Mary started to babble. “I keep meaning to come back to church. They just always have me working all these odd hours, and when I am off, it’s hard to get a sitter for my boy. And it’s just too late at night to bring him to church.”
“I understand,” he said. As they walked and she chattered on, Hadrian was only half listening to what she was saying. He was more interested in what she wasn’t saying, what she really thought. He was interested in the file after file of information on her true feelings, desires, and intentions hidden inside her mind. He sorted through these files as they walked, gleaning everything he needed or wanted to know. The thing that shined brightest, though, was her love for her son and her need to care for him no matter the personal cost to herself.
A few doors in Mary’s mind seemed locked to him, perhaps thoughts and feelings even she didn’t have access to, but what he’d seen was more than enough.
“Thanks for walking me and listening to me chatter. It’s almost like confession except that I’m dressed like I am, and we’re not in church.”
When they reached the car, Hadrian lingered, his hand moving to brush her hair away and to touch the soft, vulnerable skin of her throat. He licked his lips.
She sensed the undercurrents, and her mood shifted to uncomfortable. “W-what are you doing?”
“Absolving you.” He smirked at how creepy that must sound, what she must think he expected her penance to be out here in this dark and deserted parking lot. But he didn’t let her wonder for long. His fangs descended.
She opened her mouth to scream but he locked his gaze on hers and said: “Shhhh. I’m not going to hurt you. You’re worth saving, but I want you to change your ways. Understand? No more of this stripping and going home with strange men for extra money. You’re smart. You should have a real job somewhere. Or find a good man at church.”
She smiled and nodded.
“Good girl.” Father Hadrian struck then, his fangs penetrating the column of her throat to get to the warm, rich blood beneath. Honest guilt. Somehow he knew this would be his favorite flavor. As he fed, he drew her guilt and pain out along with her blood. He stopped before her pulse began to slow and sealed the wound.
“Remember what I told you to do, but forget you saw me tonight.”
She nodded, glassy-eyed as he helped her get into her car.
She seemed lighter and happier as she started the car and drove away.
Hadrian felt high, both on the blood and on the power he now possessed, the ability to finally make a difference in lives even if it wasn’t with sunshine and rainbows. A little while later, he came across a con artist in the Bellagio casino. She was a femme fatale type, all black stockings and dark red lips.
She held a cigarette to her mouth beside the roulette table, and Hadrian slid in, lighter in hand. He’d always kept one in his pocket for lighting candles around the church before Mass started. She smiled indulgently at him, sizing him up as she leaned into the flame. She appeared to like what she saw.
“So, how’s tricks?” he asked.
“Pardon me?” She drew her head back as if she’d been slapped. “I’m not a prostitute.”
“Of course not. That would be somewhat honest work compared to the cons you’ve been pulling.” He’d taken her by the elbow and slowly eased her away from people as he spoke, his tone low.
“Are you a Fed?” she whispered, looking around to see if anyone was eavesdropping on their conversation.
He pointed to the Roman collar. “No. I’m a priest. Did the outfit not give me away?” It was clear she’d thought he was dressed like that as part of an undercover operation of some sort.
She rolled her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Come with me,” he said, unfazed by her tantrum.
“No. Get your hands off me. If you aren’t a cop I don’t have to talk to you.”
Hadrian gripped her chin, forcing her eyes to meet his. “Come. With. Me.”
Her expression was sweet and open. “All right. Whatever you say, Father.”
Leading her outside, he took an inventory of her mind. Her list of crimes was quite impressive. Small cons, long cons, a couple of jewelry heists and a murder under her belt—someone who had gotten in her way. She didn’t seem to feel guilty for any of it. But he needed to be sure.
In a deserted alleyway, far away from witnesses, he interrogated her. “If you’d like to confess your sins, I’m open to hearing them.” Even though he already knew. He was careful with his wording to be sure he wasn’t coercing her to do anything she wouldn’t have done anyway.
Her eyes lit with condescending mirth. “That’s all right, Father. Why don’t you go back to church where it’s safer? This area seems a little dangerous for you.”
“Does it? Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself. I’m more concerned about you. I’m only trying to save you. Do you feel bad for any of your crimes?” He was holding her gaze now, peering inside her mind. Whatever she said out loud wasn’t what mattered. It was what was inside that counted. But she didn’t even bother lying.
“No. Not a bit. I sleep like a baby.”
“What about the murder?”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know about that? Who the hell did you say you were?”
“My name is Father Hadrian,” he said, his face growing more menacing by the minute. “Tell me, do you feel bad about the murder?”
The woman’s anger was growing, flowing off her like hissing electricity. “The dumb bitch shouldn’t have gotten in my way.”
“That’s all I needed to hear. I’m afraid you aren’t worth saving.”
Hadrian let his fangs flash in the lamplight. He didn’t bother adding any suggestions for how she should react to him. He wasn’t seducing her. He was separating the wheat from the chaff, cleaning up the streets. As a human, he never would have played God in this way, but the demon half of him refused to follow such quaint moral rules. After all, those methods hadn’t been nearly as effective as the ones he now employed.
She started to cry and began to back away from him, her hands held up in the air. Her tone turned placating. “Okay. Okay. I’m sorry. I’ll do better. Will you hear my confession? I promise I’ll change. I’ll come to church every week.”
“Too late for that now.” Hadrian pulled her toward him and sank his fangs into her throat. She tasted of rage and fear with an added dash of sociopathic spice. A little rich for day-to-day feeding, but not bad for a treat.
She struggled in his arms, beating uselessly against his chest as he drank in her essence. Eventually the fight went out of her; her breathing became more labored and then stopped, along with her heartbeat. Father Hadrian healed the mark on her throat and let her drop to the ground.
On his way back to the casino, he enthralled a passing thug with a gun, planting the suggestion that the woman was alive and he should go shoot her. With a bullet hole in her head, no one would think anything else about the issue. He whistled on his way back to church, thinking that man was lucky Hadrian would only feed from women, because the sins pouring off him were monumental. And Hadrian doubted he was any more remorseful.
Now it was Angeline’s turn.
Hadrian returned with a spring in his step, his sadness over what he’d lost replaced with excitement over his new mission. But his happiness was cut short when he caught his sire standing in the middle of the church, a guilty and panicked look on her face. He’d been seconds away from losing her.
He didn’t think, he just commanded. Even a second of contemplation would be enough for her to get away from him. “Stop right there.”
She’d looked away as if that would stop his order from stealing her will, but it didn’t matter. When she stopped, he knew his power over her still worked. They were linked by blood. He didn’t need eye contact.
Instinctively he strode toward her, grabbed her wrist, and put it to his mouth. He drank more of her blood to strengthen the connection between them. Whatever had weakened it, he wouldn’t take the chance again.
He growled as he tasted the new power in her blood. Familiar power. The witch. Was that how she’d broken his hold? But that was impossible. There had been many yards and a solid oak door between the witch’s corpse and where Angeline had been tied up. Something wasn’t right. He’d known that witch was trouble. Maybe Angeline had a taste before he’d risen. That had to be it.
“Just let me go.” Her voice was weary and defeated, not really believing he would stoop to releasing her. It was simply what she was supposed to say in this situation.
“You know I can’t do that.” He still wasn’t sure of his motives. Though he drank up his new powers as greedily as the wino had partaken of cheap alcohol, he was still angry at her. He was angry there was so much out there he hadn’t been equipped to fight and angry that becoming a priest and isolating himself from the rest of the world as much as he had still hadn’t worked to protect him from evil.
The most condemning part was that he wasn’t sure he could just blame the demon for making him as he was. There had been a sharp seed of darkness in him to begin with, something he’d always pushed down, hiding behind holy actions. He’d kept the darkness buried in the crevices of his soul, but the vampiric blood had flipped a switch and activated it.