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Meghan Thomas was just adding some cream to her porcini mushroom sauce when she sensed it.
Meghan didn't really know what "it" was, but her vampire powers told her that something was very wrong. The other vamps in the kitchen sensed it as well. From the bus boys to the other chef a few stations down, they were all aware of something odd. It had to be something powerfully wrong for vampires of all ages, even someone as new to the undead world as she was, to feel "it."
She took the pan off the flame and put it to the side just as Diego Rivera, part owner of the restaurant and her mentor of sorts, pushed through the door into the kitchen. Diego looked around and then he faced her.
"Is everything okay in here, Meghan?"
Wiping her hands on the towel tucked into her apron, she walked up to him and said, "Yes, but you feel something as well, don't you?"
At his abrupt nod, she laid a hand on the sleeve of his expensive silk suit jacket and asked, "What was it?"
She had hoped that with his greater vampire age and therefore stronger powers, he would have identified the sensation they had experienced, but the look on his face told her otherwise.
"I'll find out," Diego said, worry stamped on his fine features. A deep furrow was etched between his brows as he pivoted on one heel and walked out of the kitchen, Meghan right behind him.
When he realized she was following, he stopped. "There's no need for you to come with me."
She searched his features and realized he was just trying to protect her as he had for almost four years now. Although she had appreciated that assistance before she had resigned herself to her new immortal life, it was time for her to be a help rather than a hindrance. "I can watch your back if need be. I'm not a newbie anymore."
For a moment Diego appeared ready to protest, but then he turned and strode through the restaurant's main floor. As she followed, she took a quick look around.
Most of the diners were intent on their meals, but several heads turned her way. She recognized some familiar vampire faces. They too had sensed the disturbance. But they'd remained in their seats, not wanting to reveal their undead status to the human partners at their tables. At least, not yet, Meghan thought.
They entered the hallway that led to the private dining rooms, but she detected nothing unusual as they walked past the pair of doors. At the end of the hall, Diego vaulted up the stairs to the next floor.
The feeling grew stronger here, but Diego didn't pause, as if he already knew the answer to their question rested on the uppermost floor of the building, where the last two private dining rooms were located. As young as she was in vampire years, even Meghan felt the pull of that weird something dragging them ever upward.
When they stepped from the stairs into the hallway on the top floor, the smell of blood assaulted them.
Meghan felt a burst of heat in the center of her body. Before she could control the reaction, the heat traveled through her like fast-moving lava, summoning the vampire she hated and had struggled for so long to learn to control. Her fangs burst from her gums, her vamp senses went into overdrive. They registered every little nuance that a human couldn't, things she couldn't have detected before being turned years earlier. Fury rose inside of her, much as it did every time she was reminded of what she no longer was. Her anger was fueled by the violence of the vampire that now controlled her, thanks to the strong smell of blood.
Diego shot a concerned look at her, his brows still furrowed over crystal blue eyes that were bleeding out to the strange neon-green of the undead. But nothing else gave away what he was. He was mastering his transformation, and as he noted that she hadn'tand maybe even picked up on her angerhe said, "Niña, you need to collect yourself. There are others around."
Others meaning humans, she realized. Others not like her anymore.
The doors to the private dining rooms were closed, and she was certain that if there had been any vampires thereany live vampiresthey would be out in the hallway investigating the source of the disturbance and the overwhelming aroma of blood.
With a deep breath, she gathered herself and forced back her fury and bloodlust, summoning the human to return. But even after resuming control, the scent of death and the frisson of fear still lingered.
Diego strode to the door of one private dining room, seemingly sure that this was where they would find an answer.
Meghan knew he was right since the sanguine smell was redolent here as was the unusual feeling, almost like an out-of-rhythm vibration buffeting her vampire senses. Once again the heat pooled in her center, but this time she quickly battled the demon back and took a spot beside Diego, waiting for whatever would happen next, prepared to help her mentor if it became necessary.
He rapped his knuckles against the thick wood of the ornately carved door, but no response came from within.
He knocked again, stronger this time. Silence greeted them yet again.
Diego grasped the doorknob, turned it and slowly opened the door.
As he did so, she peered within and then wished she hadn't.
It was hard to tell where one vampire began and the other ended. Their bloody, naked bodies were wrapped around each other in a tangle of pale limbs. Vamp bites were visible at dozens of places along their torsos, a testament to how often they had fed from each other and how weak they were.
The bites weren't healing, but they were still alive.
She sensed the power of the vampires' life energy, but it was fading quickly. The entwined couple writhing on the floor were still feeding from each other, their fangs buried deep in each other's necks. A sickly, slurpy sound escaped one of them and she wanted to cover her ears to avoid the noise.
Instead, she slipped beneath Diego's arm, intent on doing something to help the two struggling vampires, but he snared her arm and held her back.
"We cannot do anything now. They are too far gone."
She didn't doubt it. Blood oozed from the many bites and as she looked around, she noted the large smears of blood along the floor and couch. Against one wall and part of a window, a spray marked the spot where one of the vamps had likely torn open an artery.
Before them, the movements of the vampire couple quickly stilled and as they did, the preternatural sensation that had called Meghan and Diego to that room slowly fled. When the bodies gave one final twitch, calm returned.
But when Meghan peered up at Diego's face, she sensed the present calm would be short-lived.
As she glanced once again at the blood and death before her, it reminded her of the world into which she had been thrust so many years earlier.
A world of destruction and loneliness.
A world she hated almost as much as she hated the demon she had become.
Blake Richards shuffled the empty glass from one hand to the other across the pitted surface of the bar.
The remnants of cheap beef's blood clung to the sides of the glass, painting it with thick fingers of red-violet. A vintage libation fresh from one of the Blood Bank's regular human contributors would have left far less proof of the nature of the grisly beverage.
But then again, no self-respecting vampire would leave behind a drop of something so fine as fresh human blood.
Something so fine which was relatively lacking tonight, Blake thought, as he glanced around the bar. In recent weeks there had been a decided decline in the number of vampires frequenting the bar, and that had resulted in a slowly decreasing stream of humans seeking the more dangerous fun and games for which the Blood Bank was known in Manhattan's undead underworld.
Rumor had it that a goodly number of his fellow vamps had taken their business to Otro Mundo, the new hangout that Ryder Latimer and Diego Rivera had opened adjacent to Diego's art gallery in SoHo.
Otro Mundo provided fine dining and the possibility for other adventures in the kinds of decadent surroundings that the two older vampires had experienced over the course of their long lives.
Apparently the two human wannabes had struck a chord with a growing contingent of the undead, providing them and their human consorts with such opulence that the Blood Bank no longer held any interest. Not that he would know much about such opulence, he thought, recalling the hungry days of his youth in Wales.
After his father had been killed in a coal-mining accident, his family had been forced to live off whatever they could grow on their small plot of land. Not nearly enough for the brood of six. At times food had been so scarce that he would make a thin soup from whatever greens he could gather in the woods so that he could leave what little food they had for his mother and younger siblings.
Until he had found a way to earn some money. He considered now that starving might have been better.
Shoving those painful recollections away, Blake scoped out the occupants of the bar, needing to satisfy the hunger that the inexpensive beef's blood had failed to quench.
As his gaze swept over the dance floor, he noticed the attractive blonde moving to the hard beats of the music spewing from the Blood Bank's stereo system. Foley, the owner of the Blood Bank, was too cheap to hire live musicians.
When she turned in his direction as she danced, her gaze briefly skimmed across his.
He thought he detected a glimmer of interest there and so he rose, added a bit of swagger to his walk as he approached the dance floor. He weaved through the crowd of dancers until he was just an arm's length from the blonde.
No doubt remained about her interest, since she shot a knowing grin his way. He joined her in the dance, her luscious young body plastered to his, her sweet, firm buttocks caressing his front. Even as he did so, he knew the attractive chit could only fulfill one needhis thirst for blood.
Satisfaction of an emotional kind had eluded him for too long, and as for the physical
His recent interlude with a vampire elder had taught him a thing or two about physical satisfaction. Despite how good it had been with the beautiful and powerful Stacia, it had occurred to him too quickly in the relationship that there was something lacking.
Something he hadn't experienced since
He drove thoughts of her away as the young woman eased up onto her toes, slipped an arm around his neck and drew his head near. She whispered into his ear, "Would you like to go somewhere more private?"
She inclined her head in the direction of the Blood Bank's back rooms and he knew just what she wanted a quick tryst and maybe even some painful play with the toys Foley kept in the rooms for his more daring clientele.
He smiled, slipped his hand into hers and quickly strode toward the private rooms, intending to fulfill the young woman's needs and his own.
But even as he did so, memories sprang up of the last young blonde he had taken into that area. Of the joy and pain that tryst had brought.
He cursed beneath his breath as all desire fled.
He had been reduced to a stalker guy, Blake thought as he hid in the shadows of the alley behind Otro Mundo, waiting for her to emerge.
He had been visiting that spot for nearly two months now, ever since the human wannabes had opened their posh restaurant.
He refused to admit that inside of him lurked a little of the wannabe, especially as he rubbed his full belly. The blonde earlier that evening had been a splendid dining experience, but he still needed more.
Far more than what he would find in the fancy-ass restaurant Diego and Ryder had opened. A part of him resented themhis two kind-of-friends. "Kind-of-friends" because he was only included in their circle when they needed something.
Nothing new. He had been an outsider most of his life. He should have been used to being on the fringe, and yet it gnawed at his gut, as did their philosophy of striving to maintain their humanity rather than giving in to their demons.
As he stood behind the restaurant, he reminded himself that he was a vampire and damned proud of it. He had no need of humanity with all the attendant emotions, especially love.
Love only complicated the whole undead-demon gig.
He told himself that over and over again, until she emerged from the back door of the restaurant and sat on the first step of the landing leading down into the alley.
Meghan's blond hair glistened beneath the light of a bright new moon. She wrapped her arms around herself, as if to ward off the chill of the early spring night. Not that vamps like them really felt the cold. The gesture was probably a lingering human habit.
Meghan had been a vamp for only about four years now. Actually three years, eleven months and ten days, but who was counting? Blake realized that besides Meghan, he would be the one to know.
He had turned her, after all.
Because of that, the connection between them told him that she was deeply troubled. Her hands had been shaking as she had wrapped them around the flesh of her upper arms, and from within her, disquiet radiated out to him, beating against his vampire senses, strumming the bond between a sire and the one he had turned.