It was too much. Aster, my sister and best friend, was a vampire. I let it all out—the anger, the sorrow—in a torrent of tears.
Other than to use a tiny cell phone like Selene’s, Leslie sat quietly and held me while I fell apart. When the crying ran its course, I felt numb and empty. My breathing hitched and stuttered, and Leslie’s hold on me tightened, as if that might help. He kissed my hair and then buried his nose in it. I heard him sniff it, and then he pulled back to sniff my neck.
“You smell strange.” When I thought about how Luc had rubbed his face all over mine, I shuddered. “You’re shivering. Did something happen to you after you left the ballroom?” He sounded angry, confused, and worried.
Leslie roared, “What did he do to you? Did he bite you?” Leslie released me and turned my arms over. He ran his fingers along my neck. When he felt along my legs, my breath hitched, and I pinched my knees together.
“Camellia, did he rape you?” he asked so quietly that I hardly heard him. The seat cushion behind me ripped as his fingers dug into it.
“No. He…he was very unhappy that you wouldn’t trade or share me.”
“Both he and Guillame confronted me tonight. Of course, I refused, but Luc is used to getting his way.” He shook his head and pounded his fist into the seat back. “I should never have let you go off—”
“How could you have known that the one place I ran to was the place where he was?”
Leslie pinched his lips together. “Please, you must tell me what happened. If the offense is great enough, I can ask that he be punished for it.”
That gave me the determination to tell Leslie what Luc said and how I tried to fight. I thought about how I would have landed a solid kick and gotten back inside if it weren’t for the damned dress and stupid shoes. I took a moment to wrench the shoes off my feet and hurl them toward the front of the limo. One bounced off the glass that separated us from the driver.
I told Leslie how I scratched Luc and bit him when he kissed me. I watched Leslie’s face fill with rage when I told him what Luc did after he tore off my panties.
“He put his fingers in you?” Leslie seethed. Never before had he lost this much control around me, his calm veneer all but gone.
“Uh, yeah. Twice.” I swallowed. “I went crazy when I heard him unzip his pants.”
Leslie closed his eyes and looked like he was trying to control his breathing. Of course, he didn’t need to breathe. “What stopped him?”
“Benoit came out onto the veranda, grabbed Luc’s throat, and threatened to kill Luc if he didn’t let me go unharmed. He said he didn’t want you as an enemy.”
By this time, I was shaking again. Leslie gave me a handkerchief for my eyes and nose, and then held me closer. It was impossible to tell what time it was or how long we spent driving around the city. The tint on the windows was so dark that I couldn’t see anything.
As Leslie made another phone call, I pushed Luc out of my mind and thought of Aster. I had no idea how to break this news to my parents. I wondered if Aster would even recognize me if she saw me and how she would react. I had no idea what I should do. She was a vampire, a bad one. I had to end her. Yet, she was my sister, and I didn’t know if I could kill her for I still loved her so much. Twelve years. I wondered how she survived the destruction of the group that took her.
“What are you thinking? It’s killing me,” Leslie said quietly.
“You’re already dead,” I said and laughed at my poor joke.
“Sorry. I’m wondering how Aster survived when the group of vampires that took her were destroyed.”
“How were they destroyed?”
“Benoit, of all people. We were in Miami then. Aster was about seventeen, but she’s older than that now. Someone kept her human for about four years before turning her.” I thought about it a bit more, and then my eyes went wide. “That’s it! Benoit didn’t kill her when he destroyed the ones who took her.”
“I came to Florida to oversee an emergency trial about the same time. Why do you think Benoit destroyed the family of vampires that took your sister?”
“You want the whole story?”
“Please.” Gently, he brushed my ruined hair away from my face.
I explained to him how Aster loved children and wanted to be a mother and teacher. Between her and my mother, who had been a teacher, they managed to somewhat educate me. Aster was the daughter raised as a caretaker. I was so much more talented at fighting, and my parents knew that it broke Aster’s heart to have to kill other humans, so they were content to let her care for the children in our family. She trained, like everyone else, but she was really too sweet.
“You saw her,” I said, as if that was all the evidence necessary. “She looked like a princess even before she was turned.”
I went on to explain how we came across a well-guarded nest. We managed to kill some of the human guards and the mate of the leader, but we didn’t have the time or resources to finish off the rest before sunset. Two days later, they tracked our scent and found our house.
“We never knew why they targeted Aster, but it was clear that they did because they used a child vampire.”
I told Leslie that the child vampire was out in the street crying for his mother. It was so obvious to me, but Aster fell for it. We knew little about vampire laws, but we knew enough to know that making a child vampire was against their rules. Maybe that was why Aster didn’t believe the child was one of them. She ran out to him, and he turned on her. After he bit her, the rest of the group descended on her and vanished, taking her with them.
“We held guard all night and moved the next day.”
“I think the reason I was called to Florida all those years ago was to try this family. They never would say why they made a vampire child. Perhaps the lure of having a Rosegarten was too great.”
Leslie rubbed my arm. “Maybe the leader wanted her specifically since your family killed his mate. Vampires are strongly attracted to beautiful things of which you are now painfully aware.” He gave me a knowing look, and I fought off a wave of tears that threatened to fall down my cheeks.
“A member of our family, a young man who was fond of her, stayed in the area to try to find out what became of her.” I rubbed at my tear-and makeup-coated cheeks. “When he rejoined us, he told us that Benoit had ordered the destruction of the group. We assumed that Aster was killed by the ones who took her or by Benoit’s people.”
“I ordered the destruction of the group, but Benoit oversaw the executions.” Leslie looked down at the floorboard as if the answers were there. “Apparently, Aster struck his fancy. Vampires also hate to destroy beauty.” I gave a sarcastic laugh. “What?”
“In the words of Luc, ‘It would be such a waste to have to kill you.’” Leslie’s face flashed from calm to violent. “Sorry.” I patted his chest. “My sarcastic jokes are in exceptionally poor taste tonight or this morning or whenever it is. Still, it’s fitting though, isn’t it?”
“Bern, stop the car,” Leslie called to the driver, who responded immediately.
Leslie got out of the limo. I slid across the seat and looked after him. With the door open, I could tell it was the grayish time of morning, not too long before sunrise.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
We were in the outskirts of town, nearer to the forest, and trees lined the highway. Leslie stalked across the road. He increased his speed to a trot and, with one swing of his arm, smashed through the trunks of five mature trees, two of which were oaks. He stood with his back to the car, and I watched his shoulders rise and fall. He rolled his head on his neck and turned back to me.
As he made his way back over to the limo, his fangs retracted, and his hands relaxed from the claws they had made. He unfastened his collar, untied his bow tie, and took off his tuxedo jacket. I moved back over to my side.
“Thanks, Bern. Take us home now, please,” he said as he slid back into the car. He smelled like bark and sap.
“No.” He pulled me fully into his lap. He laid the jacket over me, and under it, he wrapped his arms around me. I tucked the top of my head into the side of his neck. “I’ll feel better when I tear off Luc’s head with my own hands.” He turned his head slightly and kissed my forehead.
I smiled at the thought. “Can you?”
“I am an old vampire. I can do and have done almost everything.”
I entertained myself with mental images of such a fight. Until tonight, I had only seen the polite, refined, and playful sides of Leslie. I imagined Leslie ripping Luc limb from limb before gouging out his eyes and wrenching off his cock. “You’d think Luc would be more afraid of you.”
“Luc doesn’t know me as Guillame does. I will speak with him on the matter. He’ll be expecting it.” His hold on me tightened. “Luc has been with Guillame for a few centuries, but he isn’t involved in the political side of Guillame’s life.”
For the rest of the ride, Leslie held me in his arms and hummed a song to me. I wondered how Justin’s evening went. Perhaps he and Selene were more successful. Maybe they had gotten a chance to dance. My evening had been full of nerves and terror. I vowed that should I ever encounter Luc again, I would kill him, and damn the consequences.
END CH8, P1