Saturday, March 17, 2018

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 2

Excerpt: Untitled Vampire Story 

If you missed the first post regarding this vampire story, it would be worth going back to read it.

In this segment, we begin to get a better look at Ranulf, and the deepening, widening problems facing Neasa.

I love Ranulf. In this story, he's probably my favorite character. It's always interesting to me which characters are my favorite, and which are the favorites of readers. Almost without exception, the readers favor someone else. That's true with this one. So far, for early readers, Ranulf does not rank as the top favorite, though he does make the list for most.

I had quite a bit of fun with him, and I'm very much looking forward to growing him and exploring his depth and reach in the next book. I also love the relationship that begins to develop between him and Neasa, which I'm also looking forward to growing in the next book.

Hope you enjoy this scene.

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Ranulf stuck mostly to back roads, and traffic was light. He cruised along at the speed limit and seemed to enjoy the drive. I watched the scenery through the windows, but my mind churned. It finally settled on our destination.

“Is the thing about vampires sleeping during the day true?” I asked.

Ranulf looked slightly surprised. “Honestly? I don’t know.”

I’d already eliminated the possibility of Ranulf being a vampire, but now that I was thinking about it, I began to doubt he was human. I didn’t know what the other options were, and I probably wasn’t ready to learn them. Still, he would have plenty of information about vampires, a subject on which I was woefully uneducated.

“How do you not know?”

He shrugged. “Their kind and mine don’t really mix, not in that way. I can tell you almost all vampire business is conducted after sunset and before sunrise.”

“What do you mean you don’t mix?”

He gave me a sideways glance. “That’s a conversation for another time.”

I rolled my eyes in frustration. “Odin keeps telling me that. You guys seem to forget I don’t have a lot of time left.”

He winced. And I felt that pain in my chest again. It had worsened, intensified. I clenched my fits to keep from clutching at my chest, and forced myself to breathe.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and he sounded sincere. “Look, I can tell you people do not go to a vampire’s house uninvited, especially not this vampire. This is asking for trouble. Suicide, probably.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” My voice wasn’t as strong as it should have been, and I was still catching my breath, but Ranulf seemed not to notice. Instead, he seemed focused on what might await us at our destination.

Odin the Viking lived in a mansion in an unincorporated territory north of town, and that was ideal for him. The structures on his property were the only manmade structures for miles in any direction, and the only people were those in his employ. Thick trees lined the street in both directions from a long gated driveway, completely blocking the property from anyone who happened to drive past. The driveway itself was also lined with perfectly kept evergreen trees. I could only imagine how lovely this area was in the winter, covered in snow. Today, in the middle of summer, the thick trees blocked some of the light and I guessed the shaded lane was slightly cooler for it.

Ranulf became hyperalert as we drove up to the house and into a massive circle driveway. I could see no one anywhere.

I blinked as I stared at the house, which was a veritable castle. I’d never seen anything like it, and certainly never in this country, in this century. It was three stories and maybe three city blocks long. No details had been spared, and it had as intricate a façade as any castle.

Off to the left stood a six-car garage with a second story above it. A couple of the doors were up on the garage and inside I could see the cars were parked two and sometimes three deep. Every car I saw I recognized as rare, vintage, and expensive.

The driveway circled a huge pond complete with fountain. As I neared, I caught flashes of color in the water and knew it also held fish.

When we reached the fountain, several large figures emerged from the garage. They stalked closer as Ranulf stopped the car at the front door. I noticed they moved at human speed, and so far I couldn’t tell if they were human or not.

“No turning back now,” Ranulf said, his tone flat.

“It’s gonna be fine,” I said.

I’d kept my tone light, but as I took in the dark eyes and hard faces of the men converging on the truck, I began to feel the first prickles of apprehension.

I hopped down and looked at each of them. Some of their faces were familiar. I’d probably seen them last night at the bar with the Viking. Or maybe they seemed familiar because so many of them looked alike, like cookie-cutter copies, differing only in small details like hair and eye color. Each was huge, built more or less like a vending machine. I wondered where the Viking had gotten them.

Ranulf quickly appeared beside me, and I noticed he now stood up to his full height with his shoulders squared.

Each of the guards studied me with hunger and glared at Ranulf with hostility. Ranulf replied in kind, and I now felt a very palpable tingle of static electricity in the air. I would learn later I had sensed their powers, and in particular, that of Ranulf, as he stood nearest to me. At that time, all I recognized was trouble.

“Hello,” I said, trying for friendly first.

One of the blond versions stepped forward. “What are you doing here?”

A dark-haired one actually licked his lips as he looked me up and down. “You shouldn’t have come here, little girl.”

That sensation of being the prey cornered by the predator I’d felt with Slade resurfaced. I resisted the urge to take a step backward, to back down, to show any more fear than I guessed they could detect.

The blond snickered. “And look who she brought with her.”

The dark-haired one sneered. “Odin’s lapdog.”

The tingling I felt surged then, and the hair stood up on end all over my body.

Ranulf puffed out his chest, fists clenched at his sides. The others responded in kind. I felt the tension rise quickly, to the point it was nearly so thick in the air it was hard to breathe.

“Look at you and these mutts,” Ranulf said, his voice mostly a snarl. “Domesticated.”

In response, the guards took an aggressive step forward, fists balled, teeth bared, growling. Growling?

“That’s enough!” The ring of my voice cut the tension, but did little else.

Ranulf slowly stepped back and let some of the aggression fall from his shoulders.

The dark-haired idiot barked a laugh. “Did you see that, boys? Ranulf called to heel. The big bad wolf is as obedient as the family dog.”

Ranulf opened his mouth to respond, but he never got the chance.

“Enough!” I snapped, planting myself between Ranulf and the minion. “You guys can work your shit out on your own time. I need to see Odin. So, would you like to go get him or shall I go inside?”

All eyes focused on me, no longer amused. I felt a painful twinge of fear in my gut, but I held my ground and somehow found the courage to stare right back at the dark-haired one.

“We don’t take orders from bitches.”

Ranulf jerked forward. I held out an arm to stop him.

“That’s right, Ranulf,” the blonde said. “Mind your keeper, even if she is a bitch.”

These guys were too tense to actually laugh, but a wicked sniggering rippled through the crowd.

Anger was quickly overshadowing fear.

Ranulf again tried to charge the minion, but again I stepped in front of him.

“You are amazingly stupid,” I said. “Go get Odin or get out of my way. And if you call me a bitch one more time, I’m afraid I’ll loss my temper.”

The dark-haired one growled and charged. “I don’t take orders from bitches!”

He grabbed my neck with his massive hands and shoved me backward, driving me past Ranulf and slamming me into the side of the truck. Distantly, I was aware of Ranulf beside me, his own growls deep and dangerous. I had also heard the front door of the house crash open.

But in that moment, I focused entirely on the man who had begun to resemble a wolf and had me roughly by the throat.

I shoved the palm of my hands forward, driving the heels into his chest as I called on the light. With spectacular results, the blow landed with an explosion of brilliant white light. The guy was knocked off his feet, flying backward nearly thirty feet to land in a pile on the front porch steps, at the Viking’s feet.

The fighting around me stopped. Ranulf shoved two men away from him then stepped over beside me. The minions stared, gaping at their fallen comrade and me. Confusion and fear now dominated their small minds.

“Would anyone else care to stand in my way?” I asked, looking at each of them in turn.

In answer, they took several steps backward.

I walked up to the porch were Odin still stood, a look of amusement on his face, despite the horrible burn on his right shoulder. I hadn’t noticed it before, and I didn’t think it had been there when he’d stepped out of the house.

“What happened?” I asked, reaching for him.

He caught my hand and squeezed it. “Let’s talk inside.”

I followed him inside, stepping over the dark-haired guy.

“Who’s the bitch now?” I said, resisting the urge to kick him in the head.

Ranulf chuckled behind me.

Inside, the Viking closed the door, and Ranulf crossed straight to the nearby window, looking out onto the front yard.

“Don’t worry,” Odin said. “They aren’t permitted in the house.”

“But they’re permitted to attack your guests?” Ranulf shot back, still angry and on edge.

The Viking gave him a sharp, cold look. He was slightly less authoritative, however, because his shirt hung in burned tatters across his shoulders and his skin was blackened. Now that we were inside, I could see it appeared to be smoking. I hoped it was the fabric, but I didn’t think it was.

“They will be dealt with accordingly,” the Viking said, an sharp edge to his voice. “You watch your tone.”

Ranulf seemed to think better of pushing the issue.

“This isn’t Ranulf’s fault,” I said, glaring up at the Viking. “Why did that happen?” I stepped closer and reached for the shoulder.

Again he caught my hand. “The sun,” he answered.

“What happened to your powers?” Ranulf asked, his voice so soft he seemed to dread the answer.

I gaped up at the Viking. “They’re not back yet? How can that be? Slade—he had his powers back much sooner, didn’t he?”

The Viking reached for me, catching my hands. “It’s nothing to worry about. Slade’s powers were much weaker than mine—”

“If yours are stronger, you should have them back sooner.”

“Please, Neasa.” He gently squeezed my hands. “Don’t worry about this, okay? It’s going to be fine.”

“Who knows?” Ranulf asked, moving away from the window, his hands on his hips.

The Viking looked over to him. “Viktor. A few others here.” He tipped his head toward the door. “They may figure it out.”

Ranulf looked pained. After a moment he said, “You shouldn’t stay here. It’s too dangerous.”

“As dangerous as it is, this is the safest place for me right now.” He looked pointedly at Ranulf. “You should not have brought her here.”

Ranulf scoffed. “Like she isn’t powerful enough to have exactly her way.”

“You don’t understand, the—”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not standing right here,” I snapped, shooting both of them an angry look. I glared at the Viking. “This is not his fault.”

The Viking seemed to want to say something then thought better of it.

“Will you let me look at your shoulder, please? I’m a nurse; I know how to tend to burns.”

“It’ll heal,” he said dismissively.

“When?” I shot back. “Tonight? Tomorrow? A week from now? If your superhuman healing abilities are on the fritz, then you need to treat the wound so infection doesn’t set it. Plus, it has to hurt like hell.”

The Viking stared at me long and hard, his features inscrutable. Finally, without looking away or raising his voice he said, “Viktor.”

A moment later, the thin man in another impeccable black suit strode into the entryway. “Yes, sire?”

Still looking at me, the Viking said, “Please take Ranulf to the kitchen and get him whatever he likes.”

“Yes, sire.”

“Ranulf?” Odin looked over at him. “Please stay alert. I anticipate I will have guests before the day is through. When they arrive, I’d like you to stay with Neasa.”

Ranulf considered for a beat then nodded. “Okay.”

“This way, sir,” Viktor said, raising an arm and indicating Ranulf should follow him.

“I’ve been here before,” Ranulf grumbled as he fell in behind the thinner man. “I’m sure you remember.”

“Yes, indeed, sir,” Viktor said, his tone noncommittal.

When they were gone, the Viking brushed his fingertips over my cheek. They were cool, but there was no tingle. “You shouldn’t have come here.”

“I’m sorry. I—” Why had I wanted to come here? What had my plan been? I couldn’t remember it, if I’d had one at all. Just coming here had been the only clear thought in my head. I felt a little embarrassed. “I wanted to see you.”

He grinned. “No sweeter words have I ever heard.”

I smiled. Then I sobered. “I’m sure that’s not true. A man your age has surely heard lots of sweet words. Now, do you have any dressing supplies in this castle?”

“Was that a dig at my age?” he asked, taking my hand and leading me down a long hallway.

“Geez, don’t tell me you’ve got a sensitive ego after all these years.”

We went into what turned out to be a small suite with two bedrooms and a large shared bathroom. I faltered at the size of the bathroom, realizing it alone was nearly as big as my entire apartment.
In the bathroom, the Viking rummaged through some cabinets, coming out with a pathetic assortment of items.

“This is all I’ve got,” he said, setting everything on the counter between the sinks.

“Guess you guys don’t treat a lot of human wounds here, huh?”

“Not this way, no.”

“Well, lucky for you I’m a good nurse. I’ll make do. Take your shirt off and sit down.”

There was a disgusting sound that caused me to shiver as he pulled the shirt off. Then he sat on the toilet lid. His shoulder was no longer smoking, but it hadn’t healed either.

He had the well-honed muscles men gained from long hours of hard physical work, that kind that could not be replicated in the gym. And he was covered in scars. I guessed these had been made before he’d been turned, likely earned in battle.

“Why don’t you have your powers back yet?” I asked softly as I began to clean the wound. I knew it must have hurt, but he didn’t even flinch.

“I don’t know,” he said after several long minutes.

I patted the wound dry. After smearing a generous helping of antibiotic ointment on some gauze dressings, I applied them to the worst parts of his shoulder and wound gauze around them to keep them in place.

“I haven’t needed tending to in a very long time,” he said so softly I almost didn’t hear it, and I imagined he wasn’t speaking to me.

“Since back when you got these?” I asked, gently running a finger along a long scar under his collarbone.

“Yes.” He watched me as I gently touched several other scars. I could only guess at the weapons that had made them.

“These are from before.”

“Yes.”

I looked at him. I wanted . . . Well, I don’t know what I wanted. No, I did know what I wanted.

Instead, I turned away and began packing up and clearing the counter. “If your own venom isn’t supercharged right now, what about someone else’s venom? Could Viktor or someone bite you?”

From his laugh I knew I’d said something wrong. I closed the cupboard and turned to him. He still sat shirtless on the commode. He had a wonderful chest.

“That isn’t done,” he said. “The only vampires that bite one another are mates.”

“And you don’t mean friends.”

“No. Life mates. It is very taboo to drink from another vampire outside of those circumstances.”

“Couldn’t he just inject some venom and not drink?”

“If it is technically possible, it is not done.”

“I’m just trying to think outside the box,” I said, leaning against the counter, unable to keep my eyes from straying to his bare skin. “If healing you isn’t an option, then let’s figure out how to recharge your powers.”

He took my hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing the palm. “So far as I know, there isn’t a way to do that.”

“Please tell me I did not permanently fry your powers.”

“You didn’t.” He kissed my hand again and pulled me closer, wrapping an arm around my legs and laying his head against my abdomen.

“How do you know?” I asked, automatically curling my arms around his head and holding him close.

“Because I don’t think it’s possible.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better. Until I shot a light beam out of my hand, you would have thought my existence was impossible.”

“Improbable, certainly, but not impossible.”

I sat on his knee, one arm draped around his neck, the other stroking his cheek. “I’m sorry I did this to you.”

He cupped my face and leaned closer. “Don’t be.”

He touched his lips to mine. That tingling sensation wasn’t there this time, but I felt everything else. Heat raced through me, filling me from the inside out. My nerve endings danced with electricity that must have come from me, since it couldn’t have come from his power. The hunger and need that had stirred to life yesterday came alive again, swirling through me, fanning the flames low in my belly.

I pulled him closer, my hand twined through his hair, our kiss deepening quickly. He crushed me against him, my breasts against his chest, making me wish they weren’t covered in clothing.

Just as I was thinking about ripping my shirt off, there was a polite knock at the hallway door.

With a growl that could only be frustration, the Viking barked, “What?”

“Excuse me, sire,” Viktor said, loudly enough even I could hear him. “You have visitors.”

Something significant shifted within the Viking, though if I’d not been so close to him, I wouldn’t have noticed it. A tension I could almost feel vibrating through him caused me to become apprehensive.

“Who’s here?” I asked. “Who are your visitors?”

“Viktor, please send for Ranulf,” Odin said as he stood, carefully setting me on my feet.

“He’s here, sire.”

I glanced at the open bathroom door then back at the Viking. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure yet.” He held my face in his hands. “Please, go with Ranulf upstairs and wait. Do not draw attention to yourself, and stay close to Ranulf. I will come up when they’ve gone.”

“But, wh—”

“Neasa, please.” There was an urgency in his voice I’d never heard before. “I will explain later. Go. Now.”

He kissed me quickly, then took my hand and led me out of the bathroom into the hallway where Viktor and Ranulf stood. I noticed Viktor held the shirt Ranulf had been wearing, which he passed to the Viking without a word. Ranulf now wore a new shirt.

Odin nodded at Ranulf, who then put a hand on my back. A surge of fear swelled in me and I instinctively shoved Ranulf off. He took a step back, both hands raised in front of him, as he’d done earlier at my breakfast table.

“No, wait—”

“Neasa,” Odin said urgently, his voice low. He held the shirt behind his back and he didn’t touch me. “Please, stay calm. Remember what I told you last night about your scent. It is imperative these men do not catch whiff of it. You must stay calm and stay near Ranulf. Ranulf will mask your natural scent, but not even his scent will mask your fear. Please, darling, trust me.”

I looked at him for a long beat, taming the emotions that had flared up inside me. Distantly, I noted Ranulf watched me warily, hardly daring to breathe, while Viktor eyed his shoes as if he were merely waiting in line at the bank.

“Okay,” I finally said. I thought maybe I knew why these visitors had come. And I thought it might have been fear I saw in the big Viking’s impossibly blue eyes. Fear did not suit him. “Okay, I’ll go.”

“Please, use the rear staircase, madam,” Viktor said, ever polite. “Ranulf, do you remember?”

“Yes,” he said, lowering his hands and taking a couple of steps in the direction Viktor had indicated.

I held Odin’s eyes for a beat longer, wanting to say more but unable to find the words. His eyes held mine for a long beat, then the corners of his perfect mouth tipped up in a tiny smile, and he nodded. Maybe I hadn’t needed words after all.


I nodded back and followed Ranulf from the room.

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