Bloodshifted Page 6

He gestured grandly. “May I present Hell. Like so many other things in life, it looks better in the dark.”

The room was huge, with flames painted on the walls, in colors that were garish now but probably looked better when the club’s light show was running. Mirrors curved up and down among the flames so that people could watch refracted images of themselves as they danced. A well-stocked bar stretched the entire length of one wall, two shelves of liquor illuminated by red lights from below.

“I thought it was called the Catacombs.”

“The whole thing is. Hell’s the first level.” He reached out and tapped the bucket I held with the end of a broom. “The sinks that fit these are only on the first floor. The club’s three floors high, and there’s a smoking patio out back.”

“So it’s Hell because we have to carry water upstairs?”

“No—because it gets nicer as you go up,” he explained as a thick panel of something shiny set into the ceiling caught my eye. His gaze followed and he grunted. “One-way glass. The people upstairs can look down—and the people above them can, too. Stairs and bouncers limit access and—”

“Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven?” I guessed.

“Perg for short,” Jackson said with a grin.

I walked underneath the glass and looked up; it was completely opaque from down here. But everyone who was dancing here would be wondering who was looking down at them from above, and the business model fell into place inside my mind. I assumed the vampire architect or whoever’d had the bright idea to install the glass had done it so that they could see attacks coming. But what it’d done to the club was something else. Access could be controlled via the stairs, and people on one floor knew there was another floor above them that for some reason they weren’t quite good enough, attractive enough, or wealthy enough for. And those on higher floors could be as voyeuristic as they liked, looking down. I imagined them deciding to summon people dancing below—and those dancing below would have the thrill of knowing that they might be being watched and rescued.

I walked under the glass panel in a circle. “You have parties you advertise heavily once or twice a year where you tell people they can go wherever they want, so people down here can see what they’re missing—and you let people upstairs choose people below to call up. The people down here always feel like they’re performing—and the people up there get to feel like kings.”

Jackson nodded. “Just add in some extraordinarily attractive and attentive women, quality drugs, and truly frightening bouncers for safety and keeping cops out.”

In a town as striving as I’d always heard LA was, it was genius—and to a degree foolproof. Dammit. “I bet there’s a line out the door.”

“Every night.”

I looked at the broom I held. “This place must be a license to print money—so why the hell are we carrying buckets?”

“Paying employees comes with liabilities. We just cash the DJs and the bouncers out each night. The more people we have here during the day, the more we have to explain why our Masters only come out after sundown. Raven does have some dedicated bloodslaves, a few registered family donor lines, but, well”—his lips twisted to one side, as if he was weighing what to tell me—“it’s been a lean year, let’s just say.” He reached into his bucket, pulled out a roll of trash bags, and handed me one. “Come on. I always start in the bathrooms. I like to get the worst parts done first.”

* * *

Hell’s bathrooms were stainless-steel affairs, all the easier to clean with harsh chemicals, but still gross. Jackson claimed they had attendants in them, but I assumed those people were just there to make sure that people weren’t doing drugs they hadn’t purchased locally, and not keeping the place clean.

I tried to do a good job, within the limits of what could actually be done—I was a daytimer, not a magician. But keeping busy was good for me, it kept my mind off Lars’s attack, and while I was scrubbing I could pretend that this was some sort of shitty summer camp where I could just bide my time until my parents returned to save me.

Only my mom probably thought I was dead, and if I was going to be kind to her I would have to keep it that way and not explain what had happened to me. She’d never even get to meet her own grandson.

Oh, baby—you’d love her. And she’d love you. She’d spoil you half to death, I know it. A wave of sadness hit me like a physical blow. What Lars had done wasn’t half as bad as knowing I could never really go home.

“What’s wrong?” Jackson asked from two stalls down. I inhaled, startled, and realized I’d been holding my breath.

Everything was wrong. Not that I could tell him that. I gathered myself up, using the wall of the stall I was in for strength. “I just feel like some sad vampire Cinderella in here.”

“It’s been a while since you cleaned a toilet, huh?”

“Yes. Not that I’m too good for this, but it has, as you say, been a while.” I leaned back onto my heels. I couldn’t imagine doing this while eight months’ pregnant, either.

“What did you used to be?”

“I’m a nurse.” I was unwilling to use the past tense just yet. Nursing wasn’t something you ever gave up—either you were or you weren’t one. It was a permanent state of being.

“So how did you find out about vampires?”

“I used to work on a secret hospital floor for sanctioned donors.” I left out the occasional werecreatures and shapeshifters and daytimers and blood. No matter how safe I might feel around Jackson, the less anyone here knew about me the better.

I heard him stand and he appeared in the doorway of the stall—the brows on his forehead knit into almost one solid line. “You mean there’s a place where they take care of donors? On purpose? Keep them in one piece?”

“Yeah.” Which, I realized, implied that here was not like that.

His expression slowly relaxed as he considered things. “That sounds almost civilized. And it explains why Lars wasn’t able to take you, plus or minus a pint. You knew about the system. Where was that?”

“Back east,” I said, still being coy. He snorted and didn’t press, but then he went quiet, clearly thinking hard. I felt compelled to say something. “It’s not like it’s equality central out there or anything.”

He nodded, standing at attention with his mop. “Still. It’s nice to know that there are different ways to be.”

I nodded back at him. There was a chance that in the future he’d be a vampire too. Maybe if he was given a choice in the matter he’d run things differently. I hoped that I would, if it ever happened to me.

* * *

After we finished with Hell’s bathroom, Jackson led the way to the stairs for the second floor. We passed a side hall with a door at the end of it and I stopped.

There was sunlight on the other side of that door. I knew it.

“Hey, no, don’t even think it—” Jackson said, turning around.

“Why isn’t it guarded?” I stared at it over his shoulder. It was locked, but it wasn’t like the thick oak doors downstairs—it was just a normal-looking door. Wide, but mostly decorative. Impulsive muscles answered desires I hadn’t voiced yet—I knew I had the strength to tear it in two. Jackson moved to stand in my way before I could do anything.

I was stronger than he was right now, I knew it. I could take this mop in my hands and snap it and stab it through his neck if I had to—what the hell part of me was thinking that?

The same part of me that hadn’t been afraid of killing Lars.

I quieted in horror just as Jackson started speaking.

“Think things through, Edie. It’s not locked from this side because it doesn’t need to be. You could leave, but you wouldn’t get far. And there’s nowhere that you can hide; Raven would always be able to find you. You don’t want to piss him off like that—you haven’t seen him mad.”

The human part of me was like a compass—I knew it was late afternoon in winter now, and the sun was beginning to dip. If I did leave I couldn’t get far enough by nightfall, and after nightfall there’d be nowhere I was safe.

I didn’t have any ID so I couldn’t fly—and it’s not like I had any money to buy tickets anyway. I could find a police station—and tell them what? That vampires were after me? Ask them to keep me safe inside a cell? I’d seen my share of crazy people working at the hospital, I knew exactly what the cops would think and say. Rightly so. And I’d seen before how vampires could command people to make them do what they wanted them to. If I gave any cops my real name they’d think I was insane—I was sure I was on the roster of those who’d gone down with the Maraschino. If I gave them a fake name, and seemed crazy enough, they might keep me in a holding cell overnight, which was when Raven would show up and convince everyone there that I didn’t exist, after he told one of them to fetch me.

I could call Asher, but what then? Torture him and then put him in harm’s way? Ask him to take on an entire vampire House on his own?

I stared at the door, a hundred different pathways spooling out inside my head, none of them ending well, like reading a choose-your-own-adventure book where every option made you die or, worse yet, killed someone you loved.

“I shouldn’t have shown it to you this early. Please, trust me. If you left like that your lives would be in terrible danger.” Jackson grabbed my wrist and gently pulled me toward the stairs. I stiffened and he quickly let go—but it wasn’t because of his touch, it was the plural he’d used. “I’m sorry—I overheard Wolf and Raven talking before they left last night.”

I swallowed. “Does everyone know?”

“Just them. And me.”

I wondered what the outcome would have been if Lars had known—if his hammer would have been aimed at my belly instead of my head.

“They’ll find out eventually, I mean, they can’t help it—when it starts having its own heartbeat, they’ll be able to hear it with fresh blood. We can hear babies here all the time, fetal alcohol syndrome ahoy. But I won’t say anything to anyone before then, I swear.”

Just how far could I trust him? I didn’t know. I might not know until it was too late. It seemed like the only way to find out anything here was the hard way. He stepped back, giving me a little space. “Come on—we still have two more floors to go,” he said, and I reluctantly followed.

* * *

Purgatory was nicer than Hell. While Hell had seemed a little on the garish carnival side, Perg had an Old World cathedral theme, mixed with a light S&M, stone walls with gargoyles grinning down from above, and wide black leather couches.

Heaven was the nicest by far, appropriately. It was white-on-white, and managed to feel both exotic and monied, with white leather chairs and white marble tables and white polar bear skins on the walls. It was more like an exclusive club than a dance hall, with the space devoted more to lounging than dancing—probably because most of the dancers on this floor were paid to do so—and it had the most extensive bar I’d ever seen. The bathrooms were far nicer here as well, with walls and floors of white marble, and they were less dirty—although they needed more meticulous work, as the white marble was unforgiving.

“How’re you doing, Cinderelly?” Jackson asked when we were done.

“I think I’ve bleached my skirt. Does that mean I can throw it away and get a new one?”

His eyes glazed over for a second, as though he was listening to someone inside himself, and not to me. “We’ll find out soon enough,” he answered slowly.

I felt whatever it was, too. Like I’d just let the last bit of sand fall out of my hand, or let go of a bird I didn’t know I’d been holding. Like a piece of me that had been mine was gone.

“It’s always a little bit like dying when the sun goes down,” Jackson said. “You’d think it’d be the reverse, but it’s not, not for us.”

“Are they up now?” I lowered my voice without thinking about it, and he nodded.

“Yeah. Raven will know you’re alive and where you are, but he’ll want to see you, to make sure you’re still in one piece. We’d best go present ourselves,” he said, and started leading us back down into the actual catacombs.

* * *

It was easier to pass by the door to the outside world at night. While I missed fresh air, it didn’t tempt me like the thought of sunlight did. We put our supplies back into the closet and then started our trek below.

“Who built all these tunnels, anyhow?”

“Don’t know. There’s a huge network of them underneath LA, though. Most of them collapsed during assorted earthquakes, but apparently the ones we’re in are stable. We’ll know an earthquake’s coming when all of our Masters run out the door.”

“What if it happens during daylight?”

“Then we’ll all die, and they’ll slowly crawl their way out at night.”

“Awesome.”

“I try not to think about it too much.”

He led us through to the chamber where I’d been introduced the morning before. Everyone else was already waiting. Celine was again impeccably dressed, this time in club wear, a tight-fitting red dress with holes cut out to show expanses of white skin that somehow managed to stay classy. She was behind her Mistress, whose name I hadn’t learned yet, and who was dressed in a long skin-fitting white dress that flared at the neck and knees, intentionally modernizing a queen’s silhouette, with high hair and an oversized beauty mark to match. The male vampire whose name I didn’t know was dressed in leather pants with a fitted black shirt and a suggestively buckled collar. I assumed Celine would be in Hell, her Mistress in Heaven, and the unknown vampire in Perg, based on clothing alone.

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