A Kiss of Crimson by Christina Quinn
The taste of Sadie’s blood lingered in my mouth even after I left. That sweet copper, made me groan while alone. It had been so long since I had done a live feeding, and I felt as though I was breaking the rule just by tasting her. Others would have argued that my fangs didn’t pierce her flesh, so it wasn’t a true feeding, but other Vampires didn’t have Gabriella for a sire.
She would make me pay if she was in a mood, Gabriella was good at that. Similar to how she took my phone from me after she discovered I had an interest in a mortal. I could have said fallen in love, but I had never been in love before.
I sat in the car for what seemed an eternity before I decided to finally enter the large gothic manor. It wasn’t mine, it was Gabriella’s, like everything else in my life. Once I had lusted after her, once she had been my world, but that quickly soured after she turned me. It had been almost five hundred years, but I was still bitter because of it. She outed me and turned my life upside down just so she could have more control over me. Ever since then it seemed her sole purpose in life was to assert her dominance over me and all of her other fledglings.
Unlike others I wasn’t gifted enough to escape my sire’s clutches, so I was forced to live as she willed me to; which included a ban on live feedings. I had almost forgotten how wonderful warm blood could taste, it had been so long. The fact that Sadie offered it to me so easily, eagerly even, made it so much worse.
Part of me was terrified what Gabriella would do if she found out. It was one of the reasons I didn’t want Sadie to know what I was, one of the reasons I kept her from saying it. Gabriella couldn’t lay a finger on a mortal who didn’t know I was a vampire. If she did the Shadows would come down hard on her.
The Order of Shadows kept all of us supernatural creatures in check, and their punishment was more often than not final death. We were allowed to police ourselves as long as oblivious mortals weren’t involved. Which was why Gabriella kept such a tight leash on us, she could no longer do what she did back when she met me. Luring an unknowing human into her clutches now would end poorly for her. She had been warned, and admittedly it was sweet to watch her face twist with impotent rage as she read the black letter they sent her.
My brows knit as I stared up at the gargoyles that sat on the roof. I didn’t want to go inside. I contemplated sleeping in my car, but even the car was a gift from her. If she weren’t in my life, I’d have Sadie in my arms. I laughed. It wasn’t true. I wouldn’t have her in my arms because I’d have died long before meeting her.
That was what dragged me out of my vehicle and coerced me into ascending the stairs. Without Gabriella turning me I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet Sadie. I would have died long ago without having known this feeling that somehow stirred my heart in her glorious presence. I don’t mean literally of course. There was only one way for a vampire’s heart to beat, and that was having a willingly marked servant. I wasn’t strong enough for that, I couldn’t mark anyone, and after this much time, I was fairly certain I would never be able to.
My lips curled into a smile at the thought of having Sadie as my servant, ever at my side. Not under me, or forced to do my bidding, but with me, tempering the harshness of the world I lived in. The thought was a happy one, but was quickly snuffed by the sight of Gabriella opening the door. Even as I stared up at her from the steps I could see why I had lusted after her; she was still breathtaking. Now, however, I knew the truth; she was a beautiful monster. Her skin was pale as cream, her eyes a pretty shade of true gray, and her hair was a cascade of brown with highlights of copper and bronze. She was very much an English rose to me with her kittenish mouth and large round eyes; a look I had tired of once I saw there were other options out there.
“You’re late,” she growled, her voice as raspy and hoarse as always.
“Did you see her again?” She lofted a brow and continued blocking my way.
“Yes, as I told you where I was going before I left.”
She leaned forward and sniffed the air around me. “You didn’t fuck her.”
“No, I didn’t. She was mad at me, as you knew she would be.”
Gabriella laughed and turned on her heels heading into the foyer. Her color was an odd shade of deep purple, almost eggplant but not quite and she hung it everywhere. As I followed her into the house, she was wrapped in a satin robe in that horrifying hue, a flash of white thigh peeking through the long panels with every step. Something about that shade of almost bruised violet always made me feel a little sick inside.
“Are you two still together then?”
“As I told you, I hardly know her.” I left out the part where I wanted desperately to know her better.
“But you’re still stalking her.”
“Yes.” I sighed.
“Bed the girl and be done with it. You know nothing can come of this silly dalliance. You’re too weak to have a servant and I’m not going to stick my neck out if some grand misfortune befalls the little chit.” Her words twisted a hot knot of rage in my stomach, but I quelled it with a few breaths. Gabriella angry was not something I had the energy to deal with.
“They built an exhibit around my things.” I changed the subject as I started up the stairs.
“Mhm. It was so odd seeing so many of my personal effects laid out with those little white cards explaining what they were. It seemed as though they never belonged to me in the first place.”
“That was the point. You’re not that anymore, and you should stop trying to be who you once were. You’re a vampire, not a courtier, or knight. Act like it.” She snapped before disappearing into one of her others fledgling’s room. Fledgling being what vampires call those that they sire.
I paused for a while and stared at the dark wood of the door she had disappeared into.
I can be no one other than myself.
With the thought, I started back on my way to my room walking the same path I had almost every night since we moved here from Britain after the Titanic incident.
Stepping into my room, I turned on the light revealing the vast nothingness which now composed it. The only things Gabriella hadn’t donated were my painting of Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott on the water, the same one Sadie had in her room and my bed. The painting was even in the same spot above my headboard, though my bed was a king sized wooden canopy with heavy drapes embroidered with my family crest and hers one of those cheap pressure board monstrosities. Everything else was gone, given away because I spoke out against her in front of the rest of our Coven. The only thing I really missed was my mother’s ring and my sword.
Everyone has their stopping point, and I was nearing mine. Some might have thought that five hundred years was an excess of time to allow someone to suppress you completely, and I’d concur. For centuries I had been a favorite, kept placated by sex, and the silly thought that it was my duty to keep my sire content. The moment she replaced me I felt lost for the longest. Never one to relinquish control, she kept us—the past lovers she’d turned—as some sort of living mausoleum. She did everything in her power to keep us miserable, driving many to rather take final death than persist through it. Honestly, in the last decade I had contemplated it.
Then there was Sadie when I was at my darkest. I remembered the first time I saw her; I was walking across the Collins University campus after visiting my friend. She looked too perfect to be real with her full lips rouged a fiery shade of red, and her long garnet tresses curled over her shoulders. Her golden skin seemed beyond alive under the warm din of the streetlight. Just seeing her that day made me smile, and she stuck on in my mind after, she was never far from my thoughts.
That was how it started. This obsession that preoccupied me for months. Stalking isn’t just a felony, it’s what a vampire does once we decide to pursue someone. My friend told me that it’s what’s done specifically before a servant or fledgling is selected. But that was an impossibility, I knew where I ranked in our hierarchy. I rationalized it away as nothing more than a neutered cat humping a pillow. My brain knew what should take place with such a strong pull toward someone, and so I was doing it.
I was afraid to tell her what I had been doing and what I was. Terrified that she’d recoil from me, a dead thing since she was so full of life. It was reassuring that she hadn’t run from me when I went to lick her wound, but the closer to her I felt the more fear seemed to grip me. If Gabriella did something to Sadie I’d never forgive myself, it was almost enough to make me want to give her up. I felt more than a little selfish for looking forward to seeing her again tomorrow.
I knew I had to eventually tell her. I wasn’t that cruel. Now, however, was not the time for it. Or maybe it was.
Opening my eyes, I glanced at the painting above my bed and wondered if Sadie was looking up at hers too. A happy smile curled my lips at the thought, and then the reality of my situation sobered it right off. I was playing Russian roulette with Sadie’s life instead of my own. I wasn’t strong enough to protect her like she needed.
My phone rang, and I near jumped out of my skin before wrestling it out of my coat pocket to answer.
“Hello.” My voice was far shakier than I would have liked it, but with a few deep breaths, I regained my composure.
“You okay?” I knew that voice, I’d always know that voice. I had known Tristan before Gabriella embraced me. Embrace being another word for turn. Back then he was a dancer in a traveling troupe, and he still was more or less. However, now he was the director of the prestigious Danse du Nuit, the only all vampire ballet company. Also, he was the Master of the Pacific Northwest, he used to be a bratty brute of a man but had mellowed drastically with age.
“As okay as I can be.”
“I know that tone, what did she do now?”
“She donated all of my things.”
“I deserved it.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“I spoke out of turn, I consider myself lucky that was all she did.”
“You should challenge her.”
“Would you challenge your sire?”
He laughed. “I did, remember?”
“You had help and—” I stopped speaking. He had a lot more to lose than I did. Tristan had a human wife and baby on the way when he confronted his sire.
“Yes, I did have help. But none of us expected it to go well. Leslie pushed for it even after I explained to her what could happen. Pregnancy made her bloodthirsty.” As we spoke, our accents grew thicker with every exchanged phrase. I had almost phased mine out completely, but by the time I responded to him, I sounded like I did before coming to the states.
“I don’t have the powerful friends you do. The others hate me and now…” I wet my lips, I had said too much, but I couldn’t take it back.
“You have me, and you’ll have Leslie. She’ll adore you. I tried to petition for you, but Gabriella still won’t release you.”
“When did you do that?”
“After things calmed down here. I wanted to make good on my promise, I hate knowing you’re miserable.”
“I’m not that miserable.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Mhm, while making the schedule for this season I made sure that du Nuit would stop at the Barnard. I would have told you sooner but, that Sun Cross nonsense.”
I cringed at the mention of the Sun Cross. The ancient order had once vowed to eradicate all vampires. They recently had a resurgence but ultimately failed in the endeavor. They were a human run organization but had pissed off the Order of Shadows enough to gain their attention which had essentially led to their downfall.
“So it is a social call.”
“Of course. Please, I rarely call regarding about business anymore. Though that being said, I was contemplating hiring you while we’re in town.”
“I have a wife and child to worry about now, and you know me. I’m perpetually paranoid and ever looking for excuses to reminisce with you.”
“Alright, when do you need me?”
“Next week, we get in Sunday night.”
I pursed my lips.
I wonder if Sadie would enjoy the ballet?
“Do you think you could get me tickets?”
“Tickets? Dating one of Gabriella’s other cast-offs?”
“No, It’s a h—”
He cut me off, and his voice dropped near to silent. “You know I’m the last person who would ever tell someone not to follow their heart, but you need to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“That you want to bring that girl into all of this.”
“It’s not as though I’m strong enough to mark her, or turn her.”
“All the more reason for you to be sure.”
“You married a human.”
“I didn’t have a vindictive sire to worry me.” A child started crying in the background. “Great I woke her up.” He sighed. “I’ll get you tickets for opening night, but I want you to sit down with Aleksi.” I cringed at the name. I wasn’t one to level insults lightly, but Aleksi was the king of the entitled egomaniacs. It wasn’t entirely his fault; it came as part of his profession. He was a ballet dancer, and he was practically a household name to anyone who followed vampires or ballet—which was a lot more than most realized. I had met him a handful of times, and we didn’t get along well. I had heard from Tristan about his troubles regarding his latest relationship. But the girl was his servant, Sadie wasn’t and couldn’t be mine—the situations had no overlap to me.
“Fine. I’ll have a talk with Aleksi.”
“He’s not as bad as he used to be. Love has changed him greatly.”
“Jealous?” I teased. I knew he had loved Aleksi once, they were together about fifty years ago. Humans were so touchy about homosexual couplings at the time, so they kept it mostly a secret. Tristan told me because he needed someone to talk to, especially when it all fell apart—because Aleksi is only capable of caring about himself.
“I thought I would be. In the beginning a little, but now not an ounce. I have Leslie, and I have Mary, I don’t need anyone else in my heart.” Hearing him say it made me smile. I wanted that, I allowed myself to daydream about Sadie being pregnant, touching her stomach and feeling my child stir. Most males wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic regarding the prospect of it, but I had five hundred years of meaningless sex, I was eager for something more real and lasting.
“You’ll get there one day. But you’ll have to be ready to challenge Gabriella before that time comes, Bryon. If you don’t, she’s just going to use your feelings as an excuse to harm the girl. That’s the type of person she is, she likes to make you suffer. That’s why she keeps you under lock and key in the manor. That’s why she sold your things when you spoke against her.”
“Then you shouldn’t. I won’t say any more, I’ll let Aleksi do it for me.”
“Fine.” I sighed. “What time on Sunday?”
“Okay, I’ll be there.” I hung up. Normally I wouldn’t have, but I didn’t want to hear how I was dooming Sadie just by wanting to be with her. Swallowing, I twisted on the covers. Tristan, however, was right and I knew it. I sat up and pulled off my jacket, throwing it across the empty room. As much as I had berated Aleksi’s selfishness, by not allowing Sadie to make her own decision as to if she wanted to be dragged into the mess of my situation and all of the dangers it entailed I was just as bad.