Authors: MaryJanice Davidson
…and then her tongue was in my mouth, and her fingers had gentled, were slowly rubbing my now-stiff nipple, and I whimpered and leaned into her. I could feel her sucking on my tongue and was afraid my knees were going to buckle. I thought, say, why are we standing up? We'd be a lot more comfortable on the floor. In fact, we'd be a lot more comfortable in Sinclair's roo—
I pulled back and shoved her away. She let go the second I resisted, so my shove sent her reeling across the room. I'd pushed her away, but even now, I wanted to spread my arms and welcome her to me. "I thought," I said numbly, touching my lips, "you gave that stuff up a hundred years ago."
"Men," she said, watching me sadly. "I gave up men. I'm very sorry. I couldn't help it. I haven't fed tonight and you're so beautiful. But I'm very sorry."
"Being dead is one thing, but having to watch Finklair romp in his bed o' babes...and then you decide to bring my latent lesbian tendencies to the surface—real latent, by the way, because when I was alive the thought of lip locking with another woman never crossed my mind, and I—I--forget it. Forget it. I'm out of here."
"Please don't go. It's my fault. All my fault. I'm so sorry." To my horror, she was sinking to her knees, and actually—was she? She was! She was kissing the toes of my shoes. "Please, Majesty, forgive my impertinence. Please!"
"Stop that!" I hissed, hopping back so her lips weren't touching my shoes, then jerking her to her feet. She wouldn't look at me, was cringing away from my anger. Which made me feel bad. Which made me even angrier. "Don't kiss my shoes ever again! Jesus Christ—” She moaned and flinched away. "—why do vampires have to be so
about everything? And it's not your fault you kissed me—it's my fault, because I could have told you no. Fuck this weird shit, I've had enough. Do you realize I haven't even been dead a week?" I let go of her arm and stormed out. I practically knocked Donald off the stairs as I stomped toward the main level.
He jumped out of my way in a hurry, which was smart, because I'd have walked right over the top of him, the mood I was in. "What's wrong, Miss Betsy?"
"Nothing. Everything. I gotta go."
"Please don't!" Tina cried from the top of the stairs. "Please stay! We need you!"
"Well, I don't need you," I said, yanking open the front door. "Thank God." Tina burst into tears, and I slammed the door on her dry sobs. And I didn't feel bad. Not one bit. Nope. Not at all.
I got home and saw my door had a giant crack running through the middle, like someone had been kicking it for an hour or more. I stopped dead on my front stoop. I'll admit it—I wasn't much interested in finding out who had broken in. Nope, forget it, I'd had enough. Whoever it was, they were welcome to my cotton sheets, dirty dishes, and awful light orange living room rug.
I was turning away, possibly to go find my mom and cry on her shoulder for three or four hours, when...
"Bets! Is that you?" Jessica's voice.
"Get in here quick!" Marc's.
What fresh hell is this? I pushed the door open and walked inside. At least Jess was okay—sounded okay. Shanara couldn't have hurt her too badly. Jeez, had she bushwhacked us in that alley only three hours ago? It felt like three years.
My friends were kneeling beside a big pile of rags in the middle of my bedroom floor. Marc had a neat white bandage on his neck and was still wearing the bracelet they'd given him at the hospital. Jessica looked perfectly fine. "Are you guys okay?"
"Yeah. Are you, girlfriend? You look a little white around the gills. More so than usual," Jessica chortled. Then she sobered up and pointed to the rag pile. "You got problems, Betsy. I mean, besides the ones we've already been dealing with."
Marc gently prodded the pile...and it was Nick! He looked unbelievably bad—like he hadn't eaten in three days, slept in five, bathed in ten. His hair was a mess of greasy tangles. His eyes rolled toward mine. They were so deeply bloodshot they were more red than white. "More," he husked. "Moremoremore."
"No, oh no!" I rushed to him. "Jesus, Nick, what did I do? What did I do?"
"Exactly the opposite," Sinclair said thoughfully, "of what I do."
I whirled. Sinclair, Tina, and Donald were standing just inside my bedroom. I'd never heard them come in. Never sensed their presence. Neither had Jessica and Marc, because they both let out little screams. Nick was oblivious. He'd started rocking back and forth on the floor in an effort to soothe himself, and never looked away from my face.
be Sink Lair," Jessica said.
"Hi, Mr. Sinclair!" Marc trilled. He even waved. "You guys drop by for a snack?"
"You three get out of here!" I hissed. "I've got enough problems right now, thanks."
Sinclair pointed to Nick. "That one is of your own making, I think...I can smell you on him. Under about six layers of dirt, that is." He said it so carelessly I wanted to kill him. My hand went to the cross Tina had given me. Would he sound so cool and unconnected if I jammed this little baby in his eye?
But Sinclair was already striding toward us. "Tina," he said quietly, kneeling beside Nick, "help me." His actions were such a diametric opposite of his words that I was left confused (surprise!). The guy obviously hid a lot behind that smarmy cool façade...trouble was, did I care?
"What's wrong with him?" I cried. "Is he becoming a vampire?"
"No. He craves you. He's an addict, now. You can't just have them and release them, Elizabeth. You fled my home after you saw a—certain aspect of the vampire lifestyle. But I would never do to mine what was done to yours."
That stung. A lot. "He's not mine. I barely even know him."
"Well." Donald cleared his throat. He was crouching over us, resting his hands on his thighs. He looked like an undead umpire. "That's worse, you know."
"But I didn't know!"
"I warned you," Sinclair said. He was shrugging out of his topcoat and putting it over Nick's shivering form. "You don't know the rules. Most vampires would learn or die. But you were born strong, and you have few of our weaknesses. So while you're learning, the innocent are being hurt. Is my offer of help still so completely unacceptable?"
"Okay, okay...tell me what to do. How to help Nick. And I'll—I'll take your Vamp 101 class, Sinclair. But only after Nick is better."
"Your word on it, Elizabeth."
"She already told you she'd let you help," Jessica said, and her voice was like ice. She might think Sinclair was yummier than a triple fudge sundae, but nobody was going to question her best friend in her own home. "If that's not enough, Sink Lair, don't let the door hit you in your big white ass on the way out."
"Please don't pronounce my name like that," he sighed. He lifted Nick easily into his arms. Then, "Big white ass?"
"Just bring him to the bathroom," Tina said. "Donald and I can take care of him."
"But—" I closed my mouth with a snap. Nick was almost as tall as Sinclair, which made him two heads taller than Tina and Donald. Never mind. They could probably muscle a Volkswagen into my bathroom if they had to.
Sinclair carried Nick to my bathroom and laid him on the floor. Donald stripped him while Tina started the shower. Meanwhile, Sinclair put a hand on each of my shoulders, turned me around, and marched me out. Of my own bathroom!
"Hands to yourself, buster," I warned.
"You—uh—want something to drink?" Jessica was standing in the doorway. She blushed, which isn't easy to tell with her. "I mean, like tea or something, Mr. Sinclair?"
"Please call me Eric. Any friend of Elizabeth's, and all that."
"He likes plum wine, get him a glass of that," I said irritably.
"I'll get it!" Marc said. He'd gone to throw Nick's rags into my washing machine, but leapt for the doorway the instant Jessica did. They became jammed at the shoulder, Three Stooges style.
"No, I'll get it!"
They struggled and then both popped free of the doorframe. I heard pounding footsteps as they raced each other to the kitchen, and put a hand over my eyes. Friends...the ultimate mixed blessing.
"A pity you are not as fond of me as your companions are," Sinclair teased.
"They don't know what a creep you are," I said sourly. I was annoyed to see Giselle purring in his arms as he absently tickled her under the chin. Fickle feline tramp! I snatched her away and tossed her in the direction of her cat door. With a snooty backward glance, she went. "If they had the slightest clue how wretched and nasty and despicable you are..."
"Now, Elizabeth, how can you say that? You know I tried to help you at the mausoleum, and I sent Tina to help you at Nostro's home tonight. If she hadn't given you my gift the Fiends would have torn you to pieces."
"The cross belonged to my sister."
My fingers went to the cross instantly, fumbling to take it off, but he stopped me with a shake of his head. "Keep it. I can't wear it, and it might help you again."
Shocked, I said, "It was your sister's."
"And now it's yours."
"Well...thank you. But—and it's not that I'm not grateful—"
"Not that, never that," he said mockingly.
"—but if you're so concerned, why didn't you come yourself tonight?"
"I did come," he said innocently. "More than once, in fact. I thought you were watching."
I felt my face get red—a good trick, since I was dead. "Very funny! You know what I mean."
"Alas, too well. Unfortunately, one of the conditions of Tina's release from Nostro was that I never set foot in his territory. I can send envoys, but I myself must stay clear. The mausoleum where you first met Nostro is neutral."
"Oh." Dammit! Hearing more details about how he got Tina away from Noseo made me start to hate him not so much. Which was not a good way to feel about a character as slippery as this guy. My hand went instinctively to the cross again. "Well, I'd thank you—"
"My heart! Can it stand the strain?"
"--except I know you've got some sneaky motive for helping me out."
"My anti-Nostro, pro-Elizabeth stance has been clear for a few days, there's nothing sneaky about it. I was sorry to hear I'd missed you earlier this evening."
"Let's not talk about it."
"An American prude born in the late twentieth century? I hadn't thought such creatures existed."
"Just because I don't think you should be gaily boinking with multiple partners—at the same time!—doesn't mean I'm a prude."
He gestured toward the bathroom, where poor Nick was being ministered to by Tina and Donald. "I don't think you're in any position to question my judgment. My ladyfriends know what they're getting into."
"You're still a pig," I said bitterly. "I saw you. It didn't matter what three women were there—you didn't care. They were for you to use. That's not how you treat a friend."
"Well." His brows arched in though. "Perhaps I simply haven't met the right woman."
"Or perhaps you're a pig!" I threw my hands in the air. "Did you really need three of them? I mean, come on. Realistically. Three?"
"Well." He smiled slowly, and I felt my stomach tighten. "Does anyone ever really need a banana split, when a single scoop sundae would do?"
"These. Are. Human. Beings." I was pushing the words out past gritted teeth; I was so pissed my eyes were crossed. "Not. Ice cream. Sundaes.
"Then I have the bargain of the century for you, Elizabeth. I will give up their friendship at once, and all others. Tonight.
you take their place in my bed."
My mouth fell open and I gaped at him like a landed trout. A zillion emotions—outrage, curiosity, fear, lust, shock—screamed through my head in half a second, and before I knew I was going to do it, my hand leaped to his face and slapped him hard enough to drive him a step back.
He felt his jaw and looked at me. His black eyes glittered and I swallowed the phrase...
I take it back!
...that wanted to come out.
"Nice," was all he said. "I didn't see that one coming. Although I should have."
I tried to say something appropriate haughty and scathing, but couldn't think of a thing.
"Thank you," he said, soooooo polite, and took the glass Jessica was offering him. Marc was right behind her with a tray of cocktail accessories: marachino cherries, lemon slices, olives. They hadn't seen the slap. Heck, I had barely seen it—it was like my hand had moved quicker than thought.
"All that stuff for wine?" I sighed, rolling my eyes and rubbing my palm—smacking Sinclair had been like smacking a chunk of granite. "Get real, you guys."
For spite (must have been!) Sinclair carefully selected a lemon slice and dropped it into his wine.