by Margaret L. Carter
Ellora's Cave (www.ellorascave.com)
A siren wailed through the clear night air.
Gillian eased off the accelerator, downshifted and steered her vintage Corvette onto the freeway shoulder.
About time! Where are the cops when you need them? She had started to think she would have to drive halfway to Los Angeles to run into a speed trap.
She braked, then turned off the ignition just as a California Highway Patrol car pulled up behind her. Dinnertime! Gillian got out of the driver's seat and stood by the open door, assuming a "lost waif" expression. Or as waiflike as a woman almost six feet tall could look. Her elfin-thin face and boyish figure helped.
The officer emerged from the patrol car and strode toward her. He was blond, broad-chested, and tall, at least two inches taller than Gillian. Good, she preferred males she didn't have to bend over uncomfortably far to nibble on.
"What's wrong, officer?" she said in a breathy whisper, to force him to approach closer to hear her. His clean scent sharpened her appetite. This hunting method snared much more satisfying prey than she would catch by cruising bars. "I didn't think I was speeding."
Brandishing his notepad, he said, "Miss, you were doing at least eighty-five."
"Oh—I'm sorry. I must have been daydreaming." She stretched out a hand to brush his collar with one fingernail, while her eyes held his gaze. She knew he saw pinpoints of crimson glowing in their depths. She made no attempt to hide this inhuman trait, for his vision was already glazing over. Even though still young for one of her kind, she had no trouble casting a glamour over any human subject who wasn't prepared to resist.
"Daydreaming. Not a good idea on the freeway."
"I know. I'll never do it again. You don't want to give me a ticket, do you?" she murmured. Her touch intensified the effect of her hypnotic stare.
"Not really—" His hands dangled, barely keeping a grip on the ticket book.
She pressed her fingertips to the warm flesh on the side of his neck, relishing the throb of the pulse beneath the skin. "Let's go back to your car."
After guiding the man into the driver's seat of the police car, she slipped into the passenger side. She gently turned his head so that his eyes focused on hers again. The car's radio crackled, unheeded by either of them. "Now I'm going to kiss you. You want that, don't you?"
He slowly nodded.
She scattered feathery kisses over his cheeks and temples, avoiding his lips; somehow that contact seemed too intimate, despite what she was about to do. His breathing quickened. His skin temperature rose, sharpening her appetite. Strong emotion added spice to the blood, and sexual desire flavored it most intensely. Her empathic sense drank in his rising passion. The background noise of distant traffic blurred to an oceanic roar in her ears. Gripping the back of his neck, she unbuttoned his collar and fastened her mouth on his throat. Her tongue flicked rapidly, teasing both him and herself while the enzymes in her saliva augmented the painkilling effect of her hypnotic spell.
He gripped the edges of the seat. When her razor-edged incisors pierced his skin, his hips arched. The salt-sweet gush of blood sent heat surging from her mouth to every cell of her body. The thrill rippled through her taut nipples and the hypersensitive flesh between her thighs.
For a second she almost stopped drinking. I shouldn't feel that way. Normally, her pleasure was diffused throughout her body, radiating from the spot where she luxuriated in the taste of her prey. She didn't expect such intensely localized sensations.
Never mind. Think about it later. She yielded to the ecstasy.
Her victim groaned aloud as she sucked and licked the tiny wound. She dropped her free hand to the zipper and ran her open palm along the hard ridge that angled across his lap. He thrust into her strokes. She drew one last, long swallow of hot blood and pulled away. She pressed against the wound to stop the bleeding, meanwhile lightening the pressure of her hand.
His moan of frustration reminded her of the final step she needed to take, according to the rule she'd learned when her need for human blood had first awakened: "You have to pay them back for your meals, even if it's with pleasure they'll have to forget the source of. That's only fair." Her memory recited the words in the voice of her mother, Juliette. Smiling, Gillian wondered how it would feel to be—intimate—with her prey.
What am I thinking about? Just take care of him and get away from here!
Massaging the back of his neck, she murmured, "Shh, it's all right. In a minute you're going to take a little nap. When you wake up, you'll forget you ever saw me. You pulled over to rest for a minute and fell asleep. All you'll remember is a dream, a very nice dream."
Inch by inch, she pulled down his zipper, while the fingernails of her other hand skimmed the nape of his neck. His erection sprang free. She circled his shaft, meanwhile nuzzling his throat without quite reopening the wound. He arched his back, rising out of the seat, as he thrust into her palm. Engorged with blood, his organ felt on fire to her. "Yes," she hissed against his flushed skin. "You're in the arms of your ideal woman, plunging into her. She's wet and hot. You've never been so stiff before, you've never come so hard."
His hips pumped. With the frantic acceleration of his movements, his heartbeat thundered in her ears. His heat and musk filled the car like a cloud of incense. At his moment of release, she nipped the skin of his throat and tasted one more drop of blood. Her own body echoed the climax as he erupted.
She licked her fingers before wiping them with his handkerchief, then pressing the square of cloth into his lap. Semen had a flavor tantalizingly similar to blood.
"Now," she whispered, "close your eyes." Leaving him to the fantasy she had planted in his mind, doubtless a thrill more intense than he'd ever shared with a human female, she returned to the Corvette and drove away.
Now if that were Paul, she thought, I might not mind getting a little--closer. She squelched the image, annoyed at herself for letting it arise in the first place. Her association with her collaborator Paul Shelby had to remain businesslike; anything else could be dangerous. She mustn't even let herself wonder how he would taste. In fact, she'd made a point of feeding well tonight because she had a meeting with Paul the next day and she didn't want to be hungry when she saw him.
Lately she'd caught herself thinking of Paul more and more, outside the boundaries of their writer-photographer partnership. She'd felt oddly restless in the past few weeks, even dreaming about him several days in a row. Her nonhuman neural patterns required only a few hours of REM time per week, vague, fleeting images that evaporated upon waking. The vivid scenarios that haunted her weren't normal. Those tantalizing visions wrecked what should be peacefully dreamless day-sleep.
Rolling her window all the way down, she let the desert wind blow through her short, curly red hair. The feeding had infused her with energy; she wanted to banish pointless worries and enjoy the sensation. She took the next exit and reentered the freeway southbound, headed for her home in El Cajon, a suburb east of San Diego.
Half an hour later, she breezed into her townhouse still high on her victim's blood and passion. Just inside the foyer, she stopped short, her exhilaration flattened by an all-too-familiar metallic scent in the air. Extending a telepathic tendril, she brushed the surface of the intruder's thoughts. Only the surface; hard, smooth,and cold. Despite the blood-bond they shared as mentor and pupil, he never allowed her into the depths of his mind. Lord Volnar.
She drew the front door shut and fastened the deadbolt. She didn't need to ask how he'd got in, since he had a key. But she couldn't imagine why he was visiting, with no prior notice. Now that she was too old to need constant supervision, she saw her adviser only a few times a year, a schedule of which she heartily approved. And their last meeting had occurred only nine days earlier.
She marched into the living room, folded her arms, and glared down at the man seated on the low, sea-green sofa. In the dark room, his eyes gleamed red. "What are you doing here? I'm not a kid anymore. You can't just barge in anytime."
With a tight smile, Volnar gestured at the other end of the couch. "Sit down, Gillian."
As she did so, perching stiffly on the edge of the cushion with her hands clutching each other in her lap, his nostrils flared, and his thick eyebrows arched. Not for the first time, she observed how much he looked like Stoker's description of Dracula in the original novel—aquiline profile, high forehead, iron-gray hair, thick moustache, eyebrows meeting over the nose. She knew there must be a story behind that resemblance, one he'd never told her.
"At least you could've called first."
"Pointless," he said. "You would have wasted time trying to persuade me to stay away."
"You bet I would. I don't need you hovering over me anymore. So what's wrong? I haven't done anything I can think of."
His smile widened to bare his teeth. "Why do you assume I'm here to chastise you? I have good news."
Suspicious of Volnar's idea of "good news," Gillian didn't quite relax, but she did sit back and unclasp her tightly entangled fingers. "What's going on?"
"Last time I visited, I noticed a change in your body chemistry, your—fragrance. Now it's more obvious. I'm sure of it—you're about to go into estrus."
"What?" Her heart accelerated. She drew a deep breath and willed her pulse to a slow, even rhythm. "Happy, happy, joy, joy," was not her first reaction. "That's impossible. I'm only twenty-six. I shouldn't start for another four years."
"That's the typical pattern for our species. You are not typical. You're one-fourth Homo sapiens, completely unpredictable."
"I did start needing to feed on—human prey—younger than normal. But this—I'm not ready. Can't you do something to stop it?" She realized the silliness of that plea almost before the words emerged from her mouth.
"Stop it? Child, this is an unprecedented opportunity. With your human genes, anything is possible. You might even be fertile at your first heat. If so, we mustn't waste it."
Her throat tightened with anxiety. Maybe he's right. The way I reacted to that policeman—
"If I really am going to be fertile a week or two from now, the last thing I want is to get pregnant. You know how I feel about that stupid breeding program of yours."
"Young lady, without that ‘stupid program’, you wouldn't exist. I've lavished enormous amounts of time and energy on you. I expect cooperation. You know how our birthrate has dropped over the past few centuries."
"Of course I know. You never let me forget it. Human DNA is going to revive our gene pool, I have a duty to the race, yada, yada." Momentarily she wondered where she got the nerve to be rude to her adviser, the most ancient of their kind.
He showed no anger. With his power, he didn't have to squander emotion. "I never let you forget it because it's important. You can certainly spare a little of your time for the good of your people."
"A little time!" She jumped to her feet and paced around the room, fists clenched at her sides. "Eleven months of pregnancy, three or four years of breast-feeding—"
"Out of a lifetime that will last for millennia. Calm yourself and think rationally. You have to mate with someone. The compulsion is irresistible. So you may as well accept my choice."
"Your what?" That couldn't mean what it sounded like.
"Unless you already have someone in mind? No? I assumed not."
Her nails dug into her palms. She flexed her fingers to ease the muscle spasms. "You're not saying you've picked a mate for me?"
"Of course. If you're capable of conceiving, we can't leave the father to chance. Since you have little or no background to base a choice on, it's logical for me to make that decision."
"Now wait just a minute!" She choked down the rage boiling up in her throat. She knew her aura must be sparking like a thundercloud. His remained as serene as ever. "I pick my own mate! Females of our species always do. You can't take that right away from me."
"You are not an ordinary female. While it's unlikely that you'll ovulate the first time, in view of your heritage—"
"Damn my heritage!" Lightheaded with anger, she breathed deeply until the red mist cleared from her vision. "Those human genes you keep lecturing about come from my father and he hates the whole idea of this selective breeding crap as much as I do. He wouldn't put up with this for one minute."
Volnar's eyes hardened. "He has nothing to say about it. In view of his human mind-set, I've allowed him an unusual involvement in your upbringing. But not something this important." He stood up, though he didn't approach her. "Don't you want to know whom I've chosen?"
"Doesn't matter, because I won't do it."
"Luciano Rossi. A good bloodline, proven fertile, but he hasn't yet sired enough offspring to cause problems with future inbreeding, if he should succeed in impregnating you."
"You've got to be kidding." A futile outburst, since her adviser never joked. She visualized Luciano, slightly over five centuries old, born in Italy, with dark, wavy hair in dramatic contrast to his vampire-pale skin. Attractive, no doubt about it, probably a ravishing success with human females.
"I know what he thinks about `half-breeds' and `lap dogs who pretend to be wolves' and contaminating the gene pool with lower life forms. I overheard him ranting about it once, not that he tried very hard to keep me from listening. I can't stand him."
"That's irrelevant," said Volnar with a dismissive wave of his hand. "It's not as if you're expected to marry each other, like ephemerals. One night and you never have to see him again."
"Yeah, well, one night is about twelve hours too long." She flung herself down on the sofa. "Why are we arguing about it? Luciano would never want me, anyway."
"On the contrary, he has already agreed."
Her pulse stuttered in renewed shock. "You asked him without even talking to me first? You—" When she'd forced her emotions back under control, she said, "Oh, I understand. He wants to get on your good side. The Prime Elder favors interbreeding with ephemerals, so Luciano decides to have a change of heart. That's the only reason he could possibly have to mate with a half-breed."
"His reasons shouldn't concern you. The point is that he's a superb physical specimen, with enough experience to give you a pleasant initiation."
"Right, about as pleasant as being staked out in the desert at high noon." A possible escape occurred to her. "Why don't you mate with me yourself? Like you said, I have to do it with somebody. You're bound to have more—experience—than Luciano."
"Out of the question," Volnar said. "I've already sired more than enough offspring. The purpose of this project is to increase our genetic variety, not subtract from it."
"Then let somebody else do the increasing. I won't let that man near me."
Volnar's lips quirked in amusement. "What will you do about your needs, then?"
"Maybe I won't have to do anything. You said yourself; all bets are off because I'm one-fourth human. Maybe my estrus will be weak enough that I can ignore it, ride it out by myself."
"You don't know what you're saying, young lady." Sitting beside her, he took her hand. "That's extremely unlikely. And if you find yourself overcome by the full force of the compulsion, with no mate available—I would not want you to suffer that agony."
His cool touch sent an unexpected shiver up her arm. She snatched her hand away. Her skin felt too tight, and her head began to pound with tension. "I'll worry about that when it happens. Now that you've ruined my night, get out of here!"
He started for the door. Pausing on the threshold, he turned toward her and said, "I can feel it approaching already. You must certainly be aware that your physical response to me isn't normal. Soon, Gillian—probably within the week. Be prepared to accept Luciano."
Only after the door shut behind Volnar did she work up the nerve to snarl, "The hell with that! I'd rather mate with an ephemeral."
Abruptly Paul's image flashed into her mind. A flood of heat rushed over her.
I have to get out of here. At this rate I'll never be able to sleep tomorrow.
Hurrying out the back door of her condo, she threaded her way through the townhouse complex to the open desert behind it. Ice plants crunched under her sandals. Jogging up a steep hillside to the top of a ridge, she inhaled the deliciously cool breeze that blew toward her. After stripping off her clothes, she spread her arms wide and yielded to the electricity that danced over her skin. Silken fur sprouted on her arms, back, and face. Her teeth sharpened. Wings erupted from her shoulders. She shuddered with the thrill of the change.
Launching herself into the air, she glided over the open land. Her flight wasn't true flying, but levitation, with the wings to steer and provide balance. Regardless of the technicalities, the sense of delirious freedom swept away her anxiety and rage. She knew she shouldn't fly this near a populated area, but tonight she didn't care.
An hour later she returned home and retreated to her darkroom, immersing herself in work. By dawn, she had tired herself enough to sink into the deathlike daylight sleep.