Josef lay quietly in the bed as Lani slept. He felt exposed; not in the physically naked sense but in the emotionally naked way. He was angry with himself for giving in to the need to drink her blood.
He was still a vampire and vamps did drink blood but it was the man who gave into need, not the vamp. Yes, he was thankful for that kick of alcohol when Tango started probing for that second slug in his gut but that wasn’t why he did it.
God, she was beautiful, an enigma, a mysterious wraith that had snuck into his heart and soul and he didn’t even know how it had happened. Her human vulnerability had beckoned to him and now he was firmly entrenched in a prison of his own making; loving Lani because it surely was a prison.
Humans and vamps – it just didn’t work. It couldn’t work, the very core of a relationship is destroyed when the two became involved romantically. The frail human sensibilities of love and longevity were torn asunder by the being named vampire. No longer did the sun shine on their love; instead it was relegated to the dark underbelly of the night, to horrors the human couldn’t possibly imagine. How was love to survive in that tainted atmosphere?
And yet it had for Mick and Beth, except that she’d been brought into the darkness now. Would it have survived if that hadn’t happened? Would she, in the end have been able to be the vampires mate and still walk a human path? Could any human do that?
He knew when he met Sarah that if a vampire were to take a mate it should never be a human. Josef loved being a vampire and he wouldn’t ever want to change that, to go back to the mortal coil as Mick would. His mate should be a vampire as well; he knew that and yet none of the vampire women had ever been able to wring the emotion of love from his sorry, lonely heart. Were two vamps even able to create and exist in such a love? Every long lived vampire relationship that he knew had begun with one of them being human. Was that the key? But if so then you had to turn the human in the relationship and what if they didn’t want that? You have two souls with a wall between them that couldn’t be breached.
It was rare for one vampire to trust another completely. He’d learned over time to trust Mick but in general? Well, he wouldn’t buy any tickets on that train. Sure, money brought loyalty, like his employees, most of them anyway. There were a few he knew he could trust, very few though.
What if that was only his perception? Humans trusted easily, much to their detriment in his opinion. Mick still trusted, at least more than he did. And look what it had brought him; a beautiful wife and a family and friends that he had always craved; people who cared about him and trusted him.
Could Josef do the same? Could he trust Lani with his heart? Could she be a part of his world and be accepting of it? He’d tasted her love in her blood.
But what if it wasn’t really love? What if it was just the craziness of the evening; of moonlight and the attack? She felt overwhelmed by the events for sure and maybe what he tasted was just the human in her reaching out to help someone in pain; that human trait of helping others?
A few hours later Josef had managed to rest and was suddenly pulled back to consciousness by a strange sound. He looked over at the clock on the nightstand and saw that it was 6:03 am. He looked around the room, scanning the dark corners and recesses without seeing anything out of place. He had locked the safety door upstairs and all seemed secure.
He heard it again and looked down at Lani who was curled into a ball next to him, her back against his side. Her stomach was making strange gurgling sounds and Josef sat up, watching her because he feared he knew what was coming.
Lani moaned softly and suddenly sat up on the edge of the bed. She bent over so that her head was between her knees and tried pulling in a couple of breaths but the nausea was engulfing her.
“Lani?” Josef asked softly. “Are you alright?”
“Over there, the door where the light is shining.”
She jumped up and made a dash for the bathroom and in the mere seconds that it took for Josef to reach her she was already violently ill in the toilet.
He stood and watched as she retched miserably, huge heaving tremors shaking her small body.
He looked down, suddenly aware that he was still naked and before she even realized he was gone he ran to his room and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and came back into the bathroom. He opened up a cabinet and pulled out a small towel and washcloth and dampened them both with cool water, wringing them out well.
She flushed the toilet and moved to sit, leaning back against the cabinets. Her knees were bent and she rested her head on her arms that were wrapped around her knees. She struggled to breathe normally and with the dizziness that was making her head swim.
“Here,” Josef said, wrapping the cool towel around the back of her neck.
“There, that should help a bit. Now, tilt your face up,” he coaxed and when she did he wiped the washcloth over her face, brushing the damp tendrils of hair away from her face as he did so.
“Mm, that feels so good. Where’d you learn this? Can’t be a vampire thing.”
“Let’s just say that Simone provided me with a bit of experience in this area,” he told her with a small smile that she didn’t see. He remembered something else and told her, “I’ll be back in a moment.”
He went into his bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet to see if what he was looking for was still there. He grabbed a small package when he found it and hurried into the den and grabbed a small glass off of the bar. In the bathroom he filled the glass part way with cool water and tore open the small package and watched as two round tablets hit the water with a plop and began to fizz.
“Here, when the bubbles stop drink it down. You’ll feel better; Simone swore by it.”
She took the glass from him and eyed it skeptically. A small shudder passed over her at the idea of drinking anything but she decided she didn’t have anything to lose at this point and obediently drank it down when the fizzing stopped. She handed the empty glass back to Josef with a grimace and leaned her head back against the cabinet and closed her eyes.
Josef rinsed the glass out and sat down next to her on the floor. Her stomach was making loud, distressing sounds and he hoped that he’d done the right thing by giving her the alka seltzer. Soon the alarming sounds began to cease and a bit of color came back to her face. She opened her eyes and looked at herself, still in the clothes from the previous evening with a sigh.
He saw what she was looking at and spoke up, “I had Franklin and Belinda bring some food for you and clothes, toiletries, that kind of stuff out here for you.” He stood up and grabbed the bags that were by the bedroom door and sat them on the floor for her. “I thought since we were here maybe you’d like to stay the rest of the weekend, just rest up, away from the city? I have a pool out there and movies to watch and stuff, not a bad mini vacation.”
Lani looked in the bags, seeing tank tops and shorts, a couple of swimsuits even, but no night clothes. By Josef’s direction she wondered? “I wouldn’t mind that actually. I would like to change though and then I’m going back to bed. Do you mind?”
“No, not at all. I’m sure you’ll feel better when you wake up.”
“I don’t see any night things in here. Do you maybe have a tee shirt or something comfortable to sleep in?”
“I think I can find that. Hang on,” he said coming to his feet with ease. In a few minutes he was back carrying a white tee shirt and handed it to her. She was standing in front of the counter, washing her face with something that Belinda had brought. He picked up the jar of Exfoliating Hydro Mask and asked, “Do you eat this or wear it?” His eyes were sparkling with laughter as they met hers in the mirror.
“I guess you’ll just have to guess,” she answered, smiling and showing off the most adorable dimples. “Thanks for the shirt.”
He nodded and left the room and then the bedroom and headed to his freezer, hoping to catch a bit more rest himself. He didn’t see the disappointed look on her face when she went back to bed. It felt lonely and cold but she snuggled down into the covers and soon sleep took pity on her and she was wrapped tenderly in the arms of the sandman.
Lani woke up a few minutes after eleven and stretched, feeling much better. She turned on the lamp by the bed and lay still for a few minutes, looking around the room with interest. It was large, as was the bed. There was a cabinet across from the bed with she figured probably held a tv, but maybe not. She’d look around later she decided but right now she wanted a shower.
She padded into the bathroom and found the shower gel and hair care items and carried them to the shower, sitting them all on a shelf. The shower had bi-level spray nozzles and the floor was almost soft feeling, sort of like some type of rubberized coating was on the tiles. It felt weird but it was also non-skid and she had to wonder whose idea it was.
The scent of vanilla and jasmine filled the air and she inhaled deeply, pulling the fragrance deep within her. It was invigorating and heady; a perfect combination. As she washed her fingers ran over the twin marks on her arm and as she did a jolt went through her and for a moment it was like Josef was with her. She looked around and opened the shower door to peek out and see if he was there but she was alone. It was a strange feeling; she didn’t understand it but it was somehow comforting.
As she rinsed conditioner off of her hair she thought wondered about the strange connection she seemed to feel now with Josef. Was this impossible, she and Josef? Maybe she should ask if it was possible?
What was she thinking of anyway? He’s a vampire and she was human. The two surely couldn’t make a good match. Except that it had worked for Beth and Mick. She told herself that was completely different though; Mick had been in her life since she was four and she always knew that he was there, keeping her safe even if she didn’t see him. Josef? Well, he’d been in her life a hell of a lot less time and, well, he had kept her safe, last night anyway.
He was a vampire!
How would she trust him? How could they build any type of meaningful life together? She wanted a family, someone to love and who would love her back. Could they love she wondered, really, deeply love? Mick loved Beth, there was no questions about that because it was evident in everything he did. But vampires can’t have kids, Beth had told her that.
All her life she wanted love, she wanted parents who loved her, wanted her. She wanted to fit in, somewhere. She hated them, her parents and yet she loved them because in the end they were all she had. That blood connection meant something even if she hated it. To belong… She had reveled in being with Dorothy and Beth because they loved one another. Sometimes she would pretend that Dorothy was her mom too, just so that she felt that someone in this world actually loved her.
He couldn’t give her that; she knew it. But she loved him. Her traitorous, misguided heart had fallen in love, for the very first time.
Her instinct was to run, as quickly and as far away as she could.
Josef had crawled out of the freezer around ten, unable to rest any longer. It was Saturday and the markets were closed but he had other business to take care of. He showered and dressed before heading upstairs to have his breakfast.
As he sipped a large glass of A- he opened the lap top and started doing some research on Marcus Parker. The more he explored the more he realized that Marcus’ ego had let him make some very stupid moves financially and left himself very vulnerable.
Josef was just the kind of man to take advantage of that. Marcus would never be in a position to hurt anyone again. And before too long, after he had lost everything else he’d lose his life. Maybe if her parents were no longer around Lani would be able to let the past go and move forward.
With him, that was what was buried in his hopeful heart, but he didn’t dare acknowledge that. Yet…
The morning passed slowly for Beth; she was eager to get to the bazaar to explore. Mick had been coaching her all morning about what to expect and how to handle it all.
“Beth, seeing Carl was one thing but this is going to be hundreds of humans surrounding you and it can be overwhelming. The sounds of heartbeats will fill your head and you have to learn to ignore them, just as you will the smell of blood from them all.”
“Am I ready for this Mick?” she asked, her confidence flagging for a moment.
He looked at her and smiled, taking her hand in his. “Yes baby, you are ready for it. But if it gets to be too much I want you to just say so and we’ll walk away for a bit. We’re bringing plenty of blood with us, tucked away in a cooler and we’ll make time every now and then to get you a drink.”
“How do I not listen to all the heartbeats Mick?”
“You just concentrate on what you’re doing, okay? Like when you worked for Buzzwire and you were reporting a story. Sometimes other news reporters were doing the same thing and you just had to focus on what you were doing, saying didn’t you?” At her nod he continued, “That’s it, the same thing. If you are talking to someone, focus on their voice, if we’re just walking then focus on what you’re looking at. When it becomes too difficult to do that then it is time for you to feed Beth. Baby, you really can do this!”
Yes, she could and she knew it. “Okay Mick, let’s go!”
The five mile drive to Pratt’s Junction was amazing she realized. She could scent so much – the trees, animals, cooking smells coming from the houses they passed; even the air seemed richer and more pungent. She felt alive and she wanted to laugh with the pleasure that the freedom brought.
Mick watched her out of the corner of his eye as he drove to the village and just seeing her happiness made him smile. Her chin was slightly lifted as she scented the air, insisting that they travel with the windows open and no air conditioner going. The weather reports had actually been correct, it was very cloudy and misty at times and the temperatures weren’t expected to get out of the low ‘70’s – all in all it would be a great day to take Beth out.
The main street of Pratt’s Junction was closed off so that vendors could set their tables up; they were selling everything from homemade quilts and earrings to every type of local food item. Some vendors specialized in Native American items, carved wooden animal totems and beaded items, paintings, leather goods, you name it, and you could find it here.
They parked on a side street not too far away and walked along with others who were letting their noses lead them to the party. Mick and Beth’s fingers were entwined as they made their way, greeting other people with a friendly wave.
“Do you know all these people?” she asked as Mick said hello to someone else she didn’t know.
“Not all of them, not most of them actually. It’s sort of a small town mentality Beth, they’re just friendlier here, or maybe just more openly friendly. Just go with it baby.”
So she did, she smiled, waved, greeted and occasionally hugged someone when she saw someone she recognized from their honeymoon time here. As they stepped into the vendor area her eyes lit up at the wide variety of things to purchase and she immediately started picking out things to take home for family and friends. “You did bring cash didn’t you?” she asked.
“Yep, I’ve got money honey,” he laughed.
“Wonderful,” she said as she walked to a booth where they were selling handmade shawls. They were exquisite, delicately woven and perfect for evenings back in LA that were cool but not cold. She picked out several of them and while Mick paid and gathered up the bags she moved on to the next booth.
She didn’t seem to be bothered by people or sounds. The goods for sale were making a big impression on her he noticed though. He knew there was an ATM machine close by and that might be a very good thing he thought as she was picking out jewelry for Robbi and Lani. After those purchases were made Mick whispered into her ear, “How are you doing baby?”
“What? I’m fine.” She paused for a moment and realized that she was. She could hear their heartbeats, but they were in the distance and while it seemed as if it should be impossible, she could smell their blood too. If they weren’t bleeding she wasn’t sure how that could be but it was. What bothered her more than anything else was the smell of food; it was driving her crazy. Her mouth watered as she picked up spicy scents of cooked meats and sweet smells of funnel cakes and cotton candy. She stopped and looked at a small stand selling Indian Taco’s, pieces of fry bread topped with spicy meat, lettuce, cheese and salsa.
Oh how she wanted one and instead moved past with a lingering backwards
glance. They spotted Mary and Millie at the booth for the reservation selling all of the delicious apple products that they’d made. Beth hadn’t seen Millie since the day in Mary’s kitchen and she saw the woman assessing her as she and Mick walked up to chat.
She knew she must seem crazy to Millie; a vampire that claimed to be able to taste must seem completely off the wall to her and not only did Beth do that she actually distinguished between the different things she tasted that day. Still, Millie was friendly as they stood talking. There were no customers at the moment but Mary still used vamp tone when she asked how Beth was feeling.
“Great,” Beth said, smiling happily. “I – I really thought it would be hard, but so far not at all. I’ve been more interested in the items for sale than anything else.”
“I can attest to that,” Mick interjected, holding up his arms that were covered with bags. “I think it’s about time to make a trip back to the car and drop these bags off; you’ll fill them again, I know,” he teased.
“Maybe,” she agreed. She looked around at all the people, walking, eating and laughing. Her eyes lit up brightly and she told them, “I feel so incredibly wonderful, just to be here.”
Mary caught Mick’s eye and he smiled at her over Beth’s head. He too was relaxed so things must be going really well. She was so happy for her young friends; it was high time Mick got her out of that house.
“Come on baby, let’s get this stuff back to the car, okay?” Beth nodded and followed him telling Mary and Millie that they would see them later.
At the car Mick tucked away the bags and they sat down for a few minutes so Beth could drink some O neg, not that she was really hungry. Not for that anyway.
“Mick, I’m really not hungry!”
“Please Beth, just a little, okay? For me?” he asked, wickedly playing on her feelings for him.
She sighed and did as he asked; she didn’t want him to worry about her. When she was done they headed back to the bazaar and Beth was delighted to see that everything was lit up with brightly colored fairy lights. The sun was beginning its dip into the Pacific and there were more people out now than there had been. The band was tuning up at the bandstand in the center of town. Occasional riffs and chords could be heard filtering through the sounds of the crowds. Mick and Beth wandered down to watch and when the music started they began to dance, dipping and swaying to the music with the other couples who had gathered under the starry night.
The band played a bit of everything from oldies to modern music and as Mick and Beth danced to Hold Me, Thrill Me she sighed in happiness, loving the day, the fun of it and the fact that she shared it with Mick.
“Happy?” he asked, seeing her smile.
“Completely. Mick, this has been a wonderful day, thank you,” she whispered into his ear and nipped it lightly and felt him chuckle.
“Was that an invitation Mrs. St. John?”
“It just might be Mr. St. John. Shall we go home and see?”
He held her hand and they walked down the street, waving good bye to friends, new and old. As they got near the food vendors her nose led her back to the booth selling the Indian Tacos. She stood watching, chewing lightly on her lower lip in indecision.
“I know you think I’m crazy but I’ve got to see if I can taste that Mick.”
One look at his face told her he was going to protest but he closed his mouth as he looked at her. He remembered Josef’s words about not fighting her on it and said, “Okay, you’ll never know if you don’t try. Baby, you’re probably going to throw it up so don’t take a bite until we’re away from the crowd, okay?” At her nod he purchased one for her and she held it like a small child coveting a contraband cookie.
The fragrance wafted up to her nose and she inhaled deeply, amazed at the way the spiced tingled and she knew that it was really spicy. When they got to the car she sat down and took a big bite of the Indian Taco. “Oh my god, this is fantastic Mick. You really can’t taste this stuff? It’s really hot and spicy!”
“Well, if I could taste something it definitely wouldn’t be that,” he told her, trying to hide his grimace as he watched her eat it. She was going to be really sick soon and he hated to see that.
Except that she wasn’t…
To be continued…