I thought drinking a vampire’s blood would be more intimate, but Matthew had made the whole thing transactional. I stood on the other side of the island from him while I watched him ooze his own blood into a glass from a slice on his palm.
Watching him fill the glass had become a normal thing at that point. I wasn’t a vampire—yet—but I was well on my way after drinking Matthew’s blood before every meal for a month.
I spaced out on the bloody knife nearby until Matthew handed the glass to me. After a deep breath and a sigh, I closed my eyes and chugged the entire thing. It stung all the way down to my stomach where it churned with a sickening bubbly feeling. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it happened every time.
When I set my glass down and opened my eyes again, he smiled at me. I licked my lips and my teeth while he turned to the sink to wash up, taking the knife with him.
“You look especially handsome without your glasses,” he said.
“That’s because I am.” I swallowed a few more times to try and wash the rest of the blood away. “I’ve never been able to see this clear before. Are you sure I’m not already a vampire?”
He grabbed the glass from the island, examining me with his dark brown eyes. “You still survive in the sunlight just fine. How about your sense of taste? Does food taste normal?” Matthew’s gaze lingered on my face while he turned around to wash the glass.
I bent at the waist and leaned my palms on top of the island. “Same as always.”
Matthew shut off the sink and dried his hands. One glance at them, and I could see that the cut across his palm had already closed up, though it still left a pink line in its place. He stepped around to take my hand and pull me to him.
“What’s it like to crave blood?” I asked.
He smiled his gorgeous white grin, glancing at my lips, causing me to self-consciously lick them to make sure no blood was left over. “Not much different from craving salad.”
I snorted. “Has anyone ever actually craved a salad?”
Matthew laughed and reached up to pull my face down and kiss my mouth.
My hands came to rest on his waist, only to slide around to his back and hold him close as he made the kiss deeper. My heart thumped in my throat, slow at first, but quickening. I heard it in my ears, and it pounded faster and faster and louder until it became all that I could hear. A tingle shot down my throat and spread out across my chest, morphing into a tightness that wrapped me up like a boa constrictor. I stopped breathing. I couldn’t breathe.
Intense pain erupted in my chest, a sting and a deep ache all at once, only made even worse each time I attempted again to breathe in. I stepped back from Matthew, clutching my chest. When I looked at him, he screamed in slow motion, shrieking at me or at nothing, not sure. Despite the panic of the moment, I thought how odd it was to see his face contorted into anything other than a smile.
I opened my mouth again to gasp for air, but instead it filled up with blood, overflowing my lips and chin, pouring out like a spring.
A slap across the face brought me back to my apartment in LA.
“Don’t you die on me, you motherfucker!” Jess screamed at me from above, hoarse and baring her teeth.
I tried to take a breath in to ask what the fuck, but my lungs wouldn’t work. I laid on my side, face to the floor where blood poured from my mouth for real. My blood. Not the stinging shitty blood Matthew had.
Jess pushed me onto my back. I tried to cough, but I couldn’t do that either. Everything was dim, blurry, speckled. I lifted my head just to drop it on the floor and pass out again.
When I woke up a second time, I still couldn’t breathe. I heard sirens outside. I didn’t know what was happening. I think Jess was crying. I gasped over and over even though it hurt like fuck. I’m not even sure I had to breathe being a vampire, but my instincts told me I needed air if I didn’t want to die. And at that point in my life, I didn’t.
EMTs came to take me away, and it wasn’t until I was up on the gurney that I saw Seth on the floor, surrounded by medics. I couldn’t make any more sense out of the situation than that. I realized for the first time that the back of my head throbbed.
Jess came to my side, her three-toned hair—brown then blonde then fruit-punch—almost as much of a wreck as my apartment. “I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry!”
The medics pushed her aside and walked me out of the apartment to the ambulance, leaving Jess and her distant, echoing voice in the apartment with Seth.
At the hospital, the lack of oxygen fucked me up. My entire body cramped up like one big charlie horse, and the drugs they gave me for surgery kept wearing off too quick. They told me I shouldn’t even be alive, but since—if the pain had anything to say about it—I was very, very alive, they kept going. While surgeons removed the bullet, I nearly removed my own tongue from biting down so hard.
Once the bullet had been dug out of my lung, my body took over the healing process, now able to fix the damage from the gunshot. The stitches helped, but the vampire magic bullshit that made me heal stupid fast was already doing its thing. It would still take time to recover, but I had to guesss not anywhere near as long as it would take a normal human. Who apparently would have been fucking dead.
“Oh my fucking god, Lai!”
I opened my eyes from my recovery nap, complete with an excellent dose of morphine, to see Ras, my brother, enter the hospital room. He looked wrong, though. More put together, since, you know, he’d been missing his right ear for years. His face and hand were scarred up. He walked with a limp and a cane. Or at least he was supposed to. This Ras looked brand new, like how he did when we were in college, fresh out of 1989. But wearing my clothes for some reason.
I blinked at him, taking a slow, painful breath through my oxygen mask. I grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pointed at the athletic shorts he wore.
“Yeah, they’re yours. I didn’t exactly have any lady clothes when I monkeyed out at your place.”
I stared for a long time, attempting to figure out what he meant.
He rose an eyebrow at me, then rolled his eyes.
I didn’t get it, but my eyes went straight to his hair as it went from dark brown to a familiar tri-color brown, blonde, and Kool-Aid.
Ah. Jess. Fucking shapeshifter. I forgot she did more than just animals.
I closed my eyes to enjoy my morphine drip again.
“Seth’s dead,” she said, still with my brother Ras’s voice.
I lifted my hand, flapped it once and dropped it again before half-shrugging.
“He shot you then he tried to shoot me,” she said. “Do you remember any of it at all?”
I opened my eyes and found her—or I guess his—face. I thought for a moment about what I could remember. It wasn’t much.
I shook my head. All I could really think about at that moment was how weird it was to know I’d fucked this person—the one who looked just like my brother right now. Goddamn, that was fucked up. And kinda funny.
“So you don’t care at all?” She frowned at me. With my brother’s frown. That disapproving one. Ugh.
I reached for the table by my bedside where a pad of paper and a pen sat. Jess understood what I wanted and passed them to me. I wrote a messy note on the top page: You’re much hotter as a chick.
Jess took the notepad and read the message. She handed it back, stony-faced. “Have the cops come by yet?”
I shook my head.
“I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
I shrugged. I had no fucking clue.
Without me being able to say much, and falling asleep anyway, Jess let me rest until the next day. She came back, this time dressed as Ras with scars down his face, missing an ear, carrying a cane.
The best part was that I could finally fucking breathe. I sat up.
“Wow, babe,” I said. “You really went all out on the Ras disguise this time.” It hurt a little to speak, but I didn’t intend to write any more notes. I grimaced as the sewed up hole in my chest ached with the motion.
“I am Ras.”
I spent a minute looking him over. Jess could have been anyone. She might have been fucking with me, but I knew this wasn’t her.
“Fucking shit,” I said, dropping my head back against the pillow and staring up at the ceiling. “What are you doing here, Ras?”
“You need to get out of town,” he said. He hobbled over to the armchair next to my bed and plopped into it with a groan. “They should have taken you to the Red Tech hospital. You’re lucky they didn’t.”
I rolled my head to the side to look at him. Red Tech was that place that did the membership service for vampires. The one that cleaned up dead bodies after you fed on them. “They have a fucking hospital?”
“It’s called a donor station, so not really. But there is an occasional vampire surgery when things like this happen.” He gestured to my chest.
My breathing in and out sounded sort of wheezy, and I took a moment before trying to talk again. “So why am I at a regular hospital?”
“Most likely you didn’t use the Red Tech number to call for help. It’s for the best, really.”
“You keep saying that.”
The door opened again, and a man in a lab coat walked in. He picked up the clipboard from a place near the door and came forward smiling, pulling a pen from his coat pocket. After a moment of reading the chart, his smile faded and he looked at me again. “You’re Lai Martire, right?”
“Why? Does it say something else?” I asked.
“No. No…” He looked down at the clipboard, puzzled, flipping it over multiple times before scratching his beard. I could tell he must have been promising himself to stop drinking before work. He set down the clipboard on my bed, and I stayed quiet while he came to examine me. It was the first time I’d really looked at the bandages, let alone the bullet wound when he peeled the bandage away.
I watched the amazement on his face, his mouth dropping open as he moved a gloved hand over the area where there had been a wound before, and now just a silvery pink, sensitive scar. He looked at me and swallowed. Then he backed away.
I cleared my throat. “Hey, I’m in a lot of pain. Think you can up my dosage on the morphine?”
Ras groaned, and I could basically hear his eyes roll.
“Sure,” the doctor stammered. “I’ll send a nurse right in.” He clumsily tried a few times to put the clipboard back in its holder and then left.
I grinned at Ras. “Is that why I should have been at the other hospital?”
Instead of looking entertained–but really, when did he ever?–Ras stared at the door. His cheek bulged with the shape of his moving tongue underneath while he clearly considered how to break something to me. I just wasn’t sure what.
“Matthew would have been your surgeon.”
My smile disappeared. I stared at Ras while he stared ahead, obviously unable to look at me.
“So what? He wants to kill me now?” I asked.
“Knowing Matthew? Far worse,” Ras said.
I turned my face away and sucked on my teeth. I knew he was right.
He stood up and faced me while I tried not to look at him. “You need to leave. Whatever happened at your house last night wasn’t Red Tech sanctioned. The cops are going to be involved. I can smooth that over, but your dead boyfriend’s friends and family…?” He tilted his head and shrugged.
“They don’t know who I am.” Without thinking, I rubbed my chest where it hurt, which only lit up the recently healed wound with fresh pain. I hissed and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Does that matter?” Ras asked. “You get someone killed, and someone is bound to come after you.”
I growled. “He got himself fucking killed!”
“With your gun.”
The simple sentence shook me, and I didn’t understand why. I fixed my eyes on him, open-mouthed and bewildered. “How the fuck do you know all this? How did you even know I was here?”
“It’s my job, remember?”
“To stalk me?” It hurt to yell, but I had to.
“No, you fucking idiot! To investigate subscriber cases. Red Tech has to keep close tabs on this shit so it doesn’t cause widespread panic. Anything that has to do with a vampire that’s not an open-and-shut case has to go through me.”
“So you’re the cops.”
Ras sighed, taking a seat again. “It’s more complicated than that.”
We fell silent for a long time.
“So when am I getting out of here? How am I fucking paying for this?”
“So Red Tech is vampire health insurance now too?”
“I wouldn’t say—”
Someone screamed outside the room, and it sounded like some sort of supply cart had been knocked over. The door flew open letting the sound of chaos flood in, and a nurse tumbled in after, catching herself on the ground. Behind her marched a familiar three-piece, gray suit with a hot pink tie, a platinum blond undercut, and the stone-cut jaw of a constipated angel. Micah Castagnier, Red Tech President.
Two uniformed LAPD officers followed him in, one carting a wheelchair to my bedside.
The nurse got to her feet and her voice trembled. “Sir, you can’t—”
“Leave this one alone,” Ras said, quickly scooping her arm up before she could say more. He led her in a wide berth around Micah and out of the room. She seemed relieved to abandon her obligation to protect the patients of the establishment.
Micah trained his ever-intense green eyes on me. “Get him in the chair,” he growled to one of the officers, and before I could object, I was being lifted into the wheelchair.
It hurt too much to struggle, so I went along with it. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to question anything. “What the fuck?”
Micah didn’t answer. He only led the way out while one of the cops ripped out my IV and took my oxygen mask. Way to ruin a dude’s good time, bro.
I don’t think Micah was much more than maybe nineteen in appearance, but his presence had such command that just walking caused people to leap out of his way. Or maybe even humans were aware of his reputation for decapitating people with his bare hands over almost nothing. I’d never seen it myself, but it wasn’t something I would put past Micah. And the trail of destruction he’d wreaked on his way to my room was a pretty good indicator that no one was ready to fuck with him.
Micah’s goon patrol loaded me into a cop car.
“So am I under arrest?” I asked.
Still no answer. I watched him through the window while he stopped to talk to someone else. Another uniform. He lowered his voice, and a lot of it was jargon or unrelated. A different officer got in the driver seat.
“Hello? What the fuck is happening? Where are you taking me?”
This man didn’t say anything to me either.
I looked back out the window at Micah. He seemed to give a final order before he turned to get into a purple Camaro, only to be cut off by Ras stepping in the way. I tried my fucking hardest to catch any of what they were saying, but the most I could make out was the tone of their voices, which escalated. Then Micah backhanded Ras straight onto his ass and got in his car. He peeled out when he sped off with Ras yelling after him. I couldn’t make out much, but I did hear one thing: “He’ll be dead if Solak finds out about this!”
My heart dropped, and I stopped listening. I knew Solak. It was Matthew Solak. My sire. My ex. My abuser. My rapist.
Who the fuck is Johnny?
Are you still wondering what Jess was up to just before In Lieu of Underwear began? Find out now by reading a bonus prequel chapter.