I woke from my dreams of Mneseus, sweating with remembered anguish. I hated these dreams, these memories. I'd stopped having them almost fifty years ago, but it didn't make them any easier to relive. I sighed.
At least I quit setting my bed on fire.
I looked around the cozy hotel room, wondering where I should go from here. I wanted a place to call my own, a family I could protect and care for with my evil gifts. I craved home. I foolishly thought I'd have that with Stephan; that he and I would find solace in each other's arms. I sighed again, shaking off those morose thoughts, as a dog would water droplets. I needed to start thinking about the future. My future.
It was strange to finally be making decisions for myself. For the past four hundred years, I'd simply followed the dictates of a man. Even during the feminist movements of this century, I preferred to be guided, led and directed by a man. It felt right to me, to do what I was told, what was expected of me. Every instance I could remember when I asserted my will, ended with destruction and heartbreak.
I could remember my first kill; could still feel Jacob's warm body cooling next to mine as his body embraced death as if it were yesterday. He'd been the first of my many kills as a vampire. Before Stephan, I thought that was what I had to do to survive. I knew better now. I could kill, if needed; but I could also simply take a small amount of blood from a few mostly willing victims without them any wiser. I'd grown to where I didn't have to feed more than once a week; even then I could push myself if necessary.
For the most part, I've lived a sheltered life. I chose to stay at the club, or at least in Miami. I didn't stray too far, even though Stephan encouraged me to explore the world. I was no longer a prisoner, but I never really felt free. I was confined first by my deadly gift and second by my unnatural curse.
I opened the curtains to watch my last Floridian sunset before showering and heading up north. I glided into my beautiful, old, classic car I lovingly called Bertha and decided to bring her home to Detroit. Stephan bought her for me in nineteen sixty-seven right off the line and I've cherished her ever since. I don't drive much, but when I do, I make sure her custom candy-apple red paint shines. He had black flames painted along the hood and sides for me as a joke we enjoyed together. No one knew I was pyrokinetic. That was one secret I knew Stephan would take to his grave.
I drove four nights, stopping more often than was completely necessary, but was finally in Detroit where Bertha was born. I drove her slowly through the streets, marveling and disgusted at the same time at the sights surrounding me. Everywhere I looked, there were buildings and warehouses. Old, decrepit things that were barely standing and new shiny ones that produced so much waste you could taste it in the air. The stars were completely obliterated by the smog and lights of the city.
It always amazed me that the humans were capable of such monstrous creations, yet saddened me at the cost of their so-called success. Everywhere I looked, I could see the degenerates, the homeless, the addicts and the whores. This wouldn't be where I place my roots, but I knew there was a safe house somewhere in this city that I could find suitable sustenance at. After I got settled in my new home I'd search for the safe house and get decent food. I preferred my meals bottled to taking from the vein. I felt like less of a freak that way.
I'd live further north, perhaps in a small town outside of Mackinac Island. I've heard stories about that small island. The stories made it sound as if it were a town trapped in the past, forever looping in a history that's been long abandoned. I could join them, my ancient soul finally finding a place of comfort and rest. For now though, I had to feed.
I parked my beast of a car in front of a dilapidated warehouse and went off in search of sustenance. If this were to be my new hunting grounds, I'd better get used to the slums. I was certain after my self-guided tour of Detroit that the safe house wouldn't have much better to offer me than this.
I'd grown very spoiled with Stephan and his club. We were never short of healthy, willing donors. With the vampire movies increasing in demand, our donors increased as well. If we weren't exactly what the blood bags expected, well, that was their problem. I didn't want to waste my time tonight looking for the safe house here; I just wanted a quick bite, to continue my search for home.
I found a woman in the alleyway, fixing her short skirt and shoving the rest of her money into her purse. Whore's disgusted me. Why on earth would any woman choose to have this life when they could find a man to take care of them? There were so many things they could do with their lives; instead they waste away on the corners, being abused and brutalized by the very same type of man that created me. I silently shook my head at her situation. She only had a limited amount of summers on this earth. Why would she choose to be with men like that every night?
I walked with loud, deliberate steps so she'd hear and see me coming. I always liked my prey to watch me arrive. It gave me a thrill to watch as they sized me up and found me lacking. No one ever feared me, until it was too late. Most of my victims' welcomed me with open arms and a warm, willing body if I so desired. I hadn't given into the carnal desire my bite created since I transformed. I wouldn't be starting now.
"What'd ya want girl? This alley's mine." She snapped at me, looking me up and down, obviously wondering how I planned on whoring in my comfortable designer jeans and tee shirt.
I smiled in reply, revealing my canines that were just slightly larger, sharper and more pointed than a humans'. She didn't notice. Most don't until it's too late.
"I'm not a prostitute." I said, my voice purring in the dark and promising things she could never imagine with her limited experiences. I never really enjoyed hunting like the other vampires I knew, even though I was a very talented huntress.
"I don't do women." She replied, wary of my continued advancement.
"Neither do I," I confirmed.
By now I was an arm's length away from her. I could smell her cheep perfume and the musky taint of the man who'd just had her. It wasn't a pleasant combination, but I've smelled much worse.
She looked down at me in confusion, wondering why such a small woman like me had her backed up against a wall and what I was doing in the slums. Fear started mixing with her odor, creating a delicious scent and causing my fangs to fully descend.
"What do you want then?" She whispered, frozen in place against the warehouse wall.
I slowly grabbed her hand, caressing it in mine and never losing contact with her eyes. She was trembling with fear and desire. I pulled her hand toward my aching mouth as men used to do when courting women. They'd kiss the back of a woman's hand, caressing them as intimately as they were allowed to without breaking ties with public decency. I was too short to get to her carotid without causing a scene, so I turned her wrist and kissed that instead of her knuckles. I looked deep into her eyes under my lashes.
"Your blood," I whispered back and bit.
My fangs punctured her wrist before she even had time to register what I'd said. She opened her mouth to scream and let out a moan instead. My bite was always orgasmic. She writhed against me, seeking relief I couldn't and wouldn't give. She gave up on me quickly, plunging her own fingers up her skirt and finding relief as I closed the wound.
Her knees gave out and I helped her gently to the ground. I took great care of her, as Stephan had taught me to do. She gave a bit of herself so I could live; it was only polite to treat her respectfully. I brushed her hair back from her face, smiling sadly at her radiant expression. I wished I could do more for her, that I could change her future as easily as I could wipe this memory from her mind.
I sighed, tilting her head back to look her fully in the eyes and changed her memory of this night. She would know that she climaxed, but she wouldn't remember who caused her so much pleasure. She'd have some tightness in her wrist and I placed a vague memory of her hitting her wrist on the ground when she fell during her peak. In a day she'll forget all about our encounter.
I finished with the whore and went back to my car. It was still sitting where I'd left it, keys in the ignition and ready for me to go. I'd been gone less than five minutes. I jumped in and sped away, feeling rejuvenated and a bit jittery from the whore's tainted blood. I'd tasted the drugs as soon as her blood hit my tongue and knew I should look elsewhere for sustenance. Trouble was, I was impatient to start my life. I was just going to have to deal with the jitters until my body cleansed the blood of the toxins. I'd probably shake until sunrise.
I continued up the 75 until I happened upon a motel in a small town conveniently called Mackinaw City. It was right on the coast. Across the water I could see the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Mackinac Island just starting to be kissed by the morning light. It was beautiful. The whole state was covered in trees as far as the eye could see. They weren't just the palms that littered Miami, but these were ancient trees. Some of them were probably older than me, maybe even as old as Stephan! I could feel peace in the air, as I'd never felt before. Cool air swept in across the dark lake water and for the first time in a long time, I felt my lips curve into an unconscious smile. This was home.
The next morning, I lathered myself up in sunscreen, layers of clothing and a large brimmed hat and went out to see if I could find a realtor and a house. I had to find something early because the noonday sun would probably kill me. I was starting to get to where I couldn't tolerate the suns' rays at all. It made me sad to know I'd never be able to go out in daylight again, but at least I had the past three hundred years as a memory.
I found what I was looking for almost immediately. It was a small office of people all wearing the same suits. I smiled to myself at their uniformity. I'm sure their boss thought they looked classy, when in actuality they looked like monotonous drones, like they could be anyone. There wasn't room to express their personality at all. I found one lady in the back who had a brightly colored pin attached to her lapel and a photo of two smiling people in Mardi Gras outfits sitting on her desk. She had personality and wasn't afraid to hide it.
I walked up to her with a smile plastered onto my face.
"Morning. I'm looking for a house on the beach either out of town or in a very small town close to here. I like my privacy." I said to the woman as an introduction. I slid into the uncomfortable seat across from her and prepared myself for the once over.
"I can understand how you feel. I don't like a whole lot of neighbors either. What kind of house are you looking for?" She replied with the same big, fake grin plastered on her face. I have to give her credit; she didn't so much as blink when she saw me. Most people assume instantly that I'm way too young to talk to on a business level, they always assume I'm still seventeen and not worthy of their time.
"I don't really know what I have in mind as far as houses go. I just want a decent sized lot with lots of trees. It has to be on the water. I'd like to be able to see the islands." I replied.
She bit her lip and started entering things into the computer.
"What's your price range?" She asked.
"No limit. My father recently passed and I was left with an inheritance to do with as I pleased. I've never seen snow and I wanted to live here for a while." I said in reply, looking properly morose as I lied. This was always the difficult part of dealing with humans, how to fake my identity, my non-history.
Now, I'd have to remember that I've told someone my father died. In every sense of the word, it was true, he was dead and I didn't lie. She didn't have to know he died hundreds of years ago.
"I'm very sorry for your loss. It looks as if I have a couple of places that might work for you. When would you like to look at them?" She replied monotonously, almost by rote.
"Now, if that's possible."
"Sure. Let me tell Frank where I'm going and we'll head off. By the way, I'm Candy. What's your name?" She extended her hand with her fake grin firmly in place.
"Victoria." I replied, shaking her hand.
Within minutes we were on the 23 and off to look at houses. She had three that she'd printed out, and we decided to go in reverse order. We were seeing the farthest one first. It still wasn't a long drive. We passed through a very small town, one might not even call it that, called Freedom, and I knew this was where I wanted to be.
"Wait a second. How far are the houses from here? This place is great!" I asked Candy.
"There's one just off Main Street and the other two are just a couple miles away. Would you like to see the one off Main first?" She asked.
"No, the way you have it is fine. I just like the quaintness of this little town. It's cute." I grinned at her, not faking this time. I actually did like this little town.
The first house she showed me was in a small cul-de-sac with a bunch of families' running around. We didn't even get out of the car to look. The second house was tucked away, hidden amongst the trees with a slight walk to the beach. It was a large log cabin complete with dual fireplaces and plenty of fuel.
When we stepped out of the car I stood in the shade of the ancient trees and listened to the silence around me. I didn't even have to look at the house. I honestly didn't care what it looked like; I was home. A peace I hadn't felt since I was human entered my bones and I knew in an instant that this was where I wanted to be. I smiled at Candy as she started unlocking the door.
"That's not necessary. This is perfect. I'll take it." I told her with a grin.
She looked startled for a few seconds before locking the house back up and driving me back to her agency. There we filled out gobs of paperwork and I transferred money from my account into the sellers'. I waived all the inspections. If I had issues, I could just get them fixed. I didn't care about any of that stuff and if they really wanted to do it, they could come after I moved in. I was living there and no one would stop me.
A process that normally took weeks, if not months, took us a few days. Money talks and when I was waving it around like paper, it spoke volumes. While I waited for the keys to the house, I ordered furniture to be delivered and a cleaning crew. I didn't know how long the house had been vacant, but I absolutely hated cleaning. I would arrange for the cleaners to come weekly while I was down south, feeding. That way they wouldn't question my odd behavior and simply think I was a bit eccentric. I'm certain everyone I'd already met all thought that already anyway.
I opened the front door for the first time with three furniture trucks waiting in my drive. I was giddy and excited about my new life. I knew that by making such a large purchase, Stephan would know where I was, but I didn't care. I knew he'd let me be. He'd made his choice, and now, so have I.
A week had come and passed and I wasn't even close to settled into my new environment. Trouble was, I was starving. I knew better than to feed here, but I also didn't want to leave. Was this what home was like? To feel so comfortable and at peace in a place, you never wanted to leave, never felt the need for escape? It was a strange feeling.
I couldn't put it off another day. It'd been almost two weeks since feeding from the whore and I had to feed or I'd end up killing my next victim. That'd be bad.
I jumped into Bertha and sped five hours south to Detroit. That night I found a quick snack to tide me over and rented a hotel room for the day. I had to find that safe house. The tainted blood was horrible! I felt all the effects of the drugs without knowing what I was consuming. They were going to get me killed. Stephan had a firm rule that once a person becomes addicted to tainted blood and becomes unmanageable, they've signed their death warrant.
As much as I've desired death over the years, I made a promise to Stephan long ago and I kept my promises. Besides, I still held onto the slight glimmer of hope that someday things would get better. For the first time in my life, I was truly free to live my life as I wanted. If I continued drinking the tainted blood, I'd become an addict as well and Stephan would be forced to end my existence. I didn't want him to have to do that.
The next night I woke early and drove around the heart of downtown just as the Friday nightlife was starting. I was looking for the hidden bars or club scene that everyone always seemed to know about. I tried to stay away from the typical parts of Detroit, and veer off to the outskirts of town when I spotted it. I laughed out loud at the neon sign depicting the club's name. Fang. How apropos. The newest vampire craze was grating on my nerves. I swore that if I saw people dressed up as glittery vamps I was never coming back here again.
The line wrapped around the building and down the street. Fang appeared to be more popular than Krypt Keeper, if that was even possible. I wondered briefly if I'd read the signs wrong, if it was truly just a new underground club that catered to the cravers. It'd be strange if it were.
I parked Bertha in the empty warehouse lot across the street and headed over. I was in my typical club attire, clothing that reminded me a bit of my Incan days. I had on a loose black miniskirt, high heels, and a flowing top. I felt comfortable going into the club, but preferred to be without the stupid shoes.
I didn't bother waiting in line. If this club were truly the safe house I thought it was, I'd be let in immediately. I ignored the whistles, catcalls and general complaints from the humans as I sauntered past their line. I walked right up to the bouncer and flashed him fang. He looked startled for a minute before pulling the cord to let me pass.
"Have a nice night." He said amongst the groans and complaints.
I simply nodded in reply.
The club was like any other club I'd been to. It was loud, crowded and smelly. There were two bars lined up on opposite halls on the first floor, with a few small tables and big fluffy couches surrounding the dance floor. In the middle of the club was a staircase that led to another bar, more couches and another dance floor. The staircase was conveniently held up by poles that seemed to double for drunken, wannabe strippers.
It seemed to cater to the pretenders and cravers more than to the actual supernatural beings. I honed in on a spot by the balcony of the second floor where there was a couch. I went up there to sit and watch my prey.
I'd already made up my mind to drink from the vein tonight as it was more potent than the bottled blood and I didn't want to have to return here for a while. I'd probably need two or three victims tonight to avoid coming here for another week. I'd gone way too long and the addict last night was highly toxic. I could still feel the toxins trying to leave my body. Hopefully the owner of Fang would keep his club stocked with a variety of cravers like Stephan does.
I settled myself on the end of the big, fluffy, leather couch and watched the dancers. I allowed myself to become mesmerized by their movements. There was a couple off-center on the main floor that were grinding and thrusting to the beat. Each action mimed a very private act. I couldn't tear my gaze away. They made me hungry, and not just for blood. I craved what they had, what so many people had found over the centuries.
All I could think about as I watched the couple grind on the dance floor was Stephan and Natasha. They'd do this very same thing with the same lust-filled longing in their gaze as well. All my life I'd wanted someone to look at me like that, to feel such love for me that they couldn't bear to let me go. The pain in Stephan's voice as he begged Natasha to come back to him would haunt me for the rest of my years.
I watched the couple dance and was overwhelmed with a grief deeper than I'd ever felt before, yet kept it hidden in the depths of my heart. I craved what they had and knew I'd never experience it. All I'd ever wanted in all my years was love. Mneseus was right though; I was a monster. I wasn't worth loving.
Tears came unbidden to my eyes and I hastily brushed them away, relieving myself of the sight of that couple. A napkin appeared in my line of vision and I leaned back, startled.
"You looked like you could use this." A deep rumbling voice said. I looked up at the man holding the napkin. He was tall, tall like Stephan yet much wider. His red shirt clung to him like second skin and I could see his muscles rippling underneath. He had a strong jaw covered in a peppered beard, a full lower lip and the darkest chocolate eyes I'd ever seen. He'd have been extremely intimidating if it weren't for his eyes. His unruly hair was brushed back and a strand of bang kept falling artistically into them. He smiled, rendering me completely speechless.
He was more beautiful than any man I'd seen in over four hundred years. He was like a marble statue carved into life. His smile and his eyes promised a kind heart and I was instantly unraveled.
I blinked and shook my head. There must be something going on in this club. My emotions were never so out of whack before. I'd never cried in public and I certainly have never lusted after a human before.
"Thank-you." I said as I took the proffered napkin. I turned away, holding it in my hands and desperately tried to avoid looking at him.
"Can I get you something to drink?" He asked, his rumbling voice caressing me as no one else ever had.
"A Sweet Temptation, please." I heard my mouth reply before my brain had a chance to catch up. No! I didn't want anything from him! I wanted him to leave me in peace! I came here to hunt, not to... What was I doing?
I looked back up at him and smiled.
He returned the smile and I could see outlines of little dimples underneath his beard. I was grateful when he walked away. I wasn't sure I'd be so grateful when he came back.
I sat watching the dancers again, my mind not on them at all any longer, but on the broad backside of the man who left to get me a drink. Did he even know what a Sweet Temptation was? Would they even serve that here? I couldn't keep anything straight. I felt all muddled and out of sorts and I didn't like it. I was the queen at keeping my emotions under control. I had to.
"Well, well, well. Victoria. I'm surprised to find you here. When Dean said we had a newcomer, I never believed it'd be you." A voice I'd know almost anywhere invaded my thoughts, followed quickly by his pungent wolfish scent.
"Auto." I said as I leaned back in my seat, crossing my legs and appearing to all as if I were bored out of my mind. In actuality, I was terrified. I had no idea if Stephan had explained the mess with Nicholas to him yet or not. If he hadn't, and the wolves had been important to Auto, he'd retaliate with me, safe house or no. I should've remembered that this was his territory.
"What brings you to my territory?" He growled out. He was good at growling. He was a stocky man, not quite six feet tall, but still quite a bit taller than myself. He had lots of muscles hidden nicely underneath a layer of fat and tied together with an expensive Armani suit.
"I moved. Certainly your dogs told you that much, even if Stephan didn't." I replied, staring at his broad forehead. I didn't dislike Auto, but I could never get past his gift. I had issues with Shifters.
"Stephan and I have had a lovely chat. You're safe here, if that's what you were wondering. Even if this weren't my safe house, what those boys did to Stephan's mate was unforgivable. The death he gave them was too good for them. I'm in his debt and yours by proxy, for ridding me of such filth." He bowed his head, hiding his amber eyes for a brief second before looking back at me.
"I've moved up north. I was hoping to come here to hunt once a week if that was agreeable." I replied as if his words didn't wound me. I hated that everyone knew Natasha was Stephan's. I hated being reminded that I was so easily tossed aside like so much rubbish.
"I'd heard you left. Stephan's frantic about news of you. I take it you didn't leave with daddy's blessing?" He smiled at me, enjoying our friendly banter as he always did. He liked to goad me into arguments. I hated Shifters.
"He's not my father nor my maker, dog. I came to feed, not to report my whereabouts." I turned my body completely away from him, giving the impression that I'd dismissed him to hunt his dancers. Of all the places I could've ended up! I should've remembered that Auto owned the Northeast.
"You still have to get my permission, little girl." He growled in my ear.
I turned to argue with him and was interrupted.
"I think you best leave the lady alone." The man with the perfect voice came back with two drinks in his hands. He casually placed them on the little table next to the couch and stared down at Auto. He was almost a head taller than the werewolf and gave good intimidation.
"What are you going to do about it?" Auto asked the man, his body practically vibrating with anger. The stupid human should know better than to be posturing with the most powerful and ruthless werewolf in America!
In that second I realized something. This man was definitely human and had never met a supernatural being before. No Shifter or supernatural would mess with Auto like that.
I stood up to intervene.
"Well, I'd be happy to take you outside and teach you how to take no for an answer, but I'd hate to leave my date unescorted again." He replied, flinching slightly in pain.
I stopped moving as if I'd been hit. I didn't understand what he just said. I was shocked that he called me his date and couldn't understand why he flinched. Was I that disagreeable, and if I were, why would he announce to Auto that I was his, claim me as a potential mate?
Auto growled deep in his belly.
"No one talks to me like that in my club. You best get out while you still can." Auto ground out, fists clenched at his sides. I knew he hated fighting; he hated the intensity of his rage from his beast. He excelled at it and was a ruthless bastard, but most of his aggression was because of his wolfish nature. At heart he was a lover, not a fighter.
I gently laid my hands on each of their arms.
"Auto, I apologize for my friend's rudeness. He doesn't know us and I've only just met him. May I return again, as we discussed?" I addressed my question to Auto while still clenching the human’s arm in my other hand.
"Of course my darling. Stephan's daughter is always welcome here. Enjoy yourself, but please, watch the company you keep." He bowed his head to me and stalked off to find a willing female to mate with. He always did that to drive off the tension that posturing did to him.
Why he owned a safe house, I'd never know. The house leaders were supposed to maintain the peace, not aggravate it further. I watched him leave without breathing. As soon as he left the room, I let out a heavy sigh and sank back to the couch.
"You shouldn't have done that. It was sweet, but completely unnecessary. I've known Auto for a very long time." I said to the man as I reached for a drink. They both looked the same and I looked at him quizzically. "Which one's mine?"
"I ordered us the same thing." He said, blushing slightly. "I've never had one and it sounded sexy."
I grabbed both drinks, holding them away from the human.
"They served them to you!?" I was appalled! A Sweet Temptation wasn't a drink for a human's consumption! A Sweet Temptation was the unfiltered blood of a diabetic! If this man drank it, he'd know what it was at once! I couldn't believe they'd give him one, let alone two. Certainly the bartenders had been trained to know who was a supe and who wasn't.
"Of course they did. Why wouldn't they? I'm well over twenty-one and have been drinking a lot longer than you. What's your problem?" He sat next to me, his masculine scent invaded my space and I closed my eyes in bliss.
I could feel my fangs lengthen with his unique scent. I had to focus all my energy on ignoring everything this man triggered in me. I didn't even notice when he took one of the drinks from my hands.
"This isn't even very good. I don't think they put any alcohol in it, just strawberries and tomato juice." He continued as if I weren't fighting a losing battle. "Would you like me to leave?"
"No." I whispered.
"What's wrong then? Do I need to treat you like that asshole to get you to look at me?" The hurt in his voice was palpable.
"I'll never understand women. They always ask for a nice guy but gravitate towards the assholes." He murmured, too quietly for any human to hear. I could feel his aggravation coming off him in waves.
"I don't." I whispered. "I'm sorry for what you think you saw. Auto and I have known each other for a very, very long time and he's extremely protective of me. There's more going on than you could possibly understand, and I can't talk about it, so don't ask." I replied, holding his hand to keep him next to me.
I had no idea what was wrong with me. I didn't naturally touch people. Mneseus beat the need for human interaction out of me a long time ago. I just couldn't force myself to not touch him. I felt as if I needed this connection, any connection with him. It terrified me and sent tremors of joy streaking through my veins from our simple, casual contact.
"Is he your boyfriend?" He asked.
"No, I'm single." I replied with a faint blush and giggle. I didn't giggle. No one had ever asked me if I had a boyfriend before. My thoughts were a jumbled mess.
He smiled in relief.
"My name's Logan." He replied, leaving an opening for me to introduce myself.
I didn't. I just smiled. He made me feel strange inside, like I wasn't quite put together correctly and I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea to get to know him. Trouble was; I wanted to know everything about him. I wanted it so badly, I knew I should run.
"Thanks for the drink Logan, but I have to get going. See you around." I said as I stood to leave.
He scoffed, a non-committal grunt that said more than words ever could. I have no idea why I did what I did next.
"I'll be here next week at this time, if you'd care to have another drink with me." I practically whispered. My heart was beating erratically and I found myself surprised at how nervous I was. I wanted to see him again and it terrified me.
"Sure." He said, not really knowing how much it cost me to ask him to be here.I wondered if he'd show.