London, February 1623
The skin offered little resistance to her teeth. A bit of pressure and the blood started to flow. Tangy, sweet warmth filled her mouth and coursed down her throat all the way to her stomach, comforting, soothing the fire in her veins. This was heaven. She was dead, and this her reward.
Her racing mind calmed as she drank. Thoughts organized themselves. Killing should be harder. Less pleasurable. Every second she drank this man’s blood drained away his life. There was no question of stopping. She craved every drop. The boning of her stays pinched as she drank faster.
The flow of blood thinned. The vein was running dry. The breathing beneath her slowed. A few more swallows and the life she held in her hands would be no more. A few more gulps and maybe her lust would be sated.
His body hit the ground with a hollow thump.
“Did you get your fill, my girl?”
The blood made its way through her body, lulling her into contented drowsiness. Obscuring fog consumed her mind. She knew the man talking to her, but his name was just out of reach.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Of course. Anything for you.” His blue eyes scanned her face as if he expected to find something. She didn’t know what.
The body at her feet laid askew before the crackling fire, limbs sprawled in unnatural positions. Gray eyes stared blankly ahead. The only life in them came from the reflected firelight dancing in their glassy depths. She felt a chill and looked away. “I think I want to sleep now. Just for a little while.”
The blue-eyed man nodded, beaming. “Yes, my child. You must sleep.” In one swift movement, he lifted her into his arms. As he carried her out of the room, she couldn’t help staring over his shoulder at those eyes. Those gray, lifeless eyes that, only minutes before, had gazed at her with the strangest expression.
Images flashed before her dreaming eyes. At first, the visions came too quickly to decipher, but as the dream continued, pieces began to make sense. Lawrence, with his bald head, neatly trimmed gray goatee, and pockmarked cheeks, floated before her. He had been the one who had so gently tucked her into bed. She was safe with him.
“I will give you eternal life,” his gravelly voice had assured her. He’d been the one to change her. “I’m a vampire.” The words sounded foreign on Lawrence’s familiar lips. Fragments of their conversation floated back to her. He would give her everything.
But someone else had promised her everything.
She’d felt a prick on her wrist, and then peace had settled over her as Lawrence sucked away her life. It had been so easy to give in to sleep, lounging on her couch, only to be awakened by bitterness sliding down her throat. Lawrence had held his wrist to her lips, squeezing blood from it.
“I know it’s unpleasant, my dear. It’s the venom. It will give you life.” His low whisper urged her on. She continued to drink, feeling the venom ignite her veins with uncontrollable energy. Her mind raced as she scoured the room for something to eat. She didn’t feel particularly hungry, but all the energy coursing through her was directed toward one thing: feeding. Her eyes darted to the fireplace, the mantle, the silver candlesticks, the gold and amber music box, the worn carpet hiding a warped wooden floor. She couldn’t focus. She either needed to eat or run to a place where she could.
A knock on the door reverberated through her head, piercing her buzz of energy.
“Let me see who that is.” Lawrence left the room. When he returned, leading another man inside, there was a split-second echo of feeling in her chest. This person was familiar. He meant something to her. Soft brown locks framed gray eyes set in an angular face. At the moment though, all he meant was food. Every instinct in her body drove her to pierce through that sun-kissed skin for the blood beneath. She didn’t know how, only that she must.
His soft gray eyes lit up as soon as they rested on her. The tenderness in them echoed the feeling in her chest. “Joc—”
She didn’t hear him finish, or even know if he was able to. She was at his throat.
How long she slept was a mystery. Both faces swam before her. One was old and comforting, the other young and exciting. There was something about the man she’d killed. While Lawrence was a steady presence in her life, this other man felt familiar in a different way, as if he’d been present for much less time. Something about him made her uneasy. He was dangerous. He would take her away, away from Lawrence, from her home.
“Marry me,” he had said to her once. He wanted to possess her, but she couldn’t be had. She was a whore. Lawrence’s whore. Girls like her didn’t marry. Girls like her only got thrown away.
Lawrence had taken her in, given her a profession, given her the means to take care of herself, and now this man wanted to take it all away.
“Don’t be foolish…he’ll leave you eventually…you’re not the marrying type, my dear…it’s not love you feel…I’m a vampire…let me turn you…you’ll have eternal life…he can join us…if he loves you, he won’t begrudge you this…”
Then there was the other man’s face. Michael. Her mind supplied his name, and she remembered it with fondness. He had been in her life for months. His face floated before her, eyes affectionate.
Affection. That was the strange look that had filled his eyes moments before she had killed him. Slowly, the eyes morphed into the dead glass she remembered from the floor of her parlor.
“Shh, everything will be fine.” Lawrence’s voice broke through her dream, as if he spoke directly to her mind. “You’re all right, Amaia. You can hear me now. That means it’s almost time to wake up. Sleep for just a little longer. Enjoy it. This is the last time you’ll ever sleep. I’ll explain everything when you wake.”
The voice gave her something to hold to. In the hazy sea of her dreams, she tossed, confused. When Lawrence’s voice commanded her, she was safe and secure. Her confusion subsided. He would explain everything when she woke. For now, she only needed to sleep.
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