We were alive.
It didn’t matter that I was blindfolded and being kidnapped by vampires, as long as my child and I were still alive.
We just have to get through the next eight months, baby. The car I was sitting in shifted gears. I felt it speed up and knew each mile was carrying me farther away from everything I knew and everyone I loved. My past was spooling out behind me like a ribbon and I didn’t know if I’d be able to catch the end of it before it ran out.
If Anna was smart, she’d made Asher go back with her on the next flight home. I imagined him looking out a plane window at the same blackness I saw inside my blindfold, wondering if he’d done all he could, if there’d been another way. I wanted to touch him again so badly I ached.
I reached up for the necklace he’d given me instead. The vampire sitting beside me growled in warning, and I carefully set my hand back down.
Eight months was longer than Asher and I’d even been dating. But when I’d found out I was pregnant everything felt right—up until the cruise ship we’d been on had been taken over by a madman who’d released a parasite designed to ensure the death of everyone on board.
We’d had to fight for our lives, and I’d gotten infected. By the time our life raft was found, I was dying. Asher and I had already watched the parasite take down an entire ship, so we knew there was no cure. Except for vampire blood, the supernatural cure-all. Anna had called in a long-distance favor to save me and the other survivors when she realized she’d never make it across country in time. Unfortunately, the vampire blood came with an actual vampire, Raven, and had the side effect of binding me to him forever afterward, completely under his control, like a chained dog.
Which was why I was currently racing away from Asher and the dream of our future life—because now, not that long after treating daytimers back at floor Y4, I’d been forced to become one.
My job was to get through my pregnancy in one piece. Once I had the baby it would be safe for Anna to change me into a vampire too. Then I’d be free of Raven, and back with Asher. I just had to make it eight more months. I didn’t know how I would manage to be a wife or a mother as a vampire afterward, but I’d be free, and it would be enough. When I was back with Asher, we could work everything else out somehow. I had to believe we could—because eight months being enslaved to a strange vampire without thinking I had a semblance of a life to go back to would kill me.
I slid my arms across my stomach to hug myself, and my right hand found the cool metal of the seat-belt buckle.
“You can’t escape.” A fact, stated by my now-Master, Raven. He was driving, and his accomplice Wolf was sitting beside me in the backseat. I kept my hand on the buckle in a small act of defiance. But the truth was that if he ordered me to let go of it, I’d have to. Or if he told me to open the door and throw myself out onto the open road, I’d have to do that too. I’d survive it—Anna had told me I’d be almost invulnerable for a time, as Raven had given me so much blood to heal me that he’d taken me to the edge of turning me himself, enough to give me the beginnings of fangs—but it would still probably hurt.
I’d been hurting for so long that being well now was strange. My last days on the Maraschino had been punctuated by pain—morning sickness, a black eye, a dislocated shoulder, the parasitic infection that’d taken most of the other cruise passengers’ lives, then being stranded on a life raft for days with no water or food. It was ironic to finally feel whole just as everything in my life was becoming irrevocably fucked.
By now my family would know that the Maraschino had sunk with everyone on board. There’d never be any safe way to explain what had happened and how I’d survived, much less the vampire blood thing. It would be kinder to just let them think I was dead, and that was an ache not even blood could fix.
Thinking about my mom, that she wouldn’t ever get to meet her grandson—the velvet bag Wolf had blindfolded me with suddenly felt too tight. My heartbeat sped up before I could control it and I knew the vampires would know—
Cold fingers pressed against mine on the buckle. Apparently my captors weren’t convinced I wouldn’t try something stupid. Maybe they knew me better than I did. Wolf chuckled as he pried my fingers off. He ran his hand underneath the sash across my chest, yanking it tight, touching far too much of me along the way. “Safety first,” he warned sarcastically.
I stayed absolutely still, like a rabbit when a hawk passes overhead. He noticed that too, and I could feel the contour of the seat beside me shift as he leaned even nearer.
“Stay scared,” he whispered. “Servants last longer when they’re scared.”
I twisted my head away from him and toward the window. He laughed as though he’d just made the most amazing joke—and I realized he was laughing at me. The ice of my fear dissipated, thawed by my rising anger, and my heartbeat slowed, becoming deliberate.
If I died, it would kill Asher. I’d promised him I’d survive—that we both would. Anything we have to do, baby, we’ll do it.
“Fear makes servants more eager to please, doesn’t it, Wolf?” Raven chided from the front seat. His voice rumbled over both of us with power, giving me a chill.
“Yes, Sire,” Wolf agreed, returning to his own side of the seat. I felt the car downshift and take a left-hand turn. I didn’t know where were going but I knew for sure we’d be there by dawn.
* * *
Raven raced the night. I could feel us swoop around other cars on the road, taking turns at speed. I’d started off trying to memorize things, as if I could bread-crumb trail my way back to my old life, when I realized we were going in circles, probably more to make sure that we weren’t being followed than to trick me. But we were slowing now, making turns more frequently—we’d reached civilization, wherever that was.
Then the car slowed drastically and descended, and I realized a parking garage belowground made sense for vampires. We wheeled sharply to the left and came to a precise stop as Raven hit the brakes and shifted into PARK.
“Home sweet home,” Raven said. He got out of the car, slamming the door behind himself.
Wolf exited the vehicle as well. I sat still, waiting, until I was startled by a knock at the window to my right. “You can open up your own door.”
I felt blindly for the door handle and opened it. I’d been sitting next to an unlocked door this whole time. Had they’d been hoping I’d run? How foolish had I been to not even try? But there was nowhere I could go that Raven couldn’t find me—another one of the perks of being his daytimer. I fought not to grind my teeth.
You’d better grow up to be a really awesome person, baby. I got out of the car and stood beside it, and the blindfold was snatched off me.
Lank pieces of my own hair slapped my face. Being turned into a daytimer hadn’t magically fixed my personal hygiene. I stank of sweat, and my clothes were crusted with salt water from my time at sea. I took in the dim room at a glance and saw I was right: we were in a subterranean garage. There were several expensively exotic cars in a row, and Raven was nowhere to be seen.
“He has business to attend to,” Wolf informed me. I didn’t know if I should grunt or nod—but I did know I didn’t want to be alone here with him. I figured Raven wanted me alive to curry favor with Anna but I didn’t know how much safety, if any, that personally guaranteed me.
“Are you sure?” He angled his head toward the hill we’d driven down, where I supposed the entrance to the garage was. “It’s not too late for you to run.”
And if I did, it wasn’t too late for him to chase me down and hurt me. “You’re not the first vampire to tell me that.”
Years ago, right after I’d started working on Y4, a vampire named Dren had encouraged me to run so he could chase and kill me. I hadn’t run then either. My life would have been much different—and probably a lot shorter—if I had. Wolf snorted when it became clear I wouldn’t play his game, then turned and walked deeper into the garage. I curled my hands into fists at my sides and felt my short nails bruise my palms as I followed him in.
* * *
Wolf led us through a series of unmarked tunnels but I felt sure I’d be able to remember my way back to the garage. It was easy now as a daytimer to spot the subtle differences between the walls, things I might not have noticed before as a human—a small chunk of cement missing here, a chip in the unrelenting gray paint there. The last leg of the hall opened wide like an entryway, ending in a half-open oak door with ancient-looking iron fastenings, and I could hear a quiet conversation taking place inside the room ahead of us.
“Is she a spy?” a feminine voice asked.
“She’s no concern of yours, only mine,” I heard Raven say with a note of warning. The conversation immediately stilled as Wolf led me in.
Raven was in the center of the room, lounging on a backless couch covered in folds of deep purple satin. With his shining black clothing and black hair, the only parts of him that were easy to see were his elegant white hands and his pale face. His lips were pulled into a sneer, but there were dark circles around his closed eyes. Saving me had pained him. Good.
The room itself was huge and carved from stone with no paint. I couldn’t see the ceiling above; the light from the naked bulbs strung up on the walls didn’t travel that far. Given the cathedral-like nature of the room, and the presumable age of its occupants, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there’d been torches illuminating us instead—and I realized that without Raven’s vampire blood in me, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see.
I took in the rest of the room at a glance. With the exception of one daytimer kneeling beside Raven’s couch, everyone else remained standing. The vampires—two men and one woman—were spaced equidistant to one another as though they didn’t trust anyone within arm’s length. Wolf I’d already met; he looked like an old-school biker, with muttonchops and a beard, his face as grizzled as his leather vest. The other male vampire looked like an action hero, buff with a blond buzz cut, and the female vampire was dressed in night blue, with smooth waves of long copper hair giving her an old Hollywood look. There were two daytimers in a circle outside of that, ready to attend, a man and a woman, him in a vest and her in a dress, and they appeared to match their owners. I wondered if that was on purpose, or just how things worked out. It was easy to tell the vampires and their daytimers apart, as the vampires only looked at me once, taking all of me in, making up their minds about me in milliseconds, content to ignore me—or to pretend to ignore me—after that. But the daytimers weren’t as good at hiding their surprise at having another person suddenly join their ranks. Two of them in particular wouldn’t stop looking at me—the one whose vest matched Wolf’s, and the one kneeling at Raven’s side, who looked up at me with complete venom.
Everyone else in the room was wearing dark colors. In the last outfit I’d worn aboard the Maraschino before she sank, light T-shirt and jeans, I matched no one and stuck out like a sore thumb. And I realized none of the other people I’d last seen getting into a lifeboat on the Maraschino were here either. “Where are the rest of them?”
All of the vampires turned to eye me as one, and I gathered I’d spoken out of turn.
“The rest of the survivors. There were others. I heard you mention them.” When I’d been leaving Asher and Anna, only hours ago.
A smile tickled the corners of Raven’s mouth as though my concern were droll. “Other Houses. Not ours. Anna wasn’t incredibly particular about who saved you, only that you must be saved.”
“Oh,” I said, because it seemed like he was waiting for a response.
“Oh,” he repeated, mocking me. Without taking his eyes off me, he addressed someone else. “Jackson, teach her manners, will you?”
The daytimer in a leather vest bowed deeply. “Of course, Master.”
“Now then,” Raven went on, addressing the kneeling man at the bottom of his couch. “With everyone come down here to gawk, who’s minding upstairs, Lars?”
The kneeling daytimer’s head dropped even lower. Would Raven expect me to grovel like that for him? I couldn’t imagine myself doing it now, much less six months from now with a pregnant belly. “We closed early, Master,” the kneeling man informed him. Raven’s face fell into a look of profound disappointment as Lars went on. “I took the liberty of procuring a meal for you, Sire.”
Raven reached down to pat Lars’s head as though he were a particularly obedient dog, and I watched the man’s shoulders tense. “Lars, when I need your help hunting, I’ll ask for it—or I’ll just drain you.”
I could see the panic on the face of Raven’s daytimer—his other daytimer, if you counted me. Raven’s hand wound through Lars’s hair as though considering options. The female vampire smirked to see such obvious fear, and then looked at Raven, one impish eyebrow quirked. “I’ll eat your dessert if you don’t want it, Sire.” She had a slight French accent, which made her seem even more exotic.
Raven released Lars and stood. “As it turns out, I’m not in the mood to share tonight.” He turned to pierce Lars with one last look of disappointment.
“I apologize, Master,” Lars said, nodding eagerly now that he was free.
“Is there anything else of concern?” Raven asked, looking around. One by one, the rest of his vampires shook their heads. “Then we’ll reconvene tomorrow night.” He stood up fluidly and stalked out of the room via its only other door. The other vampires followed suit, and then it was just me and the rest of the daytimers left inside.