Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 5: Part 2

“What broke your mood, Dear?” my mother asked. She walked up behind my chair and reached over its back to pat my shoulder.

“Snow White’s a vampire, Cinderella is a slave, and Beauty looks like Aster.”

“I don’t know that Snow White was a vampire. She was still human, and true love saved them all.”

I coughed out a laugh. “True love. Fairy tales,” I grumbled. My mother walked around the chair to face me, and I looked up at her. “It’s been twelve years, and I still miss her.” I stood, and my mother hugged me tightly.

“I know.” She rubbed my back, the way she had when I was little. “And because of what happened to her, you refuse to bond with anyone.” My mother had a way of getting to the heart of things. Well, I did, too, but her deliveries were nicer than mine typically were. “I understand why, but I don’t think it’s healthy.” She pushed back from me, holding my upper arms in her hands, and gave me a searching look. I frowned at her, and she touched my cheek. “Go eat. The vampires will be here soon.” She gave me a soft pat and then let me go.

As I walked toward the kitchen, I cast a glance back over my shoulder at her. “They’re coming tonight? Why?”

“Leslie sent a messenger today, a tall, broad young man, with a cockney British accent.” She did an impression, which had us both laughing. “The young man asked if Leslie could pay us a visit. You know, talk to you, and see how things went today. I have to say, he looked sorry that he missed you. I think he wanted to see if you lived up to the hype.”

She winked at me. I knew she would have preferred I do almost anything other than be a slayer, but she knew that I had to do what I had to do. She was proud of me, and she loved me very much.

“Leslie?” I asked. “So now you’re on a first name basis with him?”

She followed me into the kitchen. “We’re trying to work with him. Friendships can’t form if we keep such stiff formality between us.”

I rolled my eyes and dished up chili into a bowl. My mother got out a box of crackers, and I took a sleeve.

“I get it,” I said with a wave of my spoon. “This messenger was cute, huh?”

She smiled at me and nodded. I leaned back against the counter and began shoveling in the chili. My mother grabbed my arm and dragged me to the table.

“You need to slow down, use your table manners. I taught you some, years ago.”

“Sorry. A lifetime of speed eating is hard to break.” I opened the crackers and shoved a whole one in my mouth.

“Well, try.” She swatted my hand. “Justin certainly is.”

Suckup, I thought, but said nothing as I tried to mete out a reasonably-sized spoonful of chili and eat it at a moderate pace. I took out another cracker, bit it carefully in half, and chewed it.

“Much better.”

After she left me, I went back to shoveling. I wondered if Leslie and Selene dined on fine china and drank from crystal goblets. I shook my head and reminded myself that they didn’t eat regular food. Still, I bet they drank blood out of quality stemware. We were lucky in that there were dishes in this house, but then again, Leslie probably took care of that for us. I looked at the two-eye propane camp stove my mother set up on the counter so that she could prepare a stockpot of chili. Next to it, the large range sat cold and unused.

Maybe I should ask Leslie to turn the power on after all. I got up to fill bowl number two.

The scratching of fingernails down window glass sent shivers up my spine, and I sent the chili slopping onto the counter. With my jaw set, I put down the bowl and went over to the window. It was just after sundown, but there was still enough light to see. Selene looked skyward, embarrassed, while Leslie continued to paw at the window, smiling.

“Camellia,” he sang, “invite us in.”

I opened the door and said, “Selene, you may enter.”

I turned and went back into the kitchen, cleaned up my mess, got another bowl of chili, and took it to my room. I sat on the floor under the bedroom widow, cross-legged, bowl perched in my hands with Snow White in my lap. She had brown eyes in this picture, not blue like Selene’s. I was curious to see what Justin had forgotten.

I found that Snow White had taught the dwarves good manners and good housekeeping. I wondered if she made them soft or if they’d ever been hard. They certainly mourned her passing. They hunted down the witch, but in the end, she accidentally killed herself. No one had blood on his hands except the witch, and she was dead. It was unrealistic, improbable.

“You are incredibly rude,” Leslie snapped.

I continued to stare at my lap. “You got invited in, didn’t you? And, you should knock, like a normal person.”

“I only wished to tease you a bit.” He walked over to stand at my side. “What are you reading?” So quickly I hardly saw it, he took the book from under my hand. I turned my full attention on what was left of my chili. “Snow White? A bit old for fairy tales, aren’t you?”

I shrugged and shoveled the last of the chili down the hatch. “I never heard of it before today.”

“Really?”

I set the bowl down so I wouldn’t throw it and turned my head to look steadily in his eyes, even if I couldn’t see them so well in the gloom of the room. “My family went into hiding just before I turned five. Do you think that when my parents had the time to read or teach their daughters they spent it on fairy tales?” I waited a beat to let that sink in. “No, my father taught me how to fight, how to kill. My mother taught us French in case we went to Canada, Spanish in case we went to Mexico. Math, some science, civics, and important literature.” I ticked these things off on my fingers. “They didn’t bother filling our heads with make-believe nonsense about romance and love when our days centered around whether or not we’d even live to see another.”

“Daughters? You have sisters? Where are they?” Leslie looked around as if one of them might be hiding in this very room.

“I had one sister, and she is none of your business,” I said even as he opened his mouth.

He changed subjects easily. “Five, huh? No school?”

I looked away from him. “My family did their best, and I read whatever I came across in the houses where we’ve lived. It’s good enough.”

“I could—”

“Save it. I don’t need a personal tutor.”

I picked up the bowl and took it back to the kitchen. In the dark, I scrubbed the bowl and set it in the other bay of the sink to dry. When I turned around, I realized Leslie had followed me. He sat in a chair in the dining room. Justin and Selene were there, too.

“So, Camellia, you and Justin tell us about your day,” Selene prompted.

“Justin got a tuxedo,” I said. “We pick it up tomorrow.” Selene smiled at this. Her white teeth gleamed in the moonlight that came in through the window. “I got a dress and makeup, and I impressed the hell out of Travis when I told him that I was the great Leslie Wells’ mate.”

“You shouldn’t mock him,” Selene said coolly. “You have no idea how powerful he is.”

“Selene,” Leslie said in a bored tone, “let it go. It’s a good thing I decided to make my move when I did. Travis is one of Luc’s men. It would’ve been a shame for him to have taken you.”

“Never would’ve happened,” Justin said.

“Look, Justin,” Selene reached for his hand, “it’s not that we doubt your or Camellia’s abilities, it just—”

“No, it never would have happened. If, for some unknowable reason, she didn’t kill him first, she would kill herself, and so would I.”

I nodded firmly in agreement. “Never taken prisoner. We’ve learned from our mistakes.” Although I could hardly tell that Leslie and Selene were in the room, I looked at each of  them. “Was there anything else?”

“I want to see the dress,” Leslie said.

“Why?”

“You’re posing as my mate. I want to make sure that your dress is appropriate.”

“Whatever.” I stood up and headed out of the room. “Well, are you coming?” He was behind me, nose to my ear before I even finished asking the question. I hadn’t even heard his chair move.

As I walked down the hall to my room, I heard Selene ask, “Justin, what does your tux look like?”

I growled and led Leslie back into my room. “We can take it down to the basement. There aren’t any windows down there, so we can have lanterns at night.”

The closet door squeaked and the garment bag rustled. “I can see it.”

“I promise that I will take a bath, wash my hair and fix it, and wear some makeup.”

“Thank you.”

Leslie unzipped the bag and removed the dress. I couldn’t see the details of it in the low light, but I could tell he was touching it or pulling at it. I walked over to him and felt the fabric. It was soft and slipped through my hands.

“She said it’s silk.”

Crêpe de Chine, high quality from the looks of it. The neckline should be flattering. I like this detail here.” When he realized that I couldn’t see, he took my hand and placed it where the fabric swooped into a spiral that would sit halfway between my breasts and bellybutton. He let go of my hand. “The straight skirt will accentuate your hips, and the fabric will move with you beautifully. I’m surprised you went with something this form fitting.”

“It’s close, but I can hide a knife along my inner thigh. I was wearing one at the time, just to be sure. That’s about all the extra room in this thing.”

I grabbed the waist of the dress. It was lightweight, unlike the beaded ones. The halter straps and built-in cups held up my breasts, even if the V dipped between them. The back was low. It was elegant but not flashy. Perhaps it did suit me.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the full effect. This color…” He touched the silk. “It’s like a smoky shadow in a glacier.”

“I’ve never seen a glacier, but the lady said it was a good fall color for me.”

“Yes, the color will bring out your eyes and warm your skin tone.” His hand lifted to my face, and he ran his thumb up my cheek. It stopped at the corner of my eye. “Such striking eyes.”

“Leslie, don’t,” I said quietly. “Whatever it is you’re thinking of doing. Don’t.”

After a beat he let it go. “Selene and I will be here, in a limo, Friday at sundown. We’ll go to dinner where we can discuss our plans and goals. There should be appetizers and drinks at Benoit’s. There will be socializing, dancing, and so on.” I nodded briskly. Now, we were getting down to some business. I sorted and filed the information. “I don’t expect you to be meek. In fact, I think that’s probably beyond your acting skills. However, I do expect you to be polite and act like a lady. I want you to make sure to touch me affectionately. Otherwise, you are going to give anyone who’s paying attention room to speculate.”

“Speculate? Don’t vampires take new mates all the time?”

“Not all of us. Certainly not me, not for a long time. I’m not like most vampires, and they know it. Ancients, like me, are thought of as eccentrics. People will be watching you. Remember that. Now, can you do these things for me? If not, I need to know now. Are you going to flinch and stiffen every time I touch you?”

He was still touching me, and it made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t because he was a vampire. I just never let myself get used to another’s touch. I decided to remind him of this fact.

“I told you, I’m not used to touching or being touched intimately by anyone, much less a vampire.”

With a hint of irritation in his voice, he asked, “Do you want to work with me?”

“Of course! This is huge.”

“Then, you’re going to have to let go of the commando attitude and loosen up.”

“Okay, okay. You’re right. Try me.”

I relaxed my stance and shoulders. Leslie slid his hand across my cheek and neck. His hand moved over my left breast and down to my hip. He squeezed it gently.

“Good. The heavy breathing is okay. Just try to look aroused, not panicked.” I let my eyes go unfocused and parted my lips slightly. “Wow. That’s…that’s perfect.”

“Look what lows I’ve sunk to—making out with a vampire.” I snorted and then burst out laughing. I was certain that Leslie was frowning at me, so I punched his shoulder. “I’ll get my act together. Don’t you worry. I know which forks to use and everything.” I smiled at him. “I may not be much of a lady, but my mother taught me how to act like one. I’ll do you proud. By the end of the night, even you’ll think I’m madly in love with you.”

END Ch5P2

Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 4: Part 1

Marking

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.

END Ch4P1

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

What’s Next for Camellia

I’ve begun writing again here lately and writing in general again. Dusting off the folds of my brain to get them creating again. In the back of my mind (or in a crevice), I keep wondering what to do with my Camellia series. It was published. It’s unlikely to ever be published again unless I do it through Amazon or something similar. All the rights are mine now. I can do whatever I want with it. After thinking on it for a day, I decided to publish half chapters here.

I plan to rewrite some things, just to make them less trigger-y. I was going through some things when I wrote the first three novels, and my writing was one way to work it out. I’m not changing anything that has a trickle-down effect on the story. The events stand, just the details will be fewer. Even so, forewarned is forearmed, right? If you choose to read, there will be violence, death, foul language, drinking, gratuitous sex. It’s basically vampire porn, just so you know what you’re getting. If that’s not your thing, that’s quite alright with me. If you choose to read, thanks!

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.