From my grave, I’ve watched her. Watched her in turmoil as a child, then transformed into the tenacious, alluring woman I crave today. Riley is in my mind constantly, and my need for her is excruciating. Sometimes, I can taste her, smell her; I close my eyes and I…feel her. I love her. She belongs with me. And I’ll do anything—anything—to make her mine forever.
I can still hear the human screams inside my head. Demented, painful screams of pure torture and desperation. Behind my closed eyes, the slaughter at the Tunnel 9 Club rages red with human blood. It’ll stay with me forever. All of this will.
With my strength weakened—even the tendencies I’ve acquired from being bitten by vampires aren’t enough right now—I can do little more than open my eyes and rest my forehead against the window of Victorian Arcos’s Jag. Pitch blackness stares back at me. We’re on I-16, heading north out of Savannah to Atlanta. A sign that says DUBLIN, NEXT THREE EXITS flashes by, so I know we’ve been on the road for about two hours. Is that all? Seems like a lot longer. There’s nothing to look at except billboards, so I stare blankly into the night. My other tendencies are still present, like my sense of smell, and I can detect the burnt grease from a truck-stop grill permeating the air. The pungent musk of perfume wafts on the wind. And it must have recently rained because the scent of hot wet tar rises to a choking pitch. I concentrate and turn my high sense of smell off. It irritates me. Right now, everything irritates me. Victorian has me under his control. I’ve been taken against my will. So I do nothing but stare mindlessly into oblivion. It seems to help.
Time passes. Everything becomes a blur. I want to throw open the door and jump, but my limbs are numb, limp, lifeless, as if I’ve sat in one position for too long and they’ve fallen asleep. He’s incapacitated me with his freaky vampiric mind control, and it royally pisses me off. There isn’t a damn thing I can do about it, despite my own powers. I still try to move other parts of my body; nothing works except my head, my eyes, and eyelids. Involuntary muscles, like the ones for breathing, work to keep me alive. I am totally paralyzed. And not at all surprised.
Victorian’s knuckles brush my jaw, and his hand lingers against my skin in a caress. I want to slap it away. But strangely, it comforts me. “I’m sorry,” he says, and his voice is so heavy with regret, I almost believe him. “I don’t like holding you against your will, Riley.” I look at him, and he glances at me as the headlights of an oncoming vehicle flash across his beautiful young face. “Truly. Nothing would please me more than for you to come willingly. To trust me. But you’re as predictable as you are beautiful, I’m afraid.” He smiles, and his teeth radiate an inhuman whiteness in the shadows of the Jag. Only the fluorescent glare of the stereo illuminates his features. “Besides. I have to drive.”
Victorian Arcos. Moving my eyes in his direction, I stare at him. Sharp, aristocratic features and long black hair pulled back into a queue remind me of someone who’d once dueled with pistols long ago. I want to hate his guts. A centuries-old Romanian strigoi vampire, he and his brother, Valerian, were once entombed in a grave by my Gullah grandfather’s ancestors. Now they’re free, thanks to my brother, Seth, and his rowdy friends, who inadvertently set loose the dangerous vampire brothers. Valerian is pure evil, and he’s taken Savannah and Charleston by murderous, bloodlust-fueled storm.
Vic, though…He’s a bit different. I don’t particularly trust him, but he’s not a psychotic killer like his brother. And for some reason, even though Victorian has used his strigoi mind powers to force me to leave with him, I can’t hate him. I know that he’s trying to protect me.
I left behind pure carnage at the club. If Victorian hadn’t come for me, I would have stayed and fought. I left behind a lot of loved ones, left them to fight without my help, and I feel like shit about it. I should’ve been there. Period. But Victorian wouldn’t hear of it.
Why would Victorian want to protect me, you ask? I still don’t know the answer. There is a connection between us, live and palpable, and he knows it as much as I do. I think it goes beyond the DNA we share. He and Valerian bit me and injected me with their toxins, connecting me to both of them. It’s what gave me these tendencies. Their rare strigoi vampire bloodline makes me even more unpredictable than your average human with tendencies. Don’t ask me to explain it any more than that. All I know is that I now have crazy superhuman powers, which Preacher, my Gullah surrogate grandfather, says will evolve over time.
“How’d you get a Jag, much less learn to drive?” I ask, curious.
“I taught myself. Not much to it really. As for the car, I obtained it the same way that I got you to sit so polite and still,” he answers. “Power of suggestion.”
I glare at him. “You stole it.”
Victorian sighs and gives a single nod. “I stole it.”
A few moments pass in silence. I try to move my hand toward the door handle. I summon all of my strength, so much that I shake inside, but it’s no use. Still paralyzed. The thought crosses my mind that Victorian could totally take advantage of me in my motionless state. He could touch me, rape me. No, wait. He possesses the power of suggestion. He could make me want to have crazy nasty sex with him, and I’d do it. He could even drain my blood. Yet, he doesn’t. Why is that? Why is he taking me away? And more to the point—where? I’d asked him earlier, and he’d simply said, “When the time is right, I’ll tell you.” Those questions and more pull at my brain as weariness overcomes me. The world fades away as my lids close over my eyes. For a while, I rest. As I drift off, I feel Victorian smoothing back the hair from my face.
I don’t know how long I sleep before the visions take over, but they, too, trap me just as easily as Victorian’s mind control. Behind my closed lids I lie awake, once again envisioning the macabre bloodbath we’d left behind hours ago at Tunnel 9. With a forceful jab, my senses kick in, and in my dream state I slip under just enough to return to that place of horror. Just outside of my dream state, I can hear “24” by Jem filtering faintly from Victorian’s stereo through my auditory senses. Soon the music shifts within my dream state, my body seems to float, and I know the music now comes from the surround sound at Tunnel 9. It’s sifting through the hazy room filled with humans. They dance, moving to the music, rubbing their bodies seductively against each other. Invisible, I look around. Most are high as a frickin’ kite. Some are just sex-crazed, hormonal twenty-something-year-olds trying to get laid. Others are partying, drinking. All are being hunted. I am nothing more than an invisible bystander. Watching.
The first drop of blood is shed as a newling attacks a human. Newlings are nasty, out of control, brand-new vampires with a voracious appetite. They have no decision-making skills and zero self-control. With an involuntary inhalation, I smell it. Taste it on my tongue. I even lick my lips. A scream breaks through the music, and I turn to see the owner of that first drop of blood. A not-so-young guy, maybe thirty. Pale skin, black eyeliner. That’s as far as I get in my inspection because his head is now literally hanging on by a flap of skin at the side of his neck. He just stands there, teetering, alive but not, his body in shock after a newling chewed through his throat, spinal cord, and bone to get to his artery. That’s the thing about newlings. Inexperienced. Starved. Fucking messy. They haven’t learned yet to go straight for the heart.
All hell breaks loose then; newlings filter through the crowd of partiers. The humans try to fight at first. More blood is shed. Newlings rip into their victims. The heavy metallic scent hangs in the air like fog, thick with fear and hunger. The humans scream, run. There’s so much blood; arterial spray on the walls, on the humans, pooling on the floor. Deep within me, a pang takes me by surprise. I feel all warm inside, then scorching hot. The sensation fires from my core, down both arms to my fingertips, down my torso, legs—to my toes. It claws at me. It is need. It’s so fierce, so vicious, I cry out.
Why am I reacting like this? I’m not a vampire. I’m not a newling. I’m a human with tendencies. I may have taken on some of the traits of vampires when Victorian and Valerian bit me, but I’m not like them. This sensation, or whatever it is, scares the hell out of me. Yet something pulls at me. Unfamiliar. Desperate. Horrifying.
My eyes fix on a human; I don’t see male or female. I smell only the warm blood coursing through their veins. As I breathe in, I can taste it on my tongue. I want it. Need it. Will do anything to get it.
In reality, my body begins seizing. I shake, shudder, convulse. Slowly, the screams fade; the metallic scent weakens. My need is still strong though, and I struggle to bring the scent of blood back. In the darkness, I can no longer see the humans; the club has disappeared. I’m on my back on a firm yet soft surface. I now smell pine, fresh cut grass. Slowly, I open my eyes.
The sounds and smells around me bring me back to the present. I’m no longer in Victorian’s Jag. I’m lying on the ground next to a parking lot; cars and semitrucks whiz by on the highway, unevenly, at various speeds. A can dispenses through a soft-drink machine. Laughter echoes in the distance. A stereo system blasts Twisted Sister, one speaker blown in the back. My vision clears as I fixate on what’s before me. Victorian is straddling me. He has my arms pinned above my head. Holding me still. My eyes scan past him. We’re at an interstate rest stop. Concrete buildings with restrooms and drink machines.
I find my voice, and I struggle against him. “What are you doing?”
Victorian studies me. His grip on me tightens and he frowns. “You don’t remember?”
For a second, my brain races. I don’t remember, and I don’t lie still enough to try to make myself remember. I buck—hard. Victorian’s grip breaks, I leap up, and take off. My legs are weak, though, and no sooner do I make it ten feet than I’m down again. Struggling, I manage to find my footing and take off. Slices of light from several tall lamps illuminate the side of the concrete building of the rest area; I avoid it and run straight for the shadows and the trees beyond. My body jerks, and my knees give out. Once more, I force myself up and try to run. Strength floods my body so intensely, I can feel it, as though strength itself is a liquid and someone has poured it straight into me. With arms and legs pumping, I fly through the darkness. Speed is one of my tendencies, and I’m fast as hell. I don’t care who sees me. It’s not like there are a lot of people out at the rest stop at two a.m. In seconds I’m sifting through dense pines, and because I’m still wearing the same gauzy skirt, tank, and Vans I had on at Tunnel 9 hours before, brambles grab my bare legs and scratch the holy hell out of them. I don’t care. I have to get away. Ease the craving now gnawing at my insides—