The next morning Lillian couldn’t believe she’d slept in until nearly 2pm. She really needed the daytime to run errands. Her stash of coffee beans was seriously depleted and these days it was her primary fuel. She slipped into some jeans and a t-shirt and headed down to the lobby. It was quiet this afternoon. Pausing to dig around in her bag for her car keys, the concierge popped around from the back. He must have been stealing a quick lunch break, because there were crumbs all down his uniform. “Mmm Hhhoate” Strike that. His mouth was stuffed with sandwich! Swallowing, he apologized, turning red. “Ms. Choate, I’m so sorry. You’ve got a message here. I didn’t want to disturb you this morning, your late hours and all.
“Thanks, Ben, enjoy the rest of your lunch.” She took the large envelope from him and eyed it curiously. Who in the world could this be from? Once in her car, she examined the script on the package. It was a looping, elegant hand. She’d seen writing like this before working in the archives, but she didn’t know anyone still had such impressive penmanship. She traced the loops of her name with a finger. Flipping it over, something rattled inside. Now her curiosity was truly sparked. Breaking the seal, she pulled out a single sheet of very expensive looking cotton paper. With the light pouring through the windshield, she noted immediately that the paper was watermarked with a seal with a broadsword in the middle.
I have enjoyed our conversations and I look forward to more. As you will be here another two months, it would please me to know that my anthropologist was in more comfortable quarters. Herein are the keys to one of my properties. It is ready to be moved into and should have everything you need, but let me know if there’s anything additional you might want and I’ll see it is arranged. Until tonight,
P.S. Did you do your homework?
Lillian sat back in the car seat dumbfounded. Yes, she had done her homework, thank you very much. Just the thought made her flush. Last night she’d stayed up an extra half hour dorking around with the spelling in Google translate until it offered a suggested phrase that made any sense. She still hadn’t recovered from his audacity. He’d been calling her his future lover! The nerve. And in his so unsubtle but very cleverly manipulative way, he’d given her a packet of absurdly hot photographs of himself just in case the point wasn’t driven home.
And now this. Did he just offer her an apartment to stay in? She shook out the keys from the envelope. The address was on the fob. If she was going to be honest with herself, she really had no idea how to handle this. On the one hand, she had a very strict policy of not sleeping with people she was researching, but the more she rebuffed Eric, the more he seemed to double down in his pursuit. On the other hand, you’d have to be blind, insane, or both to not appreciate that he was a big tall stack’a sexy. It was true that she was really cramped in the hotel, especially given that the small table in the corner had to serve as both desk and dining room table. She was constantly shifting her piles of articles and books and notes. The thought of something even a little more spacious was tempting. Maybe she could just go look at the place to be polite and then decline. She’d never accepted audacious gifts from men and she wasn’t about to start.
She tapped the address into her phone’s GPS. She followed the annoying Android lady’s voice directions, winding through several rather pretty stretches of road. She hadn’t been out to this area of Shreveport. It was quite lovely. Making a right turn, she stopped. Crap, she must have fudged the directions. She was at the gatehouse of a private neighborhood. The guard stepped out and waved with a friendly smile.
“Dr. Choate? I’ve been expecting you. Mr. Riley called and asked me to show the house. My name’s George, at your service ma’am.”
“Okay…” Lillian had figured maybe Eric had an empty unit in rental apartment complex or something. She certainly didn’t expect this.
“Follow me.” He punched a button back inside the little station and then hopped into an electric golf cart, waving at her to stick close behind.
The neighborhood was heavily forested and the homes were large and spread out. The plots for each house must have been several acres apiece. The golf cart swung into a nearly invisible driveway and Lillian followed along under the canopy of green trees. This place was set far from the main road. Then she saw it. The house emerged out of the landscape, but almost seemed to be made of it. The garage occupied the ground floor and above it sat the main living quarters. Long thin polished beams of wood were broken up by large sections of curtain glass, revealing simple modern furniture in the interior. The yard around the house was mostly left natural, save for a few sections near the garage and entryway which had various species of ferns. The entire feel was organic, nothing fussy or heavy handed (like some of the absurd Grecian column monstrosities she’d seen up the road). The distinct architectural sensibility was unmistakable. Eric must have built it.
The moment she stepped inside, Lillian felt her resolve to stay in her dingy hotel leap out of her head and skip off gleefully. The place was gorgeous. The interior design used a blend of natural materials – wood, wool flokati rugs, potted orchids in splashy purple shades – to perfectly balance what would otherwise be the harsh lines of modern design.
“Nice huh?” She’d completely forgotten the guard. “Mr. Riley said there’s a letter for you in the kitchen. The alarm system is here by the front door. If you need anything, press 1 and it will call me directly in the gatehouse. We’re real happy to have you here. This place has been empty for too long, I always thought it was a shame. It’s the jewel in this neighborhood if you ask me.”
“Thanks, George. If you don’t mind, how long has it been vacant?”
“Oh, I’d say a couple of years. Mr. Riley’s boss lived here until he built further out in the country. Couldn’t say where though. Can’t imagine a prettier place. You’re sure are a lucky lady. He must have had 20 people out here last night sprucing it back up.” George excused himself then and zipped back down the pathway in his cart. Lillian found the letter he’d mentioned sitting on the large granite island in the kitchen. It was addressed in the same lovely cursive.
Welcome to your new home away from home. I hope you are comfortable here.
P.S. Enclosed is a gift for your new library. I apologise that I could not stock it more fully.
She smiled, charmed at his attention to detail. There was nothing more thoughtful than a man who listened carefully to a woman’s preferences. She certainly loved books. Lillian pulled out the packet from the envelope. Something else clattered on the counter. A set of keys. She turned her attention to the package. It was wrapped in simple brown paper and tied with twine. She pulled at the bow and folded back the paper – and then she nearly passed out. Not metaphorically. Literally. She felt gravity lose its hold and her knees nearly went out from under her.
In her hands was an original folio of Shakespeare’s sonnets. She trembled and dared not even breathe as she set the parcel down on the table. This…this was practically priceless. Okay, the house – she had managed to talk herself into accepting that. After all, it was like housesitting, right? It was just standing here unoccupied. But something this valuable? She didn’t even want to think of how Eric had come by it. Just what kind of business man was he? A seriously dubious one, no doubt. She didn’t even know where to put it. In the end, she decided that the safest place would be to hide it in plain sight. Right there on the countertop, in an innocuous manila envelope. Which reminded her again of the sonnet Eric had quoted the first time she’d met him in person. Looking on darkness which the blind do see. Something niggled in the back of her mind, but she couldn’t place her finger on it.
The rest of the afternoon, Lillian acquainted herself with the place. She was shocked to find that the fridge and pantry were stocked to the gills. Almost absurdly – she was certain some of the food was going to go bad. No human could consume that much! She was also dismayed when she realized that the keys in the envelope were not an extra set to the house, but in fact car keys. Wandering down into the garage, she flipped the lights on to reveal a sparkling – and very new looking – Audi. What was wrong with her Honda Civic? Sure it was ancient, but she’d enjoyed many a good road trip in it and it had never failed her. She would definitely not be using the car. Somebody had to draw the line with this high-handed man.
Later that night, she walked nervously down Fangtasy’s hallway towards Eric’s office. After a very long and luxurious bath earlier (her new bathroom being more akin to a boutique spa), she was feeling rather fantastic. She’d swept up her hair, donned a delicate lavender silk dress with some kick butt open toed booties and a leather jacket. She even went as far as applying a sultry wine lipstick. She tapped on the door and looked up in the camera, waving. The door opened, revealing Eric in jeans and a very snug black t-shirt.
Dang he knew how to make an entrance.
“Evening,” she said in a barely audible whisper. His eyes grew wide as he took in the vision before him. Was there not a shade of purple that didn’t make her positively glow? He’d had her new quarters stuffed with the finest orchids in the city, just because they reminded him so strongly of the beautiful and complicated woman before him.
“Hello my lovely Lila.”
“I don’t know how to begin thanking you. The house is…it’s stunning. You’re also an enormous jerk, because you knew I wouldn’t be able to say no.”
Eric had a smug grin of satisfaction on his face.
“As for the ‘book’ you sent me?” she drew quotes in the air. “Eric. You are a fucking madman. I don’t want to know how you came by it, but all I can say is I was too terrified to even move it to give it back to you.”
“You don’t like it?” He made sad, blue puppy dog eyes at her.
“It’s a freaking treasure of Western civilization! Those pages contain the most brilliant words ever strung together in the English language. It should be in a museum, not sitting on a kitchen counter in the suburbs!”
Eric shrugged. “Then lend it to a museum. It’s yours to do with as you please.”
She stammered. How could someone be so nonchalant about priceless artifacts? And gads how many more did he have stuffed away?
“Are you in the mob?”
He laughed, inviting her to sit down. “No.”
“Eric…are you some sort of Thomas Crown-like antiquities thief?”
“No Lillian. And I would never give you something I didn’t legally acquire. That’s just poor form.”
“Ugh!” She crossed her arms in frustration. A knock sounded at the door.
Pamela came in looking extra sassy in a sparkly red number. “Lillian.” She handed her a gin and tonic, then gave Eric a look before sauntering back out.
“Um, thanks. Aren’t you going to join me?”
“I never drink on the job.” She felt sheepish suddenly, as though he was commenting on her own choices. He must have realized her misinterpretation and quickly added, “I only meant that I thought it might make you more amenable to accepting your housewarming gift. Plus,” he grinned wolfishly, “I wanted to liquor you up before you tell me all about what you’ve selected for the calendar.”
“Come now. Tell Eric.” He sat on the edge of his desk with his hands in his pockets.
Lillian steeled herself. She pulled the packet of photos out of her bag. Oh, she’d made her selection all right. She shuffled through the pile until she found an image flagged with a post-it note. “You should put this one in.” Eric was in his favorite leather pants. He was covered in sweat and his hair was slicked forward. His gaze was set directly into the camera and it was fierce. “It fits the best with the overall theme you seem to be aiming for.”
“It’s your favorite then?”
She blushed. “I only said it is the one you should use.”
He leaned in closer, forcing her to look him deep in the eyes, setting his arms on either arm of her chair.
“Which did you like best?”
She looked away. His gaze was overwhelming. The rapid cycling of his emotions was dizzying – one minute he was jocular and playful, the next he was intense and serious. “The one on the stool,” she replied quietly. The photo was breathtaking. She wasn’t even sure why it was in there – it was unlike any of the others and it was shot in black and white. He was dressed in a black shirt and black shorts, dress shoes without socks, and a black coat with the hood pulled over his head. His gaze was focused down so that the light felt darkly across his Scandinavian features, highlighting his perfectly sculpted high cheekbones and luscious lips.
He sat back on his desk, lost in thought. “Pam took it. Why do you like it?”
“It’s the most like you, I suppose. It’s at once a simple image but deeply complex.” He raised an eyebrow. “And you can see the Viking ancestors in your features.”
She hoped she hadn’t said the wrong thing. “I mean, that’s at least what I thought. But then again what do I know? I barely know you.”
He smiled gently at her. “C’mon then. I’ve got a shitpile of work to handle and I’m sure you need to interview people. But come back in a few hours and we can go over some more of the merchandise if you like.”
“Do these involve more buck naked shots of you? “
“Would you like them more if they did?” he shot back.
Lillian shook her head at the exasperatingly naughty man. “You, Mr. Northman, are impossible!”
Several hours later, the few remaining clubgoers were trickling out and the servers were cleaning up the tables, rearranging chairs, and collecting empty cups and bottles. They were usually quick at their work, eager to get home after a long night. “Night, Lillian. See you tomorrow,” called the last waitress as she headed out the front door. It always amazed her how empty and drab the place felt with no one in it, since it was so splashy and full of life when in full tilt. Despite feeling wiped out – she’d done 6 interviews – she was still eager to review the rest of the merchandising scheme with Eric. As if he’d heard her, he emerged from the hallway and beckoned her to join him.
“Still got some steam left?”
“Oh, I can’t wait to see what my new landlord has up his sleeve,” she teased.
Eric unlocked the steel door across from his office and lugged it open. She was surprised to see it was so heavy.
Stepping inside, there were four shelving racks stuffed to the brim with boxes.
“Pam usually manages this end of things. She’s got a system. Let’s see. Yes, here are the novelty items. Some of these are very amusing.” He pulled a box out, revealing four inch bobble head dolls in Pam and Eric’s likenesses. “All this here is clothing and accessories,” he said, gesturing to another rack. “They’re our biggest sellers.”
“How do you decide what to put on them?”
“We’ve experimented with different slogans and images and Pam tracks sales, adjusting orders as necessary. One of the most popular items are these.” He pulled out a very skimpy string bikini thong with two bloody fang marks on the small triangle of fabric.
“Yes, I think so too.” They both laughed.
Lillian started digging through the boxes, putting a million questions to Eric. He obliged her with detailed answers and seemed to genuinely enjoy her rapid and inquisitive mind. Plus the view of her spectacular rear bouncing under that filmy silk dress as she reached for the boxes didn’t hurt either. Eric was entirely engrossed in the view when he heard the door slam. Lillian startled and threw a box of bandannas everywhere.
“What the…!” She spun around just as Eric rushed toward the door.
“Oh FUCK,” he breathed.
“Eric, what the hell happened? Is it stuck?” Eric turned slowly around and leaned against the door. “What’s wrong. Eric?” Her voice was getting more panicky by the second. He just stood there, staring at Lillian, wide-eyed. “Eric, you’re scaring me. Is it locked?” He nodded his head and then stepped to the side. The door handle had been removed. Lillian rushed to the door and started banging. “PAAAAAM,” she screamed. “PAAAAAM” She looked desperately at Eric.
“She already left.”
“Okay, okay.” Lillian tried to calm herself.
“Phone!” she pulled out her cell, but there was no signal. The wifi was dead as a doornail too. The walls must be too thick.
Eric was pacing around in the now claustrophobically small room with a hand over his mouth. “Should have thought of this. Fucking idiot. Of course this is a perfect trap,” he mumbled to himself.
“What? Are you saying someone did this intentionally?” A look of horror came across her face.
He turned to her and roared “OF COURSE WE’VE BEEN FUCKING TRAPPED!”
Lillian recoiled at his viciousness. “Jesus, Eric, ok. Let’s just calm down and assess the situation.”
“You have NO IDEA the situation you are in.” He spat venomously at her.
Lillian nearly burst into tears, but she managed to keep it together. “Alright. Care to fill me in?” He ignored her and continued his manic pacing. Lillian tried to stay positive. “Look, when does your staff usually start to get here? We’ll just wait it out. Worst case scenario we’ll be out of here in 12 hours. We’ll be ok. Maybe a little chilly, but ok.” She shivered, realizing she’d left her jacket in the booth.
Eric gave her a hard stare. “Air ducts. You’re brilliant.” He ripped a shelf away from the wall, tossing it down. Pointing to a small vent, he looked back at her. “Do you think you can squeeze that fine little ass of yours through there? It’s tight, but this might be our only play in the book here.”
Lillian froze. She was terrified of being squeezed in small spaces. It was the main reason why she had chosen not to pursue archaeology. “Where does it lead?”
“This room is a backup freezer, so if you follow through, you’ll hit a fan on the backside of the building. There’s an industrial condenser just beyond it, so you’ll have to try to get through there.” He quickly added, “The unit’s off. But fuck. How to get out?” He started his pacing once more.
Dumping the contents of her bag on the floor, Lillian dug around in the scattered pile of pens and lipstick. “Will this work?” She held up a small leatherman.
Eric rushed over and clasped her. His hands were cold. “You brilliant woman! Thank the gods.” Lillian unscrewed the grate and peered into the dark length of the metal ductwork. She would fit, but just barely.
“Listen very carefully to me, Lillian. You need to do exactly what I say.” She nodded. “Exactly, okay? Be as fast as you can, time is of the essence. Whoever did this may not be far. Here are my car keys. Once you get out, run to my car. We need my car. Now here’s where it is very important. Do NOT start the engine. He held up an odd brass key. “First, you need to open the glove box and put this key in the little computer inside. All you do is turn it. You’ll see a green light turn on. Then you can start the car. Get as close to the back door as possible. This is the building key. Got it? Hurry.”
Sticking the keys in her mouth and bearing the leatherman in one hand, she slithered into the tunnel. She felt the sides pressing all around her. There was barely a clearance of a few inches where she could bend a knee to push herself along with her feet. She tried pulling with her arms instead. That quickened things, since her (once lovely and now very likely ruined) silk dress displaced some of the friction. She heard Eric encouraging her “Fly little Valkyrie! Go, go, go!” She could see faint light ahead. There was a wicked 90 degree turn, but she managed to get on her side and bend through it. She felt something crawl up her leg, and she bit down on the keys to keep from screaming. Damn cockroaches. Just a few more feet. Then, within minutes, she was at the fan.
Working as quickly as she could, she tried to find the screws holding it in place. It was nearly dawn, and there was only just the pinkest of light to work by. Her hand crossed something and cold dread passed over her body. The very rusty end of a nut. It was screwed in from the other side. Panicking, she banged on the fan, hoping she could force it out. She didn’t have enough strength in her arms. Maybe if she went back out and came in feet first, she could kick it out. But no, there wasn’t time. Suddenly she remembered the little saw blade on the leatherman. Hadn’t she seen in an infomercial that it could cut through steel? She sure as hell hoped so. Popping it out, she started hacking away and shortly, the nut fell away. She tried to ignore Eric’s frantic voice from the other end of the shaft. Three more left. Then two. And then the fan was off. Ahead she could see the coils of the AC unit. Flipping on her back, she jammed the blade as hard as she could straight up into the ductwork an started sawing. By the time she was done, she was covered in sweat, but she’d managed to carve a C shaped hole big enough to let herself out. She pushed the metal paneling back and carefully pulled herself out, trying not to scratch herself on the jagged edges. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, Lillian realized she wasn’t standing on pavement. She was on the roof. The vent must have had a rise. No wonder it had been a hard climb! Running to the side of the building, she saw the dumpster was open.
Here goes nothing. She jumped, landing square on top of several reeking garbage bags. Vaulting out, she tore across the parking lot towards the car. She remembered – just barely – about the glove box thingie. She got it on and then turned the engine over, hearing it roar under the hood. Only vaguely did it register that she was driving a Ferrari for the first time. Throwing it in gear she peeled around the corner and got it snuggly up against the building. Fumbling with the keys she got the back door open and ran to the storage door. She heaved all of her weight on the sucker. Damn was it heavy. Then it flew open, nearly knocking her against the wall. Eric had pushed it from his side and in an instant he dashed into his office. He reached behind a shelf in his bookcase and she heard a mechanic grinding noise. The middle section of the entire bookcase shifted and he pulled it aside, revealing a secret room behind. He grabbed a rucksack and threw it at Lillian to catch. Then another. He stepped in further and emerged with a massive broadsword and slung it over his shoulder.
“Eric, your nose is bleeding.”
“I know.” He stormed past Lillian, then turned. Blood was trickling out of one of his ears.
“I know! Listen, go out the door and get in the car. Open the driver’s side for me. I’ll be out in a sec.”
When she dashed out the door, Eric stepped into the large shadow it cast in the hallway. Turning, he punched a code into the security system and took a big breath. The blur happened so fast Lillian only realized Eric was in the car when it rocked with the force of his body jumping in. He leaned back, sniffling back his bloody nose. She smelled something slightly foul, like burnt hair.
“Jesus. Are you okay? What…”
He turned, his eyes glittered fiercely. A tear of blood dripped from the corner of his eye and down his cheek. Lillian couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t move. Eric hit the doorlocks. “If you even touch that door…” he put a finger in her face menacingly, “if you even think about touching that door, I will kill you. Do. You. Understand.” Lillian was trembling. She barely worked out a nod. Her mind flew trying to piece together what was happening. “You did well, but this isn’t over yet. You cannot let me fall asleep. We have got to get to a safe house. Okay? Do NOT let me fall asleep.”
And with that, he threw the vehicle into gear and tore out of the parking lot. They weren’t just going over the speed limit. They were making a land speed record. The force of the car shifting gears slammed her back in her seat.
“Talk to me. You’ve got to keep me awake,” he barked at her.
“What. What are you.”
“You know what I am now. I told you that you didn’t understand the situation you were in.”
“Yes, god dammit. Now you’re going to have to do better than this. Lillian, if I fall asleep you’ll never get me back up, and we need to be off the road and somewhere safe. Stat.”
“But it’s dawn.” She turned looking in horror at the windshield.
“It’s a special glass, Lillian. The light can’t hurt me in here. Just don’t fucking open that door.” He eyed her again.
Lillian thought for a second and then did what she always did with colleagues when she ran out of stories – she began recounting the most lurid disease tales from her original fieldwork she could think of.
“Amoebic dysentery? That’s disgusting, Lila. Tell me more.”
She did. In detail. Very foul, descriptive detail. He even laughed once. Eric was starting to fade when they thankfully turned off the road into a rather plain, cookie-cutter house neighborhood. “Blue bag. There’s a remote.” Lillian undid the tie on the rucksack and gasped. The remote was there. Along with stacks and stacks of cash. They pulled up to an utterly nondescript house. Eric aimed the remote at the garage. Nothing happened. He pushed the button again. Still nothing.
“Oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He banged on it and tried again. “The fucking batteries are dead!” Under his breathe he muttered “You’re losing your touch, Northman.”
“Okay,” Lillian breathed. She always did have a good head in an emergency. “So the gist of the situation is that we need to get in the garage. But neither of us can get out.” Eric nodded. Lillian whipped out her phone and quickly Googled for parking garages.
“Eric, there’s a multi-story parking garage about 2 miles down the road from here next to a Super-Walmart. Do you think if we parked on the bottom level, somewhere dark, I could get out and run to the store for batteries?
“My Valkyrie,” he breathed a sigh of relief. He ripped backwards in reverse and moments later, in a dark corner of the parking garage, Lillian put her hand on the door handle with temerity.
“It’s okay. Just be quick.” He pulled out a stack of $20s from the bag and shoved them at her. “Cash only. We can’t leave a digital trace until we know what we’re dealing with.” Lillian leapt out of the car and slammed the door. Peering back in, Eric gave her the thumbs up. Next thing she knew she was running through a weedy field in her now dirt and garbage juice stained dress towards a Walmart as though her life depended on it. Well, maybe it did. She really hadn’t had time to process what was happening to her.
Inside the store, Lillian sprinted, knocking an entire rack of 9 volt batteries in the basket. She found the sporting goods section and proceeded to terrify the poor kid behind the counter. “What’s the most powerful thing I can buy right now?”
“Uh, we got BB guns?”
“No good.” She looked frantically in the case. “Give me that.” She pointed to a compound cross bow. “And that.” A set of arrows. “And that.” A large hunting knife with a nasty looking blade. Hurtling back towards the registers, she spotted a display with granola bars. Food. She was starving. She grabbed the entire cardboard display and dumped it in the cart. Then a shelf of Red Bull. A thought suddenly stopped her dead in her tracks. If she was hungry…and thirsty…wouldn’t…
Oh God! she thought in horror. The deli counter near the bakery caught her eye, giving her an idea. “Hey, mister!” She waved to get the attention of the butcher in the back. He wiped hands on his apron and came out.
“What can I do ya for ma’am?”
How to make this not sound crazy. “Um. I’ve been wanting to make…my grandmother’s boudin sausages for a while now. Got a big family reunion next couple days. You got any… blood?”
The man eyed her cart suspiciously, then disappeared in the back. “This is all we got. We ain’t got nothin’ smaller.” It was a 5 gallon jug of pig blood.
“Ok, yep. That’ll do.” She hefted it off the counter and into her basket. At the checkout line, the lady ringing up her eclectic purchases was moving like a turtle. Lillian leaned over and whispered, “If you hurry the fuck up, I’ll give you $100.” She shoved a wad of cash into her breast pocket. “Move!”
The woman’s eyes bulged and the register began to beep at a significantly faster pace. There was no time to bag her purchases. She dumped everything in the cart and hoped security wouldn’t chase her down the road when she took off with it.
When she got back to the mean looking car hiding in the shadows of the parking lot, she sighed in relief and tapped on the window. No response. She opened the door a crack and swore. Eric had slumped down into the driver’s seat and looked, well, dead. Quickly transferring everything into the footwell of the car, she had to make a decision. She grabbed Eric’s arms and pulled back with all her might. She managed to get him halfway into the passenger seat. Running around to the other side, she heaved one massive leg, then the other, over the gearbox and into the now stuffed footspace of the passenger side. He was crumpled in an unnatural position. It looked uncomfortable, but what did it matter? She reached over between his knees and checked that the mystery box was still on. It was. She’d have to ask about that later. Locking the doors, she retraced their path back to the house. Back in front of the driveway, she stuffed a new battery in the remote and had a Clark Griswold Christmas Vacation moment. If this thing didn’t work….She hit the button and the door spun into life. Hallelujah. There was a black Escalade parked inside. The car’s low growl was amplified as she pulled in and cut the engine. She hit the remote again, closing the door behind them. Now what? She got out and pondered her next move.
“ERIC!” she yelled in his face. “ERIC!” No movement. Then, much to her shock, she coiled back her arm and slapped him as hard as she could. His eyes opened into slits and he grunted. Blood started dripping out again and he blinked it away. “We’re here, what do we do? Are the windows inside safe?” His eyes closed and he nodded. “No good. Are they safe? Are they tinted like the car?”
“Yes” he whispered.
“Get up. I can’t carry you. You weigh a ton.” He stirred, and grabbing his arms she helped pull him out of the vehicle. He put a cold arm around her and she helped walk him to the door. It was locked. “Keys?” Eric simply moaned and leaned against the wall for support. She dashed back to the car, hoping they’d be in the blue bag. She guessed right.
She got the door open and pulled Eric inside. Across the living room was a large leather couch. “C’mon. We’re almost there. Just a few more steps.” She encouraged him with a push and he landed with a thud. Bullseye.
Eric’s bloodshot eyes squinted at her. “Lillian,” he whispered. He raised a hand and managed to lean forward. “Don’t move.” The next thing he did shocked her. He pulled her head towards her and licked her bottom lip, then sucked at it. He wiped a thumb roughly over the spot. “Not ready for a blood bond,” he managed to rasp out. Then he was out.
Confused, Lillian looked down at her hand. Sweet Jesus. When she’d slapped him awake, the blood on his face had splattered everywhere. She got up and tiptoed down the hall in search of a bathroom. The place barely had anything in it – no decorations and sparse furnishings. She passed a room and peered in. A bedroom with a bed and a dresser. The next door was a small bathroom. She flipped the light on and was horror-struck at the sight. There were spatters of Eric’s blood across her face, chest, and arm. Eric. Vampire Eric. She could feel her body start to go into shock again. She washed off thoroughly, making darn sure to keep her mouth and eyes tightly shut. Looking under the sink, she found towels. She wet a washcloth and went back into the living room.
Kneeling next to the couch, she began to wipe Eric’s face gently, getting as much of the drying blood off as she could. Eric had had the bleeds. Because Eric was a vampire. She kept saying the words over in her head, but they still seemed to mean nothing. How could this actually be? And now that he was forced to reveal his secret, what would he do to her?
There was only one way to find out, and that would be to survive the day. She still had no clue who – or what – was after them. She unloaded the car into the house, thankful when she lugged the tub of blood in that there was a working fridge. Lillian armed herself with her new crossbow, then carefully laid Eric’s broadsword at his side. She didn’t have to ask to know. It was old. Thinking for a moment, she realized that if someone were to attack and break in, the tinted windows would be useless to Eric. He probably never slept like this, exposed and out in the open. He looked so handsome. And dead.
She pulled the quilt off the bedroom mattress and settled it over him, feeling slightly better that he had another layer of protection. She sat down at the foot of the couch with her new weapon, drank two Red Bulls, and prepared to wait. She caught herself starting to fall asleep a few times, so she drank another energy drink and powered through her exhaustion. When the light started to change outside, she kept a careful eye on the blanket. She didn’t know how soon Eric could rise. The sun started to slip deep in the horizon. Lillian decided she wasn’t going to wait to find out whether Eric would be hungry. But where to hide? She remembered how irate he’d been at the scratch on the hood of his car. He wouldn’t want to damage his car to get at her, right? Hopping up, she slid into the passenger seat, keys in hand, and locked the doors. She hadn’t had the chance to appreciate how the plush bucket seats hugged her. Letting her head fall back against the head rest, she let her eyes rest for what she told herself would be just a minute.
The sun hadn’t fully set, but something stirred on the couch. Then sprang forth. Eric shot up, and instinctively brandishing his sword, sliced right through a blanket. Disoriented, he cast it aside. Someone had put him to bed on the couch with his beloved longsword, Grendl, and covered him. Sniffing the air, he realized Lillian’s scent was all over his face, neck, and arms. There was the slight trace of something else foul, but he’d figure that out momentarily. He saw a little round indent in the carpet next to him. He reached down and lay his palm flat on the fibers. It was still warm. There were little cans littered on the floor and several food wrappers.
“Min Lila?” he called. No reply.
He could hear the thud of a heartbeat in the garage. Lillian’s face was pressed up against the glass of the Ferrari’s passenger door. She was out like a light. He knocked on the window and she came to.
“Good evening, my little Valkyrie.”
“Eric, are you ok?”
“But the bleeds…”
“It is not dangerous to me at my age. Just messy.”
“I meant, are you hungry? Am I safe?”
He laughed. “Perfectly. Come on out now.”
She shifted and held something up to the glass. Eric’s eyes grew wide. She was armed with a crossbow. “I’m coming out, but you behave, or you’ll be working on the business end of this baby.”
He threw back his head and howled with laughter. Shaking his head, he sauntered back into the house, gesturing for her to follow. She unlocked the car door, keeping her weapon in front of her. “You, my lover, are as fierce as they come. Were you sitting there with that thing aimed at me all day?” He used humor to cover the fact that the thought sent shivers down his back. In his long life, this was a fuckup on a grand scale.
She pulled back in shock, looking as though he’d smacked her. “Of course not! I was afraid someone was still coming after us. You were so exposed! If they’d broken a window or opened the door…I didn’t know what to do.”
He reflected on this. “Let me get this straight. You dragged me into the house, gave me my sword, and shielded me the best you could. I believe you washed me up?” She nodded. She didn’t mention that she’d brushed the tangles out of his golden hair with her fingers. “Then you sat at my feet chugging caffeinated soda all day waiting to shoot whoever knocked on the door? You guarded me all day.” She nodded again. Eric’s mouth actually gaped for a moment. He was in awe. A dark thought crossed his mind that she would make a spectacular vampire, but he quickly brushed it aside. He walked over to her, carefully pushing her crossbow to the side and drew her into an enormous bear hug. “In all my years, I have never met a human like you. You saved my life, uncompelled. You sheltered me and guarded me with no incentive. I have never even allowed a human near me while I slept. Never.”
“Just how many years are we talking?”
“Lillian, I have walked the nights for over a millennium.”
She tried to process the information. Then something dawned on her. “Looking on darkness which the blind do see. I knew there was something that kept bugging me about that line. The truth was staring me right in the face.” He smiled mischievously. “And something else. You said you broke that statue as a boy, but when I first looked at it, I noticed the aging on the hand was uniform with the rest of it. It didn’t make sense to me at the time.” She shook her head. “Well, I guess I know where your personal collection of Shakespeare came from. Hell, he probably signed the frontispiece and gave it to you!”
Eric gave a soft laugh. Then sniffed the air. “Lillian, do you have any idea what that terrible smell is? It reeks like a barnyard floor in here.”
Lillian knitted her eyebrows together, then realizing what he must smell, she turned bright pink. “Oh my god. Please, don’t laugh. I was afraid you would be hungry and I… Well, I got a vat of pig blood from the butcher. I don’t know what your needs are, but I’d rather they not involve me.”
At this, Eric stalked over to the fridge and peered in. The look on his face was priceless – a mix of utter shock and total hilarity. “Lila, I’m not a fucking Cullen. I don’t sparkle and I sure as hell don’t eat farm animals. At my age I can go a long time before I need to feed. Even if I were hungry, which I’m not, I have great self-control. I would never harm you.”
“How long, exactly?”
He thought about it momentarily. “A month, easily, before I would start to weaken. I’ve gone far longer, but it isn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t by choice.”
“Last night, I got your blood on my face. Do you remember? You sucked it off my lip. What would that have done to me?”
“It wouldn’t turn you, if that’s what you mean. It would connect us. Intimately.”
She blushed, but pressed on. She needed to understand. “How so?”
He pulled her to the couch. Yet again she was astonished at how cool he was. It wasn’t unpleasant, more like the feeling of cool sheets against your skin. It was almost relaxing. “Every blood tie is slightly different. I would know how you were feeling, where you were. This strengthens the more times it is exchanged.” The thought of Lillian’s mouth sucking on his neck began to arouse him. The idea of binding her to him suddenly seemed appealing. He was shocked at himself. He hadn’t shared his blood with another in centuries.
“I was really careful. I got it all off. I’m sorry that happened.”
He traced a circle on her jawline. “I’m only sorry that I wasn’t more awake when I was kissing your delicious mouth.”
“You know when you describe things as delicious now, I’m kind of hearing it a different way, right?”
“Touché,” he laughed.
“What do we do now?”
“I’ve already summoned Pamela. She should be here soon, then we can sort this mess out. I am sorry you were caught in the middle of this.”
Lillian suddenly had another thought. “Is Pam…”
“Yes. She is my child.”
Lillian started laughing. “Vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires. It’s brilliant. Are there many of your kind?”
“Not so many. I don’t think anyone knows precisely, but there’s a higher concentration in Louisiana. With all the tourism and all the gothic shops and stories, it makes it much easier to hide in plain sight.”
“How much of Charlaine’s books are true? Why did you tell her so much?”
Eric sighed. “It seemed harmless at the time. An acquaintance of mine had done similarly some decades ago – started stories about himself, that is. It was quite profitable for him. Pam and I have been bored. Being vampire means constantly reinventing yourself, reimagining your world. Sometimes the human world around you changes too quickly, sometimes too slowly. It’s important to stay engaged.”
Lillian considered this. “Wait. You have a friend who did the same? You’re not talking about…” No, it couldn’t be.
“Lestat? Yes, that old scoundrel. The tales of his and Louis’ adventures are mostly fictitious, just as mine and Pamela’s are. But Anne certainly captured his epic ego. Of course, neither she nor Charlaine remember their inspirations. They were glamoured to the hilt to forget.” Eric gave a rakish grin.
Lillian searched Eric’s face. “So you can glamour.” She suddenly felt crushed, realizing what this meant for her. “And this is my fate too?” she whispered. “Is that why you’re telling me this now?”
“Let’s just focus on getting out of this mess first.” He was forestalling making any decisions.
“Eric, my whole life I’ve wanted to find magic in this world. It’s why I’ve studied what I have. This is – you are – remarkable. Please don’t take it from me now that I’ve found you. I wouldn’t betray you.” She inadvertently placed her hand on his chest. She looked at him, pleading with her eyes. He growled a low, feral sound. Leaning tentatively over her mouth, he kissed her once, then twice, then savagely. His mouth was sweet, cool, and delicious, and she fisted her hands through his gorgeous mane. Eric ravaged her, licking and sucking her lovely mouth, running his tongue over hers and encircling her small frame with his strong arms. In his excitement, his fangs had run out. Lillian pulled back. She reached up in curiosity. “May I?” she whispered. Consenting, he opened his mouth wider. She slowly ran her finger down the length of one. Eric groaned. She leaned up and licked the other, and resumed a deep kiss, caressing his teeth with the tip of her tongue. He growled and pushed her back on the couch, covering her with his hard body. He smothered her with kisses. Lillian faintly registered a ringing. She nipped and licked Eric’s chin, trailing down his neck. She heard the ringing again.
“Eric, I think someone’s at the door.”
“I know,” he said between kisses.
“I know!” He pushed back from the couch, eying her with lust and frustration.
He opened the front door, revealing Pam standing, arms crossed, in a pink velvet tracksuit. She looked past Eric into the living room and spotted Lillian’s disheveled frame on the couch. “Oh this is grand, Eric. Grand.”
“Come in,” he huffed.
Pam eyed Lillian, who was trying rather hopelessly to smooth back her hair. The filthy dress was beyond help. “Sorry to interrupt” she said, glee glinting in her eyes.
“Pamela, enough. We’ve got bigger problems.” Eric quickly recounted the story.
Pam looked at Lillian in amazement. Her smugness was gone. “Thank you,” she said with a quiet humility.
“I need you to run out and get Lillian food and clothes. Lila, make Pam a list. Be specific with the food – she hasn’t gone grocery shopping in nearly 200 years. While you do that, I’m going to try to get my phone synced up to play the security feed backwards so we can see who did this.”
Lillian scratched out a few things for Pam, who now seemed far more amenable to running errands for a human since she’d saved her master’s life. Lillian let out a yawn. She hadn’t slept in well over 24 hours.
“C’mon, lover.” He led her down the hallway. “I’ve got a few of my t- shirts in here that you can wear. Why don’t you take a quick shower and rest a while? This is going to be a long night.”