Gently, Eric broke away from Pam, and she disengaged as well. It went against a child’s nature to seek her maker’s blood. It was only with the fierce call of his bond that he could compel her to transgress the sacred integrity of his body. Eric pushed a heavy curl away from her eyes, revealing crimson tinged tear streaks stained across her face. Neither needed to say a word. At peace with the world, he lay quietly, unwilling to break the magic calm suspending them.
Then Pamela spoke. “You sure know how to make an apology.” Leave it to her to shatter an austere moment with some irreverent comment. He couldn’t hold it against her, and he started to laugh uncontrollably. Back to reality. Until now, he had willed himself not hear anything beyond their bond. He let his senses spread throughout the surrounding house.
Silence. No heartbeat. No breath.
The house was empty. His entire frame went cold, stony, locking everything away.
Feel nothing, he commanded himself.
He pushed the lever in the floor and released the door, offering a hand to help Pamela out. They began their evening as though nothing unusual had happened. Pamela primped herself in the bathroom and Eric worked through emails on his phone. Late last night, Chow had sent him flagged a section of the club’s surveillance footage for review. What he saw galled him to his very core. When Pam emerged from preening, she traipsed tartly across the living room. “I’m fixing something to eat. I’m starved, you sucked the life out of me.”
Eric raised an eyebrow at his impertinent, brat of a child. “No doubt. It is why you are radiating beauty and power.” It was true. She was positively glowing. The exchange had similarly affected Eric. He’d never looked so rock hard; his physique emanated a commanding strength. His golden mane looked alive and his eyes were alight with a fire, although Pam said nothing about the hardness set behind his gaze.
“Longshadow came back to retrieve his prize last night, with the aid of two human hillbillies. The fool didn’t even have the sense to get them to dress for the club. Chow spotted them immediately.”
“Good. I hope you let me play with him. Nobody fucks with my maker.”
“For sure. He will suffer greatly for this.”
Pam dug around in the freezer and pulled out a Styrofoam box with a yellow and black biohazard symbol. She turned the stove on and set a pot of water to warm.
“What will you have?”
Eric thought about it momentarily. “O pos,” he grumbled. She kept her mouth shut. Lillian, she knew by her delectable scent, was the same.
Slowly the frozen bags warmed. It was a delicate operation – like making hollandaise sauce, she recalled from some long ago memory. Once the water was barely simmering, she set the bags in a bowl on top of the pot, letting the steam slowly heat the bagged blood. Too hasty and the plastic in the bag would start to melt, fouling the meal; or worse, the bag would break entirely, just like accidentally curdling eggs in cream. She did not want scrambled blood.
Eric’s phone buzzed. “Chow,” he answered curtly.
“I got him. He was hiding in a trailer with the two humans he came in with last night. Warehouse, master?”
“Yes. We will be there shortly. Was there anything to learn from his pets?”
“No, they’d been glamoured into helping him. Something about them being promised Indy 500 tickets in return.”
“Glamour them to forget Longshadow and remind them to never step foot in my establishment again.”
Pam hovered over the stove like a deranged housewife. The water temperature was nearly there. She startled suddenly from a sound in the garage. The garage door pulley was making its mechanical whine. She caught Eric’s stare. There was a rustling sound, the bang of a car door. Then a struggle at the keyhole as something swished and rapped against the door. Eric stayed frozen, resisting every urge to jump up. Finally the door opened and in came Lillian bearing an absurd load of shopping bags. She had a big grin on her face.
“Oh! Hi guys. You’re up.” She let the huge burden of plastic sacs drop on the floor and kicked the garage door closed with a foot. Pam and Eric stared, and Lillian shifted her gaze back and forth between the two. “Wow, you both look really nice tonight!” She couldn’t put her finger on what it was, but they were radiant.
Then Pam swore. “Shit!” She snatched the bowl off the pot and tossed it in the sink, yanking open the faucet. She’d nearly ruined their meal with the distraction.
Eric hadn’t taken his eyes off Lillian. She had come back. She was here. His Lila. Lillian was digging through her purchases and stopped, realizing Eric hadn’t said a word and was staring a hole in her. “Sorry, I got caught in traffic. I thought I’d be back by the time you were up. Didn’t you see my note?” He shook his head in the negative. “Oh, well I wasn’t sure where one leaves a note for a vampire. The fridge seemed improper.” Her eyes suddenly drifted over to Pam, who was sporting an apron and doing something involving pots and pans.
“Are you cooking?”
Pam grinned evilly. “Sort of.” She handed Eric his bag. Snapping the cap off the top of her own, she threw her head back.
“Ithss goodth” Pam lisped, still drinking. “Wanthsumm?”
“Uh, I’ll pass, thanks.” In a twisted way, it was oddly comforting seeing them eating, knowing it at least momentarily took her off the menu.
“It’s overcooked,” Eric mumbled, focusing back on Lillian. “Where did you leave a note?”
“I put it on the bedside table. I thought if I wasn’t back in time you’d go in there looking for me. You didn’t?”
“I didn’t have to. I can hear every creature within a half mile of here. I thought you’d made your choice.” He hid his fear well. “Where did you go? It’s not such a great idea to be out past sunset, you know.”
She looked down sheepishly. “So I’ve heard. There are terrible things that go bump in the night.” She hadn’t meant to get caught up in her errands and be gone so long. She sat up all morning, weighing her feelings. It wasn’t an easy choice, and it was hard to know whether she was making the right one, but she decided to stick it out just for a few days until she knew she was safe from Longshadow. She had panicked last night. Even though she still had pretty major reservations, Eric had shown her he felt the same way – they both had fears about each other. They both felt vulnerable to each other in different ways, and mutually recognizing this, she felt that gave them a wary alliance. Without thinking, they had both given each other at least a little benefit of the doubt. That was something. A thin something, but a place to start nevertheless.
“I figured if I was gonna stay here a couple more days to ride out whatever shitstorm you’ve caught me up in, I at least needed a few supplies.” She pulled out a box of silverware and slapped it up on the kitchen counter, eyeing Eric meaningfully. She had more food, toiletries, and a new comforter. As she emptied out her spoils, he caught the glint of something heavy swinging about her neck.
“Lila, what is that? I haven’t seen you wear that before.”
“I know.” She went and stood in front of him where he sat on the couch, his big feet kicked up on the cheap coffee table. She set her hands on her hips. He raised an eyebrow sharply.
“If I’m gonna stick around, you better keep yourself in check. This is your reminder. Nobody lays a fang on me, and you’d do well to keep in mind that it was with some of my help and quick thinking that you got out by the skin of your teeth.” A fairly heavy silver chain hung around her neck with a round pendant. It was made from the impression of an old coin. Eric started laughing, recognizing what it was – a reproduction of a tetradrachmae coin, a piece of silver worth four drachmae. It bore the image of an owl and the Greek letters AOE.
“Flip it over, lover?” She did, revealing the delicately carved face of a beautiful woman. It had been a long time since he’d seen one of these. “Ah. The owl of wisdom. I shall never forget that you were my goddess of knowledge in the night. You are every ounce my Athena.”
Pam sidled over to see for herself. “Didn’t some philosopher you made me read say that only at dusk does Athena’s owl spread its wings and fly?”
“Yes, Pam,” Lillian answered before Eric could respond. “It means that knowledge only comes after the day has come and gone. In other words, hindsight is 20/20, and if either of you fail me in your promise to never harm me, I hope to hell that knowledge haunts you for the rest of your undying days. This is to remind you that I am mortal.”
“Where on earth did you find it?”
“Walmart baby! Who knew?” She grinned. “Oh and also…”
“Hm?” replied Eric, amused.
“If you fuck around I’ll use this bad boy in a heartbeat. I presume the silver thing is true?”
Eric howled in laughter. “Your point is fully taken. Pam, I have already sworn my pledge to protect her. I ask you to do as well.”
“Fine, but this is between us girls. Go fuck off for a minute.” He held his hands up in acquiescence.
“I meant to go clean out my car anyways. It’s still a mess in there.”
That reminded Lillian. “Eric? I meant to ask you. I thought maybe the SUV had the same glove box thingy as the Ferrari when I took it out this afternoon. It didn’t. I never asked you what in the world that was for?”
“It’s a frequency jammer of sorts. I assumed someone may have put a tracker on the car. It doesn’t block the signal, it redirects it through a satellite making whomever is watching the device think I’ve headed in an entirely different direction. I’m glad you remembered to use it, because I did find a bug under the chassis. If it’s still being monitored, it’ll look like I’m somewhere west of Phoenix by now.” He smirked, pleased with himself.
“Does the tracking bug give us any clues about who put it there?”
“Unfortunately no. Kind of upper end, but nothing unique enough to be traceable.”
“Indeed.” He headed out into the garage, leaving the two of them alone. Pam took Lillian by the hand and sat her them both down. She reached over and tapped around on her laptop. It started playing Orff’s Carmina Burana. Very loud. She increased the volume until it hurt Lillian’s ears.
“I need to say something to you, and I don’t want Eric to hear. This is between you and me. I don’t pretend to entirely understand your hold on him, but I’ve never seen Eric so attached to anyone.”
Lillian shook her head disbelieving, “Oh come on, Pam. I see how he is with you, how he speaks of his maker. You’re joking.”
“His attachment to his bloodkin is entirely different, Lillian. You must understand me. Whatever is going on between you two, you need to figure it out and fast. Something is brewing in our world and neither of us know what it is. He needs to get his head out of his ass and start thinking clearly, and he needs you to help him do that. He’ll never admit it, but it’s the truth. All of our lives may depend on it.”
“How could you possibly know…”
“Don’t make me waste time explaining. I know him, and something has changed since you came into our lives a month ago.” Looking her dead in the eyes, Pam continued. “I swear to protect you, Lillian. I will never harm you. You please my master, and whatever he wants, I want it for him.”
Lillian was once again stunned into silence. She was about to thank Pam for her honesty, when a giant Viking came tromping in holding a wad of pink stained paper towels and a spray bottle.
“Alright. Girltime is over. Pam, turn that racket off.”
“Will she live to ride another day?” Pam joked.
“I believe so. Nothing like a millennium to perfect one’s bloodstain removal technique.”
Lillian shivered, knowing it was probably other people’s blood he likely spent him time wiping up.
“So, are we ready for tonight’s fun?”
Pam rubbed her hands together. “Let me get my bag of tricks.” Most girls carried a compact in their purses. Pamela, however, kept silver dipped pliers and a selection of other vile instruments.
“Lillian, Chow has caught up with Longshadow, and we’re headed out to see him. Even though we have him now, it will likely take a few days to get him to talk. Stay until then?” For her sake, he almost managed to make it sound like a question rather than an order.
She nodded, then standing on tiptoes and carefully covering her necklace with one hand, gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for being patient with me. Be careful tonight.”
“Stay inside and don’t answer the door for anyone, ok? I have my cell if anything happens, and there’s a bunch of movies on Pam’s laptop if you get bored.”
She heard the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta fire up, and the engine roared as her two vampire companions tore off down the road.
Not surprisingly, Eric had been right about how lengthy the interrogation might be. On the first night, Longshadow refused to talk. Only by the end of the second day did Eric and Pam came home reporting that they were starting to get the information they were after. But they were cagey about sharing, saying it was early yet and some of what he was saying might be misdirection. The days were long and boring for Lillian. She stayed shut up in the safe house writing up transcripts of her interviews, reviewing notes, and taking movie breaks on Pam’s laptop. It turned out that Pam had rather…eclectic…tastes when it came to her video library. As far as Lillian could tell, Pam owned only fluffy rom-coms or stomach-turning horror films. Suffice it to say that Lillian had to endure the former, as the slasher flicks were out of the question for her. She tried not to dwell too much on the goofy plots and their inevitable, highly improbable happy endings. It only stressed her out about her own current situation. Since her (rightly deserved) freak out over realizing the guy she had sorta kinda maybe been thinking about having a relationship with was a vampire, she had no idea what to do next. To make matters worse, Eric had completely cooled on her. He wasn’t treating her indifferently, but he stopped making his usual suggestive remarks and hadn’t tried to kiss her again. She thought that when she chose to stay he would be happy, but he hadn’t even gotten off the couch when she’d returned! It was all the more confusing given his talk about how she ‘bewitched him’ and that he wanted her trust. Not to mention that Pam thought Eric was unusually attached to her, that Lillian affected his happiness. She could only assume that since he’d said their association was unnatural and dangerous that he must have reconsidered whatever it was he had wanted before. Which was maybe nothing more that what he’d said he’d wanted that night – a fuck and a bite to eat. What she wasn’t expecting was how much that realization saddened her. This is what she got for daring to hope.
Nothing about her chosen career had been made easy by the fact that she was a decently attractive, outgoing woman. Her male colleagues talked over her, her students didn’t take her as seriously. She had to work twice as hard to earn the same, or sometimes for even less, than her male counterparts. As a result, her worklife consumed far too much of her time, and it made meeting someone difficult. Plus, it was hard to find a date with a guy who wasn’t threatened by her intelligence or modest success. She’d been lonely back in Massachusetts, and it didn’t seem like there was anything that would change that. The thought started to gnaw at her, and it was why she had, for the first time ever, even considered trying to strike up something with someone involved in her research. Sure Eric came off as egotistical and high-handed, but that was mostly a superficial shield meant to deflect attention to his other qualities. He was also brilliant, witty, worldly, and fun. No one could have predicted the kind of baggage he was carrying.
She had been replaying this circular conversation in her head yet again when she heard Pam and Eric roll in. It was earlier than the previous two days, only 2am. She heard a commotion in the garage. They came in both covered in blood spatters and Eric was yelling at Pam in a foreign language and gesturing at his arm. It had a pattern of deep raw marks in the flesh and the edges were scorched.
“Oh my god, what happened! Are you okay?” cried Lillian. Eric ignored her and went straight to the fridge to pull out an already defrosted bag of blood. She’d compromised on letting them keep their meals in the same fridge as her own food, even though it still was pretty icky. Their stuff stayed out of sight in the crisper, and her stuff was on the top shelf. He ripped the corner out with his mouth and drained it with a grimace – unheated it must be especially foul. In quick succession he pulled out another bag and downed it too.
“Fucking Chow. He lost his grip on Longshadow and he managed to wing one of his silver chains at me. How am I supposed to get any work done if my underlings are so incompetent?” The wound was already sealing now.
“Uh, I’m going to go out on a ledge and guess that Longshadow is no more?”
“Oh no, honey. That would be too kind, but we’re done with him for the moment. It is safe for you to go home now,” Pam said. Lillian gulped, knowing that given all the blood, whatever they’d done was to him was horrific. So much for Eric’s “vampires are totally peaceful” load of bull. She knew she had smelled a rat.
“Are you going to be ok?”
“It’ll heal in a bit. The silver slows the healing,” Eric said, inspecting the wound’s progress. “Why don’t you collect your things while I get a shower. Then I’ll take you over to Trädkojan.”
“To The Treehouse. That’s the name of the place you’re staying in.”
“Traya-what was that?”
“Tree-yed-koy-yan” he sounded it out for her.
“I like that. Huh. My first impression of the place was that it springs right out of the forest just as if it were another tree.” He smiled weakly, then disappeared into the bathroom.
At vamp speed, he was ready to leave in a few minutes. It was a good thing she only had a couple sacs, because Eric’s trunk wouldn’t have fit much more. She’d tried not to get emotional when she said bye to Pam, but she couldn’t help but realize that this was the end of the road. She probably wouldn’t see them much more. How quickly she’d adjusted to their little routines, even in just a few short days. Eric seemed to be driving less like a maniac than usual, maybe to keep her from getting car sick. She stared out the window, her chin slumped in her hand, watching the street lamps and the run-down businesses pass by.
“You are quiet,” Eric said, breaking the silence.
A long minute passed, and he spoke again. “I do not have the gift of mind reading.” She turned to look at him.
“Don’t you?” she said sarcastically.
“Tell me what has you so engrossed out the window. Is it the lovely view of our fine town?” Now it was his turn to be a shit.
“Argh. No, Eric. I’m just bummed is all. I guess I won’t see you guys much anymore.”
Oh, christ this was an unnecessarily awkward conversation. She was going to have to pave the way if she wanted Eric to talk.
“I guess…I was just starting to get used to you.”
“And you, are as you say, ‘bummed’ because you want to keep getting used to us?”
“Well, yeah, that’s one way of putting it.”
They lapsed back into silence. Lillian felt like the opportunity to say something, if she was going to say it, was quickly slipping by.
She decided to take the leap. Reaching over, she put her hand on his arm. Her heart was pounding fast, and she knew his senses could pick up on her nervousness.
“Eric…I don’t know what, if anything, is going on between us. I…I guess you decided you don’t want to bother with me. You’ve run hot and cold on me, and I know that’s partly my fault.” He met her gaze, and without looking back to the road, slammed on the breaks and pulled the car onto the weedy shoulder. It scared the bezeesus out of her.
He looked at her intensely, then suddenly he kissed her passionately, his hands everywhere at once (though carefully avoiding the necklace peeking out around her the collar of her lavender blouse).
“MmmuhEric…” she tried to push him back. It was like trying to push a mountain.
“You don’t want it?”
“Ugh! It’s not that I don’t want it. I do. Your kiss sets the world on fire.” It was true. She’d never been so utterly devoured in a most sensual, perfect way. “I just…I can’t read minds either! Can we talk first?”
“Yes, lover, of course.” She breathed a secret sigh of relief. He’d all but entirely stopped calling her that and the host of other Swedish endearments she’d yet to translate. He put the car into gear and pulled back out onto the road. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Well, why did you just kiss me?”
“Because you said you thought I didn’t want you anymore.”
“Okay…” That was one way of going about things. “So you were trying to tell me you do?”
“Yes.” His hands tightened on the steering wheel.
“Well, talk to me about that then. What do you want from me?”
He turned to look at her again. “Everything,” he said huskily.
“Eric, jesus, eyes…road!” He just laughed at her and slowly looked back to his driving. He must have perfect peripheral vision.
Her heart must have skipped a beat, either from terror that they were about to crash or from shock at what he’d said. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to explain.”
“It is simple. I want you. I want all of you, all the time.” Her heart stopped again. Nope, it was definitely his effect.
“That’s a bit 0 to 60 in one second, no? You haven’t even looked at me twice this week.”
“I’ve kept my distance because that is what you asked me to do.”
“I didn’t mean for you to stop…you know…being you. I like flirty, witty Eric.”
“Gods, Lillian. Do you know how worried sick I have been knowing how close you came to being hurt or killed on my account?! Longshadow meant to take me, I believe to drain me for my blood. He almost certainly would have failed, but the thought that you could have been collateral damage in his attempt has driven me mad. All I have been able to think about is how to protect you, as well as Pam and myself, and how to prove to you that I am trustworthy. I have to think like a vampire to do the former, but you want me to act like a human on the latter count. I’ve had a lot of shit on my mind!”
Her head was swimming with too many questions at once. “Wha…He wanted to take your blood? Why!? Who would want it?”
“He could not tell us. He’s been silenced by a maker’s command.”
“So doesn’t that mean it’s his maker, Greyson or whatever?”
“Greysolon. Yes, it means he is somehow implicated, but it’s hard to know if he’s directly behind it or whether his plan just involved something unrelated about which his maker demanded silence. Still, it is so reckless it borders on madness. I could end both of them before they’d even realize what was happening.”
She considered this.
“Eric, do people take vampire blood as a drug, or use it as a component of one? Like in the novels?”
“I have not heard of such a thing in real life. It would be misery for the vampire supplying the blood, that is for certain. To be connected to so many people that way…it would be worse than schizophrenia…so many people in your head would be torture.”
“Does your blood heal humans? Could a doctor or someone have found out?”
“Yes, it does. But again, I cannot imagine any vampire stupid enough to risk revealing our kind, above all to science. It would be…”
“An automatic death sentence.”
“Hmm. Did you figure out why he was so desperate for money?”
“That is where it gets even less comprehensible. It wasn’t about the money. But he couldn’t tell us why he needed it. Another roadblock.”
She thought for a moment.
“If somebody had enough of your blood, could you use it to make a child against your will?” His brow furrowed.
“It would make a very weak vampire, if it succeeded at all. I have only ever known of cases where makers commanded their children to propagate. My maker is alive. Not everyone knows this, but Longshadow certainly is up to speed. If you were heinous enough to attempt such a thing, you would damn sure want to be certain the maker was dead. They would know immediately through the blood bond what had happened and kill both the weakling and the perpetrator.”
“You communicate through the bond, don’t you? I’ve seen you and Pam talking that way.”
He smiled. His Lila loved a challenge. “It’s not really talking, but more like pushing an idea or single vision at the other, wrapped in an emotion or sensation.”
“That’s freaking cool.”
“Yes, it is. Unless you have a primadonna for a child who is constantly sending you the impulse of desperately needing the latest collection from whatever fashion house she’s obsessed with at the moment.”
Lillian threw her head back and laughed. “Oh gods, only Pam! I love it.”
Eric looked at her queerly. “You have been getting used to spending time around me.” Lillian blushed, realizing she’d subconsciously picked up one of Eric’s favorite phrases. “Well, I’ve always been an equal opportunist when it comes to deities.”
“Is this so? Well, I shall have to tell you about the mighty Thor and the Bifröst, and the tales of Freyja, and describe the great halls of Valhalla…” he was letting himself get carried away.
“Eric. You can recite all of the Poetic Edda to me if you like, but on another night.”
“Is that a promise, lover?”
“Remember that. I will hold you to it.” In fact, he was thinking of holding her down for a good portion of it. A different position for each story? Match the rhythm to the mood of each tale? Now that would be fun…But he’d need more nights that just one. Gods, he could fill a calendar with his kinky version of the poetic recitation…
“Oh, I’ve no doubt you will,” replied Lillian.
He let a smile snake across his face, pleased they were talking easily again.
They had just pulled up to the neighborhood security gate, and Eric rolled down the window and gave a wave to the guard. It was someone she hadn’t seen before. They pulled through and started down the winding road to the house.
“You were saying it would be hard to make a newborn with just your blood. Why exactly?”
He sighed an unnecessary breath. He had no idea what he was going to do with her, since she seemed hell bent on ferreting out every secret he possessed and he seemed unable to deny her when she looked at him so inquisitively. “Because it is best to repeatedly give the blood and take it back. No one is sure exactly how it works, but you could think of it like draining a battery. Your vampire body takes in and recharges the energy from the battery, then gives it back, drains the energy and recharges it even more than before, etc. To make a truly great vampire, you must be very old in order to withstand the strain and not discharge your own energy in the process. The human’s body must be very strong as well. You see, the longer maker holds the energy in and lets it charge, the stronger the energy he can give back. But in the meantime the battery is left clinging to life. The maker must be so disciplined to not accidentally let the human die, and the human must have incredible fight in them to survive. To give blood just once, like in the movies…” He shuddered in horror. “I don’t know honestly. The poor creature would barely be vampire.”
He fell silent, lost to a thought. Then almost in a whisper, he said “When I was made, we were very far north in my homelands. The night was the longest in the year. The sun barely rose at all.”
“You mean…” she was stunned, “it took the entire night?” She had thought he’d meant a couple exchanges must be involved.
“No, min älskare. Three entire days.” Her hand instinctively shot up to her mouth and the other to his thigh, as if to comfort him from the memory. What had this man been through? She had never imagined the price for entering into immortality would be so high.
“Four days, really, if you count the preparation. I was fighting for my kingdom and I had slain Ulrike, avenging my father’s murder. But my wounds were many, and my brothers had already laid me on my funeral pyre. It would have been a good death. An honorable death. But Godric chose me, gods know I did not deserve his gift. He healed me entirely and shaved my beard, trimmed up the ragged warrior prince he’d found. And the next night we began.” He closed his eyes, reliving the moment. “He fought through the bleeds in the daylight and his hunger in the night and still was strong enough to keep going. Three days my master lay at my side.”
She was so humbled that he would share something so intimate, so dumbfounded at the recollection. There was hardly anything to say. “Surely, this is uncommon?”
Eric made the turn into the driveway and parked in front of the house.
“I only know of one other vampire ever made in such a fashion.”
“Who?” she whispered, unable to stop herself.
He looked at her sidelong.