Bloodshifted Page 2

They stared at me, and I stared at them. I swallowed. Eight months, baby. We can do this. “Hi. My name is Edie.”

CHAPTER TWO

Lars rocked up to his feet, turned, and left, after one more nasty look in my direction. The man next to me in the leather vest that matched Wolf’s laughed. “I’m Jackson. Don’t take that personally—” He jerked a thumb toward the slamming door. “He’s just jealous of you is all. Getting so much blood.”

Jackson had dark hair, a thick mustache, and soulful eyes. He looked like the poster of a young Burt Reynolds from the 1970s that my mom had had on the inside of her closet door when I was a child.

The woman in the room crossed her arms. “He’s not the only one.” She was beautiful, and she would have been without being a daytimer. She had honey-blond hair wrapped up in an expert chignon and was wearing a short black dress, with bright red lipstick—she could have been a girl in the background out of twenty different music videos from the 1980s. “Who the hell are you, and why did Raven save your life?”

That was a very good question. I didn’t know his game yet, but I was sure there was one. He hadn’t saved me out of the goodness of his heart—vampires didn’t have hearts. Except for maybe Anna.

The female daytimer took two quick steps to cross the distance between us and stood in my way. “You know something. Tell us,” she demanded. I had two inches on her, even though she was in her heels, but she probably had decades of being violent on me.

“Because Anna told him to?” It was the only answer I had. I didn’t know if Anna’s name would mean anything to them.

The female daytimer blinked, as if she hadn’t heard me right. “Anna—the Beast? The Ravenous One?”

I nodded slowly. Anna’s last words to me were a warning not to believe all the stories I’d hear about her. “Yeah.”

Jackson let out a low whistle, and the woman looked aghast. It was hard not to feel a little worried—I was an entire continent away from her almost, and these people still knew her by name. By many names, apparently. What exactly had Anna been up to while I’d been out of her life?

“So—you’re what to her, then?” The woman’s head tilted, showing me the angle of her jaw.

This, I was smarter about sharing. “I don’t know.”

“You’re a shitty liar, Edie,” Jackson said. His tone wasn’t unkind. In fact beneath his mustache he had the beginnings of a grin.

“I’ve been told that before,” I said, giving him a hesitant smile back before looking around the room. “Where are we?”

Jackson answered me. “You’re in the Catacombs. The actual catacombs beneath the Catacombs, because we believe strongly in ironic names.”

“And where is that, precisely?” I asked.

“You mean you don’t know?” the female daytimer said.

“I was wearing a hood when they brought me here.”

“The City of Angels. Los Angeles, California,” Jackson said, drawing it out dramatically the same way that TV announcers on game shows said it, as if just by being here you’d already won a prize. I realized we weren’t all that far from the docks where the Maraschino had taken off less than a week before.

Baby, I so hope Anna got your dad onto a plane.

“It’s a popular nightclub—running it’s an easy way to get fresh blood and money and other things, as our Masters desire,” Jackson continued.

I assumed all the vampires had gone to bed for the day—I had a strange feeling in my gut that the sun was shining now outside. I took another look around the room. I’d had a lot of vampire blood, more recently than either of them—

Jackson shook his head as if he was reading my mind. “No use running. He’d only catch you when he woke up in the evening, and you can’t even imagine what he’d do to you then.”

Because of where I’d worked before, as a nurse for supernatural creatures on Y4 back home in Port Cavell, it actually wasn’t so hard for me. That, plus I’d heard Raven say he technically only needed me to be alive to return to Anna after having my child.

Technically, to have a baby, you didn’t need arms. Or legs.

I inhaled deeply and swallowed. “What do you all do during the daytime?” was the only potentially safe question I could think to ask.

Jackson gestured in a circle to include all of us. “What do we do, is the question you should be asking.”

The woman checked a very expensive watch on her wrist. “I’ve got to get upstairs where there’s reception. One of my girls is going to check in.”

“Celine runs a prostitution ring,” Jackson explained. I tensed before I could hide it.

Her lips pursed and she snorted. “Don’t worry, it’s high-class. By which I mean you wouldn’t last a day.” She turned and stalked out the door Lars had taken, deeper into the building. Jackson jerked his head at her, to indicate that we should follow.

“Lars, the daytimer from earlier, keeps the books and is a dealer,” Jackson explained, holding the door open so we could pass into another tunnel set with more weak lights.

“Of?” I asked, because I honestly hoped it was something like cars, or blackjack.

Jackson chuckled, and it echoed. “Drugs. Have to keep the cattle happy, and it’s easier when they’re high.”

I felt like I’d just walked onto the set of some impossibly strange film. Los Angeles after all. “And what do you do?” I asked him.

Jackson paused at the entrance to a side tunnel and gave me a mocking bow before walking up it. “I’m the handyman. Like my Master. Which is why it’s my job to show you around.”

* * *

Despite the fact that I could find my way back, I still felt lost trailing after Jackson. The farther we walked into the catacombs, the more distant the world I’d left felt.

“You’ll learn the lay of the place. We’ve got the run of it during the day,” he explained. “There’s some places you don’t want to go, though—I wouldn’t go exploring solo if I were you.” He stopped and shouted up the hall, “Hey, Celine!”

“What?” her irritated voice echoed back.

“I’m putting Edie in your room.”

“No!”

“No choice. Otherwise she’ll be sleeping in the hall.”

“Put her with Natasha.”

“If I put her with Natasha, she won’t wake up again. She’s with you.”

If Celine was the lesser of two evils, I didn’t want to know the greater one. Was he bunking me with her as punishment for her, or as a kindness to me? I probably wouldn’t know for a while. I wanted to trust him, but I knew that was only because I was scared.

We went down another hall, and then reached an inset door, which he pushed open with one hand.

“This is it. Welcome home,” he said, and stepped in.

* * *

Celine’s room was about as big as Asher’s living room, and done in a lot of dated black lacquer and chrome. I suspected she’d been turned into a daytimer sometime in the 1980s, back when this style was in vogue, and it’d frozen her sense of interior design along with the rest of her. A massive vanity stood along one wall, the lights around its edge the only illumination in the room. It was covered in makeup and bottles of perfume, and framed head shots of Celine, a testament to her past. Being a daytimer didn’t completely suspend you in time the way becoming a vampire did, but it came close.

A Nagel painting, or forty, would not have been out of place in here, only it would have been hard to hang since all the walls were black-painted stone. The only thing on the wall was a bell contraption near the door.

“Sorry, she doesn’t have much taste.” Jackson looked out of place against her charmless décor, with his brown hair and leather vest over a black T-shirt. He started pushing a coffee table aside.

“Let me help.” I moved over to pick up the opposite side of the table.

It was a thick wood piece—quality, even if ugly—and I easily hefted it. Almost into my own face. I yelped and nearly dropped it, then caught it in time. Fast. Too fast. I carefully set my end back on the ground, staring at my hands as if they belonged to someone else.

Jackson set his side down and grinned over at me. “It’s pretty great, eh?”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I didn’t want to admit that it was. “Is this what being a daytimer is like? Being super-strong?” I thought I knew the rules, but I wanted to hear him say them, just in case.

He waved his hand indeterminately in front of him. “Yeah, for a while. Until the blood runs thin. You’ll be strong, and quick, and able to hear quiet things, and you’ll heal fast. You feel better, don’t you? After as much blood as you got, you must.”

I nodded slowly. My tongue touched the tiny pointed ends of my canines inside my mouth.

“The downside is now you’re attached. Think of it like a psychic umbilical cord between you and him.”

I pulled back. The image hit too close to home. Jackson went on, “You’ll want what Raven wants, for at least as long as you’re around him. You’ll do what he tells you to do. He’ll always be able to find you when he’s awake at night.” His smile faded into more of a grimace. “From here on out, it’s his way or the highway, as they say. And if you do try the highway, well, God help you.”

* * *

It wasn’t hard to imagine Raven running me to ground. “How long does it last?”

“As much blood as I heard you got? You’ll probably feel like Superman for a month.”

“And after that?” I pressed.

He shrugged. “If you don’t get more blood, you’ll start to feel sick soon. You won’t like it when your humanity comes back, with all its aches and pains. You’ll start to age, and you wouldn’t be supercharged anymore. But you’d still have to obey him, even after the good parts wear off. It’s a devil’s bargain—you make it once and you make it for life, either your lifetime or his. After a while without blood you’ll feel like you took a drug, missed the high, and got only the shitty side effects.”

I tried not to frown, but Jackson easily read my face.

“You’re new. Everything’ll take a while to get used to. Let’s move this over there.” He jerked his head toward a zebra-print rug on the floor. We picked up the coffee table together again, and I realized as we neared the rug it really was the skin of a zebra.

“Wow.” I knelt down to pet it after we set the coffee table down.

“She can be a bit exotic.”

I made a show of looking around the rest of the room. Her bed occupied most of it, looking like a four-poster throne, and I noticed the vanity mirror pointed toward it. Shining chrome bars joined all the posts at top, and curtains hung off these, along with several sets of handcuffs.

“You think?” I said, trying to sound as ironic as I could. If becoming a daytimer had stranded Celine in the 1980s, did that mean I was going to be frozen circa 2014?

Jackson clapped my back. “I think we’re going to get along just fine, Edie.”

It took all my strength not to nod in hope. He looked down at the floor where the coffee table had been. “Okay then. Let me go get you a cot,” he said, and left the room.

I had that urge you get when you’re alone at a stranger’s place to go through all their stuff. But I didn’t know when Celine would be back—and I noticed there weren’t any locks on the door, which seemed odd. Jackson returned momentarily, carrying a cot, and unfolded it for me. It was covered in unfortunately placed stains.

“Sorry about that. There’s sheets somewhere too, I’ll find them. It’s been a while since we had company.”

“Thanks.” I looked down at myself. I was still encrusted with sweat and salt from the sea. “Is there any clothing here?” I knew Celine and I weren’t the same size since she was a foot shorter than I was.

“Yeah. You want to take a shower first?”

I did. If—and it was a big if—it was safe.

Jackson grunted at my hesitance. “You just got a pint or two of vampire blood. No one’s going to be able to hurt you for a while, unless they manage to physically pull off your limbs.”

All too easy to imagine—at least while the vampires were up. “Somehow that image doesn’t help.”

He snorted. “Sorry. I guess not. But you’ll need to know where the bathroom is anyhow; you’ll need to pee eventually. Come on, it’s just down the hall.”

The door to the bathroom looked just like the door to Celine’s room, only I could smell the water behind it.

It was half prison bathroom, half horror movie. The toilets were inside stalls, all missing doors. Across from the toilets there was one long countertop with five sinks, and three showerheads at the far end, without any curtains. A row of lockers was tucked in between the showers and the sinks, but none of them had locks. The tile floor had divots leading to multiple drains—the easier to clean up bloodstains, I presumed.

“Classy,” I said after taking it all in.

“Yep,” Jackson agreed. “I’ll go work on sheets and clothing. Everyone’s busy now—it’s a good time for you to shower, if you’re going to. You can use my stuff—” He popped open a locker, revealing a shaving kit and a few bottles of toiletries. “If you go back to Celine’s room smelling like her shampoo, she’ll kill you in your sleep. We get decent water pressure, but it takes a while for the water to get hot,” he said, and left.

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