A bird was squawking, and after
several minutes of attempting to ignore its repetitive, shrill, bleating, I
came to grips with the fact that it didn’t seem inclined to stop on its own. I
snapped open my eyes, prepared to reach out the window and stop it myself, with
my bare hands if necessary—I’d never heard such an obnoxious bird in my life,
not in the city, not on the west coast, not even on my one excursion to visit
Walker upstate—and froze. There was no window. And if the vents Bex used to
filter fresh air into her underground coven were any indication, there was no
bird. Despite the similarity of the vents to Bex’s coven, however, I didn’t
recognize the room as the inviting, well-decorated step-back in time that Bex
had created, either: no extra furniture for lounging, no scented candles, no
Gerbera daisies, and no kerosene lamps pulsing in a hypnotic, romantic beat.
This room contained only sparse
necessities: vents for underground air filtration, a bare bulb for light, a
door for privacy, and of course, a bed. I was in a strange room in a stranger’s
bed, its dimensions and décor familiar only by its unfamiliarity, and suddenly,
the last moments of my memory smashed into my brain like a semi.
tearing out my throat. Dominic healing me. The blood and burning. The
Someone was speaking in the room
outside this bedroom’s door, and despite the distance, the scarred door, the
cement wall, and my disorientation, I could hear every word being said, and I
recognized the voice speaking: Ronnie Carmichael.
“Lysander said he would. There’s
no reason to think he won’t, so I don’t think—”
And following Ronnie’s voice was
the squawking of that damn bird.
“Exactly. You don’t think,”
“Lysander said that he would
try,” Keagan said patiently, his voice nearly drowned out by the bleat of that
insufferable bird. “His priority is Cassidy and our safety. He won’t take
unnecessary risks, like remaining above ground, away from Cassidy longer than absolutely
“Yes, he said he would try,” Ronnie insisted,
but her voice was faint now. “Lysander doesn’t say anything lightly.”
The bird squawked even louder, in
time with Jeremy’s audible groan, triggering a memory of Ronnie’s little girl
voice and something she had confided in me: I never even knew he thought of my
voice as grating. I never knew someone’s annoyance had a sound let alone that
it sounded like a squawking bird.
I was right about the bird not
being underground, but unlike anything I’d ever heard, the sound wasn’t a bird
at all. The squawking was the sound of Keagan’s annoyance at the grate of
Ronnie’s whining voice. Unlike Jeremy, Keagan was too well-mannered to audibly
express his frustration with Ronnie, but among other vampires, he could no
longer hide his true feelings. His unspoken annoyance had a sound—as loud,
obnoxious and obvious as Jeremy’s audible hostility—and Ronnie could no doubt
hear it, too, despite the calm, reasonable tone of his words.
I could hear it.
I could hear the sound of
The weight of the sheets covering
my body was suddenly suffocating. I raised my hand to tear them from my body,
but someone else’s hand whipped into the air. I gasped at the skeleton-skinny
joints of each finger, the knobby protrusion of its wrist and the elongated
talons sprouting from each fingertip instead of nails. I ducked under the hand,
trying to avoid its attack and swallow the scream that tore up my throat, but
the hand moved with me, moving with my intensions, attached to my body. I froze
again, for the second time in as many seconds, and raised the hand in front of
my face. It looked lethal. With one wrong move, it could eviscerate me. As I
ticked each finger, the long talons swept the air as I counted—one, two, three,
four, five—and each moved on my command. Like the inevitability of a pending
dawn with the rising sun, I realized that the hand was mine. Fear of that hand
turned to horror and then to a kind of giddy resignation. Hysteria, more
I had ducked against the attack
of my own hand.
A swift peal of laughter burst
from my mouth.
stopped laughing just as abruptly. Even my voice was different: guttural and
sharp, like shards of glass scraping against asphalt.
voices outside my door and the squawking bird had abruptly stopped, too, and in
the sudden silence following my outburst, an uncomfortable, aching vise circled
my chest. The pain wasn’t physical, but its presence triggered a dull burn in
the back of my throat. I had the immediate urge to destroy everything, to pound
the cement walls into crumbs with my fists and tear the sheets into ribbons
with my nails—my talons—and fight my way free from this prison. I held myself
motionless, resisting the urge, and I realized with a belated sort of curiosity
that the aching vise was panic. Without a beating heart to pound and without a
circulatory system to hyperventilate, I hadn’t recognized the emotion without
its physical symptoms, but even so, it felt the same in one way. It felt
took a deep breath to dispel the panic, purely from habit, but the action
wasn’t calming. My heart that wasn’t pounding didn’t slow, and I couldn’t catch
a breath that I hadn’t lost. The vise around my chest tightened. I squeezed my
hands into fists, trembling from the force of my will to remain still and
silent. Something sharp pierced my hands, and I gasped, the raging panic
stuttering until I looked down at my bleeding fists. My talons were imbedded in
my own palms.
door slammed somewhere outside this room, further away than the voices directly
behind the door, but I didn’t hear it slam with my ears. I felt it slam from
its flat slap against my skin. Never mind that the door wasn’t near enough for
me to see, nor in this room, nor the impossibility that I could feel its sound
waves, my entire body felt its sting as if I’d been smacked from all sides.
are you just staring?” Despite the impatience and aggravation in those words,
hearing his voice made the aching around my chest both loosen and worsen.
clip of his tread across the cement floor stung like the warning barbs of a
wasp. I knew the physical pain on my skin was only the tactile manifestation of
sounds— first, the door slam, and now, his walking—but that didn’t change the
fact that the sounds really did hurt my skin. I tried to rub away the lingering
sting and realized my hands were still fisted, my talons still imbedded in my
palms, so I just sat on the bed, motionless and bleeding, like someone trapped
without an EpiPen, waiting for the inevitable swelling, choking and death:
trapped within a body that had betrayed me.
you have time to—” Ronnie began, but her voice was too small and too fragile
not to crumble under the weight of his will.
heard her waken,” he accused. “Don’t you smell the blood?”
could actually taste the pungent, freshly sliced, onion musk of their silence.
door swung open, and suddenly, inevitably, Dominic entered the room. He didn’t
need permission to cross my threshold, not anymore, and he didn’t bother with
the perfunctory acts of knocking or requesting my consent to enter. He simply
strode inside and slammed the door behind him with a final, fatal bee sting.
recently fed. I could tell, as I’d always been able to tell, by the bloom of
health on his cheeks, his strong, sculpted figure, and the careful calm of his
countenance, but my heightened senses could now also smell the lingering spice
of blood on his breath and hear the crackle of it nourishing his muscles. From
the top of his carefully tousled black hair to the soles of his wing-tipped,
dress shoes, Dominic was insatiably sexy, but his physique was an illusion of
his last meal. I knew his true form. Upon waking, before feeding, he appeared
more monster than man. Although not many people look their best in the morning,
Dominic by far looked his worst.
way I looked now.
thought made my fists tighten, embedding my talons deeper into my own flesh.
Despite his grievance with
Ronnie, Keagan, and Jeremy for their inaction, he too just stared, immobile
after entering the room, but his gaze absorbed everything. I felt the slash of
his eyes slice across my face, down my body, and eventually, settle with dark
finality on my fisted palms.
He didn’t move, and that I could
tell by the stillness of his throat, he didn’t make a sound, but despite his
still, silent stare, I heard the unmistakable rush of wind. There were no
windows underground, and in the stagnant stillness of the room—the tension
between our bodies like an electric current stretching to complete its
circuit—no relief from the heat of his presence. The sound wasn’t wind, it only
sounded like wind, but whatever it was the sound of, it was emanating from the
only other person in the room.
I blinked and Dominic was
suddenly, but no longer impossibly, beside the bed. His movements were just as
inhumanly fast as ever, but with my enhanced vision, I could track his
movement, see his grace and fluidity. I heard the slide of air molecules
parting for him, felt the electric snap of his muscles flexing, and smelled an
emotion he wouldn’t allow me to interpret on his carefully neutral expression.
Whatever he was feeling was spiced, sweet, strong, and dangerous with overuse,
reached out and carefully wrapped his palms around mine to cup my fists. His
voice was steady when he spoke, but I knew better. The rush of wind emanating
from him heightened, the smell of ginger became chokingly poignant, and his
heart that didn’t need to beat to keep him alive, contracted just once. I could
both hear the swoosh of his blood being pumped through each chamber and taste
the silky spice of that sound.
My hands were injured yet his
Dominic murmured. “I’m here. I should have been here when you first awakened,
but I’m here now.”
blinked at him. With him here, everything was somehow simultaneous better and
I growled. I tried to form a complete sentence, to demand, Get me a mirror, so
I can see the horror of a face that matches these hands! but my throat was too
dry. Even that one word rattled from my vocal cords like flint scraping across
steel, and the resulting sparks flamed the back of my throat. I sounded
dangerous and angry and monstrous. If I had stumbled upon me in an alley, I
would have run.
again, I’d stumbled upon Dominic in an alley, and look how that had played out.
Dominic saw my anger or thought me a dangerous monster now wasn’t revealed by
his carefully masked countenance. He stroked the back of my hand with the soft
pad of his human-feeling thumb. “You need to calm down.”
down? I thought. I jerked my hands free from his gentle hold and shook my fists
between us, in front of his face. All things considered, this is calm!
sighed. “I can’t see your claws from inside your palms, but did you happen to
notice their color before stabbing yourself with them?”
frowned. I had claws, for Christ sake. Claws. No, I didn’t take note of their
take that as a no,” he said, still gentle, still careful, and so fucking
comforting flood of hot anger blast-dried my shock and sorrow. I spread my
fingers, tearing said claws from my palms and ripping wide my self inflicted
wounds, but I didn’t take the time to note their color. I swiped at Dominic.
movements were lightning. Dominic’s movements were just as fast; he leapt back,
dodging my claws. I lunged off the bed after him. A familiar sound rattled from
deep inside my chest, a sound I’d heard emanate from Ronnie, Jillian, Kaden,
and Dominic, a sound that coming from them had raised the fine hairs on the
back of my neck. Now, that sound came from my throat. I was growling.
summersaulted out of reach. I watched his movements, fascinated by the strength
of his muscles as he leapt into the air, his coordination as his legs tucked
and his arms caught his knees, and his athleticism as he stuck the landing and
raised his hands to block my advance. He was the epitome of power and grace
under pressure, and with the enhanced ability of my heightened senses, I could
actually see it. He wasn’t just a blur of movement but a perfectly
choreographed symphony of muscle, control, and honed skill. I watched, and
unlike the jaw-dropping awe of impossibility that Dominic’s physical feats
would normally inspire in me, I was just inspired.
attempted to mimic Dominic’s movements with a matching forward summersault of
my own, but instead of landing on my feet, like I’d intended, like Dominic had
stuck so effortlessly, I landed in an awkward, bone-jarring, heap, flat on my
leaned over me, his mouth opened with concern, surely about to ask me if I was
all right. My pride was more injured than my body, and the hot embarrassment
fueled my anger, as every strong emotion could fuel my easily provoked temper.
Taking advantage of his concern and close proximity, I raked my claws down the
front of his shirt.
severed from their threads, but before the pops of their little plastic heads
hit the floor, Dominic was airborne again, back flipping away from me before my
claws could do any real damage. I lunged after his leaps and twists and rolls,
milliseconds behind his acrobatics, but even without the advantage of his fancy
gymnastics, my body’s newfound abilities were astonishing. Each muscle
contraction burned beneath my skin, but not like human muscles burning with
fatigue. Mine sparked to life, twitching with power and reveling in unleashed
speed and strength.
I’d never been particularly
athletic; my entire life, even before being shot in the hip, my skills were
better served in an intellectual capacity—interviewing witnesses and writing
articles. After being shot, my physical abilities had shriveled to the point
where I could barely walk. Now, I could not only walk, I had the potential to fly.
I was a force in both body and mind, and the limitlessness of those abilities
after being physically limited for so long was intoxicating.
suspended. Our battle raged in the timespan of a blink, but within that blink,
we fought and danced and completely trashed the little utilitarian room in what
felt like years—a lifetime of limitations revealed and obliterated with every
movement and newly discovered capability. Our movements were lighting, the
evidence of our devastation scattered across the room—Dominic’s torn clothing,
upended and smashed furniture, pillows gutted and their insides fluffed over
the rumpled comforter and upended mattress—the cause unseen.
I made a move of my own instead
of following Dominic, cutting him mid-leap and smashing him face-down into the
box spring. He was vulnerable for the split of a millisecond, me at his back,
my razor claws splayed across his shoulder blades, his neck bared as he craned
to look over his shoulder at me, and I had him. If I chose to, with a swipe of
my hand, I could sever his head from his body. My claws were sharp, his skin
was soft, and unlike any other physical battle I’d waged in my life, I had the
body’s speed and strength were new to me, but the feelings of rage and
intoxicating addiction were not. I knew those emotions intimately; they had
been the very core of my personality and shaped a person who, despite my former
physical limitations, had unbeatable mental strength, evidenced by my winning
battle against Percocet addition and an ability to entrance vampires as a night
blood. Memories of addiction and the bone-deep reasons I’d fought to overcome
it, kept me grounded when I would have taken advantage of Dominic’s weakness. I
nearly let the strength and power overwhelm reason, but I knew when to stop. I
knew when the need and heat felt too good to be good. The rage reminded me that
despite the claws sprouting from each fingertip, despite the fact that I might
look like the devil and have the strength of God, I was the same flawed person
I’d always been.
I was still me, and despite his
flaws, I loved Dominic.
I jerked my hand from his back,
ripping fabric with my movement but not skin, and fell to my knees.
Dominic summersaulted over me. He
landed at my back, but I didn’t turn to face him. He knew I’d resisted the
opportunity to kill him. Our battle was over, but mine had just begun.
He fell to his knees behind me,
wrapped his arms around me, holding my hands, cradling my body, and it was only
then, with the steady press of his cheek against mine, that I realized by the
solid stillness of his arms holding me that I was shaking.
I burst out weeping. The sobs
wracked my body and bathed my cheeks.
Dominic’s arms tightened. He
stroked my hands and murmured promises into my ear that I knew better than to
believe, promises that no one could keep, but having him hold me, his lips
moving against my ear and the familiar tone of his voice resonating like a
blanket cocooned around my body, was comforting anyway. I sobbed harder at
first, relieved that he was here, that I wasn’t alone, that he’d experienced
this, too, and had survived and eventually thrived. Buoyed by the knowledge
that I, too, could survive and eventually thrive, I calmed. My weeping slowed,
the sobs wracking my body lessoned, and my tears eventually dried.
I relaxed into Dominic’s
embrace—my back flush against his chest, his arms cradling my arms, our fingers
entwined. His breath fluttering my hair wasn’t winded, and I noted with a
detached sort of astonishment, that neither was mine. I was suddenly struck by
a wary sort of certainty that my new, debatably improved physical form would
continue to astonish for a very long time. I stared at our entwined fingers—his
perfectly formed human hands still larger than my emaciated fingers but not
nearly longer than my elongated claws—and I pulled into myself, embarrassed
that he was touching them.
“Don’t,” he murmured, tightening
his hold. “Some aspects of the transformation might take some getting used to.
You’re already becoming accustomed to your heightened senses and increased
strength, which is impressive. In a few days, you’ll land that summersault, I
assure you. And eventually, you’ll look into a mirror and recognize yourself,
but for tonight, let me be your mirror.” He raised his hand and urged my face
to the side to meet his gaze. “Let me show you how beautiful you are.”
My physical appearance wasn’t the
only aspect of the transformation that shook me, but when he cupped my cheek in
his palm and ducked his head, pressing his lips to mine, I kissed him back. My
lips felt foreign against the long protrusions of my fangs, but his lips were
soft and the texture of his scar familiar. His Christmas pine scent enveloped
us, and with my enhanced senses, I felt its chilled effervescence simultaneous
heat and create goose bumps over my body. I turned in his arms, angling for
more access, and a rush of blood filled my mouth.
I jerked back, startled by the
blood coating my tongue, a taste which wasn’t entirely unpleasant, was in fact,
not unpleasant at all. The blood was absolutely delicious, which was also
startling, not to mention disturbing. Dominic had a gash across his lower lip,
and I realized that I’d cut him.
I swallowed the blood in my haste
to apologize and choked.
Dominic covered my lips with a
finger and shook his head. His thumb swiped back and forth over my cheekbone as
we stared at each other, and before my very acute eyes, I watched the intricacy
of Dominic’s body heal. The split sides of his lip filled with blood, and that
blood pooled in the crevice of his cut, coagulated, scabbed, and flaked to
reveal new, shiny, pink skin. That skin darkened to a faint thread, and if he’d
still been human, the healing might have stopped there, but his body healed the
scar, too, until his lips bore not one sliver of evidence of my clumsy lust.
What had once seemed to occur instantaneously and magically was now a simple
bodily function, but I suppose, that in itself was a kind of magic.
I touched his lips, grazing my fingertips
carefully over the perfection of his newly healed skin to the divots and pucker
of the permanent scar gouging through the other side of his lower lip and chin,
a reminder of his human lifetime, and for me, a reminder of the few things we
had in common. Although looking at the skeletal, talon-tipped hand touching
him—the hand that I controlled but didn’t resemble anything I recognized as
mine—we had much more in common now than I’d ever anticipated having.
He touched my lips with his
fingertips, mimicking my movements with the human-looking version of his hand,
and I couldn’t help it. Despite the impossibility of this situation and the
state of my hands and what I could only imagine was the state of my face, I
“Sorry,” I murmured. Dominic’s
blood had moistened the scratch in my throat, so it didn’t feel like my vocal
chords were raking my esophagus with razor blades anymore. “I’m not myself this
Dominic grinned—full and genuine
and lopsided from the pull of his scar—and the warmth and affection in his
expression widened my own smile. I let that warmth soak into me, filling my
unfamiliar body with hope, reminding me that I could survive. That I wanted to
“No one looks or acts their best
upon waking, not even you when you were human.” Dominic reminded me. “Not even
I sighed. “I will miss working on
my tan though,” I said, only half-jokingly. The feel of the sun’s warmth on my
skin had become a safe haven after discovering the existence of vampires.
Having become one, I supposed the necessity was moot, but that didn’t mean I
wouldn’t miss it.
Dominic grunted. “Many things
about you will never change despite the transformation, including your ability
to enjoy the sun and your stubbornness it seems.”
I raised my eyebrows. “My
stubbornness won’t cure a fatal sun allergy.”
“Look at the color of your
claws,” Dominic said dryly.
Despite my said stubbornness and
the urge to resist looking at my claws just to defy him, I looked. The skeletal
appendages coming from my body were long and knobby and honestly grotesque, a
monster’s hands with four-inch, lethal talons sprouting from their tips.
And those talons were silver.
Dominic was right, as per usual,
and unfortunately, so was our dear friend, High Lord Henry. I was a vampire, but
I wasn’t allergic to the sun.
I was a Day Reaper.