Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 3: Part 1

Chapter Three: Group Decision

This was going to be big.

Leaning against the wall the dining room shared with the living room, I listened as my father spoke to our family about the offer. They were afraid. Robert suggested we move immediately. Mandy assumed that Wells bit me and suggested that my father kill me before we moved. That suggestion was poorly received, most of all by Justin, who yelled at her.

With what little information I had given him, my father answered their questions. Most of all, they wanted to know his opinion. He wouldn’t force the group into a truce with the seemingly friendly vampires, but he wanted to speak with Wells in person. He informed the group that I was going to arrange a meeting. There were murmurs and more questions. The tension was high, and I couldn’t be inside anymore.

For the first time in ages, I went outside at night with a lit lantern. I walked the path to the training area, and once there, I sat on a mound of pine straw at the edge of the clearing. In an attempt to calm my mind and organize my crowding thoughts, I shifted to sit cross-legged, wrists on my knees, and practiced my yoga breathing.

I never imagined that humans would be able to work with vampires. I had assumed that all vampires felt superior to humans and would therefore feel it beneath them to treat their food as equals. I found myself wondering if they were capable of caring about humans, even loving humans. If so, it meant that vampires were capable of compassion and caring but chose not to feel either of those things or any other noble emotions.

From what my parents had told me of the past, humans weren’t much, if any, better when it came to morals and ethics, but at least, in most of the world, we had put an end to legal slavery and cannibalism. At any rate, my knowledge of our world and vampires wasn’t as complete as I believed it to be. It was a lot to wrap my head around.

“I can smell you from a mile away.”

At the sound of his voice, I jolted out of my thoughts. I sprang to my feet, ready to fight. The reaction was instant, a reflex from so many years of fighting. I knew his voice now, but instinct was instinct. Slowly, I relaxed, letting the adrenaline run its course.

Wells appeared from behind a tree and walked over to me. The lantern gave off little light, but his luminous skin glowed in it.

“Excuse me,” I said sarcastically, “but unlike some used-to-be humans, we don’t have electricity. Cold showers aren’t much fun.”

“I didn’t mean that you smelled bad, just that I can smell you in contrast to the  surroundings—very striking and potent.” He waved his nose around in the air.

“Okay.” That might have been a compliment. “My father wants a meeting, tomorrow night. You’re guaranteed safe passage and entry into the house.”

While he mulled over my words, I thought about the things that Mandy and Robert said in the meeting. Those two were certainly not on board, and if I didn’t know better, I would think that Mandy actually just wanted me dead no matter what. I couldn’t understand what she had against me. I pursed my lips and furrowed my brow.

“What is it?” Wells walked over and took my hand, so quickly that, even with my reflexes, I wasn’t able to yank my hand away from his grasp. “You look tense.”

“You’re very fast.” When he only looked at me, I continued, “He’ll convince them they should at least hear it from you, get a chance to ask you questions. They’ll be afraid, but I’m not. If they vote against it, I’ll seek you.”

“You’ve decided?” He squeezed my hand ever so slightly. His eyes danced in the lantern light.

“With or without them,” I sighed. “I want to work with you. I need to act. This way of life…something has to change, and I want to help.”

Sensing the contact made me uncomfortable, he shook my hand once and released it. “This makes me happy,” he said softly. “And, you shouldn’t worry about finding me. I can find you easily now.”

“How’s that?”

“I know you by scent and by sound. Your footsteps, and when you’re close enough, your heartbeat.” He stood absolutely still for a moment and bounced his index finger up and down in what I supposed was the rhythm of my heart. “I can smell when your hormones change so I know when you’re angry, when you’re afraid. By the way, you’ll start menstruating tomorrow.”

That was all incredibly creepy. “Um, thanks for the warning.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Incidentally, how long have you been watching me?”

“Since you arrived, of course.”

“I knew it.” I shook my head. “You made this house available for us, didn’t you?” All he gave for an answer was a small smile. “My dad is going to be so pissed about that.” Then, it really hit me. Wells was watching me. When my thoughts backtracked far enough, I said, “You were here, that day when Justin was throwing me. I felt or saw something. It was you.”

He laughed softly and said, “It was one of the most interesting conversations about masturbation that I’ve ever heard.”

As my face heated, I clenched my teeth and growled, “I think you must go out in the day a lot. You’re not afraid one of us would grab you, throw you in the sun?”

“You’d have to catch me to do that, and I don’t go out unless it is very cloudy. It’s unpleasant but bearable.” He seemed to shake off something. “I’ve had a long time to get over my fear of sun, as I don’t have much use for sleep. Older vampires don’t need to feed or rest much.”

This was more than I had learned about vampires since, well, ever. If nothing else, I could gain quite a bit of knowledge from Wells. From what I could tell, he was forthcoming, and it amused him to share with me.

I ventured another question. “How old are you?”

“Older than Benoit, and that will work heavily to our advantage.”

“How’s that?”

“I’ll explain more about vampire etiquette and customs later.” He beamed at me. “I will enjoy working with you. From what I’ve learned, you’re strong, creative, deadly, and an extensive planner. So much like me.” He walked in circles around me, giving me the feeling of being caged prey. I wondered if I looked like a juicy slab of meat to him. “Can you feel it?” he asked, his eyes growing wide. He stood still, spread his arms, and inhaled deeply.

Completely confused and a little mesmerized, I asked, “What?” and sniffed at the air. I smelled pine trees and straw. The air felt cool and maybe a little damp. “Rain?”

Wells treated me to one of his smiles. “It’s coming. I hope we all live through it.”

I gave a short, sardonic laugh and said, “Me, too.” I was excited about this project but worried. If I went off on my own, I had to know that someone would take care of my parents. Justin would do it, but I couldn’t decide if I should talk to him about it.

“Concerned?” Wells came over to me again. “Your mouth is quirking.”

I sighed. “I think Justin is going to be a problem.”

“Of course he will. You’ll be spending a lot of time, if not living with, another man.”

“You’re funny, Wells, you know? He’ll worry, especially after he sees you.” I waved my hand to indicate him from head to toe.

“Am I that fearsome?” His fangs ran out, and he bared them as he hooked his hands into claws. Instinct had me jumping away from him. He was just as terrifying as any other vampire that fights and bites back, and it took me a moment to regain my composure. Already relaxed again, Wells gave me a harmless-looking smile.

“I meant that you’re pretty,” I clarified.

“Well, I don’t know if ‘pretty’ is the right word.” He paused and pressed his index finger to his lips, as if in deep thought about the meaning and nuances of the proper words needed to describe his splendor. “Beautiful is more like it but so are most vampires.”

“You are exceptional, I think.” There was no point in denying it.

“The feeling is mutual.” He paused and gave me a meaningful look. “Be that as it may, our relationship is professional. Justin needn’t be jealous.” He smiled. “Still, mutual attraction has its benefits. It will be nice that we won’t have to act. Just one less piece of the façade to maintain.”

“Sure,” I said, trying to shrug it off as a given. “Okay, I’m going back. I’ll see you tomorrow night, one way or the other?”

“Yes.” When I started to walk away, I heard him call, “Camellia, I hate to say it, but part of  me hopes that they won’t agree so you’ll join my family.”

“Thanks for creeping me out right before bedtime, Wells.”

END Ch3P1

Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 2: Part 2

“Please, try to trust me.” His brow furrowed a bit. “I can offer you protection, aid.”

“Why?” I wondered what the price might be.

“I want to work with you, specifically. Beyond that,” he took his hands out of his pockets, “you should know that a household like Benoit’s is always on the lookout for young females…for various reasons. One of your recent visits to the grocery store drew the attention of Benoit’s right-hand man, Luc.”

I straightened. “How can you know that?”

“His men have been asking around about you, trying to find out who owns Lily.” I grimaced. “I imagine he wants a trade, but knowing his nature, I wouldn’t put it past him to just take you and deal with any consequences after the fact.”

My eyes narrowed. “I’d kill him first.” Then, I shrugged. “Hell, I’ll kill him anyway. Take them all out. That’s the plan after all.”

“I can get you in the house,” he said with a sly grin. My attention snapped to him, and in response, his grin spread to a smile. “I am well-known in vampire circles. You and I could work together; you gather intelligence from the humans, and I get it from the vampires. We use what we learn to end Benoit’s rule and free Florida. What do you think?”

“You know how to tempt me,” I admitted.

He laughed, and the sound made me feel comfortable, the fact of which made me instantly uncomfortable again. “Talk of killing, espionage, destroying and rebuilding the entire world order does it for you?”

“Oh, yeah.” I lifted an eyebrow and nodded. “I’ll have to think about it…um…?” Palm up, I held my hand toward him.

“Sorry. How rude of me.” Gently, he popped himself in the side of the head. “Leslie Wells.” He realized that he had released me and looked flustered for a moment before offering me his hand. I shook it.

“Wells, I need to think about it, and you should realize that my father may not be on board with this even if I am. I, we, will have questions.”

The truth was that I toyed with the idea of going rogue for a few years, and since Justin had made his feelings clear, the need to flee pressed on me harder. Now, I had an option, something huge, that I could accomplish. I salivated at the possibilities.

“My friends call me Leslie or just Les.”

“I don’t know if I should trust you, much less call you a friend. You could be bullshitting me and bring your whole nest back to the house tonight to kill us all.”

“Knowing the reputation of the Rosegartens, at least half of us would be killed trying to get near the house.” He smiled at me, but I felt very uncomfortable, almost sick. “What?” he asked. “I can hear your pulse racing.”

“We have a reputation,” I breathed out, seriously worried now. I leaned back against a pine for a moment.

“I stand in the presence of slayer royalty.” He bowed to me as I propped against the tree. “You have led groups that have wiped out vampires all over this country. If Benoit knew you were here, you wouldn’t last long. There is quite a bounty on your heads.”

I glared at him. “Are you trying to blackmail me now?”

“No, just explaining the nature of the world you kill in. You need some friendly vampires in your corner.” He took a few steps closer to me. “If I wanted you dead, you would be. If I wanted your family dead, I’d bite you and send you back to them. If I wanted to hand you over, I’d have taken you with me already. You have to admit, if you want to take out Benoit, you need me.”

“What do you propose? I need more than pretty words and a name to take back to my father. How exactly do you plan to protect us?”

“It’s simple—you will pose as my mate.” He waved a hand at me like that would magically solve the problem. “That will certainly explain why you aren’t enthralled, why you are out running errands without a chaperone.” He nodded as he thought. “Yes, I’ll say you and your family are rescues. That should explain your obvious nerves.”

I pointed my finger at him. “I don’t have nerves!”

“Mark says you’re jumpy.”

“I take it he’s in on this?” I whirled my finger in the air. When Wells nodded, I re-crossed my arms over my chest. “Yeah well, I’m ready to fight or run. That doesn’t mean I’m jumpy.”

“Mm hmm.” Wells smiled at my glare. “Rest assured, once it is known that we are together, no one will take you without my permission.”

I relaxed just a tad. Wells regarded my self-inflicted bite marks. “Also, they know I don’t drink humans for nourishment so the lack of multiple bites won’t matter, but those marks won’t fool a vampire.”

“I guess, if we want to stay here and take down this bastard, I don’t have much of a choice.” I tore a limb from a nearby shrub and yanked the leaves off one at a time. After I mutilated all the leaves, I stripped off the twiggy branches. When the limb was nothing but a pile of bits at my feet, I looked at Wells. “It’s as likely as not that my family will think I’m compromised and kill me.”

His tone both teasing and patronizing, Wells said, “Justin won’t let them kill you. He loves you. You should offer to let him go with you on Wednesdays as your bodyguard, what with your position and all. He has a rough time of it when he’s not with you.”

“Well, that’s his problem, and it’s none of your business,” I said a little more loudly than necessary. It angered me that he knew so much about us.

“Ouch. Too bad for him.” He rubbed his hands together. “I will relish it when I see the look on Luc’s face when I introduce you to him.”

“If I agree, you mean. Why is that?”

“I would think it’s obvious.” When it became clear to him that I wasn’t of that opinion, he asked, “How long has it been since you’ve looked in a mirror, Slayer?”

“A while,” I admitted.

“You’ve a few scars, but you’re quite lovely all around. Strong but with nice curves.”

“Thanks for the compliment. You’re not too bad looking yourself, for a vampire.”

He laughed generously at that. He knew he was gorgeous. All vampires had allure, but Wells was particularly pretty.

He stopped laughing abruptly. “Someone’s calling for you.”

I turned my head to listen. “I’m going. Just give me a few days.”

When I started to leave, he swooped to my side. After taking my hand in his, he kissed each of my cheeks and vanished.

The panic and adrenaline hit me. I sprinted back to the house and passed my confused-looking father. I hoped it looked like I’d come in from a run and not like I was terrified. Once inside the house, I went straight to one of the bathrooms, ran a cloth under the tap, and put it on my neck.

I didn’t need a mirror to know that my hair had darkened from the white-blond of childhood to something closer to khaki. My oval face had thinned, making my greenish-blue eyes appear even larger. Better than I knew those colors, shapes, and textures, I knew those of my scars. None was so large that it marred my face or marked me in any distinguishable way, but I had far more than the average human did. They had come from one of three things: scouting in the woods, fighting with a vampire or a slave, or in an escape. It was no wonder Mark had asked about them.

My mother always told me I was tall. I spent almost all my waking hours training, which earned me a lean-muscled build and a flat, hard tummy. Justin had always complimented those, as well as my “nice curves” at my breasts and hips.

I rinsed the rag under the sink, wrung it out, and passed it over my face. I sighed and looked at my reflection. I could see how, even if it looked like somebody had dropped me a few times and then kicked me, someone might say I was “quite lovely all around.” Yet, now that I really looked, I realized I needed a better backstory and to wear long-sleeved shirts.

* * * *

Since I knew my father would overreact, I waited an entire day before I invited him out to the clearing for a private conversation. My idea was to give him proof that it wasn’t a trap. As expected, he was supremely angry, but he stood quietly while I told him about my encounter in the woods.

“He knows everything!”

“Shh. Someone will hear you,” I said. “Not everything.”

“Don’t you shush me.” He shook his head. “It’s a trap.”

“How can you say that? No one came in the night. I believe him, Dad.”

We argued and speculated. My father thought Wells just wanted control of Florida, and no matter what, he thought for sure it would end in our slaughter. I couldn’t tell him otherwise, but the longer we stayed under the sun, the less he argued against the idea of joining forces with a vampire. More importantly, he didn’t order me inside to pack. The temptation Wells dangled so carefully in front of us was too much to ignore.

I tried to make him understand that we couldn’t eradicate vampires, but with vampires like Wells around, we might be able to learn to live with them as equals. Inspired by Well’s passion and my own pleas, I made up my mind to go along with Wells whether or not my parents or the rest of my family agreed. I was ready for change—change in the status quo, change from the constant hiding and fighting. I had a feeling my father was, too.

“It could lead to a better existence for us all. I want that for me and for you and Mom.”

“Set up a meeting with him,” he decided. “We’ll make the way clear tomorrow night.”

“I don’t even know if I can find him. I have no idea where they are based.”

“He’ll find you or vice versa…probably got someone out there right now casing the house. Damn!” He smashed his right fist into his left palm. “That really burns me that they found us.”

When he said that, I realized that most likely we found the house because of Wells. It made perfect sense—big house, water, no vampires in the immediate area, except the (possibly) good ones.

“Dad,” I put my hand on his forearm, “I think we need him and the protection he can  provide. Wells told me…he told me that our names, Harold and Camellia Rosegarten, are well-known and hated among vampires.”

He looked at me, and his face turned pale, almost haggard. He was tired. He couldn’t hunt anymore. At the age of fifty-two, his body had seen more wear and tear than most others saw in their entire lives. I knew what I told him would scare him. I only hoped it was enough to make him accept help from a promising source.

He ran his hands over his face and then through his hair. “Hell, that makes us even bigger targets than I might have suspected.” His face darkened, and I knew the train of thought his mind took.

“I already asked if we were being blackmailed, to which Wells replied he would simply turn us over or kill us if he’d wanted that.” I kept my eyes on his. “I don’t think he’s even told his family that we are who we are.”

Angry, he asked, “Oh, so they’re a family now? And you’re so eager to join them? Are you sure you weren’t bitten?” He scowled at me.

“I wasn’t bitten,” I sassed. “Do you want to check me?”

“No.” He sighed. “I believe you. I can’t think that if you were bitten a vamp would leave you so hard-headed and smart-mouthed.”

Despite the tension between us, I coughed out a laugh, and he chuckled. I fisted my hands as I looked at him. “I need to do this.”

“You’re a grown woman now. You can do what you want.” He waved a hand at me. “Although you know I prefer you to stay with me and your mother. Set up that meeting for tomorrow night. After I hear from him, the family will vote.”

END Ch2P2

Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 2: Part 1

Chapter Two: Tell Me Something Good

Then, it didn’t bite me.

Instead, it said, “Drop the stake,” in a quiet, male voice. I tensed as if to fight, but he shook me enough to make me dizzy. “Drop it,” he whispered harshly in my ear.

With my arms pinned, I couldn’t even use the stake to kill myself, so there was no point in holding on to it. I let it drop.

“Now, kick it away.” I did. “If you promise not to scream, I’ll remove my hand.”

I nodded. The hand over my mouth relaxed, and then both of his hands moved to wrap around my upper arms more securely, like a tight hug. “Why don’t you just eat me?” I snarled. “Or, do you prefer to play with your food?”

“I’m rarely hungry, though I’m sure you’d be tasty…Camellia.” He knew my name? I swallowed. “Your father would be so disappointed that you got caught.”

I tensed. It was stupid and sloppy of me to follow him into the forest. I should’ve gone to the house immediately, but I hadn’t. Now, I needed to find a way out of this situation. Playing dumb, I asked, “My father?”

“Yes. I know of him. He’s a famous slayer. Almost as famous as you.”

I was a famous slayer? Vampires knew about me? I couldn’t think, but I had to. I had to devise a way to either get away from him or kill myself before he bit me and put me in thrall.

The vampire continued, “The Rosegartens.”

“So? Kill me already. Brag to your pals. I promise you that I’m no vampire’s slave.” I tried to wriggle free, but it was pointless. He was incredibly strong.

“No?” he teased. “I don’t think you have much choice.”

His teeth skimmed down the side of my neck and over my shoulder where my tank top left it bare. I cast my eyes to the side to try to get a look at him. He was about my height with medium brown hair, straight, just long enough to put in a stubby ponytail. My skin chilled where he touched it. The sensation was arousing, despite my impending doom.

“But, I’d rather not have you in thrall if it can be helped. I’d like you to have free will.”

“Your zombified girlfriends don’t get you off? Want to fuck somebody with some fight in them?” I stomped on his foot, which had no effect on him.

“Thanks for the offer, but that’s not what I wanted to speak with you about.” When I tried a backward head-butt, he dodged. “This is really annoying, talking like this.” He released me, and as I sprang forth to run, he grabbed my wrist to hold me. “Please, be still. If I wanted you dead, you would be.”

“Well, if you don’t want to eat me or fuck me, then what the hell do you want?”

I hoped no one else had come outside looking for me, hoped that I could get back and get us gone before the worst happened. I kicked out at him, but he avoided me quite easily.

“I want to work with you.”

That was unexpected, so I stopped struggling for a moment. “Excuse me?”

“I want to work with you and your group. I want to take down Benoit.”

“So you can take his place? That’s no better.” I resumed straining against his hold.

“To remove him and change things. I don’t think slavery is any less wrong now than it was in the past. Humans deserve their freedom.”

His odd eyes—almost aqua in color—shined with something powerful. Intrigued by those eyes and whatever made them so fierce, I calmed down and made myself focus.

“Are you toying with me or have you lost your mind? You’re a vampire, remember?”

“Yes, I am, but I wasn’t made one by choice, and I miss being human, even if I haven’t been for some time.”

He rubbed my wrist with his thumb, feeling my pulse. His eyes darted there then back up to mine. In them, I saw a longing that wasn’t a result of one of his primal vampire desires.

“I represent a group of vampires and humans who are working to abolish human slavery. Of course, the old human ways of going about a change such as this don’t apply here.” He looked up into the canopy of pine trees and the thick clouds beyond it. “It’s more about the number of vampires that want change. We’re quickly growing, and you can help us here in Tallahassee.”

My father had explained sales pitches to me—someone doctors up a product or service with flowery language and empty promises so you’ll buy it. That’s what this vampire sounded like he was doing.

I wasn’t buying it.

“You have lost your mind. No vampire wants to give up slaves.” I gave him a look. “How would you guarantee loyalty, safety?”

“It’s about rights, for all of us, and mutual trust and respect. The world is stagnant. To control humans, vampires take away free will, and without free will, humans have no imagination and the world cannot advance.” Without realizing it, he released me and paced back and forth in a deep shadow. “Certainly, humans still work in factories, maintain interstates and major highways, and manufacture all sorts of goods, but they are little more than robots, puppets. Not only is there no progress, but this world and our
society are only just staying together. I fear if change doesn’t come about soon, it will fall completely apart.”

“It’s been falling apart for a while now,” I muttered. “You just expect people to trust you, for other vampires to just go along?”

“Of course not. It will take years to build that trust and respect. Regardless, every sentient being deserves to be free to live and make its own choices.” He said this matter-of-factly, and I agreed. I just didn’t see how he could make it come about, and I wasn’t sure I really believed him.

I raised my eyebrows. “You’re telling me you don’t have any slaves.”

“Not a single one. Oh sure, my group has many human allies. Some live with us and mate with us, but they are not enthralled, and we do not feed on them without their permission.”

Okay, he had my attention. “Then, who do you eat?”

“Well, there have been sympathetic vampires since there have been vampires. Those like me get blood, mostly pig or bovine, from butchers, you know, at grocery stores. When the suppliers deliver the meat for the humans, they deliver the blood for the vampires. It’s like the grocery store behind the grocery store.” He continued to pace as he spoke. “My group gets blood from three Human Foods stores in the area, including the one you go to. Benoit,” his fists balled tightly when he said the name, “thinks he’s so kind to do it for us, feels sorry for us, like we’re mentally challenged.”

“But, you have had humans before.”

“Well, of course.” He casually put his hands in his pockets. He wore navy slacks and a dark green mock turtleneck. Other than his pale face, he blended perfectly with the shadows. “I still do,” he continued, “but only if it’s donated freely and never to cause death or thrall.”

“You make it all sound so believable.” I crossed my arms over my chest.

END Ch2P1

Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 1: Part 2

Over the next few weeks, I focused solely on the tasks at hand, which were regular trips to the grocery store and clearing houses along the roads we needed to take to get into the city. There weren’t many nests left, as vampires tended to form widely scattered small groups around large cities, but we knew Benoit’s would be an exception.

Justin and I spent our afternoons scouting for houses using electricity or with tinted windows. Then, we came back at midmorning to hunt and loot. Once the job was done, we returned to our house, trained, and jogged. Then, near sunset, we went back out for more surveillance, gradually widening our search area. It was a good routine—one that I could enjoy for the entire winter and one that kept Justin from having time to talk to me about his feelings.

My father was more convinced than ever that, if we found another group of free humans and solid intelligence, we had a chance at taking out Benoit. My part in that effort was to visit Human Foods on Wednesdays. While I shopped, Justin and Robert canvassed the area around the old governor’s mansion. In the role of friendly house servant, I cautiously pumped Mark, and any other customers who could carry on a conversation, for information about Benoit and his supporters. It was slow going, especially since I tapped out Mark after two visits.

At night, the family sat around in the living room, sharing meals that came mostly from cans. We whispered to each other about any gathered intelligence and poured over maps of the city.

My father was anxious for action. Still, he was a good leader. He wouldn’t ask people to fight without thorough knowledge of what we faced.

As with any decent sized group of humans, opposing sides formed. The fighters wanted to fight, and the hiders wanted to hide. Not everybody can fight, and I certainly appreciate the ones who work to make a house our home. The mixture can be good, but it often made my father’s preferred democratic decision-making tedious.

Then, one Wednesday in mid-November, I met Travis, an escort for one of the mindless drones Benoit was in the habit of sending out for groceries. He was tight-lipped at first, but after I flirted with him a bit, he loosened up some. That night, over a meal of red beans and rice, I told my family what I’d learned.

“I didn’t pressure him about numbers because I figured it would look suspicious. I just hinted that I’d heard good things about the living conditions and treatment of slaves. I don’t know why, but once he thought I was interested in new ownership, he went on and on about all the amenities living there would offer.” I shuddered. “Anyway, according to Travis, they live in one of those huge houses near Myers Park, on the golf course, off Magnolia.”

“They’re close, south instead of east,” my father said. “I assumed they’d go for the governor’s mansion.”

I shrugged and then remembered no one could see me in the dark. “The house on the golf course is probably bigger,” I reasoned. “Now that we know where they are, we need to be more careful about taking out nests.”

“Hmm. You’re right,” Justin remarked. “We don’t want to draw too much attention to this area if we plan to stay here.”

“Just in case, we should start scouting for a new house,” Robert said.

I heard a round of groans from the group. We just moved in, lucky to have found a house with working water, and it was getting colder every day. No one wanted to consider spending months in the woods scouting a new house.

“I think we’ve been careful enough,” I said.

“We need to be prepared,” Robert reminded us. “This would be a big move against them. Huge.”

Chatter continued for some time, and I found my mind wandering. I thought about Travis’ description of the Benoit feeding rotation. The idea of offering myself to a vampire to feed on me twice a week turned my stomach. When he’d suggested that I might qualify for a breeder or consort, I’d had a hard time stopping myself from crushing his windpipe and ramming his nose into his head. With violent thoughts clouding my mind, I got up and left the room.

As I walked toward the stairs to the basement, Justin grabbed my wrist and pulled me into his room. “What’s this about, Justin?” I managed to ask just before his lips fell on mine. After a solid minute of kissing, I said, “Well, I see.”

“Wednesday is my least favorite day of the week.” He kissed me again and rubbed his hands down my sides. I didn’t really know how to respond. I felt like this was an overreaction on his part, but I was wary of pointing it out to him. No matter how much I didn’t want to, he was making it hard for me to avoid hurting his feelings. He hugged me close and said, “I can’t pretend not to care.” With our bodies pressed together, I could tell he was aroused.

“I don’t expect you to, and I do care. Just don’t expect anything else.”

Justin cupped the back of my head in his palm. “I want you by my side every night.”

“What you want isn’t what’s best for all these people. You should think about that. This was fine when it was just sex, but now I know you can’t let it be. Not after what you said.”

I pulled free of his embrace, went back to the room where I slept, and curled up on my bedroll. I couldn’t afford to care much more for any of these people than was necessary to keep them safe and alive. So what if my heart grew a little colder each day? Caring made you weak, and weakness got you killed. I saw it first hand, many times. I didn’t want that for Justin, or anyone really. I had responsibilities and duties that few women, free or not, had pressing down on them, and I didn’t need someone’s heart added to them.

When I awoke at dawn, I dressed for training and went out the back door and up the path to the clearing. The clearing was tight, surrounded by trees, so that it had to be close to noon for any sun to reach the ground. The overcast sky indicated rain was on the way. It was chilly, so I made sure to stretch before I did any strenuous exercise.

I tumbled and practiced attacking with stakes, the easiest weapon to make and resupply. Not that a stake through the heart is a sure thing. In my years, I’ve learned that very little is effective at hurting or killing vampires. No classic symbols of faith and protection work, but sunlight does just fine and anything else that causes rapid amounts of blood loss or serious amounts of bodily damage. My method of choice is beheading, when I have a sword.

Since I no longer had a sword, I made do with knives and stakes. As I flipped and rolled, I drew stakes from where I had hidden them around the clearing. I leapt, bringing the stake down on the throat of my imaginary opponent, and then spun to stab the one at my back. I scrambled toward a group of bushes and snatched the stakes there. Taking one in each hand, I executed a series of punches and kicks, focusing my mind on each muscle and my timing, speed, accuracy. I did a dive roll and hurled one stake at a tree. Bull’s-eye!

Something blurred in the corner of my vision. I whipped my head in toward it, toward the edge of the clearing in the deepest shade. The something had been pale.

Stake ready, I crept over to the area. I could take a lone vampire, but this one—and even though it was daytime, I knew it was one—had the advantage of seeing me first. I couldn’t risk that it would report to its nest, so I went after it.

This one was hard to track—leaving few signs of passage. I went along as quickly as I could, sticking to the shadows, as I knew it would. It was on the run, and the further I got from the clearing, the more I realized that I was unlikely to catch up to it.

Deciding that it would be smarter to report to my father and begin packing than to keep going this way, I stopped. I gave the forest one last scan and then turned for home. That’s when it grabbed me from behind, pinned my arms to my sides, and wrapped its hand over my mouth. My scream made a pathetic woof sound into its palm, and the air made my ears fill painfully.

So, this was the end. I took a deep breath, braced for the bite, and hoped it would be quick.

END Ch1P2

Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 1: Part 1

Copyright 2015 Beth Bishop. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any form, including digital and electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Publisher, except for brief quotes for use in reviews. This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Chapter One: Slash and Burn

I am used to the stench of burning flesh, and I am used to stains of blood spray on my clothes. Yet, no matter how many times I kill a vampire, I never get used to the screaming.

I was lucky to catch my latest victim while snoozing. Once he realized what I was about, he fought to sink his teeth into my neck. I held him off with a firm shove against his forearms and freed my right hand. Knife ready, I plunged it into the base of his throat and wrenched it in circular motions, widening the hole so that the blood flowed freely. He tried to cough and blood spurted from the wound. With a swift kick to his stomach, I sent him sailing through the open patio door and into the Florida mid-morning sun.

His flesh smoked and charred just before it caught fire. His scream pierced the silence of the day, and I flinched at the sound. As I watched from the living room, he trudged toward the door. Three paces from it, he fell to the concrete patio and roasted, his life after death finally ending.

“You got him?” Justin asked as he came into the living room from the kitchen.

I nodded. “Yeah. Quick and easy.”

“Mine, too. I didn’t even break a sweat. Small nest,” he said, looking at the smoldering pile on the patio. “Let’s see if we can find anything worth taking back.”

We kicked and scattered ashes. Justin’s vampire bit it in the grass, so we sifted fresh dirt over the charred places. A few buckets of water washed the remains of my target from the patio.

We searched the house for supplies. Since the two male vampires had no human slaves or soldiers, we found no food or weapons. There was a TV, but with no electricity, we couldn’t use it to check the news.

Justin found a closet full of clothing and linens, so I helped him load the spoils into the compact car we acquired in Virginia. After that, we stripped the vampire-safe tint off the windows and took down the blackout shades. With the nest empty and unusable, Justin drove us back to the new house. He pulled the car behind the house and parked by the back door. As we filed into the kitchen, my mother looked up from food inventory and gave us a tentative smile.

“Well?” she asked.

I gestured to my shirt. “We got ‘em.” Justin edged around me. He gave my mother a kiss on the cheek and headed toward the bathroom. I walked over to the counter and surveyed the two grocery bags sitting there. “That’s all we have left?”

“Cami, I hate to ask you to go out again so soon, but we need more food than this. It’s only noon.”

“No problem.” I kissed her cheek.

As I left the kitchen, she said, “Check in and see if your father needs anything before you go. He’s down in the basement. Oh, and bring me your dirties when you change. I’m washing today.”

“Okay. Thanks, Mom.”

As I tromped down to the basement, I saw the faint glow of the lanterns. My father set them up around the room to light the work area. Although mostly above ground, the basement had no windows, not even in the door.

From the bottom of the stairs, I said, “Hey, Dad, I’m going into town soon. Anything in particular you need me to get?”

With the blade he was cleaning, he pointed to a rag on one of the tables. “You’ve got kunai?” I took one of the beveled knives from the pouch at my waist and twirled it on my index finger to show him that I did. “Okay, but clean a hunting knife and take it with you.” I picked up a rag and began oiling one of the knives to guard it against the moisture that inevitably existed in basements and the humidity that characterized the southern United States. “If you can find it, pick up some wine. It’s almost November, and we should celebrate a little.”

I nodded to him. This autumn marked twenty years since the vampires took over and enslaved humans, twenty years since my parents took my sister and me into hiding. I had been four and Aster nine. I don’t remember much from the time before, when I wasn’t hiding in bunkers, afraid of monsters in the dark, which, it turned out were real and did want to eat you. When I finished oiling the knife, I slipped it into the mpty sheath on my belt. It rested just in front of my left hip whereas the kunai pouch stayed on the right.

“You had success?” my father asked, setting his knife down on the towel he had spread over the pool table.

“Yeah. There were only two. Justin’s unloading the loot.”

“Good. Okay, well take those bed rolls up.” He jerked his head toward them. “You, Mandy, and Patrice are taking the second bedroom.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered in military fashion, but before I left him, I gave him a quick sideways hug. We had this large, secluded house under surveillance for over a month before we cleared vampires from the surrounding area. When no one noticed that they went missing, we started moving in supplies. We holed up in the basement for a few weeks. Now that we were sure no one was watching us, we began the move upstairs.

As the three single, adult females, Mandy, Patrice, and I always shared a room. I brought the bedrolls to it and helped them organize the room. I changed from my slayer wear of dark leggings and a snug tank into the street clothes I acquired for going into the city. Today, I chose jeans and, even though there was a nip in the air, a short-sleeved T-shirt. It would show off the self-inflicted “vampire bites” on my arms. They were painful to make but necessary for me to keep up the appearance of being a slave.

Once properly dressed, I got the keys to the compact from Justin, traded my mom my dirty clothes for the grocery bags, and exited through the back door. With the goal of scoping out more neighborhoods for nests and getting as much food as I could, I set off toward the grocery store.

The morning sun had given way to clouds that warned of rain, but I rolled down my window to enjoy the fresh air. We tried to avoid colder, snowy climates in fall and winter. Even though the changing foliage that we saw while passing through the Carolinas and Georgia was beautiful, Tallahassee promised a moderate winter. After the first scouting trip, it also promised well-stocked, operational grocery stores. We wouldn’t have to settle for only canned items scrounged from gas stations. If Justin’s report was
correct, I could expect fresh meat and produce as well as dry goods from the store I planned to hit.

I looked down to check the gas needle. This little compact, according to the owner’s manual, was a 2010 Honda Civic, ran pretty well to be twenty-two years old, and it got great mileage. Although it wouldn’t be a problem in a large city like Tallahassee, gasoline was usually hard to find. The needle said I had more than half a tank, so I drove past the station and on to the store.

I pulled into the parking lot of a Human Foods store. With no other cars in the lot, it looked deserted, but after I traveled up and down a few aisles, I passed a woman only a few years older than me. The smile she sent me was brief and emotionless. My hello registered no response from her, as if I’d said nothing.

After that, I didn’t speak to the other three people—one man and two women—that I passed. I kept to myself, and my quick and efficient manner of shopping drew no attention. At least, that’s what I thought.

As I knelt down to pick up a five-pound bag of rice, a young man stooped beside me and snagged it. “Hi, I’m Mark.” He dropped the bag into my buggy. “I haven’t seen you around here before…” He gave me a leading look.

“Lily,” I lied.

“You must be one of Benoit’s new girls.”

“Who?” I asked before I thought.

He lifted his eyebrows. “Guillame Benoit.” At my blank look, he said, “The ruler of Florida?”

Slowly, I shook my head. “Uh, no, I’m just trying a different store this week.” I turned the buggy and, leaving Mark behind, headed toward the meat counter. From the butcher, I acquired several packages of pork chops, which he gladly packed in ice. My mouth watered just thinking about anything my mother might do to them.

At the bakery, I took four baguettes and a sack of dinner rolls. Fresh bread—it had been ages since I’d had any. I resisted the urge to sniff it. I wheeled over to the empty checkout lanes and transferred the items from my buggy to the grocery bags.

“No, no, here,” Mark called. He strode over to me, waving store bags. Instinct had me shifting into an offensive stance. “Whoa!” He held up his hands. “I just wanted to give you some Human Foods bags, you know.” He deliberately looked down at my bags. “We wouldn’t want you advertising the competition around our store.”

I looked down at my bags and the block letter “Consumables” stamped across them. I shook my head and relaxed. “Sure, sure. Sorry.” I ordered myself to be calm. It was no time to get sloppy or overreact to basic friendliness. Mark just behaved so differently from the robotic customers. I waved for him to give me the bags, but he joined me in bagging.

“You’re a little jumpy.” I ignored the comment. “Are you a soldier? Is that why you have all those scars?” When I looked up at him, I found him scanning my visible skin with interest.

“No, just a house servant. I’m accident prone.” I took a deep breath and struggled not to cram the groceries into the bag. I practically snatched the other bags away from him. “I have to go. I’m expected back soon.”

I kept my breathing under control and my pace slow as I passed through the automatic doors. I managed not to run to the car, and I drove from the parking lot at an acceptable speed. When I got two miles away, I went through every bag of groceries. I patted down the bags and turned over all the merchandise looking for anything that might track me. When I found nothing, I put the car back in drive and headed for the house.

* * * *

“This is excellent,” my father said. My back was to him as I helped my mother put up the groceries, but I heard his fingers drum on the table while he thought aloud. “Guillame Benoit. I’ll be damned. You know who he is, of course.”

I nodded. “He’s the one that destroyed the group that took Aster,” I answered and turned to look at him.

My father nodded solemnly. “If we take him down, it would open up northern Florida, bring about some chaos in their world. This Mark person sounds nosy, but he might be a good resource. I think it’s time we had regular grocery store runs.”

While I stacked cans in one of the cabinets, my mother spun around to look at him. “Harold,” she interrupted. “Are you sure? That’s risky, even for Camellia.”

My mother, Iris, had a thing for flower names. Although she wasn’t a fighter, she took care of the hodgepodge of people that formed our family. Overprotective mother was part of that role.

“She’ll be fine,” my father said dismissively. “I want to know as much about this vampire as possible.” He waved me off, as Robert and Justin entered the kitchen to discuss some other business that didn’t involve me.

I went to the room I shared with Mandy and Patrice and stretched out on my bedroll. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about how vampires, who didn’t even need to use beds, had as many as they wanted. This house had two—one in the room my parents were using and one in the children’s room.

One of the few memories I had of the time before we went into hiding was of a bed. It had one of those canopy things with ruffled curtains in a lily theme. Maybe that was why “Lily” popped into my mind.

I thought about Benoit and tried to imagine what it was like to rule a state. To get ahead in the vampire world, he had to have power and a serious following. He had wealth or else he had slaughtered the competition in a hostile take-over. Either way, it meant that he was ruthless.

As I wondered if vampires felt guilty about killing their own kind, a face intruded into my field of vision. I focused and found Justin smiling down at me. I smiled back.

“Time for training,” he said. “We’ll do some one-on-one with throws today.”

“Yeah, okay,” I grumbled.

He offered me a hand up, and after I took it, I followed him through the house and out the back door. We walked to the natural clearing in the pine forest that started at the back of the house. After stretching and warming up with a bit of sparring, Justin spent the next hour teaching me how to throw opponents by repeatedly flinging me to the ground. I had the breath knocked out of me so many times that my chest hurt, not to mention everything else.

“Is there any reason why you’re pounding the hell out of me?” I asked, half-jokingly.

“C’mon. I’m training you.” He smiled at me. “You need to learn these throws and how to recover and fight when you’ve had the wind knocked out of you.”

“Sure.” I jumped on his back, and he grabbed my wrists and hurled me over his head while simultaneously bending at the waist. I did a lame front flip and landed flat on my back. He still held my wrists. “I’ve had enough,” I declared. “I’m covered in dirt and pine needles.”

“We could move on to something else if you like,” Justin said, softening his voice. He kept his hold on one of my wrists and stretched out beside me.

“In the mood are you?” I asked wryly. Justin had been with our group for about five years, and not long after we found him, he and I became partners of sorts. We trained together, worked together, and a few times a month, slept together.

“It’s been a while.” He kissed my open palm.

“We’ve all been in the basement,” I reminded him.

“Well, we aren’t now. Don’t you have needs? Desires?” He released my wrist and brushed the back of his hand down my cheek.

“I can usually take care of that myself. Can’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s not nearly as fun as the real thing.” He propped up on an elbow and smiled down at me. After letting Justin hurl me through the air all afternoon, I definitely wasn’t in the mood.

“It takes less time and effort,” I said, which was true.

“It’s always about efficiency with you.” He stroked a finger down my arm. “I’d like to watch you. It’ll make my ‘alone time’ more efficient.”

“I’m sure it would.”

I rolled my eyes. It wasn’t lack of attraction. I had been slow to learn that sex, to Justin, meant attachment—something I was unwilling to allow myself. Attachment meant the vampires had yet another weapon they could use against me. It was a difficult situation because I liked sex, and I liked sex with Justin, but I didn’t want the emotional portion of it.

“It’s not going to happen today.”

Then, he said the dreaded words, “I have feelings for you.”

Needing to nip this in the bud, I chose denial. “No, you don’t. I’m just one of very  few viable females left in the world is all.”

That did the trick because he practically jumped to standing. He looked down at me much as he had in my bedroom, except now his face was pinched in anger. “I’m not just saying that so you’ll have sex with me,” he huffed out, “even though I want that.”

“If that were the reason, if it was just sex, I could buy it, even go along with it.” I sighed.

“You know very well that people can’t afford feelings these days, Justin. We have sex, good sex. You shouldn’t let your emotions get involved.” I looked up at him. “It’ll only screw you up. Besides, you don’t really know me.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, and I sat up. That would be enough to send him on his way, even if he was in a stubborn mood. “You can say whatever you want, but I know what I’m feeling, and I know you. People need to feel. Sometimes, it’s all that keeps us going.”

He rushed past me but stopped and came back. He put his hand behind my head and kissed me quick and hard before he stormed off toward the house. Apparently, Justin wasn’t through trying to convince me that he had feelings, and I worried he would try to convince me that I had feelings, too. Well, I had them, but they were friendly, not mushy, lovey-dovey ones.

Suddenly, I felt exposed. I jumped to my feet, turned my back toward the path to the house, and crouched into a fighting position. The wind blew my way, and I sniffed. Something subtle was there, almost minty. Slowly, I backed into the trunk of a large tree as I scanned the woods.

Nothing. Nothing, but I could have sworn that I sensed something or someone. I shivered and fled to the house. I didn’t want to alarm anyone if it wasn’t necessary, so I kept my paranoia to myself. I decided the best way to clear my head was weapon detail.

In the basement, I positioned a whetstone in the vise clamped on the pool table. I was sharpening the hunting knives when my father came to speak with me, or rather at me, as was his usual style.

“You should let Justin do that,” he said. “He’s a trained blacksmith after all.”

“That may be, but I can sharpen a blade just as well as he can, Dad. These knives we picked up during sweeps are nicked and rusty. They need seeing to.”

“Well, then, stop whatever you’re doing to him,” he commanded. “He’s all messed up.”

“I’m not doing anything to Justin. He’s doing it to himself,” I insisted. I could probably sharpen a knife in my sleep, but I focused all of my attention on what I was doing. As I pressed and drew the blade over the whetstone, I listened to its metallic sigh.

“Do I need to explain to you how important he is to us?” I shook my head but didn’t look up at my father. “Don’t run him off. You need to get your head back in the game.” He came over and put his hand on mine, so I had to look at him.

“My head’s never been out of it.” I stopped to give my father the attention he wanted. “Justin is the one with weird ideas about our relationship.”

“You’ve been with him.” It was statement more than a question. “More than once?”

“Yeah. You know I’m twenty-four, right? It’s not serious,” I assured him.

“I know how old you are,” he snapped. He let go of me and ran his fingers through his hair. “To him, it apparently is serious.”

“Why don’t you try steering him toward Patrice? She likes him, and she isn’t a fighter. She’s quiet and really sweet, despite Mandy’s influence.”

“You’ve never been in love,” he said softly. My father looked at me, almost with pity. What he didn’t know about love and me was a lot. I had been in love and lost. I refused to put myself through that again. He knelt in front of me. “You can’t shut it off when you want to or focus it on someone else when it’s inconvenient.”

“It doesn’t matter, Dad. I can’t afford love.” I went back to honing the blade. “It’s bad enough worrying about what it would do to me if I lost you or Mom, especially after Aster.”

“It’s hard for your mom, being back here in Florida.”

“I know. I’m trying to spend more time with her.”

“You might not have a formal education, but you’re a smart one, Camellia. I know how you feel.”

Because I knew he needed to see a positive reaction to this little chat, I gave him a small smile. After that, I focused on work, an effective way to block out all thoughts. He stood looking at me for a while and then left.

END Ch1P1

Update

Until very recently, I have not had much time to write. I had to re-read several of my books to get back into the feel and voice of some of the characters. Since I had that chance, I have now written about 8k words on the final book in the Camellia series.  Two of the major conflicts are resolved, and the end is nigh!

I know that, after this book, I won’t write anymore books with Camellia as the main character. However, I might write about someone else in her universe. Before that happens, I have another work that needs re-tooling. I think it’s good, but it could be better. My MC needs more people to play with regularly, and I need to make up my mind whether the MC will stay a he, or if I am in for a huge rewrite to make him a she. Great things can come from both rewrites. We shall see what time permits.

New Inkshares Project

I’ve queried and pitched and pitched and queried. So, I’m trying something new.

I actually love this novel I’ve written, and I think you will too. Check out the summary and partial first chapter. If you like what you read, and you’d like to read more (and preferably the whole thing), please follow and pre-order. It can happen if I get enough support from those of you who like me and/or what I write. And, if it’s not your bag, baby, that’s cool too.

Here’s the link: SOUL SEARCHING

Thanks,

Beth