It’s a delicate balance sorting through someone’s ravaged mind. Although all vampires are able to perform mind control and erase memories, not all are gifted in how to use the power with subtlety. What can be damaged can almost always be fixed, but the return of lost knowledge is not always a good thing for the victim.
I’m going to start questioning Sheba gently and I need a calm quiet place to do so. Leading her back through the lobby, I head toward our private suite of rooms behind the kitchen. We enter the hotel kitchen and find Paul, whom I nod a greeting to as he prepares a bloody mary with bagged blood for a vampire guest. He returns my greeting with a more reserved nod of his own. Looks like the poor bugger still feels the effects of last night.
“Paul, would you mind preparing breakfast for Rafe and having it ready by 7:30?”
“Sure thing. What would he like?”
“His usual: sausage, a two-egg veggie omelet, and rye toast—heavy on the butter.”
Paul shakes his head. “I don’t know how a man can eat like that four times a week and not have a heart attack.”
I smile elusively and reply. “Good genes, I guess.” Remembering Jonathan’s appointment with us for this morning, I add, “Oh, and could you make a rare steak with lots of potatoes, and a four-egg meat omelet, as well? Jonathan is coming by for an early morning meeting.”
“You got it.”
Sheba and I continue through the kitchen to a security door nestled in a corner by the walk-in fridge. At a swipe of my key, the door opens into a narrow hallway. While Rafe and I enjoy our privacy, it is not unheard of that we bring people back to visit. We both love having our own space and this suite occupies the rest of the west wing, with the kitchen and small dining room taking up the front. That makes this more like a private apartment within the much larger building.
The hall opens into a comfortable living room and beyond lies our small kitchen. I gesture to the seating area for Sheba to help herself to a seat.
“I’d like to talk with you a bit before we begin,” I say. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks.” She lowers herself to the couch and looks up at me with big eyes. “Is this going to hurt?”
Very good question and I don’t have an answer for her until I see for myself the extent of the damage.
“I’m not sure, Sheba, it may. Do you want me to return your memories to you if I can fix things, or would you feel better not knowing?”
She meets my eyes with the first hint of a backbone in her gaze. “Of course, I want to know what happened. Who wouldn’t?”
“You say that now, but let me tell you what we found last night before you decide.”
I fill her in on finding the corpse and Rafe’s discovery of the wallet. Hard to believe it was only thirteen hours ago. Her eyes fill with tears when I mention the victim’s name.
“Are you sure? John Pierre Vaughn?” The first tear spills down her cheek.
“Yes, did you know him?”
“He’s a member of our seethe. A companion like me. But he didn’t come on the trip with us.” She shifts in her seat, nervous from the last revelation.
“Would there be any reason he would come here if he wasn’t included in the invite?”
Most master vampires like to leave all the cares of their seethe behind, humans and lesser vampires alike, and travel with a small retinue. The MacKellans, unlike Salvador’s group, are rare in that they brought three vampires with them on their trip.
Sheba twists her hands in her lap, distress starting to mar her smooth visage. “John Pierre had shown a lot of interest in me lately and Sal didn’t want him to distract me from my fun here.”
Hmm, isn’t that interesting?
“Why would Sal worry about distracting you? Aren’t you happy with them?”
“No, no, I am. But John Pierre…well, he’d been talking of leaving the family and…”
“Yes?” I’m on the edge of my seat here. I know she’s nervous, but if she doesn’t spit it out soon I’m going to scream.
She heaves a great sigh and collapses into the back of the couch. “He wanted me to join him and asked me to marry him. I didn’t feel the same way about him and had to break it to him before we left.” The tears start in earnest now, spilling down her cheeks in rivulets. “I guess none of that matters now, does it? You’re sure it was him?”
“I’m not sure of anything. We can get you a picture later to confirm.”
Yeah, after I defrost the body and take one. I’ll get right on that, honey. What the hell was I thinking making that offer?
Maybe I’ll let Sal ID him and he can confirm it for her. I’d hate the last time she sees him to be a picture of him frozen solid. But wait, who am I kidding? She could very well have been there when the murder took place and saw it all. If I can restore her memories, that will be what she remembers last.
Ugh, this is going to suck, and not in a good way.
“How can you help me get my memory back from yesterday?” Sheba says.
“Have you had a vampire bite feel exquisite and bring you pleasure?”
She throws her head back and laughs. “Why else would I be here? For their sunny disposition and giving natures? It’s all about the bite, baby.”
Well, that certainly tells me a lot about Sheba and her seethe now, doesn’t it? They sound like a bunch of groupie fang-bangers. To each their own. I’ll keep my judgments to myself. Or at least, I’ll try.
“Okay, then, glad we got that covered. My point was, the vampire ‘rolls’ your will under their own with their mind and that’s how you feel the intense sensations. Rolling you under their control is another way to say they’ve invaded your mind.”
Her face sobers and she straightens up. “You mean any of you can go in my head at any time?”
Could she really be this dumb? Apparently she is, and Sal must prefer to keep his food that way. Not to my taste, but, eh, I know I’m not the average vampire.
“Never look us in the eye, Sheba, and you’ll be safe. I can’t believe after a year, you didn’t know that.”
“I guess I got caught up in the lifestyle.” She quickly looks away and down at her hands, wringing them in her pool wrap. “You know, the big house, the clothes, no need to work… All that great sex was only the icing on the cake.”
She has a dazed look to her, as if all the events in her life are taking on a new significance.
“Finally see you’re playing with more then you can handle?”
Her gaze sharpens and she looks at me with something akin to dislike on her lovely features.
People rarely thank you for opening their eyes up to the lies they are comfortable living with. Seems the realization of her party life is starting to hit home, and she might be looking to place blame. Yeah, God forbid she look in the mirror for that one.
“I have a feeling Sal has protected you from a lot of the true nature within the seethe. Shielding you from family politics and power plays. He made sure you remained untouched by the inherent darkness within a group of vampires. Some may consider that admirable, but I think it’s a gross injustice to you. Now can you understand why John Pierre might have wanted to leave?”
She doesn’t answer my obvious implication, dismissing it and moving on to one of her own. “So, you think I might have been there when he was killed, don’t you?”
I hold back the insane urge of wanting to roll my eyes. Her beauty made me want to hope for the best, but she is starting to sound more and more like an opportunist—happy to get a good lay and a free ride. I know I can’t save the world, and I know some people get exactly what they have coming to them, but no matter what I think, Sheba did not deserve to have her mind trashed like a house of cards. Damn Sal and his selfishness.
“Yes,” I answer. “I think it’s a strong possibility that you saw something and the killer had to silence what you know. In the bigger picture, you’re lucky he didn’t kill you too.”
It’s apparent by the shock on her face that this thought had not occurred to her. “Could I be in danger? Could the killer come after me?”
The laugh rips from my throat before I have a chance to contain it. Stupid people do that to me sometimes, make me lose myself and forget my decorum.
“Let me get this straight,” I say, gasping for air, “you live with vampires and let them feed from you but now you’re worried about the danger you could be in? Oh, darling, how old are you?”
“Twenty-two,” she answers, not meeting my eyes.
“Old enough to know that nothing in life comes for free and you should stop selling your ass. Face it, that’s what you’ve been doing for a year now.” There goes my short-lived attempt not to judge. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that if you want to be taken seriously by Salvador and the rest of the seethe, you have to prove your worth beyond that of donating blood?”
Oh. My. God. I think she’s serious.
“Get a job or work within the seethe to better it and protect it. Make a difference to them and stand out. If you don’t, you’ll be forever looked at as food and not worthy of any other title in their eyes. They’ve been keeping you like a pampered pet for a year and you let them.”
“I… I hadn’t… ” She hangs her head and fingers the pretty beads on her silk sarong. “You’re right. It was too easy to take and not really pay attention. I feel like a fool.”
“No offense, honey, but you’ve been playing the fool. These are not some characters from a movie and this life isn’t glamorous. Vampires try to blend in like regular people with jobs living night to night and fighting to not misstep and be uncovered for what they really are. They form the family to protect each other and to care for the ones they love, but companions like you come and go. Have you talked to anyone who’s left the seethe?”
That question gives her pause. It never fails to amaze me how many young people get roped into this lifestyle thinking about the books they’ve read or the movies they watch. There are no Goth mansions on the outskirts of the big cities. No bodies drained of blood scattered across New Orleans. There are no cults having massive blood and sex orgies in small towns in the Midwest. Wouldn’t people notice that sort of thing? I’d think it would make the evening news somewhere.
Sheba collects her thoughts then raises her head to answer my previous question. “Yes, I have seen some of the others who left. I know they are safe.”
“I never doubted they were safe. Most would have a family or friends who would call the cops if they disappeared, unless the master prefers runaways and street people. But more important, did they remember you?”
I can see she’s slowly figuring out where I’m going with this. She pulls some strength from inside, straightening her back before responding.
“Yes, they did.” Her face scrunches up in an effort to recall the details. “But they weren’t the same. They didn’t remember much about the house or our lives there. I thought they were pretending or maybe embarrassed by some of the things we had done together with Sal and Theresa.”
Good, that tells me Sal does not do a complete mind-wipe. He does the barest he has to do, and I respect him for that. It’s the same thing I do here with the employees when they leave.
“No, Sheba, Sal clouded their memories to protect the seethe. Similar to the compulsion he has placed on you not to reveal what you know when you visit your family and friends from before you met him. His only other choice would be to kill them. Salvador isn’t a stupid man and unexplained deaths are noticed.”
“So you’re telling me when I do leave, I’ll be okay but won’t remember anything?”
“You’ll remember some, but not enough to know there are vampires in the world or that you donated blood to them. It will not change the core of who you are.”
She looks like she can’t decide if she’s relieved by this news or put off. And of course, I don’t have to wait long for her to reveal why. Her beauty and grace are refreshing, but her self-centeredness and base laziness prove tiresome.
“I have a journal,” she says with a triumphant lilt to her tone. “I write down everything I do in the seethe, or should I say whom?” She finishes with a big grin.
Ah, I was right. She’s hoping to write a book or sell her story when she leaves.
“You mean to tell me after all we’ve discussed, you honestly think Sal doesn’t know about it already? Or that you’d be allowed to take it with you?”
A movement in the kitchen brings my head around. Rafe walks out wearing only a pair of black, skin-tight boxer briefs. I’m not thrilled he’s wearing them in front of this lazy fangbanger, but at least he didn’t come out naked.
He starts to busy himself with making coffee and I glance at my watch to see it’s after seven. I wish he’d had more sleep, but with the Were blood in him, I doubt he needs any more.
My guest has straightened up in her seat on the couch. Her eyes linger on Rafe’s solid thighs and round, firm butt. I smile then turn to look back at him as well.
The light dusting of golden hair covering his body looks soft and inviting. His muscles fairly ripple below his skin and he looks like he stepped out of an underwear ad on a Times Square billboard. The broad expanse of his back faces us and he’s focused solely on the task of making coffee. I know he heard us in here, so why would he come out half naked?
I open a link to him to see why. Morning, my love. Why are you tempting this poor girl so much?
I thought you could use a little distraction. When I woke, I listened to the conversation and could see your thoughts were starting to fall into the I don’t like her as much category. You need her and you need her pliant.
I hate it when you’re right. But I love to see you semi-naked so I’ll hold my peace.
Rafe clears his throat, continuing to work at the counter. “Morning, ladies, just getting the coffee started. I’ll be back out in a minute after I’m dressed. Would either of you care for a cup when it’s done?”
I can drink liquids but don’t need much. The idiot that thought vampires don’t use the bathroom should be shot. Seriously, where would all the blood go?
One glance at Sheba tells me she might not have heard a word he said. Yes, he really is that breathtaking to look at with nothing on.
“I’ll have half a cup,” I say. “How about you, Sheba?”
“Um…what?” Her gaze finally breaks from his ass and she looks back at me with a slight blush of embarrassment. “Did you say coffee?” I nod. “Sure, that would be great. Thank you.”
“Great,” Rafe answers. “I’ll be back in a few.” He heads to our room without looking back at us.
I wonder if Rafe’s position in the kitchen means something. He didn’t turn to face us the entire time.
You’re not turning around for a reason, aren’t you? You’ve got morning wood! My delight rings through in our connection and I get a nice warm feeling thinking about it.
I don’t mind distracting you both, but I didn’t want to go too far. She doesn’t need to see everything now, does she?
You’re such a tease! Go get dressed and come right back, would you? I could use your help for this next step.
Sheba appears more relaxed now that Rafe has made an appearance. Maybe she was more nervous than I thought about coming back to our suite alone with me.
I hear Rafe moving around in our closet with lightning speed. He returns, wearing a pair of jeans and a snug, blue V-neck sweater that hugs every hard plane of his chest. His loose-limbed gait draws Sheba’s eye when he saunters back through the kitchen. She gives a little gasp when he heads right over toward us.
I hear her audibly swallow as he seats himself on the chaise lounge end of the L-shaped couch she’s seated on. With only the couch and the chair I’m in, he really had no other place to sit.
Rafe relaxes back and smiles at Sheba. “Coffee will be a few more minutes. Am I right in assuming, Sheba, that you’re going to let Vivian help you recall your memories from yesterday afternoon?”
Phrasing it in such a way effectively compliments her actions and makes her feel like she has some choice in the matter. The simple fact that I can make her do what I want doesn’t always set one up as likeable to a guest. Rafe makes her feel like she’s doing the right thing and I’m grateful he thought to say it.
“Yes,” Sheba says. “It seems like the best way to find out what happened to John Pierre and I hope I can help.” She seems to have gained a bit more strength. The time’s as right as it will ever be so I rise and move closer to her.
I lower myself onto the free cushion between her and Rafe and look deeply into her eyes. “As I said before, I’m not sure about what I’ll be able to reveal. We’ll have to find out together, okay?”
She nods her head and returns my stare, eerily echoing my previous inner thoughts. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
Without letting her have a moment to wonder when, I force my will forward and grasp her mind in my mental sway. Rafe’s hand reaches out to rest on my shoulder. The contact strengthens our bond, enabling him to see what I see.
Reading memories isn’t the same as when I sense desires, that coiling mass of emotions right below a person’s consciousness. Memories are more like moving snap shots scrolling past in a linear flow. I can see that some of hers have black holes poking through them like some macabre Swiss cheese. I don’t have to go back far since it was only yesterday, but what damage I can see appears pretty awful.
The desire to purge was so strong that the attacking vampire was heavy-handed when he came in to silence her. I can see why she was crying yesterday. The loss would be disquieting to say the least.
These holes will make it impossible for her to access the memory, almost like a frayed tightrope. It’s not safe to use and there’s no way to the other side. Skimming through the images, I land on one where John Pierre is alive. Once I touch upon the memory, whatever details remain seep into my mind, allowing me to relive the experience from her perspective all over again.
She and John Pierre are chatting in her room. He reveals he came up to Alaska to try and talk her into leaving the seethe again. I’m still not certain how John Pierre came to be at the resort, but that could be because the information has not been revealed to Sheba. Next, the pair strolls down the hall together. John Pierre stops then walks back to her room, calling to her that he wants to get something from his bag.
In a flash, her body is yanked backward before a sound can escape her throat. She’s dragged into what appears from the décor to be suite six. The door closes while Sheba screams, flailing her arms as she goes. Only a few seconds pass before John Pierre runs back into the room. From Sheba’s disjointed vantage point, it appears he attacks whoever is holding her, then she feels a sharp nick at her neck.
John Pierre’s tackle gives her the break she needs to get away from her assailant and she bolts for the door. She can hear John Pierre close behind her then hears a sickening thud and a heavy thump muffled by the carpet. Sheba glances back as she races down the empty hall to see if she is still being pursued. A white-haired vampire with an angry expression and extended fangs locks his gaze on hers and all goes blank after that.
His face looks familiar, but for the life of me, I can’t place it. I focus instead on trying to restore Sheba’s lost memories, carefully rebuilding the lost scenes, so that when I let go of my control, she will remember everything. In the next scene, I come across some things it may be best if she didn’t remember.
Flashes of images really. Her memory has many more holes here. A terror-filled moment with Sheba trying to scream out in pain and mentally thrashing about while locked inside her own mind. Her physical actions are locked down tight—she can’t control her movements but she is moving. I feel and see part of her naked body, unable to respond to her will. It moves in jerky movements and is forced through a series of sexual positions. All while her mind screams endlessly.
Blood is taken from her over and over without leaving marks or bruises. There was no need for her rapist to physically restrain or force her since she could not resist his mind manipulation. He raped her mind as well as her body, feeding off her fear as he did these heinous acts.
The black rage starting to consume me is a familiar one. I’ve seen this type of treatment before. It leaves no trace of doubt in my mind on who our killer could be. I ended the same violence when I encountered it eight years ago. I will end it again now. All I have to do is track the sick bastard down to do it.
This more recent part of Sheba’s memory, of the rape and terror, I will not restore. I don’t want to see the spark of life in her go out and have the horror that I see here replace it. His abuse lasted for over an hour. She does not need to relive it. Ever. I carefully wipe out all remaining traces, interweaving what I want her to know. Rafe squeezes my shoulder to let me know he agrees with my actions.
I insert a fake memory of the killer catching her and altering her mind to forget the murder, but make sure she knows what happened to John Pierre. I have to give her that. I go deeper into the snapshots to remove the most sordid parts. Examining them more this time for traces of his face and details of his actions. I know who this man is, and if he gave her any of his blood, I must sever his link.
Thankfully, I can’t find a link. There’s no way for him to call her even if he wishes to. He must not have forced her to drink from him. If I’m right and it’s who I think it is, maybe he has become so deranged that he doesn’t keep his playthings anymore.
I ease out of Sheba’s mind, suggesting she rest for a while, in a last gentle push. I lower her sleeping body back to recline on the couch then turn to face Rafe. My shock must show on my face for his mirrors the same expression.
“Did you see?” My voice comes out thin and hollow.
“Could it really have been him?” I continue. “He looks so different. I thought he was dead.”
“The Tribunal of Ancients has their own rules for justice. You of all people should know that. I’m not sure what happened to him when they took him off our hands.”
I still can’t believe that fetid excuse for a vampire made it back here, but Rafe has to be right. It had to be a tribunal ruling.
“And I’m the fool who trusted them,” I say.
Rafe fixes his eyes on mine, pulling me out of the horrible images plaguing my mind.
“Now I know why Drew’s wife looked so familiar when you shared his memory with me. That dead woman is the key to this whole mess. I know it.”
This ends the free read portion of the novel. If you enjoyed it, please consider visiting an online retailer to purchase the rest of the book. Thank you!
Barnes & Noble * Amazon * Apple
Among sixty other fine eretailers!