PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED - posted online in a slightly different version as Chapter Two of FERAL VAMPIRE .
At two thirty in the morning, there were no parking places on Gabby's street. She had to park around the corner and walk to the dilapidated three family house where she had the attic apartment. She tiptoed up the stairs, not wanting her tread to wake everyone.
She showered, rinsed out the dirty and torn witch's costume she'd worn to read Tarot at the Halloween party, and was still too overwrought to sleep. In nightgown and robe, she pulled out her suitcases and emptied her closet and drawers into them. Everything still fit. Since she'd moved out of her mother's house, she hadn't had the money to buy clothes.
While she packed, she made lists of things to do before leaving town. She'd have to store her dishes, tv, stereo, and microwave at her mother's. Everything else would fit in the car, which needed servicing. She could be in LA or maybe San Diego by the end of next week.
Even though her mind kept up a patter of orderly planning, another part of her was gibbering, arguing, screaming to jump in the car, drive straight down to Newark and get on a plane using her credit card. Of course, organized crime could trace her through the card use.
She told herself the thought was paranoid. Why should they bother? So what if she'd read Tarot for a superstitious drug dealer who had tried to murder her at the Halloween party and a vampire had rescued her.
Oh, come on! In the bright light of her apartment, she could believe she'd just been spooked out by the drug-smoke at the party and some realistic costumes. Titus had surely been an undercover cop in a really good Dracula costume.
But every time the old house creaked or a board popped, she could think of a thousand reasons why they might be coming after her. She schooled herself not to listen to the noises.
By the time she latched the last case, her hands were shaking, her stomach was queasy, and her plans had crystallized. As soon as it was late enough, she'd drive straight to her mother's, borrow the money she'd need, and hit the road. Everything else could be handled by phone or mail, leaving as little trace as possible.
She had started packing the contents of her desk and a few light housekeeping essentials into boxes when there was a thumping in the hall.
There shouldn't be anyone on her landing this time of night. Heart in mouth, she froze in the middle of the living room, eyelids peeled back so far her eyeballs felt cold.
The door handle moved.
Like a horror movie.
She pulled her robe around her and crept toward the door. "Who is it?"
A man's voice grunted.
With her hand on the door handle, she felt the strength of the one on the other side. She grabbed the telephone closer to the door and punched in a number at random. "I'm calling the police!"
"It's Titus!" the voice groaned. Titus' voice. "Gabby, please. Let me in!"
She dropped the phone and scrabbled at the locks on the door, fumbled to get the inside key into the lock, and finally yanked the door open. Titus had been slumped against the door, and as she opened it, his body fell across the threshold. She leaped back with a squeal.
Whimpering, he mumbled, "May I please come in?" There was blood all over his face and hands.
Instantly, she was on her knees beside him. "Dear God, what happened to you? Can you move? I don't think I can lift you inside."
His hand groped for purchase on her wrist. "Help me."
He tried to pull himself in, and she dragged him the rest of the way. With the door closed, cutting off the frigid draft, his shaking and moaning subsided. Shock. Elevate the feet. Keep him warm. "I'll call an ambulance."
She grabbed for the phone, but he kicked it away. "No!"
"You need a doctor!"
His voice was stronger this time. "I'll be all right. Gabby they control the hospitals!"
Her imagination supplied the image of them. Which means he's not with the police.
The man had saved her life. She bent to examine the wounds. "Is anything broken? Have you been shot?"
"No, just scratches. I'll be - " He broke off with a gasp as she pulled the blood stiffened jacket and new, bright blood flowed.
"You have been shot!"
"No. The business end of a garden rake."
As the stiff material came away in her hands, she saw it was in shreds.
"Just hide me until morning, and I'll be out of here," said Titus.
"It was the dealers, wasn't it? You went to spy on their business."
"Yes, I was there. The police got them." He twisted with a grimace and reached his right hand up to her face, one finger extended to touch her between the eyes. "Most of them."
Regardless of the risk, I have to call the police. It was her last truly coherent thought. His voice continued, a cascade of soothing sound that seemed to make compelling sense. She didn't understand why she was doing as he asked, but she never thought to question her motives.
She helped him up onto the sofa, which was vinyl covered. Then, she stripped him and bathed his wounds with warm water, not bothering with disinfectant or soap, and gave him her robe to wear.
Titus rolled his head aside to eye one of the large bay windows, gray with approaching dawn. "What time is it?"
"A closet. Gabby, you must have an inside closet with no windows?
He struggled up. "That will do." His arm came heavily onto her shoulders. "Help me."
She supported him and guided him to the bedroom. "You think they'll shoot you through the windows?"
"No. I'm pretty sure no one could have followed me. I wouldn't put you in danger. Surely you know that."
She knew it beyond any doubt. "But what's an astrophysicist doing - you're not a dealer, too? A rival?"
They stopped in the bedroom door as Titus raked the display of suitcases, the empty closet and drawers with shocked eyes, but said, "No! Please believe me, Gabby. I wouldn't ever get mixed up in dealing."
The patent absurdity struck her like a douche of cold water. "But you are mixed up in it. Just look at you!" Suddenly, the world took on the bright, hard edges of normality. The sharp contrast was frightening. Everything she'd just done for Titus seemed like some kind of bizarre charade, a mere pretence of help.
Once again, his voice lowered and hit some resonance that set her bones humming, leaving his words indistinct but his meaning perfectly clear. "No, of course I won't tell anyone what you're about to tell me."
"Good. You see, I'm a real vampire. But I try very hard not to hurt people. I'm here to chase down a vampire who enjoys killing. He is mixed up in drugs. He was about to kill a woman who had infiltrated his organization, a police spy, so I tried to stop him. I got caught, but she got away. Then the police arrived and in the fight, my man escaped and so did I. You're going to protect me in your closet until sundown, and by then I'll be healed. We're safe here until then, so don't worry. After that, we'll go our separate ways, and you'll never see me again."
A large bubble of hysteria rose into her throat but could not erupt past the invisible choker that paralyzed her tongue. Delivered with a straight face, that story would easily have won the "Most Humorous" category in the Dracula contest.
At his behest, she brought him the two pillows off her bed and he made himself comfortable on the closet floor. As he closed the door, he flashed her an engaging grin. "Sundown."
She stared at the thickly layered paint on the door. I've got a vampire sleeping in my closet.
She glanced at the window. Trees were etched against the brightening sky. It was 6:39 a.m. and she had a vampire sleeping in her closet. A very polite vampire who said please and thank you, hadn't sucked her blood and hadn't ravished her in her own bed.
She was suddenly possessed of a violent urge to yank the door open, certain there would be nothing there.
Her hand froze on the knob, and for all her will, all her years of discipline, she could not turn that knob.
In a pleasant, conversational tone, Titus said, "I won't be sleeping very deeply, Gabby. But I do need to rest. I know I can trust you."
Her bones ached. Her stomach churned. She let out a strangled sound that might have been agreement and plunged out of the bedroom. She ended up in the kitchen, leaning on the table, watching the red ball of fire rise into the sky. An astrophysicist was a little like an astronomer, and probably worked nights, too.
As the sun cleared the horizon of city buildings and haze, she remembered the purely physical feel of her hand on the closet doorknob, the locked resistance in her muscles, not the knob itself. No. Not in her muscles. In her mind.
She dragged in one sobbing gasp and slumped into a chair, burying her face in her hands. Her whole world conception turned inside out. Her breath exploded from her in a thin wail. "No. It can't be. Hypnotism. Illusion. Whatever. It's not what it seems." No real vampire would just calmly admit to it and settle down into a closet for the day. What about the "native earth" requirement?
But he had said he wouldn't sleep deeply.
Lips compressed, she shoved herself to her feet and went into the living room to retrieve the phone handset. Pulling up the antenna, she tiptoed into the bedroom, grabbed up the jeans and shirt she'd intended to drive in and eased the bedroom door shut.
She'd call her sister and confess she'd ruined the Halloween costume she'd borrowed. She always felt better after talking to Marlene.
Fully intending to tell her the whole story, she poked the number into the phone, triumph stretching her lips into a grin as she met no resistance. The phone rang once, twice, then a pleasant voice recited the time, date, and weather report, suggesting another number to call for air travel weather, domestic and international.
When the message began repeating, she held the handset at arm's length and stared at it. She knew no such service number. Had never dialed it before. And she knew she'd dialed her sister's number correctly. Surely they couldn't have jiggered her phone line to divert her calls?
She hung up, got a dial tone, and carefully re-entered the number. The same urbane synthesized voice came on again.
She hit the off button. She tried her mother's number and was connected to a religious message service.
She was only dialing a local number. She hadn't dialed enough digits to get toll service numbers.
Or had she?
When she put the phone down, the world seemed normal. But when she picked it up, her memory became hazy. She didn't notice it until she'd given up trying to tell people about Titus and put the phone away. Only after her mind cleared did she realize it had been clouded.
As she struggled into her clothes, she thought, Maybe it's not the phone.
She decided to call and cancel her gyn appointment since she would be gone by then. She looked up the number on the slip of paper tacked to the wall, and carefully poked it into the phone. The gyn's answering service came on, and using her phone buttons as instructed, she told their appointment computer to cancel her appointment. She hung up, called back, and checked to make sure her name was no longer on the schedule. It's not the phone. It's me. Him, rather.
Numb, she dropped onto the sofa.
The numbness wore off to leave stark terror, sharp edged and real, in its wake. The sun rose and the shadows of neighboring houses crept into the windows.
Finally, her mind began to work again. She made herself some coffee and toast, and spread out her Tarot cards to consider what to do.
Whatever he was, he had power over her. But, politely, he had used it in a very limited way. He had only protected himself. She was able to handle her personal affairs routinely. He had seen her packed bags and promised that she'd be free to go with the coming of sunset.
She believed him. Maybe that was his power. But if he hadn't meant it then why had he left her able to cancel her appointments? If he's going to kill me, he'd want no one to be looking for me for a while.
To test that, she decided to call her mother and ask for the loan she needed, make an appointment to pick up the check tonight. She entered the number. Her mother answered promptly.
"Mom. You were right."
"About what this time?"
"This is a dead end job. There's absolutely no future for me here. I've decided to go to LA, get a job, then reapply to UCLA. They accepted me before. No reason they wouldn't accept me again, especially as a California tax payer. But I need some money. If I leave tomorrow, I can be settled and establish residency in time to apply next year."
Since most of the plan had been her mother's idea originally, she had no trouble negotiating the loan, a check tonight and a more substantial sum when she had opened a bank account in California.
She solemnly promised to call her mother every day she was on the road, using her mother's phone credit card number.
Not one word stuck in her throat.
She called her sister and told the answering machine to look for the costume, in lamentable disrepair, at their mother's, and sketched her itinerary.
She called her boss, resigned with deep regret, telling him he had inspired her to go back to school. It was the literal truth. She didn't, however, give any hint of where she intended to go. She said she'd pick up her last check in the morning. The words didn't stick in her throat.
What I do tomorrow is no threat to Titus. He's not going to kill me.
She changed her mind and had her boss send her last check to her mother's post office box.
She called the bank and told the computer to close her savings account and dump all the money into her checking account and suspend all automatic payment of her bills.
She called a friend in LA and arranged herself a place to stay when she got there. She could sleep on the floor for a few nights. She even gave an estimated arrival date.
Everything she did regarding pulling out and arranging her future went without a hitch. The times she was tempted to say anything about a vampire, even in jest, her throat closed over the words in a way that made the reality of the unreal too believable.
When she'd done everything she could think of, she went back to the cards. The theme this time was the Tower, the Devil, the Chariot reversed, and the Magician reversed laced through with minor arcana indicating risk, combat, and anger. She'd seen worse readings about going to the dentist. But floating through the layouts, she kept noticing the Knight of Swords and the Knight of Wands.
Well, she was going to just up and leave, and that would probably upset a lot of people. Staring at her notebook where she'd jotted down the three layouts, she wondered why nothing seemed to define Titus. And then she saw it.
Interpreting the layouts as Titus's readings, which was legitimate considering how she'd been concentrating on him as the problem, she knew with one of those clear, intuitive leaps that had begun coming to her at the party, that Titus's enemy, the killer vampire, had already traced Titus to her, had found out where she lived - would probably attack. Maybe tonight.
Her first impulse was to jump in the car and go. But again, the wordless compulsion seized her, leaving her glued to the kitchen chair. She had to protect Titus all day.
She stared at the cards. A reader couldn't really read for themselves without running grave risks, and she'd gone as far as she could go. She knew from experience that she'd get no more from the cards herself. She needed help.
She picked up the phone again to call her teacher.
Her hand froze on the phone as it had on the doorknob.
He's reading my mind! The shriek of irrational panic subsided, and she realized it could just be the suggestion he'd implanted. After all, he'd said he didn't believe in the cards - imagine, a vampire that rejects the psychic world! - so he wouldn't believe that Shawna would throw the cards a time or two and have the whole story before her. She might not use the word vampire, but she'd describe the essence of him. She was that good, and Gabby knew it, and so denied herself the help she most needed.
After another cup of coffee, she put the cards away in her handbag and returned to packing boxes. She had rented the place furnished, so there wasn't much that actually belonged to her. She labeled boxes for her mother to ship later, and some to take. She was pulling down the shower curtain when there was a knock at the door.
In a panic, she ran to the door and started to shove an empty book case in front of it. "Who - " Her voice squeaked. "Who is it?"
"Marlene. Who else at this hour?"
It was nearly three in the afternoon. With a sigh, she shoved the bookcase back and opened the door. "What are you doing here?" She couldn't help it when her eyes darted to the bedroom.
Marlene swept into the room. She always entered a room with a sweep, and this time it was enhanced by the lush fake fur coat she flourished and dropped onto the vinyl sofa. But the theatrics were such second nature to Gabby's baby sister, that she didn't miss the panicked glance at the bedroom.
Pulling an envelope from her purse, Marlene waved it and sidled toward the closed bedroom door. "Mother asked me to bring you this check. This is such a lovely time of day in this apartment. You should keep the bedroom door open to let the sun in from that window." She shouldered the door open, leaning on it just right to unstick it. But the glance inside was anything but casual.
Disappointment turned to grim disapproval as she saw the pile of luggage in the middle of the bed. "Mother told me about your harebrained scheme. What's the family going to do with you so far away? You could just as easily go back to Columbia."
"I hated Columbia, and they hated me. Look, let's not rehash old arguments. My mind's made up."
"Can't be. Yesterday, you were planning to help me make a New Year's party for the whole family, and today you're leaving tomorrow. That's not a decision, it's an impulse."
Sorely tempted to tell all, Gabby found her mouth stuck shut, and a rising urgency to get her sister away from the bedroom fought with an insane need to lie to protect Titus. She'd given up lying when she'd taken up the Tarot.
She took her sister's elbow and dragged her across the living room into the kitchen. "Come on, we can argue over coffee, and clean out the refrigerator."
She dropped the check into her purse and spent the rest of the afternoon convincing her sister with lie after lie that just happened to be true. As they talked, they loaded most of boxes into Marlene's husband's Audi which she had just picked up from the shop.
There was a bundle of clothes on the way to the cleaners in the trunk. That had to go on top of the boxes because it had to be dropped off before Marlene went home. Gabby carried the laundry bundle upstairs and shoved it into a dark corner behind the rickety recliner that was missing a leg. Marlene's husband was about the same size as Titus.
Over the intervening hours, she genuinely forgot what she'd done and why.
Gabby never knew how she managed it, but she got Marlene to leave before full dark. Wiping tears of farewell from her cheeks, she went back into the apartment, locked the door, and leaned on it as her eyes watched the slice of sky visible above the bay window. A star appeared.
Switching on the overhead fixture, she saw the laundry bundle and panic seized her once more. Why - how - did Marlene forget that! Why did I hide it away? Her stomach churned. It had been hours since she'd thought of Titus.
A deep, male voice said, "My gratitude is as boundless as the cosmos."
"My God!" she squealed.
Titus, still wearing her bathrobe open over his tuxedo pants leaned over her, one hand propped on the wall by the door. He seemed pale, drawn, but the gashes in his side looked like year old scars, and the ones on his face and hands had disappeared. "Gabby, I'm sorry to have given you such a fright last night. You deserved better of me than that."
His hand floated out toward her face in an affectionate gesture. She jerked away. He froze.
"I won't hurt you."
"Get out." She was surprised she had the ability to voice the order. "Get out and don't ever come back. The invitation is withdrawn. Get out of here. I'll - I'll strew the place with garlic."
"Would you? Could you?"
Deep inside she knew she couldn't act against him. The imperative to protect him was stronger than she'd realized. "Maybe not, but I won't have to. Whoever did that to you last night," she gestured to the scars, "is going to be here soon."
He grabbed her shoulders so fast she couldn't react. Staring into her eyes, he demanded, "How do you know?"
The rest of the room blurred away, and all she saw were the eyes, all she felt were his hands on her shoulders - neither cold nor hot, just hands stronger than any she'd felt before. What spilled out of her was the absolute truth, though it's the last thing she'd have said. "I saw it in the cards."
His breath gushed out of him in a warm cloud - not the stale stench of the Undead, just breath. Breath he had been holding with tension. He breathed regularly, not just when he needed to speak.
She slipped out of his loosening grasp and jackknifed over the recliner to fish out the bundle of laundry, turned and threw it at him. "Here! Take these and get out of here. Now! Because I'm leaving!"
She charged past him into the bedroom to collect her suitcases. Turning back to the door with a case in each hand, she pulled up short. He stood blocking the door. Over one arm lay the shredded remains of his formal jacket.
"You told everyone you read for at the party that the cards can't predict the future."
"They can't. But everyone is psychic to some degree, we just can't access the knowledge of distant events in the present. Discerning them through the Tarot isn't predicting. It's not fate. You can be gone before he gets here. Then, too bad for him."
"I don't need Tarot cards to tell me I've got an enemy. And it doesn't take a fortune teller to divine that I need help." He advanced into the room, still blocking her way out of it.
She retreated. He stopped.
With his left forefinger, he rubbed the top of his forehead. "What I've already done to you is inexcusable - "
"I'll excuse it if you'll just leave."
There was real misery and genuine conflict in his eyes, his tone, his general aura, He was trying very hard to do something he believed to be right, but he wasn't sure he could manage. Gabby had no idea where that insight had come from, but she'd learned to trust her judgment about people. She edged to the side, trying to get a clear shot at the door. "Why can't you just leave?"
He looked at his feet as he whispered, "Hunger."
"Hunger?" He's going to kill me. Then she prayed, Don't you think that's an awfully steep penalty for screwing up a temptation lesson?
"Hunger. I'm too weak to face him again, and I expect he'll find me before I reach safety tonight. I can't leave here in this condition, though I'm convinced we're safe here. At least for a while. Gabby, help me, please."
"That's a strange thing to say to someone you plan to kill."
"Kill?" He charged forward, tossing his jacket on the bed and brushed the suitcases out of her hands, grabbing her shoulders and pulling her to his chest all in one motion. "No! No, you don't understand. All I need is a little of your blood. Less than you'd give to the Red Cross. And I'll pay for it with the pleasure that is your due for such a precious gift."
She glanced aside at the open closet door, the pillows still visible on the floor. The edges were sharp. She checked her memory of what he'd said. It seemed clear enough. And now that he held her, the queasy feeling abated.
His arms were warm, strong but gentle. His lips brushing her forehead sent thrills coursing through her whole body. She buried her nose in his shoulder and just wanted.
The intensity of that unheralded desire was a shock. It was so different from anything she'd ever felt before that she hardly recognized it for what it was before it was too late. She pulled back, and was not quite surprised when he let her go. "What if I say no?"
"Would you do that, Gabby? I ask so little. I would not leave you weakened. You'd be strong and ready for your trip."
"How do I know that?" But the cards had given no indication of real evil. And even now, the fog of perception he had used to force her to protect him was not in evidence.
"My word is not sufficient?"
"After the way you've forced me to help you, and prevented me from asking for the help I need - "
"Gabby, we have laws among our kind. If I had not silenced you, they'd hunt me down and kill me for endangering all of us. I had no choice in what I did to you. I've only a little choice now. Refuse me, and I will leave and take my chances."
"You mean, find someone else?"
"Something I've found recently. I much prefer volunteers."
It was the slickest manipulative pitch she'd ever heard.
He moved in close again and stroked her cheek before she could shrink back. Sensation suffused her whole being and she groaned deep in her throat. His finger outlined her lips and she couldn't help tilting her head up to him. His touch trailed down her neck to her open collared shirt, then hesitated, asking permission.
Despite herself, she leaned into the touch, giving permission. She couldn't have denied herself at that moment to save her life. She no longer cared if she died, she had to have what he promised.
His perfectly groomed fingernail slid over the outside of her bra, toyed with her nipple until her whole breast ached and then welcomed his hand as it worshiped the weight of it. "You see," he murmured into her ear, "there is much I have to offer in reward. And I ask so little."
She wanted to claw at him, climb onto him, force him not to stop now.
He pushed away, holding her at arm's length, his eyes meeting hers. "I am so hungry."
It was artless, the conflicts tearing at him so near the surface that she could see them. She pushed her own desire down and asked, "What do you want to do, bite my neck?"
He grimaced, his sensuous mouth making a straight line as he shook his head, loosed her arms, and picked up his jacket. The inside pocket yielded a ziplock bag with a tourniquet and some sealed packages of disposable needles, the kind used to collect blood donations. He held the bag for her to see. "Nothing so dramatic. A couple of glassfuls will suffice."
She stared at the prosaic tools and for the first time really believed she was dealing with a true vampire, not legend, myth, or maniac, but the real thing, the fact behind the fiction. And the world remained clear around her. That, more than anything, convinced her.
She had seen his power to coerce, and a moment ago had been thoroughly seduced. Yet still he held back, asking. "Well, all right, just this once. But never again."
"If that's what you want."
"What do I have to do?"
He took her into the kitchen where she sat at the table with her arm out while he tied the tourniquet, thumped the vein like a professional, swabbed the skin and inserted the needle. She had to look away as her blood, deep red, dripped into a jelly glass. Her arm was cold. Her back hurt.
His hand spread over the ache in her back and rubbed, making a delicious warm spot. "Not much longer now," he crooned, and she could hear the barely restrained greed in him. "There!" The needle was gone with a cold sting of alcohol, and the tourniquet released with an audible snap. He was gone before she turned her head back.
Her arm was crooked up around the alcohol swab. The needle had been deposited in the trash. "They'll think I'm an addict!" she muttered without real panic.
She bared her elbow to look at the wound. What have I done? Fed a vampire? But he wasn't the legendary kind, the kind supposed to be Evil and Undead. He was just a man with strange needs and even stranger powers.
If she had cold-shouldered Titus outside the house, he wouldn't have been there to save her life. If she hadn't gone to the party, she wouldn't have needed her life saved - but she would probably have lost her job. Yet, that's just where she was now anyway.
There was no sound from the living room. Thinking he might have just left, she got up and went to the door. The bathroom door was closed, and water was running. She hadn't actually seen him drink. He could have flushed it all down the toilet. The whole thing might have been some sort of charade.
Then she remembered how she'd tried to clean the stage makeup off of his face last night. That pasty whiteness was his natural complexion. And he was no albino. In fact, the albinos she knew had a lovely translucence to their skin. Titus looked like he was wearing zinc oxide coating all over his body.
She was about to turn back into the kitchen hoping he'd just leave now when the bathroom door opened. He had stripped and redonned her robe, and as he moved toward her there was no doubt in her mind that he had drunk the blood and it had restored him to vitality as it would only to a vampire.
She couldn't say what it was about him, exactly, but he appeared more robust, calmer, stronger. He glided toward her now, and only by contrast could she see that before, his gait had been hesitant, shuffling, as if he were in pain. Now, he exuded controlled power.
His arms came around her and before she knew what had happened, she was in his arms, cradled against his chest as if she weighed no more than ninety pounds. "Did you think I'd forgotten my promise?" he breathed as he tilted her through the narrow bedroom door and gently set her on the bed.
His mouth covered hers, eager and willing, yet hesitant, asking permission. His whole attention seemed to be on her, seeking to learn what she wanted. Never had a man approached her this way before. All at once, the aching returned to her breasts.
From there a warm flush spread to everything else he touched. There was no mistaking his own intense arousal, but it seemed merely a reflection of her own, escalating at every thrilling stroke of his sensuous fingers. With tentative, dancing touches, those lithe fingers opened her clothing and began peeling it away, an inch at a time.
When he unhooked her bra, she gasped and he stopped. Then, slowly, he leaned down and kissed her again, silently stating his case. Deep inside, she knew this was her last chance to say no. She didn't want to, but she knew it would be prudent.
He shifted his weight until the physical evidence of her effect on him throbbed against her thigh. His right hand came to rest on her groin, perfectly still as if he'd forgotten what he touched as his whole attention focused on her lips and tongue.
She had never been so aroused in her whole life. She was dimly aware she was being seduced, but the experience seemed more important than any other consideration. After all, he wasn't forcing her. The edges of the world were still clear. It was her own decision, and she wasn't going to deny herself something this special.
She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back. His right hand began to move, and she realized that until that moment, she hadn't even begun to be aroused.
It went on for a very long time, longer than any man had ever spent on her before. Never once did she feel she had to hurry or miss out completely. It was almost as if he enjoyed simply being aroused as much as she did.
As the tension mounted and mounted, she began to wonder if he was incapable in some fashion. She worked one hand down between them and began to repay the intimate caresses.
He gasped, paused, and melted into her touch with a groan. She had him in total surrender. If that was what she wanted. She could pick the position and the time. No man had ever let her do that before. Still, his knowledge and skill outstripped her own by so much, she'd always wonder what she'd missed. "Go on," she whispered. "Do it. Your way."
Panting, he encircled her hand with his own and gently removed himself from her grip. "Not yet, Gavriella. You're capable of so much more." His hands and lips began another detailed study of her whole body, front and back, and ended with her feet, where attention centered and deepened.
Just when she thought she couldn't stand it any more, he moved up to lie beside her, then eased over her and entered without any help. Pure orchestrated sensation rose in every shred of her being. His lips covered hers once more, and gently, carefully, he teased her to the absolute apex, a condition she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams, a state no romance writer had ever evoked for her with the purplest prose.
Then it happened to both of them, simultaneously. But, in that ineffable, unspeakable moment, she felt his seed flood out from him onto her thigh.
The golden glory was tarnished, but still the greatest experience of her life. It became even greater when he didn't simply roll aside and begin to snore. He stayed with her, petting and stroking, thanking her body, appreciating it as much now as when he'd wanted something from her. This must be what it's like to be loved. By the light of the street lamps, she could see the same wonder reflected in his eyes.
When he eased himself to her side, and propped himself on one elbow to toy with her hair, she breathed, "Why! Why didn't you finish it right?"
He kissed her. "Neither of us could afford any unwanted complications. I didn't think you were protected."
"I'm not." She had taken that into account when she'd acquiesced, but at the time it had seemed a reasonable risk. Actually, she realized, it wasn't. "Still . . . ."
Suddenly, his arms were around her again, and he whispered into her ear, "Gabby, I can't tell you what you've given me. You've opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. I promise, when this is all over, I'll look you up again, and if it's what you want then, you will have it just the way you want it."
"You won't be able to find me," she mumbled, her whole body and mind unraveling into deep relaxation.
"Don't worry about that."
He stroked her back, and she tumbled into sleep feeling more safe and protected than she had ever felt before. The entire experience had redefined what sex was about for her, and now she wasn't sure that was a good thing. Would any man ever measure up again?
Some undefined time later, she woke, aware she'd been asleep only by the fact that she was waking. She was alone in bed, the pillows restored for her comfort. It was still pitch dark outside, but she'd packed her alarm clock so she had no idea what time it was.
No light came through the crack under the living room door, but she heard Titus moving about. She didn't want him to leave like that, so she got up, found her robe neatly folded at the foot of the bed with her clothes. She flung the robe on and tucked the bundle of clothes into the crook of her arm, intending to shower and dress, then leave. She should have gotten them both out of there at sundown.
In the living room, by the streetlight, she found Titus just cinching up the waist of the borrowed brown pants using a strip torn from the black cummerbund he'd been wearing. Everything hung on him like a sack, but at least he was decent.
She crossed to him. "I wanted to say thank you."
"Oh, no, it is I who should - " He broke off, whirling toward the door in a crouch. "Gabby, get dressed!"
"What - "
"Do it!" He flitted across the floor and plastered himself to the wall beside the door, one ear pressed to it as if listening. The street light picking out planes and shadows on his lean features.
Heart pounding, she skinned into her underwear and pulled her clothes on, shoving her feet into a pair of running shoes she'd left under the sofa.
Titus nodded. "It's him. Get your coat. I have to get you out of here."
He pulled open the closet door beside the bathroom, but that was the linen closet. She grabbed a fleece lined jacket from the shelf under the table where she kept her purse, slung her purse over her head and slid one arm through the strap. "Who is it, the killer vampire?"
"No. My father. Let's go!"
She started for the door, but he took her arm and swung her around. "No! This way."
He had the living room window open and was outside, standing on the roof of the porch with his hand out to her before she knew how he'd done it. She'd often contemplated using the roof as a fire escape, but it was almost a two story drop to the ground from the bottom of the slanted roof.
She closed her jacket over her purse, which contained everything of real value, including her mother's check. She'd long ago concluded that she was going to be running for her life, and somehow, she trusted Titus, even if he did have a facetious streak. His father! Really!
With one hand gripping her wrist and the other her elbow, he somehow levered her out of the window. Then he paused to close the window and plastered himself against the side of the building pulling Gabby up beside him.
She held her breath as a shadow flitted through a distant, neighboring yard. It was a very tall, reed slender figure. It disappeared between two houses, heading for the back yards.
Meanwhile, a car purred to a stop at the end of the block and double parked. Four men got out, shutting the doors very quietly. Gabby clutched at Titus's arm as the men started toward them.
Titus breathed into her ear, "Where's your car?"
"Up around that corner they're blocking. About half a block up that street."
He sighed. "The car I used ran out of gas up on Four."
The idea of a vampire discommoded by running out of gas almost made her laugh.
"We'll have to take their car, then," he said.
The four men approached, scanning the bushes in every direction but never looking up. They moved up the steps very quietly, and opened the door as quickly as if they'd had a key. No sooner was the last one inside than Titus turned and swung Gabby up in his arms. Before she knew what was happening, he took two strides and stepped out into thin air.
If she'd had any warning at all, she'd have screamed on the way down. But before she could draw breath, Titus's feet touched the ground and his knees bent, absorbing the impact. By the time her buttocks touched the cold pavement, it was only a minor thump - less than if she'd fallen on the stairs.
"Shit!" she said. "How did you - "
His hand clamped onto her mouth. "Shh!" He bent to her ear. "Simple physics." His other arm gave her a confident squeeze, and then he was helping her to her feet. Pulling her behind him, he began to make his way through the yards, keeping bushes and trees between them and the double parked car. A feeling of unreality englobed her, and she could almost believe she was acting in a movie.
A distant part of her mind noted that the car they were about to steal from the drug dealers was a TransAm. They'd never have had a chance in her Mazda.
Steal from the drug dealers. Something kept the natural panic that thought engendered at a great distance. She was glad. Panic could be fatal right now.
As they came abreast of the car, she could see the man left inside to guard it.
On a sudden thought, she dragged Titus back into the bushes and put her mouth to his ear. "What if those four men come back!"
"Don't worry. My father will take care of them. Now, let me concentrate."
Father. He meant it! "Why are we running from your father?"
"You don't want to know. Now, hush!"
In a few moments, the driver of the car lazily opened the door and eased himself out. He left the door open and wandered haphazardly up the street. They waited until he was nearly half a block away, then dashed for the car.
Titus took the wheel, motioning her around to the other door. As she closed her door, Titus spun the car around in a tight U turn, slid into the right turn at the corner and gunned the motor as guided the car down the middle of the street.
"How did you know that man would leave the key in the car?" she asked when they made it onto the Garden State without any sign of pursuit.
"I used Influence - the power of my kind that so distresses you. I'm sorry, but there was no other way to avoid killing him."
Killing him. Titus had said the words as if he had every reason to believe it would have been just as easy to kill a man who was, very likely, a professional killer.
If this - vampire - worked that hard to avoid killing a murderer, she knew she was completely safe. "Where are we going?"
He grinned. "How about Los Angeles?"
End Chapter Two
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"True Hospitality" copyright © 2002 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. All rights reserved.
copyright © 2002 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. All rights reserved.
Those of My Blood copyright © 1988 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg All rights reserved.
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