“Can you kill me?” the little girl said as if she were asking someone to pass the butter.
Now Angeline knew the priest was messing with her. And with the gag still in her mouth, she couldn’t even yell at the stupid child.
“Can you?” the child persisted. “Your priest was too young. I knew he was, but figured it was worth a try anyway. If you’re older, maybe it will work this time.”
Angeline’s eyes widened as she looked more closely at the girl. Blonde, shoulder-length hair, delicate pixie features. The white shift dress she was wearing swallowed her, but would have perfectly fit the adult witch the vampire had brought for Hadrian’s first feeding.
But she was dead. Angeline had seen it. She’d heard her heartbeat slow and stop like butterfly wings on their last flap. She’d carried the lifeless body and laid it on the altar.
“I’d hoped that death card was for me,” Tam said. “It has to be for me.” The girl pulled the gag from Angeline’s mouth and spoke to her as if she were the child. “I want you to try, all right?”
The vampire looked around. This had to be some kind of trick, a test. If she bit the girl, Hadrian would be upset. Or would he? He’d killed the girl the first time around, after all.
“What are you?”
The witch rolled her eyes. “Something far older than you. But I’m so tired and very hard to kill. And I’m tired of running. My power needs to die with me. It can’t get into his hands.”
“Hadrian?” Angeline hated when people spoke in riddles.
The girl laughed. “No, silly. Someone else.” Madame Tam gave her an assessing once-over. “How old are you?”
Angeline balked at giving the girl her age. It was such a personal question for a vampire, filled with so much nuance. It was so much more than just a number. It was the evidence of how much you’d survived, how much history you’d seen and lived. But she relented, curious over where the witch was going with her line of questioning. “two hundred and twenty.”
“Hmmm.” She paced a bit, looking lost in thought. It was strange seeing such a grown-up look on such a young girl. “My kind can only be killed, truly killed, by another of our kind, or a very old and very strong being. I know because one of us has been killed that way, by a 3,000-year-old vampire. As you can imagine, those are hard to find, and they tend to be gruesomely creative with the way they kill, something I’m not too keen on. I don’t think you’re nearly old enough, but we can try.”
The girl sat across Angeline’s lap and pulled her hair back. The vampire was going mad. She had to be. None of this was really happening. It was a dream. Some crazy daymare. Perhaps Hadrian hadn’t woken up yet. Maybe she was still in her resting place below ground, dreaming. It was all too unreal and strange. Although the promise of the girl’s blood was intoxicating, Angeline hoped it was a dream and that she could start this night all over without making the same mistakes. Maybe she’d stake Hadrian before he even arose, just in case the chanting was a genuine threat and not just paranoia.
The girl cleared her throat. “This is the most formal invitation you’re getting. I know my blood is delicious. I’ve been fed on by vampires a few times before. They went on about me like I was a royal feast or something.”
Angeline knew just by the smell of the girl that it was true. She wanted to know more: who the girl was, why she wanted to die so much. “How long have you had this death wish?” she asked instead.
“Off and on for about a thousand years, more frequently since he’s started hunting more deliberately and the others of my kind have been picked off. If he kills me, he’ll take all my power. He’s a far greater evil than you’ve ever thought about being. I have to break the cycle, and I won’t contribute to the things he wants to do by dying at his hands.”
“You little… ” Who the hell did this girl think she was? She didn’t know how evil Angeline was or wasn’t.
The girl tilted her head again, trailing her index finger up and down the column of her throat. “Eat up. From the looks of things, this will be your last meal. At least it’ll be a good one.”
Well, if the girl wanted to die so very badly, Angeline would oblige her. All the talking in riddles as well as the creepiness of an adult woman dying and then coming back a child all in the same night was enough incentive anyway. Who needed a formal invitation to shut up that nonsense?
“Untie me,” Angeline said, locking eyes with the girl.
The little blonde giggled. “Oh, nice try. Remember you’re only two hundred and twenty.”
Angeline had suspected the witch hadn’t really been enthralled. Now she knew. She growled, but leaned forward, sinking her fangs into the girl’s neck. The angle was awkward. This was no way to enjoy a meal. It was humiliating in the extreme, but she intended to suck every drop out of the child, far past the point of death, so the obnoxious little brat didn’t rise again. She still didn’t know how that worked, nor did she care.
She closed her eyes as she fed. The blood was like fine wine, aged to perfection. But it was also the youth and excitement of childhood. It was the best of both worlds, the rarest thing the vampire had ever tasted. If by some miracle, Hadrian let her go, she could see keeping this girl as a blood doll—if she couldn’t permanently kill her, that is. Because she really wanted to kill her.
The girl’s pulse grew thready and then slowed and stopped. Angeline continued to drink, squeezing every last drop of blood out. The girl was a corpse for the second time that night, still draped across her killer.
Angeline snarled in frustration, unable to move her. But then she smiled. She’d just fed from the strongest blood she’d ever tasted. Probably not more than Hadrian had consumed, since the smaller, younger body held less blood than her former larger size, but still. She’d had at least as much as he’d had.
With the magic he’d performed, she knew he would hold power over her in person, but he wasn’t here, now. If she focused all of her energy and will, she might be able to get her arms to obey her will instead of his, so she could free herself from the ropes and escape.
A long time passed before she got her arm to move a barely perceptible amount against her restraints, but it was at least proof it could be done. This might not be her final night on the earth.
Hadrian thought taking control of Angeline had been easy enough, but being barely risen, one human, no matter how powerful her blood, just hadn’t been enough. He’d need a few more pints before he was ready to deal with his sire fully. There was still a chance she could break his hold, then he really would be her bitch. He shuddered at the idea.
The city was noisier than he remembered. With his new senses, voices, thoughts, traffic, heartbeats, the buzzing of the neon signs, everything combined to create a din that stuffed his head and threatened to squeeze his sanity out through his eye sockets. As he paced the streets, trying to find balance, to get his sensibilities under control, he observed as much as he could, using the concentration to maintain his focus on controlling his own mind.
He remembered what Angeline had said about witches being better shielded. Perhaps the ability to shield one’s mind from a vampire varied from person to person, because some people seemed to throw their thoughts out at him, almost begging him to hear them, while others faded into the background in quiet whispers. Still others required him to focus intently and specifically on them to get direct thoughts. A few were blank slates that he couldn’t read at all.
The few he wasn’t able to read looked up at him sharply, suspicion in their eyes like they knew he’d tried to penetrate the privacy of their mind. He smiled at one such man apologetically and moved on. There was no telling what he was.
It wasn’t hard to find sinners in a place like Las Vegas. Hadrian couldn’t move two steps without tripping over one. But he was looking for dinner, too. He didn’t just want to find guilty souls—he wanted pretty ones who smelled nice. He wasn’t about to sink his fangs into a man.
Perhaps other vampires felt differently, but Hadrian’s previous chastity caused him to see a subtextual sexuality in nearly everything, especially the ritual of feeding. He wanted to gorge on the experience in all its sensual hedonism. There was little time for a tryst tonight, but feeding was like foreplay. Had Angeline brought him a man for dinner, he might have turned his nose up at the meal, not quite prepared to be that adventurous yet.
He rounded a corner and bumped into a woman leaving a strip club. Her thoughts told him her shift had just ended and she was tired of waiting on the bouncer to escort her to her car.
She looked up. “Oh, Father Hadrian. Would you mind walking me to my car?” A blush tinged her cheeks at being caught out like this.
He looked at her a little more closely. “Mary? Is that you?” She hadn’t been to Mass or confession in months.
“I can’t believe you remember me.”
An awkwardness descended between them until finally Father Hadrian held his arm out for her to loop her hand through—like a gentleman. His gentlemanly scruples were one thing that had died the night he had, but he hadn’t yet fallen out of practice.