Katelina finally gets her beach vacation, but it’s not everything she dreamed. How could it be with the companions she’s got? Strap in for a collection of six short stories about surf, sun, and… um… I mean surf, moonlight and vampires.
Torina slipped into the emerald green bikini and studied the effect in the full length mirror. She frowned and pulled at the top, as if she could physically force her ample breasts to sit higher. She’d spent more than two hundred years trying to get them to cooperate and they still refused.
She turned this way and that, nodding in approval at some things and frowning at others. A voice from long ago came back to her, “If men find you pleasing you will never need to worry. Happy is the woman who looks to these things.”
The words sounded wise, but her mother had been wrong. No matter how pleasing you were there was always something to worry about. Hunger, thirst, loneliness.
“My stupid brother.”
As if conjured from her thoughts she saw him through the window. He took a seat on the brightly lit patio and gazed towards the ocean. A short woman wrapped in a kimono hurried after him and took a chair. She held yards of blue fabric in her lap and, as Torina watched, she turned to her embroidery.
Things stirred in the back of Torina’s memory. Quilting parties. Embroidering a handkerchief for her father. The sounds of giggling women and tiny stitches in neat rows. The memories were disjointed and hazy, too old to be important, and she brushed them aside.
She headed downstairs and outside. The tropical night was warm. A sea breeze caressed her skin and rustled the palm trees. A pair of grass roofed mansions sat in the center of the island, home to the group of vacationers, and she left her own for the one with a kitchen. Why they’d only put amenities in one house had not been explained, but it was an inconvenience.
She paused suddenly at the sliding glass doors and scented something in the wind that would taste better than canned blood. Even if they put an umbrella in it.
Torina turned towards the trees and plunged into the foliage. She wound her way up the dark hillside until she came to a clearing at the top. The mortal stood, hands clasped behind his back and eyes on the sky above, unaware of her presence. He wasn’t particularly attractive, though he wasn’t ugly. He had dark hair, cropped close, and ginger skin. His shoulders were broad and spoke of manual labor, and she imagined his chest would be muscled, but it wasn’t his body she was interested in, only his blood. She could smell it coursing through his veins, singing for her taste.
And why shouldn’t she sample him? He was one of the humans that peppered the island with the sole purpose of making the vampires’ stay comfortable.
She took a purposefully noisy step. He spun around, eyes wide. Fright rose and fell in them, masked quickly under servitude.
He bowed. “Madam, how may I be of service?”
She walked towards him slowly, swaying her hips in a calculated rhythm. “There’s no need to be so formal. It’s just you and me here.”
He looked up. His face flushed and he dropped his eyes again. “What can I do for you?”
She stopped before him and lifted his chin with her finger. “I can think of lots of things, can’t you?”
He gulped, his eyes locked in her deep emerald gaze. Her smile was slow, seductive, satisfied, like a spider with a particularly tasty bug.
That’s what he is.
Torina wiped her mouth and left him lying dazed in the grass, staring at the stars. She picked her way down the hill and swerved towards the beach, pausing at the edge of the trees. Several of her vacation companions were already there, including Micah, a bald specimen with a goatee and tribal tattoo down one side of his face. He lounged on a beach chair, dressed in a pair of patterned swim trunks and a white tank top that hugged his well-muscled chest. A cigarette hung from his lips, and he motioned to someone she couldn’t see.
She gave her breasts a final, fruitless lift and plunged out into the open, making a point to draw Micah’s attention. The bald vampire gave a low, crude whistle and she struck a pose for him. He swung up from his beach chair and headed towards her, hands extended. Torina lithely danced away a step. “Did I give you permission to touch?”
“Why the fuck else would you run around in that?” he asked.
“Because it’s a bathing suit.” She rolled her eyes. “Unless you think it’s better to swim without it?”
Micah leaned back on his heels and gave her a long once over, then he jerked his thumb towards the others. “If it was one of those jack asses I’d say no, but you’re the exception to the rule, baby cakes.”
“Baby cakes?” The name was so ridiculous even she couldn’t keep a straight face and she broke into laughter. “You need to put more thought into your terms of endearment.”
Before he could defend himself, she patted him on the back and strode towards the water. Though it was night, the ocean was warm, and she slid into it until the water was over her breasts. She lunged forward and swam with long, smooth strokes.
Swimming was something she’d learned in her new life; her immortal life. Her mother would never have allowed her daughter to do something as undignified as that. Ladies were ladies, and swimming was a sport for boys and badly raised girls. Torina imagined her mother watching television; young women wearing little more than underwear, sweating, swimming, running, doing the same things that men did. It was just as well that they’d received immortality after her mother’s death. The woman would never have been able to handle the modern world.
When she got tired of swimming she made her way back to the shore. Loren, a teen vampire with dark curly hair and large brown eyes had joined his bald friend. The boy was dressed in a pair of loud Hawaiian style swim trunks and nothing else. His pale, naked torso only reminded everyone how young he’d been when he was turned; doubtless no more than sixteen. He always left Torina torn. In her day sixteen was a respectable age for marriage, even children, but modern conventions frowned on that.
In my day. As if I’m an old spinster.
The thought was infuriating, and the boy caught the irritation that flashed in her eyes. “Hey, Torina! What’s wrong?”
She quickly composed her features; lips slightly pouted and turned up at the edges, brows lifted just enough to make her eyelids look thicker, and chin tucked just a little to draw attention to them. “What could possibly be wrong in a place like this?” she purred and touched his arm.
Loren flushed and broke into a grin. “That-that’s true. I thought maybe Micah did something stupid.”
The bald vampire swept to his feet. “What the fuck, pipsqueak?”
Loren shrugged. “Well, you kinda have a history of saying stupid stuff.”
“That’s an understatement.”
Torina turned towards the sound of the new voice to find Jorick walking towards them. Tall, and broad-shouldered, Jorick had long, sweeping black hair and eyes the color of night. He moved with grace, like a classical dancer, but his aura of raw power removed any doubts about his masculinity. Torina could think of several words to describe him: beautiful, egotistical, frustrating, self-centered, and delicious.
She wondered if his human companion found him as confusing.
“Fuck you, Executioner dog.” Micah spat and purposefully turned his back on the dark vampire.
“No, fuck you,” a voice said at Jorick’s side, and Torina suddenly noticed Katelina, the human in question. She wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t a great beauty. Vampirism and some correctly applied makeup could work wonders, and, as she had done before, Torina squinted at her and tried to imagine what she could turn her into with a little work. The first thing would be her hair. It was a nice shade of blonde, but Katelina left it to hang long and limp in a plain ponytail. It would look better with some waves in it, and a few curls framing her face, especially around her eyes. Blue like a summer sky, they were Katelina’s best feature, but she failed to play them up. She desperately needed help.
Not that I have time to mess with such trivial things.
Torina turned her most winning smile on the dark vampire. “Jorick. How lovely to see you. What are your plans for this stunning evening.” She brushed her fingers over his shoulder and down his arm, to let her hand rest just above his elbow.
He cocked an eyebrow. “Katelina wants to ‘hang out’ on the beach.”
“And you don’t want to?” Katelina scowled darkly and Torina didn’t need to focus on the woman’s thoughts to know what she was irritated about. She gave Jorick’s arm a soft squeeze. “I suppose you’d rather stay holed up with…” she leaned closer and paused to let the innuendo fill itself in, then amended it to, “one of your books?”
“He didn’t bring any,” Katelina said firmly. “And we’re going for a walk.”
“A walk sounds lovely!” Torina let the vampire go to hook her arm through his. “I’d love to join you.”
“What do you wanna go with that jackass for?” Micah flexed his arms. “I’m a lot more fun than he is.”
She gave a silvery laugh and patted his bulging bicep. “I’m sure you are, but absence makes the heart grow fonder.” She tugged Jorick forward before he could untangle himself from her. “Have you seen the cove?”
The three followed the curve of the beach, Jorick in the middle, one arm locked in Torina’s and his other grasped just as tightly by Katelina. The blonde woman shot dirty looks Torina’s way, but she only squeezed Jorick’s arm tighter and giggled a little louder. If it was a competition the human would lose.
No, she wouldn’t, and you know it.
Torina ignored the nagging voice and released Jorick to catch up a sea shell. She twisted it this way and that, batting her eyes and making pointless observations that would have earned her any number of comments from lesser men. Jorick only grunted his lack of enthusiasm and tried to calm his girlfriend with a halfhearted smile and a squeeze of her hand, as if he was saying, “We just need to tolerate Torina for a little while.”
Like she was a spoiled child.
Her initial reaction was to repeat one of Micah’s favorite phrases and go where she was wanted, but she controlled the flush of anger and decided that he’d have to pry her lose. She might not have as many years on the clock, but she was his equal, and if he couldn’t treat her that way then he deserved to be irritated. He was going to see just what a spoiled child could be like.
She turned suddenly and thrust the shell at him. “You’ll carry that for me, won’t you? I would, but I don’t have any pockets.” She held out her arms, then motioned to her scanty swim suit.
Jorick’s eyes followed for a second and then snapped away. “You should have brought a bag.”
She gave him her best pout. “Please? It’s just one tiny little shell. I’d be ever so grateful.” She clasped his hand and held it to her breast.
Katelina made a dark, angry noise, and Jorick pulled away quickly and grabbed the seashell. “Fine. Just one.”
Torina batted her eyes. “See? I knew you could be reasonable!”
A moment later she had another shell, and then another. Jorick jammed them in his pockets with increasing annoyance, and the grooves in Katelina’s forehead got deeper and deeper. Torina wondered which of them would pop first. She almost hoped it was the woman. That would make Jorick’s evening so much worse.
Jorick stuffed the eighth shell in his pocket. “Where’s your brother?”
“On the patio with that dreadful little Japanese thing.” She snatched up a small stone. “Look at this!”
“No more!” Jorick barked. “Maybe you should spend some time with him.”
“Who? Oren?” Her laughter was real. “Why? I see him all the time. Besides, I can’t stand his new puppy. She hasn’t left his side since we got here yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she sleeps on the floor next to his bed.”
“She’s not a dog!” Katelina cried. “She’s a person!”
Torina snorted. “She’s only a human.”
“If she’s only a human then you shouldn’t let her bother you,” Jorick said. Katelina gaped and he opened his mouth, then closed it again, as if there was no way to retract the statement.
“I didn’t say she bothered me, only that I can’t stand her. I am allowed an opinion, you know.” She narrowed her eyes and held Jorick’s gaze. Her next comment was silent, and packed with all the irritation she could force into it, “Unless spoiled children aren’t allowed opinions.”
Jorick rolled his eyes in exasperation, but his reply was as silent as hers. “If you don’t want to be treated as a child, don’t act like it. You’re only tagging along to irritate Katelina.”
“Think what you want.” She turned away from him and spoke loudly, “This has been an enjoyable little excursion, but the pair of you are far too boring for my taste. If you decide you’d like to have some real fun, Jorick, come see me. Otherwise, enjoy your walk.”
She sashayed away, swinging her hips. She could hear the torrent of Katelina’s aggravation, “-can’t stand her! She’s always pawing all over you. Why don’t you do something about it?”
A smile curved Torina’s lips as she imagined what the rest of Jorick’s evening was going to be like.
And he thought I wanted to irritate Katelina!
She wasn’t in the mood for Micah and Loren’s eager-to-please puppy dog routine, so she turned from the path and plunged into the vegetation. The lush jungle sang with insect song, and she slipped beneath the trees and let her mind wander. She remembered when Jorick had moved into the plantation near theirs. He’d inherited it from his uncle, or so he’d claimed. She wondered now if he’d just taken it when the former occupant died, or if Jorick had killed him for it. It was hard to tell with him.
He’d been dashing with his dark, neat ponytail and his grim expression. Though he didn’t get the darkness in his eyes until after he’d married her. Velnya was from Massachusetts. Jorick had met her while he was there on Guild business, and the first time Torina saw her had been at the wedding. One look at those large, hopeful, needy eyes and she’d known it was a mistake. The vampiress was a weak, silly little thing whose head was full of fluff and pleas for protection. That Jorick had expected his new life to end in anything other than blood was ridiculous. Had he really thought such a frail, clingy creature would defend herself?
Though Jorick had never told her, she’d seen glimpses of the end in his mind, and heard it from her brother. After the wedding Jorick and Velnya moved to the wilds of the Nebraska territory, and there Velnya was accused of witchcraft by the local humans. Jorick was away on Guild business, and when he’d returned he found that she’d been dragged from the house and burned alive. Though he claimed she didn’t fight back because she didn’t want to hurt the humans, Torina had never believed it. Could any woman really be that stupid? No doubt she’d expected Jorick to come riding in at the last second and save her, and only when she realized he wouldn’t had she done anything, but it was too little too late.
Torina smiled as she imagined Katelina in her place. The woman was far from perfect, but Torina had to admit that she had guts. She wouldn’t let a mob drag her out of the house and lash her to a tree. She’d bash their skulls in, and then she’d set them on fire. Jorick would come home to a pile of burnt humans and a very angry wife.
Katelina had certainly changed since Torina had first seen her. They were at war with Claudius and Jorick had shown up at their den with the trembling, terrified woman. He tucked her away in an upstairs bedroom, and Torina pounced on him before he even made it to the stairs.
“Well, hello. Long time no see.”
He unwound her arms from his neck and moved back. “Hello, Torina. I assume you’re well?”
She narrowed her eyes at his stiff words. “I could be better.” She moved closer and traced her finger over his chest. “And so could you. How about a few minutes alone?”
He grabbed her hand and dropped it quickly. “I’m sorry, but not now.” He started past her then stopped and looked back. “You met Katelina?”
He phrased it as a question, but it was really a statement. You met Katelina, and I’m with her now.
“I saw her, if that’s what you mean. But I thought she was Patrick’s? The two of you didn’t seem especially friendly.”
His desire was on his face and Torina realized that all of Oren’s ridiculous comments were true. Jorick really had fallen in love with a human. “You’re not serious?”
“About what?” Jorick ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that I won’t let anyone harm her.”
“And how does your spending the night with me harm her?” But Torina already guessed the answer. “You think she returns your feelings? I was under the impression that she didn’t know what we were.”
The words weighed heavily in Jorick’s eyes. “She doesn’t, and I don’t know what she’ll say when she finds out.”
“Then don’t tell her. Let her go and-”
He cut her offer off. “It’s too late for that. Claudius’ men know she was with me, and I’m sure they know who she is. I won’t let another one die for me.”
“Velnya never died for you.” His angry glare was a warning, and she changed tactics. “What are you going to do with her? Turn her?”
“Maybe.” He seemed to deflate and leaned back against the wall. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Torina. Velnya was already a vampire, but Katelina… Oren’s said again and again what a mistake it is, and he’s right. You saw her. She’s terrified. She’s lived a modern life and I’ve dragged her from the sun into the shadows and shown her nothing but blood. How can she do anything except hate me? And when she finds out the truth about what happened to Patrick, about how he got involved, about why he was killed, she’ll hate me even more.”
“And so what if she hates you?”
She would never forget the look in Jorick’s eyes, half terror, half agony. “I don’t want her to.”
No, of course you don’t.
Torina abandoned both the past and the trees and crossed to the patio. Oren sat in the chair and Etsuko was still working on her embroidery. The perfect picture of domestic harmony.
“I see you’re enjoying the island,” Torina called sarcastically as she approached. “Do you plan to hide out the whole time?”
“If I can manage it,” Oren answered stiffly.
“You’re starting to sound like Jorick.”
Oren sucked his teeth and shook his head. “You mean like Jorick used to be. You notice he’s carousing on the beach.”
“I’d hardly call it carousing.” Torina climbed over the railing and dropped into an empty chair. Etsuko still didn’t look up and Torina made a haughty noise in her throat.
“He’s different, since he got the human,” Oren said.
“Yes, he’s finally quit pining over Velnya, and it’s just as well. She wasn’t really worth centuries of misery, was she?”
“She was his wife!” Oren snapped.
“So? Just because he was stupid enough to marry her doesn’t mean he has to spend eternity worshiping her.” She held back a sigh; she knew the dark territory the conversation was headed for and the vampiress it would be about. “You and Jesslynn were together for two hundred years. Isn’t that long enough for you to be subjugated to her will? Let it go, brother.”
Oren bristled. “Her ashes are barely cooled!”
“It’s been months, Oren. Or are you planning to follow Jorick’s example and mourn for centuries? I’ll give you a hint, his mourning was never complete. It was more show and self-punishment than real grief. Otherwise he’d have never visited me.”
Oren coughed and looked away. “I don’t want to listen to this.”
“Oh, please. As if you don’t know.” She picked at her perfect nails. “You also know it was nothing serious. I have no interest in trying to lay claim to him or rekindle any supposed flame. My point is that even he didn’t take his self-imposed grief seriously, so why should anyone else?”
Much to Torina’s surprise, Oren’s eyes slid to the Japanese woman and then back. “I’m fine with my grief.”
Torina was tired of the endless circles, so she stood and stretched. “It makes for a cold bedfellow, but do what you want. I’m going to look for that idiotic Executioner. At least he’s good for a laugh.”
Oren didn’t reply, and she hopped over the railing and headed back to the beach. This was supposed to be a vacation and she refused to waste a moment of it on any of her countless worries.
Not even for her stupid brother.
Look for #3 next week, and don’t forget that book 6: Children of Shadows will be available March 15, 2014. You can pre-order it at Barnes & Noble.