Authors: Kat Barrett
“Good.” She was afraid to feed again, afraid that if the pain faded then Russell wouldn’t be able to stop her the next time. She waited as the two shadowy figures walked to the door and then spoke Russell’s name. “Wait, please.”
“Em wants to talk to me. Can whoever is going next put the blindfold on?” Russell shut the door. He walked over and knelt beside her. “What’s up?”
“I can’t do this.”
“You can’t do what?”
“I can’t feed. I’m going to kill one of them. The feel of the blood is too sweet and I need it too much. I can’t stop myself.”
“Em. You need to do this. You can’t remain as you are.”
“Rory can give me some blood when he wakes up.”
He was silent and she could picture him scowling at her. “You need to feed. I will stop you.”
“You stop me with pain. I don’t know if you can do it again once my body heals a bit.”
He chuckled sarcastically. “Really, Em? Do you forget who you are talking to? Since when do you think I’m incapable of inflicting enough pain to get your complete attention?”
She chuckled, the movement bringing tears to her eyes. “Good point. Who’s next?”
“Okay. I trust you to make me stop if I can’t on my own.”
Em feared that it was going to be a long day of self-control. The blood she had taken from Leeah hadn’t even made a dent in her burns. If anything it had done little more than heal her mouth. How much blood and how many humans was it going to take? She had to be careful not to use everyone and leave the other vampires with no one to feed from. Samantha knelt beside her, lowering her throat to Em’s mouth.
The smell of her skin was delicious, warmth radiating with each thrilling beat of her heart. Em kept her mind on self control as she sank her fangs into soft silky skin. The taste, the need, she tried not to let it consume her. When Russell pinched the burned skin on her arm, Em wanted to ignore him. Would it really be so bad to kill a single human? She had never gone that far. Had never bled someone dry.
Em snapped her fangs back into place, her willpower barely able to control the desire to continue. “Thank you, Samantha.”
“I hope it helped.”
Russell leaned and placed a soft kiss on her lips. “I told you that you could do it.”
“But you did. Marilyn said that Holden just fed on her, so Billy is next. Remember how much you like Billy.”
“Remember that they have a child.”
“Go get him.”
Her body was demanding more, the sensation was nagging at her brain. The pain was not subsiding, but she was ignoring it as best she could. Em knew that if she tried to move, she would scream. There was no doubt of that in her mind. A shadow loomed above her and the scent of human flesh tickled her nose. Billy had recently showered. Maybe they had rigged something up in the kitchen as they used to do before the houses were built. Water could be boiled on the stove and used to wash with. Em inhaled deeply, the sweetness of his skin wonderful. Her ears were filled with the sound of his beating heart, a drumbeat of life that sounded like the most melodious music.
Em sank her fangs into his throat.
Russell did not need to intercede. Em pulled back.
“Is it really necessary for me to keep this blindfold on?” asked Billy.
“It’s either a blindfold or nightmares. The sun was not kind to her.”
“I thought you would instantly die from the sun?”
Em’s face was healing, the skin starting to feel more normal. “I dove into a snow bank. I guess the snow put the fire out and gave me some protection from the sun. It probably also helped that I had so much clothing on.” She had another suspicion about that from her dreams. She didn’t have them much anymore, but when Joel and Gaelic were still an unresolved part of her life, she dreamed of them. Em would always be standing in the sun when Joel or Gaelic went up in flames and she didn’t. Obviously, she was burned as a normal vampire would be, but if Em was figuring correctly, she should actually be dead. The snow was really not all that much protection. Clothing was not really protection either. What she had said was simply an explanation for Billy to give the other humans.
“That makes sense. I hope you are feeling better soon. We were all terrified to know that you were lost outside during the daytime. You are special to all us humans.”
Em chuckled. “Thank you. You are all special to me, also. How’s the baby?”
“He is adorable like his father and has a big mouth like his mother.”
She stifled her laughter, knowing how much it would hurt to move the muscles of her chest. “I wouldn’t let Ruth hear you say that.”
“She has and she agrees with me.”
Ruth could be very outspoken. “I can’t wait to see him.”
“You will. We have moved inside. Our house was too cold when the generator quit. We opened up three of the cubicles and are living in them until things warm up a bit.”
Em hoped that the solar panels and the backup generator for the underground fortress didn’t give out. They would all be left in the cold.
“I’ll see you later.” Billy got up and headed to the door. Em’s vision was improving slightly and she could almost make out what he was wearing. Billy walked out and a moment later Rick came in with a pink thing around his face. Em knew that Russell was blindfolding the humans and she was grateful for it. Russell led Rick across the room and helped him to kneel. He offered his throat to Em and she accepted.
With each new human, Em felt a bit better. The burning in her skin began to fade, taking the pain with it. Then the tightness of her damaged flesh eased up a bit.
After the twentieth human, Em put a stop to it. “I can’t take any more.”
Russell glared at her. “But you are not healed yet.”
Em pushed herself from the blanket she had been lying on and sat up. There were tiny twinges of complaint from different parts of her body, but none that were agonizing. “I know that, but I’m also not the only vampire here. Everyone I just took blood from is off the feeder list for two months. That leaves less than forty people to feed five old vampires and Salt who needs three to four people a week. Salt alone feeds twenty eight times in two months. That leaves twelve humans for five vampires. The numbers are running a bit short.” Em sat down carefully on the bed.
Russell rolled his eyes as he took a spot beside her. She knew that he was well aware of the feeding schedule and the protective code that they would only feed on a human once every two months. It didn’t take more than a few weeks for their bodies to recreate the blood. It was probably faster than that because vampire saliva promoted red and white blood cells to produce quickly. The day watchers gave blood far more often than once every two months and they were perfectly healthy. She didn’t care. She wasn’t going to break code. She was not special and didn’t have any supreme right to feed more than the others. “I’m really tired anyway. I need to sleep.”
Russell reached out, gently caressing her cheek. It made her skin tingle, but didn’t add to the mild pain she was already feeling. “You look better. You skin is no longer completely black with burns. Your face still looks raw though. How much does it hurt?”
“A little. It’s not intolerable and my body will continue to heal even if I don’t take in more blood.”
“You should probably see if you can get your clothing off. Hopefully it’s not still melted into your skin.”
She hadn’t felt as if the clothing was sticking to her body. Em stood back up and removed her coat. It was destroyed, the fabric melted right through in spots. It smelled badly of burning flesh. “Do I stink?”
“It’s not as bad as it was.”
She took off her sweater. The beautiful purple wool was distorted and crumbled as she removed it. “I really liked that sweater.”
“I know you did.” Russell picked at a few pieces that were still attached to her body. They came away with a grimace of pain. “Sorry. I didn’t want them to end up permanently in your skin.”
“I think my body would have rejected them as I finished healing. It has been pushing the fabric out that was burned into flesh.”
He nodded, sighing as he stared at her. Em looked downward as she unzipped her jeans. The skin of her stomach and her arms looked withered and far puffier than it felt. It was still zigzagged with marks of darkened flesh that had a brownish scabby look to it. The rest of her body was a brilliant shade of badly sunburned red. “Thank you, Russell.”
She smiled. “For saving my life. I would have died if you hadn’t gotten me out.”
“No. You would have woken up when the sun went down and come home. It might not have been a pleasant journey, but you would have made it.”
“No, I wouldn’t have. I could feel the sun as it rose higher into the sky. The quilt helped, but it wasn’t enough to protect me. When the sun got to its highest point, it would have fried me completely. We have to be enclosed in something that is able to thoroughly block the sun. If it were just a matter of dressing in black or dark fabrics, there would be vampires running around in the daytime. It would be a simple matter of donning a dark cape and a face shield. I would have died.”
Russell nodded. “I was trying to be ignorant. I know you would have died. Even the houses outside are not sealed tight enough for you to be in them during the day. If you are down here, you have layers of solid concrete to protect you.”
Em tugged off her jeans, but the action was hurting her hands. She winced and Russell dropped to his knees, taking her pants the rest of the way off. “So what did you say about leaving me to breed?”
Russell waited as she lay down on the bed and then crawled in beside her. He stayed a slight distance from her body, but Em was cold and didn’t really want him to. “Can you move over?”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I don’t think that you will unless you hit me. My skin is sore but not like you would think. Then please answer my question.”
Russell got up and grabbed the heavy quilt. He lay down beside her again, moving over cautiously and judging her reaction as he slid into her side. Em tugged the quilt over both of them. “You’re cold?”
“Yes. Oddly enough, I am. It’s probably just my body reacting to the remaining burns. I will be fine once I get some sleep.”
“Okay. I didn’t know that you heard my comment about breeding. I wasn’t planning on staying away for long. I just want my race to continue. It is possible for a human woman to give birth to a half-breed shifter, but it is harder for a shifter woman to have a child with a human. I don’t want my bloodlines to die out. I was once a very powerful man and a sought-after mate. My body is strong and so are my genes. Are you angry?”
“Of course not. I would love to have a child, but I can’t. I certainly wouldn’t deny you a child. When you are ready, just please tell me before you take off. I don’t want to go through what I did when Joel and Gaelic left me.”
He nodded. “I would never do that to you. I will tell you and make you a promise that I will be back as soon as possible. I have grown oddly accustomed to living with the three of you. I really enjoy it. I really love you.”
“I love you, also. Can we get some sleep?”
Russell leaned forward and gave her a gentle kiss on the lips. “Tell me that you are going to be okay.”
“Thanks to you saving my life. Yes, I should be okay.”
“I had selfish motives. I didn’t want to live without you.”
Em was stunned by this admission. She had a feeling that Rory might walk into the sun. Salt loved her, but he was also new to being a vampire. Russell was a shifter and he had said that he wanted to broaden his bloodline. He was probably just saying that it would hurt him if she died. She certainly didn’t think he would kill himself as Rory would.
* * * *
Rory stood at the bottom of the bed looking at Em. She had a short crop of hair on her head rather than her long light brown strands. This indicated that she had been caught by the sun. Her skin was rosy pink, but her face looked otherwise unharmed. He wanted to know what happened, but was hesitant to wake her up. She was cuddled up tightly to Russell and had the quilt pulled up over her body. Rory frowned. Em appeared to be shaking slightly or maybe she was shivering. Vampires didn’t get cold. Rory tentatively lifted the bottom of the quilt and touched her foot. Her skin looked normal if not slightly sunburned. It was also very cold, even to him.
Rory turned and walked from the room. He headed down the hall and knocked on Wesley’s door. Dennis answered. The heat billowed out of the room like hot steam. “How’s Em?”
“I don’t know. I need to talk to Wesley. Is he awake?”
“Yes. Come on in.”
Wesley was sitting in a recliner, a book open on his lap. “What’s wrong, Rory?”
“I don’t know exactly. Em is sleeping and her skin is red and very cold. I swear she is curled under a quilt and she is shivering. How is that possible?”
He lifted the book he was looking at. “I was just reading about that. When I woke up a short while ago, Dennis told me about Em. From what Russell said, her skin was charred as if she had been barbecued. Russell and Dennis gathered some humans and blindfolded them so Em could take their blood. Russell didn’t think it wise to have the humans see her. I agree. Anyway, Dennis said that she fed from twenty humans and then sent the rest away. From what the Book of Vampire Legend says, it is rare that a vampire survives the sun. When they do, it is important that they heal themselves completely or the result could be unpredictable. I fear that Em made a grave mistake in her desire to protect the health of the humans.”
“What do you mean?”
“Two of the possible consequences for not healing completely are called the red skin and the deadly cold. It is described as a vampire who turns a scarlet color and suddenly feels the cold. There is no way to get warm even if sitting in front of a raging fire. It won’t end her life, but it will make it miserable for her.”
“Does it give an antidote? What if she takes more blood?”
“It won’t work now. She is already partially healed. The only known antidote is to take blood from their maker and an ancient. The two in combination seem to offset the healing process and make it continue.”