical. I don’t want to go around drinking a bunch of vampire blood.” She stopped herself from adding that it was horrific enough to know she’d been drinking his.
Whether he plucked the thoughts from her mind or was just tired of the conversation, he pressed a kiss against her cheek and pulled away. “The sun is rising. The drapes are enough to keep it out for now, but I’d better block it before it gets much higher.”
She nodded mutely and watched as he slid from the bed and stacked the furniture in front of the window. Unbidden, her mind slipped back to the Citadel and a conversation she’d had with Verchiel about what he called vampire junkies.
“They get addicted to vampire blood. You can drink it for years without being turned or linked, as long as you don’t drink a huge quantity of it at a shot. Things get complicated, though, when they start drinking off of various vampires. All those mixed allegiances.”
The idea still made her shudder and she suddenly wondered what in the hell she’d gotten herself into.