Whatever Wells told my father appeased his fears that we were going to be some lone rag-tag group fighting for the impossible. My family agreed to work with Wells, but we planned to stay in our current house and refused Wells’ offer of turning on the power. My father reasoned that it would be best to keep ourselves hidden until it became impossible.
I paid close attention when Wells showed my father a detailed map of Tallahassee and surrounding areas so he could X off the houses that held friendly vampires or humans. However, the way Selene flirted with Justin made it hard for me to concentrate on the discussion. Justin seemed oblivious, but his body reacted to her—chill bumps springing up wherever she touched him—warning him that something unnatural and dangerous was near him. Selene’s heavy-lidded eyes were the color of the blue willow china teapot my mother had managed to keep all these years.
“No, Mister Rosegarten, Camellia isn’t listening.” I caught the tone of the voice and my name and started. The whole table stared back at me. “Thank you for joining us,” Wells said easily. I frowned at him. “We were just discussing what a wonderful information gathering opportunity this fall gala at Maison Benoit could prove to be. Tight lips loosen at parties, especially when alcohol is involved.”
“Oh, absolutely.” I nodded and paid closer attention.
“It’s settled then. You’ll need a dress, shoes, and so forth. I’ll write down some addresses for you.”
“Dress?” I asked stupidly. “What dress?”
“Something long, perhaps sparkly, and revealing.” He pointed a finger at me stiffly then turned to Justin. “You should accompany Camellia from now on, acting as her bodyguard. Camellia, you need to work on being a little meeker.”
Justin and I both snorted and then laughed at each other. Most of my family snickered.
“Good luck with that,” my father said and actually slapped Wells on the back.
My, weren’t we chummy? I had to hand it to him; Wells was hard to dislike. Plus, he promised to deliver the goods: human freedom from slavery.
“Justin, you’ll need to get a tuxedo if you’re going to pose as Selene’s mate, and it will be safer for all of you if you wear indicators.”
Wells handed Selene a velvet pouch from which she removed silver pins. Each of the pins was a heart encircled by an oak leaf laurel, but mine was a little different. It was more like a broach. Inset in the center of the heart was a stone that my mother informed me was a tourmaline. It was the same color as Wells’ eyes. Justin’s was the only other one like mine.
“These will be a sign to anyone that you are part of my group. Wear it prominently, and no vampires should bother you.”
I finally found my voice. “I can’t wear a dress,” I shouted.
Exasperated, Wells asked, “Why not?”
“You’ll be okay, honey.” My mother patted my hand. “I’ll teach you how to walk in heels.”
I tried to think of how I could walk, much less defend myself, in formal attire. Wells’ expression softened, as if he finally realized I was truly out of my element.
“If it will make you feel better,” my mother went on, “I’ll give you my garter that doubles as a knife belt.”
“Okay,” I said shakily and wondered why my mother would have a garter.
Wells looked amused by this bit of information, and I glared at him. He had lifetimes of luxury and leisure, and here he was getting a big kick out of the terrifying one I had led. My anger threatened to lash out, so I made an effort to clamp down on it. This was not the time to start an argument.
“One more thing,” Wells said. “You and Justin will need to be marked. It’s unheard of for a mate of a vampire not to carry some bite marks.”
“Why is that?” Justin asked.
“Biting and being bitten during intercourse greatly heightens the experience,” Selene explained while she looked at Justin as if she wanted to eat him, literally. She stared at his neck, and he swallowed.
“However,” Wells continued, glaring at Selene before turning back to address the group, “since we would never bite any humans without permission, we have made these.” From his pocket, he removed something that looked like a pair of silver fangs. I noticed it had holes for the index and middle fingers. “Once punctured by the faux fangs, you will appear to have been bitten. The wound can be sealed with vampire saliva so that it won’t become infected.”
“Well, let’s see it,” my father said. “We all want to know what is involved, and I’d like to make sure you don’t lose control and end up eating my daughter.”
“I assure you, Mister Rosegarten, Selene and I have been in control of our hungers for hundreds of years now, but I’m willing to do almost anything to make you as comfortable with the situation as possible.”
“Okay then. So, in a few days, Cami and I will head into town—” Justin started.
“Okay?” I screeched at him. “You’re okay with all this? All this?”
“It’s what we need to do, what I need to do,” he said. “I don’t want you going off alone anymore, Cami. I know Wells can look after you at a party, but he can’t be around in the daytime. I volunteered for this, but he agrees that I’m perfect for the job. If they need to stab me with those things, so be it.”
Selene was right. He was brave, and he cared far too much. Our relationship was so one-sided, and I felt guilty about that. Still, I had done my best to make my feelings, or lack thereof, clear to Justin. If he wanted to be overprotective, that was his deal.
“Fine.” I held out my arm. “Do it.”
“That’s the other problem with your fake bite marks. Very few vampires bite on the arms. We like the wrists, neck, throat, and other places where the pulse is strong,” Wells explained.
“I don’t care what you say, Wells. I’m not letting you stab me in the neck with that thing.”
“I was going to suggest here.” He skimmed a finger to the spot where my neck met my shoulder, the same spot where he had first put his teeth on me. “It’s my personal favorite, in the event that someone offers.”
The family members, who were curious enough to watch, looked ill at ease. Who in their right mind would offer a vampire a nibble?
I wrinkled my nose at him. “Do you have to be so creepy about it?”
“You bring out my playfulness.” He stood and looked down into my eyes. “Now, I’ll warn you, the humans who prefer to be marked this way say that it hurts. You see, when a vampire bites you, the saliva numbs the skin a bit.”
Nifty tip number seventeen, I thought. “Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I’m ready. Just don’t hit anything important.”
“If I know anything, it’s human anatomy.”
He plunged the faux fangs onto my shoulder, and I gasped. They did hurt, much worse than the punctures I’d given myself because I hadn’t gone deep enough. Though my tolerance for pain was high, the placement got to me. Almost instantly, I heard my heart thudding in my ears.
Someone said, “She’s turning green.”
Wells removed the fangs. I couldn’t see the blood, but I felt it well and then start to flow out of the marks. My mother smiled at me and patted the wound with a dish towel.
“Leslie, seal it already. She’s going to pass out,” Selene said.
Wells sucked in his cheeks. His mouth moved as if he were gathering up every bit of moisture. When his mouth stopped moving, he indicated for my mother to lift away the towel. Gently, he put his hands on my shoulders and leaned over me. I smelled him—shampoo and soap, something refreshing, like rosemary and mint. Wells half-spit, half-drooled onto my shoulder and then slid his fingers around in the saliva. As his spit smeared in the blood, it made its way into the wounds. The “bite” stopped hurting almost immediately and a tingling sensation, similar to when a limb falls asleep, replaced the pain.
I giggled as if tickled and shook out my arm. Warmth spread up my neck and down my shoulder a bit, replacing the tingly feeling. The massaging action felt nice, and when Wells finally stopped, the wound, as well as the rest of me, felt great. He indicated for my mother to wipe the area clean. Once she had, I stretched my neck back to look down and found two perfect and clearly visible fang marks. The saliva formed a shiny seal over them.
“Well, that felt…different,” I said. “Your turn, Justin.”
When I looked at him and around the table, everyone stared at me as if seeing something private. Wells moved away from me, and my parents looked at the marks, either impressed or shocked at the result. I had the displeasure of watching Justin receive his fang marks and healing massage, from Selene of course. Stabbing with the faux fangs completed, my father questioned Wells about the possibilities of using vampire saliva as a medicine.
“Well, vampire saliva works like stitches and an antibiotic, a sort of miracle salve for flesh wounds, and can deaden the skin. Drinking vampire blood can cure a multitude of illnesses and internal injuries, but one has to be careful.” Wells held up a finger. “Too much can trigger the change. My family uses these extreme measures only when necessary and only if that human is willing.”
My father lifted his eyebrows and nodded. There was so much to absorb.