She Dies at the End (November Snow #1) (5 page)

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
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“Our saliva contains analgesics and a substance that induces calm and a sense of wellbeing, so our prey don’t suffer unless we hurt them on purpose.  There are those who like to torment their food, but I am not among them.” The imposing redhead paused. “Not unless it’s someone who deserves it,” he finished ominously.

William sat down next to November.  “Which brings us to the next part of your adventure.”  He paused, and the human’s anxiety returned in full force.  “We must exchange blood.”

“I beg your pardon?” she blurted, sliding away from him.  “Why would we need to do that?” she asked with alarm, turning to Savita to look for aid.

“So that other vampires and fairies know that he has a claim on you, that you are not prey available to them,” Savita explained gently.  “You only need to swallow a drop of his blood, and he will need a sip or two of yours.  It will not harm you.  Then our people will be able to tell when they meet you that you are bound to William.  He is Lord of California, so none of his vassals would dare molest you.”

“They’ll think I’m his pet human?” she asked with some distaste, wrinkling her nose.

“Essentially,” William admitted.  “That will make them curious about you, as I have not had a favorite human in many years.  They will be even more curious if they find out that you’re living in my home.  That simply isn’t done unless a vampire plans to turn his human in short order, and you are too young yet to turn legally.  You will be meeting dangerous people who will want your blood and your body and, once they find out about it, your gift.  This blood bond will make them at least think twice about trying to take you, as it would be an act of aggression against me.  It is well known that I am not a good man to have for an enemy, and I have a powerful family.  The blood will also help us to find you if you are ever stolen.”

William leaned in to look into her alarm-widened eyes.  “I know it must be horrifying, the thought that people will think of you as property.  But it will help protect you.  It must be done.” 

November nodded.  The idea of being seen as someone’s pet
horrifying; the idea of being seen as “free prey” was rather more horrifying.  “Will it hurt?”

“A little, as the fangs pierce the skin.  Like a needle.  After that, no,” Savita assured her.

“Okay,” November said softly after a brief pause.  She swallowed.  “I’m ready.”

“You really are a brave girl,” William said with a touch of regret.  Fangs appeared in his mouth, transforming his features in a rather terrifying fashion and quickening November’s heartbeat.  He pricked his finger with one fang and held out his hand.  November took a drop of blood on the tip of her finger, braced herself, and licked the crimson liquid from her hand, grimacing with anticipatory disgust.

Her mind was filled to bursting with image upon image, too fast to process or appreciate, one bitten victim after another, a millennium's worth of hunting and feeding and fighting and sex compressed into thirty seconds of whirlwind.  She heard someone cry out in pain or pleasure; she couldn’t tell which.  It took her a moment to realize the voice was hers.  When she opened her eyes, she was on the floor, William, Zinnia, and Savita hovering over her with worried faces.

“That was rather intense,” she said, placing her hand upon her forehead as the struggled to sit up.

“You looked like you were having a seizure of some sort,” Savita said, helping her back onto the couch.  “That is not the typical reaction to consuming our blood.  What did you see?”

November hesitated.  “A lot of feeding.  A lot.”  She colored again as she remembered what else she'd seen.  “I’m alright.  It wasn’t painful, just really, ah, vivid.”

William looked like he would blush if he could.  “By the way, whatever you see of my life, tonight or any other time, I need you to keep to yourself.  I am a private man, and neither my enemies nor my friends need to know my every secret.  I must say, having to place so much trust in a human makes me uncomfortable.  Though I expect it’s no more than I deserve given how I’ve upended your life.”

“I don’t discuss my visions with people who aren’t in them.  If I draw any of you, I’ll give the papers to you, and you can decide whether or not to destroy them,” she replied.  William’s request made her realize that she was not, in fact, powerless.  William was exposing himself to the very real danger that she would see things he wanted kept secret.  The moment he first touched her, he put a weapon in her hand. 
I am not helpless

I have something they want.  Something they fear.  I am not helpless,
she breathed to herself.

“Thank you,” William said.  “Are you recovered enough to proceed?”  November nodded.  William lifted her feet onto the couch.  “Lean your head back against the armrest,” he directed.  “Don’t forget to breathe.  It’ll only take a moment.”

He brushed her hair away from her neck and leaned forward.  It felt strangely intimate to November, who had never been this close to any man or boy before.  It was what she’d imagined a first kiss would be like when she finally had one: awkward and exciting at the same time.  Then she felt a sharp prick like a large needle, and she heard William swallowing – swallowing her life’s blood. It was a strange thought.  William lifted his head, pressing a tissue against her neck.

“All done.  You did great, young one.  How do you feel?”

“Good,” she said with surprise.  “Relaxed, strangely enough.”

“Did you see anything?” Savita asked.

“No.  Everything went still,” November replied, pleased at the unexpected peace. 

They heard a knock at the door, which opened to reveal Ben returned from his hunting.  “Does she taste as good as she looks?” asked Ben with a wink when he spied the bandage.

“Better,” answered William, almost growling.  “Fangs and hands off.”

“I was just teasing her,” he said stiffly.  Under his master's glare, he managed to squeeze out the words, "I apologize."

“She will need friends in our world.  I expect both of you to look out for her without trying to eat her or bed her.  Is that clear?” William asked Zinnia and Ben in the lordliest possible manner.

“Of course,” replied Zinnia, smiling at her new friend.  Ben nodded, his eyes resentful.

November yawned, which William took as a reminder to depart.  “Good night,
.  We’ll talk tomorrow,” he said, kissing Savita on the cheek one more time. 

November barely made it to the car before falling asleep.  She stirred once as William placed her in a soft, sweet-smelling bed.   She heard, “Go back to sleep, soothsayer.  See you at sunset,” and fell back into the only dreamless sleep she’d ever had in all her life. 

Chapter 4

November woke up in yesterday’s clothes, momentarily confused by her surroundings.  All was quiet and sunshine.  She was shocked to look down at her battered watch to see that she’d slept until nearly two in the afternoon.  She had to admit, though, that it felt incredible.  She’d never had such peaceful sleep, no matter how exhausted she'd been when she'd put her head down.

She sat up to begin taking stock of her new home.  She was lying in a queen-sized bed with soft white sheets, a pale silver blanket edged with satin, and a quilt patterned in silver and white.  Feather pillows cushioned her; an alarm clock and a modernist lamp stood sentinel on the nightstand along with a smartphone charging next to a set of speakers.

She realized with a start that no one had ever slept on this bed before.  Everything beneath her was brand new.  The idea that they had purchased it for her was a bit alarming.  What were they going to expect in recompense?  In November’s experience, nothing worth having came for free.  She tried to catch a glimpse of what the room had been used for before she arrived in it.  Cardboard boxes along with a couple of guitars and music stands were all that she could find.  Apparently, it had been used for storage, which was reassuring.  She should sleep well here – there was no one else's past to pace the floor, waiting to invade her dreams.

She turned to look out the window.  The view was lovely.  The home was perched high on a ridge overlooking Oakland, and she could see all the way to the Bay.  The immediate environs were filled with greenery.  She could not see the neighboring houses; William’s home was an isolated and surely costly sanctuary.

November stood and walked toward the door.  She was filled with momentary panic when she realized that it was locked from the outside.  She kept trying to turn the knob, to no avail.  Her hands began to shake; her mouth filled with saliva, and a wave of nausea overtook her as she realized that she was more prisoner than guest, at least for the moment.  For an instant, she was back in the rubber rooms of St. James' Hospital, full of a desperate ache from all the tears and the hours spent banging her head against the padded door.  Fortunately, she quickly returned to herself, and anger soon replaced fear. November checked the windows, not surprised to find that they were also sealed shut. 

Resolving to occupy her mind in order to stave off panic, November returned to her exploration.  In one corner stood a miniature fridge topped with a microwave and a small cabinet stocked with dishes and flatware.
Well, at least they aren’t going to let me go hungry

Opening the fridge, November had to laugh in spite of herself.  The eclectic collection of foodstuffs evinced the fact that this household was not accustomed to sheltering human residents.  The contents of the fridge, in no particular order, included an artichoke, a jar of pickles, a bottle of ketchup, a box of teabags, a quart of now-melted vanilla ice cream, a jar of peanut butter, salami, goldfish crackers, a loaf of pumpernickel bread, a pomegranate, a package of chewing gum, green bananas, a bag of apples, and a box of raisins.  November hoped they’d let her help with the shopping in the future, but she appreciated the effort.  She paused her investigation of her new domain to break her fast with a peanut butter on pumpernickel sandwich accompanied by raisins, a glass of melted ice cream, and a cup of tea.

Thus fortified, she went to the wall opposite the window to examine the desk.  Surprise and delight filled her heart as she discovered that the desk was packed with art supplies: heavy paper, pencils, charcoals, pastels, paints, pens, brushes.  It was like Christmas.  A bookcase alongside was also well-stocked, with room for her own books to find space with additional textbooks and novels.   She also found a somewhat reassuring note on the desk blotter:

November –

Please make yourself at home.  I apologize for the locked door, but it was the safest thing for all of us.  Zinnia will be home from school around 4 pm.  You’ll see the rest of us after sunset. 

--William Knox

She then turned her attention to the other doors in the room, which she assumed correctly would lead to the bathroom and the closet.  She picked one at random and discovered a closet full of clothes.  Someone had helpfully removed all the tags and hung up the outfits.  She reached out her hand, sliding the smooth fabric between her fingers.  Like the bed, these clothes had never belonged to anyone else.  The quality was fine, but the clothes were not ostentatious.  She was strangely grateful not to know how much they had cost.  They looked to be the right size and included ensembles appropriate for a variety of occasions.  A dozen pairs of shoes were stacked neatly in a shoe rack one the floor.  There were a variety of flats and low heels that seemed pretty practical along with a couple of pairs that looked to be threats to life and limb. This was shocking extravagance to a girl who’d never had more than one pair of shoes without holes in them at any one time. The bureau alongside the closet was stocked with pretty underthings, socks, stockings, and t-shirts. 

Finally, she opened the door to the bathroom.  November shook her head in pleased disbelief at the enormous tub and fluffy white towels, the perfect blue tile and shining faucets.  The room was stocked with every toiletry item imaginable, and November immediately decided that the next order of business was a bubble bath.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had anything more than a quick, cold shower.  She stripped off her dirty clothes, unsure what to do with them until she found a cleverly disguised hamper, and drew herself a piping hot bath with copious bubbles. 

After a good long soak and thorough scrub, she emerged smelling of tea tree oil and feeling ready to face just about anything.  She slathered herself in lotion, wrapped herself in the softest bathrobe known to man, and combed out her hair.  Not knowing what was on tonight’s agenda, she dressed simply and neatly in jeans, a blue v-neck sweater, and some low-heeled boots.  Everything fit, by some miracle. 
Who put all this together, and in only one day?

When November looked at herself in the mirror, she was surprised and pleased to see that she looked like a normal girl for once.  She was accustomed to having a general air of neglect.  Her clothes never quite fit.  There was always a hole that needed patching or a stain she hadn’t been able to get out in the sink.  Today, she looked like someone cared.  November examined her neck, expecting to see an awful mark from the previous night’s bite, but she found only faint pink spots where the fangs had pierced the skin.  She’d never have been able to find them if she hadn’t known they were there. 
That vampire saliva is good stuff, apparently.

The tour of her quarters complete, it was time to explore in a slightly different fashion.  Her hosts could lock her body in a room, but they could not close in the rest of her.  She had discovered this aspect of her psychic ability by accident when she had been about 11 years old.  It had appeared of necessity one afternoon when November had been caught by a terrific thunderstorm while out walking alone.  Before joining the carnival, this was how she had spent much of her time as it was the surest way of avoiding human contact.  The lightening was growing closer; she was drenched to the bone.  In her desperation to find shelter she’d managed to create a mental map of the terrain, enabling her to find and take cover in a shallow cave.   She hadn’t had much need for this gift lately, but she enjoyed practicing it; it was a good break from her other, more upsetting abilities.  She would look for underground water, for instance, or try to map the bottom of a lake, or try to see what stores were inside a mall before she went inside. 

November took a deep breath and began to feel around beyond the door.  The first thing she noticed was how huge the place was: room after room, three floors worth plus a basement, separated into two wings.  The house was largely empty.  She caught glimpses of the vampires at rest in tastefully appointed rooms in the basement.  They really did look dead when they were sleeping.  She caught a glimpse of a fairy in an office.  He had deep brown skin, lime green hair and eyes, and had the hurried air of the extremely busy.  Another fairy was arranging flowers in a granite-countered kitchen.  November picked up a smattering of decorative details here and there: the black and white marble floor in the foyer, the blue door on the guardhouse by the gate to the grounds, the mosaic of a rose and a sword on the bottom of the outdoor pool. 

As she continued to look around, November slowly began to realize that this was no mere mansion: it was a cunningly disguised fortress.  The walls around the grounds were over 12 feet high, a foot thick, and topped with spikes, with only one well-guarded entry gate that looked like it had been lifted from Fort Knox.  There were external metal shutters poised to block every window in the house as well as every exterior door.  There appeared to be some kind of system of escape tunnels.  There were generators in case of loss of power and a water storage tank, she presumed in case of fire, since she didn’t think vampires and fairies drank water.  There was an armory stocked with crossbows, stakes, knives, guns, and weapons she didn’t even recognize.  It was alarming. 
These people are loaded for bear.

To combat her growing unease, November broke out her physics book, a notepad, and a pencil and started working problems.  She played with the streaming service on the phone, searching for a few of the bands she liked from her many hours spent listening to the radio.  She passed the afternoon lounging on her bed, nibbling goldfish crackers and working problems, until she was startled by a knock on the door.

“Hey, Em, it’s Zin.  Can I come in?”

“Of course,” November replied, placing her books to the side.  The fairy opened what sounded like several locks on the door and came bounding into the room, wearing a long, patchwork skirt with a black tunic embroidered with flowers and a bright scarf.  Between the outfit and her hair, she looked like a punk hippie. 

Zinnia plopped down on the bed beside November, asking, “Did you have an okay day in your gilded cage?”

“That isn’t funny, Zinnia.  The room’s very nice, but that locked door really scared me.” Her voice cracked, but November forced herself to continue the speech she had prepared. “I came with you quietly because I know from my vision that I am meant to be in this world, but I thought it would be as a member of this household, not as a prisoner.  I want to be treated like a friend.  I could probably accept being an employee.  But I will not be some . . . some dog kept on a chain.  I won’t be treated like a criminal or a crazy person.” 

Zinnia looked sympathetic as she tried to explain the inexcusable.  “There are eight vampires living under this roof, and during the day they rest, hidden away from the sun.  It’s the only time that they’re really vulnerable to attack.  It’s unheard of to leave a human free to roam a vampire’s home during daylight, especially one who isn’t enthralled.  To have you wandering around their home plays to their most primal fear.  Lord William will try to convince the others to make an exception for you, and they respect his authority, but his nestmates are some of his most important supporters. Most are part of his government, and he can’t risk losing their loyalty.  He has to tread carefully.  This is uncharted territory.”

“I suppose I can understand that,” she said quietly, still uncomfortable.  “Though I would point out that being kidnapped and held in a building full of predators plays to
most primal fears.”  Em paused. “So it isn’t to keep me from running away?  Not that I have anywhere to go, really.”

“Well, I suppose that’s also a consideration, to be brutally honest,” Zinnia admitted.  “To tell you the truth, you are safer here than wandering out in the world.  If we heard about you, you can bet that other supernaturals have, too.  We just got to you first.”  Zinnia looked with curious revulsion at the bowl of multicolored goldfish crackers on the bed.  She sniffed one and wrinkled her nose.

“So, you came looking for me on purpose?  How did you know I was even there?"

“Ben heard about you from some human he was feeding on.  He thought it was bull, but he was telling me about it, and I told Lord William, who became very interested.  He cleared his schedule, and off we went to the boonies searching for you.”

“And what if I had fought coming here, or run to the cops or something?  What if I hadn’t already accepted my fate?” November asked, not sure she really wanted to know.

Zinnia at least had the decency to look her right in the eyes as she confirmed, “Then we would have kidnapped you for real and tried to win you over after.  That would have been especially hard for me, since I can sense other people’s feelings, but we’d still have done it.  Lord William can be ruthless when he thinks he has to be, and we are all sworn to obey him and to serve his house.”  Seeing the horror in November’s eyes, she added, “He is fair, and I’ve never known him to be gratuitously cruel.  He is gentle with humans, criminals excepted. You don’t need to be afraid of him.”

“Then why does he think he needs me badly enough to be willing to kidnap an innocent stranger?” November asked.

“That’s his story to tell, November.  And I promise you, he will.”  She gave the human a reassuring pat on the knee.  “Here, let’s fix that arm.”  November held out the injured limb, curious and nervous.  Zinnia laid her hand lightly upon the injury and closed her eyes.   “This might be uncomfortable,” she warned.  The warning was accurate, as November’s arm began to ache, burn, and itch intensely all at once.  She caught flashes of Zinnia’s life, glimpsing the fairy as a tween making out with a boy behind some bleachers as well as a night sky full of twinkling lights of many colors.  Zinnia was quickly finished, and November looked down in wonder at her completely healed, unscarred arm.

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
2.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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