Katelina woke with the taste of a bad dream in her mouth. She shivered in the slowly deepening darkness and looked around the motel room. All of the furniture, save the bed, was stacked in front of the window to block out the sun. But the pile was too small and the last light of a November day splashed around it and onto the bed.
Katelina glanced over to the figure stretched out on the floor, safely out of the way of the sunlight. His long dark hair was fanned out against the ugly carpet and his usually warm eyes were closed in sleep. His lashes rested on his pale, flawless cheeks. He was beautiful; too beautiful, really. She guessed that should’ve been her first clue to his true identity. When she’d met him, she’d stupidly thought he was human, like she was, but she’d been wrong. Jorick was one of them.
It had been almost two weeks since Katelina’s world had been turned upside down by a single phone call. In the days since, she’d learned a lot. Not only were vampires real, but her friend Patrick had been involved with them. In fact his brother, who’d murdered him, had been a vampire.
They were lessons that came at a heavy price. Her best friend Sarah had been killed, and Katelina had barely escaped death herself. Now, she and Jorick were staying in a cheap motel and waiting for the sun to go down so they could travel to his home. Not that she was sure where that was, beyond the description “near the beach”. As long as it was quiet, she didn’t care.
She slipped from the bed and stole quietly to the bathroom where she shed her clothes and climbed into the shower. As she washed herself, her mind replayed scenes behind her eyelids. Arowenia; the dead child bride. Claudius’s den; the torture she’d endured, her rescue, and then the final battle at the dilapidated house where Claudius had been beheaded and Kateesha, an evil vampiress, had claimed his coven.
It had been Claudius who’d hunted Katelina. Claudius who’d killed Sarah and ransacked her house. Claudius who’d ruined everything. Now that he was dead she should have been safe. Instead, she had to fear Kateesha and her jealous lust for Jorick, despite his assurances that they would be all right.
She dried off and examined herself in the mirror. As she thought about Jorick, her eyes went straight to the spot above her collar bone that bore his “mark”; a set of fang marks with a lopsided cross scratched beneath it. When it healed it would leave a scar, but she supposed that was the point: a vampire mark to claim her as his property, or his human slave as Kateesha called it. It was funny, in an ironic way, that the claiming was one of the things that made Kateesha so angry, and yet he’d only done it to make Katelina “legal” and save her from a vampire execution squad.
Katelina dismissed the bad memories and swept her gaze over what was left of her injuries from Claudius and his men. Her black eye was faded and the lump on her head was almost gone. The other bruises were colored in greens and yellows, like a finger-painting gone bad. The worst was her shoulder. The skin was pink and puckered around the stitches and itched – a sign it was healing, or so her mother always said. If only the uneasiness would heal, as well.
Katelina brushed out her long, blonde hair and put on her clothes. The red dress, borrowed from another vampiress, clung to her. She tugged uselessly at it as she walked back into the bedroom. There, she found the sunlight gone and Jorick awake. He’d partially disassembled the stack of furniture and now sat in a wicker chair, wearing nothing but a pair of faded blue jeans.
“Good morning.” He gave her a warm smile that flashed his shining fangs. “Did you sleep well?”
She answered with a halfhearted shrug and noticed that he had the gauze and ointment laid out on the small table. “You’re playing doctor again?”
“At every opportunity,” he murmured meaningfully. He smirked as she blushed, and indicated the empty chair opposite him. “Sit down and we’ll get started.”
With her cheeks still pink, she did as he asked. Gently, he treated and bandaged her hurts. His lingering fingers did little to calm her pounding heart, but something in the way he watched her made her cautious. He peered at her from underneath his eyelids expectantly, but she didn’t know what he was waiting for.
He finished in silence and leaned back in his chair. She cleared her throat noisily, just for the sound, and he finally relented. “I just wondered if you hadn’t changed your mind about going home.”
She shook her head no and held up her bandaged arms. “I can’t go home like this. What would my mom say? I may be an adult, but can you imagine the hysterical fit she’d have, anyway?”
Jorick nodded and commented casually, “Yes, but someone’s listed you as a missing person. Perhaps…” he broke off and gestured with his hand to dismiss the conversation. “If you’re sure, then it’s fine with me.” He flashed a tight smile. “How long do you plan to stay away from home?”
“Until I’m healed up, I expect.” She frowned as she tried to figure up the date. “It’s almost Halloween now, isn’t it?”
Jorick shrugged his shoulders. “The last time I noticed the date was August.”
“August?” she demanded incredulously, then rolled her eyes. “Never mind. There should be something.” She stared uselessly around the motel room, then noticed the room receipt crumpled on floor. She scooped it up, and smoothed the yellow paper. “It’s-” a pause. “November first?”
She added dates up in her head, but came to no conclusion before a knock sounded on the door, followed by the call, “It’s Oren.”
Jorick shrugged his shoulders and stood. “November sounds right.” He moved to the door and flipped the row of locks. “Come in.”
Jorick’s fledgling, a tall vampire with tawny hair and amber eyes, strolled into the room. It wasn’t just his coloring, but his mannerisms that made Katelina think of a lion. Though his long hair was tamed back in a ponytail and he wore a button down shirt tucked into jeans, there always seemed to be something just barely contained about the man. She wasn’t sure she liked that.
Oren strolled to the middle of the room and glanced from Katelina to Jorick, his face serious. “I think we soon come to a parting.” He held Jorick’s gaze. “Unless you wish to join my sister and me?”
Jorick shook his head. “No, Oren.” His eyes flicked to Katelina and then back. “My fight was with Claudius, and it’s over now. I have no reason to war against The Guild.”
Oren’s jaw tightened at the mention of the vampire government. “Yes, I know. It wasn’t your wife and children that they burned.” He quickly composed himself. “I apologize. The fault isn’t yours, and I don’t seek to change your mind. I cannot deny, however, that you’d be an asset. A former Executioner; one whose blood is older than any who currently hold that title.”
Jorick held up a hand to stop him. “Perhaps. But this isn’t my fight - at least, not yet.” He motioned to Katelina. “She’s injured and needs time to heal both her body and mind and digest all that’s happened. I’m sorry, but that must be my priority, right now.” He added, wryly, “After all, I’m the one who brought her into this, as you’ve so eloquently reminded me many times.”
Oren didn’t look defeated or disappointed, only unhappily satisfied. “I feared you’d say that.” He met Jorick’s gaze, his spine straight. “I will not try to dissuade you from the path you’ve chosen. You’ve rarely done so to me, and I’ll return the favor.” He turned and started towards the door, but stopped just before it. “If ever you wish to join us, there will be a place of honor for you.” The invitation hung in that air like a tangible object that Katelina wanted to reach up and brush away.
“I know, Oren,” Jorick replied, looking past the offer with another tight smile.
Oren nodded crisply. “I’ll take you as far as your den, but then I have other things I need to see to.”
“I appreciate it.” Jorick moved next to Katelina and placed a hand on her shoulder. “And I wish you luck.”
Oren nodded to himself. “We will need more than luck.” Then he added, “We can feed your human on the way.”
Before either of them could reply, he was gone and the door closed behind him. Katelina let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She’d been afraid that Jorick would change his mind and agree to go with them into another battle. She was sick of fighting and killing and blood. If he’d said he’d go then – then what? Would she turn and run home, leaving him alone? She didn’t know, but luckily she didn’t have to find out.
Jorick packed what little they had with them in a wrinkled shopping bag. He double checked the room over and, without bothering to unstack the rest of the furniture, they headed out into the night. The air was damp and cold. It cut through Katelina’s borrowed dress as if it was made of tissue paper. Oren’s giant blue car was almost a welcome sight and Katelina slipped into the backseat without comment.
She settled back and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. Jorick climbed in, but she didn’t bother to lean against him for warmth. Until a vampire fed their skin was icy cold. It was only the heat of someone else’s blood that gave them warmth.
The word made her shudder instinctively. She’d accepted the reality of vampires because she had no choice. All she had to do was look around and the proof was staring at her with glittering too-beautiful eyes. But somewhere, deep inside, was a Katelina who believed in computers, fast food, Twinkies, and concrete, and that Katelina didn’t like to think about anyone “feeding” on blood. In fact, that Katelina didn’t like to think about anything that had happened since she’d last been at work, two weeks ago.
She looked towards the motel to see Oren accompanied by his sister, a curvy red headed vampiress. Torina’s long wavy hair bounced freely around her shoulders and her hips swayed under a slinky dress. Her full lips were moving, but Katelina couldn’t hear the words.
The pair climbed into the front seat and Torina glanced back over her shoulder. She gave Jorick a once over, pointedly ignoring Katelina. “You’re all ready?”
Jorick made a noise in his throat. “Yes. We’re ready.”
Torina dismissed them both and turned back to her brother. “As I was saying, we should move quickly.”
Katelina cringed, but Jorick laid his arm casually over her shoulders and he gave her a smile, as if to say, “Don’t worry.”
Oren started the car and dropped it into gear. “We’ll make our plans later, Torina.”
“There shouldn’t be too many plans to make. We kill whoever gets in our way and then I’ll rip out Kateesha’s throat.”
“Kateesha?” Oren asked, surprised. “Our war is with The Guild. She isn’t a part of the plan.”
“She’s part of my plan,” Torina growled. “I owe her a debt, and it’s long overdue.”
Oren sighed heavily. “His blood is cold, leave it that way.”
Katelina looked at Jorick questioningly, but he made no sign he’d heard the conversation. She poked him in the ribs, but he ignored that, too.
Torina’s green eyes flashed and she snarled, “I could say the same of you, brother!”
With those words the car fell into a sickeningly tense silence. Jorick gave Katelina a halfhearted smile before he turned to stare through the window at the town that slipped past. She wished they’d at least turn on the radio, but couldn’t bring herself to suggest it. There were too many memories running around her head for her to feel any kind of peace.
Though the vampires returned from an early gas station break, looking warmed and fed, it was nearly eight o’clock before Oren remembered his promise to “feed the human” and stopped at a fast food place. It was after they parked that Oren mentioned drive through, but Jorick assured him it was fine.
“I don’t mind going in.” He swung the heavy car door open. “I’ll be right back.”
Katelina thought about going with him, but she didn’t want anyone to see her all banged up, so she tried to pretend that she was comfortable being left alone with Oren and Torina. Not that she thought they’d kill her, particularly, but she didn’t know what to say.
She watched Jorick lope across the parking lot, his hands in his pockets, and disappear inside the building. The door was decidedly uninteresting on its own, so she stared down at her folded hands and willed Jorick to hurry.
Oren was equally stiff. He stared through the windshield at his own secret world. Silence settled over the three of them in a deep mantle, and only Torina was brash enough to break it. She turned around, glared at Katelina, and said pointedly, “Jorick has done much on your behalf. I hope that you appreciate it.”
Katelina’s mouth opened, but no reply came. It was like a scene from a bad date movie, only the characters were all wrong.
Oren cut in, “Leave it.”
“I only think someone should mention it,” Torina purred softly. “It isn’t every day that one of the old Executioners – and Jorick, no less - sacrifices anything for a…” she paused. “Mortal. He hasn’t had a lover in many years. And she wasn’t of the mortal variety.”
“I said leave it!” Oren snapped firmly.
“Think about it! The way that ended, who would think he’d ever look to a mortal for companionship?”
“Torina,” Oren hissed without looking at her. “Stop.”
“Why?” Torina demanded. “You didn’t tell Kateesha what not to say!”
“Because I’m not responsible for Kateesha or the foolish things she says.”
Katelina tried to disappear into the upholstery of the backseat, and it seemed to work as they continued their battle.
Torina snorted sarcastically “The same as you were responsible for Jesslynn?”
Oren’s eyes grew hard and skipped away from her and back to the windshield. “Yes, Torina,” he replied, his tone as cold as his eyes. “The same.”
Torina’s voice softened, though her words didn’t. “You have no one to blame but yourself, and you know it. You should never have allowed her to turn the children.”
“Enough! We’re finished!” He turned his head and stared through the driver’s side window, his face white with fury.
Torina growled low, and muttered something under her breath before she turned to face the front. She sat with her back rigid and her arms crossed over her chest, glaring at the night outside.
Katelina tried not to think about Torina’s words. A pang of jealousy tore through her chest at the word “lover”. She tried to talk herself out of it, but it made the gnawing in her stomach worse, so she turned to logic. “Jorick is obviously…” she paused as she tried to find a description that didn’t bother her, and settled on “old”. Yes, Jorick was old, and it was stupid of her to assume he’d always been single. Still, the thought of him with another woman made her feel… what? Uncomfortable? And Torina’s other words didn’t help. Actually, it wasn’t just Torina, but everyone. Their surprise when they saw her, the sneer in their voices when they remarked that Jorick had a “human”, like she was a diseased house pet that shouldn’t be taken in public. And then Kateesha had gone out of her way to remind her that, even as humans went, she was pretty much just a garden variety woman. It made her wonder what Jorick saw in her; if, in fact, he saw anything.
She was still musing on dark thoughts when Jorick returned with a “to go” bag in his hand that smelled of hamburger and soggy French fries. She took it gratefully, and started eating before the car was even in gear. She’d never been so tired of being hungry before in her life! It was like the near starvation diet she’d gone on right after high school, except there didn’t seem to be a way to give up and eat a whole carton of ice cream. Jorick was the only one that remembered she needed food, and he seemed to think she only needed it once a night. Feeding once nightly seemed to be the vampire standard; but she wasn’t a vampire.
Time disappeared into the primordial vacuum that was a car trip. Katelina’s mind turned to jelly as she gazed out the window, ready to weep from the complete lack of stimulus. Her companions had all fallen into strange worlds of their own: Jorick had lapsed into one of the dark, brooding silences that so punctuated her time with him. Torina stared through the windshield, a smile curving her full, pouty lips and Oren scowled at the road as if it had angered him. Katelina couldn’t help but think that as far as “road trip” companions went, these three ranked only slightly higher than dead hamsters and moldy socks.
When they passed the “Welcome to Maine” sign it gave her a chance to comment, but no one really cared, and the conversation died quickly. Just when she contemplated screaming for the shock value, they turned onto a well worn side road. The hope of a journey’s end made her suddenly alert, and she was too busy trying to pick details out of the darkness to worry about the others anymore.
The headlights landed on a rusty mailbox that leaned crookedly at the end of a long driveway. The sight did little for Katelina’s optimism, and then she saw the back side of the small weathered house and her heart sank. The house sat in the middle of an untidy yard and some distance in front of it was a thick stand of unruly trees, almost like a miniature forest that she couldn’t see beyond. If she’d been hoping for something modern and nice, then she was disappointed.
The car came to a stop where the gravel driveway faded into a tangle of weeds. Oren spoke quietly without looking back at them, “Here you are, Jorick.” He took a tense breath and exhaled slowly. “I’d ask you to reconsider, but I know it’s pointless.”
“Yes,” Jorick agreed. “It is.” He collected the plastic bag of belongings and motioned Katelina to get out. “I appreciate the ride, and if you wish, you and Torina may pass the day here.”
Oren tried to smile, but it was a poor imitation. “No, I’m afraid we must use the hours remaining us to reach our destination. I thank you for the offer, none the less.”
“Then it is as it is,” Jorick said simply. He opened the door and a blast of icy air rushed in. “I wish you well, and when we meet again I hope there is an end to this.”
“As do I.”
Without a reply, Jorick climbed out of the car and Katelina made to follow him when Torina cried vehemently, “It wouldn’t hurt you to help!”
“Torina,” Oren said softly. “Let him go.”
“But look at all you’ve done for him!” she insisted. “The least he could do is-”
Oren interrupted her, but spoke calmly. “What I have done, I have done for myself.” He looked over his shoulder at Katelina and commented without any real conviction, “May we meet again.”
Katelina climbed out, feeling both cold and uncomfortable. She took her place next to Jorick and they watched the car reverse to the road. As it turned around, Torina wound down her window and called back, “When you’ve gotten your fill of your new pet, Jorick, you can join us.”
He grunted in reply as the car found the road and disappeared. Soon, even the sound of the motor faded, as if it had never been there at all.
An icy blast of wind shook the trees and rattled the dry grass eerily. Katelina shivered, and it seemed to draw Jorick back to the present. With another wordless grunt he took her hand and led her slowly to the front of the house. “Look at this,” he muttered. “Look at the state of this place.”
Katelina didn’t reply, only followed him onto the small porch and waited as he fished a ring of keys out of his pocket. She marveled at his “magic” pockets. He always seemed to be pulling something out of them, and yet she never saw the telltale pile of belongings that men left on the dresser tops when they went to bed. What did he do? Just leave the stuff in there and transfer it from one pair of jeans to the next?
The door opened and she hurried inside to find that it was nearly as cold as it had been outdoors.
Jorick sniffed the air and muttered darkly, “Stale.” He flipped the light switch and exclaimed with grudging surprise, “At least the electricity is still on.”
Katelina’s eyes swept the room. It was stuffed with antique furniture: a sideboard, a curio cabinet, a collection of stands, a secretary, a set of slender wing backed chairs, and a low couch that sat under the front window. The floor was wooden, but two large rugs in mismatched patterns covered most of it. A stone fireplace stood black and waiting in the corner and gave Katelina some hope that heat was coming, however, it was not the most prominent feature of the room. The thing that stood out the most was the books. They were piled everywhere; on the stands, in towering heaps on the floor, even in one of the chairs. Their jackets ranged from shiny and new to old and worn, with no discernible rhyme or reason to their locations.
Jorick continued to mutter unintelligibly as he walked through a wide doorway and into the rest of the house, switching on the lights as he went. Katelina followed close on his heels as each room was revealed: a dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. All were overrun with dusty books stacked at odd angles. It was almost as if they’d been discarded randomly as they were finished.
The house looped around on itself so that, as they walked down a narrow hallway, they were facing the front again. The small hall ended at two doors; one literally at the end and a white painted one to the left. They came to a stop and Jorick fell silent. He stared at the white door as if it might eat them both. When nothing happened, he cleared his throat noisily and glanced back at her. “You should go make yourself comfortable.”
“Make myself comfortable?” she echoed uncertainly.
He nodded absently and fished the ring of keys from his pocket. He slid the appropriate one into the door’s lock and addressed her without meeting her eyes. “Yes. Start a fire or something. I suppose it’s probably cold in here.”
“Well, now that you mention it-” she got no further before he swung the door inward and disappeared through it. “Hey! I don’t really know how to-” but the door closed after him, effectively shutting her out.
The only answer was a loud click as the door was locked from the inside.
“What in the hell?” She stared at the white door, her brow creased in anger. Not only was his behavior odd, but it was insulting! She couldn’t imagine what he’d be doing in the room that required such secrecy, and the idea that he’d go to the bother of locking her out made it worse. Did he think she’d bust in on him?
She marched to the front room and stood uselessly in the middle of the floor. How long was he going to be in there? She was cold and didn’t know how to start a fire. Then again, how hard could it really be? All she needed was wood and matches, right?
Three logs lay in a basket next to the hearth and a book of matches was discarded on the mantle. With angry determination, she knelt next to the fireplace and carefully lifted the logs inside. She ripped a match from the book, struck it, and held it to the crumbling bark of one of the logs.
It took four matches, but soon infant flames licked the dry wood. She leaned back on her haunches with a feeling of pride as the fire slowly grew. “Ha, Jorick! Take that!”
She took turns warming different parts of her body, then curled up on the rug before the hearth and watched the flames. Her mind wandered, unbidden, to another fire she’d seen recently. The memories of painful screams echoed in her ears and she unconsciously put her hands to her head, as if to silence them.
Desperate for distraction, she grabbed a book from the stack that leaned precariously against the coffee table. The title was faded from the worn cover and the peeling spine. She wondered if it had been read too many times or simply neglected.
Restlessly, she flipped the yellowed pages, back to front. When she reached the inside of the front cover she found smeared, spidery writing. Further examination revealed the name “Jorick” and the date “December,1875”.
With a soft shudder she snapped the book closed and put it back where she’d gotten it. The last thing she wanted right now was a reminder of what he really was, so she turned to the puzzle of their location. The matchbook on the fireplace said “Stop N Shop – open 24 hours, Venice Maryland”, but they were most certainly in Maine. Her brow furrowed as she tried to organize the jumble of states in her mind. She remembered that they’d been in New Hampshire at some point, though she didn’t know where Maine, or even Maryland, was in relationship to it. She should have paid more attention back when she’d been in school, but why should she when there was always a map; in the glove box, or on the computer, or in a book, or even on her cell phone. Only- surprise! - there wasn’t a map now. Why had no one ever mentioned the possibility of being cut off?
She waited impatiently for Jorick, and when he didn’t come she went back to the books. When that got boring she stretched out on the rug and closed her eyes. She banished everything from her mind except a repeating cycle of song lyrics, and let herself drift on warm tides towards a drowsy sleep.
When Jorick woke her, the fire had all but burned itself to smoldering coals and the chill was back. “Come, little one,” he said softly, his hand on her arm. “The sun will be upon us soon.”
Katelina sat up and glared at him. Irritatingly, his attitude said that he saw nothing wrong with shutting her out of his little “secret room” earlier. “Let me guess,” she bit off sarcastically. “You have a coffin in the basement?”
He laughed for the first time since they’d arrived, and she wasn’t sure if it annoyed her or made her feel better. “As a matter of fact I do, but it’s for company. I have a bedroom down there as well, and that’s where I’m going to sleep.” He offered her a grin. “If you’d rather try the coffin though, be my guest.”
“No, thank you.” She let him help her to her feet and automatically straightened the red dress.
He ignored her frosty tone and gave her a wink. “Don’t worry. You can take that off soon enough.”
A plethora of sarcastic replies rose up in her, but before she could choose one they were already walking through the house, leaving a trail of darkness behind them as Jorick turned the lights out.
She followed him to the door at the very end of the narrow hallway. It opened to reveal a landing and a set of stairs that led down to a semi-finished basement. The walls were painted white, but the floor was still cold concrete. A large, cobwebbed furnace squatted in one corner near a sagging shelving unit. Boxes and bits of broken furniture were gathered in random pockets, and, just as Jorick had said, a large black coffin sat off to the right, near two doors.
It was to one of the doors that Jorick led her. Inside was a bedroom stuffed with a heavy wardrobe and a large carved four-poster bed hung with blood red curtains. Katelina stared at it and her lip curled in disbelief. “Someone has flamboyant taste. Could you get any more textbook cliché?” Even as she spoke, she wondered how he could have gotten the thing down stairs and into the room.
“A souvenir from years long gone.” He ran his hand over the footboard as if it were a lover he hadn’t seen in months. “The only piece of furniture I’ve had since before.”
He stripped off his clothes, distracting her from a sarcastic remark about the nature of his relationship with his bed. Each piece of clothing fell to the floor to reveal an expanse of perfect, pale skin that made her heart catch in her chest, despite her anger.
He didn’t bother with pajamas, only turned back the covers on the bed. He frowned down at the sheets and muttered something that sounded like, “He didn’t even change the bedding!”
Jorick dismissed it as unimportant and lay down. He settled himself and then looked to Katelina, who still stood just inside the door. “Are you coming?” His tone was amused. “Or would you rather watch me sleep?”
“Maybe,” she muttered, but her false bravado did nothing for the blush that crept into her cheeks. The idea of him watching her strip off, like she’d just watched him, made her stomach churn nervously. Maybe it made her a prude, or just shy, but she didn’t like anyone to see her naked. “No, I’m coming.”
“Good.” His voice switched to an almost false innocence, “Then get the light, would you?”
She gratefully found the light switch and flicked it off before she removed her dress. She crossed the pitch black room slowly, until her seeking fingers found the bed, then she slipped under the covers.
When she was settled, Jorick pulled her against him, and kissed her neck softly. “Sleep well.”
Another snappy reply came to mind, but she dismissed it. They could fight tomorrow, if that’s how it was going to be. For now, she could let it go.
“You too,” she said quietly and snuggled closer to him. Yes, tomorrow they could deal with everything. Tonight, in a real bed at last, she could just pretend it didn’t matter.