Katelina leaned back in the beach chair. She could hear waves lapping the beach and the cry of some far off bird. Above her the moon hung in a thin crescent and uncountable stars twinkled. Farther down the beach a bonfire glowed throbbing orange. She could make out the silhouettes of the revelers around it, but it wasn’t worthy of a vacation snapshot. That was why she’d left the disposable camera in her room.
To her left Jorick reclined in a chair, his long dark hair pulled up in a sloppy bun. Even on the beach he wore his usual black pullover and slacks. Like a cartoon character, he refused to try different clothes. He swore that after centuries he’d settled on the perfect ensemble.
“Enjoying yourself?” Amusement glittered in his dark eyes.
She forced a smile. “Of course.”
His reply was the fanged grin of a vampire. “I’m glad. You’ve wanted to come to the beach for months.”
She made a noncommittal sound. Though her boyfriend and his associates were vampires, she had still imagined her beach vacation dappled in sunlight. Three a.m. on a nearly deserted island wasn’t what she’d had in mind. Where was the sunscreen? Where were the cabana boys? Where was the beach fun?
Jorick chuckled. “You chose the wrong traveling companions for that.”
Mind reading - one of his vampire abilities. “Remember when you respected me enough not to do that?”
“It's not a matter of respect, it's just easier sometimes. Besides, you think loudly.”
“So you say. You used to worry I'd get mad.”
“Yes.” He grinned. “I think we're past that now. Isn't it more important to save time?”
Her only reply was a sigh.
A figure abandoned the fire and headed toward them. Katelina scowled at his ridiculous crayon colored red hair and the expanse of pale, naked flesh. His speedo trunks left little to the imagination—not that she wanted to imagine it.
“Of course you do!” Verchiel chirped as he stopped next to her chair, a reply to her thoughts. As if she needed another mind reader. “Are you gloomy gusses going to sit here, or come join the fun?”
Katelina snorted. “Why? It’s only you, Micah, and Loren hanging around the bonfire acting macho.”
“You forgot Torina,” Jorick said with amusement.
“Of course, the reason they’re acting like macho idiots.” Her eyes strayed toward the fire and the silhouette of a curvaceous vampiress. Her long red hair fell around her shoulders in salon perfect waves and her emerald bikini looked like it was made for her. Torina was enough to make a supermodel feel inadequate. How could Katelina, an average human with an average figure, compare?
Jorick caught her hand and squeezed it. “It isn’t a competition.”
“We could have one,” Verchiel suggested with a broad grin. “We could start with the two of you in bikinis, add some pudding, and see who comes out on top.”
Katelina tried to smack him, but the redhead seemed to evaporate and reappeared a few feet away. Super speed; another of his abilities. “Aw, come on. It could be fun! No? All right, but don’t say we didn’t offer.” Then he disappeared and reappeared near the fire a moment later.
She turned to Jorick, expecting a customary burst of outrage, but he grinned. “He might be on to something. I imagine you’d look fetching in nothing but pudding.”
Before Katelina could express her opinion, another vampire drew near, dressed in a button up shirt, jeans, and boots. It wasn’t just his tawny hair and amber eyes that made Katelina think of a lion. There was something in the way he moved, a sort of fluid, feline gait that said he was waiting to spring. It was Jorick’s fledgling.
“Oren!” Jorick called. “Come to join us?”
“Hardly.” He cast an unhappy look over them. “Is this necessary?”
“You don’t approve of a vacation?” Jorick asked.
Oren drew a tight breath. “I’m not saying one doesn’t deserve a rest, but is now the time?”
“Why not?” Jorick’s eyes skipped to the dark ocean. “Both your war and exile are over.”
Oren gave a contemptuous snort. “Have you forgotten I attacked The Guild’s citadel?”
“They already doled out the punishment in your absence.” During the battle, Jorick had incapacitated his fledgling and hidden him in a supply closet, leaving Oren’s brother-in-law to be executed in his place. “If you ask me, it isn’t a bad thing to be rid of Fabian.”
Oren opened his mouth, then closed it, as if he couldn’t argue. Fabian had been an annoying, bitter vampire. Since The Guild had put him to death for leading a war against them, Oren’s lust for battle had grown cold, as though it had been Fabian pushing all along. And it probably was. Even Torina, Oren’s hot blooded sister, had seen the pointlessness of attacking the American vampires’ capitol.
“Fine,” Oren said. “What about Malick?”
Katelina cringed at the name and Jorick said, “He’s the True Council’s problem.”
It was the answer she’d expected. Malick was Jorick’s master; the vampire who’d given him immortality, and then manipulated him for years after. Jorick would always have a strange mixture of loyalty and well-deserved hatred for him.
“What about Samael?” Oren asked impatiently.
Jorick waved the question away, like smoke that threatened to obscure his vision of peace, but Katelina didn’t feel so casual. Behind her eyes she could still picture Samael, naked except for his flowing hair. They’d expected to find Lilith, the supposed mother of all vampires, asleep in the mountain temple, instead they’d gotten him.
“Will the True Council take care of him?” Oren asked sarcastically. “We woke him, Jorick.”
Jorick’s good humor slipped from his face. “No we didn’t. I know the idea was to wake Lilith and use her to destroy Malick, but it obviously doesn’t work that way. Sorino woke Samael, and couldn’t control him. It seems the legends were wrong.”
“Maybe,” Katelina muttered, then spoke louder. “There were things written on the wall in the temple. Sorino said ‘We will do as the inscriptions say’, so they must have told the truth.” The scene in the dark room came back to her. She could hear the screams of the battle raging upstairs; Jorick and the others fighting Malick’s henchmen. She could see Sorino’s satisfied smile as he forced her to take out the legendary Heart of the Raven.
Without thought she murmured, “He said, ‘It’s the heart of Naamah, one of Samael’s wives, and it is necessary to the resurrection’” She shook the memories away. “Obviously that was written on the wall, because until then he thought it was Lilith’s.”
“Only he can read the inscription,” Jorick said gently. “Sorino ‘s gone, but if he wasn’t, do you think he’d tell the truth?”
No, she didn’t believe Sorino would tell them, unless it benefited him. Though they’d parted politely, there was an understanding that they weren’t friends.
Jorick smiled and some of his lost amusement returned. “It doesn’t matter, little one. Things will sort themselves out. In the meantime, you’ve finally got your beach vacation, so enjoy it.”
She absently rubbed her wrist. Samael had bitten her and left it a gaping, bleeding mess. Though she had no memory of it, she knew he’d healed her with his blood before he disappeared. But why? Was it like Jorick and Verchiel had suggested? Had Samael ‘tinkered’ with her mind? Verchiel had called it a kill switch. The thought left her shivering.
Jorick’s attention was still on Oren. “—we have to go to Munich and then—”
She jolted at the implications. “You’re taking Oren to the vampire capitol of the world?”
“As I said, the guilds have bigger things to worry about than a vampire who, if you’ll pardon me, is relatively new and powerless in their estimation.”
Oren’s jaw tightened. He stiffly excused himself and trekked back across the beach.
“You hurt his feelings,” Katelina said.
Jorick shrugged. “It’s true. The Kugsankal—The True Council—is thousands of years old. Malick is nearly three and they’re older than he is. To them Oren and his attempted uprising would be a trifle eclipsed by Malick and Samael. I doubt they’ll even notice he’s there.”
“I hope you’re right.”
The night was growing late when Katelina and Jorick headed back to the beach house. The two-story building and its partner were like Bugs Bunny island huts on steroids, made of what appeared to be unfinished wood and roofed in something that looked like grass. She expected to see dark skinned natives in grass skirts and the odd cannibal hiding in the jungle. Instead there were manicured lawns and a handful of English speaking staff. So much for cartoon reality.
Katelina stopped in the kitchen where a friendly woman made her a fizzy pink drink, then she joined Jorick in the living room. Between the futons and scattered tables, an antique map hung on the wall. Islands were scattered across the face of the ocean like freckles and labeled in foreign characters.
“Which one are we on?”
He shrugged. “It’s hard to tell if it’s accurate, or just decor.” He held out a piece of paper. “This was on the table.”
The note scrawled inside said simply:
We must leave tomorrow.
She scowled. “He’s ordering us around like he captured us.”
“Only in his imagination. Nevertheless, he’s right.”
Katelina wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the island paradise. Leaving meant returning to cold places and even colder attitudes. “Do we have to?”
“Yes. We need to go to Munich and report so we can go home.”
Home. It was a shadowy word that conjured different places: a lonely house in Maine, a neon green monstrosity where her mother lived, and a small apartment buried deep underground in the vampires’ American Citadel. She suspected the last option was the home he referred to.
He slipped an arm around her and pulled her to him. “Cheer up, little one. We still have tonight.”
“In that case, I need another drink.”
Jorick led her up the winding wooden stairs and down the hall to their bedroom. A large cotton clothed bed stood in the middle with a headboard of driftwood and gauzy curtains that mimicked mosquito nets. A bench below the picture window held their suitcases and a selection of puffy throw pillows. The view beyond was magnificent, though to Katelina’s mortal eyes most of the details were lost in darkness.
Jorick pulled her back against him. His lips tickled her ear as he whispered, “Should I describe it for you?”
Goosebumps raced up and down her back and she giggled. The fruity drinks had left the world wobbly. “It’s a lot of palm trees and some creepy bugs hiding in the leaves.”
“That hardly does it justice.” He kissed the lobe of her ear and then moved lower to nuzzle her neck. “Yes, there are palm trees, majestic palm trees whose trunks stand proud and tall, gently curving—” he broke off to lift her hair and kiss his way up the back of her neck. “—up to the magnificent cluster of emerald green fronds—” He ran his fingers through her golden tresses, letting the strands fall back around her shoulders. “—that dance in the breeze.” He tightened his arms around her and swayed as if they, too, were dancing.
“What about the bugs?” She laughed and tipped her head back until she could see his eyes, so dark they were almost black. She let herself drown in the heady warmth, wrapped in a sensual softness that left her breathless.
“Bugs?” He slipped the straps of her bathing suit over her shoulders and peeled the garment down until she was naked. Then he brought her hand to his lips, tracing kisses over her fingers. “The graceful palms shelter many things.” He trailed his lips over her wrist and down to her elbow, and then across the back of her arm to her naked shoulder.
She gave a soft murmur of pleasure that ended in another giggle. “Such as?”
“Oh, there are insects, of course, diamond eyed creatures—” He kissed his way across her back to her other shoulder and then moved slowly down her arm. “—whose wings sparkle incandescent in the light and shine with colors like mother of pearl. Barely more than gauze, they’re delicately stretched over a fragile framework that lets them glide—” He paused to spin her around so that she faced him. His eyes ran over her nakedness and then he moved in closer and kissed her forehead and her cheeks. “—glide from the uppermost reaches of those palms, down—” He moved to her neck and then to her shoulders. “—down until they reach—” He cupped her breasts and kissed their rosy peaks. “—the smooth stones.”
She threw back her head and laughed. “Stones? Really?”
He laughed with her, and then squeezed the fleshy mounds, gently massaging and teasing her hard nipples with his thumbs. “You underestimate their importance.”
She murmured her enjoyment and managed to say, “But stones aren’t pretty.”
“Says who? Each one is unique, shaped by the hand of Mother Nature herself, kissed by the rain—” He rained kisses over them. “—rounded and smoothed by the elements and the pounding surf. With delicate colors and subtle highlights; shades of white and pink and blue.” He broke off to take first one and then the other in his mouth. She moaned softly and he released them. “But we can’t stay among the peaks and valleys forever, we must glide down—” he paused to kiss his way over her ribs and down her stomach, until he was on his knees before her. “—down to the mossy—” He stopped to tease the thatch of golden curls before he opened her legs enough to allow his lips past. “—moist ground below.”
She let out a long, low moan and clutched his head, opening herself and pressing him deeper into the soft folds of her flesh. Her fingers tangled in his long, midnight hair and she floated on a bubble of intoxication and pleasure as his hot tongue stroked her delicate center.
Her legs trembled as he moved his kisses to her inner thighs. His tongue teased her soft skin and then, he bit.
She gave a cry of surprise and pain, but it faded away and left her in the red-tinted, pleasure-soaked world of the vampire bite. It was a connection that could to take their prey to hell or to heaven. And heaven was where he took her. He was inside and outside her; everywhere at once, pulsing, touching, stroking, caressing. She could feel both his desire and his satisfaction coursing through her veins, igniting her passion. As the sensations became more intense, things flashed behind her eyelids; pictures too fast for her to see and words too soft for her to understand. As always she felt the desire to catch them, to see, to know, as if some ancient secret was buried in them. She groaned loudly, urging him on, her instincts screaming for more; more contact, more pleasure, more blood.
Without conscious thought she pulled away from him and he let her go. She stumbled back, dizzy with euphoria and alcohol, and fell to her knees. He moved to her quickly and caught her in his arms, concern burning beneath the lust in his eyes. “Are you all right?”
She gripped the collar of his pullover. Her voice sounded husky and foreign in her ears. “I will be.”
She tore his shirt, pinned him to the floor, and bit into his chest. He gave a cry of surprise, and no doubt pain as her dull teeth pierced the skin. His hot, spicy blood filled her mouth, but it didn’t satisfy her thirst, only intensified it.
He rolled with her, so that he was on top. She struggled briefly as he shifted to remove his pants and slide himself between her thighs. Her legs opened readily for him, and she thrust with her hips, encouraging him, even as her open mouth sought the bleeding wound. He thrust into her at the same moment that she clamped on, and her body arched with a cry of delight. Lost in a crimson tinted world, she didn’t even notice when he bit into her shoulder.
Moments crashed over one another in a carnal cascade of ecstasy. The sounds and images returned, closer than before and, just as it seemed she might understand, her body rocked with the climax of release and she cried out, severing the connection.
The world slowly came into focus; the ceiling with exposed rafters, the bench, the soft white rug under her back. Next to her lay Jorick with his shirt torn open, panting and rubbing at a smear of crimson on his chest.
She licked her lips and tasted blood. She’d bitten him. Again. She was momentarily horrified and wiped her mouth, as if it could hide what she’d done.
“I’ve told you it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You say that but…” she turned away and stared at the curtained bed. “When that happens it’s like I’m someone else, and then I come back to myself and have to deal with the consequences.”
He pulled her to him. She resisted for a moment, but his soothing hands coaxed her surrender and she relaxed against him. “Isn’t all lust that way?” he asked teasingly. “Is it really that you become someone else, or that you’re finally free enough to be yourself?”
Her cheeks flushed and she sucked her bottom lip. It still tasted like him. “You’re saying I’m blood thirsty?”
He nuzzled her neck, and licked the bite he’d made, as if sweeping away the last of the crimson evidence. “More like a wanton pleasure seeker.” He laughed and held up the shirt she’d torn as proof. “There’s nothing wrong with that, given the right circumstances.”
She met his gaze and teased him back, “What would the wrong circumstances be?”
His dark eyes grew darker, and his voice lost its humor. “If it’s with the wrong vampire.”
She looked away as a memory popped to the surface. A starving creature skulked in the corner of the prison cell, little more than skin and bones and matted red hair. It stared at her with hungry eyes, and then it struck. She fought at first, and then… and then the world fell away and she’d come crashing back with blood on her lips to find Jorick snarling and trying to murder Verchiel.
“It wasn’t like that,” she said sharply, as if Jorick had forced the memory on her. “Malick—”
“Yes. I know. Malick manipulated you and then sicked the poor, starving clown on you and you bit him back in self-defense or—” he broke off. “It doesn’t matter.”
She rubbed absently at the scar Verchiel had left. “It obviously does. To you. He apologized a long time ago and already said he was starving and didn’t realize who I was.”
“I’m sure,” Jorick muttered darkly.
She pushed on, “Malick only arranged it to punish you for not following orders.”
Malick. The master hung over them like a dark shadow that tainted everything.
Jorick sighed deeply and pulled her closer. “Nothing is tainted, not you or me or this.” He motioned with a hand to indicate the two of them. “I love you.”
She buried the side of her face against his chest and inhaled his deep, musky scent. “I love you, too.”
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head and then swept to his feet. “Come, little one. I may be used to sleeping in strange places, but even I won’t forsake a bed for the floor.”
It was an hour later when Katelina slipped from the bed and tiptoed out of the bedroom in search of a bathroom. It wouldn’t be long before the sun was up. The sky outside already had a thin, colorless quality along the horizon. Soon all the protective plates would be over the windows to block the burning sunlight and shield the house’s occupants. She could already see some of the island’s employees struggling to put them in place.
When she was finished, she slipped through another door to a broad balcony. The last of the night breezes blew her long hair back from her face and tried to tell her stories of others who’d stood on the sandy beaches and bathed in the surf.
She surveyed the lush lawn below and traced the line of palm trees that marched down to the beach. The whole place was almost too perfect.
“That’s why it’s expensive,” a voice volunteered from the shadows. Katelina turned to see Verchiel step out onto the balcony wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants that sagged too low for her comfort. His ridiculous red hair was wet and the faint smell of soap wafted from him. She looked away quickly from his naked chest, something she’d seen far too much of on the beach in the last week.
After the earlier conversation, he was the last vampire she wanted to see, as if his presence made Jorick’s complaint more credible. Regardless, Verchiel leaned on the railing next to her. He scanned the beach scene and something strange passed across his face. What could ruffle his affable veneer?
“It seems… I don’t know. Maybe I’ve been here before.” He shrugged and stepped back, his usual smile on his face. He nodded toward the humans hurriedly fastening up the last of the metal plates. “The sun will be up soon. Since I don’t fancy a third degree sunburn I’ll leave you to it.”
He started for the door and Katelina asked absently, “Don’t you miss the sunrise?”
“Nah. I’ve already told you I don’t remember anything from before Kateesha turned me, including the sun. Besides, I have a snazzy tropical sunrise calendar in my apartment at the Citadel, so I can see one every day if I want.” He gave her a wink. “Speaking of pictures, you might catch the sunrise for your photo collection, but don’t stay out too late or Jorick will worry.”
And then he disappeared.