Turning Vampire, Book 1
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews
Design Copyright © LostLoves Books
Paperbacks published by DarkQuest Books
Vampire was never my career choice.
I was born with a severe heart defect and spent my childhood in hospital beds and waiting rooms, surrounded by dull green corridor walls and the smell of disinfectant. What the specialists told my parents is unknown to me. They tried to protect me from the truth, always saying that after the next treatment I would be a normal girl. When I reached my teens, my parents took me on tours of college campuses near our Seattle home and encouraged me to think about a career.
On my sixteenth birthday they gave me a snazzy little sport car. I had always been too frail to walk more than a block or two. The car allowed me to drive myself to school and around town. I think that was the year that I began to believe that I could be independent.
What is it about getting behind the wheel of a car and having all that control? Making quick decisions. Shall I go to the library or shall I stop at the beauty parlor and get my hair cut?
Maybe those decisions seem trivial to people who have made them all their lives. They weren't trivial to me. I had always been too frail to use public transportation, or to walk any distance by myself. Until the day I had my own car, my parents drove me everywhere.
With my own car I was free to change my destination without asking the driver if that would be convenient. Free to change my mind. Free to think I was a girl who had a future to plan. College. Yes. All at once, I believed it was in my future. And, maybe a boyfriend?
The boyfriend wish was a secret I hardly dared admit to myself. The boys at school were polite to me. They held doors and sometimes asked me about assignments. I was an “A” student. I was also frail, so weak that after walking short distances, my posture sagged and I limped. My hair and complexion were as faded as I felt. Most of the time, the other students really didn't see me as they hurried by to join their friends.
I knew I was daydreaming when I thought about having a boyfriend. It wasn't going to happen. But I daydreamed, anyway. TV shows featuring teen romances were my favorites, watched whenever I had the TV to myself. As for novels, I loved them all, from Regency romances to the modern Young Adult collection at the library.
When I graduated from high school, I was still not well. But at eighteen I was an adult. That didn't mean much to me as I wasn't waiting for the day I could declare my independence. My family was functional, consisting of myself and my two parents who loved me.
Apparently, my age meant something to others.
A specialist made that clear when he looked me in the eyes and said, “Georgia, you might live for another year. Possibly two. I think you are old enough to make your own decision about what you want to do with that time. If your dream has always been to see Paris or to lie on a beach in Hawaii, you should do it now.”
That was the day I grew up. I thanked him for his advice. Then I drove my little car out to a mall, found a space in a far corner and cried for an hour. I was so angry at my parents, I wept myself sick. Why had they lied? Why had they let me hope? Hadn't they known?
And then I realized that they had always put my happiness in front of their own. They had given up their own dreams for me, never taking the chance of leaving me in anyone else's care. And that's when I quit crying, grew up, and did exactly what the specialist suggested. I made my own decision.
Naturally, I had read the latest novels and seen movies about vampires and so when I made my choice, I knew where to look. Within a hundred miles of my home in Seattle was a place made famous by rumors of vampires. After thinking through all the future choices open to me, I picked the only one that might actually be possible.
At eighteen, I was off to college.
The college I chose was a small one on the Olympic Peninsula, closer to the ocean than to Seattle. It wasn't a college my parents had taken me to see, or even thought to suggest. What they had in mind, I realized, was something close to home so that they could reach me quickly.
Considering my choice, I needed to distance myself from them.
I did computer searches to locate a studio apartment for rent within easy driving distance of the campus. I made all the arrangements on-line.
And then I told my parents, “The sea air gives me energy. I always feel better when we visit the ocean beaches. I will miss you, but I need to try being on my own.”
“I don't like you living so far away,” my mother said.
“It's time for me to grow up, Mom.”
“Yes, but is it time for us to grow up?” Dad teased. “How are we going to get along without you to tell us what to do?”
Neither of them had the heart to say, Georgia, you need to stay near us because you are dying. Perhaps they were still lying to themselves, believing that the doctors were wrong and I would make a miraculous recovery.
In the end, they agreed to my choice.
Their only request was that I wear one of those electronic locket gadgets that can summon a local emergency service with a touch. No doubt they expected a phone call any minute to inform them I was in a hospital ER or in a morgue. But like the doctor, they wanted me to have as much happiness as I could find. Unlike the doctor, they kept up the pretense to me and to themselves that I would have a long life.
“Georgie, darling, we'll go with you and help you settle in,” my mother said.
With both cars packed, my mother drove me in my car, and Dad followed in his car. We drove from the city skyline of tall buildings to the country skyline of mountaintops and forests.
When we reached the Olympic Peninsula, we entered another world. At first, the road ran straight and inland, with glimpses of the water in the distance beyond communities of low houses. Then it curved toward the sea and cut so near it, we could smell the saltwater. On the other side of us, the Olympic Mountains rose sharply above their forested slopes to touch the sky with their snow-tipped peaks.
Dark firs towered above us, casting long shadows across the road. Fog drifted through the branches, pale, shimmering and carrying the clean scents of fir and sea.
If I hadn't been so afraid of what I had to do, I would have hugged myself for joy at the beauty of it.
We found the apartment building easily. My parents were relieved to see that it was on a pleasant street with neat front gardens and convenient parking. The apartment itself was small and clean. Of course my mother busied herself adding bright linens while my father checked the plumbing and appliances to be sure everything worked. Then they looked up phone numbers for a housecleaning service and a laundry that did pickup and pointed them out to me.
“I can keep one room clean,” I protested.
“You'll have enough to do with college studies,” Mom said. “Let someone else clean the kitchen and bath for you. And don't try to do any lifting by yourself. That's what laundries are for.”
“If your money runs low, phone me,” Dad said. “My bank can do an electronic transfer the same day.”
After they hung up my clothes and shelved my books, they lingered, hugging me. I fought back tears. I would never see them again. I knew that. They suspected it, but for different reasons than mine.
“We can drive over any time you want company,” my mother said.
“I know,” I told her. “And I would like that. But, Mom, you've always been with me, doing everything for me. I have to learn to handle my own problems.”
“We're so proud of you, Georgie,” Dad said. “Promise us you won't overdo it. If you feel the least bit tired, you phone.”
Every day of my life I'd felt tired. I said, “If I need you, I'll phone. I promise. And I'll email and tell you all about my classes.”
It's not as though I had choices. Well, I did, of a sort. I could choose to die or I could choose to not die.
After they hugged me goodbye and reluctantly left me, I drove to the campus to meet with the counselor. I told her, “I have a heart condition that leaves me with very little energy.”
She flipped through my folder and nodded. She had my medical records, dummied down to the level I had always been given. Inoperable condition kept under control with prescriptions and regular treatments. Nowhere on that record would anyone have written: Will probably drop dead within the year.
“I've picked a light schedule of classes four mornings a week. I hope that's all right. If that goes well, I can add more hours next semester.”
“Very wise plan to pace yourself,” she said. “By next semester you'll know how much you can handle.”
“Yes, that's what I thought. And also, sometimes I need therapy for my back. This way, I can make medical appointments on Fridays and Saturdays.”
“I can see you have thought this through carefully, Georgia. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.”
She had already done everything I needed from her. She'd approved a schedule that set me free.
As I walked out of her office and into the long hallway toward the exit, I passed a young man. He wouldn't notice me. No one ever did. But I noticed him.
He was standing on a ladder reaching up to a ceiling light fixture with a screwdriver in his hand, his head tilted back so that all I could see of his face was the bottom of his chin. Hanging around his hips and dragging down his jeans was a belt heavy with an assortment of tools. His reach pulled his tee shirt up and left a wide stretch of tan skin bare, from his navel to his ribs.
Staring is rude, of course, and I wasn't thinking. I simply stopped and stared. That body could have been on the cover of one of my paperback romance books.
That's when I heard him laugh. He had a low, friendly laugh. I should have kept walking. Instead, I continued looking up as he bent his face down toward me and I saw that he was laughing at me.
“Hi. You okay?” he asked.
As usual, I felt weak. Or maybe I felt even weaker than usual. He had the loveliest brown eyes, that warm color of brown sugar. “Yes, of course.”
“You almost bumped into my ladder.”
“Did I? I'm sorry.”
Again, he flashed that grin at me. “Not your fault. I'm the one with the ladder blocking traffic.”
Embarrassed, I nodded and walked past the ladder and down the hall. He had laughed. He must have seen me staring at his body.
“Nice to meet you,” he called after me.
Turning back, I watched him tilt his head upward again to look at the ceiling fixture he was repairing. His light brown hair matched his tan. Broad shoulders, muscular arms, narrow hips--he glowed with health. He was the sort of boyfriend I had dreamed about when I still believed I had a future.
Now I had no illusions. If I stayed and talked to him, he would be pleasant, and speak politely the way people speak to children and invalids. That's how men always treated me.
Not that it mattered any more. He was not at all what I needed to find.
That weekend I packed a small overnight bag, put it in the trunk of my car, and drove along the coast road.
Most of the Olympic Peninsula is filled by a National Park and National Forest. The Olympic Mountains rise above snow level. Between the mountain range and the ocean are rain forests and parks with hiking trails and campsites. At the western edge, the breakers of the Pacific Ocean crash onto long beaches.
Scattered between the forests and the beaches are small communities. Originally they housed the families of people working in the fishing or lumbering industries. Over the years the towns spread to accommodate summer tourists.
To all that natural beauty was added the usual tourist attractions: restaurants, gift shops, taverns, and hangouts catering to a variety of interests.
After checking into a tourist motel, I combed my dull, limp hair, put on a little lipstick, and dragged my weary body to a hangout that I'd heard was popular with college students. If the rumors were true, that made it the place to meet the type of person I needed to find. Time to hang out.
It was one of those places that couldn't decide what it wanted to be. At one side was a bar that offered snacks and drinks. Against another wall were pinball and shuffle board games. Mismatched tables and chairs circled an open bit of floor. At the far end on a small bandstand, five musicians shattered the sound barrier with their renditions of country western.
Possibly I could survive the music for an hour before collapsing beneath decibels. The food was beyond trying. So I ordered a coke and a bag of chips and settled into a corner to watch the crowd.
There were pretty women everywhere, healthy women with glowing skin and bright smiles, their eyes scanning the room. Like me, they were obviously hoping to meet men. Were they looking for the same sort of man that I was? I was small and thin and pasty white and my weak back gave me a twisted posture, nothing that had ever caught the attention of the boys at school at any time in my life.
I sat there, sipping coke, nibbling on the chips, and wondering if I had made the right decision. Perhaps I should have asked my parents to take me to Hawaii for the last months of my life, after all. Perhaps the rumors of vampires were a fantasy created to attract more tourists.
“May I sit here?” asked a deep voice.
I didn't quite catch his words over the noise of the band.
The man bent toward me, his hand on the back of the empty chair at my table, and repeated his question. Pale skin, dark hair, handsome face, and secretive smile. Dressed all in black, he looked my age except for the smile. There was something old and a bit too confident about his smile.
I nodded, unsure what to say.
“Or perhaps you would like to dance?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I never have.”
“You've never danced? Then you must, of course you must.” He reached out a long thin hand to me.
Eighteen years of hospitals had made me used to following strangers, within the confines of a populated building, to new and often unpleasant experiences. At least in this case I knew where he intended to take me.
Imitating the actresses on TV shows, I held out my hand. I was half afraid my back would give out and shoot pains through me before I could stand. It did that sometimes and then all I could do was sit down again.
Instead, he pulled me up so quickly and gently I didn't quite realize what was happening until there we were on the dance floor.
With his lean, hard body pressed against me and his arm around my waist, he actually held me up. I felt as though I was floating. For a moment he bent down to my level and brushed the side of his face against mine, and that was definitely a new experience. It made me a little nervous to feel his cool skin and smell the subtle scent of cologne.
He was incredibly strong. That was a good sign. Of course, I was such a weakling, most men seemed supernaturally strong to me.
We twirled and spun and slowed to drifting, surrounded by the steady rhythm of the music. For a few moments I felt like I was on a cloud.
When my feet touched the floor, I stepped back enough to look up at him. His eyes were as dark as his hair and as old as his smile. He kept his arm firmly around me.
“You're new here,” he said.
I explained about attending college and then, because I really did not have months to waste on this project, I told him my name.
“I'm Dominic,” he said. That seemed correct--slightly foreign, slightly old-fashioned.
When he talked, I stared at his teeth. They looked like normal teeth, what I could see of them in the moving shadows cast by the strobe lights. He surprised me by staying with me the whole evening, despite a parade of women who tried to cut in on us.
“My turn with Dominic,” was the line.
Each time he'd say, “Sorry, love, not now,” and whirl me away.
Those other women continued to flirt, even after they found other partners. They would dance past us and lean toward Dominic and make clever remarks and roll their eyes as well as their bodies.
“Save a dance for me,” each would say.
He answered each request with a silent smile. And so I wasn't surprised when he led me back to the small table in the corner. What did surprise me was that he pulled out the other chair and sat down.
“Where are you staying tonight, Georgia? May I drive you home?” he asked.
If the circumstances had been different, I might have tried for a romance. I'd never experienced romance, not with my medical problems. True, I'd read every word I could find about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and had a secret dream or two in my heart, but I was smart enough to know that she had not been on her deathbed, plus, a Robert Browning is a rare occurence.
Might as well tell Dominic the truth. “Are you a vampire? Because I am looking for a vampire.”
He grinned then and sorry to say, I didn't see any pointy teeth.
“A vampire? Why would you think that?”
“This area is famous for vampires,” I said.
“Georgia, you've been reading romance novels.”
I nodded. “But I've also done considerable research on the internet.”
“And you found websites that promised you vampires in this neighborhood?”
“Something like that.”
He pressed his cool fingers over mine. “And you've heard that a vampire can give you the most romantic experience of your life.”
“I'm not looking for romance.”
He sat back and stared at me, startled. “Then what is it you want?”
“I want to be turned.”
He really did sound shocked. “Turned? Turned into a vampire? But, Georgia! You have to die for that to happen.”
“Well, and afterwards, when you're turned, you can never go out in the sun. You can't eat real food. You can't go home because if you do, no one will understand. Or if they do, they will no longer want you in the family. Believe me, there isn't a normal family around who wants a vampire sleeping in a box in the basement all day.”
“I know all that.”
“Vampires drink blood! Have you ever tried to drink blood?”
“No. But I will if I have to.”
“Eeew.” He looked away from me and I thought that he would leave.
Had I misjudged? Except for the lack of fangs, he looked type-cast with the dark hair and white skin and cold hands and those very old eyes in his smooth young face. Plus, when we were dancing I had put my raised hand on the side of his neck. Years of experience as a patient had taught me the exact sites of pulses. He had no pulse.
There was no way to politely say that I thought he looked more like a vampire than anyone I had ever met.
“Do you know any vampires?” I asked quickly.
He drummed his fingertips on the table top. He tapped his shoes on the floor. He frowned and shook his head.
“Why, Georgia? Is there a reason?”
“Of course there's a reason. I am dying. And I am only eighteen. Somehow that seems premature to me.”
That stopped him. He stared and stared and I thought he might sit there speechless until dawn, although if I was right and he was a vampire, he'd have to leave before dawn.
Finally he said, “Tell me your whole story.”
And so I did. He watched, his face perfectly still, not giving away a thought. But he kept his dark eyes on me and I knew he was listening to every word and making a decision.
I'd been right all along. Dominic was a vampire.
“For more than a hundred years,” he admitted. “In all that time, I've never turned anyone.”
“You know how, don't you?”
“I never hurt anyone,” he explained. “When I take blood I am very tender and romantic and gentle. Are you sure you wouldn't like romance? No? With a century of experience, I can kiss you to the edge of ecstasy so that when I draw blood, you won't feel it. And I am always careful to limit the amount. I would never leave you weak or faint.”
“I'm weak and faint most the time, anyway,” I said. “And as for drawing blood without pain, I've had blood drawn for hospital tests hundreds of times and it always hurts.”
“Ah. I can insert a tooth more gently than a nurse can insert a needle. Isn't that odd?”
“Terrific if it's true,” I said. “So how do you do the first part, the dying part? Do I have to wait until I die naturally? What if you aren't around?”
“That won't work at all,” he said. “When the heart stops on its own, bringing back life is usually impossible. No, to be successful, I would have to drain you until you took that last breath, and then I would give you enough of my vampire blood to bring you back to life and turn you.”
As that sounded like a solution to me, I asked him when he would like to do this.
“Georgia, do you think I take appointments? I am not a monster!”
Apparently vampires have rather tender feelings about some things. A century of experience hadn't hardened him the way I'd thought it would.
I explained my pain and my failing heart and my dreams and I kept on talking. In the end he said what all my doctors had been saying for years.
He said, “Very well. I can't make any promises about the results, but I will try.”
He explained the procedure, which sounded like pre-op talk, and he set a time for the following night. As my life had been one long series of appointments, I knew I was lucky to find a specialist and get in for treatment so quickly.
The next day seemed endless. I drove to the nearby ocean beach to enjoy a last day in the pale sunlight slanting through the overcast. It sparkled on the crests of the long waves as they rolled toward the shore. In that final moment, each wave peaked and the light turned it to green glass before it curled in on itself and broke and shattered on the sand. The water drew back with a soft hiss to meet the next incoming wave.
I wanted to run along the beach and feel the ocean swirl around my ankles. I wanted the sun in my eyes. I wanted to soak in its brilliance and feel its heat because after today, I would never again see the sun. That seemed to me the greatest loss in becoming a vampire.
But when I opened the car door, the wind blew it shut. I fell back against the seat, gasping. For a long time I sat in my car in the parking lot, with the window down a few inches so that I could smell the freshness of the sea air and listen to the breakers.
A few tourists walked upon the sand, their coats billowing out around them, hair blowing across their faces. Occasionally a couple wandered by, stopping to embrace while the ocean spray flew around them.
If I did manage to get to the beach, I knew the wind would knock me over and someone would have to carry me back to my car. Instead, I rested against the seat back and sat facing the windshield and watched the sun weave its way through ribbons of clouds until it reached the horizon.
When the sun was gone and the sky faded to darkness, I turned the key and pressed the gas pedal and drove to a fast food take-out window to pick up a meal. After that there was nothing more to do than sit in the small motel room watching the TV, another long wait for an appointment, but at least I didn't have to spend it in a fake leather chair in a waiting room. Too tired to really enjoy my last meal, I picked at the hamburger and took a few sips of the milkshake.
Had he changed his mind? If he had, that was his choice.
Did I have the strength to go again and search again for someone else to help me? I was so tired I would have wept, if I'd had enough energy to do so.
Dominic rapped lightly on the door, turned the knob, peered inside.
“May I come in?”
Was it true that he needed an invitation? I didn't want to waste time asking him about that rumor.
“Please come in, Dominic.”
And he did. He floated, graceful as a dancer.
“Are you sure about this, Georgia?”
“You can change your mind,” he said. “I can still give you pleasure and leave you happy and rested.”
“Tomorrow I'd be me again. I'd be exhausted and aching all over. Dominic, I am dying. Nothing can stop that. Please. I want to find another life.”
“I can't promise,” he said. “I have never turned anyone. And I have heard of failed attempts.”
“I know. But you are the only chance I've got.”
“All right. If you're sure.”
He breathed my name and touched my face and stroked my hair, and then somehow, I was cradled in his arms, being kissed and kissed and kissed into oblivion. The last sensation I felt was his cold lips pressing against the base of my throat. I floated through stars, smelled roses, heard soft music, felt warmth, saw changing cloud patterns blowing across the ocean.
When I woke, I was famished, desperate. I heard my own voice crying out.
“Here, here, gently, Georgia, here,” and he pressed his wrist to my mouth.
He must have torn it open himself, that bleeding slash, because all I had to do was suck his blood. I did, didn't notice the taste, just thought it warm and satisfying. And then I fell back into a deep sleep.
When I woke the second time, Dominic was leaning over me and shaking me.
“We have less than an hour until dawn,” he said. “We must leave now.”
I rubbed at my eyes. Took a deep breath. Turned on my side. Sat up with his hand on my shoulder guiding me. When I put my feet on the floor, I paused, as I always did, to gather my strength and balance. Waited for dizziness. Waited for my breath to be its usual gasp in my throat.
That's when awareness flooded through me.
Jumping to my feet, I spun around, delighted by the flash of window and darkness and window again, circling me with colors as I turned. Neon lights shone through the window from an outdoor sign.
“I'm cured!” I cried. “I've no pain!”
He caught my elbow. “We need to leave now. I let you sleep too long.”
“What do I look like? I want to look in the mirror!”
“Later, no time now,” he said, and hurried me out the door and into my car.
So it was true what I'd heard. Vampires could not see themselves in mirrors and he didn't want to tell me so. Ah well, to cheat death and escape pain was what counted. I wouldn't miss my reflection as it had never given me any joy.
It took me a few minutes to realize I was in the passenger seat of my car and Dominic was driving us down the highway at a speed close to flying. The lights from the dashboard flickered on his face. His teeth clenched and his hands tightened around the wheel, fighting to control the car around the curves in the winding road.
“Why? What's wrong?” I asked.
“The dawn. Do you see the sky beginning to lighten? We have to beat the sun.”
Yes, I knew that, of course, although I wasn't sure what would happen if the sun caught us. From the worried expression on his face, a pale oval in the dark car, obviously whatever happened, he wanted desperately to avoid it. I wanted to talk, visit, sing, dance.
Instead I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed the way my body felt now, as though I could fly. Could I? When he had told me all the problems of being a vampire, he hadn't mentioned flying. The next half hour was a blur of happiness despite Dominic's silence. Towering firs edged the road with a forest so thick with trees, there was a wall of solid blackness on either side of us. The headlights formed a brilliant tunnel. Around us were sounds and smells and depths of beauty for me to enjoy forever. Forever! The length of forever didn't matter. Compared to the doctor's forecast, a normal life span would miraculously be forever.
We skidded into a driveway and bumped across a muddy lawn. When he stopped the car and we stepped out, a large old house loomed black against a dark gray sky. The forest circled it, hiding it from the road. I could smell the fragrance of the firs. I raised my face to the sky and sniffed. Beyond the trees was the clean scent of the sea. Alive, my body thrilled with life. I wanted to run through the forest and hug each tree.
“Come on!” Dominic caught my hand and pulled me up wooden stairs and across the porch into the house. “Hurry, we have to get indoors before the sun can reach us.”
He gave me no time to pause to examine the rooms, just rushed us both along a hallway and through a door and down a staircase into a windowless basement with one dim bulb in the ceiling.
That's when I saw the coffins. Six of them, four shut and two still open.
“Do we really sleep in coffins?” I asked.
“Coffins are as safe and comfortable as anything.”
He picked me up as though I weighed nothing and lifted me into one of them, and lowered me onto a cushion of velvet.
“Look here, look, Georgia, do you see where I am pointing? That's the latch. Lock yourself in.”
“But how will I know when to come out?”
“You'll know!” he shouted. And then his face softened and he leaned in and kissed my forehead and whispered, “You will know, Georgia. Sleep well.”
He closed the lid. For a moment I panicked, the darkness was so black. Reaching out my hands, I felt along the sides of the coffin, and across its satin-lined lid. As my eyes adjusted, the darkness turned to gray and I could see.
Sleep? I would never waste a moment of eternity on sleep. I would dance night and day. I would do all the things I'd always longed to do and could not.
Remembering his instructions, I found the latch and flipped it to lock down the coffin lid. After that, I remembered nothing, had no thought or awareness. Daytime dropped me into dreamless sleep.
I woke quickly, alive, excited, alert.
Someone rapped on wood above me. Not remembering where I was, I bolted up and bumped my head.
“Open the latch,” he called.
That's when my life as a vampire truly began.
They were all waiting for me in a semicircle, Dominic and his four friends, three men and a woman. They weren't exactly bubbling over with greetings, but as they looked at me with worried smiles, they managed to be a welcoming committee.
“You all look the same age. How do I look?”
“We remain at the age we desire,” Dominic said. “Early twenties works best for attracting food.”
They were all beautiful, with shining hair and lovely faces and strong bodies. They led me upstairs, where nighttime pressed against the windows, and waved me to a full length mirror in the front hallway.
Lit by wall sconces, I saw my reflection.
“I can see myself!”
They relaxed a bit and laughed at me as I twirled in front of the mirror.
“Of course you can,” Dominic said.
“But I'd heard that vampires didn't have reflections.”
“That's an eastern European branch. We aren't descended from them. We all have reflections.”
“What we don't have is shadows,” the woman said.
Who needs a shadow? I could see myself in a mirror and was thrilled. My skin was still pale, but no longer pasty. It glowed. My eyes sparkled. My hair shone in a thick mass around my beautiful face above my beautiful straight body and my beautiful strong legs and I hugged myself with my beautiful arms.
True, I felt a bit hungry. Nothing to break my delight in myself.
“Come with me,” the woman said, and caught my hand. She led me into a bedroom, opened a closet and pulled out a dress.
“Your skirt and sweater are very nice but perhaps you would like something more glamourous?”
“My skirt and sweater are boring,” I said. “This dress is gorgeous. Are you sure you want to loan it to me?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Dear, I have closets full of clothes. Help yourself any time.”
The dress draped in clinging lines.
“Very lovely on you,” she said, and she was right. She gave me strappy shoes and a sparkling purse.
“The shoes fit perfectly,” I said, surprised.
“Possibly not. However, as we seldom feel pain, you can wear them comfortably.”
She led me back to the entry hall where I did a quick twirl to show off the dress and they all smiled at me.
“Are we ready to go?” one of the men asked.
I felt a bit more hungry.
“Yes, it's time. I'll bring Georgia,” Dominic said.
The others hurried out the front door and were gone. I didn't see where they'd gone. Had my vision blurred? Ah, perhaps I was a little giddy from hunger.
“Could we have something to eat before we go out?” I asked. “I'm sorry to delay you, but I really am very hungry.”
“That's why we are going out. To feed. It's quite simple, really. We'll go to a different spot than last night. There will be lots of people. Choose one you want. Listen carefully, Georgia, this is important. When you've made your pick, take him outside, anywhere, to a car, behind the building, anywhere that gives privacy. And then you can feed.”
“What?” I tried to imagine me leading some stranger into a car or behind a building. “What if he doesn't want to go with me? What if I pick someone dangerous?”
Dominic actually laughed. “Georgia, look at me, open your mouth and think about your teeth.”
My teeth? Very strange, but I was used to being given instructions in my thousands of visits to doctor's offices. I did as he said.
“Ah. Very good. Very nice.” He caught my hand and pressed my finger against a long sharp point in my mouth. “You are in perfect working order to feed, love.”
“I don't understand.”
“I'm sorry, I didn't explain well, did I? Any man you choose will follow you--without question. And whoever he is, as long as he is human, you are far stronger. You have nothing to fear. All you need do is kiss him once or twice and he will stay motionless. Push back his collar to bare his jugular. And then press your excellent fangs into it and suck.”
Pick up a stranger and suck his neck? That sounded absolutely gross.
Embarrassed to mention it, I mumbled, “Last night you fed me.”
“But that was only to give you vampire blood. You needed it to turn. However, vampires cannot feed on each other. There's no nutrition in that! You need a human to satisfy your hunger. Now remember, stay alert and only take a small amount of blood. When you feel him start to tremble, you must stop. If you continue longer, you could cause him serious injury. We must never do that or the next thing you know, we'll attract vampire hunters.”
I thought through his instructions.
“When the man trembles, what do I do?” I asked.
“Leave him. The wound will seal itself and show only a slight bruise. Actually, that's why it's good to go to his car. He'll wake up knowing where he is and unafraid. He'll feel happy and relaxed and if he remembers you at all, it will be fondly. And in the meantime, you can find another man, and then another, until you have satisfied your hunger. Now come along.”
Catching my hand, he hurried me out the door and into the moonlight.
“Shall we take my car?” I asked.
“We don't need a car,” he said. “Last night your car and your luggage had to be removed from the motel. And you were still weak. Tonight it's time to fly.”
We flew, we honestly did, like that scene in Peter Pan. He caught my hand and pulled me into the sky, straight up toward the moon. We leveled off above the treetops, where the mist drifted like torn lace, hiding the stars and dimming the moon. We wove through a tear in the mist and for a moment, the sky shone clear again, bright with moonlight.
I could have happily swooped in and out of the mist with him forever, except that I kept getting hunger pangs.
When we landed by a building with neon beer signs in the window, he said, “Go ahead. You'll be fine and I will check back in a while.”
The building sat alone in a wide gravel parking lot beside a country road. That's all there was, a low building with shingle sides and a flat roof and wide glass windows on either side of the open door. Through the lighted windows I could see a long bar backed by shelves of bottles, like a set out of a wild west movie. The place was filled with men. All sizes and shapes. They looked as though they'd come directly from their jobs. Most wore leather or wool jackets above jeans. The sound of laughter and raised voices carried outdoors. There were more trucks in the lot than cars and all were mud-spattered.
“Where are you going?” I asked. And what was I doing at a place like this?
“Lots of men in there. More women at a tavern down the road.” He gave me a gentle shove toward the door. “Remember, you're much stronger than any man. You have nothing to be afraid of.”
Never in my lifetime had I walked into a bar by myself, I started to tell him, but then, through fumes of liquor and smoke and damp wool, I smelled a warm sweet scent and I followed it. By myself. Alone. I opened the door and glanced back. I didn't see Dominic and I didn't care. Because inside was a long bar and a milling crowd of people who all smelled like warm, sweet, delicious blood.
I wanted to jump on the nearest one and sink my fangs into him. Umm. No. Fighting my instincts, I took a step inside and fully expected to be ignored. All my life I had been invisible in any crowd, the mousy girl no one noticed.
“Hi, I'm Justin,” a low voice said.
He was young and cute, medium height, light brown hair. An outdoor guy. I didn't really look at his face. What I noticed was that he smelled wonderful. Not of cologne, not like the vampires. Much better. I could smell his blood. I could hear his heart pumping all that lovely blood.
“Nice to meet you, Justin,” I said, not quite sure how to proceed.
He moved closer and I could feel his breath on my face. “We've already met. In the corridor at the college.”
Had we? I looked up and saw his warm brown eyes edged by little laugh lines.
“I was the guy on the ladder,” he said.
“Oh! The electrician! Of course.” I was amazed that he remembered me. Normally, I was the person who had to remind others that we had already met. My only excuse for not recognizing him immediately was that I had been through a very strange night and day.
“I was kind of worried about you. You looked like you were coming down with the flu. But you look fine now. Like a new person.”
“Yes. I am fine now,” I agreed. Certainly I was a new person. If I told him that, would he continue to stand around visiting with me?
“Glad you're feeling better. Can I get you a drink?”
“Uh, yes.” But not here, not inside where anyone could watch us. I tried to remember pick up lines from films I'd seen. When nothing came to me, I added weakly, “Uh, it's a little warm in here. I need some fresh air. Could we stand outside?”
“Let me grab a couple beers and I'll be right there,” he said.
I went back out and stood on the gravel in the parking lot. My stomach burned with hunger. I'd never felt such hunger. True, it didn't make me faint. Or weak. It simply hurt. Although he came out the door within a couple of minutes, a beer bottle in each hand, I wanted to scream at him to hurry up.
Instead, I managed to keep my voice husky. “It would be nice to sit down out here. I don't see any benches. Do you have a car?”
In all my years of reading romance novels, surely I had read better lines than that? The truth was, I had no idea how to flirt and that's what I needed to learn how to do.
“A car? I have a truck.”
“A truck is good.”
He paused and gave me an odd look, then shrugged. “Sure, okay, come on.”
Following Dominic's script, I followed Justin to his truck. Dominic had told me what to do but he had never filled in those important little details about what to say.
“Umm, is there someplace you need a ride to?” he asked.
He looked as though he wanted to say something else. I did not want to stand around trying to think up small talk while my hunger burned a hole all the way through me.
“Right here is fine,” I said and opened the door myself.
I climbed in and slid past the wheel to the passenger side of the bench seat and almost reached out to grab him and pull him in after me. Fortunately, he followed me and held out a beer. I took both bottles from him and set them on the floor.
He stared at me, waiting, because it was perfectly obvious by now to both of us that I was a crazy lady.
My only choice was either to suffer unbearable hunger or to remember and follow Dominic's instructions exactly.
Kiss him, that's what I was supposed to do next. I touched his full lower lip with an icy fingertip. I could feel his warmth and could imagine how he would taste.
He giggled and grinned. His giggle was all male, low and surprised. His teeth were an even line of white in his tanned face. It became obvious to me, even though I had never flirted with a man in my whole life, that he thought what I was doing was flirting. And he liked it.
So I moved on to the next step, leaned toward him.
He caught my shoulders in his warm hands, stopping me.
“Uh, if we're going to make out, I'd kind of like to know your name,” he said.
I tried not to sound impatient. “Georgia.”
“That's pretty. And so are you,” he said. “Are you new at the college? I don't remember seeing you before.”
“Yes, new this semester.” Was he going to talk me to death? Would I die of starvation before he shut up?
“I thought so. If I'd ever seen you before, I'd remember. You have the prettiest mouth.”
Okay, and time to put it to work. I met him leaning toward me, and I went ahead and pressed my mouth to his. Was I supposed to do that smacking thing? And how had I reached eighteen without knowing how to kiss a man?
Dominic had kissed me, yes, but I'd fallen into a sea of dreams and when I woke, I didn't remember the kiss at all, except to remember that it had been thrilling.
As soon as I felt the warmth of Justin's mouth, I discovered that I didn't need to learn about kissing.
Against my lips, he said, “Feels pretty, too.”
Apparently the touch of my lips was all that was required. His eyes closed and his head fell a bit to the side, as though he slept sitting up. Or was drugged.
Now what? The next step, what was the next step? I could almost hear Dominic's voice in my head saying, “Push his collar out of the way.”
I did that, ran my fingers over Justin's broad shoulders to the warm skin at the side of his neck and pushed open the collar on his flannel shirt. Pressing my mouth to the place where I knew I would find the jugular vein, I thought about my teeth. I actually felt the fangs extend, a truly odd sensation.
Justin sighed and rolled his head against mine. I felt his ear pressing against my cheek. He was so warm, I almost stopped to enjoy the feeling.
Would it cause him pain to be bitten? Of course it would. How could it not hurt him? Maybe I should stop now and I really meant to do that. How could I take a chance on harming such a nice man? He had spoken to me and smiled at me when I was plain and frail. How could I take advantage of him now?
I didn't want to hurt him, but then hunger won.
With no effort on my part, my fangs shot into his flesh. I could smell his skin, musky as autumn leaves, and beneath it, I could smell his blood.
My fangs jabbed into something solid that tasted like lard. Awful. I pulled away and stared at the hole I'd made. There was nothing there except a drop of blood. Wrong spot, obviously.
His arms tightened around me.
I tried again, opened my mouth against the curve between his shoulder and throat, felt the fangs sink in, felt them bang against something hard. Drawing back, I stared disbelieving. Bone, I'd hit bone, no blood there except for a small drop which I licked hungrily. It tasted marvelous on my tongue but there was not enough to swallow.
I tried again and again and again. Nothing, nothing! What was the matter with this man that he had no blood?
I shook him and he made a soft moaning sound and leaned his head against my shoulder. As best as I could tell, he was asleep. Or perhaps not actually asleep, because the pressure of his arms stayed firmly around me, holding me close to him.
He whispered something weird that I didn't understand. He said, “Yes, again, yes, please.”
Yes, please, what? Keep jabbing away with my fangs? Was that fun for him? I felt like shaking him and shouting, Whatever it is you think is fun, it isn't fun for me!
Was he some sort of freak? That must be it, he must be some weird freak with a blood system buried so deeply inside his body that his veins were unreachable. Vaguely I remembered a nurse once saying that to me as she jabbed away with a needle.
“Some people have veins that are almost impossible to find,” she'd complained, as though I was hiding my veins intentionally.
But what if she was right? Maybe it was true. I couldn't keep trying all night on a man who obviously had buried veins.
Gently, because I didn't want to harm him, I loosened his grip on me and backed out of his embrace. I was furious with myself. Whatever I was doing, I was doing it wrong.
“All right, it's not your fault,” I whimpered, and stroked his face. He really had a charming face. At any other time, I'd be happy to stay and watch him sleep the night away. I'd never had a boyfriend. But I'd dreamed about it, and Justin was very much the way I'd dreamed he'd be.
“Please. Stay here,” he murmured. His eyes were closed and his voice was low. I knew he was talking in his sleep.
“Sorry, I wish I could but I have to leave,” I whispered back.
Leaving him asleep in his car with two beer bottles on the floor, I headed back into the bar.
One thing I immediately realized when I walked through the open doorway: I wasn't the only one amazed by my beauty. I'd no more than stepped inside when an older man, thirty or more, sidled up to me and did that Western twang that is so silly.
“Howdy, little darlin', you lookin' for company? Want a drink?”
He sounded silly but he smelled of warm, rich, thick blood.
“Company,” I agreed. “Outside.”
He raised his eyebrows but he didn't say no. I don't remember if he told me his name. I probably didn't bother to ask. I'd had enough friendly banter from Justin. And this man had none of Justin's charm. In my old life, I'd have given anything to attract a guy like Justin. This man was nothing more than food to me.
It took about a minute to get us both in a car and his hands reaching for me and my mouth meeting his and that's the last I heard from him.
Apparently Dominic was correct about the effect of my kiss. The man passed out, his head leaning against the seat back, his throat exposed.
I ripped at his shirt, cleared it away from his neck, thought about my teeth and dove in with my fangs.
To my horror, I felt them sink through skin and stringy stuff beneath it. Flabby muscle. With the next try I tasted fat. And after that, bone. And after that, my own tears on his skin. And I kept trying and kept crying and kept getting every taste except blood.
Someone rapped on the driver's side car window. I froze, my mouth open against the man's flesh.
Police in the parking lot? Or a friend of this man? His girlfriend? His wife?
Withdraw fangs, I thought, and felt them withdraw. Don't let him fall over, I thought, and slid my hand under the side of his face. At least I was sure that I hadn't killed him because I could hear him snoring. Slowly I lifted my head.
My gaze met Dominic's. His dark eyes stared at me from his pale, narrow face. He spun a finger in a circle to indicate that I should roll down the window, which I did.
Leaning over the sill, he reached his hand through the opening and caught the man's head and gently turned it and looked through the shadows at the exposed neck.
“Good lord. What have you done?”
“What do you mean, what have I done? Have I damaged him?”
“Yes and no. What are you trying to do?”
“I am not getting any blood!”
“No, I can see that. Perhaps you should stop. As you aren't drawing blood, you also aren't healing him. Tomorrow the poor slob will be covered with bruises.”
“I followed your instructions, step by step! What am I doing wrong?” I all but sobbed.
“I have no idea. However, it's time to freshen your drink.” He came around the car and opened the door for me. “Georgia, go back inside and find another man and bring him out here.”
“And then what? This one is my second try and I am so-o-o hungry.” Clenching my fists, I fought back tears.
Dominic patted my arm. “All right, Georgia. Bring someone out here and kiss him to sleep and then I'll come help you.”
Even if I didn't know how to get blood, I apparently knew how to get men. It took me all of another three minutes to lead one out, back him into an open car, kiss him, and crawl in beside him. I'd no idea what he looked like or how old he was or anything else. All I knew was that I could smell his blood and it was driving me insane.
Dominic opened the door on the far side of the car and slid in and leaned over so that his head was almost between me and my dinner. I growled at him.
He actually laughed. “I am not asking to share, love. Now push away his shirt, that's right, and trace his vein with your finger, no, not there, over here, that's right.” With his long fingers he guided my hand. “Right there, exactly there, Georgia. Think about your teeth.”
Step by step I did as told, felt my fangs extend, pressed them into the spot where Dominic had pressed my finger, felt blood, smelled blood, tasted bone.
“You're at the wrong spot,” Dominic said. “Over a bit, try again.”
And I tried and I tried and I tried and I sobbed and cursed Dominic and doubled up with hunger pains.
“He's dry! He's drained. He has as much blood as the Sahara has water!” I moaned.
“Georgia, I can smell his blood. Oh, all right, I don't do men, but for you, this once,” he said and moved me out of his way and bent over the man in the car.
Dominic took a noisy suck, like someone sucking through a straw. My stomach tightened with agony and envy.
Lifting his head and looking somewhat annoyed, Dominic said, “There's nothing wrong with this one except that he's male and I don't like the taste. You're going to leave him covered with bruises. Never mind. He won't remember. Go ahead and keep trying but don't forget: when he starts to tremble, that means you have taken as much blood as is safe for him and you must stop.”
“Show me again where to find his vein. Or an artery.”
“Not an artery! You'll end up with blood all over the place and a dead body. No, look, Georgia, do you see that little hole I made? That goes to a vein. You don't even have to do your own puncture. I've done it for you. And now I am leaving.”
Did he actually say, “Ewww,” as he hurried away or did I imagine it?
As Dominic wasn't going to be the entree, I forgot him and carefully slid my fangs into the marks he'd left. I felt a drop of blood slide through my fangs. And then I tasted fat. Nothing liquid. Just fat.
It was the worst night of my life.
Turning Vampire series
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