Bloodshifted Page 14

“From what?” I tried to imagine him swooping in and lifting buses, and I couldn’t.

“From leukemia.”

It was my turn to be surprised. “I got it when I was young. My dad tried everything to save me, but—” She shrugged, indicating how hopeless modern medicine sometimes was. “When science couldn’t help, he tried other things, and that’s when he found Raven.” Her lips parted slightly at the mention of his name. “He saved me, just like he saved you. Only I was fourteen.”

“Whoa.”

She nodded. “My father worked for Raven after that. I hadn’t gone to school in a while because I was always sick, so he had me help him in his lab, and taught me everything I needed to know. And I used to stay up every night, making western blots, hoping Raven would return.”

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be turned into a daytimer as a teen. If she’d been forced to feel the same strange connection to Raven that I’d felt—it seemed like the sort of thing that ought to be prohibited, but by whom?

“Eventually he came back. He visited the lab, and my dad didn’t shoo me away in time. After that, I caught him watching me sleep. He knew that I knew he was there—and I knew that I mattered to him. I just knew.” Her face lit up at the memory. It was taking all my strength not to cringe.

“Around that time, my dad started moving us around. But Raven always found me. And then my mom died in a car accident, and my dad decided it was Raven’s fault.” She shook her head to indicate how wrong he was, according to her. “Things got worse, until Raven took me away.”

I bit my lip and nodded sympathetically, while being fearful that her mother’s death was somehow the Consortium’s fault, a punishment doled out for consorting too much with vampires.

She shrugged again, a slightly girlish gesture, designed to deflect attention, as if to say, Nothing bothers me, not the past, or the present, or you. “I don’t get to talk about it much. The others aren’t very good listeners.”

“And your dad? What does he think?”

“He’s mad at me. I write him letters, but he doesn’t ever write me back.” That shrug again. “He loves me, but Raven and I are in love. It’s a totally different thing.”

I strongly doubted any of her letters made it into the mail. And I could hardly encourage her to write him again now, when I knew he was in the Leviathan’s belly at the bottom of the sea. She hadn’t gotten to have a normal life, between her illness and her dad—and I realized that I didn’t need my freakish daytimer strength to hurt her. All I had to do was tell her what had happened to her father, and why, and I would break her heart.

Despite the fact that we were still in the room with a corpse she’d created, I found myself strangely unable to do so, so I looked away. “Being in love is nice.”

“Yeah. It is,” she agreed.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“Anyhow,” Natasha said, leading me back into the lab with her syringe of blood, “ask Jackson for a watch and then come back after Raven receives us tonight. It should be near the right time.”

“Awesome. Thanks.” I gave her a kindly smile and walked unmolested toward the door.

I was so confused. Nothing about my time here was as I’d expected, and I found myself actually feeling sorry for Natasha. I couldn’t believe I’d just been nice to someone who was a serial killer. Again.

I walked down the tunnel until I reached the first turn and then sat down on the stone. Concentrate on the good things, Edie. First off, I was away from the potentially hungry pre-vampire, yay. Asher. Anna. My engagement necklace. There was a prisoner hidden away somewhere who was willing to help me. I had all my fingers, as Gideon had so aptly pointed out. And you’re still stuck with me, baby. Things were bad, but they could definitely be worse.

I wished I could feel happier about that, though. Every time I closed my eyes I saw an image of that woman’s wired corpse.

I knew how economies of blood worked—that was why House Grey was scared of Anna. She was a living vampire, born one as the child of two daytimer servants, and she could produce infinite amounts of blood, due to some combination of genetics, magic, and, for all I fucking knew, alchemy. But I’d been led to believe that the metabolism of all the other vampires on the planet worked much more slowly, providing a natural cap on the population, because vampires could only share their blood irregularly with servants, and changing a human into a vampire required a lot of it.

So why was Raven letting this random woman—someone who’d just been cornered and caught last night at the bar—cut ahead of Lars? And how’d he managed to do it after giving so much of his blood to me?

No answer to those questions could possibly be good. Anna might be on her way here … but it might not be fast enough. I might still have to find the prisoner. I wondered if the fries I’d left in my bag with the Shadows would taste like sorrow, or cyanide, or if the Shadows might have taken the taken the fries with them, fashioning them into a crude raft to hold above their heads as they crawled back to hide underneath Celine’s bed.

Your mom is not crazy, baby. Just a little stressed out right now is all.

I heard footsteps and stood immediately—I didn’t want anyone else to see me and think I was weak. I was surprised when Jackson rounded the bend, as was he. “Is Natasha still alive, too?”

“Yep.”

“Things go okay?” Which was as close as he could come to asking what he really wanted to know.

“Hunky-fucking-dory.” I was really going to have to work on not cussing in the next eight months. “Natasha said you should get me a cell phone, flashlight, and watch.”

“No, no, and maybe. Why?”

“So I can be on time for science.”

“Where science is…,” he prompted.

A creepy speed-vampire-creation program? I inhaled to tell him, and then we felt it together, the release of nightfall. I had to remind myself that it was winter outside; night was still the majority of each day.

Jackson broadly shook his head, and I nodded understanding. We’d talk later—and by then, I might know more.

* * *

We walked to Raven’s war room together, and were the first ones there.

Lars was next, in a crisp business suit again. He had to be the most fashionable bookkeeper/drug dealer in Los Angeles. Wolf rolled in, and Jackson moved to his side.

When Estrella entered, she was as glamorous as when she’d begun her shift last night. I had no idea how she managed to do her hair so fast after getting up—maybe she set it on rollers before she died in the morning? Her orange hair was pressed down in sleek waves, covering half her face, swooping down so that the lowest curl of it hung underneath her left breast, and the cream-colored satin beaded dress she wore draped down to the ground. She looked like an otherworldly Jessica Rabbit, until her eyes focused, hawk-like, on something behind me.

I turned to see Celine trotting in on impossible heels. She’d outdone herself. Her hair was down around her shoulders in chunky waves, her makeup was perfect, and her eyes were sparkling with life as her hips rolled when she walked by. She looked like she was out to have casual fun tonight, like someone on the far side of a welcome divorce. I knew everything about her appearance was preplanned and intentional, but so far she was the most lively-looking person here, and Estrella noticed.

The vampire I hadn’t run into yet stalked in. I remembered Jackson said his name was Rex. He wore a tight black shirt and tight black jeans, and there was something about him that looked hot and flush, as if he’d just contracted a tropical disease.

Raven walked into the room electrically, hair slicked back into a braid, with a white tank top that made him look paler. I wondered what percentage of vampire whiteness was caused by lack of sun versus lack of circulating blood. He had low-slung black canvas pants on, with metal loops for buckles tabbed to the sides. It was quite a change from his normal look.

“How is everyone tonight?” he asked, looking around with a cunning smile. “Are there any concerns from last night I should know about?”

Wolf grunted. “Three cops tried to come in. I was able to send them away, but we need to keep an eye out for them tonight.”

“Were they after the drugs or the women?” Raven asked, then smirked. “Or just off duty?”

“Pretty sure it’s the drugs. I’ll let one in tonight so we can find out—Jackson can tail him. Everyone should keep it clean tonight just in case, though.”

“What?” Rex protested.

“Just say our suppliers fell through,” Wolf said. “We can’t have a perfect record when it comes to keeping the cops out—that’ll only make them more suspicious. Or maybe we can find someone low-level in your ranks that we can set up to take a fall—”

The male vampire started shaking his head. Lars raised his hand, and Raven nodded permission for him to speak.

“Master, no drugs tonight will cause a drop in alcohol sales—”

Raven looked to Celine. “Balanced out by cheaper women?”

She swept a long bang back from her face. “More women, perhaps, Master? I hate to devalue my product, but I can call all my off sites in—”

Estrella held up one delicate hand. “I do believe it’s my birthday tonight—or, no—Celine. It’s yours.” She grinned, looking at her daytimer protégée. “You already look the part.”

“Excellent idea!” Raven exclaimed. “Lars—two for one drink specials, and Celine, bring all the ladies in but tell them to just party, no sales—hell, let them drink for free. We’ll take a cash-flow hit but keep our customers happy and our noses clean. Wolf—if cops do come, please make sure they wind their way up to Heaven—and point them out to Celine, so that she can make sure they have a good time with her there.”

“I get to work in Heaven?” Celine said, then hurried to add, “Master?”

“Celine, my dearest, I’m in Heaven with you all the time,” Raven said with a grin and a low bow, one arm flourished out.

Someone was in a good mood. Why?

Rex cleared his throat, and Raven’s attention lit on him. “Yes?”

“I request permission to feed.”

Raven shook his head, almost imperceptibly. “Denied.”

“But, Master—” Rex pressed.

“Denied.”

I knew they needed to drink blood each night—although they wouldn’t die without it, not right away, the starving prisoner a case in point. I’d seen Estrella with her chosen donor the night before—and none of them, Raven, Wolf, Estrella, or Rex, looked starved. Feed must mean something more in this context.

“It’s unfair that all our kills go to her. She’s not even a vampire,” he said, and I knew he meant Natasha.

“Since when has a House been based on fairness?” Raven asked, taking a step forward. “Do you think I don’t know my business? Do you think I should open things up for a vote?”

Rex stood his ground. “I want to feed. It’s been three months. The last one went to Estrella.”

“You don’t think I know how long it’s been since any of you has taken fresh life?”

The mood in the chamber was darkening, just like our Master’s. Even though I wasn’t involved in their argument, listening to them was like standing on a hill in a thunderstorm while lightning charged. The part of me that was attuned to Raven felt his anger and desperately wanted to hide. I put my hands into my pockets and covered my belly with my fingers for whatever protection it would give my baby.

Rex held his ground. “I need life.”

“The human drugs you deal shouldn’t work on you—so there’s no excuse for your insolence.” Raven snorted and turned his back on Rex.

Rex jumped—and landed right where Raven would have been, if he hadn’t lunged out of the way at the last moment. Rex snarled and Raven laughed.

“I invoke the right to fight you!” Rex exclaimed, hands empty.

“Done,” Raven said.

What did any of that mean? Everyone else in the room backed up to the wall, and I followed them. I looked to Jackson to explain, but his eyes were on the fight. And beside him, Wolf was tensed, ready, I felt, to run in and take Raven’s side.

Raven and Rex circled each other in the center of the room, keeping Raven’s rounded couch between them. It made things awkward for both of them, and I wondered if that’s why Raven had it there—whoever attacked first would have to leap over it or race around it and show his hand.

Rex was betting a lot on the fact that he ought to be stronger than Raven right now, so soon after rescuing me.

Raven didn’t look weak, though. It was hard to tell with him how much of his strength was an act, but he wasn’t afraid. He leaned forward and snatched the sheet off the couch, sending pillows rolling to the ground, and he held it to one side as if he were a bullfighter, taunting Rex with a laugh.

Then he backed up several steps. Rex took the initiative and stepped up onto the couch, prepared to throw himself at Raven again. Raven whirled the sheet around, making it snap in the air like a whip, then seemed to fall—and Rex leapt in.

Raven rushed forward to meet him and I realized his momentary weakness had been a ruse. Rex had to hope that it was real—but that gave Raven his chance. He slid to the side like a dancer, letting Rex rush forward, landing and completing his jump, and then pounced on him from behind, winding the sheet around him like a shroud. With a fluid movement he pulled Rex’s hooded neck to one side and bit down through the fabric into his follower’s neck.

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