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DEATHLESS
ECSTASY
BLOOD AND SEX, BOOK ONE
by J.P. SWANNACK

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Deathless Ecstasy: Blood and Sex Book 1 by J.P. Swannack
Copyright © 2017 by J.P. Swannack

This book is a work of fiction, the characters, incidents and dialogues


are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed
as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be
reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express
written permission of the author, except for the use of brief
quotations in a book review.

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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22

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Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
About the Author

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To all my students, wherever life has taken you

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Join my VIP list and be the first to hear about new releases, free
books, and awesome discounts: www.jpswannack.com.

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Chapter 1

He caught Charlotte’s eye the second he stepped into the upscale


club in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. His head stuck out over
the whole crowd—rich brown hair, heavy jaw, and high, arrogant
cheekbones. His beautiful lips, smooth and plump and pinkish-
brown, crossed his face in a flat line. As he walked through the club,
he didn’t push through the crowd so much as wade. People got out of
his way without him saying or doing anything.
When he stepped forth from the mass of bodies, Charlotte gasped.
The man’s shoulders were broad as an oak trunk. Knots of muscle
bulged through his tailored crimson shirt in strange and intimidating
places. But his arms didn’t balloon out the way a bodybuilder’s did.
He had muscles, for sure, but it was more like his bones themselves
were thicker and heavier than those of other men. He could probably
walk outside and lift a car’s back wheels right off the ground.
“Wow,” said Charlotte’s friend Lexie, raising her voice over the
club’s hip-hop dance music.
“Yeah. Wow,” said Charlotte, leaning to her friend’s ear. “He’s…
He’s…”
“He’s gorgeous.”
And as they stared, the man turned his ravishing green eyes on
Charlotte and lanced her with a sultry, mysterious look.
Charlotte turned away.
“He looked at me,” she said, excitement and nerves lifting her

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voice.
“Yeah, he did,” said Lexie. “Try to look good and we’ll see if he
comes over here.”
“He’s not going to.”
And he did not. They watched the man as he continued through the
club. Again the crowd shifted, curving out of his way like rain around
a golden fleck of oil on a windshield. It was strange, very strange.
Someone would have their eyes locked on their phone screen, and
they’d move three feet out of his way without ever looking up. Others
would be immersed in a conversation, and they’d step aside without a
glance. The man never touched them or anything. The people just
shifted as if they weren’t aware of it.
“Stop looking at him,” said Lexie. “Just drink your drink.”
Charlotte couldn’t help but smile at her friend. “We don’t have any
drinks.”
Lexie responded with poise. “Then let’s find someone to buy us
some.”
“But…”
“What?”
“What if he sees us with those other guys, and he thinks we’re
taken?”
Lexie smiled. “Honey, a man like that doesn’t think you’re taken.
He just takes you.” With that, she sidled into a gap in the throng of
dancing bodies and disappeared.
Within a minute, Lexie came back with two guys. Their expensive
clothes and awkward smiles marked them as drink buyers, and they
purchased a round. Lexie chatted with one, and Charlotte, the other.

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But Charlotte’s eyes wouldn’t leave the man who had caught them
before. It wasn’t just his beautiful face, his height, the muscles
rippling over his broad frame—though those alone were enough. Set
within his chiseled, stoic face, his green eyes glimmered with passion
and energy. He sent two women away from him—gorgeous blondes
who either had heavenly genetics or fake breasts.
Everyone was watching him. Far more women than herself were
stealing glances.
Suddenly, the man who bought her drink left. Lexie’s arms were
wrapped around the other drink buyer. Charlotte was alone. What
now? Just stand there? Duck off to the bathroom? Buy herself a
second drink?
The hot man shot her again with those green eyes.
Her stomach flapped and turned like a sheet hung out to dry in a
typhoon. Had she dropped her phone? No, it was still there, barely
hanging from her hand. And before she knew it, the man was
standing right in front of her.
“Good evening,” he said. His voice somehow cut, with resonance
and clarity, through the noise in the club.
“Hi,” said Charlotte.
“You’re beautiful.”
“Thanks,” said Charlotte. The man let his compliment rest in the
air, saying nothing more and simply looking at Charlotte. He towered
over her—he had to be one of the tallest men in the club. And easily
the sexiest. Up close, she saw that bits of gold flecked his
intoxicating green eyes, almost forming a ring around the—
“You’re here with a friend,” he said, breaking Charlotte’s spell of

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admiration.
“Oh,” she said. “Yes, how’d you know?”
“I saw her standing next to you. And then she glanced over here.”
“A lot of girls have been glancing at you.”
“Yes,” he said calmly, aware of the effect he had.
And once more he said nothing, instead resting his eyes on her
own. A gleam flickered in his eyes, a look that was somehow a
challenge. Within that gleam was arrogance, smugness, perhaps even
joy at toying with her. He knew she’d say something.
“Um,” she started. And his lips didn’t move, but somehow she felt,
looking at those eyes set in such a manful face, that he had smiled.
“Yeah, you know, I don’t really go to clubs that often.”
His eyes widened just a hair. “You don’t like the noise.”
“Yeah,” she said. “How’d you know?”
“Because people who don’t like clubs don’t like that,” he said, still
calm and shockingly confident.
She glanced down, somehow defeated. She pretended to check her
phone. Should she get out of this conversation?
“I don’t go to clubs that much either,” he said, his voice softening
just a tad.
“Oh.”
“But you have to do different things sometimes.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Exactly. I mean, I didn’t want to sit at home
another night, you know? I was just like, I have to get out.”
“That’s what I like about New York,” he said, and now a hint of
enthusiasm tinged his voice. “Always somewhere different to get out
to, always something new to stimulate you. You can travel without

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ever getting on a plane. I don’t like flying.”
“You don’t like the seats?” she said, thinking it was a good
observation. “I mean, I think you’d have trouble fitting into the
economy seats.”
“What’s that?”
He leaned in close to hear her better. A clean, spicy, and
unplaceable smell wafted off him.
“You’re, uh, you’re tall and kind of wide,” said Charlotte. The
closeness of his powerful body excited her, so that she slipped on the
words. “The, uh, the economy seats wouldn’t be comfortable for
you.”
“Is economy the same thing as coach?”
“Yeah,” she said. What a strange question. “You really haven’t
flown in a while, have you?”
“No.”
He leaned back and regarded her, tilting his head as if thinking.
The club’s dim light carved his face into stoic, breathtaking shapes.
“You’re different from the other women in here,” he said.
“Why?”
“You don’t stand like you’re worried about what people think.”
“You can tell that from how I stand?”
“Yes.”
“How?”
“The other people in here, they want to be noticed,” he said. He
spoke with force and authority, leaning his head a half-inch closer to
her own. “They want to be liked, admired, hungered for. Some of
them want to be envied. But they can’t let anyone know they want

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those things. They put on faces of fun or nonchalance, but their strain
in keeping on their masks comes out in their bodies. But you, on the
other hand—You’re a little uncomfortable here, and you show it on
your face like you think no one’s looking. Though why you’d think
that, I don’t know. You’re the most beautiful woman in here.”
Charlotte laughed. She would consider herself, maybe, “cute”—
with her healthy black hair, large brown eyes, white teeth, and a
once-slim figure to which she’d added more than a couple pounds.
But half the women in here looked better than she did. Lexie looked
better than she did.
“I don’t think so,” she said. Charlotte scanned the room and, in two
seconds, picked out a busty blonde in tiny shorts with perfect legs
and a dazzling face.
“Her,” said Charlotte, tipping her chin and glancing at the woman
to indicate who she meant. “She’s better-looking than me.”
“No she isn’t,” he said. He said this like it was the plainest fact in
the world, like he was telling her that it was raining outside or that he
wore cotton socks. “I want to dance with you.”
“Okay.”
His large hand swallowed her small one when he took it. The
rugged calluses of hard work padded his palms. Thick blue veins
trailed up his wrist. She trailed behind him through the crowd, and
everyone just got out of the way. Some people did look at him as he
passed—desire in the eyes of the women, fear in the eyes of the men.
Yet others just moved aside, completely oblivious: One couple was
greedily tonguing and groping each other, but somehow they stepped
back without opening their eyes.

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Should I step back too? Who is this guy?
She hesitated. He looked over his shoulder at her. He was still
gorgeous. He gave her hand the slightest squeeze. Her lower parts
simmered, as if his strong hand and thick fingers were pressing her
down there. She didn’t even know this man—but wow, she wanted
him.
The man halted in the middle of the dancefloor and turned to face
her. A space had cleared around them. He spread his arms through the
air as if stretching—long, thick arms sprouting from his broad
shoulders. Then, from head to toe, with every little joint, he started to
bump and flow in time with the beat. It was captivating and exotic.
Where is he from? Charlotte wondered.
“I didn’t get your name,” she said.
“Jackson,” he answered, his voice deep, even, and now that
Charlotte thought about it, devoid of a foreign accent.
A sensuous RnB song rolled from the club’s speakers. Jackson
slowed to an undulant, peaceful motion. His feet and hips swayed
naturally and hypnotically as waves rolling in on the beach.
Following his movements calmed her down. Her muscles heated up
and loosened as they danced. The aches from her chair at work
evaporated. Their gazes met. His eyes were jungle-green flecked with
gold, shining through long black lashes, set in such a rugged, manful
face.
Their gaze stayed locked as their bodies moved as on. His large
hands slid across her lower back. He pulled her in closer, her soft
stomach flush against his rock-hard one. Her core tingled. His
muscles moved around her now, all in rhythm, hardening and

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softening. The heat rolling off his body melted her. Her wetness
surged for him. Where the hell did he come from that he knows how
to dance like this?
It was too much. It was too powerful, too incredible; she had to
slow things down.
“So, um,” she began, trying to keep calm as he danced. “So what
kind of work do you do?”
“I don’t work,” Jackson answered. His voice was rich and smooth,
almost going under the music to her ears. And his rhythm never
faltered as he spoke.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s okay,” he said. His eyes sparkled at her. “I’ll dance slower.”
“Oh,” she said. “Yes, that’s fine.”
And so they slowed more, but he kept that perfect rhythm, the
rhythm that seemed to animate his limbs more than his own blood.
The song sped up, but his slower movements kept the rhythm more
deeply rather than breaking with it. Jackson was the best dancer she’d
ever seen. And now he pulled her close, clapped one hand around her
back, and with his other hand, held hers up in the air. It was old-
fashioned, elegant, and perfect. They swayed together, locked, in
harmony. He was about to kiss her. Those beautiful smooth lips
would curl around hers, warm and wet and passionate. Just as she
thought this, Jackson slowed even more. His eyes held hers, his head
lowered, and—
CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK
Screams. Gunshots. Crushing bodies swarming for the exit. His
body heaving, pushing her around strong and broad between her and

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the gunman.
CRACK CRACK CRACK
Warm torsos breathed and thrashed against her. They pressed in
from all sides. Elbows jabbed her ribs. Shoulders smacked her jaw.
SURVIVE—GET OUT—FIGHT! her brain screamed. Thrash and
struggle, but she couldn’t even move. With one arm, Jackson pressed
her against his rock-hard body. Screams and yells in front of her.
Limbs scrabbled and turned around toward them. The mass churned,
all chaos, lashing and striking and howling and shrieking, in front of
the back door.
They couldn’t get it open.
CRACK CRACK CRACK
The mass stopped shoving forward. Jackson held her hand and
shielded her with his body. Sweaty, horrified clubbers squeezed them
from all sides. Their hot, boozy breath wafted over her face. Tortured
screams behind her. Charlotte turned: A girl flopped over in front of
her, blood spewing from her face. Blood pooled on the floor around
her, and other mutilated human forms flopped and groaned in a
swamp of carnage.
The rush of people for the exit had cleared one whole side of the
club. There stood the gunman: Dark hair, dark eyes, body armor, an
AK-47, and a duffel bag. He raised the rifle and fired into the air.
Screams, crushing bodies. A fight broke out behind her.
Now they stood on the front edge of the crowd. Nothing could
block the bullets but Jackson’s body.
Four people darted out from the crowd, making a rush for the front
door. The gunman turned and fired. Three fell. One made it out.

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“Everybody rush him!” shouted someone to her left. The gunman
turned in the direction the shout had come from and opened fire.
CRACK CRACK CRACK
Many bodies fell. No one yelled or ran after that.
The gunman reached into the duffel bag and pulled out a
megaphone.
“I want to kill all the painted whores first!” he said, his voice
deafeningly loud. “If you throw a painted whore on the ground up
here, as they deserve, I will let you walk out.”
Charlotte hugged Jackson from behind. He stood in front of her,
facing the gunman. His warm, broad body shifted no more than a
concrete wall.
“Throw the painted whores on the ground, and you can live!”
screamed the gunman again through the megaphone.
“Go to Hell!” someone shouted, half-hoarse and yet familiar.
“You’ll have to kill us all.”
“This whore,” said the gunman, pointing toward the source of the
shout. Shoving and grinding against the floor. More gunshots.
Charlotte hid her face in Jackson’s back. A woman screamed. Heels
kicked the floor.
“Rush him!” screamed the same woman—and through her
confusion, Charlotte finally recognized the voice.
Lexie!
“Rush him!” shouted Lexie. “Rush him and get the gun!”
Something crunched. Muffled gurgling screams. Three gunshots.
Vomit spattered on the floor behind her. The scent of stomach acid
and alcohol. Charlotte threw up. As she did, Jackson pushed her

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tighter up behind him.
“You!” said the gunman. “Throw that whore on the ground.”
And the solid form in front of her, Jackson’s sturdy body, vibrated
through with a voice so strong that it hushed the room.
“I will not,” said Jackson. These three words sounded deep and
unearthly, as if echoing through a primordial cavern.
CRACK CRACK CRACK
Jackson’s massive body shook three times. But he was still
standing! And as Charlotte held on to him from behind, a little cough
shook his body.
How could he stand?
Jackson coughed again, pulled her arms from around his waist, and
stepped forward from the crowd.
“You think you’re tough?” said the gunman.
CRACKCRACKCRACKCRACKCRACKCRACK
Click. Click.
And Jackson slumped onto the floor. Charlotte ran forward and
cradled his head in her arms—but his eyes were still open, still
moving. He met her eyes as she looked down at him, and then he
stood again.
The crowd was silent. The gunman stared at Jackson and fumbled
in his bag. He drew forth a clip of ammo, smiled, and tried to slide it
into the gun. But his hands doddered like he was being electrocuted.
The clip clattered to the floor. Jackson rose slowly and limped, step
by step, toward the gunman.
“What? What the hell?” cried the gunman.
Jackson trudged toward the gunman, one foot in front of the other.

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The gunman was tiny compared to Jackson, and his shaky hands
could not slot the ammo clip into the gun.
Finally, the gunman clicked the clip in and raised his rifle. But
Jackson now stood right in front of him. Jackson’s long arm arced
through the air, a blur of pure speed faster than any boxer. The rifle
flew forty feet across the club. The gunman dropped to his knees and
started moving his lips—mumbling and spluttering, saliva flying, too
scared to form words. And Jackson stepped into a punch that flung
the gunman’s whole body backward ten feet. The gunman slumped
over, dead as a doll. His entire head was a crushed mess.
Jackson turned and looked back at the crowd. For two long
seconds, his eyes met Charlotte’s own. No fear clouded his face.
Then he turned back to the crowd and squinted at something.
One arm stuck out above the crowd. It held a smart phone.
“I need that,” said Jackson. “You cannot film me.”
The hand shook a bit but did not lower.
“Give me that phone,” said Jackson. “Now.”
But still the arm held the phone high. Jackson bounded across the
room and the crowd melted before him. The one man, now exposed,
lowered his arm and presented the phone to Jackson. It was a new
iPhone—white, slim, large. Jackson took the thing in one hand and
closed his fist. When he opened it, the phone fell to the floor,
mangled and warped like a slab of dough put in a blender.
Jackson looked at Charlotte once more. Her heart itself shivered.
Then he leapt twenty feet straight in the air, smashing straight
through a second-floor window.
And he was gone.

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“Holy shit,” someone said behind her.
Charlotte turned to look. Behind her, just above the heads of the
crowd, a different hand held up a smartphone. They’d filmed the
whole thing.

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Chapter 2

Six missed calls and about twenty texts greeted Charlotte when she
woke up the next day. Right after the shooting, she’d called her
parents to tell them she was okay. She’d also asked them not to talk
about it. She didn’t need to be reminded.
Most of the texts were condolences from family members and
friends. She skimmed through them while waiting for her half-broken
coffee machine to squirt out a fresh pot. Several of them mentioned a
video and something about RLS. There was one text from her
immediate boss and another text from someone higher up at the
company. They’d learned of Lexie’s death and that Charlotte had
been with her, and in the texts, they told Charlotte she could take as
much time off as she needed.
As for the missed calls, three of the six were from Charlotte’s
mother, so Charlotte called her back right away.
“Hi, Mom,” said Charlotte groggily, her throat sore from
screaming the night before.
“Hello, sweetie,” said her mother, who was clearly still worried but
trying to sound encouraging. “Are you getting along okay? I couldn’t
get a flight, but I’ll be in tomorrow.”
“I’m okay,” said Charlotte, taking a sip of warm coffee she’d just
poured. “I just woke up.”
“Oh, you got some sleep. That’s good.”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”

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“So did you talk to RLS before it happened?” asked her mother,
her tone shifting suddenly to excitement and curiosity. “Did you talk
to him when you were in the club?”
“Who’s RLS?”
“Real-Life Superman! The man on the video! The man who killed
the shooter!”
“Oh.” Her mom meant Jackson. “Why don’t they use his name?”
“They can’t find his name. Can’t find anything. You don’t have the
TV on?”
“No.”
“But you’ve seen the video?”
“No.”
“Oh,” said her mom, disappointed. “The whole country is looking
for him. I just thought maybe you’d talked to him.”
“Hm,” said Charlotte. Jackson had saved her life, and until she
knew more, she wouldn’t spoil the secrecy he seemed to want. She
couldn’t lie to her mother, but she could get off the phone for now. “I
haven’t had breakfast. I’ll call you back in a bit.”
Charlotte said goodbye and scrambled two eggs. As she ate the
eggs with some toast and coffee, her hand wandered over to the
remote by habit and turned on the TV.
Jackson. There he stood on her TV screen, his back to the camera,
tall and broad in the club’s dim light. The gunman lay slumped in the
corner.
“The theory you haven’t heard on RLS after the break,” said the
TV anchor.
RLS?

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Charlotte kept watching. Piece by piece, she put together what had
happened.
Jackson had become, at once, the nation’s biggest celebrity and
biggest enigma. They called him RLS, Real-Life Superman. The
video taken on the second cellphone, which Jackson had missed in
his haste to leave the scene, was uploaded later that same night. It
shattered the YouTube record for first-day viewership—two hundred
million and counting. But no one could make sense of what they’d
seen—a man taking so many bullets, killing the gunman with one
punch, and then jumping twenty feet through a window?
The entire Internet asked the same questions:
Who was the hero on the video?
Was he still alive?
How had he taken so many shots?
How could he jump so high?
Why had he smashed the first phone?
Why had he run away?
A legion of commentaries and speculation rose up. Every talking
head, reporter, and social media celebrity voiced an opinion. The
most popular explanations were:
 He had on body armor
 He was an accomplice to the gunman
 He was on next-gen performance-enhancing drugs
 The rifle had misfired and most of the bullets missed
 He fled because he was an illegal immigrant
 He fled because he was in the mafia

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 He fled because he was in the Russian special forces, working as a
spy
Those bullets had certainly hit him. She’d felt his body heave as
they struck. But did anyone besides her know, for sure, that Jackson
hadn’t worn body armor? Because his stomach and chest were so
sculpted and warm beneath that thin shirt. Definitely no body armor.
Wait, did anyone besides her even know his name?
The people on TV never used it. Nor did the Internet. They just
called him RLS.
Was Jackson even his real name?
Whether it was or not, she wouldn’t tell. He’d saved her life, and
he didn’t want to be found. So she’d keep her mouth shut.

***

Ten days later, speculation on RLS still ruled social media and the
TV news. It engulfed the public consciousness and then lingered like
a heavy lunch on a hot day. The first few days, she’d hardly gone
outside. Her parents visited her—in turns, since they were divorced.
Her younger brother, Dean, brought her some groceries. She accepted
her boss’s offer of paid leave, planning to return two weeks after the
shooting
Day by day, she recovered. Netflix, books, long naps, and leisurely
lunches occupied her. It was mid-autumn, and out her window, the
maples had gone from green-yellow to burgundy and the beeches
were becoming golden. As she gazed at the gently swaying branches,
mulling her return to work, she received a message from her younger

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brother:
You can watch the news again. Looks like you finally got pushed
out of the news cycle. LINK
Good news! A tap opened the included link. It was an ugly video of
some body floating downward in front of a big building. What was so
interesting here? The title: CLERIC KILLED AND HOVERED
DOWN IN FRONT OF MOSQUE. What was “hovered down”
supposed to mean? She watched the video again. The body spun very
slowly, and its limbs cut out arcs in three dimensions like parts of a
gyroscope. At one point, you could see a bird fly by—the wings
flapped at a normal speed, so the video hadn’t been slowed down.
It was a strange video, but there were certainly stranger things
online. Why the big fuss?
She texted her brother:
I don’t get it. It’s just someone being clever with video editing.
Dean’s reply:
You didn’t read the comments section.
She skimmed the comments column and gathered a few things:
It was not just any Muslim cleric, but one of the most popular and
respected clerics in New York City. Some were calling it a hate
crime. But other things in the video invited speculation. First of all,
experts found no slowdown on the video. The flying bird proved
there was none. And how had they lowered the body? The spiraling,
gyroscope motion of the body made wires impossible—they’d get
tangled up. Finally, someone had sliced open the cleric’s neck and
drained all the blood. A small puddle of red was on the mosque roof,
but it was far less than the amount in an adult’s body. It looked like

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someone had drained the body elsewhere, dragged it to the mosque,
and then dumped a cup or so of blood they had saved on the roof.
Definitely strange, but she wasn’t quite in the mood. Maybe she’d
take another look at it later. A few more taps on her phone screen
carried her into the pleasant uselessness of the Internet. The warm
afternoon light mellowed her. Her cup of green tea relaxed her
stomach, and her eyes closed in sleep.

***

Knock, knock
Charlotte kicked as she jumped awake. She was a little sweaty, and
her sex ached. Must’ve been some dream.
Knock, knock
“I’m coming,” she said, rolling to her side and then sitting up.
Who could be at her door? No one had buzzed on the keypad to
come up. Someone from the building maybe? Some robber or rapist
let in by accident? She had to stop worrying so much. She jumped off
the couch and went to the door to check, tiptoeing in her socks so the
person at the door couldn’t hear her.
Through the peephole: A tall, built guy. Very tall, very built. Only
his chest and arms were visible.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Open the door.”
These words came resonant and smooth. They almost vibrated the
wooden door with their depth and richness. Who could speak like
that? Part of her knew the answer already. Her legs started to rub
together, as if something between them itched. She put her hand on

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the doorknob. Then she yanked her hand back without opening it.
Answer with no real idea who was out there? She wasn’t crazy.
“Who is it?” she said.
“It’s me,” said the voice, still calm and reassuring.
“No, who is it?” she said nervously.
“You already know.”

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Chapter 3

“Jackson?” Charlotte asked, ducking to try and see his head


through the peephole.
“Yes,” answered the voice.
She shouldn’t have opened the door with such confidence, such
ease, such hope and expectation. But she did. She put her fingers
around the doorknob, twisted, and tugged it open.
Broad and tall as the doorway itself, Jackson stood before her. His
green eyes, beneath his crop of chocolate-brown hair, looked straight
into her own.
“Good evening,” said Jackson. No emotion peeked out from his
smooth lips or his rock-solid jaw, but in his eyes flitted a mischievous
light.
“Um…” she started, shocked and unsure what to say. “Uh. Hi?”
“It’s great to see you again,” he replied warmly.
“Um, right. Good to see you too…”
Her mouth couldn’t put together a sentence to go after that. It was
too shocking. She hadn’t even known that he was still alive.
“Are you okay?” she asked nervously.
“Perfectly fine.”
She squinted at him and frowned. “How? I mean, all those
gunshots?”
“I was extremely lucky. They missed my major organs.”
“No,” said Charlotte flatly, not even pausing to consider it. “That’s

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impossible. You got shot like twenty times.”
“Actually, just five.”
“Really?”
“Yes,” said Jackson, and he planted one forearm on her doorjamb,
leaning into it casually. “That type of rifle, if you continuously fire,
starts to tilt upwards. Most of the bullets went over everyone’s head.”
“So you’re okay now?”
“Yes. I’m fully recovered.”
“That’s good,” she said, but something was off… It couldn’t be
that simple, could it? On the other hand, he did look very healthy.
“Congratulations on your recovery,” she added, not knowing what
else to say.
“Thanks.” His eyes were probing her, watching for her response.
“Mind if I come in?”
She hesitated. “Um… Why… Why are you here?”
“I need your help.”
“Okay,” she answered. She was still skeptical of him and couldn’t
just let a stranger into her home. “How did you know where I live?”
“Google,” he said simply.
“But I never told you my last name.”
“Yes you did. Pickersgill.”
That was her last name, but she’d definitely never told him. “No,”
she said firmly. “I never told you.”
“You did, but you don’t remember.”
She looked Jackson over. The loose navy hoodie he wore couldn’t
hide his powerful torso and arms. Navy sweatpants and basketball
shoes completed his athletic garb. He looked great—in perfect health,

29
apparently—but she would never tell a stranger in a club her last
name, no matter how charming or handsome he was.
“I’m sorry to show up like this,” he said, interrupting her thoughts
with a kind, gentler voice. “You’re worried. I understand. Seeing me
on the news, with all those people out looking for me, has made you
worry. I just need a bit of help. Actually, it’s not so grave. I’m only
hiding out a bit because I don’t have the proper documentation.”
“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said. “I mean, I heard that theory on the news
that you were an illegal immigrant, and I thought it made sense.”
“Can I come in?”
“Um,” she said, wanting to help him but hesitant. “I don’t know.
How did you get into the building?”
“The roof.”
“The roof?!”
He turned his palms up as if a bit embarrassed. “That was a joke. I
came in after somebody. Perhaps the doorman wasn’t paying
attention.”
Charlotte folded her arms. “He would’ve noticed you.”
“He didn’t.”
Charlotte leaned into the doorjamb, arms still crossed, blocking
him.
“I just find it very strange that you found my apartment,” she said.
“I mean, I’m happy to see you, and, you know, I understand things
can be difficult for immigrants. I want to help. You helped me, I’ll
help you. And for some reason, given how strange it is, you know,
given that you just showed up here after disappearing and seeing you
on the news—What I mean is that I just feel very comfortable around

30
you. And I shouldn’t. I’m not supposed to let you in.”
“But you will,” he said.
“Don’t get pushy.”
“If you’re not letting me in, I’ll go somewhere else.”
“Maybe that would be better.”
“Yes, you’re probably right,” he said, and he turned to go. As he
walked away, his broad shoulders rocked slightly from side to side.
The hoodie slid over the knots of muscle in his powerful back. His
strange rhythm as he moved—the smoothness and ease of his entire
body—reminded her of dancing with him. It had been so good to
follow and flow with his movements, shifting against the heat and
strength of his body.
And he’d saved her life.
“Jackson,” she said, and he turned his head to look. His chiseled
face, in the hallway’s half-light, was more beautiful than ever.
“Yes?” he said, turning to look.
“You can come in for a while.”
Charlotte lived in a one-bedroom on the third floor, with a decent
living room, plenty of windows, and a tiny kitchen she rarely used.
“You want anything to drink?” she asked as they came through the
door.
“Yessss,” he said, and the “s” at the end of this word almost hissed
as it came out.
“You sound thirsty. What do you want?”
“I was joking again,” he said, but there was nothing jovial in his
voice. “I don’t want anything.”
“You sure? I’ve got a couple of beers, milk, orange juice, tea.”

31
“No, thank you.” Jackson walked to her window and cracked the
venetian blinds. “Have you seen anyone strange outside your
apartment recently?”
“I haven’t been out much.”
As Jackson sidestepped to the next window, Charlotte scoped him
out. His hoodie was too small. As he raised one arm to peek through
the blinds, his hoodie lifted up and exposed the top of his lean
bottom. His sweatpants draped over a knot of muscle above his knee.
“But when you look outside,” he said, peering through the window,
“is anyone lingering?”
“Um,” she began, pausing to think it over. “Not really. I guess
there’s that woman across the street.”
“Where?”
“Right across the street,” Charlotte said. “Wasn’t there before.
Looks like a pretty normal homeless lady to me.”
“The woman with the blankets and white bag?”
Charlotte walked over to the window, right next to his powerful,
warm body.
“That one,” she said, leaning in to peer through the same gap
Jackson was looking through. “I mean, there’s only one sitting there.”
“I see,” said Jackson. His eyes narrowed in shrewd concentration.
“How long has this woman been there?”
“I don’t know. Awhile?”
“A few days or a few weeks?” he asked sharply.
Charlotte glanced up for a second and answered, “At least a week
or so.”
“She’s strange,” said Jackson. He turned to Charlotte and set his

32
large hand on her shoulder. “Now this is very important. I need to
know, have you seen any bloodhounds around here?”
Charlotte laughed. “Bloodhounds?”
“Yes.”
“You mean like for tracking people?”
“Yes.”
“You’re worried about bloodhounds?” said Charlotte, smiling,
trying not to laugh any more. “They don’t track people with
bloodhounds anymore.”
“Have you seen any?” said Jackson earnestly, ignoring to her
levity. “It’s important.”
“No, but I don’t go outside.” She set her hand lightly on his robust,
veiny forearm. “If anything, you should get away from the window in
case drones are out.”
“Yes. Good idea.”
Jackson stepped away from the window and stood there looking
down as if thinking. Then his eyes darted quickly about the room. His
legs shifted his weight back and forth several times.
She set her hand on his broad back. “You’re a national hero.
They’re not gonna ship you back to… Where was it you’re from?”
“Italy,” he answered, not looking up.
“Well, Italy’s a really nice country. I mean, even if they did ship
you back—”
“That’s not it,” he said, his voice dipping into a growl.
He checked another window, peering through her blinds with
absolute focus. Not knowing what else to do, Charlotte sat back down
and took up her laptop.

33
“Did you see the new video today?” she asked, trying to sound a
bit more cheery.
“What video?” he said, finally looking up at her.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal, but it’s all over the news now. My
brother said it pushed your video out of the news cycle.”
“That’s good,” said Jackson with a nod. He walked over to her sofa
and sat down beside her. Just two inches separated their legs. His
thigh made hers look tiny: His thick knee jutted out far past her own,
and long bars of muscle girded it.
“Here it is,” said Charlotte, clicking the video link. An ad started.
Jackson glanced up at her face, stared for one second, and then turned
back down to the computer screen. The glance made her stomach
tighten. This strange man in her apartment, looking at her like that.
She hardly knew him, and yet… Did the danger turn her on?
The ad finished and the video started. There it was again, the
Islamic cleric floating down from the mosque roof, spiraling and
twisting like a gyroscope. He’d taken that deliberate glance at her, so
she could take one at him. She raised her eyes.
Good God, he was gorgeous. His eyes, the color of banana leaves
flecked with cinnamon, beheld the video with bullet-proof
concentration. The laptop screen was a white rhombus in his widened
pupils. Skin the color of almond flesh stretched, clean-shaven and
free of any blemish, over his thick jaw. His cheekbone caught a
wedge of shadow. Jackson was beautiful but not cute. He might have
had the manliest face she’d ever seen.
His eyes turned up to hers. Her head jumped back on her neck.
“It’s fake,” said Jackson calmly. His voice was lower now—

34
smooth, easy, reassuring. He paused a second, looking at her—or
letting her look at him—and added, “They just edited out the wires.”
“Experts say there’s no wires,” she said, glancing for a second at
his plump, kissable lips. “The way he rotates—wires would get
tangled up.”
“Special effects, then,” said Jackson. “Green screen. Or they threw
him off in just the right way, to make him spin like that.”
She shook her head slowly. “He doesn’t accelerate. He should pick
up speed as he goes down.”
“They slowed down the later frames, then.”
She leaned in to move the video cursor back. Her elbow grazed
Jackson’s thigh. “See? The bird there, it’s flying at normal speed. So
they didn’t slow it down. But then the really weird part is, the guy
had his throat cut open and no blood.”
“No blood,” said Jackson, as if this bit were the most interesting.
He leaned in closer to the screen.
“But then there was a puddle on the roof,” Charlotte explained.
“But just a little puddle, nowhere close to the amount that would be
in him.”
The couch frame creaked as Jackson tensed his every muscle. His
whole body straightened, upright and alert, like a dog that hears
something humans can’t.
“What?” she asked.
“It’s…”
And a sort of growl came from his chest.
“What?” she asked again.
“Who would want to attract attention like this?”

35
This sudden change in him frightened her. She’d thought it was
just a weird video, but for Jackson to react like that, he must really
have seen something in it.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a signal,” he said, his keen eyes locked to the screen.
“What do you mean, a signal?”
He met her eyes, looked down a second, and then glanced at her
again.
“I can’t tell you,” he said, his voice softer.
“Why not?” she asked.
He ignored her question and clicked to watch the cleric video
again.
“Jackson, why not?” she asked again, stronger this time.
He moved the cursor on the video again before meeting her eyes.
“Because I’m not sure.”
It was the baldest lie Charlotte had ever heard. Jackson knew
exactly what the video meant, and he wasn’t telling her.
And with that lie, Jackson became just a strange man in her
apartment. A strange man who had people looking for him, who had
somehow survived multiple bullet wounds and disappeared. A strange
man who could easily overpower her.
“Jackson,” she said, trying not to let fear into her voice.
He looked up from the screen. “Yes?”
“What’s really going on here?”

36
Chapter 4

“What do you mean, exactly?” said Jackson.


“I mean, why are you here?” said Charlotte, sharpening her voice
to show she wanted the real answer.
“I told you,” he said casually, leaning back on the sofa. “The
immigration people are coming to get me.”
“No,” she said. “They don’t use bloodhounds to find people like
that. Why are you so worried about bloodhounds?”
“I can tell you, if you’d really like to know.”
“Go ahead then,” she told him.
“You’re sure?”
“Yes.”
Jackson leaned forward on the sofa. He turned his whole body to
face her. His eyes were the most earnest and serious ones she’d ever
seen.
“The fact is,” he said, flat and even, “I’m a vampire.”
Charlotte laughed so hard she spilled her tea. She jumped up to get
some tissues and then came running back.
“Since when do you have a sense of humor?” she asked, still
giggling.
“I’m serious.”
“Shut up!”
She slapped him across the arm and started to daub the spilled tea
off her chair.

37
“That was good delivery,” she said. “You never smile, do you?”
He shook his head slowly. “Wouldn’t want to show you my fangs.”
“What did you really do?” Charlotte said, trying to sound serious
but unable to get the laugh out of her voice. “Why are they looking
for you with bloodhounds?”
“They use bloodhounds because vampires don’t leave strong
scents. They need the best bloodhounds to track us. German
Shepherds or whatever won’t do.”
“You’ve used this bit before, huh?” she said, slightly flirtatious.
Jackson, his face serious, was still leaning forward off the back of
her sofa. “Yes.”
“It’s funny. I like that you can joke with me, even if you aren’t
smiling.” Charlotte flattened the curve in her smile, setting her
amusement aside for a second. “But look, I don’t like strangers in my
apartment. If you don’t tell me right now why you’re here—seriously
this time—I’m going to ask you to leave.”
He glanced off to the side. “I’m in trouble with some people.”
“With the law?”
“Not exactly.”
It was a vague answer—deliberately vague. And something about
the way Jackson said it made things click. Oh, maybe that’s it,
Charlotte thought. Jackson is in the mafia.
Shit. Why hadn’t she figured it out before?
“Okay,” she said. Her fluttering heart made her words come out
high and shaky. “Okay. So you’re in trouble with some people. Okay,
some people. And what are these people gonna do if they find you?”
“They’ll judge me according to their traditional rules and sentence

38
me.”
“What did you do?” she asked. “Wait, wait. No. Don’t tell me.”
“Okay, I won’t,” Jackson said. His large hand glided up from his
lap, slowly and tenderly, to shift a stray hair out of her face and tuck
it behind her ear. “But just so you know, it wasn’t something most
people would consider bad.”
Jackson’s gesture at once warmed and weakened Charlotte. She
glanced off to her laptop, which sat on the coffee table in front of her
sofa where they sat. It was too easy to trust Jackson—but he hadn’t
given her any real answers.
“So why’d you come here?” she asked.
“The people who are looking for me wouldn’t look here. They
don’t know you, don’t know that I know you.”
“So they’re not coming here?”
“No,” said Jackson plainly.
Charlotte raised both eyebrows. “Okay, but what if they do?”
“Then I’ll take care of it.” For the first time, Jackson’ deep, even
voice let in notes of arrogance—or not quite arrogance, more like the
cocksure talk of a champion fighter. “The goons they send around
with the dogs to look, yes, I can handle them very easily.”
She sized him up—yes, he could handle anyone pretty easily.
“How long do you need to stay here?” she asked.
“A few days.”
“How many, exactly?”
“Two.”
She nodded. “One more thing,” she said.
“What?”

39
“You know my last name. I want to know yours.”
“In the old country, it was Raccogliere,” he said. The long Italian
name trilled from his mouth, mellifluous and precise. “Giacomo
Raccogliere. But it’s hard for English-speakers to pronounce. So
when I filled out the forms here, I used Jackson Racco.”
“It’s a beautiful name,” she said, and she meant it. But something
was off. “Wait, you put Jackson Racco on the forms?”
“Yes,” he said bluntly.
“But I thought you said you were having problems with your
documents.”
His eyes stayed on hers. He said nothing. God, he was gorgeous.
Then he told her, completely serious,
“Vampires have to get new documents every so many years.”
“Oh, right,” she said sarcastically. “Because you don’t die.”
“That’s correct,” he said, and the tip of his tongue wet his lips just
slightly. “But I do have my old driver’s license with me. Would you
like to see it?”
Of course she wanted to see it.
He took a standard wallet from his rear pocket and produced a
card. As she took the license from Jackson’s fingers, their skin
brushed each other. A tingle shot through her arm and down into her
body. His fingers were long, thick, and impressive.
The style and feel of the license matched her own, that of New
York State. She examined it: Jackson Racco, born… that would make
him about 38 years old.
When she looked up from the card, his brooding eyes were taking
her in. His beauty shocked her. At the same time, a powerful calm

40
filled his whole face. She looked back down at the driver’s license.
His address was a P.O. box. The license was quite expired—judging
from the expiration date, he got the card over ten years ago. And yet
he didn’t look one day younger in the photo.
She glanced up at Jackson: Yep, exactly the same as he was ten
years ago. And beautiful. Jaw-dropping. An Adonis.
“You’re incredibly attractive,” he said to her, apparently feeling the
same way.
She smirked awkwardly. “I’m okay.”
“No,” he said—and he was not disagreeing: He was telling her she
was wrong. “You’re much more attractive than other women.”
Jackson said this with such force and seriousness that it almost
made her squirm. “Um. Thanks?”
Perhaps noticing her discomfort, he rose from the sofa and walked
over to her bookshelf.
“I noticed your books when I came in,” he said, notes of approval
and warmth coming into his voice. “You like paper, not e-books?”
“Um, yeah,” she said. “I mean, I read e-books too, but paper is nice
sometimes.”
“I like to read.”
“That’s good,” she said. “Me too.”
Jackson’s eyes were wider than normal, genial and soft. “That’s
great,” he said.
He turned to the bookshelf, ducking down to read each spine.
Charlotte got off the sofa and joined him by the bookcase. His hands
rested on the sides of the shelf. They were smooth with a few tufts of
hair and clean, perfectly trimmed fingernails—but he had such thick,

41
robust fingers. Charlotte was reminded of a group of strongmen who
did motivational speeches—they had come to her school in ninth
grade, and one of them had squeezed a closed can of cola until it
exploded. Jackson could do that no problem. He could do that all day.
Jackson drew a thick volume, its back held together with several
strips of packaging tape, from the shelf.
“This is my favorite book you have here,” he said, leafing through
the book with interest.
“Is that Bleak House?”
“Yes.”
She frowned a bit. “Really?”
“Yes,” said Jackson, noting her skepticism. “Definitely.”
“It’s kind of rambly.”
“It’s not rambly, it’s rich,” said Jackson, rotating one shoulder
away from the shelf to face her head-on. About a foot separated
Charlotte from the ripped vastness of his broad chest and hot abs.
“People liked that back then. They liked more thickness, more
content. Yes—rich.”
Charlotte almost said, You don’t seem like someone who would
read that much.
“It’s okay, I guess,” she said instead. Being so close to him, with
his whole body turned to face her, was making it hard to keep focus
in the conversation. “I only made it to page two hundred. I was
supposed to read it in college.”
Jackson held Bleak House in one hand and ran the fingers of the
other along her book spines. His chin tilted up as he noticed a large
protein powder shaker bottle on the very top of the bookcase.

42
“You’re a weightlifter?” he asked, taking the bottle off the shelf
with his free hand.
“Oh, no,” she said, somewhat embarrassed. She had about as much
muscle as a piece of cheap bacon. “That was my ex-boyfriend’s.”
“Ex-boyfriend,” Jackson said, intrigued. “Was the breakup recent?”
“Oh no. It was a while ago. It’s just… he left that over here, and he
never really asked for it back, and it’s the only really big cup I have. I
mean, he has plenty of other ones. He was in med-school and got
really into fitness and nutrition, so he has lots of other shaker
bottles.”
“I see,” said Jackson, and he replaced the shaker bottle on top of
the bookshelf. “You said you had to read Bleak House in college.
When did you graduate?”
Charlotte gave him a clever smile. “You’re trying to figure out how
old I am.”
“Yes.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll tell you if you tell me.”
“Born sometime in the early seventeen seventies,” he said,
completely serious. “Remade in seventeen ninety-nine.”
“Right,” she said, raising a flirty eyebrow. “Vampire.”
“Yes.”
“Well then, I’m a werewolf, and I was born in like, fifteen fifty-
five.”
Jackson leaned his head toward her so that she caught a slight
whiff of citrus from his mouth. “You’re lying.”
She smirked cutely. “Well what could give you that idea?”
“I’ve never met a werewolf,” he said, his large head and smooth

43
lips still very close to her own. “But in our legends, werewolves have
shorter lives than humans. Not longer.”
She blinked a few times but didn’t break eye contact. “I guess you
caught me.”
Jackson took one hand off the shelf and laid it, solid as a rock yet
gentle, on her shoulder.
What’s coming? she thought.
But then he removed his hand, leaned back from her, and bent
down to the book.
“You’re weird,” she said.
“Yes,” he said forcefully, apparently in full agreement.
“Why do you say ‘yes’ instead of yeah?”
“Not sure,” he said, glancing up for a second to consider the
question. “English isn’t my first language.”
“How many languages can you speak?”
“I don’t know. Ten.”
“Ten?” she said, skeptical. “Really, ten? Like what?”
“Mostly Western European ones,” he said. “English, standard
French, Italian, Sardinian, Spanish—”
“Oh! I took Spanish in college.”
“Shall we speak in Spanish, then?”
“Oh, no,” said Charlotte, worrying for a second. She’d made low
B’s and C’s in Spanish, and got passed over for a semester abroad. “I
forgot most of it after I graduated.”
Jackson faced her full-on again, replacing the book on the shelf.
“You never told me when that was.”
Wanting to get away from any chance of speaking Spanish,

44
Charlotte told Jackson her year of graduation. They exchanged all the
getting-to-know-you pleasantries they’d skipped up to that point:
jobs, family, favorite authors, hometown. Jackson came from a small
town in Italy, a place she’d never heard of.
“Italians haven’t heard of it either,” he said with a laugh.
His father had been a farmer, and his father’s father and so on
before that. Jackson still liked to grow things; he liked to watch the
green shoots of a baby plant reach out from the black dirt toward the
sun. In his teenage years, he was apprenticed to a stonemason, and he
enjoyed that work as well. While he spoke, his passion grew,
burgeoning forth from him like the young plants of which he talked.
She could listen to him talk all day.
Jackson wasn’t who she’d thought he was. She’d seen him as a
stud, a hunk, a sculpted and near-perfect specimen with confidence
and charisma, who knew he had these things, and who, knowing
such, probably did little but meet and sleep with many women. That,
and go to the gym.
But that wasn’t Jackson at all. No. More and more, as she got to
know him, nuances emerged in his voice and his stoic face. His eyes
had a way of moving and glittering that hinted at powerful emotions
within. His strength and nonchalance were so much lacquer over the
surface, but these were not who Jackson was. At times, he seemed
almost sensitive. And if he never quite came off as erudite or even
particularly learned, this was a man with a wealth of experience and a
calm that came from hard-won wisdom.
She almost started to trust him—and she shouldn’t. She knew she
shouldn’t. He fascinated her; she wanted him. And that attraction

45
perhaps made her draw too many conclusions about a man she didn’t
know. Jackson talked plenty but said nothing about what he did now,
or who was looking for him, or why he’d come to her apartment. And
wasn’t it just too incredible that he got shot so many times, all the
bullets missed vital organs, and then he could just jump out the
window like that?
Despite this doubt, her attraction for him grew. From time to time,
as she listened to his deep voice and looked in his beautiful gold-
green eyes, a jet of heat shot from her core into her legs, her guts, her
breasts. It was almost painful. Her whole body tightened up. Shifting
her hips on the sofa, she couldn’t help but notice her own wetness.
Had she ever been so horny? It wasn’t like her to be so very ready to
hop into bed with a strange man, but something about Jackson just
made everything feel so comfortable and safe.
So her doubts about Jackson got tucked away. She’d just have to
ask him to clear things up later. Later, perhaps, after his smooth lips
had met hers.
They still stood by the bookshelf, close together but not close
enough. She bit her lip and shot him a lusty glare. He kept right on
talking. Had he even noticed?
Just then, he said something about music. She saw her chance.
“Yeah, I’ve got music on my computer,” she said, struggling to
sound friendly but not too eager. “I know you’re a good dancer.
Maybe you could teach me a dance.”
He looked into her, his eyes brooding, his lips flat. Yet she sensed,
more than she saw, that her request made him quite happy.
“What?” she asked.

46
“Charlotte,” he said. His voice rumbled, sexual and raw. “That’s a
very good idea.”

47
Chapter 5

Jackson rose slow and easy and walked over to Charlotte’s laptop.
“Give me a second to find some music,” he said seductively.
As Jackson bent over to use Charlotte’s laptop, his sweatpants slid
over his toned butt and rippled across the long muscles of his thighs.
He typed the way her father did—staring at the keyboard and poking
with his fingers. But unlike her father, Jackson did this so fast, she
could hardly see his fingers.
“Ah,” he said, excited. “Got it.”
From her wireless speaker came strange string instruments, a patter
of drums, and the tinkling of some kind of percussion.
“This?” said Charlotte, skepticism tilting her voice up.
“It’s more traditional, sure,” Jackson said. “But wait for it. It’ll get
you.”
As the song started, gentle and slow, Jackson’s whole body bobbed
just a little. But each part moved in a different way. His fingers and
feet, and hips and his knees, his shoulders and stomach all shifted
uniquely. As the music picked up, the curves of his motion widened.
The song built layer on layer. And as each different layer in the music
hit a note or a turn, so did some little part of Jackson turn or jump,
and yet all of it flowed together across his whole, his moving parts
distinct and yet in harmony, the consummate reflection of the song
itself.
Without trying, Charlotte found her own body moving too, aping

48
Jackson, locked with him, rhythmic with him. Their eyes held
together. His green irises engulfed her, and yet the rest of her body
somehow still saw and moved with the rest of his.
A strain of music that had hidden behind the rest surged forth and
unhinged their joints. Charlotte and Jackson didn’t touch each other,
but they couldn’t have been closer. Waves of heat rolled off his
vigorous body as they danced harder and harder. She had to blink the
sting of sweat from her eye. The music clapped and the lights in her
apartment flickered off and then back on. It rose again and crested
and still they danced, and when the song ended with a sudden
flourish, they stood still and she panted, covered in sweat.
Before she could say anything—before she could even stop to
think—a tango rippled through the air, and Jackson’s lean, long,
powerful arm snaked around her waist and yanked her hard against
his stout torso. The whole length of her soft body pressed against his
muscles. Raw, searing arousal gushed from her sex.
But he gave her no rest. The dance began. They strutted and spun.
Somehow, in her small living room, he never bumped a wall or a
table. Her body moved with his will and his direction, and still the
sweat dripped down her face as he spun and flipped and pulled at her.
When their tango finished, they stood with each other again, eyes
locked, hot and aroused in the silence.
He met her mouth with butter-soft lips and deft kisses full of
longing. His mouth opened and closed around hers, tugging her lips
with careful, powerful strokes. The hardness and size of him, pressed
against her, filled her with profound need. She stood on tiptoe to kiss
him more deeply, grabbing around the back of his neck. He wrapped

49
one of his huge hands around her bare neck and held her in position.
She raced her tongue into his mouth. His tongue met hers with vigor.
He tasted minty clean and fresh.
It stopped. His head pulled away. His breath whispered across her
wet lips.
“What?” Charlotte asked.
His green eyes smoldered as he looked down into her. Her chest
heaved. A bead of sweat trickled between her breasts. Lick it off. He
should lick it off. Right now. Seize her and crush her against him.
Take her with all his brute power. Grab the thickness straining
through his pants and enter.
His eyes traveled down her body and back up again. He wanted
what he saw.
She lunged in to kiss him again. Stout hands on her shoulders held
her back.
“Charlotte,” he said. His voice rolled out low, throaty, and half
animal. “This really isn’t a good idea.”
“Stop playing,” she said.
“You don’t know what you’re getting into.”
“I’m not a child,” she said, angry and impatient.
“You don’t understand,” he said. Was he teasing or warning her?
She couldn’t tell. “I’m involved with bad people.” His words came
out slow and severe. “I am a bad person.”
Jackson was telling her this seriously, she saw. But it was an odd
thing to say. Maybe he has some kind of guilt complex.
“I’m sure you’re not that bad,” she said, running her hand over his
shoulder and upper arm, trying to ease him off the topic.

50
“I am,” he maintained.
“Let’s keep dancing,” Charlotte said, grabbing his hand.
But Jackson released her somewhat sweaty palm and plopped
down on the couch. “Let me sit down for a minute.”
“What, are you tired already?”
He said nothing. He did not look at her. He lounged on her sofa as
if in a room full of strangers.
She wanted to scream—him dancing like that, kissing her, and then
ignoring her. Why? What was he trying to do? But two could play at
that game. She walked over to the little table where she ate breakfast
and dinner, sat on the simple wooden chair behind it, and took out her
phone.
She tapped over the screen aimlessly, unable to even feign interest
in it. Still, she would win this. It was clear he wanted her as well.
She’d wait, and he’d come over to her.
Or they’d keep up this game too long. She’d keep playing this “I’m
not interested” game and miss what would surely be the best sex of
her life. What did he look like right now?
When she glanced up from her phone screen, Jackson was already
walking toward her. He towered over her as she sat in the little
wooden chair. His huge body blocked her view of the rest of the
room. He reached down, put one large hand under each of her
armpits, and lifted her clear off her chair.
Her heart leapt in her chest as he lifted. A broken, strange gasp
rushed from her lips. Fear wormed in her stomach, and yet—was she
getting wet? Yes. Definitely. The way this strange man moved her
entire body, handling her with such power and ease—it very much

51
turned her on.
Still holding her in the air, with her feet dangling toward the
ground, Jackson turned and walked to the couch. He set her down in
front of him. A few inches separated their bodies. Heat rolled off him
and through her body.
What the hell are you waiting for? Kiss me!
And just like that, he lowered his mouth to hers.
At first, his lips brushed over hers lightly—sliding across like
buttered silk, smooth and warm and slightly salty. Then he kneaded
her lips with his own, gently, stretching her skin just a tad. She put
her hands on his abs—warm, fatless, hard yet yielding. Then she
reached around the ridges of muscle on his side and onto his broad
back. The callouses of his broad palm came down on the side of her
neck, and his fingers wrapped around her nape. With this hand,
Jackson gave the tiniest pull, and Charlotte pressed her whole body
into him. Her shins, her thighs, her sex, her stomach, her breasts—all
lay flush against his warm, hard body. Her spine arched, pillowing
her full breasts against his abs. He grunted. A pulse of blood lifted his
sex.
Then his warmth shifted away from her. Nowhere did his body
touch hers, save for his two hands on her shoulders, holding her
away. She opened her eyes: Rock solid jaw, shimmering green eyes,
rosy lips she could still feel kissing her—God he was sexy.
“Charlotte,” he said, his voice rumbling with lust. “I’m a bad
man.”
Shut up and keep going.
“I don’t care,” she said.

52
She raised up on her tiptoes to kiss him. His mouth covered hers.
Their lips opened into each other. His tongue glided over the contours
of her lips. He tasted like mint mixed with something savory. His
hand clamped her butt. Her feet left the ground. Their kiss broke as
she gasped in excitement. Then his mouth continued to work her
own. With each sweep of his tongue and curl of his lips, her core
pulsed harder. Her thighs clenched around his brawny, immovable
torso. Her hips started to sway and press her wetness into him. She
had strong hips, but as she bucked and mashed her sex across his
iron-hard body, he never swayed: His kiss only deepened. Their
tongues jabbed and thrust in rhythm. Her body melted into his.
Hunger consumed her. Her flesh craved more. She needed his
hardness. She needed his strength and power and perfect rhythm in
her body’s deepest places.
Dogs barked outside. Their kiss stopped, and Jackson turned to
look at the window. But he did not set her down.
“You need to check on that?” said Charlotte.
His head turned back to her. Something furious and wild boiled in
his eyes.
“No,” he said, his voice raw and deep. And he grabbed her and
with one motion kissed her and slammed her body into his, so hard it
hurt. She slid her hands under his shirt; he trembled as her hands met
his bare skin.
“I want you,” growled Jackson.
“Yes.”
He seized her and chucked her over his shoulder. In half a second,
he was flinging her down on her bed. The lights in her bedroom never

53
came on—but Jackson’s hands and mouth had no trouble finding
anything. He caressed and squeezed, tickled and pressed, teased and
took with perfect familiarity. She lay back on the bed and he crawled
on top. His broad shoulders engulfed her, trapping her between him
and the mattress. One of his wide palms came down flat against her
dripping, sodden, horribly aroused cunt. She mashed herself on his
hand right through her pants. A grunt of approval rumbled through his
throat. His other hand captured her right breast.
“Good,” he said, his voice rumbling with approval. “Yes. Good.”
He kissed her as he used his hands, and she found her inner thigh
brushing up against his sex—Jesus, he was thick. And rock hard.
Wow. His mouth moved down her neck and toward her chest. When
he ran up against the hem of her shirt, his strong hands sat her up and
yanked the shirt off. Then his hands went around her back and
worked with effortless finesse. Her bra almost evaporated. As
Jackson did this, Charlotte palmed his thickness through his
sweatpants.
“It’s so big,” she moaned.
He pulled back from her in the dark. The change in his pockets
tinkled as his pants hit the floor.
Then his body smothered hers again, creaking the mattress with his
size and force. Jackson kissed her on the mouth. His tongue and lips
took from her, hungry and demanding. She met his stiff, probing
tongue with a soft, yielding one. Her hand found his sex, bare and
throbbing against her in the dark room. She trailed her fingers up and
down its considerable length. He was not circumcised. With her
fingertips, she explored the tiny wrinkles in his foreskin.

54
A moan from Jackson vibrated her lips as he kissed her. His warm,
wet kiss shifted from her lips down her chin, her neck, the top of her
chest, and over to her left breast. He tongued and suckled her nipple.
Another approving moan came out, vibrating through her soft breast.
With her nipple in his mouth, his hand slid from her other breast
southward. Yes, good. He’s on his way down there. But his hand
lingered to enjoy each part of her body: He tickled the fold beneath
her breast with his fingernail. He flattened his palm across the bottom
of her ribcage, then lifted up to leave only a finger trailing over her
navel, heading south. But before he reached the spot where she most
wanted him, the finger pulled away too. Maybe I should just grab
him and show him where to go.
His hand met her flesh again just above the knee, continuing its trip
of leisure. His fingers crept up her thigh, and just when he had
nowhere else to linger, he slid the tip of his finger up the joint where
her leg met her crotch. He was so close. Her sex was on fire, swollen
and aching and ready. Ready right now.
She tore her panties off and flung them into the dark room. Then
she slid her hips down toward him, closer to his cock, and took his
manhood in her hand.
“So fast,” he said, his voice deep and deliciously teasing.
“Go in,” she urged. He didn’t move. She groaned, angry and
frustrated. Air whispered from Jackson’s mouth—Is he laughing at
me?
“No,” he said sharply.
His finger grazed the surface of her opening, tracing up and down
its length. No. Go in. Her mouth sought his and found it, but his

55
kisses had changed yet again. Now they backed off and then plunged
forward, making her reach for them—teasing her. His finger worked
across her outside, tickling and exploring her wet, engorged folds.
Finally, he stuck one thick, hard finger inside.
“Mmm,” she moaned.
The finger circled the inside. Somehow, it came to rest right on her
favorite place and pressed in.
“Ahh!” she yelped.
“You like that spot,” he told her. He knew it was true: He wasn’t
asking a question. He massaged her inside, drawing his finger back
and forth with slow strokes. He kneaded her spot with patience and
precision. He kissed her and suckled her breast as she squirmed
beneath him, wild with pleasure and want. His strokes came faster
and faster. Her breath went ragged. Moans roared up her throat. Her
legs kicked and her hips rocked. She grinded her sex against his hand,
and all the while his finger never lost its rhythm inside her. His hand
was solid as a rock. Another finger joined in, and they plucked and
moved with a guitarist’s rhythm, over and over in wonderful ways
across her favorite inside place. She rolled and bucked her hips
against it, and her legs flopped about wildly, and that stout hand alone
held her in place and kept rubbing and rubbing and making her—
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!”
She groaned a chorus. His fingers did not stop.
When he finally pulled his hand free, she lay back stunned on the
pillows. Sweat soaked the bed. His firm body rested against hers. He
drew his hand from her slick underparts and raised it close to their
faces. Her scent, thick and pungent, wafted from his wet hand.

56
“Hmm,” he said, smacking his lips. “Tastes good.”
Her hand found his cock again—still perfectly hard and pulsing
beneath her touch. He kissed her again—gentler now, but a forced,
tense gentleness. His muscles twitched beneath her touch; he wanted
to come as badly as she had.
She tried to make her fingers into a ring around his shaft, but he
was too thick. She could not get her fingers into a full circle without
squeezing him very tight. But she wrapped her fingers around as
much as she could and slid this ring up and down him several times.
He thrust into her hand once, and a second time.
She lifted her feet and knees up off the bed, tilting her sex up
toward him. She reached toward his butt and pressed it down toward
her.
“Wait a second,” he told her, his guttural voice confirming he
understood what he wanted. The warmth of his body left. The yellow
hint of streetlight through the window glowed on his nude, chiseled
form as he reached to the floor to dig in his trousers. The foil of a
condom wrapper crinkled in his hand. His speed was shocking; in
under two seconds, he’d torn the package and unrolled it onto his
pulsating shaft.
Then his body was back atop her, a warm, heavy darkness so broad
it blocked any glimpse of the rest of the room. He grabbed her legs
and set her feet on his own chest. Her sex pointed at him, exposed
and ready. Her whole body tensed with anticipation. Her stomach
fluttered.
He entered.
Inch by inch, he filled her most intimate aching places. His

57
thickness tugged apart her tightest areas. Thrust after thrust after
thrust opened her. His cock was wonderful. She lay back and
moaned, helpless and lost. Raw pleasure boiled from her core,
surging out through her stomach, her breasts, her butt, and her legs.
And the rhythm. She’d seen that rhythm since the first time they
met. Now he played her like his instrument. His tempo swayed and
rolled and picked up speed, and just when she came close, he slowed
again. Now his rhythm was her joy and her agony. Thrust and thrust
and thrust, sweating into the bed, her whole body giddy, aching,
crazy—reduced to nothing but pleasure.
Her second orgasm broke free, rocketing from her sex through her
entire body. It jolted through her wave after wave, swallowing her
whole, far more intense than the first. Her fingernails burrowed into
his back. Her groans echoed through the room. Thrust after thrust in,
delicious waves pouring out, muscles shaking and doddering,
moaning and sweating and clenching around Jackson’s iron shaft.
Jackson, Jackson, Jackson—yes, yes, yes!
Her senses came back. Jackson was still moving inside her. Slowly,
as the remainder of her orgasm wore down, his thrusting picked up.
He split her faster and faster. Sweat dripped over his slabs of muscle;
her own salt trickled into her eyes. His thrusts came like machine-gun
fire, too fast and a bit painful. She screamed and clawed at the
bedsheets. He thrust even faster and his cock flexed inside her. A
colossal, beastly groan burst from him as his seed jetted into the
condom.

***

58
On the bed together, after their lovemaking, Charlotte and Jackson
sprawled out exhausted. They intertwined themselves and touched
each other with their hands, their lips, their faces, their feet. Each
meeting of their skin was both an exploration and a caress. Jackson’s
hand visited the top of her shoulder, the dimples in her lower back,
the crease between her buttocks and upper thigh. Charlotte traced the
lines between Jackson’s abs and toyed with his nipple. She palmed
the warm bulge of his biceps and the flat slabs of his pecs. She had
never been with such a strong, built man before. Her previous
boyfriend had been in shape, and perhaps almost as tall as Jackson,
but he wasn’t, well—no one would confuse him for an NFL player.
She raised her head and kissed over his abs. The lines between
them were just as clear to her lips and tongue. His skin shifted ever so
slightly beneath her touch. Just laying her mouth on it or gliding over
it with her hands aroused her. He really had a flawless body.
Flawless?
Wait a second—it shouldn’t be flawless. Something was off—
“Where are the gunshot wounds?” Charlotte asked.

59
Chapter 6

“Gunshots?” Jackson asked Charlotte, confused by her question.


“The bullet holes,” said Charlotte, as if it were obvious. “Where
you got shot that night.”
“They healed,” he told her. The sex had deeply relaxed him, and
this came out in his mellow, smooth voice.
“No, but the scars,” she said insistently. “Where are the scars?”
He kissed her forehead slowly and said in the same relaxed voice,
“Vampires don’t scar.”
She laughed a little, just to be polite at his joke attempt.
“I’m serious,” she specified. “You said the bullets didn’t hit any
major organs, but still… five rounds from an assault rifle? I’m a bit
confused.”
“I understand,” he said, running a strand of her hair through his
fingers. “Just entertain the idea that I’m a vampire, and it will all
make sense.”
She took a second, in the darkness of her bedroom, to think of what
to say next. This man had been inside her. She couldn’t let him off so
easy. It was time to get those answers out.
“I don’t like to think about that night too much,” Charlotte began.
“But I remember, he shot you and you were limping. But then you
jumped out the window and ran off like that. And afterward, they
couldn’t find you at any of the hospitals. And you seem perfectly
healthy. Better than healthy. You certainly didn’t lose any muscle

60
from your time away from the gym, which I think, being shot five
times, that should happen. And I think… Okay, it just occurred to me.
Isn’t the clearest explanation that you never got shot?”
“You were right behind me,” said Jackson. “You didn’t feel it when
the bullets hit me?”
She did. She remembered it clearly. “Yeah. But… that’s just not
possible.”
As they spoke, Jackson was trailing his fingertips slowly from her
wrist to her shoulder, pausing here and there to thumb her moist,
smooth skin.
“So your logic says, ‘He can’t have been shot,’” he said. “And
your memory says, ‘He was shot.’ And you think one of them must
be wrong.”
“Exactly,” said Charlotte. “And a night like that, it’s very
traumatic, and maybe I’m a little crazy and my memory of it has
gotten mixed up, and for some reason, the memory of you being shot
in front of me feels real, but it never happened. Memory’s not
absolute.”
“It happened,” he told her gently, still touching her with affection.
“If it happened, you should have bullet scars, and you should’ve
gone to the hospital.”
“Your memory is perfectly accurate,” he assured her. “The
explanation is that I’m a vampire.”
And now Charlotte pulled away from him, putting about a foot of
bed between them. “I’m not superstitious,” she told him. “Why do
you keep going with that? It’s not funny anymore.”
“It’s not supposed to be funny.” Jackson’s voice was calm with

61
understanding but very serious. “I joke about it because it gets
humans used to the idea. What you’re feeling is normal. You can’t
accept that there’s another species that looks just like you and never
dies, right here living among you. It seems impossible, ridiculous.
You said you’re not superstitious. You consider yourself a logical
person who doesn’t believe in such nonsense. Or maybe part of you
thinks it could be true but don’t want the world to think you’re crazy.
What you’re really feeling is denial. It’s a natural reaction.
“You won’t believe me tonight. I’ve had this conversation with
humans before. You need a bit more time. I can see it. If it makes you
feel better, you can tell yourself that I was wearing space-age body
armor, or that I was on drugs, or that the bullets went over my head
and you imagined your own memories. Or whatever Internet
explanation that makes most sense to you. But I want to ask you to do
something, before we sleep. Before the sun comes up.”
Charlotte was wary of him now but had to know what he’d ask her
to do. “What is it?”
“I want you to stop and consider one thing. You find many things
about me strange, and curious, and impossible. You can ignore them,
or, if you look hard enough, you can find ways to explain them. But
the only explanation that will work for every strange part of me, for
every strange thing that has happened and far more things you’ll see
—only me being a vampire answers everything.”
Charlotte had no idea what to say. “It’s weird,” she finally put out
there.
“It is weird,” he admitted. “But I’m very serious about this. You’re
a logical person, and I respect that about you. I like that. But that

62
logic can’t find the answer where you want to look for it. So take that
logic and point it elsewhere, just to try it out. I want you to close your
eyes and think of it. Think that I am not a human, though I once was.
Think of the fact that I am superhuman and immortal. Think, most
importantly, of the fact that once a month or so, I kill a human to feed
myself.”
Charlotte pulled her knees to her chest. “This is kind of dark.”
“Yes,” said Jackson. “That’s who I am.”
“I mean, it’s not funny anymore.”
“There is no humor. I’m not trying to be funny. I knew you’d laugh
the first time I said it, but I wasn’t joking. A human who hears
something like that can only think you’re strange, or crazy, or making
a joke. I was glad you laughed. I didn’t want to scare you. But we’re
done with pretenses. Before we sleep, I want you to think of it,
seriously, one time. You’re going to have to put all your common
sense aside and think, just for a second, of me really being a
vampire.”
“Fine.”
She eased her eyelids down.
You were born before America was a country. You’ve lived for
over two centuries. That’s how you learned so many languages. You
don’t move like a normal person because you aren’t human. You lift
me off the sofa without even trying, without the slightest hint of
effort, because you are strong enough to stop a car with your hands.
You jumped through a second floor window and stopped bullets from
an assault rifle. You caved in a man’s skull with one punch. That
wasn’t the first person you’ve killed.

63
Once a month for hundreds of years?
Her knees knocked into Jackson’s hard stomach. Her head knocked
up against the backboard. That last thought had been a punch in the
gut. It stung her mind and knocked her eyes open.
“Jackson, why did you tell me that?” she said, almost yelling.
“I want you to understand me,” he said. Melancholy dampened his
voice. “To understand who and what I am.”
“You’re making me uncomfortable,” said Charlotte, her voice half-
muted and nervous.
“I’m sorry,” said Jackson. “I just want to speak honestly with you.
I feel a connection with you. And I know you feel a connection with
me.”
Yes, she did. He was right about that—They had a real connection,
as strong as she’d ever felt with anyone. But something about him…
I can’t sleep in bed with that thing.
Charlotte shook her head like a dog after a sneeze.
“You okay?” asked Jackson.
“Yeah,” said Charlotte. “I mean, I like you. You’re really
interesting, and you, um, you’re hot, and… you know, I like you. But
I really feel uncomfortable around you right now, and, um, maybe
you could sleep on the couch.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said bluntly, as if dealing with a child.
Charlotte sat right up in bed.
“I’m ridiculous?!” she cried out.
He tried to calm her with his voice. “Let’s just go to sleep.”
“No,” she said, furious. “What’s that supposed to mean, I’m
ridiculous?”

64
“You just need some sleep,” he said. “You’ve been up too late.”
“Don’t condescend me,” she half-shouted. “Get out of my bed, and
if you want to argue more, you can get out of my house and find
somewhere else to hide from the police, or the mafia, or whoever!”
“But I can’t sleep in there,” said Jackson. His matter-of-fact voice,
somewhat cold and arrogant, angered her more. “Your curtains aren’t
good. The sun will get me.”
“Shut up! You’re sleeping on the couch, and the only reason I don’t
kick you out is that you saved my life.”
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the sofa for right now.”
What presumption!
“For right now?” she yelled.
“I need something to cover my head while I’m sleeping.” He was
ignoring her anger. “Could you lend me a winter coat?”
“Get a towel out of the bathroom.”
“The sun can go through a towel.”
“Fine,” she said, ready to scream. She’d play along with his
vampire thing if it got him out of the room faster. “My old jacket is
the black one on the top shelf of the closet.”
He stepped over to the closet and pulled a folded black bundle
from the top shelf. “This will work. Thank you.”
“Good night,” Charlotte said, and she slammed her bedroom door
behind him.
With Jackson gone, Charlotte snuggled deep into her covers. But
his scent had soaked into the sheets. It all came out and swarmed into
her nose. Her head spun and her sex quivered. Her neck stretched to
press her face deep into the mattress. Each whiff made her shake with

65
anticipation and sweat with desire. But what was this scent exactly? It
was spicy, sexy, subtle, and yet intoxicating. What could it be? She
had no idea. Another whiff. Now the scent was gone. Was it even
there? Had it vanished? Another whiff. No, it still stank of Jackson.
Fire and want tickled her body. But when she went for another whiff,
the scent vanished again. Does it smell at all?
Run out there, back to him. Invite him to your bed.
He knew she would. He wasn’t sleeping, that sneaky vampire…
Laughs. Laughs sat her up in bed. He can’t really be so bad…
Doesn’t he relax you like other men don’t, doesn’t he make you feel
like other men don’t, doesn’t he make you come harder than other
men do? Stop trying to play this game and fight as if you don’t know
him.
But I don’t know him. He’s hiding from either the mafia or the
police. Hiding here, in my apartment. And when I tell him to get out
of bed, he says I’m being ridiculous. He could say I’m being
ridiculous if I don’t want sex and then he’d rape me.
Would I like that? Would I like him throwing me on the ground and
fucking me?
Where had her pants gone? Get on the pants and you can go out
and talk to him. Her foot found the pants and she dragged them
toward her with her toes. Then the same foot kicked them away. I
can’t go out there. That’s giving him too much. Yes, he made her
crazy. He knew he made women crazy, and now he was right
outside… I can’t go out to him.
Her whole body ached for him: his touch, his force, his strength,
his weight, his rhythm, and his thickness inside her. Yet it was more

66
than that. Yes, he was interesting. But it went further still. In her
mind’s deepest and darkest places, through her spirit and her
emotions and the strange forms underneath all her thoughts—Jackson
had done something to her. He had done something insane to her; she
could see that. Was this some vampire power, or simply love?
Her stomach churned like a live squid was inside it. Her forehead
burned like ice.
“No,” she said to herself. Had she said it out loud? “You’re fine.
He’s just a womanizer. He’s just good in bed, but nothing strange is
going on here.”
“I’m going to kill all the painted whores first.”
She gagged. The screaming and reek of clubgoer sweat and fear,
the sticky slippery blood and vomit, gunfire…
You’re fine, calm down. You’re going back to work in two days.
You just had a man over. Don’t think of that night. Don’t freak out…

***

The sky had lightened to an even shade of medium blue, about the
color on a French flag, when Charlotte was jolted back to sober
consciousness: Outside her window, from across the street, came the
throaty bark of bloodhounds.
“Charlotte, stay in your room!” came Jackson’s voice through the
door.

67
Chapter 7

Bloodhounds barked outside Charlotte’s building. Their voices


were strong and loud. They’d found someone.
“Stay in your room and keep quiet,” Jackson told her again, his
voice perfectly clear through her closed bedroom door.
But why should she listen to him? She found her pants with her
foot. But where could her shirt be? And who knew where her bra
was. She’d have to turn on the light. As she walked toward the light
switch, her big toe grazed a shirt. She got the shirt on, keeping the
lights off, and opened the door to the living room.
Blue light poured in from the living room’s larger windows. A
cobalt Jackson stood there looking at her, his eyes green and
beautiful. He shook his head at her.
A rattle came from her doorknob and then a creak. Someone was
trying to force their way in. The knob jiggled as if someone was
shaking it outside, but it didn’t make so much noise. It sounded more
like it was being tickled rather than forced open. It didn’t matter. It
was a reinforced door with a nice big deadbolt.
Click.
Lockpicks or something. They’d never get through the deadbolt,
though. She wasn’t an idiot. She’d had the deadbolt installed right
after moving in. Now Jackson pointed at her, then pointed to her
bedroom. She shook her head.
Jackson pointed to her room again. His face was dark, but his arm

68
jabbed swiftly into the air, angry, and commanding. Yes, you want me
back in my room. But they’ll never get through the—
Click.
What? No. Impossible.
The door swung wide open. Through it stepped a man, about five
eight, medium build, buzzcut. A second man followed. He stood
about six one and had broad shoulders but spindly little arms and
legs, and the head of a skinny guy.
Jackson greeted the man with a forced cordiality. “Claudio. Good
night.”
“Good night,” said Claudio. “What a pleasant surprise!”
His voice was jovial and yet bitterly ironic. He and the other
strange man faced Jackson. They never looked at Charlotte—perhaps
they’d missed her in the dark. She had to keep still. If she moved,
they’d see it.
“It’s twenty minutes before dawn,” said Claudio casually. “We can
get to the palazzo before then.”
“I’m not going,” said Jackson.
“That’s not up to you.”
Jackson voice dropped, implying a threat. “I think it is.”
“The chaps at the top would like to talk with you,” said Claudio
with the same odd jocularity. “Just a bit of— What are the fresh
Americans saying these days? Oh, that’s it. The higher-ups would
like some ‘bro-talk’ with you.”
“What happened with that body,” said Jackson, “on the news? The
one in front of the mosque?”
The shorter man moved to speak, but Claudio held his thin hand

69
out, and the shorter man stopped.
“Nice try, Giacomo,” said Claudio. “Or should I say, ‘Good effort,
bro.’ But you’re not distracting us. You ready to go or not?”
“Just tell me what you know about that cleric,” said Jackson. “It’s
disturbing.”
“Nearly as disturbing as what some other people do.”
“Don’t compare me to that,” said Jackson. “Let’s just talk here.
You’ll have my whereabouts, and I’ll come in in a few days.”
“Whatever you say,” said Claudio, his voice a sour mockery of
acquiescence. “You’d come in in a few days, and I’d have a fifty-inch
prick.”
“You want to take me in now, you’ll need reinforcements,” said
Jackson. “And you’d better call the best. You want to take me in,
you’d better call Ali and Memnon, or half of you won’t leave.”
“We have weapons.”
Jackson took one huge step towards Claudio, putting himself
within six inches of the shorter man. He thrust his chest out and his
arms spread to the sides. His fingers slowly balled to fists. There was
a beastly, palpable menace about Jackson—his eyes glinted with
savage instinct; his muscles bunched and tightened like a puma’s legs
before it leaps.
“You think that’ll help you?” he said to Claudio. His voice chilled
Charlotte: He sounded rough and cruel. He was mocking Claudio and
enjoying it.
The shorter man with Claudio reached around his back and pulled
something out of his belt, but it was too dark to know what it was.
“I’ll go in,” said Jackson, now taking a step back. “But we have

70
time. Just tell me what that was on the video, with the cleric, and the
way he was lowered. Because it worries me too. Can’t be just a
normal rogue. Who would have a drink and then lay it out like that?”
“Fine,” said Claudio, taking a step back from the larger man. “I’ll
tell you, and then we’ll take care of that red and go.”
As Claudio said “red,” he tilted his head at Charlotte. She gasped.
They’d known she was there the whole time.
“Okay,” said Jackson. He looked at Charlotte coldly. “You. Stay
there.”
The two men were in front of her door; she couldn’t have run if she
tried. But surely Jackson had a plan for this.
“To answer your question, Giacomo,” started Claudio, “a rogue has
shown up in the area, someone fairly old, but nothing special. The
vampire who lowered the body seems to have something against
religious figures, for whatever reason. But mostly they’ve just gotten
tired of it all, as vampires sometimes do, and gotten suicidal. So they
wanted to attract our attention, get us to put them out of it. It’s
happened in other cities. It’s common for rogues to do things like
this.”
“It can’t be so simple, though,” said Jackson.
“Why?”
“Lowering someone like that, from such a height, so steady, with
that motion. A clothed human body. They would have to be an
ancient.”
“So what?” said Claudio. “Old ones go crazy too.”
“They’d have to be very old,” said Jackson, “very powerful, to
lower a body like that.”

71
Claudio leaned one elbow against the wall, crossing his long, thin
legs like a stork. “Some of us put more work into our grasping than
others.”
“That’s why you had such trouble with the door.”
“You can’t even do coins,” said Claudio mockingly, “from what
I’ve heard.”
“That’s beside the point,” said Jackson gruffly. “Unlike you, I’ve
dealt with rogues before. I’ve seen ancients who would make your
lord look like a human child.”
“That’s funny,” said Claudio. “I’m sure he’d like to know you
compared him to red. But we’ll deal with the rogue, whoever or
however old they are, just as the house of Antonio Rafael has dealt
with instabilities for millennia. As we will deal with you. Now,
because you’ve been so fair, I’ll let you finish that red before we go.”
Jackson shrugged. “I just fed yesterday.”
“No shit? That’s a damn shame! We just fed last night too. A big fat
one. Enough red for three or four, but the two of us drank it all. I
couldn’t drink any more if I tried. Out the window, then?”
To this question, Jackson said nothing. Claudio turned his feet and,
pointing his body straight at Charlotte, laid his flinty and unemotional
gaze on Charlotte’s face.
Jackson wasn’t moving. Ice shards pulsed from Charlotte’s guts out
through her whole body. She leaned into the wall and clutched her
stomach, ready to pour her innards on the ground. Claudio took an
even, slow step toward her. His other foot swung forward, and he
reached for her ankle.
“Wait,” said the shorter man, who had waited silently this whole

72
time.
“What?” said Claudio.
“Is the window the best choice?”
“The window is always the best choice,” said Claudio.
“But we’re only on the third floor,” said the shorter man. “She
might not die.”
“Goddamn you’re green,” said Claudio.
In one instant—she couldn’t have said which happened first—
Claudio wrapped his spidery fingers around her arm, and Jackson’s
broad, solid, fortress-like body held her and braced her from behind.
“I’ve got her,” said Jackson.
Claudio let go of Charlotte. But his ugly eyes, like unpolished
chunks of gravel, still stuck to her. He didn’t see her as a human.
She’d been objectified before—she’d caught men leering. But no one
and nothing had ever looked at her like that. She backed up against
Jackson’s comforting form, steady as a mountain. Then Claudio’s
eyes moved off her and up to those of Jackson.
“Giacomo,” said Claudio, “you wanna explain to this milky why
the window is always the best option?”
Jackson responded gruffly, “Looks like you’re the one who’s
supposed to be training him.”
“Yes, I have to, don’t I?” said Claudio sourly. “Don’t I love my
job?”
Claudio turned away from the two of them and started to chew out
his apprentice. Jackson’s whole body pressed against her back: That
strength, that flush embrace and holding. Nothing would ever or
could ever happen to her when he was there. His powerful yet silky

73
hand grasped round her neck. With one finger’s push, he angled her
head up and kissed her. This kiss did not demand or take or lust;
rather, it told her something undefinable.
Is this his way of saying goodbye?
As he comforted her and kissed her, strange words came from
Claudio’s direction.
“The window is always the best choice, okay? First of all, you drop
her head down, and you use a gentle grip so as to leave no bruises on
the legs. You drop her head down, and ninety-nine percent of the
time, even from a second floor, they die. What if they don’t? Easy.
No problem. Better, in some ways, because you didn’t harvest, and
someone else can harvest later if they want. It’s better because we
just grasp the lock on the door shut from the outside. We grasp from
the outside so no fingerprints. The cops show up, find the door
locked, and a person with head trauma on the ground outside. Talking
about vampires. And what do they do, like any good piece of cereal?
They keep on growing like nothing happened. The person we
dropped gets shipped to the loony bin for being suicidal, or for
having head trauma and babbling about vampires. And then, like I
said, someone else can harvest later. They could even have kids. We
don’t thin the crop.
“What else would we do, exactly? Besides the window, if they
don’t have a gun, you can’t fake a suicide. Not easily, anyway. You
try anything clever and you end up with murder investigations, police
asking serious questions. Of course, it would never get back to us, but
you know how they are upstairs.”
“But the law is to kill anyone who knows our true nature,” said

74
another voice.
“And she knows our true nature?” Claudio continued. “After
Giacomo emptied in her a few times? And like I said, she’ll die from
the fall because we drop her face down. Now I’d like to see you
practice. Go grab her the way I said.”
“By the ankle?”
“Yes, by the ankle. And how else did I say?”
“Gentle.”
“Good. You’re coming along. Now go.”
Jackson ceased his kissing. He still held one hand on Charlotte’s
shoulder as the shorter vampire walked up to them. This one’s eyes
were normal. He stopped in front of her and hesitated. In his eyes
were both fear and awkwardness, like a city boy trying to handle
farm animals.
“Grab her,” commanded Claudio.
“Um, Giacomo,” said the short man, “could you hand her to me?”
“Stop being lazy,” said Jackson. “What, you don’t want to bend
down?”
The short man knelt down before them and stuck his hand out.
Charlotte tried to back away, but Jackson’s stout form blocked her
from the back. The short man kept reaching, and just before his hand
met her ankle, Jackson’s long arm shot out. His mighty hand wrapped
around the smaller man’s neck.
Charlotte’s back hit the wall and her breath rushed out of her lungs.
Something had thrown her against the wall of her apartment. Jackson
lifted the shorter man by the neck with one hand.
Claudio lunged toward Jackson with a fencer’s stance. Something

75
pointed out of Claudio’s hand—a thin, long sword made of strange,
dark-red metal.
Jackson batted at Claudio’s sword with one hand and held the short
man in the air with the other. The short vampire twisted his legs
around and kicked Jackson in the face. But Jackson took the kicks
like they were puffs of wind. Then Claudio’s arm zipped so fast it
nearly flickered. The arm and sword flickered again and Jackson
groaned. His whole body slumped.
Two red holes had appeared in Jackson’s clothing. Claudio’s arm
darted in again, and again Jackson grunted. But now Jackson held
Claudio’s thin wrist. The hilt of the sword still poked from Claudio’s
wrist—its blade was buried in Jackson’s torso. Claudio smashed his
free hand into Jackson’s face. Jackson just smiled. Claudio squirmed
and wrenched but could not yank his arm from Jackson’s grasp.
Jackson threw the short man clear across the room. Then he
brought his free elbow down through Claudio’s arm. Claudio’s elbow
folded like a hinge—the wrong way.
Claudio snarled and jerked the arm back, but Jackson’s thick
fingers held firm on Claudio’s wrist. With his free hand, Claudio
threw lightning-fast punches at Jackson’s face. Jackson took them on
the chin with a smile. Then Jackson seized the hilt of Claudio’s sword
and, inch by inch, pulled the blade from his own torso. With the
sword in hand, Jackson stepped forward and buried the blade in
Claudio’s chest, just to the left of his breastbone. The thin man’s head
dropped to one side as if his spine were turned to jelly, and he
dropped down dead.
“Wait,” said the shorter man, and he scrambled toward the door.

76
His foot stuck in Charlotte’s recycling bin and he fell on his face.
Then he squirmed and kicked as if trying to flip over. Half-words and
scared sounds spluttered from his lips. Jackson said nothing. He
lunged forward and drove the sword clean through the little man’s
skull.
Then Jackson was looking at her and his mouth was moving. Some
kind of sounds came out of his mouth. Two bodies, two dead bodies,
on the floor of her apartment. What the hell is happening? She shut
her eyes and huddled her head between her knees. Those bodies
couldn’t still be there—No, there they are. Why wasn’t there any
blood? Shouldn’t the floor be wet?
Then his warm form encompassed her. His familiar strength and
soothing touch hugged round her once again. But she didn’t hug him
back. This man—this thing?—had just been inside her that night.
He’d given her the best sex of her life. And now two bodies lay dead
on her floor. He’s been inside me and he just killed two guys. What
does that even mean?
“Honey, we have to leave,” he was saying gently. He had knelt
down beside her where she lay on the floor and wrapped her in a
warm embrace. “You’re safe. I’m here for you. But we need to get
out of this apartment.”
“We… we should wait for the police,” she said, her voice shaking
as violently as her body.
“No. We’ll leave, and someone else will take care of the bodies. No
problem. But you have to get ready and come with me.”
She blinked as if just woken and looked upward at Jackson
nervously. “Were they going to throw me out the window?”

77
“No.”
He cradled Charlotte’s head against his shoulder and rocked back
and forth gently.
“You’re going to stay with me for a little while, and everything will
be fine,” he whispered, kissing her gently on the top of her head. “But
we have to go now. Do you understand?”
Charlotte’s eyes were glassy and strange as she answered. “Yes.”
Jackson leaned back and gave her a serious look. She blinked a few
times, looking at him, and her eyes went back to normal. Jackson
nodded at her, and they shared a small smile. Then he told her,
“We have five minutes to be out of the building.”

78
Chapter 8

“What, what about the police?” Charlotte asked.


“They’re not coming,” said Jackson. “Where do you keep your
luggage?”
“The top shelf in my closet.”
And then his warmth and safety left. Those two bodies weren’t ten
feet from where she sat. They were on her living room floor, even if
her eyes refused to turn to see them again. And in the corner of her
vision lay that strange sword—long and thin, with a deep red color
that glinted and changed hue like mother of pearl. A dark, sticky goo
coated its length. It was too thick to be blood. It looked more like
some cross between raspberry jam and chocolate syrup.
And what was it he’d said? We have five minutes to be out of the
building.
“I’ve got your toothbrush, toothpaste, two changes of clothes, your
hairbrush, cell phone, phone charger, and a pouch of your feminine
products in here,” said Jackson, holding her old backpack.
“That’s not my luggage,” said Charlotte, pointing at the backpack.
“It’s good enough,” said Jackson. His words were quick and sharp,
almost military. “Did you hear what I put in there?”
“Yes.”
“What else do you need? Anything else personal?”
“My purse,” she spat out, speaking as fast as Jackson was.
“Everything’s in my purse.”

79
“Where is that?”
“Right there,” said Charlotte. She pointed to her purse, a
commodious leather tote that, despite the carnage, still sat neatly on
her coffee table.
Jackson snatched it and crammed the whole thing into the
backpack. But Charlotte carried a large purse, and he couldn’t close
the backpack’s zippers.
“I’ll just carry it,” said Charlotte, and she took the purse out of the
bag and shouldered the carrying strap.
“Anything else?” said Jackson. All his movements, even those of
his eyes, were precise, emotionless, and rapid. “Anything of personal
value you need?”
Charlotte thought for one second. “My photos and my journal.”
“Where are those?”
“Cloud backup.”
“Where is ‘cloud backup’?” he asked, confused by the phrase.
“Um. Just get my laptop,” she told him quickly, deciding it was
best not to explain. “By my bed, with the charger.”
“Get your shoes on,” said Jackson, and he tossed her old running
shoes at her feet.
“No socks?” she asked.
“No time,” said Jackson. “Get those on. Now!”
“Don’t yell at me!” Charlotte screamed. Her confusion suddenly
changed to anger and mistrust. “I’m not going anywhere with you! I
don’t know you! What’s going on?”
“Bad people are coming here. These men reported the location
when they opened the door. They haven’t reported back, and their

80
backup is coming.”
“What’s going on?” whispered Charlotte, this time to herself.
“I can’t explain. We must leave.”
“No!” shouted Charlotte, getting to her feet and glaring at Jackson.
“You never even explained yourself. Tell me exactly what’s going
on.”
“There’s no time,” said Jackson. “Get your shoes on. NOW.”
Charlotte slumped against the wall and felt a tear run down her
cheek. “I don’t understand.”
“No, you don’t,” said Jackson. “It’s too much. You look at their
bodies, and you think, why aren’t they bleeding? What’s going on
here? And you’re getting closer to being able to believe me. But we
have two minutes to get on the roof and be gone. So I’m asking you
one last time. Will you agree to go with me, or will I make you go?”
“I hardly even know you. I’m a bit, I don’t really—”
Jackson cut her off with a loud, hard voice. “Do you agree to come
with me? Yes or no?”
The bodies and Jackson and what those men had said swirled
around Charlotte like a nightmare. She couldn’t stop leaning on the
wall. His question just hung in the air, and she couldn’t bring herself
to respond.
“I’m sorry, then,” said Jackson.
He set her backpack down. Doubt and guilt darted across his face.
He grabbed her and pulled her in for a hug, but she shoved him away.
He would not back off. He held her firmly and she was scared.
“Let go of me!” she yelled, sobbing.
But as she yelled it, his eyes clamped shut around her, decisive and

81
instant as a bear trap, and she drowned.
Fire moved through those green irises, pale fire fluted with crimson
and orange, but this beauty only bordered the vast blackness in the
center. His pupils broadened and soon they loomed over and around
her: larger than the room, larger than her building, larger than the
world itself. The two corpses lay on the floor of this black hole, and
they crawled to life and came for her. More corpses joined them, and
screams echoed through the void. Ice wind chafed her shoulders.
Then a mountain of warm energy, gorgeous and sexual, bloomed
forth and blotted out the horror.
Everything vanished, instant as it came and invisible as vapor from
a pond.
She had to get out of this apartment. More than anything she’d ever
known, she had to get out of here. If she didn’t—No. Unthinkable.
She had to get out.
And Jackson. Jackson. She must stay with him. If he ever left her,
she’d die. She had to stay with him more than anything in the world.
Jackson was the kindest, safest, and absolute sexiest being in the
universe. Go with him and nothing bad could ever happen. Go with
him and bathe in orgasmic loving bliss. Walk with him and watch the
gates of Hell turn to Saint Peter’s doors.
“I’ll go with you,” she said, her voice almost dripping with need
and delight.
“Yes,” said Jackson. He sounded sad, disappointed…
“I’ll get my shoes on.”
Her fingers snaked shoelaces through eyelets with a surgeon’s
precision and a street magician’s speed. No slip or mistake came. She

82
stood and snatched her purse up off the counter.
“Take me anywhere, lord,” said Charlotte rapturously.
“Don’t talk like that,” said Jackson, annoyed. “Just call me
Jackson.”
“Whatever you want, Jackson.”
“Where’s the stairs?” said Jackson.
“Here,” she said, taking his hand. “Follow me.”
Her feet zoomed up the stairs, bounding up two at a time with
perfect balance.
“It’s locked,” said Charlotte when they reached the roof door at the
top. “The maintenance man—”
GLONK!
Jackson punched the door clean off its hinges and sent it flying ten
feet across the roof.
His long, thick arms wrapped her up and lifted her off her feet. His
face was chiseled and gorgeous as he walked with her in his arms. He
carried her like an infant, light and easy to handle yet precious. Car
traffic echoed up between the buildings: They’d neared the edge.
“Get a good hold on your bag,” said Jackson.
“Yes, Jackson.”
“Hold it like your life depends on it when we land.”
“Yes.”
Jackson took one huge step, then another, and he shoved with all
his strength off the building’s raised edge. They floated up somehow
a few seconds. She couldn’t peel her eyes off Jackson’s face. The
wind raced through his perfect mane of brown hair, set against the
predawn blue.

83
Then suddenly everything lurched, and the whole world tilted a bit.
Her neck twinged and ached.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yes. Just my neck, a little.”
“Hopefully, it’s nothing,” he said.
Jackson took a few more steps and then a shorter leap, and all the
taller buildings around them swung up by one or two floors. Then
running, and more gaps and streetnoise. Nothing about it seemed
strange; it all slid past like the lights of gas stations on a late-night
country drive. There was only Jackson and perfect bliss and safety,
and happiness at being away from that horrifying apartment.
They reached another building somewhere across the city. Jackson
reached into his pocket on this rooftop, still holding her perfectly
comfortably with one arm. The jingle of a keyring came to
Charlotte’s ears. He unlocked and then relocked the door, and after a
few flights down, came into a plain apartment. He laid her down on a
bed and then made to leave.
“Jackson!” she shrieked.
“I’ll be in the next room,” he said. “Sunlight can get in here.”
“No. You can’t leave me, Jackson!”
“You’ll be fine. You will sleep in here.”
“You have to sleep with me!”
She jumped up from the bed and ran over to him.
“Charlotte, it’s not right for me to do at a time like this,” he said.
“No!” she shouted. She tore her hands beneath Jackson’ clothes.
She wrapped one around his thickness and begged,
“You need to make me feel safe, Jackson.”

84
“NO!” he yelled, causing her to recoil. “No. Not like this. You will
lie down, and you will sleep alone here, and tomorrow, your normal
mind will return.”
“Who will protect me if you leave?” she whimpered, shaking with
fear.
“Stop it,” he said. He balled and unballed his fist in frustration.
“Damn.”
“What’s wrong?” she crooned cutely.
“I overdid it. I have no finesse with this kind of power.”
“Anything I can do to help, dearest?”
“Charlotte,” he commanded, “you will lie down by yourself and
sleep, alone, without me. Right now. If you don’t, you will never see
me again.”
She broke down in sobs. Yet her legs moved with their own will.
They took her back over to the bed and folded out from under her,
laying her neatly across it. She needed his comfort and safety and
love and approval. She needed all that inside her, and it wouldn’t
come. Tears rained from her eyes, and her snot ran. She sobbed. With
horrible, desperate, agonizing need, she lay on the bed and shrieked
and pulled her hair.
But strangely, after only one or two minutes, she passed
completely into sleep.

***

Sunlight seeping through thin curtains woke her. The apartment she
opened her eyes to had a plain bed with a beige headboard, white

85
sheets, and a nightstand. A stout clay lamp sat on the nightstand, and
a bathroom opened off to one side. Looked like a low-mid range
hotel. What was she doing in a hotel? But there was no front door.
The bathroom was the only door in the room. Could the exit be
behind the curtain? No. A single massive panel of frosted glass took
up the whole wall.
She must have fallen asleep after making love with Jackson.
Perhaps it was such intense sex that had given her that strange dream:
Jackson beating up two other guys, or no, he had killed them with a
funny little sword thing, almost like something you might use to poke
a fire. Then Jackson somehow drank her with his eyes, or it was more
like her own eyes inhaled Jackson… but that made no sense. How
could she explain such a thing? One of the stranger things that had
ever happened in a dream. Then he was flying around on the
rooftops, or perhaps just jumping very high. Definitely an interesting
dream. A good dream, all in all.
Why had he brought her here, though? Guess that sex—Wow, that
sex—had really put her out, because she couldn’t remember coming
here.
Which hotel was this? There were no cards or brochures or
branded notepads on the nightstand. What hotel chain didn’t have
anything on the nightstand? And why didn’t her hotel room have a
front door? Something must open off that little bathroom.
She got off the bed. Her body ached, especially her neck. Was it
the sex, or had she slept funny?
In the bathroom waited her purse and her old backpack. It looked
like Jackson had packed for her and done a decent job of it. Besides

86
her own things, the bathroom held a bottle of mouthwash, toilet
paper, a ten-pack of wet wipes, and a bottle of bleach. A hint of
bleach tickled her nose, and not a single hair or splotch of anything
dotted the bathroom. At least it was clean.
A door did open off the bathroom. And this door could open on a
safe. It was one solid sheet of metal, thick and cold and plain. Out
from one side poked a doorknob, a dull brass thing that looked like it
came from her grandpa’s old house. She wrapped her fingers around
it, twisted, and shoved.
Nothing. The door didn’t move one millimeter.
She tried again, and still the door blocked her, solid as tank armor.
Whenever she turned the knob, no sound or vibration came from
inside. The knob almost felt like it was glued onto the door’s outside.
A rap at the door brought no answer.
“Hello?” she cried. “Hello?”
She banged louder and shouted again. Nothing. Jackson must have
gone out and forgotten to leave a note. Must’ve left and accidentally
locked her in.
Right. He brought me to a place clearly designed for kidnapping
and locked me in by accident.

87
Chapter 9

It wasn’t possible, was it? Jackson couldn’t have kidnapped her.


Jackson wouldn’t do that. She’d just met him, but he… he seemed
nice enough. People didn’t just kidnap full-grown women in New
York.
But they did. She’d seen a documentary.
That couldn’t be right. It wasn’t happening. This was just a
nondescript hotel with a funny door. Jackson had accidentally locked
the door. It wasn’t really designed for kidnapping. It didn’t really
have a dummy knob glued onto the outside of a huge metal slab…
Yes. Yes it did. And a big pane of frosted glass, thick as a
dictionary, covered the only window.
No, but if he kidnapped me, he’d take my cellphone. I still have a
cellphone, I can call him.
Charlotte tore her purse open. Once her phone was in hand, her
breathing slowed. She gave her heart a minute to slow as well. But
when she opened the phone to make the call, a chill rushed over her
whole body and she couldn’t breathe.
No signal.
“Noo!” she screamed. This can’t be happening. Kidnapped, to be
sold into sex slavery. This can’t be happening. Not to me!
She ran back to the metal door and pounded its flat surface until
her knuckles swelled. Then she ran into the other room. The frosted
glass would give. She bent down and tried to lift the nightstand. Too

88
heavy. And the bed was bolted down. The big clay lamp sat on the
nightstand. She could lift it, but that thing would break apart long
before it damaged the thick window.
Her keys were still in her pocket, so she drew them out and gripped
the chain so that one key pointed out through her closed fist. She
jerked back the curtain and went to work. She rammed the key over
and over into the glass. At times, her hand slipped off and her
knuckles smacked the glass. She rammed on. Her shoulder ached.
Blood seeped from her knuckles. Puffy grey mounds rose from her
fist. A hundred times she rammed the key in. No more than a few tiny
chips, about the size of fine sea salt, flew from her frosted-glass
prison wall.
Her shoulder ached as if her humerus was stabbing into her chest.
Miserable pain volted from her smashed hand up through her whole
arm. She slumped down against the wall. The keys tumbled from her
hand. Tears of despair boiled from her crimson eyes.
It all made sense, looking back on it. Jackson was in the mafia, and
kidnapping her was his plan all along. That vampire nonsense was
just there to confuse her. Sure he’d saved the day at the club. Maybe
he got off on that kind of heroics. Then he’d killed a man with one
punch —no hesitation, like an experienced killer. Like a mafia
hitman. Sure he’d taken some bullets, but plenty of rappers had been
shot before too. And then he’d fled the scene, jumping out the
window with pure adrenaline and maybe some performance-
enhancing drugs. He’d fled because he was a wanted man. Those
mafia types had stitched him up somewhere, like they did on TV.
Maybe given him some plastic surgery to mask the scars.

89
And now that that weird cleric video had taken over the news
cycle, the Don had sent Jackson out to kidnap more girls. Jackson had
seen the way she looked at him in the club, knew she was an easy
target. Knew how to push her buttons to gain her trust.
Still, the passion he’d had, the way they’d made love… Had this
beast of a man felt something for her? Maybe she really did stir some
unusual feeling, wake something in his brutal heart. He made sure—
yes, very sure—to bring her to orgasm, and more than once. He’d
brought her toiletries as well. He really must feel something for her.
It’s thinking like that that got you here.
She’d been kidnapped. That was the clearest explanation. She’d be
sold into sex slavery, trafficked around, abused.
Or maybe she was to be his and his alone, chained up in here,
locked in, a slave kept for nothing but his pleasure…
No. I will get free. I’ll fight that kidnapper sex-trader with
everything I have. I’ll jam my fingers in his eyes.
He’d kidnapped the wrong woman. She might not get out, but
she’d hurt him good when he came back in here. What could she use?
That lamp had promise. Nice and heavy. The bullets had missed his
internal organs, but his fat head was impossible to miss. And if he
was so damn tough he could take a lamp on the head, then she’d
plunge her fingernails into his eyes while he was stunned.
That was the plan, then: Wait for him to open the door, smash the
lamp on his head, eye gouge, run free.
She scooted the nightstand over to the bathroom door. She sat on
top of it and cradled the lamp. When the deadbolt clicked open, she’d
stand up on the nightstand and crush the lamp over his skull.

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Hours passed. The light coming through the window dimmed and
then grew fully dark. Charlotte stayed on the nightstand, the lamp
waiting in her lap. Her bladder filled up, but if she went to the toilet,
she might miss her one chance. She held it and kept waiting. The pain
grew acute, but she held on. Finally, the sound she was waiting for
came.
Click.
She got to her feet atop the nightstand. She bent her knees for
power and hefted the big lamp up to her shoulder. When Jackson
came through—when that head of dark hair and muscly body passed
the door—she’d strike. She’d knock out that slave-dealing piece of
shit and run to freedom.
“Charlotte?” came his voice.
She kept silent.
“Did you sleep okay?” he said, feigning concern for her. “Sorry I
couldn’t sleep in here. It’s too light. I probably should’ve left a note,
but I had to hurry. You can sleep in my bed tomorrow.”
Oh, he was about to get it. Psychopath kidnapper thinking she still
wanted him.
“Are you in here?”
Through the door came the large head of rich brown hair. Beneath
this spread his broad shoulders. His torso was powerful and immense.
How could she overpower such a huge man?
His head turned and he looked up at her. Those emerald eyes met
her own. His lips pouted open. The corners of his eyes turned down.
He was confused, scared, sad. He didn’t move, didn’t say anything.
He just gazed at her, wounded.

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This look, so unexpected, wobbled her knees and rattled the arms
that held the lamp. He sees what I’m going to do and he’s just waiting
for it. Why? Is this some kind of trick? Should I put the lamp down?
But Charlotte was a woman of action. She stopped the questions in
her mind, grit her teeth, and dumped the huge lamp onto his skull.
The lamp broke into eight or ten big shards, chunky triangles of old
clay. Those eight or ten bounced onto the floor and shattered to a
thousand. Dust clogged the air.
And Jackson didn’t move one inch. He didn’t even change the look
on his face. He just stood there, not one scratch on his head, resting
his eyes on her own.
The lamp had done nothing.
Run and hide under the bed make a dash for the door pick up a
chunk and start fighting just tear his eyes out with your nails—These
thoughts rushed through her, but Jackson just stood there, now
looking neither happy nor sad. His gaze was too enchanting, too odd.
She couldn’t stand it and looked at the floor.
Little black chunks of tar now stuck to the floor where he had
walked. The tar was either from a freshly paved road or a roof. In the
stomach of Jackson’s shirt, the same one he’d worn last night, a few
small holes had opened. Holes the shape and size of that strange
sword.
The strange sword that hung from his belt, right in front of her,
here and now.
It had been real. The scene in her apartment and the jumping from
building to building. He’d killed those men. It had all been real.
Their eyes met. The most gorgeous man she’d ever seen. Strange

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signals slid along the lines between her eyes and his. They shared
something profound in that moment, something subtle beyond words,
deeper and more complex than any emotion.
And all at once, it rushed on her:
“Oh my God,” she said.
Pure joy welled in his green eyes as his lips parted, the first time
she’d seen him truly smile.
“Yes,” he said, knowing she understood.
“You’re really a vampire.”

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Chapter 10

Then they were kissing. Jackson’s mouth swam over hers—large,


warm, firm yet soft. His tongue had the tang of oranges. Charlotte
pulled her tongue across the sides of his, swiping and sliding and
savoring. She grazed the hardness of his teeth. His canines poked out
a bit more than those of other men.
Charlotte still stood atop the nightstand, bending to kiss Jackson.
He stepped into her, and she straightened her back and thrust her
breasts around his face. His low groan rippled through this valley. His
sex lifted his trousers and poked her, warm and stiff, just below the
knee. Then he stepped into her even more and crouched down. Both
his thick arms snaked between her legs. A trickle of heat rushed into
her sex—What is he doing?
His biceps pushed into the back of her knees and she sat down. Her
feet left the nightstand and her whole body lifted up. His upper arms
and elbows held her up in the air against him. Her body melted
against his. Her spine turned to jelly. She panted as searing-hot
arousal welled from her core.
“You like this,” he told her, his voice a husky growl.
She gasped. She could barely talk, it was so hot. “I… I didn’t
know… You can pick someone up like this?”
He said nothing and looked back at her—such mysterious eyes.
What is he thinking?
His arms and body shifted. She slid forward onto him. Her knees

94
pressed into her shoulders. The muscles of his broad chest brushed
against her wet core. His head rested between her breasts and her
face. With his smooth lips, he wet her neck, her jaw, her breasts. His
tongue flicked through her collar and toward her bra. She laced her
fingers through his tangle of beautiful dark hair.
The room rotated. She gripped his head to stay steady. His arms
unfolded and dumped her on the bed. Jackson towered over her.
Wow. His broad shoulders could span a doorway. And she’d already
felt the strength in his long arms, the vigor in his soft pink lips. Fire
rolled in his eyes. And those eyes were taking her in as well.
As he surveyed her, his fingers opened the buttons of his shirt. His
sculpted chest and then his abs peeked out at her, button by button.
Good thing we left the lights on. Then he took the whole shirt off. His
skin was a lovely light caramel. Thick ribs of muscle jutted from his
sides and dove down, V-shaped, into his jeans. His waist widened up
to his impressive shoulders. The lines between his abs climbed up his
torso like a ladder, leading to his slab pecs and olive-brown nipples.
“Your turn,” he ordered her.
How could she take her eyes off him? But her hands could still do
as he wanted. She tossed her shirt on the floor. Jackson watched her
and licked his lips. The tip of his rod jutted out just under his front
pocket. As she undid her bra, he rubbed his palm down the length of
his shaft.
Her sex throbbed, eager for another touch. She could reach down
there and dig into herself, enjoy herself as he was enjoying himself.
But he was so close… how would his body feel up close, naked in the
light? She scooted up the bed’s edge, putting her knees on each side

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of Jackson’s. He was so tall. His sex, outlined through his jeans and
rock-hard, was level with her face. She copied how he’d moved his
hand on it. Tiny hairs across his abs tickled her lips. It was
unbelievable how perfect he was. But on his stomach were two
rougher patches, shaped liked diamonds and slightly paler than the
rest.
“Last night?” she asked, examining its texture with the tip of her
finger.
“Yes,” he said, taking hold of her hand. “Scars will be gone
tomorrow.”
“Wow,” she whispered.
How could she have doubted him? He’d taken bullets meant for
her, and here were scars from a sword.
A vampire. He’d tried to tell her as best as he could. She hadn’t
believed it. It was too unbelievable. Jackson was sexy, strong,
powerful, incredible. And so very real—Why did I doubt him? I need
to please him.
His pants came off easily. His manhood was a thick shaft of
handsome walnut brown. Purple-blue veins wide as a pen swelled at
its base. His foreskin had rolled back to reveal a lovely pink tip. First,
she swiped her tongue back and forth across this oily, soft tip. It was
smooth and slightly salty. A hum signaled Jackson’s approval. She
slid her hand down and clasped his balls. When she tugged, his knees
bent. He groaned. The arousal of such a man in her mouth, in her
power—what could be hotter?
She lowered her jaw and took him in, slow as she could. Jackson’s
breath gusted out of his mouth. When she could go no further, she

96
stopped and tightened her lips. Jackson’s thick vampire blood shook
her lips with each beat as it surged up his cock. She slid back and
took him in again. A deep bellow greeted her. He grew in her mouth.
She slid out again and licked his tip—but his hand on the back of her
head pushed her forward. He knew how he wanted it, and she’d give
it to him.
She took him with even, long pulls. With her right hand, she
tugged his sack and squeezed his root in turn. Her left hand wandered
up his impressive body. His abs flexed and relaxed and flexed again.
His torso tightened with arousal each time she went further down his
length. His legs stiffened up. He pulsed in her mouth. Tension
hardened every muscle in his body.
He came. His huge groans hurt her ears. Thick gushes of seed filled
her mouth. His manliness thickened with each spurt, stretching her
lips apart. His legs and hands and body shook. Still he came into her,
salty and thick. His baritone moaning echoed through the room.
Slowly, the power of his contractions faded, and she let his glans slip
slowly from her lips. Some of his copious seed had gone down her
throat, and she gulped the rest down.
Jackson slumped over on the floor, half-sitting with his back
against the bed. His eyes were glassy, pupils wide and wonderful. She
kissed him full on the mouth. His lips were lazy and soft as melted
cheese. The powerful orgasm she’d given Jackson stupefied him,
slowed him down. But they kept kissing, and gradually, his lips
firmed and picked up speed.
Then he stood next to the bed and lifted her off the ground,
meeting her mouth with a big kiss before laying her across the bed

97
with care. While placing tender kisses on her lips and neck, he traced
her collarbone with the tip of his finger. His kiss trailed down her
cleavage and then to her navel, and up again to the fold beneath her
breast. A generous lick across the swell of her breast, and more
kisses. No, kiss me down there. She’d taken care of him: His turn
now. But he wouldn’t go down there, at least not yet. He wet her
nipple with a fast, enthusiastic suckle. His broad palm lay flat across
her stomach; he swept the rough callouses of his hand across her bare
hips and onto her upper thigh. So close. Beads of arousal welled up,
ready for his fingers… and his cock.
Yes, he was hardening again. As he kissed, licked, and fondled her,
pumping blood refilled his heavy, clublike sex. With lightning-fast
fingers, he undid her belt, her button, and her zipper. His hand dove
into her panties and tugged them off along with her pants. He circled
her clit with one finger. Then he dove into her cream up to his
knuckle. He already knew the spots she liked best. She squirmed
beneath his masterful touch. Deep moans rocked her chest. He
continued to tongue her hard nipples. Her hips rocked. Her core
pulsed. And then he drew his fingers out.
“Charlotte,” he growled, so raw and sexual she barely recognized
her own name. She opened her eyes. His fingers glinted, fully wet
with her. He brought them to his nose. “You smell so good.”
“Mmmm,” she groaned, aroused by his enjoyment of her. Then he
painted her nipple with her cream and licked it off.
“Delicious,” he said. The low roll of his voice sent aches of need
through her core. She raised her hips for him.
“Shall I take you now?” he said.

98
“Yes.”
“Say please,” he growled.
“Please,” she gasped.
A hot breath rushed from between her teeth as she widened around
his tip and then his girth. His sex was hard in the middle yet sheathed
in a gentle satin. Her cunt was throbbing already. He’d make her
come in a flash. His pubic bone brushed against her mons. He filled
her to the deepest.
“Jackson,” she moaned.
His green eyes intoxicated her. He withdrew and thrust and thrust
again. His eyes never left hers. Each thrust sent a wave of pure bliss
rollicking through her. Soon she could barely keep her eyes open. His
kisses wet her neck. One palm worked her breast. Each thrust left a
trace of pleasure and the next thrust piled on top of that. The waves
and thrusts tightened into a boiling knot in her guts. And all at once, it
broke free.
“Ahhhhhhhh!”
The orgasm engulfed her. She’d never come so quickly before. Hot
blasts of pleasure roared through her loins, down her legs, up her
stomach, and into her nipples. Deep moans rumbled through her
belly. She squeezed Jackson’s stout forearms so hard her hands
ached. The orgasm flared all through her, surge after fiery surge.
Sweat oozed from her forehead, her chest, her legs, her armpits.
Her moans slowed. She kissed Jackson again. He worked her
slower now, still inside, still very hard. He had not come yet. He bent
down and gave her a full, slow kiss. The orgasm had shocked her; she
could manage only a sloppy kiss back. When he raised up, two little

99
fangs poked out beside the four teeth in the front. White, pointed, and
a hair longer than any she’d seen before. As she touched them,
Jackson eyes widened and his cock flexed inside her. Another touch
hardened him inside her yet more.
“Don’t,” he said.
But how could she resist those two little fangs? Something about
them was cutely fascinating. And had they gotten longer? She moved
to kiss him and felt them with her tongue. As the blade of her soft
tongue tickled their tip, Jackson thrust into her so hard it hurt.
“Don’t do that,” he said.
“You like it.”
“Stop.”
His thrusts picked up speed. His rhythm massaged her deep places.
And yet the little fangs were there, waiting for her. They kissed again.
How could she resist? She tongued up and down his fang.
And it lengthened and stabbed her.
“Ow!” she hissed.
An animal growl shook through Jackson’s body, like a large dog.
His lips curved into a wicked smile and the two fangs jutted an inch
longer than the other teeth. His eyes were stretched wide open and
half-insane. Hot air rushed from his open mouth onto her face. His
mouth descended, but it didn’t meet her own. The fangs rested
against her neckskin. They did not bite or break the surface. His
tongue licked up and down her neck and traced the thick veins going
into her skull.
She gasped. This scared her. This was a rush.
The thing inside me isn’t human.

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Chapter 11

“Get up,” Jackson said. His voice had changed. It was demanding,
arrogant, brutal. He withdrew from her and grabbed her by the hair.
“Up.”
He yanked her up off the bed. He spun her and then grabbed her
hips from the back. His thick rough hands pulled her flush against
him. His hardness pulsated against her bare bottom. One of his hands
wrapped around her neck.
“You want me to fuck you like this?” he barked.
Her breath hitched. Her knees shook. Her heart smashed into her
ribs. This thing that held her neck in its hands—it could crush the life
from her at any second.
Oh God.
“Answer me!” he bellowed.
She took in a shallow breath before pleading weakly, “Yes.”
One merciless thrust and he was all the way inside. She screamed
as he entered. Sharp edges of pleasure sliced through her. Her butt
rested flush against Jackson’s hips. Then his brutal hands on her hips
shoved her forward along his pole and then rammed her back against
him. The intensity of it turned her stomach. She yelped and shrieked.
He laughed at her. He laughed and thrust and laughed and thrust. Hot
blades of pleasure and pain ripped through her. Her sweat ran into her
eyes. Her breasts smacked against her exposed body. She dug her
fingernails into the mattress. She tried to hold on. Oh God, is this

101
even safe—what is this thing—Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, yes, yes,
yes!
She came again. It smashed through every cell in her body. And he
never slowed down. He fucked her right on through. As her second
orgasm died, Jackson’s came on. His hands squeezed her flesh and
made her yelp. His cock was huger than she’d known it could get. It
knotted into iron and stabbed all the way into her. He poured his seed
inside her. His cock convulsed and emptied in her deepest place. His
groan vibrated through his taut body.
Then it was over.
She walked over to the bed and lay on her side. She faced away
from him. But a hand soft as baby skin on her shoulder reassured her,
and Jackson’s familiar voice came out.
“Sorry about that,” he said gently.
Then his eyes met hers. Fury and wildness no longer clouded them.
She pulled his lip up and saw the fangs had retreated. Her Jackson
had come back. What had gotten into him? It was scary—the way
he’d looked at her and taken her, so savage, so vicious. It sickened
her and scared her, and yet a part of her ached for it even now.
Jackson pulled the blanket up over them. They said nothing for a
few minutes. He caressed her under the blanket. It was warm in the
room but not too hot.
“That was good,” mumbled Jackson after a while.
“Yeah,” Charlotte answered.
“But it was too much at the end.” He sounded contrite.
“Um, you know, it was…” I came incredibly hard but it scared the
hell out of me what got into you? “It was interesting.”

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“It was too much,” he said, oddly self-conscious.
“I mean, I liked it,” she said—reassuring him, but not sure she
meant it. “I haven’t had sex like that before. So it was good. But I
liked it better at first.”
“I did too,” he said softly.
“Then why’d you do it like that?”
“I wanted you so bad,” he said. “I lost myself. Sometimes that
happens to me.”
She skimmed his dark arm hair with her fingernail. “You don’t
have to say it like it’s so bad.”
He sighed. “I lost control.”
“It’s okay. I gave consent.”
He shook his head. “And if you hadn’t, I don’t know.”
“Don’t say that,” she said. She took a strand of his silken hair in
her fingers. “You’d stop yourself. You’re overreacting. You like to,
you know… you like hard sex. It’s not a big deal. Most men do.”
“But not like that.”
“No. But you’re not a man.” She flicked her lips about his own,
teasing him. “Vampire man.”
“It’s just vampire,” he said, taking up the playful note in her voice.
“So how old are you?” she asked, ready to change the subject.
“I wasn’t lying when I told you before. Born in the early seventeen
seventies. Remade in seventeen ninety-nine.”
“So you were what, like twenty-six? Twenty-seven?”
“Something like that.”
She palmed his cheek gently and regarded him. The lights were
still on. His skin was sublimely smooth. Veins of color spread from

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his pupil in every known shade of green. A golden halo circled the
pupil. A few wrinkles branched from the corner of his eyes, and light
lines went vertically from the bridge of his nose up into his forehead.
“You look older than that,” Charlotte remarked.
He smiled with his eyes. “I worked in the sun. It will do that.”
A smile of curiosity bent Charlotte’s lips. “Did you have a lot of
human girlfriends before you, um, got remade?”
“No,” he answered, calm and factual.
She nibbled her lip and tugged at his hair. “Were you married?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know,” he said, and he broke eye contact with her. “I don’t
remember my human life very well.”
Charlotte grinned. “But you must have been with a lot of girls.”
“No. None.”
“None?” she said. It seemed impossible.
He met her eyes again and smoothed her hair with two fingers. “I
didn’t make love for the first time until my change.”
“Oh. Different times, huh?”
“Yes,” he said bluntly. “Very different.”
“So did they make you do like, arranged marriages and stuff?”
“Just the rich,” he said. His voice lowered, as if he were slightly
ashamed. “We were not rich.”
“Your parents were farmers, right?”
“Yes.”
“That’s cool,” said Charlotte, smiling. “What did they grow?”
“Wheat. Tomatoes. Some herbs. We had two pigs.”

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“And then you quit to become a stonemason?”
“Not exactly,” Jackson said. He let his head droop onto the bed,
gazing at the ceiling. “I remember that part better. The stonemason
took me on as an apprentice. He took me on when I was about
sixteen. I was almost fully grown. You have to understand, in those
days, I was a giant.”
“You’re not small now.”
“No. But I see other men as tall as me, others as broad. In New
York, there are men bigger than me. But in those days, I was a lot
bigger than anyone. So he took me on at sixteen or so. I was the
apprentice. I mixed the mortar, dressed the stones, pulled the ropes on
the lifting tackle. Sometimes, I’d just heave the blocks into place
without help. He got many jobs because of me. People would come to
watch me work. But he didn’t teach me much. Or maybe I didn’t
learn well. I was very simple when I was a human. At twenty, he let
me go, and I went back to the farm.”
“I’m sorry,” said Charlotte.
“It was long ago,” he said, rolling his head to one side, eyes now
pointed to the wall. “I remember parts very well. That job, for
whatever reason, I remember very well. But what you asked about,
the women—I don’t remember how I felt about that. We lived in a
small village. Maybe there was no one available. I remember the
neighbors had three daughters. The mom gave birth eight or nine
times, but only three daughters lived. One of them married our other
neighbor. Then the dad hurt his leg and couldn’t walk right. He
couldn’t handle the farm work. So the other two daughters went into
the city to work as prostitutes.”

105
“Oh my God.”
“It was a bad time.” The slightest motion of Jackson’s powerful
arm brought her body flush against his. “We don’t need to talk about
it.”
“Okay,” she said, not wanting to make him any more
uncomfortable.
“You believe I’m a vampire now,” he said. He almost sounded
cheery.
“Yes.”
“Then we will play a game.”
Charlotte levered up on one elbow so she could see his face more
comfortably. “What game?”
“You can ask me one question about vampires,” he said, drawing
his fingers through her hair. “Anything. And I will answer you with
full honesty. But you only get one question, for now.”
She smirked. “That’s not a game.”
“Then don’t ask,” he said, teasing her.
“Oh, I’m asking. I’m definitely asking.”
“Good. I’m eager to know what you’ll ask. Think wisely.”
“I’m thinking of something good,” she said with a wide smile.
“You’d better get ready.”
She snuggled against Jackson’s long, warm body. His game had
stirred her inquisitive part. One question, and that was all—but she
had a hundred.
Was he really a vampire? No, no, no… Yes. Yes, he definitely was.
She believed him now—He’d jumped super high, lifted a man from
the ground with one hand, taken bullets, been stabbed, and healed

106
miraculously. And yet it was still so strange. She craved a hint more
proof, right here in the light—not something tangled in violence, but
a calm demonstration in a quiet room. An intense curiosity quickened
in her, and perhaps a mischievousness, that made her shun a more
direct question. Instead, her words and half-thoughts snaked together
into a question that was very, very devious.
“Okay, I’ve got it,” she blurted out.
“I’m waiting,” he said smoothly.
“It’s good.” Her words were fast, high-pitched, and riotously
excited. “You haven’t heard a question like this before.”
“Go ahead.”
“Okay, here it is: What vampire power would you demonstrate,
other than super strength, to thoroughly convince a woman you’d just
been with sexually that you were a vampire and vampires were real,
if the woman asked you the question in the context of a game and
was indirectly, through the game, suggesting that she would stop
being with you sexually with you if you did not in fact demonstrate,
then and there, a very convincing vampire power?”
Jackson leveled at her a flat, forbidding, emotionless look. This
lack of any real expression—and the steady gaze that accompanied it
—made her want to pry his skull open and dig into his brain. What
could he be thinking? Not to mention, he was just so brooding and
sexy.
Before she’d asked, Charlotte had no idea how Jackson would
answer her question. But it sure was a good question. It took some
brains to formulate something so complex on the fly. He had to be
impressed. Plenty of other girls would just ask silly nonsense like

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“Does vampire blood really get you high?”
Yet Jackson said nothing in answer. Now and then he glanced off,
and then he would return his eyes to her face.
“Well, what is it?” Charlotte finally said. “What power would you
demonstrate?”
“I’m demonstrating right now,” Jackson said, a tease and a
challenge in his voice.
“No you’re not. You’re just sitting there.”
He cocked his chin to one side. “Am I?”
“What power is that supposed to be?”
Then he still sat and said nothing.
“Jackson, what power are you gonna demonstrate?”
Jackson waited a few thick seconds and then spoke. “The power
I’m demonstrating, is, of course, vampire super patience.”
She smacked him.
“No!” she said. Her eyes were huge and rapt. Her mouth hung
open. She was about to collapse with laughter but didn’t. “You have
to demonstrate a power.”
Jackson gave her a cheeky glare and shrugged, baiting her. “I did.”
“It’s not funny, Jackson!”
“I’m not being funny,” he said flatly, but she could tell he was
holding back a smile. “Patience is important.”
Her giggles came out for a few seconds before she shut her mouth
and continued. “Just show me something that’s not, that doesn’t
involve like killing people.”
“Okay.” His smile was peeking out now. It was puckish and
dangerously cute. “You could’ve asked for that in the first place.”

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She pinched him a little. “Come on. It was a good question.”
“Could you repeat it for me?” he asked, shooting her a challenging,
flirtatious look.
She folded her arms and gave him a look. “I’m not repeating it.”
Jackson shrugged again. “Why not?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Because I know you remember what I
asked.”
“Okay,” said Jackson. His fascinating eyes glittered. He’d enjoyed
this exchange as much as she had. “Do you have any coins?”
“What? Why?”
“I want to show you something.”
Charlotte was skeptical. “A vampire power?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“I don’t use cash.”
“One of mine, then.”
Jackson reached to the side of the bed, where his pair of plain,
clean blue jeans crossed their empty legs on the floor. From their
pocket, he fished an old penny. Sitting up on the side of the bed, with
Charlotte’s bare leg draped over him, he laid the penny flat on his
hand, Abe Lincoln face-up. He closed his eyes.
It would be so like Jackson’s sense of humor to pull the coin out
from behind her ear, but he truly looked like he was concentrating.
After about ten seconds, the coin shook a little in his hand and then
rose straight in the air.
“Oh, cool,” said Charlotte, leaning in for a closer look. “What’s the
trick?”
Jackson said nothing. The coin sat still about an inch above his

109
hand, not shifting a millimeter. Then it started a smooth, arcing
motion. Still parallel to the ground, it cut a smooth arc through the air
and came back to its starting point: A circle.
Charlotte peered at it closely, then glanced up again at Jackson’s
face. His eyes shut and brows knit tight in concentration. Now the
coin started to rotate. Lincoln spun faster and faster, like a tiny brown
record.
“How’d you change it?” she asked.
But Jackson still didn’t answer. Charlotte moved her fingers in a
circle around the coin and then above and below: Nothing there. No
wires.
“That’s pretty cool,” she said. “How’s it work?”
In one instant, Jackson’s eyes opened and the coin dropped onto
the bed.
“Vampires can move things with our minds,” he explained, his
eyes thoughtful. “You might call it telekinesis. But for us, it’s an
everynight thing. We don’t use such a long Greek word. We call it
‘grasping.’”
She’d heard the term used like that before.
“That guy in my apartment,” she said, intrigued. “He mentioned
it.”
“Yes. You see how he used this power?”
“That’s how he got the deadbolt open?”
“Yes. Good.”
Charlotte was fascinated. “So you can move anything?”
“Me?” Jackson put his hand on his chest. “No. I’m terrible at it.”
“So only small stuff? Like coins?”

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“Small and regular in shape,” he explained. “Moving an object
with a complicated shape is harder. So are larger objects. Then, the
motion matters too. Just shaking it or giving it a push is easier than
doing a circle. A circle is easier than more complicated patterns, like
moving it through a series of hoops or around things. Or you can spin
it while doing a circle, that’s harder. Of course, two coins at once is
harder than one. But two isn’t so hard. Ten is hard. Some can do fifty.
Some can do things much bigger than coins.”
“Like that Islamic cleric in the video,” Charlotte said, connecting
the dots. “A big, complicated object, going in a complex pattern. That
was a vampire?”
“A very old and dangerous vampire,” said Jackson, and he pushed
his shoulders higher up against the wall. “Big object, complicated
motion, and the distance matters too. Further is harder than closer.
Either an ancient or someone very good at grasping. Maybe both.
And you see, they left the blood on the roof. That’s a message. It tells
the other vampires, I’m not doing this to feed. It’s a very brutal
message. It’s a challenge.”
“Wow,” said Charlotte, and she pulled gently at Jackson’s chest
hair.
“Maybe it’s not so bad,” said Jackson. “The Rafaels who came
didn’t seem too worried. Some of us are much better at different
things. My brother is unusually good at grasping. Nowhere close to
that, though.”
Charlotte perked up. “You have a brother?”
“Yes,” confirmed Jackson. “Not in the human sense, though. We
have the same mother.”

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“How’s that not a brother?”
“When I say ‘mother,’” said Jackson, taking a sexy teacher’s voice,
“I mean the woman who remade me. The woman who made me a
vampire.”
“Only female vampires can make more?”
“No, no. Male or female.”
“How do you make more vampires?”
“You had your question for today,” said Jackson gruffly. His tone
reminded her of how he’d told the men in her apartment that he
wouldn’t go with them.
She grinned playfully. “I was just asking.”
“I won’t tell you,” he said, slightly severe.
“Well then tell me when I can go back home.”
“I’m not sure you can,” he said.
She sat up in bed fast as a sprung mousetrap. “What?”
“I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to go back home.”

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Chapter 12

“How…” said Charlotte, shocked by his words. “What do you


mean, you don’t know?”
Jackson put his arm around her. “I need to go out and check some
things,” he told her, running his palm up and down her shoulder to
calm her down. “Then I’ll know.”
“Check what?” she asked. It was too shocking. She couldn’t even
look at him.
“The bodies in your apartment,” he told her calmly.
Her guts swirled. It all appeared before her: blood and death
spattered on her living room floor. And it had been so nice lying with
Jackson, just moments ago…
“So you, you have to get rid of the bodies?”
“Hopefully,” he replied flatly.
“Hopefully??” she said, her voice lilting up with confusion.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If the bodies are still there,” he explained, remaining calm and
logical, “then they didn’t report back their position. If they didn’t
report back their position, you can go home.”
“Report to who?”
“I can tell you later.” He sat up on the bed, faced away from her. “I
really have to get going. I was just going to check on you for a
minute. I didn’t plan on…” He glanced up, searching for the right
expression. “Such a long and enjoyable romantic encounter. It was

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great. But I was only supposed to be here five minutes. I do need to
go. I’ll probably be out awhile, but you’re safe here.”
“Safe from what?” she demanded. “What’s going on?”
“The answer won’t comfort you,” said Jackson, starting to pull on
his blue jeans.
“Don’t condescend me,” she said angrily. “You took long enough
making love and chitchatting. Tell me. Right now.”
Jackson turned over his shoulder and looked in her eyes. “I’m a
wanted criminal.”
“Because you killed that guy at the club?”
“Not exactly,” he explained, now leaning back on the bed with his
blue jeans hanging unbuttoned from his lean hips. “I’m not wanted by
humans. They’re after me—other vampires in the city—because of
that video that night.”
“But it’s just a video.”
“It’s exposure,” he said, taking her hand and lacing his fingers into
hers. “It’s exposing our whole kind. It’s our most ancient law. You
can’t leave any trace of yourself in writing or anything permanent.
You can’t leave anything concrete for a human to trace us, to prove
we exist. Getting on camera like that, doing those things on camera,
and the video got seen by millions—I’m in serious trouble, and they
came looking.”
Charlotte slid across the bed and leaned back next to him, her legs
going off the side and resting her feet on the floor. She still held his
hand.
“So they’re from the vampire government or something?” she
asked.

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“No,” he said. His green eyes were calm and steady as he
explained. “We have no government. We’re organized more like
regional tribes. The biggest tribe in some area acts, more or less, like
the government. In New York, that’s the House of Antonio Rafael. I
used to work for them. Rafael is the most powerful vampire in New
York. Maybe the oldest, depending on who you ask, though the true
ancients tend to be secretive about their age. But Rafael and his house
maintain order here, or their version of order, and killing two of
them… I won’t get out of this one easily. They will come for me
again, with their real warriors, and if you’re with me, it won’t be
good. But you’ll be safe here.”
“Okay,” she said, grabbing his large hand with both of her small
ones. “So, safe here for now, and you’ll straighten that out, and I can
go back to my apartment?”
Jackson said nothing. He hid his gaze and his emotions from her by
fixing his eyes on the floor.
“Jackson, answer me.”
Still he sat unspeaking. As she waited for his reply, her stomach
knotted and tightened like braided rock.
“It depends on their report,” he finally said. “Depends on whether
Claudio and that other guy reported in properly. If they only know he
was in your neighborhood, you can return, but you have to be careful.
You cannot see me, at least not for a long time. But if Claudio
followed procedure and reported his position properly, you… you can
never return.”
“What?” Had she heard correctly? Never? It couldn’t be possible.
“But, but, no… You’re in trouble. Not me.”

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Jackson said nothing.
“Why would they want me?” she went on, staring at the wall out of
shock. “I didn’t do anything. Jackson? Jackson!”
“It’s vampire law,” he said in a sad voice. “Humans aren’t
supposed to know about us. If one of them does—”
“You kill them,” she snapped. “You eat them or throw them out the
window, like those guys were going to.”
“Yes.”
She raised her feet from the floor and put her heels on the bed,
cradling her knees. “Don’t the police know about this? The
government?”
“No.”
She was rocking back and forth, as if shaking her head “no” with
her entire body. “But that’s impossible. How can nobody know?”
He sighed. “It took you bullets, stab wounds, a hypnotic gaze,
leaping to different buildings, vampire blood on a sword, two
killings, and a huge lamp smashed across my face to believe me.”
She let out a sigh so sharp and fast it sounded more like a hiss.
Jackson had a point, didn’t he? It really wasn’t so crazy that no one
knew. And yet the shock and the strangeness were still drilling into
her brain, not quite breaking through…
You can never go back.
Her life, all gone. Void and silence. Then she screamed:
“What have you done?!”
He waited a moment, not answering. She wanted to pull his lips
open and tear the answer out.
“They would’ve killed you,” he finally said.

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“Because you showed up in my apartment!”
“I don’t know how they found me,” said Jackson sadly. “I left no
scent on the ground.”
“Well, they did find you,” raved Charlotte. “And now there’s
vampires after me to kill me or drink me or whatever because you
messed up.”
“You’ll be safe here,” he said, trying to take her hand. But she
jerked it away.
“So what? You just drag me off, not even thinking about me, like I
have no life? Do you know how much my family will worry about
me? I’m supposed to go back to work in a few days.”
“You may be able to go back. It’s possible.”
“No!” she yelled. “Not possible! You’re going to fix this.”
“I’ll try.”
“No! You destroyed my whole life, and you’re going to put it
back!”
He paused. “You’re right,” he said slowly. “I’ll make this right.”
He grasped her hand. A sincerity shined from his eyes that made
her believe he really would do everything he could. The tense kiss
they shared calmed Charlotte down.
“I need to get going,” said Jackson, now standing up and buttoning
his pants. “I’m going out.”
“You’re leaving me here alone?” she said nervously.
He nodded. “You’ll be safe.”
“But I don’t even know where I am.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he informed her. “You can’t go out.”
“What do you mean, I can’t go out?” she said, half angry and half

117
not believing him. “Like not at all? Are you locking me in or
something?”
“Yes,” he said, lifting his shirt off the floor and donning it. “That’s
safest for both of us.”
Her mouth gaped open. Her eyes boggled. “But what if I need to
leave?”
His voice was stern. “I can’t allow that.”
“So you’re kidnapping me.”
He considered this. “I’m protecting you.”
She was too angry and shocked to answer him.
“There’s food in the other room,” he said, kneeling before her and
taking her face in his hands. “TV should work. Be careful when you
walk around. There’s still pieces of that lamp on the floor.”
As Jackson left the room, screams and shouts surged up Charlotte’s
ragged throat. He left the metal door to the other room open, but then,
from that other room, another door closed and the lock clicked shut.

***

She woke a long time later. Jackson stood at the foot of her bed.
The muscles by his neck pulled the straps of his white muscle shirt
tight. Sleep still fogged her mind. She sat up, snaked her arms around
him, and pulled herself against his safety and warmth.
Then she remembered: He’d kidnapped her. Could she ever go
back?
She released her hug, stood, and walked several feet away. “What
kept you so long?”

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“I had to take care of the bodies,” he replied.
Her arms were crossed, but her head leaned inward at this news.
“That’s good, right?”
“Very good,” he said, and she could hear, from his voice, that it did
make him happy. “Had those men reported their positions properly,
Rafael House would’ve cleaned the bodies themselves. That means
they don’t know where I was hiding. And they don’t know who you
are. So we can go back there.”
“I can go back there,” she said angrily.
These words made Jackson look down as he replied. “Yes.”
“So get my stuff,” she told him, “and I’ll take a taxi.”
“Very well then,” he said, looking back up at her with eyes full of
passion and hope. “When will I see you again?”
“What, I don’t…” she started desperately before collecting her
thoughts. “I don’t know if you will. You left me here and I worried all
day. I don’t want be mixed up in all this. I don’t know what you want
—”
“I want you,” he said softly.
“No,” she protested, and she rose and walked to the wall, facing
away from Jackson. “I just…”
An exasperated sigh ended her sentence, and she started to nibble
the skin around her fingernails.
“You’re scared,” Jackson said, coming over to her and hugging her
from the back. “It’s a lot to deal with. You don’t know what’s real.”
She shook her head, not looking at him. “This apartment was
clearly designed and built to hold kidnapping victims.”
“Not kidnapping,” said Jackson. “It’s gruesome. But we have to

119
eat.”
Her whole body tensed up. Her shoulders shrugged up to her ears.
Her teeth ground together.
“So… this, this place,” she said, horrified as the words came out
but having no choice except to finish her sentence. “This place,
you… You kidnapped girls and then you took them here and drank
their blood?”
“No,” he said strongly. “Not girls. I… I took people who wouldn’t
be missed. They weren’t for me, not usually. They were for the boss,
Antonio Rafael. And that was forty, fifty years ago.”
“And you don’t kill people or kidnap people anymore?” she asked,
her chin tucked into her chest.
“I have to eat.”
Charlotte peeled his arms off her and stepped away, still not
looking Jackson in the face. “So we’re just cows to you, then?”
“Absolutely not,” he said. His voice was louder, powerful, riled up.
“Never. I value you. I value all human life. I care for your kind. I see
that you feel, that you think, that you innovate and create, that you
love. I wanted to know you, to reach out, to get outside this
disgusting vampire society. There’s a few of us like me, but just a
few. Most vampires don’t feel that way. They view you,” and Jackson
let out a groan of bitterness and disgust, “like a crop to be harvested,
or a coop of delicious chickens. I won’t lie to you. I have to eat, like I
told you before. But I try to take those who are ready to go.”
“This is all too crazy,” Charlotte said, leaning into the corner of the
room. “I don’t know.”
“But you believe me?” said Jackson. The hope in his voice clawed

120
at her heart. “You trust me now?”
“I don’t know,” she told him. Her eyes closed for a few seconds
before she continued. “I don’t know. I mean, I believe you now, I
guess. What else can I do? And I feel very strongly about you. You
make me feel very strongly. Part of me says, you’re the best man I’ve
ever met. You’re so incredible, I don’t even know why you’re with
me. But that’s just part of me. And another part of me just says, this is
all crazy. Part of me says, it’s too good or too bad or too scary to be
true. It says, go back to your apartment and wake up tomorrow and
go back to the job you thought you hated. Take your parents to
dinner, send messages to your little brother that he doesn’t answer, try
to make new friends here, watch TV, eat ice cream, try not to hate
your boss.
“I want to wake up and just keep telling myself that I never met
you, that this never happened, that there are no vampires. And that
night at the club… I don’t know. Sometimes when I look at you, or
when you talk about these violent things, part of me goes there.
Sometimes I think about it and I throw up, and I can’t sleep right. I
just… I want to go back to my apartment. And I don’t want you to
see you again.”
Each word of her last sentence came out painfully as a kidney
stone. It hurt her, and it would crush Jackson.
Instead, he just sat there, impassive, with wise and kind eyes.
“I understand,” he said. “You need time to think, to deal with this.”
“No,” she said. She shook her head, frustrated, annoyed. “No. I
want to go back to my apartment and forget this.”
“You won’t be able to,” said Jackson, his eyes wide with concern.

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“You’ll have to get used to it, to what I am, to vampires.”
She glared at him, angry. “I don’t want to.”
“You can keep your normal life,” he assured her, “and I can be a
good part of it.”
She was still glaring at him, not letting him persuade her. “You
used to kidnap people.”
“That was my work,” he said, contrite. “I’ve changed. I’ve seen the
error. But back then, it was all I knew.”
“Bullshit!” said Charlotte. “You used to be human.”
“Two hundred years ago,” he said calmly. “After that, I changed to
something else, and I’ve changed again. Whether you believe it or
not, people can change, people do change. And in two hundred years,
I’ve changed more than once. Do you think I brought you here to
harvest you?”
She sighed tiredly. “No.”
“I’ve done bad things. I was a terrible person. But that was a long
time ago now. Do you hate your grandparents because in their
childhood, they wouldn’t drink from a fountain a black person had
used? Do you hate every Vietnam vet for killing people over there
when they were children themselves?”
“You weren’t a child.”
“We were always children, when we look back now on times we
regret.”
Charlotte could say nothing. It made sense, didn’t it? Forty or fifty
years ago, if she believed him. Before she was born. And yet she
couldn’t even look at him. If she put her gaze on his face and let
those eyes work on her, she’d forgive him—she’d want him—and

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then what? This chaos would break apart her whole life.
“Charlotte,” he said, his voice rough, slightly pained. “I won’t be
able to stop thinking about you.”
The next few seconds were so tense that the air between them
turned to ice.
He grabbed her and kissed her full on the mouth.
With a firm hand on his chest, she pushed him back. His granite
body gave way.
“Jackson,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady.
You scare me. I can’t ever see you again.
That was what she wanted to say. Instead, what came out was:
“Give me a few days, and then we’ll see.”

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Chapter 13

Charlotte’s ultimate Monday morning: For the first time since the
shooting, she woke up and got ready to go into work.
Somehow her body had not, through a shooting and a riotous
supernatural romance, forgotten its mundane routine. Her feet
skipped through her apartment grabbing this and that; her hands
whipped her standard makeup across her face with practice and
precision. Through the turnstile on the subway, waiting where the
fewest others were waiting, hurtling up the exit past the standers and
into the warm morning light. In her building, the elevator dinged as it
touched the ground floor, and she packed herself in with everyone
else.
So routine was all this—so glovelike did it fit back around her life
and mind—that when everyone stood up and applauded upon her
office entrance, it pushed her lips into a frown. So strange!
Her higher-level boss, Theresa, embraced her for the first time—
seized her like Charlotte was rescuing her from a sinking ship in the
Arctic.
“So great to have you back,” said Theresa, her hug squeezing the
air out of Charlotte’s lungs.
“It’s good to be back,” said Charlotte.
“If you need to rest, or take more time, or if you need a half day or
anything, that’s completely okay.”
Charlotte sat up with poise and gave Theresa a confident business-

124
smile. “I’m here to work.”
“You’re a hero,” said Theresa, and she grabbed Charlotte into
another bear-hug. “You’re such a hero.”
“Theresa,” said Charlotte, and she lowered her voice so that the
rest of the office couldn’t hear.
“What is it, honey?” asked Theresa desperately.
“Honestly, I just want to work like normal. I don’t… I mean, the
shooting was a few weeks ago. I don’t need to be reminded of it.”
“Oh,” said Theresa, making a wide, sheepish grimace. “Of course.
Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Just, don’t do anything else. You know, give me stuff to
do. I really need to work right now.”
I really need to work right now because it makes me forget I slept
with a vampire and vampires are real OR I’m completely crazy.
“Okay,” said Theresa. “I understand. We’ll find something for you
to get busy with. For now, you can have a look at the queue.”
Ah, the queue. The queue of things Charlotte’s department had to
deal with. The queue, the queue. It never fully emptied and always
got longer. There was no finishing early with the queue. You’d grind
your way through the queue and you’d never finish, and sometimes
the queue got too long and her immediate boss, Kyle, would tell them
to pick up the pace.
It’s nice to see you today, queue. So reliable, so predictable. Did
she like the queue all of a sudden?
So she took her time on each item and never rushed. No one would
bother her about speed her first day back. Steady progress. Soon,
she’d knocked off thirteen items. Thirteen… Solid. Almost lunch

125
time.
But the clock said it was only 10:05.
Two more hours of the queue? Her tummy was already rumbling.
But she had to keep working. She came here to take her mind off
Jackson… No, don’t think of him now. The queue is here for you.
She clicked the next item. She read it. She thought. She typed.
“It’s unbelievably boring,” Jackson said to her.
She was daydreaming, she knew, but she couldn’t help it. You
aren’t supposed to be here. I’m concentrating on my work. I like this
and I was moving up. They like the work I do here and I could get
Kyle’s job soon because the higher-ups think he doesn’t pay attention
to detail and they’re right.
“I don’t like Kyle either,” said Jackson.
Leave me alone, Jackson. I’m not thinking about you.
What would it feel like if, right now, he simply laid his entire broad
hand across the top of her thigh—no, no, on her throat. And then his
exceptional mouth sculpting her lips, and his tongue probing her,
teasing her.
“You should stop thinking of me so much,” said Jackson.
I should, but it’s too boring.
And how would the others in the office look at Jackson if he were
really here, standing by her desk absolutely naked and glorious?
“They’d all be jealous of you for having me,” said Jackson.
Go away, Jackson. You’re scary and I’m not going to daydream
about you. I’m concentrating on the queue… how is it two hours until
lunch? And then four hours after lunch…
“Make an excuse and duck out,” said Jackson. “You were involved

126
in a mass shooting. You have a solid two or three days before anyone
will blame you for anything.”
What? You’re not supposed to talk like that.
“Charlotte Pickersgill?” said a young woman in a maroon blouse.
“Huh?” said Charlotte, a bit too loud. Having her fantasy
interrupted caught her off guard. “Yes. What is it?”
Charlotte recognized the woman. It was a receptionist who worked
in front.
“There’s someone here to see you,” said the receptionist.
Her heart jumped. It must be Jackson “I, uh…” Yes, she’d just
thought of him coming in here, but that was just fantasy. Jackson
couldn’t come in here! Maybe that bloodsucker would eat everyone
in the building, or bring in a whole squad of vampires. No, there are
no vampires.
“Uh, where is he?” asked Charlotte.
“It’s a woman,” said the receptionist.
Of course it was. Of course Jackson wouldn’t come here. It was
daytime, after all.
“Oh,” said Charlotte. “Um. Where, then?”
“She’s in the stairwell by the south elevator.”
“The stairwell?”
“Yes. Please go talk to her.”
“Um. Okay.”
Charlotte wove through the aisle between desks, dodging people
and avoiding eye contact. Who could it be? Why in the stairwell?
Strange. None of her friends would do such a thing. No one was
waiting in the elevator lobby. Did they mean literally in the stairwell?

127
Charlotte hauled the heavy stairwell door open.
Inside stood an East Asian girl, probably about college age. She
had short hair and wore a tight green blouse that stretched without a
single bulge or wrinkle over her flat stomach. Trim black pants
hugged her hips and tapered down her toned legs. Her makeup was
light and suitable for the office—a dab of foundation, a hint of blush,
a touch of eyeshadow, a glaze of pink on her plump but not wide lips.
Her large ebony eyes glittered, and her white smile was friendly and
flawless.
“Hi,” said Charlotte.
“Hello,” said the girl, extremely poised and confident. Maybe it
was a woman and she only looked young? “Great to finally meet
you.”
The woman shook Charlotte’s hand with the perfect business
handshake—an oddly strong handshake. She must have gotten that
flat stomach from going to the gym. Was she nineteen or closer to
thirty? It was always hard to tell with Asian women. From that
handshake, how she spoke, how she handled herself—You could see
this woman was a mover and a shaker. But who was she? An exec
from another department? Someone from a rival company sent to
probe? Or just a particularly ambitious college girl looking for a leg
up?
“Do I know you?” said Charlotte. The woman seemed like
someone she would—or should—remember.
“No,” replied the woman with a friendly, approachable smile. “But
we know of you.”
“Oh.” So the woman was from another company. “And you’re

128
with?”
“We would like to speak with you and your boyfriend.”
Charlotte tilted her head. “My boyfriend?”
“Jackson.”
Charlotte blanched. No, no, no… “Uh, you must have me confused.
I don’t know any Jacksons.”
“Giacomo Raccogliere, currently using the name Jackson Racco.”

129
Chapter 14

“Um. I, I’m sorry,” said Charlotte. Her heart was fluttering and she
could barely get the words out. How did this strange woman know
who Jackson was? “Who, who are you?”
“We’re someone who can help you,” said the girl in a soothing
voice. “Talk to Jackson. Jackson will want to know who we are as
well. Here, you can call this number. We’d love to talk to you guys.”
The woman handed her a white business card. No name, email, or
logo was on it, only a phone number.
“Are you with the police?” said Charlotte. She almost hoped the
answer was yes.
The woman smiled cutely. “Would a cop give you a card like
that?”
“So you’re with, like, the FBI? Homeland security?”
“No,” replied the woman. Her voice became gentler or more
energetic at times, but everything she said was affable, cheery, sweet.
“Have they been to talk with you?”
Charlotte didn’t answer this. “You’re with that other… the House
of Antonio Rafael?”
The woman smiled. “Have they been to talk to you?”
Charlotte took a step away from the strange woman. “Which one?”
“Any of them?”
“I don’t think I should talk to you,” said Charlotte, stepping back
again. “You’re with those people.”

130
“Which people would that be?”
Charlotte had backed up to the stairwell door and reached behind
her back to grab the handle. She gave the woman a stern glare and
told her, “I’m not answering anything else.”
The woman smiled at Charlotte again. She really had the cutest
smile. And such bright, cute eyes. Charlotte gazed deep into her cute
dark eyes. Wow, what a nice girl! This girl was incredibly
trustworthy. You could just see it in that smile. So friendly! So warm!
Just a super friendly, happy, normal young girl. A great person to
make friends with.
Charlotte walked over and embraced her. And the girl hugged her
right back. She hugged with just the right amount of firmness. The
hug said, I care about you and I like hugging you, but I won’t squeeze
too hard and hurt you. Yes! This was the friend she needed.
“You know, it’s really great to meet you,” gushed Charlotte.
“Yeah, me too,” said the girl, giving Charlotte’s arms a cheerful
squeeze. “I mean, it must be nice to get back to work, but hard, you
know, with all that’s been going on.”
“Exactly,” said Charlotte, releasing the hug and looking in the
girl’s eyes. “It’s good, but I realized, coming back, that I really never
liked working here.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” said the girl, still smiling. An
immense feeling of connection flooded Charlotte’s body.
“I really like you,” Charlotte told her.
“You know, I feel the same way.”
“So what were those questions you needed help with?”
“Oh, right,” said the girl, and she giggled a bit. “So did anyone

131
come talk to you, like from the police, or homeland security, or just
anyone from the government at all?”
“No,” said Charlotte. “After that night at the club, they asked a few
questions, but that was it.”
“Okay. And what about from Rafael House?”
“Oh yeah,” replied Charlotte, happy to answer a question for her
new friend. “They showed up at my apartment. Somehow they found
Jackson there.”
“And then?”
“Jackson killed both of them,” said Charlotte. She frowned here
but continued speaking with enthusiasm, happy to tell her new friend
about her experiences. “Then we went and hid in this kind of creepy
room that looked like it was set up for kidnapping. But Jackson said
those two guys, Claudio and someone else, hadn’t reported back
properly, and so they got rid of the bodies. So now I’m back at home
and everything’s fine.”
The girl raised her eyebrows, intrigued. “When was this?” she
asked, still with her usual friendly voice.
“Two nights ago.”
“Wow, that’s intense,” said the girl, and the way she said it made
Charlotte nod her head. “I have to go now, but great talk.”
Charlotte frowned, confused and disappointed. “Oh. I was having
such a good time.”
“I was too!” said the girl. “But you know, work. Gotta get back.
Anyway, I think you’re really great, Charlotte. But you need to do
something for me.”
“What?” asked Charlotte eagerly.

132
The woman’s smile dimmed here, and she spoke with a sharp, clear
voice. “Give that card to Jackson and tell him to call us.”
“Okay,” answered Charlotte, her pupils widening.
“Thanks,” said the girl. Her voice sweetened, becoming almost
melodic. “And now you’re going back to work, and you know what?
Today, you will love your work for the rest of the day. Your work will
make you happier and you’ll do your work with more energy and joy
than you ever have.”
“I will?” asked Charlotte, slightly confused.
“Yes, you’ll work hard and you’ll love it. It will make you so
happy today.”
“Okay,” said Charlotte. Her new friend was so nice; whatever she
said must be true. “Do you really have to go now?”
“I’m sorry, I do,” said the girl. A hint of regret mixed with her
friendly tone, but her bright smile appeared again as she added, “But
you’ll see me again.”
“I will?” asked Charlotte.
“If you give that card to Jackson, you will.”
“Okay!”
Charlotte practically skipped back to her office, ignoring the weird
looks her coworkers gave her on the way back—and it really was the
best day of work she’d ever had. Every minute was interesting. She
never got tired. She more than doubled her usual amount of work.
People in the office looked at her and whispered. They must be
admiring her hard work.
And her new friend—What was her name again?—her new friend
was just awesome.

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***

The next night, when Charlotte returned from work, Jackson was
outside her door, waiting. His broad shoulders and powerful, thick
arms dominated her hallway. As she turned off the stairwell, he
marched towards her, green eyes smoldering. It was frightening to
have such a huge man stepping down the narrow hallway at her. But
the raw power of his fearless, aggressive stride, even as it scared her,
unleashed between her legs a fiery drip of desperate need.
“I’ve missed you,” he growled, his large body looming around her,
not six inches from her own.
Her body remembered the ecstasy Jackson had brought. Her
nipples, her core, her lips burned for him. Her hair follicles wanted
Jackson to give them a pull. Lust dizzied her.
“How’d you get in?” she said, trying to be logical.
“The roof,” he informed her. He took one step forward and his
ripped body pressed against hers, swallowing her in its heat and size.
“Uhh, uhhh,” Charlotte began. She looked up at his gorgeous face
and electric eyes.
As he spoke again, his voice was throaty, almost animal. “I want
you now.”
Her head started nodding. “Okay.”
She was so horny she could barely get her apartment door
unlocked. Jackson slammed it behind them and pressed Charlotte
against the wall. He lifted both her wrists above her head, set his
thick forearm across both of them, and leaned in. She gasped with

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excitement and arousal. His weight and strength shackled her wrists
to the wall. With his free hand, he unbuttoned her loose black
business slacks. Then both her panties and her slacks went down her
legs. Her pussy was soaked. It needed to be touched badly—and he
didn’t make her wait. His long hand covered her from mons to anus.
He slid it back and forth across her, coaxing from her a needful
whimper.
Then his hand left her, and she ached for him more. He fished a
condom from his pocket, then unbuttoned and dropped his
sweatpants. He sliced the condom wrapper open neatly with his fangs
and, pinching the reservoir tip, placed it on. Jackson was not
circumcised, and his beautiful pink glans was peeking from its walnut
wrapper. He unrolled the condom one-handed, gave her cunt a quick
palm, and plunged in.
Something between a shriek and a groan echoed through
Charlotte’s throat. His thickness filled her entirely. Her arm muscles
tightened, but his meaty forearm pinned her wrists down. He
withdrew and thrust again, his own moan echoing that of Charlotte.
As he thrust again and again, he leaned in and mopped her lips with a
passionate kiss made sloppy by the pleasure she gave him. His groans
and her moans sent whispers of warm breath through the edges of
their interlocking mouths.
But then he withdrew, laced his arm around the arch of her lower
back, and walked her over to the sofa. She went to sit on it and
continue, but he held her up. His hands on her hips spun her to face
away. A light shove on her upper back bent her over the sofa’s padded
armrest. She could see nothing but locks of her dark hair and the

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beige sofa cushions.
He shoved into her. She howled and squeezed the sofa cushions.
His thickness filled her entirely. A deep bellow came from his chest.
He plunged in again, balls deep, and again. His hardness drew back
and forth across her most sensitive spot inside. With each thrust, he
cut the knots of arousal in her core, and as he withdrew, new knots
tied up again.
A vicious, sudden orgasm screamed from her core through her
whole body. Curls of desperate, overheated, almost sickening
pleasure twisted through her insides. Sweat oozed from her pores as
the raw heat burned through her. She gasped and shouted face-down
into her sofa. Her forearms shook from how tightly she gripped the
cushion.
Then the orgasm burned away, quick as it had come. Her whole
body was gooey and hot. Jackson’s thrusts had slowed. One of his
feet had escaped the waistband of his sweatpants. He set this foot,
shoe still on, atop her coffee table. She reached out and clasped his
calf with one hand. Bands of sinew tensed under her fingers. From
how his breath raced in and out, she knew he was close to coming.
“Ahh, ahh, ahh,” Jackson cried, and then, “OOooooooooaaahhh!”
His cock pulsed inside her. His seed spurted. Absolute pleasure
filled his groans. But his orgasm, like hers, was fierce and short. He
retracted and padded off to the bathroom to flush the condom.
Charlotte pushed herself up off the armrest. A twinge went through
her lower back—perhaps bending like that after sitting all day had
stretched her too much. She plopped on the couch. A few spots of
sweat had gone through the blouse she’d worn to work, and the

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cushion covers bunched where she’d grabbed them.
Jackson came back out and sat next to her, pants-less. Her own legs
were moist and starting to chill.
“Don’t you get cold?” Charlotte asked, sliding up against him for
warmth.
“Not really,” he said as he adjusted his posture so she could sit
against him more comfortably. “I can sense the cold, but it’s just
another feeling.”
His penis, apparently, did not get cold either. It reached out along
his inner thigh, still semi-hard, the pink head peeping from the
foreskin like a beautiful toy in an overstuffed Christmas stocking.
“You never did tell me where vampires come from,” Charlotte
asked.
“It’s a messy process,” answered Jackson. Either tiredness or
gloominess dampened his tone—she couldn’t tell which.
“How does it work, though?”
“It’s dark. It’s painful. It’s bad. We can talk about it another time.
It’s early. We should go out and do something.”
“Okay,” she said, excited by this idea. “What did you have in
mind?”
“There’s a lovely church about a block from here. You know the
one I mean?”
“Yeah, the big one. It’s beautiful.”
“Yes. Fine stonework. I’d like to walk with you and take a look.”
“Let me change.”
She grabbed her pants and panties from the floor and went to her
bedroom to change, choosing jeans, tennis shoes, and a long-sleeved

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purple shirt with a v-cut neck. And yet wasn’t Jackson forgetting
something?
“Wait, Jackson,” she said, raising her voice to get his attention in
the other room.
“Yes?”
“Is it okay? I mean, for us to go out and walk around?”
He nodded reassuringly. “It’s fine.”
“But you were on that video,” she said. “I mean, the vampires want
you, and the humans… I mean, people all know you from that video.
It has… It must have like a hundred million views by now. You…
you aren’t worried about just walking around?”
“I know. I have a disguise.”
What kind of disguise could he use? Jackson was the size of an
NFL player and the entire country was looking for him, or at least
they had been a couple of weeks ago. She tied her sneaker and walked
over to the door.
“Let’s see this disguise.”
From his pocket, Jackson pulled a pair of eyeglasses with a
mustache attached.
She chuckled. “That’s funny.”
“I thought you’d like it.” He held the disguise out for her to
examine. “My mother made it for me.”
It seemed like a joke, but he didn’t sound like he was joking. What
if his mother really had made it? Taking a closer look, it was clear
Jackson’s disguise wasn’t from some cheap novelty store. The glasses
had fine copper frames that looked very old. The lenses warped
everything that went through them. The mustache too—the whiskers

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had little spots of gray and darker and lighter brown, and each one
bristled out in a slightly different direction. Was it real hair?
“So your mother makes stuff like this?” asked Charlotte, intrigued.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “She’s… an illusionist. It’s her hobby. She’s
very good at it. Let me try them on.”
He brought the glasses and attached mustache up to his face and—
What the hell?
His whole face twisted and shifted. His cheekbones got smaller, his
cheeks fattened, his lips shrank, his forehead lengthened. What?
How? Part of it was how the mustache covered his lips, but the lenses
—the lenses were doing something incredibly strange.
“Oh my God,” she said. “How’d… how does it do that?”
“I don’t know,” said Jackson. “My mother doesn’t share her
secrets. But she is good at it.”
“She’s very good at it. You look like…” And Charlotte started to
laugh. “You look like a college professor. A nerdy professor. Like a
professor of medieval poetry.”
“Not a professor of fashion?”
“No,” she said, and she kept laughing. A smile peeked out from
under Jackson’s new mustache.
“Let’s go,” he said. And he reached out and laced his thick,
calloused fingers through hers.
They left her apartment and walked together. Her neighborhood
was not particularly romantic, but the leaves were falling and the
weather was beautiful. They reached the large church and stopped in
front. His body was so broad, firm, and warm. He gave her hand a
gentle squeeze. The lights fronting the church glowed white and

139
green over the roughhewn stones and inked their crannies with
shadow. Leaves the color of pumpkins and red apples spiraled in the
gentle breeze and piled on the ground. The sweetness of their rotting
wafted along whispers of autumn air so crisp and cool, it seemed to
scour the nostrils clean with every breath. Other couples were out
walking too, and some of them paused to admire the church as well.
Jackson began talking of the stonework—the type of stone, the
strength formed from placement of cut blocks, the choices the
builders made and why they made them. There were many steps in
the process and many types of masons, but in five thousand years, the
basic tools and skills had never changed.
“An apprentice mason’s training starts, even today, with the
boning-in process, the flattening of a stone. They must do it by hand
to learn the nature of the stone and show their respect for the craft.
The mallet and chisel they use have existed, in their current form,
since Egyptian times at least. The head of the mallet and chisel are
round, so that as the mason changes the angle of his work, he can still
readily apply the same force without adjusting his grip.”
A few other couples and a family with two kids stopped and
listened. Jackson noticed this and spoke on. He explained that every
stone must face the same direction in the finished building that it
faced when it lay in the ground. Then he turned more directly to the
large stone church, pointing out places of rugged beauty and places
that required the most skill to shape. Passion rolled through his voice.
Even the two kids gazed up at him with rapt eyes. Soon twenty
people formed a semi-circle around Jackson.
“Stonecraft takes twelve hours from every day and sends aches

140
through the body’s smallest muscles,” he went on, “but it demands
more of the mind. The master masons of past ages were some of the
smartest men of their time, or any time, as far as I’m concerned.
These masons were not men of books or universities, but in the scope
and the depth of their learning, knowledge that lived in their hands as
much as their brains, they matched any surgeon.”
Jackson paused and looked around. His pause stretched into a
silence of several seconds, and it appeared he didn’t know where to
continue.
A middle-aged woman broke the silence, asking, “Are you in art
history or architecture?”
“Excuse me?” said Jackson, a bit confused.
“Which university are you at?” a younger man asked.
“He teaches courses in both departments,” said Charlotte,
answering the first question and cutting off the second. The disguise
was very good, but all these people staring at Jackson and digging
with their questions worried her. She squeezed Jackson’s hand and
tugged him away from the church. Jackson gave her an understanding
nod and they turned to go, but a man stepped forward and thrust his
hand out to Jackson for a shake.
“I just wanted to thank you for that,” he said, pumping Jackson’s
hand. “I’ve walked by this church a hundred times. I always thought
it was pretty, but I never looked at it like that before. It’s amazing
how much goes into it. You must really like what you do. I think
that’s great.”
“Glad you enjoyed it,” said Jackson. Charlotte squeezed his hand
tighter, suddenly full of emotion. Jackson in front of so many people,

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speaking like that—it turned her insides warm and weak. But people
were getting out their phones to take pictures, and Charlotte didn’t
like it. She tugged his hand, Jackson said goodbye to the man and the
people there, and they started moving away.
“People really like listening to you,” she said when a block lay
between them and the church.
“Yes.” He frowned a little bit, embarrassed. “I guess they enjoyed
it.”
He stopped and held both her hands and looked in her eyes. They
kissed once and kept walking.
“I was surprised,” she began. “I mean, you said you didn’t learn
anything from your, um…”
“From my master.”
“Yeah, I thought you didn’t learn anything from him, and he just
used you to lift things.”
“Yes,” said Jackson. “But I liked the work, so I’ve been staring at
old stone buildings for two-hundred-odd years since then.”
“But you don’t work now?”
“No.”
“How do you fill the time?”
“Many ways,” said Jackson. Something in his tone suggested he
didn’t like this answer. But his voice lifted as he went on. “I watch
people, I visit places. I take care of my food when I have to. Talk to
Wesley, my mom, a few others. And hobbies. Mostly hobbies. I’ve
had many hobbies. Humans have one or two. I’ve had far too many.
I’ve spent a thousand hours on a hundred different things. My
favorite,” and he turned to Charlotte as they walked, “is gardening.”

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Her voice jumped with surprise. “Gardening?”
He answered with unabashed enthusiasm. “I love it.”
“More than stone working?”
“Yes. Stonemasonry, once you master it, produces results that
match what you saw in your mind. But gardening—every plant turns
out different. You put the seeds in. Some never sprout. Some rot in
rainy years. Some spring up ungainly, sprawling, unique. Others
grow with symmetry and beauty. I planted a grove of spruce with my
brother when we first came to this country. We don’t own the land
anymore, but I sneak in and see it every five or ten years. Now, the
largest of them, I can strain against with all my power and never
move.”
“So you like it because it surprises you.”
“And a hundred other reasons besides.”
They were walking now down a smaller street. Older apartments
rose along the road, five and six floors high. Fire escapes hung with
laundry and dotted with potted plants climbed their sides, and
television glare colored the walls through the windows.
“I love the smell of the soil and of growing plants and of every
flower,” Jackson went on. “I love the soil sifting through my fingers,
or feeling stubborn clay give way beneath my spade. I love most of
all how it reminds me of sunlight. I can feel the sunlight warming my
back as I work, though I’ll never feel it again on my face without
pain. And I love the peace that gardening brings.”
“Wow, that sounds awesome,” said Charlotte. She looked over
Jackson’s features, picturing him bending down to pull weeds and
clip a rose bush. But she had to correct the image: The sun was

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shining on Jackson when she first imagined it, and she had to re-
picture him clipping the bush at night. The image touched her and
changed the way she saw him. Gardening suggested a lot of patience
—maybe that was why mostly old people did it—but Jackson was
old, so it made sense. She thought of him hugging the huge trees he’d
planted hundreds of years ago, unable to move what he’d created.
“I forgot to ask you,” said Jackson, breaking into the image. “How
does it feel to be back at work?”
“Great,” she answered without thinking. “It feels great.”
“That’s good. When you spoke of it before, it sounded like you
didn’t like your job.”
“Um. I guess I don’t really? It’s work. But yesterday went so well.
I mean, yesterday might be the best day at work I’ve ever had.”
They had completed a rough circle through the neighborhood.
Their talking continued as they entered her building and went up the
stairs.
“Why did it make you so happy?” asked Jackson.
Charlotte paused a second, trying to remember. Yesterday had
made her feel very good, but it was hard to put a finger on why.
“It just went well,” she said, accepting that she didn’t quite know.
“People left me alone, didn’t fuss with me, didn’t bring up, you
know, that bad event too much. I got some work done, and then right
when I started to get bored, this nice girl showed up and wanted to
talk to me in the stairwell. And after that, I don’t know. I just worked
super hard all day and I loved it.”
“Who was the girl?”
“I don’t know. It’s weird. I really liked her and I feel like I know

144
her really well, but I have no idea what her name is.”
They’d arrived at her apartment, and Charlotte looked up at
Jackson, ready to keep talking. But Jackson told her,
“Get the door open and we’ll talk inside.”
He seemed suddenly tense. She gave him an awkward look but
opened the door anyway.
“You said the woman wanted to talk in the stairwell?” he asked,
boring into her face with sharp eyes.
She shook her head at him very slightly, irritated by his glare.
“Yeah. So?”
“That doesn’t seem strange to you?”
“She doesn’t work there. She just wanted a chat.”
“She wanted a chat with someone who doesn’t know her name?”
Jackson was glaring at her like she’d done something stupid, and it
pissed her off.
“Okay, so I guess you’ve never worked at a big company before,”
she told him. “But sometimes, college grads or MBA students try to
meet people so that they’ll have a leg up when they interview.
Nowadays, it’s mostly online or at conferences, but I guess this girl
was looking for an edge. So she goes to my company and meets a
few people, so she can get inside info or recommendations that put
her ahead to get a job.”
Jackson took in a deep breath, making a concerted effort to calm
himself. His glare softened.
“Okay,” he said with forced calmness. “I understand. So she asked
about your company?”
“Why are you still going on with this?”

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“Is that a no?”
Charlotte was speechless. They’d been having such a good evening
up to now, and Jackson had to ruin it with this weird interrogation.
“She asked about me too, didn’t she?” he said.
We want to speak to you and your boyfriend. Giacomo
Raccogliere, currently using the name Jackson Racco.
The woman’s face, speaking those words, jumped into Charlotte’s
mind. All of it rushed back to her, the whole conversation. A pitiful,
broken whimper escaped her lips.
“It’s okay,” said Jackson, and his strong, safe arms wrapped around
her, pulling her against his immovable body. “It’s okay.”
“I… I told her, like, everything.”
“I know,” he said, running his hand over her back. “It’s okay.”

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Chapter 15

Charlotte was in shock.


“What… What…” she began. Her mouth was moving, but
sentences weren’t coming out. How could Jackson forgive her for
telling them everything?
“It’s okay, honey,” he told her gently. “She was a vampire.”
“That’s why she was in the stairwell,” said Charlotte, squeezing
Jackson tighter as she figured it out. “No windows.”
“Yes,” said Jackson, kissing her gently on the forehead. “You did
nothing wrong. She used her eyes on you. You trust her and talked to
her because she used her eyes.”
Charlotte was shaking her head just a little, the side of her face still
pressed into Jackson’s chest.
“But when you did it to me that night, it was really overwhelming.
Like it was so powerful, I just assumed it had to be a dream. This was
totally different. I mean, I never would’ve known!”
“She’s good at it,” explained Jackson. “I’m not. Different vampires
are good at different things. Rafael House has a few elite gazers. The
woman in the stairwell—was it a thick-set woman, appears about
mid-thirties?”
“No,” said Charlotte, leaning back from his chest and looking up.
“It was this cute Asian girl.”
He squinted at her, not understanding. “Asian?”
“Yeah,” she confirmed. The dumbfounded look didn’t leave

147
Jackson’s face, so she added, “I mean East Asian.”
Jackson’s head sort of swiveled. “Yes, I know. There’s no one like
that in Rafael House. No one like that in New York. A smaller Asian
woman, skilled at gazing, so she must be quite old… no one like that
here. I have sources of information. I would’ve heard about a new
arrival like that. She could be a rogue, a wanderer not connected to
any larger group. Rogues can be old, mysterious, powerful. But this
woman knew things. She wasn’t a rogue. She was working for
someone, or with someone.”
“Maybe Rafael House hired her or something?” suggested
Charlotte.
“No. They have a dozen in-house who could take care of
something like this. And the card, asking us to call them—that’s not
something the Rafaels would do.”
“So it’s not the Rafaels. Maybe it’s another group?”
“It’s possible,” said Jackson. “But who? No one would dare. And
why contact you, or contact me through you?”
“It seems like we’re missing something,” said Charlotte, shaking
her head slightly. “Let’s break this down logically.”
“Good idea.”
Both stood there thinking. Their brains hurt from working, not
finding the answers. Charlotte stood there with one arm across the
bottom of her ribs, the other hand brought up to her mouth, her lips
slightly moving as the thoughts shifted in her mind. Jackson’s eyes
bored into Charlotte’s laminated floor as if the answers were buried
inside.
“Why do you think she came to my work?” Charlotte said, looking

148
up from her rumination. “Why not here, if she knew my name? They
could’ve found me online.”
Jackson took a second before answering. “They knew I wouldn’t
be at your work. They could get to you alone. Show me that they
know who you are, that they can get to you without me being there to
protect you.”
Charlotte shook her head.
“What is it?” Jackson asked.
“It can’t be the Rafaels,” she answered, confident this was true.
“How can you be so sure?”
She was sure because what Jackson had said didn’t click. There
was a flaw in the logic somewhere; she could feel it. It was as
apparent as the scent of slightly off wine, hard to pinpoint but
definitely there. In seeing that flaw, the truth had come out: It wasn’t
the Rafaels. But what exactly the flaw was, she needed a minute to
put into words. She turned it over and over, thumping her fingertips
lightly into her lip as she reasoned it through.
“Giving me the card and showing up at my work,” she finally
began, the conclusion rushing out, “makes no sense from the Rafael’s
point of view, assuming they know who I am. They want to arrest or
kill you, and kill me or at least damage me so that no one would trust
me if I talk about vampires. Why alert us to their presence? If they
knew who I was, they could probably find my address online, and
just show up here when we aren’t expecting it. That’s better for them.
Or just follow me around until I run into you. Surprise is good for
what they want. Alerting us to their presence, giving us time and the
chance to contact them, that makes no sense for someone who is after

149
us. The Rafaels don’t know who I am, don’t know where I live. They
already failed to get the two bodies here, which you said they’d
collect if they knew where we were. The people who gave me this
card, they do know who I am. They knew our relationship. And they
may want information, but they don’t want to kill us.”
Jackson looked at her askance. “What if it’s a trap?”
“No,” Charlotte told him, full of confidence. “They know who we
are. They must know where I am, at least. If they didn’t, that woman
would’ve asked after she gazed me. So they know about this
apartment, right now. They could’ve gotten me while sleeping last
night, and the night before. They could’ve followed me to you, gotten
you. They’d be here right now. Why would they need a trap?”
Jackson was staring at her now, the way he’d stared into the floor
when looking for answers. His eyes were sharply focused, fierce and
formidable. Charlotte gazed back at him, struck by this.
“You’re brilliant,” he told her.
She grinned awkwardly, embarrassed but liking the compliment.
Jackson stepped toward her and kissed her on the forehead, the
cheek, the mouth.
“It’s not complicated,” she said bashfully. “Anyone would’ve
figured it out.”
“No,” he told her in a throaty voice, kissing her between each
word. “Brilliant. Sexy. Woman.”
Jackson’s compliments and the force he said them with were
turning her on. Her body was overheating, made worse by the
warmth of his chest, abs, and legs against her.
“Okay, okay,” she said, pushing him back. “We can do that in a

150
minute, but we have to figure out what to do about this.”
“Yes, yes,” said Jackson, taking a big step back. His erection jutted
into the front pocket of his grey sweatpants like a poorly concealed
baton. Charlotte had the impulse to grab it and feel how hard it must
be, but she resisted this and concentrated.
“So like I said, they don’t want to hurt us,” she said, grabbing her
prior thoughts out of a series of erotic images. “If they did, they
would’ve done something different. So you’ll call them?”
Jackson licked his lips and looked up and down her body. “Yes,”
he said, turning away from her. “Let me use your phone.”
She fished it out, unlocked the screen, and handed it to him. He
walked over to the window, took the card from his pocket, and tapped
in the digits.
“Hello,” he said simply, raising the phone to his ear. “Do you know
who this is?”
About twenty or thirty seconds passed, and Jackson said nothing.
But he kept the phone to his ear, so the other end must be speaking.
“So you’ve been following me?” he said, his voice calm and
factual. A few more seconds, and then he said, “Why are you
bothering Charlotte? I see. Then you tell her that.”
Jackson walked over and handed her the phone.
Who is it? she mouthed at him.
“A doctor,” Jackson said at full volume. “Ask him. He’ll explain
it.”
“Hello?” she asked. “Who is this?”
The voice that answered was very clear and neither high nor deep.
Something about it made her want to listen.

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“I’m a doctor,” he said. “I’m doing research on vampires, here in
New York. Highly illegal for vampires due to the documents
involved, so I operate in secret. I contacted you because I’m
interested in helping you and Jackson in your troubles with the
Rafaels. And I’d like to interview Jackson for a job in my small
organization and possibly offer him work.”
“Oh,” said Charlotte. This was not at all what she expected.
“I’m sorry my assistant gazed the information out of you the other
day,” the man on the other end continued. He sounded genuine and
intelligent. “The situation was mishandled. I’m sure that once you
come to know us, and us to know you, you’ll find that it’s all worked
out for the best. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
“Um. Okay. Nice to… meet you?”
“Nice to meet you as well, Charlotte.”
The man did not say his name. Charlotte handed the phone back to
Jackson.

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Chapter 16

“My boss wants to meet you,” said Jackson. They were sitting in
Charlotte’s apartment at about seven P.M., three days after Jackson’s
call to the mysterious number. She’d been working all day and was
tired.
“How about not?” she said lazily, bringing up the menu on the TV
and starting to browse.
“Just come by,” he said, stroking her other hand. “Say hello.”
She gave him a sharp look and then refocused on the TV. She was
tired and didn’t see the need for this conversation now—if ever. “I
don’t see why I need to talk to those people.”
“They’re good people. Especially Godwin. You just don’t know
them.”
“I know they came to my office and gazed me,” said Charlotte.
“What if they do it again, and I can’t even tell?”
“They won’t. I’ll be there, and I’ll make sure. They’ve apologized,
anyway. They didn’t hurt anyone.”
“What if they eat me?” Charlotte said through a lazy smirk.
“They won’t,” said Jackson, apparently choosing to take her joke
seriously. He laced his thick, long fingers through hers, and she
squeezed his hand back. She never tired of how large and strong his
hands were. “Godwin’s a doctor. They treasure all human life. They
go in the hospitals and find people with no brain function—I think
your term is vegetables?”

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“Yeah,” said Charlotte. “Vampires that only eat vegetables? That’s,
hm. That’s good, I guess.”
“Yes, it is.”
“I don’t need to meet them,” said Charlotte, still clicking through
the menus on the TV with the hand Jackson wasn’t holding. “You can
go do that, and I’ll go to my work, and it’s fine. I just want to go to
work, come home, be with you… no more of this other vampire stuff.
Why does your boss want to meet me, anyway?”
“So he mentioned his research,” said Jackson earnestly. “One topic
he’s probing into, not personally but one of his researchers, is
relationships between humans and vampires. Relationships like ours.
It’s hard to find relationships to study, since they’re rare, and most of
the time, the vampire doesn’t reveal his or her nature. They want to
study the psychology of it, ask you some questions. They’ll also
collect a few blood samples.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Charlotte, nodding. “Why do I
need to meet him, though?”
“He just wants to meet you,” said Jackson earnestly. “I guess I talk
about you a lot, and he got curious. And I’d like you to meet him.”
Her eyes broke away from the TV and found Jackson. He was
leaning forward slightly on the couch, a touching and candid look on
his face.
“I’ve only known Godwin for three days,” Jackson continued, “but
I respect him greatly.” There was indeed respect and admiration in
Jackson’s voice. “He’s given me a sense of purpose. He’s very bold.
Visionary. You’ll like him. And it’s a chance for you to meet another
one of us, in a better situation. You haven’t had any positive

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impressions of us, besides me.”
Charlotte could hear from his voice and see from how he sat that
this meant a lot to Jackson.
“Okay,” said Charlotte, squeezing Jackson’s hand again and
smiling warmly. “We can go meet him. Not tonight, though. You said
he wanted me to participate in that research, answer the
questionnaires or whatever. Would I get paid for that?”
“Yes,” said Jackson. “They said they’d pay you two thousand per
visit.”
Two thousand? That was definitely an amount of money she could
use.
“How long is each visit?” she asked rapidly. Sudden curiosity
made the words rush from her mouth.
“Not sure,” replied Jackson. “They just pull blood and do the
questions. I don’t think it could take more than a couple of hours.”
Charlotte set the TV remote down and gaped at Jackson. Two
thousand for two hours? She’d been chipping away at that student
loan for years—and now they were handing her a jackhammer!
“How often do I go in?” she asked.
“I think once a week.”
A jackhammer—No. More like a wrecking ball. An extra two
grand per week? It had to be too good to be true.
“Why so much?” she asked.
“It must be hard to find participants,” said Jackson. “Is it a lot?”
Charlotte laughed. “Yeah. Definitely. That’s two grand times fifty
weeks of work per year. A hundred grand. I mean, and I can keep my
day job, so I’m looking at, you know, healthy six figures.”

155
“I didn’t realize it was a good number,” said Jackson. “I’d have
mentioned it sooner.”
“It’s not like, unbelievable, but it’s… I mean, it’s basically two
hours of week for a six-figure income. Yeah, it’s a very good
number.”
“When are you free to go over there?”
Her tiredness and slight crankiness had completely vanished. She
felt like she’d woken up after ten hours of good sleep—on Christmas
morning.
“I’m free tonight,” said Charlotte, getting off the sofa. “You’re
going over there to work, right? I’ll just go with you and I can meet
Godwin, then do the survey.”
“Sounds good,” said Jackson, and he stood and pulled her in for a
quick kiss. Charlotte leaned in and they kissed a bit more, tongues
fencing lightly. She was enjoying the feel of his lips.
“Oh,” she said, a sudden thought stopping their kiss. “One
condition, though.”
“Yes?”
“I don’t wanna see that girl who gazed me when I go over there.”
“Her name’s Qi.”
“Okay, sure,” said Charlotte. “Whatever her name is. I don’t want
to see her, don’t want to look at her. I don’t trust her. I don’t like what
she did to me.”
“I understand.” Jackson took both her hands in his and met her
eyes. “I’ll talk to Godwin about it. I’ll call him before we go over
there just to make sure.”
“Thanks,” she said, and she thanked him again with a kiss.

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“It shouldn’t be a problem,” said Jackson. “She’s in intel, not
research.”
“What’re you in?”
“I thought I told you,” he said, his voice deep and slightly playful.
“I’m head of security.”

***

Jackson’s new boss didn’t like him jumping from building to


building. It was too conspicuous. So the two of them took a taxi to
Manhattan.
Into a building of red stone they went; the elevator ticked up
twenty floors. It opened on a hallway painted white, plain except for
some vases stuffed with pink and orange flowers. Three cardboard
boxes stacked up in one corner.
“Charlotte,” said a middle-aged man with a thick, curly beard and
dense black hair. “Great to meet you.”
This man shook hands better than anyone she’d ever met: A solid
grip that relaxed her, made her feel her own handshake was
particularly good that day. His soft palms lacked the calloused
roughness of Jackson’s hands. His clean white labcoat contrasted
with his spongy black beard. Though not old, he looked incredibly
wise—perhaps the labcoat combined with the beard did it. If she had
to guess, she’d say he was from India or Pakistan. Two pens poked
from his coat pocket. Khaki trousers led down his legs to a pair of
black and white running shoes. His height fell halfway between that
of Jackson and Charlotte herself. The man had broad shoulders and a

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stout core with a bit of gut hanging off. In his eyes were energy,
depth, and kindness.
“You must be Godwin?” asked Charlotte.
He gave a warm, close-lipped smile. “That’s what they call me
around here.”
The way he spoke reminded her of her favorite college professor—
a solid, crisp, intelligent voice that filled a room and called
everyone’s attention yet never got too loud.
“This is our research and administration area,” he said, turning his
palms up and extending his arms. “We can go somewhere more
comfortable to talk. I have a simple flat in this building, down a few
floors. We needn’t take the elevator. After you?”
The stairwell door opened automatically for them. It was a typical
New York stairwell—oddly lit, neither filthy nor clean, smelling old
but not dusty. As they descended, a light flipped on below them, and
when they got further down, the light above shut back off.
Godwin descended in front of them. Her own footfalls and those of
Jackson echoed up the stairwell, but Godwin’s feet made no sound.
It was definitely more than two or three floors. As they went down,
Charlotte stared at Godwin’s feet. He wore normal running shoes but
set his feet down oddly. The soles of his feet came close to each step
but never set down at all… No, no, she was imagining things. The
bad lighting made it look that way.
A door off the stairwell opened automatically before them, and
they went down a hallway, through another automatic door, and into
an apartment. A huge living room spread before them. Paintings from
the Renaissance up through the sixties or so hung on the walls. All

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reproductions, it looked like. One of them was a Caravaggio. She’d
seen the original in the Vatican Museums a few years ago. As for the
others, she recognized some, but one of them struck her. She’d seen it
before. It was incredible, an unbelievably human, epic mass of
sprawling, struggling people intricately tangled. All perfectly
executed. But where had she seen it before?
“Have a seat,” said Godwin, and he motioned to a group of sofas.
But Charlotte’s eyes wouldn’t leave the painting.
“I’ve seen this one before, but I can’t remember where,” she said,
stepping close to the painting and then thrusting her head out for the
closest possible look.
“Perhaps you’ve seen other work by the artist,” said Godwin. He
stepped next to her to share her view of the painting, as did Jackson.
“Michelangelo.”
“No. I mean, I know Michelangelo, of course. But I’ve seen this
one, I just can’t remember where. Which museum is the original in?”
“No museum,” said Godwin, pleased by her appreciation of the
work. “It’s a fresco on a very hidden wall. Another vampire keeps it
for herself. It took me a lot of prodding and several favors to even get
this photo done. But I’m afraid you’ve never seen the original.”
“I’ve definitely seen it,” said Charlotte. “I saw it and I was like,
where did I see that before? Like it was so familiar.”
“That’s what the best art does.” He spoke like a caring and
passionate teacher letting a student in on some academic secret. “You
see it the first time and yet it feels as if you must’ve seen it ten times
before. Great music, even more than a painting, can do the same
thing. Like it’s played in the back of your mind your whole life,

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slightly too quiet for you to hear. Don’t you agree?”
“I guess,” said Charlotte. “I mean, yeah, for music, sometimes you
hear a song that’s just so right. But I just can’t shake the feeling I’ve
seen this before.”
“His best work. You know, we wanted to make Michelangelo a
vampire. Well—some of us did. We’d make him a vampire and he
could paint this way forever. He could keep improving. He could
climb to heights no human lifespan would allow. But the others
wouldn’t let them try.”
“Why not?”
Godwin turned to Jackson, who stood on Charlotte’s other side
admiring the painting. “How much have you told her?”
Jackson glanced at Godwin deliberately, then spoke to Charlotte.
“Do you remember I told you that we can’t leave any written
records?”
She took her eyes from the painting and looked to Jackson. His
round shoulders on each side of his wide chest filled the crimson
button-down he wore. His perfectly muscled body could’ve been
sculpted by Michelangelo himself.
“Yeah,” she answered.
“Some vampires would regard Michelangelo, if he kept painting
for centuries and producing works, as breaking that law.”
“A terrible law,” said Godwin. “In fact, that wasn’t why. We all
saw he was something truly special. We saw that something great had
changed in Europe. Everyone loved his work. Loved it too much. The
disagreement came from him surely making a few more great pieces
—and he did work into old age—or the chance of him painting and

160
sculpting like that forever. But that’s a conversation for you two to
have alone.”
“Yes,” said Jackson, his voice sharp.
“Excuse my manners,” Godwin said to Charlotte. “Would you like
something to drink?”
“Um, no thanks.”
Godwin motioned to one of the sofas with an open, upturned palm,
and Charlotte and Jackson sat down there. Godwin spoke to
Charlotte.
“So how much do you know about us?” he asked, a bit of curiosity
raising his tone just slightly. “About vampires, and about what I’m
trying to do here?”
“Um,” she said, and she looked to Jackson. He held her hand and
gave her a nod.
“You don’t trust me,” said Godwin with a small, appreciative
smile. “That’s good. You may have more resistance to that than other
humans. Your species instinctively trusts my species, sees us as
friendly, congenial. That’s why you felt so easy around my assistant.”
Anger surged up Charlotte’s guts. Her fingers curled into a sort of
claw or half-fist. “I hate her.”
“Jackson mentioned that,” said Godwin. “You feel she manipulated
you.”
“Absolutely,” said Charlotte, still angry. “And why should I trust
you if you’re the boss of someone like that?”
“You shouldn’t,” replied Godwin. “And yet I’m sure when you met
me, you thought I was very trustworthy and likable, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but…”

161
“Our species does that to your species,” explained Godwin. “It’s
natural. We give you the feeling of trust.”
Charlotte folded her arms. What Godwin was saying scared her. It
made her doubt everything she felt.
“What about Jackson?” she asked, glancing at her boyfriend. He
met her eyes with a sober look. “Does he do that to me?”
“To some extent,” answered Godwin. “Though an exceptionally
attractive human would have a similar effect, if smaller in magnitude.
Like all vampire powers, this charisma increases with age, but it
increases much more quickly for some vampires than for others. That
is to say, two vampires could be the same age and one might have
great abilities in this area, the other might have nearly nothing.
Jackson’s strength, for example—he’s uncommonly strong, but he
lacks in a few other capabilities.”
Charlotte nodded and unfolded her arms. It was good to be getting
this kind of reasoned, organized explanation.
“Wait, though,” she said, thinking something didn’t click. “Why do
we trust you? Shouldn’t we fear you? The way we fear alligators and
lions and other things that might eat us?”
Godwin smiled at her, as if she’d said something cute. “You’re
thinking of the wrong biological relationship.”
She tilted her head, puzzling it over. “So what then, it’s sex?”
“Not exactly,” said Godwin, and he turned to Jackson. “You really
haven’t told her much, have you?”
“I’m easing her into it,” said Jackson.
Godwin squinted a bit, intrigued. “Do you find that works better?”
“I don’t want to scare her,” answered Jackson firmly.

162
Godwin nodded and turned back to Charlotte. “You’re a very
strong woman, Charlotte. Finding out about vampires can be
extremely traumatic. There’s another species living among you,
hidden, that kills you to feed and never dies. It throws into doubt
many fundamental beliefs of many people—belief in God or other
religious ideas, man’s place in the universe, existence of the
supernatural, and most commonly, in a modern person already
doubtful of all those, it causes doubt of a person’s own sanity.
“Some people will never accept it and stay in denial forever,
regardless of any and all proof. Others will accept it quite quickly—
the problem with them is that they also tend to be extremely
susceptible to other forms of suggestion, like hypnotism or religious
cults. Or they just start denying vampires again later, thinking they
must have imagined it all. That you’ve accepted it without noticeable
psychological trauma indicates great mental fortitude. I expect you
have no history of mental illness?”
Charlotte shifted her feet on the floor. The question was rather
prying, but they’d be asking more in a few minutes and taking her
blood. That’s what she was here for.
“Um, no,” said Charlotte. “I get nervous and my stomach hurts
sometimes. I guess a few times I’ve vomited when nervous. But no,
I’ve never had any serious problems.”
“That’s good,” said Godwin, smiling again. Godwin’s smile was a
warm, gentle smile that never revealed his teeth. “My stomach hurts
when I get nervous too.”
Charlotte reflected his smile. They were quiet a second.
“Let me tell you about what we’re doing here,” said Godwin,

163
breaking the silence. He leaned forward off the sofa cushions, eager
to talk. “I’ll start with Jackson. You know him, but I’m sure you see
in him different things than what I see. I’ll tell you that he’s
exceptional among immortals, unusual in many ways. I brought him
in not only for his strength, military experience, and knowledge of
the Rafaels and the other vampires in New York. I need all that, but I
saw more in him. I saw that Jackson thought differently from his
former employers at Rafael House. Much differently. In the ancient
cities of Persia and India, they would say it takes fifty years to lose
all feeling for a human, fifty years to look at a crying child and feel
nothing. But I never lost that feeling, and it’s brought me to ruin a
hundred times, and I must hide who I am from others. I saw in
Jackson a younger version of myself.”
“When he interviewed me, offered me the job,” Jackson put in,
taking Charlotte’s hand, “we talked about this. I respect Godwin.
He’s very old, very wise. And he’s like me. I can see it now, even
more, with you here. He talks to you as an equal. Do you know how
unusual that is?”
“Very unusual?” said Charlotte, knowing the answer he wanted but
not agreeing. “But he doesn’t talk to me that much differently than
you do.”
“Think of how the two vampires who came that night talked to
you.”
“They didn’t talk to me, though. Didn’t look at me. I mean, I
wasn’t even sure they knew I was there until one of them walked up
to me.”
“Yes,” said Jackson. His eyes were gentle yet stark, as if made to

164
tell her something painful. “They didn’t look at you or talk to you
because they don’t regard you as a you, just a thing.”
“I get it,” said Charlotte. “We’re just food.”
“You aren’t,” Godwin put in. He leaned forward, and again he
stabbed toward the ground with his extended fingers, as he had
earlier. Fervor filled his words and raised his volume. “You aren’t at
all, and I hate them for thinking that. Rest assured, Charlotte, that the
achievements of your species far exceed those of my own. Humans
exceed us beyond all measure and all reckoning. And the other
vampires act like it isn’t so. They laugh at technology. Those
miscreants, glutted with delusion, were saying just a hundred years
ago that no human machine could kill an ancient. Not a bomb, not a
howitzer, not a machine gun.
“You see, they laughed at the Industrial Revolution, your supposed
great progress. They loved how it piled you all into cities. And they
laughed at medicine, for they loved how it saved your children from
early death and made your cities swarm. They laughed because
everything you invented made it easier for us, and all they saw in all
your progress only an easier life for themselves and a furthering of
their own delights.
“Then came the atomic bomb. Their laughter, for a time, ceased.
And we were all scared. You could crater the earth itself, incinerate
millions in a second, atomize a vampire as easy as a worm. No one
talked of it. They ignored it in shock and silence. They were like a
group of atheists who personally saw God’s great hand dig a new
ocean. The atomic bomb showed that you had power far greater than
anything in our ancient legends, more strength than the strangest tales

165
of our oldest members.
“And I said, this must change the others. This must burn the scales
from their eyes. They will wake up and stop their silliness, their
idiocy.
“They don’t write anything down. Vampires don’t, all over the
world. It’s one of the rules everyone, or nearly everyone, has always
followed. That’s one of the reasons we can’t match your species. The
ancients forbid all writing that acknowledges us, and any photo or
video that clearly shows us doing anything inhuman. And how can
science proceed without writings and journals and records and
reports? Even pure math, they won’t write down. We have myths and
poems ten thousand years old, but no books, no colleges, no science.
“I thought the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb would wake
them up. Your Cold War, with its lack of deaths and plagues, was the
first human conflict that scared us at all. We enjoyed war before that.
It was an easy feast. But in the Cold War, we cowered as you did.
“And then it passed. Their delusion came back on. Everything
would go as it had gone. They went on and they laugh at the silly
humans still.
“But I see that you feel and think as we do, and that for all our long
lives, we have, in some ways, less knowledge. We may know more,
but it’s organized in poorer ways. I see a path to the future in which
humans and vampires know each other, work together. And the
greatest among you will become as we are—immortal.
“I told you earlier I was one of them who wanted to remake
Michelangelo as one of us. He could paint and sculpt for a thousand
years and grow more brilliant with each one.”

166
“But he’d have to eat people for a thousand years,” Charlotte put
in. “You’ll just end up eating more humans.”
“No,” said Godwin, and the force in his voice scared her a bit. “We
wouldn’t, and we won’t. Even now I have scientists researching that,
among other things. We’ll solve that problem, and with ten
generations of the greatest scientists working together, with no fear of
death or old age to slow them, what new universes will open before
us?”
Godwin’s stare after he finished was baleful. His eyes were black
saucers of strange ardor beaming behind his black beard. She turned
her head away. Godwin apparently caught her discomfort, as he
looked away himself and shook out his arms as if they were stiff. She
glanced up at Jackson, who still held her hand, and he kissed her. No
one spoke, and this time it was Charlotte who broke the silence.
“So are you gonna make fake blood,” she said with a smile, “like
on that TV show?”
“That, or another solution,” answered Godwin, sounding friendlier
and not so powerfully serious.
“Have you actually seen the show?” she said teasingly.
“A few episodes,” he replied with a warm, fatherly smile. “It’s not
bad.”
Charlotte squeezed Jackson’s hand, signaling enjoyment. He
squeezed back and looked at her with happiness in his eyes.
“Charlotte,” Godwin said, getting her attention, “we would like to
recruit you as one of our study members. We’re learning how humans
and vampires can have loving, caring relationships, and how humans
respond to various aspects of vampires and to knowledge of the

167
existence of vampires. And more than that, I’d like to welcome you
into our family, and I want to help you two in your troubles with
Rafael House, who are also my enemy.”
Charlotte was smiling at him. He was an easy man to like, though
she wondered how much of this was his vampire influence. She asked
Godwin about the pay and other details, and he confirmed what
Jackson had told her, only adding that she’d have to complete a full
physical on her first visit and it might need a few more hours. The
vampires did research at night, along with several human researchers,
and so she could come in the evening and didn’t need to quit her day
job. Everything sounded great.
“But aren’t you worried about the Rafaels?” Charlotte added at the
end. “Jackson said they’re really powerful.”
“That they are,” said Godwin. “Rafael has many sons and
grandchildren, and from them come his power. But Jackson worked
with them, knows them, knows their ins and outs. And he’s an
experienced warrior himself, extremely strong. He’s training a group
to combat them. Far more than just myself and Jackson have
contempt for the Rafaels. Other wheels have been set into motion
besides. For now, we’ll remain secret. But when the conflict comes,
and it will, it won’t be a problem. Antonio Rafael is arrogant,
complacent, cowardly, hopelessly traditional. He will lose.”
Charlotte couldn’t help but curl her lip with skepticism. “You’re so
confident.”
“Of course,” said Godwin. “A volcano surging from the ocean
floor does not fear sharks.”
“Don’t exaggerate,” cautioned Jackson. “We have a fight on our

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hands. But it’s not something you need to worry about, sweetheart.
You just come in, fill out the questionnaires, short interview, give the
blood samples.”
“Sounds great,” said Charlotte.
“Excellent,” said Godwin, and he stood and shook her hand. He
really had an incredible handshake—it was like shaking hands with
the president. “Talk to the receptionist on the floor where you came
in, and she’ll handle the paperwork. I’m needed in the lab. But I’m
very happy to have you on board.”
Godwin left and the apartment door clicked closed. The meeting
had gone incredibly well. She liked Godwin a lot, even though he’d
scared her a bit with that speech. Looking at Jackson, she saw the
same emotions in his eyes. They kissed several times. The happiness
and energy filled her, moved through her lips. Their tongues tangled
quickly. These were wet, hot kisses. She pulled back and glanced
around at the well-appointed, spacious apartment, letting her gaze
linger one second on the Michelangelo. But Jackson pulled her close
and smelled her neck.
“I couldn’t stop fantasizing about you last night,” he growled into
her ear.

169
Chapter 17

Jackson’s arm draped over Charlotte’s shoulder. She fit snug into
the cleft between his body and Godwin’s expensive sofa. His other
hand was trailing fingers up and down her neck, dipping toward her
cleavage and then rising up to her chin. His erection lifted the denim
of his jeans off his leg, and he leaned in with excellent kisses.
“We shouldn’t do this here,” she said, stopping for one second.
Oh, but they should. Pure heat flowed through her sex. They’d only
just started kissing, but wow. Something about this place, this
moment, what was it?
“I was at work last night,” Jackson said into her ear. His voice
rumbled, deep and rough and arousing. “I was listening to him and
trying to pay attention and the image of you naked and how it would
feel to plunge into you just wouldn’t get out of my mind. He was
talking and all I could think about was you being right there and me
tearing your clothes off and fucking your brains out on the spot.”
Charlotte gasped. His words sent tongues of flame through her
body. And she’d been thinking about him at work all day too.
“What if they walk in?” she whispered.
Who was she kidding? She didn’t care. Her sex ached for him,
burning and wet. The urge was unbearable. If someone walked in,
they’d get a show.
“No one will walk in,” Jackson assured her in the same irresistible
voice. “Godwin’s working.”

170
“Okay,” she panted.
His mouth surged onto hers. She felt him up with excited hands.
Lust tightened his muscles. His legs pulled and clenched in odd
patterns. He wanted to release so bad. He was leaning into her,
squishing her body between his heavy, lust-stricken mass and the
sofa. The tip of his sex, hot even through his pants, jabbed at her
stomach, her thigh. His hand found her lower lips and mashed on
them, heavy and hard. Pleasure poured through her body from this
friction—and yet they could do more.
“Get it out,” she told him.
He fumbled with his zipper. She kicked her shoes off and, in one
motion, dragged her pants and panties down her legs. His cock was
out now, standing upright from his open zipper like a rocket on a
launchpad. It shook and pulsed. His foreskin pulled all the way back
and revealed the rim of his glans, aroused to a violent dark pink. God,
it was so big.
“You have a condom?” she asked, eager to get that detail out of the
way.
“It’ll be fine,” he said.
She straddled him on the couch and grasped him by the roots. She
guided the warm, bare tip in. A groan echoed from deep in his chest.
His hands seized her hip bones and he surged up into her, sheathing
himself deep in her, unprotected and fully intimate. Another deep
groan echoed out.
“Quiet,” she said, and she squeezed her hand over his mouth.
Jackson thrust up into her, and again. His eyes were dizzy, struck
stupid by the pleasure she gave him. Deep moans vibrated through

171
her hand as she kept it clamped over his mouth. Then she grinned at
him. Oh, they could make this very fun. She started to roll her hips
just the way he liked. His groans grew louder. His thrusts quickened,
but she stayed with him. Their bodies moved as one like piston and
crank. His groans grew deeper. She leaned in and kissed his forehead,
still holding his mouth shut.
Now green flames curled through his eyes. One of his hands found
the back of her neck. He pulled her hair to tip her head back. His
other hand gripped her butt, and his thrusts probed her deeper, harder,
faster. She screamed. His hand gripped her mouth and held it shut. He
pounded her faster still. Her core throbbed around him; each thrust
rippled through it and rumbled through the rest of her body. With
each sweet stroke, she was tightened and stretched again. The thrusts
stacked one on another. All she could do was hold on to his mouth.
As he slid one thick finger into her anus, she crashed over the edge.
“Aaaaaahhhh!”
Her legs turned to rubber. Her core clenched around Jackson’s fine
thick shaft. Her insides melted, transmuted by Jackson into pure
ecstasy. His iron hands held her still and the thrusts piled one atop the
other, drawing her orgasm out. Her hand slipped off his mouth. His
shouts of pleasure joined hers.
He came just as her own orgasm wound down. Hot wet breaths
rushed from his lungs out across her face. The pleasure cut free from
his loins sent his legs into a wild kicking spasm. His eyes rolled back.
Sheets of muscle bulged from his neck. He emptied into her. His
penis thickened for a split second with each surge of seed.
When he’d finished, she sat with him inside for a few moments and

172
then crawled off. Her juices had run down his length and trickled
through his pubic hair. His sack glistened with her feminine moisture.
“That couch might smell funny tomorrow,” said Charlotte, pulling
her pants back on.
Jackson laughed. He positioned himself in his underwear to zip
back up.
“God, that was good,” said Charlotte.
“Yeah,” said Jackson.
“You said ‘yeah,’” said Charlotte, pleasantly surprised. “You never
say yeah.”
He smiled slightly. “Yeah.”
He was standing in front of the sofa now, looking around the room.
She walked over to him and stood on her tiptoes to give him a kiss.
“I’m never gonna be able to concentrate on work now,” said
Jackson.
“Why?” she asked. “You got it out of your system.”
“Doesn’t work like that,” said Jackson, kissing her again. “Now
that I’ve had you at work, I’ll just think about it more.”
This aroused Charlotte, and she said teasingly, “Well, I should be
coming by once a week to do those samples.”
He gave an approving groan and told her, “I’m looking forward to
it.”

***

Charlotte returned to Godwin’s lab the next day for her physical
exam. The doctor said she was healthy except for two things. Her

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blood pressure had gone up a good deal, and they asked whether she
got enough sleep. Since meeting Jackson, she hadn’t slept so well.
Actually, she hadn’t slept perfectly since before the shooting, and
Jackson had worsened it. But she still got five or so hours a night
most of the time and was getting on well enough.
Over the next week, Jackson worked for Godwin. Charlotte didn’t
ask him too much about it, but the job seemed to make him happier.
He smiled more and moved with more energy. Not that he’d lacked
vigor before, but now, his limbs swung through the air with a certain
lightness and ease. He walked and talked and danced the way he had
that first night they’d met. He slept at her apartment twice the first
week. They had an incredible amount of sex. Jackson never tired. He
sometimes orgasmed two or three times in one session, and she
always came more than he did.
Jackson adored Godwin. That was clear from the way Jackson
spoke of his boss. The name Godwin showed up more and more in
his conversations. And yet all the mystery about him remained. When
she asked Jackson who Godwin was, his age, and where he came
from, Jackson admitted he didn’t know.
Her own work marched on. Her job was the career equivalent of
unsweetened oatmeal: dull but soothing, predictable, easy to finish
but heavy in your gut. The only interesting thing was that her
immediate boss, Kyle, got called in by the higher-ups more and more
often. When he left those meetings, he always looked peeved.
Her first check from Godwin came in: two thousand dollars, as
promised. Two grand was just enough for a mid-range espresso
machine—but she wasn’t that irresponsible with money! Still, she

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could treat herself a bit. She bought a three-hundred-dollar blender,
made an awesome smoothie, and put the rest on her student loan.
The next week, Charlotte was to go in and give her samples, one
urine and one blood, and do another questionnaire. That next two
grand was already burning a hole in her pocket. Maybe try some of
that expensive designer ice cream, or perhaps a fancy bottle of rum
for her new blender.
What excited her far more, though, were fantasies of another side-
room romp with Jackson.
He knew she wanted another rowdy quickie at work, in a place
they weren’t supposed to be doing it. He teased her about it all week
but said nothing definite and made no specific plans. In fact, Jackson
had no cellphone. He said it made him too easy to track, and you
couldn’t know who was listening. But he dropped by her apartment
almost every night.
The night before she went in, he didn’t show. He was letting her
get excited, making her long for him more. It would be extra hot
when she got there. Memories of their last romp at work remained in
her muscles, in her joints, in her core. The way he’d positioned her,
rocked under her, held his hand over her mouth. The way he’d been
in her with nothing between them.
She finished work and got ready to go to Godwin’s building for the
sample at about eight. She wore lacy red panties and strappy black
shoes with four-inch heels. But she didn’t want to splurge too much
with her new income. She was financially responsible, after all. So
she rode the subway instead of taking an Uber. No seats were open
and her feet ached before she got off.

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Two blocks separated the subway exit from Godwin’s building.
Two blocks to walk with her already-aching feet. But Jackson was at
the other end. At the crosswalk, she shifted her weight, trying to ease
one foot and then the other. Maybe if no one was coming—
WOW.
A staggeringly sexy man grabbed her gaze as she checked the
oncoming traffic. He was walking right toward her with his eyes
locked on her own. An extremely tall, beautiful man with dark skin
and dense black hair.
A few of his long strides covered the distance between them. His
arms swung with perfect, almost sensuous relaxation—as if he’d just
had great sex. She stared up at him and her mouth hung open a little.
This man was tall enough to play in the NBA. Maybe athletic enough
too—he had none of Jackson’s thickness or brawn, but robust veins
snaked up his fingers and into his shirt, a crimson button-down
topped with a bow tie.
His eyes. Those eyes lanced her through at once. They were an
intriguing earthy color, like fertile soil or the darkest chocolate, but
through this rich brown ran flecks of obsidian and shards of shining
silver. A wide white scar ran from the middle of his forehead
diagonally down and crossed his right eye. The eyelid crinkled up
and deformed where it ran through. Aside from this, his youthful face
had no flaws. In fact, were it not for the scar, this man would be
entirely too pretty.
He was clean-shaven and had moist, utterly smooth skin. His
handsome lips were a rich red-brown color. A long formal jacket
flowed over his sides, and intricate chestnut brogues covered his

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large feet.
“Hello,” said the man. His voice was deep and rich as fudge, and
yet there was a grainy roughness in it, as if he were slightly hoarse.
“You’re clearly going to see someone special.”
“Oh, uh, uh…”
Strange man on the street. I shouldn’t talk to this guy.
He smiled at her, and that gorgeous smile threw her hesitation right
out the window.
“Yeah, I’m going to surprise my boyfriend at work,” she told him
with a smile.
He chuckled. “Your boyfriend.”
“Yeah, my boyfriend.”
“Your boyfriend is very lucky.” The man said this genuinely, but
his words had a slight tilt in them that intrigued her. He was hitting
on her—very overtly—but being classy about it.
“Why’s that?” she asked him.
“Your looks, your eyes, the way you move,” the man began in the
same genuine yet complex tone. “I’d say according to the standards
here, in this country and this day, you’re good. You’re cute. People
like you. But you’re not beautiful.”
Charlotte looked down, a bit confused as to why he’d say that.
“Um. Okay.”
“See, but here’s what makes you special. You take the thin, tanned
women you Americans today so love, and you ship them off to other
countries, other centuries, other worlds of beauty and attraction, and
no one would want them. They’d be thin and sickly, or even mannish.
But you! You could shift to a thousand cultures and slide through a

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hundred centuries, and your face would still make anyone smile.”
“Oh. Um. Thank you?”
“Yes, yes,” the tall man said with shocking confidence. “It was a
good compliment. Your boyfriend doesn’t compliment you like that.”
Charlotte was confused. He was right—Jackson’s compliments
were simpler, more direct, perhaps more genuine—but what kind of
presumptuous man walked up to people on the street and said things
like that?
“Well, no,” she admitted. “Not quite like that. But—”
“But nothing,” he said, cutting her off. “Give him a rest for tonight
and have some fun with me.”
The man was very attractive and his interest flattered her, but she
wasn’t playing this game with a rando on the street. She raised her
eyebrows at him and said firmly, “I don’t think so.”
This did not faze the man one bit, and he replied smoothly, “You
don’t think so, you know so.”
“You’re a bit full of it,” Charlotte told him, affronted. “My
boyfriend could kick your ass.”
The tall man laughed at her. It was an arrogant laugh that pricked
her skin and put a frown on her face. He was laughing at her like she
was an adorable child.
“I wasn’t joking,” she told him.
“That’s why I’m laughing. Thank you. It takes something strong
for me to laugh.”
“You don’t know him.”
“Yes, yes, darling,” he said, sounding cocky and like he was having
a good time. “I’m sure. Wow. You’re too cute for me.”

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The man suddenly turned his head down the street. Then he looked
upwards at different angles, all while rotating his head. It was a
precise, deliberate movement he must have done many times before.
“What?” she asked, following with her own eyes the places where
he looked.
“I have to go,” he said quickly. “Something down the street.”
He thrust his long-fingered hand, rippling with veins and tendons,
toward her.
“I’m Ali,” he said. He smiled at her in a friendly, relaxed fashion,
as if telling her everything he’d just said was all in good fun. “It was
lovely to meet you.”
He gripped her hand firmly, though he didn’t squeeze. A hand like
that would surely hurt if he squeezed. His palms were supple. Her
white thumb alone peeked out through the handshake, as his dark
fingers swallowed the rest of her hand whole.
His eyes were incredible. Who had eyes like that? She liked green
and blue eyes better than brown—before now. The tiny segments of
his iris were each different colors—silver-gray, caramel, jet black,
walnut brown. They shifted and blended together, streaking out from
his large black pupils that gleamed with intelligence.
“I have to go,” said the man, and the handshake broke. He walked
off across the intersection, ignoring the signal. A car’s brakes
screamed at him, but he didn’t even look up. She hadn’t given her
name. Had it been awkward for her to give no name? No. With eyes
like that, he must be used to it.
In Godwin’s building, the receptionist made her wait. The minutes
dragged by—two, three, four minutes and waiting. Where was

179
Jackson? He knew she wanted him here. He was supposed to pop out
right about now, march off to some back room to ravish her. They’d
make love somewhere exciting: Godwin’s office, or the elevator, or
the roof. The door slammed open and a man with long brown hair
marched in.
“Ali Rafael,” he said to the receptionist. “Ali Rafael, two blocks
down. Inform Godwin and Jackson.”
The receptionist’s eyebrows jumped up. She lifted the phone, a
landline, and her fingers raced over it.
Charlotte’s forehead felt hot. Could that be the Ali who just
approached me outside? She should probably say something, but
how could she know it was the same Ali? After all, Ali was a fairly
common name. Still, if he were a vampire… that would explain his
unreal confidence. Explain how he’d walked right into traffic, not
caring whether he got hit…
“What does Ali Rafael look like?” Charlotte asked.
The man who had reported to the receptionist answered.
“Tall. Dark skin. Scar across the face. Appears about twenty-five
years old. Typically wears a long coat.”
Charlotte’s heart jumped. A vampire had walked right up to her on
the street…. a really hot vampire.
“You saw him too?” the man asked, noting her reaction.
“Yeah, just when I was crossing the street,” Charlotte answered,
not mentioning that he’d chatted her up. And he wanted to sleep with
me. Or drink my blood. Or both.
Just then, the nurse called her back for the blood sample. Maybe
Jackson would surprise her in the back room, she thought for a

180
second. But nothing happened. The nurse pricked her arm and filled
two of the little vials. Then the long, dull questionnaire in a little
closet by the lab. It took her way too long to finish the questionnaire.
Half the time, she remembered having Jackson in Godwin’s house
last week. The other half of the time, she couldn’t help but wonder
about Ali Rafael.
But she bubbled in her answer to the last survey question and gave
it to the nurse. That was it. Looked like she wouldn’t have fun with
Jackson at work this week. Maybe he was busy. She went back to the
elevator to exit.
Ding.
The elevator doors spread apart—and inside stood Jackson.

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Chapter 18

Jackson’s kiss tasted of iron. His whole mouth was furiously warm.
His tongue prickled and burned in her mouth, as if he’d just eaten a
jalapeno. His muscles swelled beneath her touch, fuller and harder
than before. Work had done him good. Heat rolled off his body. The
elevator was sweltering. Charlotte gulped his tongue and groaned
gently. Would he have her right here in the elevator?
Ding.
The door opened and they sauntered into the same room they’d
used before.
“How’d you know where I was?”
“The head of security,” said Jackson, his voice husky, “can check
the security cameras.”
She giggled. He lifted her and carried her over to the couch. Then,
extending his powerful, thick limbs, he laid her on the sofa so that
she reclined across its length. His hungry eyes strafed her body. His
mouth opened in a half-smile: His long, thick fangs bulged forth.
Her shirt came up off her stomach, and he lavished hot kisses on
her bare midriff. Up and down the kisses explored. With one hand, he
stroked her thigh; the other found her breast.
His kisses journeyed to her solar plexus, up her cleavage, around
her neck. Finally, he sealed his lips on hers. He hadn’t liked it before
when she’d explored his fangs. But she couldn’t resist. She pulled her
lips over their points. She measured their length with the tip of her

182
tongue. What did it they look like again? With one hand on each of
Jackson’s chiseled cheeks, she pressed him gently away.
His eyes met hers inches away from her face—aflame with lust and
arousal, agog with excitement and joy. His mouth hung open. His
fangs notched into his lower teeth, long as a child’s finger.
“Wow,” she said, surprised by their size.
“You like them,” he replied. None of the smoothness remained in
his voice: It had broken into a gritty, animal noise.
She said nothing and ran her fingers up one of the fangs. Then, she
leaned in and flicked her tongue across the fang tip before pulling her
lips, as tight as she could, down its length.
Her body squirmed with lust; her darkest places ached to be
painfully, gloriously parted. Yet Jackson had done that to her many
times already: She must give him more. She needed him to take all
she could give.
She turned her wrist up, exposing for him her sky-blue veins.
“Drink me,” she gasped. “Please.”
The moment his eyes settled on those bare veins—the veins she
offered with ecstasy and eagerness—his whole chest heaved. His
fangs bulged forth an extra quarter inch.
“No. Put that away.” Sudden fear had come into his voice, and he
stepped back. “Don’t offer that to me.”
“It’s okay,” she said sweetly, her voice melodic. “I want you to.”
“You don’t understand,” he said. His voice crackled like a deep
growl, almost vibrating through those incredible fangs.
Those fangs dizzied her, drove her crazy. “Jackson, I’m in love
with you. Take me and take my blood.”

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“No!” he bellowed. He stood. With one swing of his arm, he sent a
sofa flying across the room. The timbers of its frame cracked and
splintered as it hit the wall.
Oh, but that only made him hotter. This beast, this animal, all that
anger breaking into her. Right now. It had to break her apart right
now. All his fury smashing into her wettest places. Her blood flowing
into him. His chest heaved with savage, yearning breaths; veins
bulged from his thick-sinewed arms; his sex pulsed through his
straining trousers.
Yet his lips pulled back into a monstrous grimace: animal, barbaric,
frightening and yet frightened. White fire smoldered in his eyes. It
was fury and lust and love and fear all at once staring back, and yet
those emotions only hinted at something altogether different: The
emotion in those eyes was something no human could experience.
The shivered, mutilated sofa Jackson had thrown into the wall lay
in one corner. She folded her wrists together and pressed them into
her stomach, hiding the blue veins.
“What are you doing?” growled Jackson.
His huge body twisted up around her; his heaving breaths puffed in
rapid rhythm across her bare neck. Fear flurried through her heart. In
front of her, inches away, stood a massive, growling, frenzied beast-
thing who had taken an assault rifle to the chest and killed a man with
one punch.
“I shouldn’t offer that to you,” she said. “You’re right.”
“Put your hands across my body,” he said, his voice sexier than
ever. “Feel the fire from my skin.”
No, no… What was this thing? Where had Jackson gone?

184
“No,” she said, scared. “Let’s just take a break.”
His body closed on hers. Fear twisted her stomach. The lights in
the room buzzed. The broken pieces of sofa started crawling across
the floor.
“You want this,” he said. “Turn your wrists to me. Tip your neck.
Show me your red.”
“Jackson, this is scary,” she said, her voice quivering. “Just stop.”
He cackled. He seized her neck and pinned her against the wall.
One of her wrists, he took and turned over, exposing her blue veins.
As he bent down to lick the skin separating her blood from his mouth,
she screamed.
“What is this?” said a new voice, booming and loud yet wholly
human.
Standing in the door to the stairwell was Godwin. Godwin had
come.
But what could Godwin do? He was both smaller and shorter than
Jackson. He looked like a normal middle-aged man, wearing a lab-
coat and khakis and jogging shoes. What could Godwin do, a
vampire researcher against this ultrahuman beast?
“She’s mine,” snarled Jackson.
“What’s happened to you?” said Godwin, stepping forward.
“Charlotte, get out of here.”
Jackson crushed her arm in his grip. She howled in pain.
“This is mine,” said Jackson. “Go find your own.”
“Can you hear anything in there?” said Godwin. His voice boomed
with authority, deeper and less human than before. “Put your fangs
away, or I will.”

185
A murderous laugh slithered through Jackson’s teeth. “You?”
“You seem unaware of who I am.”
And at once the doorframe shrank around Godwin. His outline
sharpened. Silence rolled from his body and suffocated all sound. The
lines of the walls and the paintings in the room curved into him.
Scents of gasoline and lavender slid along the lines of the walls into
Godwin’s body. Every piece of furniture and wood in the room raised
off the floor. Even tiny motes of sand floated up. These grains of dust
and the crumpled couch and the undamaged coffee table floated
together into a great sphere. This sphere of furniture and dust
revolved through the air in the room’s center.
“Release her before I break your arm.”
Godwin’s voice reverberated inside her skull before it hit her ears
from outside. Jackson’s grip around her arm—unfeeling as a pair of
bolt cutters—released. She dropped to the floor. Pain shot up through
her shoulder and into her chest. She kicked into the ground to push
herself against the wall, away from the thing she’d once called
Jackson.
That thing laughed.
“I’ve killed older than you,” he said to Godwin. “I love the feel of
an ancient’s ribcage buckling beneath my fist.”
What came next, Charlotte couldn’t say. It seemed like Jackson
walked through the tempest of furniture and dust and wood, and it
fell to the ground. Then the two bodies blurred together. Clanging
noises shot from the room’s walls and floor. Cracks appeared in the
furniture, the walls, the ceiling.
And a nightmare sound broke from Jackson. It split her ears with

186
pain and then she could hear nothing. It cracked the glass in the
windows. The sound itself was something between a howitzer and a
cow dying.
Then the two of them were on the ground. Godwin pinned Jackson
to the floor from the back. His arms laced through the longer arms of
Jackson. With his own head, he mashed Jackson’s face down into the
room’s tile. That tile cracked around the larger man’s skull. Godwin’s
left knee pinned Jackson’s left to the floor, but Godwin’s right rested
flat on the ground. Jackson’s right leg popped out sideways like a
twisted, broken chopstick.
“Oh God!” she yelled. “Shit! God, is he okay?”
“Charlotte,” said Godwin. His voice commanded her. “Come and
look at his mouth. I can’t see it back here. Are his fangs still out?”
“No,” said Jackson. He sounded normal. In pain, but like a human.
“Charlotte,” said Godwin again. “Can you see inside his mouth?”
“Yes!” she half-shouted. “It’s normal, it’s normal. No fangs!”
“Let me go,” groaned Jackson.
Godwin loosened his hold on Jackson. The larger but younger
vampire, his right leg a gnarled mess, rolled over.
“No!” shouted Charlotte. “Don’t move!”
She leapt down to Jackson’s side and threw her arms around his
broad chest.
“Don’t move!” she said, putting her hands on his chest as if to hold
him on the floor. “We have to get him to a doctor.”
“It’ll heal,” said Jackson.
“The bone is broken! You have to see a doctor.”
“I am a doctor,” said Godwin. He spoke with a steady, but

187
somewhat rushed, voice. “The leg will heal. He’s right.”
“So everything regenerates perfectly, just like in the movies?”
“Not exactly,” said Godwin. “I don’t have time to explain. That
yell when I broke his leg—it will bring too much attention.”
“Rafael House?”
“Yes. Their second-in-command, Ali Rafael, was spotted in the
area not an hour ago. They’ll notice that vampire scream and come
looking.”
Charlotte shivered. That man on the street was the second-in-
command of the largest, most powerful vampire house in New York.
“What do we do?” she asked.
“We have an evac procedure,” said Godwin. He spoke faster than
normal but without panic or worry.
Charlotte’s heart was pounding faster. It was clear things hadn’t
gone to plan, and the Rafaels would be here any minute.
“We’ve drilled it many times,” said Godwin again. His voice
calmed her. “Everything is fine.”
“Okay,” she replied, and she turned back to Jackson on the ground.
“Jackson? Jackson, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said through a groan of pain. His body writhed on
the ground.
“I’ll take care of him,” said Godwin. “He’s in pain, but he’ll be
fine. He knows he will. I have to get him out of here before anyone
shows up. My assistant will escort you.”
“The girl who gazed me?”
“Yes. Qi!”
Just like that, the pert, professional Asian woman walked through

188
the doorway and stood next to Godwin.
“I’m not going with her,” said Charlotte. She was scared to even
look Qi in the face and irked at Godwin for suggesting such a thing.
“I don’t like her. I don’t want her knowing where I live.”
“We know where you live,” said Godwin with strained patience.
“We mail you checks.”
“I’ll take an Uber,” she suggested, keeping her eyes glued to the
ground, scared one of them might gaze her.
“That won’t work,” Godwin replied logically. “You don’t know the
evac procedure. Rafael House could find you, gaze you, learn all they
can about us. If you won’t go with Qi, my human researcher will take
you. He’s on the floor below.”
Jackson sat halfway up off the ground, groaned, and lay back.
“Which human?” he put in.
“Doctor Heath,” answered Godwin.
“Why him?” asked Jackson.
“He’ll get her home safe. Qi, take her downstairs.”
Charlotte bent and hugged Jackson one more time. “You gonna be
okay?”
“Yes,” said Jackson. Pain had turned his eyes glassy.
“I’ve got him,” said Godwin, and from his voice, it was clear they
were running low on time. “Go!”
Qi snatched Charlotte’s hand and dragged her toward the stairs.
Just before they hit the stairwell, Charlotte looked over her shoulder.
Godwin held Jackson’s wrist and was shoving his other hand under
Jackson’s butt. He heaved Jackson’s huge body straight up and onto
his shoulders.

189
“Move,” said Qi, and her grip tightened. Then Charlotte was
hopping hand-in-hand down the stairs with the vampire.
“Sorry about our last meeting,” said Qi offhandedly. “Most people
like to get gazed.”
“I’m not most people,” Charlotte snapped back.
“Sure,” said Qi. She said it the way a tired mother agrees with her
sulking child. “I’m surprised he’s letting you meet Liam at a time like
this.”
Liam? thought Charlotte. Dr. Heath? As in Doctor Liam Heath?
No, no, that’s ridiculous. It couldn’t be.
They arrived at the door to the lab. Without a hand touching it, the
door unlocked and flew open.
“Liam,” shouted Qi. “Evac order. Drop everything. The Rafaels
have dispatched a squad. We have maybe six minutes. I’ll evac the
files and samples. You take Charlotte here to her apartment.”
Qi jerked her by the wrist around a corner. There, in front of a
desktop connected to a microscope, stood a man of about six-foot-
three, sandy hair, tanned skin, long lean muscles, and a smile as crisp
and white as the labcoat he wore over his tailored trousers. That
damn smile! That smile could sell dental floss to a man with no teeth.
Yes, it was him, just as she had… feared? Expected? Wanted? The
man in front of her was her only ex-boyfriend, Dr. Liam Heath.

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Chapter 19

“Great to see you,” said Liam, flashing his flawless smile as he


stepped forward for a hug.
Charlotte ducked away. “Um. Hi.” She turned to Qi. “I can get a cab
myself. I'll be fine.”
“No,” said Qi in a military tone. “You'll go with him. I'll evac.”
“What are you doing here?” Charlotte asked Liam.
“Medical research,” said Liam, as if it were obvious.
What an ass.
“How can you be so upbeat at a time like this?” said Charlotte.
“I agree,” said Qi. “Liam, get out of here. Now.” Liam and Qi made a
strange gesture together, taking a sort of half-step toward each
other but freezing before closing the distance between them.
“Um. Right,” said Liam. “You got everything here?” he asked Qi.
“Yes. Get out.”
“To the elevator, then,” he said to Charlotte. “After you.”
“Such a gentleman,” she replied.
As they left the room, Qi was snatching things out of a fridge—small
red objects, about the width of a pen but only half as long. Blood
samples. The vampire woman moved at an absurd speed. She was
slotting the little tubes from the fridge into a padded briefcase at a
rate of about seven or eight tubes per second.
“Evac!” shouted Qi. “Now!”
“I suppose we should get going,” said Liam, and he reached to take

191
Charlotte's hand as Qi had done. However, Charlotte swatted it
away and hurried with Liam to the elevator.
“So they never eat the samples?” asked Charlotte.
“Oh no,” said Liam. “They're for research, just for research.”
“What if they want a snack?”
“No. They don't snack, I think. And think about, you know, the
quantity in there to a vampire. It's too small. It wouldn't do
anything for them.”
They reached the elevator and Liam pressed the down button,
leisurely as could be. His hand did not shake or tremble.
“Shouldn't we take the stairs?” said Charlotte. “What if a bunch of
other people have to get on?”
“This building is full of old people,” said Liam. “They're all sleeping.
It's fine.”
“How are you so casual?”
The elevator number ticked up to their current floor. The digits
changed so slowly—were they frozen? Liam plunged his hand into
his labcoat pocket, pulled out a piece of cinnamon gum, and
plunked it into his mouth.
“You want gum?” he said.
“What? No.” Liam whipped out his phone and started to check it.
“So what I was saying earlier,” Liam began, his long, vein-covered
fingers gliding across the phone screen, “those are study tubes.
Those aren't nearly big enough for a vampire. When they drink,
they drink it all. The whole human. You compare the blood
volume in a tube, they'd need to drink the whole rack, and even
then it wouldn't satisfy them. One of those little tubes, to them, it's

192
like... what could I compare it to? It would be like for us, like
eating half a potato chip and that's it. It doesn't make any sense.”
“You don't eat potato chips,” said Charlotte.
“Well, I did when I was a kid. You don't go to medical school and
then keep eating such things.”
How the hell is he so calm?
“Do you understand what's going on here?” Charlotte asked him.
“We're waiting for an elevator.”
“I'm not joking.”
He smiled. “It's a standard evac,” said Liam.
“My boyfriend just got his leg broken, and the most powerful group
of vampires in New York is sending a squad to capture or kill
him.”
“Qi said we have six minutes,” said Liam. “We've done evac before.
We drill it once a week. Same thing every time: Get the samples,
double check personal docs, leave the building, go to a public
place until dawn. It's pretty straightforward.”
“They could be trying to kill us!”
“Sure they could,” said Liam. “It's a fire drill, okay? Like in school.”
“No!” shouted Charlotte, half in a panic. “Godwin broke Jackson's
leg!”
The elevator beeped.
“After you,” said Liam.
She stomped into the elevator. Liam strolled in after her and tapped
the G key.
“Godwin broke Jackson's leg,” said Charlotte, her words spilling out
fast and full of worry, “and there was stuff spinning in the room,

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and Jackson screamed and broke the windows. Jackson can't
walk!”
“Charlotte,” said Liam. “Charlotte, look at me.”
She looked at him—and it happened. Instead of a cocky, nonchalant,
overly carefree asshole who cracked jokes at the worst times—
instead of that, she saw Liam. Her Liam, the man who had given
her one of the happiest years of her life—and then two of the most
frustrating. All their intimacy and her pent-up feelings rushed
back.
What the hell is Liam doing here, with these people?
Liam squinted at her, as if recognizing something, and pumped his
foot. Then he put his smile back on and kept talking.
“Look, your boyfriend, the guy took two dozen assault rifle rounds to
the chest,” said Liam. “Was he fine? Yes, he was fine. No
problem. A broken leg isn't a big deal. He'll be back to normal in a
couple of days.”
Her anger and worry calmed, like a pot of pasta boiling over taken off
the burner.
“How can you be so sure?” she said.
The elevator beeped groundward floor by floor.
“They don't even have real bones,” said Liam. “I mean, they have
bones, that is to say, they have a skeleton. But not like us. It's one
of the things Godwin researched when he was on his own. Like,
how could they crush a rock in their hand without their
fingerbones cracking?”
The elevator touched down. Liam got off first, and Charlotte
followed after. He droned on. Liam was talky and repetitive. He

194
never shut up. And yet his familiar voice calmed her. It calmed her
a lot.
“Where to?” he asked.
“What?” said Charlotte, slightly confused and irritated. “Aren't you
supposed to tell me?”
“Usually, I try for a coffee shop,” said Liam smoothly. “Twenty-four-
hour restaurant will work too.”
They glanced around. Residential flats rose up around them,
mostly dark, but lights shone around the corner of the next
intersection. They went toward the lights with rapid steps. Toward
them walked a man with stout arms, a wide head, and no neck. He
balled his fists and stepped as if ready to use them.
“Keep walking,” said Liam softly.
The large man came closer. The few streetlights hit him well
enough to reveal dense dark hair with a widow’s peak, a small
forehead, relaxed jowls, and calm lips atop a round, small chin.
Weird. Under the lights, he looked like a farmer. Couldn’t be from
New York.
They passed the large man and kept going. A few sedans and a
black SUV waited for the light at the intersection. It was about ten
o’clock, and this being New York, dozens of pedestrians marched up
and down the street. Beneath one marquee, a mass of people trailed
out along the sidewalk and spilled onto the street.
“We could go in there,” said Liam. “Might be fun.”
This suggestion from Liam tautened the length of her torso with
anxiety. Dizziness. A few images of the shooting crept in, and she
blocked most of them out.

195
“I don’t do clubs,” she told him firmly.
“Oh, right,” said Liam. “Right. Sorry, I’d forgotten. Somewhere
else, then.”
“Coffee shop?” she suggested, taking in a deep breath and clearing
the memory of the nightclub out.
“Where, where?” said Liam, glancing all around. “Ah!”
Charlotte followed his gaze but couldn’t see anything.
“Do you see it?” said Liam, pointing with his long arm fully
extended. “The red and white sign.”
She squinted. “I see the blue sign but no red and white one.”
“Beneath the blue one. A little to the left.”
“That’s so far away. How can you tell that’s it?”
“Still not wearing your glasses?”
Charlotte frowned. Had Liam seen her frown? She never wore
them. They didn’t look good and she didn’t need them. But when
they’d been together, Liam had hounded her to wear them, telling her
she might misread a sign and end up in a bad place.
“Okay, coffee shop,” Charlotte said, and they started walking.
“Here we are,” said Liam two minutes later, and he held open a
handsome door of hand-carved wood.
“Oh,” said Charlotte, her voice rising with surprise. “This is nice.”
The deep, soily savor of roasted coffeebeans filled Charlotte’s nose
and made her tummy rumble. She was no coffee snob but had drunk
enough in enough different places to know what good coffee smelled
like. This wouldn’t be cheap, but it would sure taste great.
Strangely named beans from seven corners of the world filled the
menu. The cheapest named bean was nine dollars a cup, and it topped

196
out at twenty-five. Or not: After twenty-five, two more options
simply said ASK.
Liam must hate the place. Like any workaholic, Liam regarded
coffee less as a tasty drink and more as a performance-enhancing
drug—and one he needed every day. When they’d first started dating,
Liam had taken her to art museums and expensive coffee shops like
this. A medical student then, he could afford nice coffee but not nice
restaurants. But she hadn’t minded. How could she? There she was,
new to the big city herself, dating a sophisticated man on his way up
in the world—soon to be a doctor.
After they’d started living together, his real habits came out more
and more. Instead of taking her out, he’d come home at ten P.M. with
a pre-made salad in one hand and his dilapidated, stained laptop bag
in the other. For every hour they had together, he spent eight or ten
studying. Between semesters, he worked side jobs—often two or
three at once. Yet he was always smiling, always eager for a talk,
always chatting on about something. His vigor had impressed her.
The man never got tired. He really, really loved to work. And it was
this love for work that—in her own opinion, in her many reflections
on the relationship after it was over—had eventually ended things
between them.
Charlotte ordered a twelve-dollar cup of coffee. Some gourmet
beans would take her mind off things for at least a few minutes. Liam
chose the cheapest cup and added a sandwich—the last one in the
display case. They paid, watched the barista make their coffee, and
then took a seat far in the back.
“Yeah,” said Liam, starting up the conversation in his chatty,

197
offhand manner, “so like I was saying in the elevator, the vampires,
their bones, they’re not really bones.”
Charlotte glanced around them. The coffee shop was mostly empty
seats, but eight or ten others were in the room. “Should you be
talking about this here?”
“We’re in the back,” replied Liam, leaning in a little. “Nobody can
hear us.” He pointed upward. “See, that’s what the music is for.
That’s why they put music on, so other people can’t listen to all your
conversations.”
It was an interesting observation, but given how much Jackson and
the other vampires valued secrecy, she still hesitated.
“Are you sure it’s okay?” she asked.
“Stop worrying so much,” said Liam with a conspiratorial smile. “I
can see it. You wanna hear more about vampires.”
“Of course I do,” replied Charlotte. “But I hope you can tell me
more than just about their bones.”

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Chapter 20

“Sure,” said Liam, nodding with excitement. “But the skeletons, I


think their skeletons are interesting. The structure, all the different
pieces—exactly like ours. If you just saw a photo in black and white,
it might look the same shape and everything as ours. But the material
—crazy. It’s something Godwin researched on his own, when he
woke up.”
“What do you mean, woke up?”
“Sometimes they sleep for like twenty or thirty years.”
“Like Rip Van Winkle?”
“Exactly,” said Liam. “Except they couldn’t sleep under a tree, or
the sun would get them. So yeah, Godwin woke up and he couldn’t
believe the state of medical technology. He said, wow. People are
really figuring things out. So he bought a lot of books, sat in on some
classes. I think he maybe gazed a few doctors too and got them to
open up. But happy-gazed, you know?”
“Oh, I know,” said Charlotte. “That bitch Qi put one of those on
me at work.”
“Awesome, right?” said Liam.
“No!”
“You don’t like it? You work super hard, enjoy it more, don’t get
tired. I love it when she gazes me.”
“It’s terrible,” Charlotte said very loudly. She had to check herself
before continuing. “Look, she came into my work and she just did it,

199
didn’t even tell me, and I thought I really enjoyed work all day.”
Liam narrowed his eyes, quizzical. “What do you mean, you
thought you enjoyed work? You enjoyed it or you didn’t.”
“No, I mean, she made me feel happy, but I wasn’t supposed to be
happy there.”
“Weren’t supposed to according to who?”
“What? No, it’s not…” Charlotte broke off with a sigh. She
couldn’t quite explain herself and it was frustrating. “You can’t just
go and put happiness into someone like that. It’s not right.”
“Hm.” Liam was glancing up and to the side repeatedly. His teeth
peeked from his slightly opened lips. He was pondering something.
“Okay, but say she instantly did that to everyone in the world, at
once, and everyone was happy and worked harder for a day, and no
one ever knew. What’s so wrong with that?”
“They didn’t choose it,” Charlotte said sharply. Liam was clever at
arguing—and they’d argued a lot—but she could keep up. “Because
she took information out of me without me choosing to give it, and
she made me happy without me knowing why, which could lead to
wrong choices in the future.”
Liam nodded, granting her this. “Okay. Good points. But if I had
that power, to magically make everyone happier and work harder for
one day, I’d use it. Crying children stop crying, students study more
in school, suicidal people get one more day. Or more, just that ray of
hope. See, I think just for one day, it’s fine. Every day? I don’t know.
I’m not a philosopher.”
Charlotte sipped her coffee. Liam sipped his. His foot was
pumping up and down under the table.

200
“It is good to see you,” he put in.
“Yeah,” she said. Had it been good to see Liam? She wasn’t sure.
“I was surprised to run into you like that.”
“Hm.” Liam glanced down. “Yeah, I saw your name on the
spreadsheet a few days ago. I guess I was surprised then.” He glanced
off, and his voice was oddly distant. “Yeah, Godwin needed
researchers, and the pay was good, so, you know, I took the job.”
“Yeah, they do pay well,” replied Charlotte, not thinking too much
on her answer. Instead, she was eyeing Liam as he glanced off and
pumped his foot. What was bothering him? But he turned back to her
with his usual bright smile.
“Anyway, the vampire bones,” he started up, apparently deciding
to change the subject. “When they feed, they absorb the minerals and
all the iron from the blood. Their body converts it to this super dense,
preternaturally hard metallic substance. You need an absolutely huge
force to break through it. Younger vampires, it hasn’t formed all the
way yet. But older ones, like Godwin, they’re practically
indestructible. The bones are so strong that they’ll take the skeleton
of a dead vampire and make it into weapons to fight the other
vampires.”
“Yeah, I saw a vampire bone sword,” she said, recalling Jackson
and the two vampires in her apartment. “What about their
regeneration? They just heal up like in the movies, no problem?”
“Yep. Not as fast as in the movies, but within a few days. It’s
insane. I watched it under a microscope. And I saw it working, and I
just said—what is this? It’s no less remarkable under a microscope
than when you see it on a living being. It’s unbelievable. I sat there

201
watching the cells and I just thought, that’s impossible. I didn’t
understand it. I still don’t. We’re working on it, Godwin and I and a
few other guys.”
“Vampire or human?”
“Mostly human. Godwin and two other vampires, six humans,
including me.”
So there were five other human researchers there. It still shocked
her that Liam had just appeared like that. She wondered how he’d
found the job—He’d been more interested in treating patients than
research when they’d been together.
“I thought you wanted to be an oncologist?” she asked.
“No,” said Liam, glancing off again. “I mean yes. Yes, I wanted to.
But I… ah. I looked at Godwin’s offer, and I decided it was best for
me.”
“What’s he like?”
“Who, Godwin?”
“Yeah.”
“I don’t know,” said Liam. He thumped his fingers on the table. “I
guess he’s… he’s like me. He works hard, he likes research. He wants
to help people but doesn’t like dealing with patients.”
“How old is he?”
“Don’t know,” said Liam. “I don’t know if anyone knows. That’s a
big secret to them. Like Americans and our income, we won’t tell
anybody. But it’s even more secret than that. Qi was born in the Ming
Dynasty. That makes her something like four hundred to seven
hundred years old. And Godwin’s older than her. But I don’t think
anyone knows exactly how old he is.”

202
“Jackson was born in the seventeen seventies. I guess he’s just a
kid.”
“No,” said Liam. “That age would be mature. One of the vampire
researchers is like four years old.” Charlotte gasped, but Liam raised
his hand and shook his head. “No—I mean he was changed to a
vampire four years ago. He’s still human in some ways. He can’t gaze
or grasp, and he’s strong, but he can’t throw cars or crush rocks in his
hands or anything. He still has BMs every few months. Older vamps
never get them. I guess you didn’t want to know that?”
She leaned her head to the side. “Sure. Why not. That’s
interesting.”
“But back to your question, Godwin is ancient. How ancient? No
one knows. I mean Qi is old, and I know Godwin is older than her.”
“Wait,” said Charlotte. The logical intuition at the back of her skull
had clicked, picked up on something. “So you know how old Qi is?”
“Yeah.”
“But I thought they didn’t talk about it.”
“They don’t.”
She recalled that strange gesture Qi and Liam had made at each
other. They’d been stepping toward each other like they might hug,
but for some reason they’d stopped.
“They don’t talk about it at all,” Liam said, picking up the thread.
He was someone who had to fill silence, though he was interested in
this conversation, it seemed. “I just guess that Godwin is older from
the way they act, and how they talk to each other. I think maybe
Godwin is her father, the one who made her a vampire.”
“Wow,” Charlotte said. Now this was something that interested her.

203
“How does that work?”
Liam goggled. “You don’t know?”
“No,” said Charlotte. “What? What is it?”
“Someone should’ve told you. I can’t tell you if you don’t know.”
“What is it?”
“I really don’t think I should talk about it,” said Liam. “That’s a
conversation you can have with Jackson. Not me.”
“Why Jackson?”
Liam was shaking his head, clearly angry at something. “I can’t
say.”
“Come on,” said Charlotte, determined to dig something out. “I
told you how old Jackson was, and you told me how old Qi was.”
“She could’ve been lying.”
“But you said they don’t talk about it at all.”
“They don’t,” said Liam seriously. “Don’t tell anyone I told you
either.”
“So then why did Qi tell you?”
“Because she’s nice.”
Charlotte studied her ex-boyfriend’s face. He kept eye-contact and
put a smile on, but his fingers thumped rapidly on the wood table. His
poker face was terrible. Suddenly the gesture between Liam and Qi,
and the fact he knew her age just as she knew Jackson’s, made sense.
“Wow,” she said, her lips wrinkling into an awkward half-grin.
“Um. Okay.”
“What?” said Liam, not knowing her realization.
Charlotte had to hide her eyes for a second, resting her head on one
hand. “Liam, that lady showed up to my work in the middle of the

204
day, asked for me by name, and then gazed the hell out of me. And
she just goes around acting all normal about it. And you’re sleeping
with someone like that?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” he replied sternly. In
his tone, she caught confirmation of her suspicion.
“Okay, fine,” said Charlotte. Her face was a sour frown, and the
bitterness she heard in her own voice surprised her. “If that’s what
you’re into now, fine.”
“Don’t be like that,” he said. “You’re with one too.”
“No, you’re right,” said Charlotte, backpedaling, apologetic.
“You’re right. It’s fine.”
She was trying to play it cool. Liam had a point, and she couldn’t
let her ex see her get ruffled.
But it got to her—Liam, her only serious ex-boyfriend, with THAT
vampire… Why did it hit her so hard? A touch of jealousy, perhaps,
but it was…Did it have to be Liam with THAT vampire?
“I guess I’m just surprised you’d go for someone like that,” said
Charlotte. Liam had seen her reaction, so she was trying to play it off
as something else.
“What do you mean?” said Liam.
“I…” She had no real idea what she meant. “I, you know, I didn’t
think you liked that type.”
“She’s gorgeous and interesting,” Liam said, smiling. “What’s not
to like?”
“You don’t think she looks weirdly young?”
Liam’s smile grew. “She’s not weirdly young.”
“I just… I mean, she looks like she could be in high school.”

205
“But she’s not in high school,” said Liam. “That’s what’s great
about it. She’s got the physical appearance of eighteen, but more
emotional maturity and life experience than any human could have.
It’s great. Best of both worlds. I mean, you’re in the same boat. Don’t
you like it?”
Charlotte shrugged, signaling she had no further argument. “Yeah.
You’re right, it’s great.”
The conversation had swept her up. She took a second to glance
around the coffee shop. Had anyone heard them? But the nearest
person sat fifteen feet away and had earbuds in, and the music was
loud enough.
“We have to stay here until dawn?” asked Charlotte, yawning.
“Yes,” said Liam.
“Why?” asked Charlotte. “How is that going to protect us?”
“I’m not exactly clear on the specifics,” Liam began, “but
basically, they likely wouldn’t take us from a public place. Contrary
to popular superstition, vampires very much do show up on camera or
on video. We’d be recorded before we disappeared, and the vampires’
likenesses would all be on the video. They’d be recognized criminals,
and they’d also leave visual proof, a no-no in their society. Now why
couldn’t they just wear ski masks? I don’t know. I guess they don’t
want to cause a fuss. But my understanding is that they wouldn’t
capture or kill us right away as long as we’re in a public place. Too
messy. They’re obsessive about secrecy. Instead, what they’d do is
just follow us, record our residence and activities, and then organize a
bunch of raids at the same time to get everyone affiliated with
Godwin’s group. If it’s daytime, it’s much harder for them to follow

206
us. They could use human assistants, but a more traditional group like
these Rafaels, I guess wouldn’t do that, since affiliating with humans,
again, it’s a no-no. Not sure on all this—it’s half speculation—but
I’m sure Godwin’s people knew what they were doing when they
designed the evac procedure.”
Charlotte glanced around. It was a nice coffee shop, but spending
all night there was a bit much. “Can we go to a different public area
after a bit?”
Liam saw that she was tired and said understandingly, “We won’t
find one nicer than this.”
He was right. The seats in the shop were soft and wide, almost like
recliners. It was past her usual bedtime, and the events of the night
had made her long for peaceful sleep.
“I’m tired,” Charlotte said, stretching out.
“I’ll stay up,” said Liam. “You can nap. There’s no customers
coming in, and we’re well dressed. They won’t kick us out.”
“You sure?” asked Charlotte. “Aren’t you tired?”
“I’m on their schedule. I sleep during the day now.”
“Oh. You don’t get depressed?”
“A little, I guess. But I like what we do. I like Godwin, like seeing
the world in a new way. All in all, I’m happier than I was before.”
“That’s good,” said Charlotte. A wide yawn parted her jaws and
gave Liam a whiff of pungent, expensive coffee-breath. “I’m gonna
try to sleep.”
“Go ahead.”
A dream buzzed in her brain as she slumbered. The dream had no
story. Instead, images and sensations piled into a messy heap in her

207
head.
Liam and Qi, Qi and Liam… You have the most incredible breasts,
Charlotte, you have such anatomical perfection, they could put you in
a textbook for anatomy but all the medical students would masturbate
to it, okay maybe not all the medical students but of course I would
because you really are the perfect woman, and is that what you like
now, a tiny little thing like Qi, she has no breasts at all or no hips and
how would she look in your anatomy book of horrors or is she gazing
you the whole time and you don’t know it but it feels great to talk to
you, to know someone I knew before I knew all this. How can you be
fucking her?
Jackson stretched on a beach in the full light of the sun; blades of
light glinted through clouds refracted through the water azure and
gold: Skyfire flecks sliced the surface like molten sapphires swirling:
The ocean, the fractal kaleidoscope.
“Godwin sure is nice, don’t you think?”
She walked over to Jackson, more perfect than any statue. She
knew her own nudity. She knew it and liked the warm sun on it and
then she grasped his throbbing living loving scepter and guided to her
deepest places.
You have the most incredible breasts, Charlotte.
Jackson’s girth slid up and down inside her and an orgasm welled,
yet none of that brutal emotion that Jackson always called in her
came. It welled up easy and somehow small. She came and rocked
and moaned at peace on top of Jackson.
“Yes,” said Godwin, standing beside them. He wore his labcoat and
spectacles, and onto a clipboard he was writing something down.

208
“Yes,” Godwin repeated, as her sweat rolled down her neck, across
her breast that swayed and flopped as she rolled her hips with him
inside her, and off the cusp of her breast onto Jackson’s muscled
glistening torso.
“I’ve never seen anyone healthier,” the doctor said. “You two are
perfect specimens. You have sex better than anyone. Milk the seed of
this flawless genetic marvel and become pregnant with his children.”
Godwin tore the prescription from his pad and on it only the word
IMPECCABLE.
Music came in, strange golden light, some certain smell she knew,
a familiar voice.
Do you really like girls like that now Liam you always told me you
liked girls like me girls with meat girls with a real figure girls who
could make healthy children and now you want to fuck a tiny little
thing with no breasts I have breasts how can she be so horribly thin
do you honestly but I’m not jealous I just don’t—
“Time to wake up,” said Liam, gently pushing on her shoulder to
nudge her awake. “Get up. Sun is up, we can go.”
Charlotte rubbed her eyes and eased them open. “Why are you
sleeping with Qi?”
“You’re still hung up on that?”
“I thought you liked girls like me,” she said.
These words came out too fast. Her thoughts and feelings spilled
into the open before her conscious mind could wake up all the way
and restrain her.
“I did like girls like you,” said Liam. “Now I like girls like her.”
“Why?”

209
“Men like variety. It’s biology.”
“You say everything is biology.”
“Because it is,” said Liam. “At least when it comes to sex.”
Charlotte lifted her head from the table and saw, much to her
embarrassment, a puddle of drool.
“Oh God,” she said.
“It’s okay,” said Liam. “I’m a doctor. I’ve seen people drool
before.”
“How long was I out?”
“You really slept. Six hours or so?”
“Wow. What time is it?”
“About seven thirty.”
Charlotte relieved herself in the coffeeshop restroom and then they
left. Liam offered to walk her home, but she declined and got on the
subway herself. Jackson would be fine, wouldn’t he? Everything had
been scary last night, but Liam had a point: Jackson had taken a full
clip from an assault rifle to the chest and had no scars to show. He’d
be fine from a broken leg.
As long as Rafael House hadn’t gotten them.
A gasp ripped through her. Had anyone on the street noticed? Only
a few people were out; it didn’t look like it.
Liam made the evacuation sound so routine, but was it? Was
Godwin a bit scared? Bothered, agitated—definitely. He didn’t like
that Jackson had screamed. It clearly wasn’t just a drill. Still, Godwin
could fight, and Jackson had taken care of Rafael House’s last group
easy enough.
They were fine, weren’t they?

210
Her heart thumped faster. No trace of sleepiness remained. Was
some of the coffee still in her system? The sun was bright as she’d
ever seen it. Had there ever been a more beautiful morning? Clean
autumn air scented with leaves, blue skies, birds chirping. No, she
couldn’t go back to sleep. And if she stayed home, she’d worry about
Jackson all day.
Work. She’d go in to work. Yes, work was still there. She still had
a normal job.
So Charlotte plowed through her morning routine and went in,
arriving five minutes earlier than normal. Her workday passed well
enough. Thoughts of Jackson came, but she didn’t worry too much. It
was too weird to worry about, too unreal. Her “vampire” boyfriend
was being hunted by “The House of Antonio Rafael.” An “ancient
vampire” had broken his femur even though their bones were,
according to her ex-boyfriend doctor, “indestructible.”
Is this really happening?
It was. Liam had been there. It absolutely was real. And even
though each piece of it squirmed through her head, her emotions
simply didn’t turn on. It’s real, it’s all real. She told herself this, again
and again. But none of it felt real.

211
Chapter 21

Charlotte did little but daydream her way through work. She
imagined that Jackson came into her office wearing a black pinstripe
suit, a purple tie, and a diamond-studded silver watch. Everyone
stared as he walked through the cubicles and stopped by her desk. He
unzipped and pulled out his throbbing, pink-tipped, perfectly stiff
erection. Then she gave Jackson a long, slow, thorough blowjob.
Right there in the office. The fluorescent lights glinted off her spit as
she licked up and down him. She slid her lips down his thickness and
savored the flex of his cock and the pulse of his blood. The whole
time he bellowed and groaned with approval. Her coworkers watched
her pleasured him. Some of them jotted down notes as if at a college
lecture.
Hot, wet trickles oozed from her, right in the middle of her office.
But in reality, her job was boring, and she often spaced out like
this. It was always hard to concentrate right after lunch in particular.
An empty apartment greeted her at home. Outside, a few people
walked their dogs—a man in jogging sweats with a golden retriever,
a woman in a biker jacket with a tawny mutt, an older lady with two
perky dachshunds.
For the first few days after the shooting, she hadn’t even been able
to look out the window. Anyone who resembled the shooter made her
shake with panic. Even now, just thinking of that night made her
heart race and her stomach go sour.

212
Her vision blurred. Her head fluttered. The ground twirled beneath
her feet.
She grabbed the wall. The room around her grew sharp and clear
once more.
No, I’m fine, it’s nothing. But her legs shook, and after another
glance out the window, she sat down. Maybe some Netflix would
relax her. But the suggestions were all so boring! Or were they? She
used to like these shows.
Is Jackson okay?
Yes, Jackson was fine. Her mood was just off. No, her mood was
shit. Netflix couldn’t fix it. Nothing on any screen would hit the spot
for her. Only Jackson could hit that spot. Where was he? What was he
doing right now?
She had to get her mind off it. She picked a sitcom off the list and
hit play. She bit off a piece of skin from the edge of her fingernails.
No, she wasn’t a nail-biter, but nibbling around the edges never hurt
anyone.
A red droplet the size of a grain of salt oozed out.
What am I doing?
What would Jackson do? Would this blood drive him crazy? Would
his fangs come out again? Godwin wouldn’t always be there. Could
Godwin himself resist?
Does all this end with Jackson killing me?
Her feet kicked out. She buried her fingers in her hair. She glanced
around the room with wide, wary eyes as if worried someone had
seen her.
But she was in her apartment, alone.

213
Vampires eating humans—they were animals, all of them. Oh, oh
—But wouldn’t it be great to flick her tongue across Jackson’s fangs
again? Draw her lips down their length as he touched her? Caress
those blood-drawing marvels as he entered her with demon eyes and
profound hardness?
No, no, no. It’s too dangerous. Get away from him.
But her sex was aching hot and wet.
He’d come back. They’d make love.
Is Jackson making me insane?
She focused her eyes on the TV. Ten more minutes crawled by like
an hour. She bit her nails and stopped herself. Again and again, every
thirty seconds, she changed programs. But nothing was interesting.
“I want to kill the painted whores first.”
Lexie, Lexie dead, and now vampires, vampires, and her ex back in
the picture… She wouldn’t be raving like this if she were at work.
Things had been easier when she was at work. Not alone. Not alone
in this apartment. Vomit and blood on the ground. What kind of
madman would kill like that? Gunshots, screaming, the twisting mass
of desperate bodies, people turned into hunted animals.
“I want to kill the painted whores first.”
Her stomach squeezed together like a corpse’s cold fist. Good thing
she’d eaten no dinner. Was anyone walking by? Any more cute dogs?
No. No one was out. The apartment door grimaced at her. It held her
in. But nothing she wanted was out there. Jackson, Jackson, so
strong, so wise, so sexy, so godly. And if he drank her to death, so be
it, but he’d crush her with pleasure first.
Where is he?

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It hadn’t been so many days… How many will it be before he
comes back?

***

The next day at work went the same.


When she got home from work, a strange, familiar smell hung
about the elevator, and yet—was it really even there? It would waft
up her nose one second, but when she went back for a second whiff,
nothing came. Was she imagining things? And as the elevator clicked
up floor by floor, the smell vanished, if it had ever been there at all.
She was imagining things; she’d been working too hard. But right as
the doors opened, the faint aroma tickled her nose again.
What was that smell? It was spicy, pungent, and very familiar, but
faint.
At her door, Charlotte had to dig to find her keys. As she drew
them out, footsteps hit the floor behind her.
Her hands doubled their speed and plunged the grey key into the
door, and with a twist of the wrist and a shove of the shoulder, she
flung the door open and jumped inside. Like a reflex, she spun
around and twisted the dead bolt.
But that wouldn’t stop them, would it?
Someone or something padded down the hall. With each footfall,
something metal jingled. Heavy breaths came from whoever it was.
Knock knock.
Charlotte dashed into her bedroom and locked that door as well.
Her cellphone hopped into her hand, ready to dial the authorities. See

215
how those Rafael House goons dealt with a SWAT team. But her
fingers shook as if she’d been thrown into the Arctic Ocean. She hit
the wrong keys for her passcode and couldn’t unlock the phone. Try
again. Her fingers still didn’t work. She screamed and chucked her
phone into the wall.
“Charlotte!” shouted a voice outside.
She scrambled over her bed to grab her phone.
“Charlotte!” shouted the voice. “Open up!”
It was a man’s voice, and familiar. But who? It wasn’t Jackson.
She snatched up her phone and fumbled again with the
combination. What would the police do, anyway? What would Rafael
House do to the poor cop they’d send to deal with a crazy lady raving
about vampires?
“Charlotte! Relax! It’s Liam.”
She let out a whew, realizing the voice did belong to Liam. She
raced over to the door and unbolted it. Liam stood outside in gym
clothes, sweat gluing hair to his forehead and darkening his green
hoodie.
“You scared the shit out of me,” she said, one hand on her pulsing
heart.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a charming, affable smile. “Yeah, I guess
I should’ve called. I tried to call, but I realized I don’t have your
current number.”
“That’s okay. Yeah, it’s just…” and she lowered her voice, “with
what’s going on, you know.”
“Yeah. Makes sense. We could talk about that inside.”
“Sure.”

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As Liam crossed her threshold, his stench hit her.
“You smell,” she said, cupping a hand over her nose.
“I was at the gym and I forgot deodorant.” He did a whiff-check of
his pit. “I don’t smell that much.”
“Yes you do. I could smell you in the elevator coming up here.”
Liam did smell a bit, but it wasn’t terrible. Rather, the familiar
sweaty smell of her ex-boyfriend brought back far too many
memories, unloaded too many old emotions.
“You hear from Jackson or Godwin?” she asked.
“No,” he said, going over to her small kitchen table and plopping
down with familiarity. “It might be a while.”
She followed him and across the table. “You want something to
drink?”
“Yeah. Water. Big glass of water.”
“You know where the cups are.”
Liam went to the cupboard and pulled out a cup, filling it,
chugging the water down, filling it again, and then returning to his
seat. They’d lived together in this apartment for a year and a half. It
was odd having him back in here. That had been two years ago.
“So did you want something?” Charlotte asked, a bit of tension in
her voice.
“What do you mean?” said Liam, gulping more water.
“I mean, why are you waiting outside my apartment like that?”
“Well, it’s just,” Liam began, leaning forward a bit with a soft
smile, “you know, given how things have panned out, and the
situation we’re in… What I mean is there aren’t a lot of people we
can talk to about this, and maybe I wanted to talk to someone about

217
it, and I also wanted to make sure you’re getting on okay.”
“Oh,” said Charlotte, smiling back at him. “Okay. Yeah, I’d like
that.”
So they sat and talked awhile, not touching on vampires so much,
but other things, the type of catching up old friends do. Eventually
Charlotte asked about his job:
“So like, are you ever gonna get Godwin to make you a vampire?”
Liam laughed.
“No, no,” he said. “Of course not.”
“Why of course not?” she asked. “Wouldn’t you like being
immortal and super strong and stuff?”
“I guess,” said Liam. “But it’s not worth the risk.”
“What risk?” she asked, intensely curious.
A pained look came over Liam’s face. He pointed his eyes out the
window. His brow stitched in frustration, and he took a few long
gulps of water without speaking.
“Liam.”
“What?” he said, turning back to her. His eyebrows were still
raised. His forehead had more trenches in it now than when they’d
dated.
“When we were talking the other night,” she said calmly, “I asked
you how vampires are made. Why did you say Jackson and I would
have to have that discussion ourselves?”
“It’s a delicate conversation,” said Liam. He would not meet her
eyes.
“Why’s it so delicate?”
“I can’t answer that without giving it away.”

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Yes, she’d known that. She’d wanted to trick him into dropping a
hint. Liam talked too much, and it wasn’t hard to get secrets out of
him. Three years with him taught her that. It must really be a delicate
issue. Liam didn’t hide himself when he talked. He made steady eye
contact, and his thoughts just leaked out. But now he wouldn’t even
look at her.
Must be some secret… She’d get it out of him one way or another.
“I just feel like this really concerns me,” she said, “and I have a
right to know.”
“That’s right. You do have a right to know, and Jackson will help
you to exercise that right.”
“Why Jackson?”
“I’m not telling you why,” said Liam, and he looked away again.
It looked like she’d really have to push him.
“I just feel like changing into a vampire, or sleeping with someone
who drinks blood, that could really affect my health,” said Charlotte,
looking Liam dead in the eye. “And as a doctor, it’s your
responsibility to keep people informed about their health, to help
them make responsible decisions.”
Liam brought his eyes from the window back to her. They were
wide, tense, irked. “Don’t go there.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Charlotte, feigning innocence. “I
just think it’s your responsibility to be honest with people with issues
that concern their health. It’s your responsibility as a doctor.”
“Fine. You know that’s my sore spot, and you had to go there. You
want to know? I’ll tell you. And it won’t make you feel any better.
But if you have to push me like that, fine. You should already know

219
anyway.”
Liam sounded a bit angry. Had she pushed too hard? But she had to
know and was ready to find out the question that Jackson and Liam
had both avoided answering. She leaned forward toward him with
rapt interest.
“Okay, go ahead,” she said, putting a polite smile on.
“I’m not supposed to talk about this with you,” he said sharply.
“It’s not my place. And if your boyfriend does talk to you about this
—and I don’t understand how he hasn’t told you already—then you
better act surprised.”
“What is it?”
“You have to know, it’s this: Vampirism is a sexually transmitted
disease.”

220
Chapter 22

As Liam told her the secret of how vampires were made,


Charlotte’s whole chest jumped back as if a giant hand had slapped
her heart.
“Yeah,” said Liam, seeing her reaction. “That’s why he’s supposed
to talk about it with you. Vampirism is an STD. It has an extremely
low rate of transmission. You could have sex with someone ten
thousand times and never get it. It’s almost impossible to even get it.
And once they get it, it kills almost everyone. It kills ninety-nine
percent of people who get it within a couple of days. It kills anyone
too young or too old, just like a nasty strain of the flu. That’s why
you’ll never see an old vampire or a child. And it kills almost
everyone else too. But those who survive, it changes them, year by
year, into things like Godwin or Qi or Jackson. And that’s what
Godwin wants to do: He wants to take that ninety-nine percent and
lower it, and then he wants to take the best and brightest of humanity
and give it to them. That’s what we’re researching.”
Charlotte said nothing. Now Liam looked straight in her eyes, but
he did not speak. Anger had come into his voice while he’d
explained. Anger tightened his face and smoldered in his eyes.
“Does he use condoms with you?” said Liam.
“That’s none of your business,” she said coldly.
“He’s a piece of shit if he doesn’t use condoms with you.”
“You said it’s a low transmission rate.”

221
“He’s a piece of shit, then.”
“You shut up,” Charlotte blurted out. She still hadn’t processed
what he’d told her, and couldn’t take Liam insulting Jackson like that.
“You don’t know him.”
“Oh, I know him,” said Liam disdainfully. “I know him better than
you do. Do you know who he is? What he is? What he’s done?”
“He saved my life,” she said, her throat getting scratchy and tight,
“and he’s a gentle and kind man.”
“Of course he is. Of course you see him that way.”
“You don’t know him.”
Liam was aghast. He was staring at her like he couldn’t believe
what he was hearing.
“Do you know what Godwin said when that video came out?” he
began. “I showed Godwin that video. I knew right away that was a
vampire. And Godwin saw Jackson on that video, and he said,
‘Giacomo Raccogliere. One of the best soldiers in the world, and
Rafael House won’t want him now.’ Said he can take out three or four
Rafael House warriors alone.”
Charlotte recalled how easily he’d taken out two, completely
unarmed. “He probably could.”
Liam threw his arms out wide, in shock. “He’s a killer! He’s a
thug! Don’t you see? He’s a thug the big vampire groups hire to do
their dirty work. Which was his job before, getting people for
Antonio Rafael and his sons to drink.”
“I know. He told me. And that was a long time ago.”
“Or so he told you.”
“I trust him.”

222
“It’s biology,” said Liam, as if it were so painfully obvious. “Don’t
you see that? It’s biology for us to trust them.”
“No,” she argued, but doubt was creeping in. “It’s more than that
with Jackson.”
Was Liam right?
She sucked in a breath and released it through a tight, quivering
throat. There was the sensation of the world breaking around her. The
thoughts and feelings that framed her reality—vampires, humans,
herself, Jackson—cracked and fell in a heap. Confusion. Fear. Shock.
What had changed, about everything?
She’d known that Jackson was a soldier before, that he killed. He’d
told her himself that he used to kidnap people. And she’d been so
eager to believe him when he said he’d changed. Why? “It’s biology
for us to trust them.” No, that couldn’t be it. Jackson cared for her, it
couldn’t all be just biology… but the Jackson she knew would’ve
told her that he had a disease. He used condoms some of the time, but
not all the time. But that wasn’t the point. The point was, How did he
never have that conversation with me? Shouldn’t he have?
Absolutely. And a Jackson who didn’t tell her such things wasn’t
reformed. Someone who did that might still kidnap and kill and like
it… but hadn’t he told her he liked killing? Was he hiding his nature,
or was she hiding it from herself?
But then why had he saved her in the club, exposing himself to the
vampire world like that? If he didn’t care at all, why had he killed
those two soldiers instead of drinking her and turning himself in to
the Rafaels? Couldn’t she feel it in him, when they were together, that
he cared? Did those feelings show nothing? And he used condoms

223
some of the time. When she’d hit him with the lamp, when they’d
fucked on Godwin’s sofa… that was just passion. Normal couples
skipped it now and then…
But he should’ve said something. He said nothing. Liam was right,
she shouldn’t be so eager to trust someone who used to kidnap and
kill. But Liam was just one source of information, and facts were
coming at her from all sides. It was bewildering, a spinning maze of
thoughts, and she needed something to grab on to.
She glanced over at Liam, who sat just a few feet away. His skin
was still glowing from his workout. He gazed out the window.
Passion and anger smoldered in his blue eyes. He’d never been angry
like that when they’d been together. He still had feelings for her. He’d
been a good kisser. He’d been good everywhere, pleasuring her with
a triathlete’s stamina and a doctor’s knowledge of anatomy. What did
it say about herself and Liam, and their relationship, that both of them
were with vampires now?
“I’m sorry I yelled,” Liam said suddenly, breaking her thoughts.
“It’s okay. Maybe I needed to hear those things. He should’ve told
me about that, where vampires come from.” She pinched her skirt
between her fingers and added, with a frown. “He does use condoms
most of the time, I guess. Maybe he was just getting around to that
conversation.”
Liam glowered at her. His eyes were stern, intimidating, severe. “I
certainly hope so.”
Charlotte looked down. “Yeah,” she said, somehow admitting
defeat.
“It’s gonna be okay,” said Liam, trying to sound reassuring.

224
“They’ll call us in a few days. I’ll go back to work, you can talk to
Jackson about that. Whatever happens, you can talk to me about it,
and it will turn out okay.”
“It’s hard for me to deal with,” said Charlotte, shaking her head
and blinking a few times. “Vampires, and all of this. It’s like, I miss
Jackson and I like being with him, and then you tell me all that. But
then another part of me, it’s almost scarier. It’s hard to even say. I
always get this feeling… I mean, I know none of this is normal, and I
don’t know if I want to accept it as normal. There’s always just this
distinct sense… no…”
“What?”
“I don’t know,” she said, and her voice shook.
“It’s okay,” said Liam. “I know what you’re going through. It’s
hard to deal with. You think it’s just too crazy, that they couldn’t stay
hidden, that it’s impossible. So you must be imagining it all?”
“Yes! Part of me just wakes up every day and thinks that it was all
just some super vivid dream, and that I’ll go to work today and forget
all of it. And there’s this nagging feeling that I’m about to wake and
none of this really happened. And part of me wants to wake up, in
some weird way. Or I wanted to find out that Jackson really was just
an actor, he was just playing around, and we could have a normal
relationship. But after seeing Godwin and Jackson like that, and you
sitting here, I just… Well, I have to ignore that feeling and try harder
to accept it. Don’t I?”
“I don’t know,” said Liam pensively, lifting and lowering one
finger to slowly thump Charlotte’s table. “I remember going through
that phase, of thinking it couldn’t really be happening. But after… I

225
mean, you can see I’m close with Qi, and working with Godwin, and
seeing the vampire cells regenerate under the microscope. I guess it’s
slowly, very slowly, becoming normal for me. So like now, on some
days, I just wake up and think, I’m going in to my job. My boss is
Godwin. Whatever. But on other days, yeah. I still feel that way. I
can’t get over how strange it is. And I look at Godwin or Qi and I
think, these are things who will never fear death. These are things
who have killed and eaten humans. These are things who watched the
world change over centuries. What’s that like? What kind of thoughts
do they have? Am I seeing anything when I look into their eyes? Are
they seeing anything in me?
“And I’ll never know. But I guess we never know about anyone,
we just go around assuming that what’s inside their head must be
more or less the same as what’s in ours. But I don’t think it is. I don’t
think there’s much reason to believe that. I think that’s, to me, I think
that’s what’s bothering me right now.”
“Yeah,” said Charlotte. She looked over at Liam, though he did not
return the gaze. Turning outward to the window was his handsome
head—more boyish than Jackson’s, with blonde hair and golden-
brown eyes and summer-touched skin. His long arms, toned and lean,
stretched out across the armrests. But his foot pumped up and down
fast as a woodpecker’s head.
“It’s tough,” said Charlotte. “I mean, you seem so normal about it,
sometimes.”
“I am,” said Liam. “Sometimes.”
“Do you ever ask them about that stuff? About their history, about
what they think about?”

226
Liam shook his head, looking down gravely. “Not really.”
“Why not?”
“I talk about it with Qi a little. Just a little, though. It’s just… It’s
just too heavy. It’s like it’s more comfortable for me to go on
pretending they’re just normal people.”
Charlotte looked into Liam without talking, and they shared a fine
moment. Something passed between them. They said nothing.
“You’ve changed a lot,” said Charlotte, “since we were together.”
Liam’s confirming nod was slow. “Yeah. I mean, you learn
something like that. That there’s vampires all around us, mixed in,
that there’s things that never die. That has to change you. But other
things too. My job, or what happened there. I mean, it’s fine now.
Now, it’s fine. This is important. But before…I just... Hm.” Liam
stopped here. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and lowered. “It’s okay.
Just not where I expected myself.”
“So you never became an oncologist?”
“No.”
“What happened?”
“Was on my way. Was working at a hospital, doing my residency.”
“Then what?”
“I don’t know… I…”
“It’s okay, Liam.”
“I can’t talk about it. I don’t like talking about it.”
Liam was clamming up, shutting his emotions in. But he did want
to talk about it, or needed to, or he wouldn’t have brought it up.
“It’s okay,” Charlotte said gently. “Sometimes people need to talk
about things.”

227
“It’s… I had a bad… It’s not a good reason.”
“I’m sure it was.”
“It wasn’t. It really… it really wasn’t.”
Liam cradled his head in his hands, looking down, shaking his
head back and forth the whole time. He sucked air in through his
nose, full of emotion.
“I just… I just… I feel so stupid talking about it.”
“It’s okay,” she said.
“You know, I wanted to be a doctor my whole life. I wanted to save
people. And I just worked in that hospital, and I saw them every day.
And I didn’t like it. It was… I didn’t like it. It’s stupid. It’s not a good
reason. So I’d see these people, you know, with cancer, forty or fifty
years old, thinking they had half their life left. And I had to talk to
them. I remember I saw a doctor one time in college, and the guy just
talked to me like I wasn’t a person. He asked me questions like I was
a computer program or a search engine, and he barely even looked at
me. See, and I didn’t get that. But now I get it. I had to see people
who were going to die, and I had to talk to their families, every day.
And it fucks up your head if you try to care about everyone. So I had
to talk to these people and try to act friendly or cordial or… I don’t
even know what. I had to act the right way while I tell them they’re
going to die, and then I have to talk to the families and somehow just
leave out the fact that they’ll be in debt for the next decade, and their
father or mother or kid will still die. And I’m supposed to feel
comfortable about that? But I just… I don’t know. And what does it
matter how I feel? It’s not about me. But it was. I hated it. It’s just so
stupid, I wanted to do that my whole life and I didn’t even like it.

228
And what kind of fucking idiot am I, that I wanted to study oncology
and I get uncomfortable around people with cancer? And for my own
happiness, I just duck off without helping somebody who’s dying…
People told me it was okay but I just, I don’t know… Am I a piece of
shit?”
And Liam couldn’t look at her this whole time, but it was clear
when he sniffled that he’d started to cry. She said nothing, went over
to him, and gave him a long hug.

***

The week finished out for Charlotte, five days of work in a row. It
was her first full week of work since the shooting. She heard nothing
from Jackson. Liam didn’t have to go to work—his boss, Godwin,
was missing—so he went to Wisconsin to visit his family. She
messaged with Liam now and then, but they couldn’t meet up.
Once Liam had left town, all physical reminder of the events
vanished. They had agreed not to message about vampires or leave
any records. Jackson and Godwin and all of it grew dimmer and
stranger. It was slowly turning into a memory of a dream. Each
passing day stripped away from those events one more sliver of their
reality.
For the first time since the shooting, Charlotte watched the famous
video of Real Life Superman, making sure she hadn’t imagined that,
at least.
Work was real. She worked well. They liked her at work.
But every time she was alone, anxiety grinded away at her brain,

229
and longing for Jackson’s touch stabbed at her core. They were
tearing away at her from both sides. To dull them, she had to stay
busy. She got to the office fifteen or twenty minutes early. Five P.M.
would come, but she’d lounge around until six thirty or seven. When
not at work, she cleaned up and reorganized her apartment. Once, she
went with a few other coworkers for drinks.
But no matter how she tried to busy herself, too much free time
lingered about the day. She’d never had trouble being alone before.
She was an introvert, wasn’t she? But now, any book she picked up
seemed to take her twice as long to turn its pages. She’d read for
what seemed an hour and find only fifteen minutes had passed. Every
TV show and movie in the world was boring.
She looked out the window, admiring the last of autumn’s leaves
and smiling whenever someone walked their dog past. But she
couldn’t do that all the time.
Sleep was her best escape from her boredom and her worries, and
she strove to do it as much as possible. She’d lie down at ten or
eleven every night. But she only writhed about until she tugged her
sheets off the mattress. No sleep came until two or three. One night,
she couldn’t sleep at all.
Sometimes, she talked to herself.
Jackson never left her alone. In any moment when she wasn’t busy,
at any time her thoughts had nothing immediate to hold on to, he
rampaged into her mind. It lit her body on fire and tortured her at the
same time.
He’d walk right in. He’d kiss her gently, or he’d crush her little
mouth. He’d caress her flowing curves, or he’d crush her into the

230
wall. “You’re the one for me,” he’d say. Or: “Do you see how hard
you make me? You turn me into an animal.” He’d enter her with
tender eyes. Or pull her hair and split her open from behind. Gentle
caring kindly lover. Or brutal killer?
No. None of those were there. Such visions of him, sensual myths
she’d made of a myth, a lover’s fancy distorting a legend—None of
them were real. Was he real? Would he ever come back to her?
And how could she think about Jackson like that, when he’d used
no protection with her while having a deadly STD? Was she no more
to him than a piece of meat?
Her coffee surged up her throat. The sour acid scourged her tonsils.
She gulped it back down. She tried to take her mind elsewhere. But
never, never would Jackson leave her alone.
All these thoughts came when she was alone. At work, Charlotte
smiled. At work, she had peace. Her coworkers talked to her more.
They smiled at her too. Everyone invited her when the group went for
a meal or a drink. Did she like this? Did she like work more than
ever?
And would it be so bad if Jackson never returned? Maybe Liam
was right about him, and it was better for her if their paths never
again crossed. Over time, her obsession with him would wane and
wither, and this friendly, smiling, peaceful day-to-day would remain.
Maybe she’d get back with Liam and everything would work out.
The attraction was still there, and Liam had changed. He wouldn’t be
such a workaholic this time around. And even more, his old habit of
chattering on but never saying his true thoughts, never speaking to
her deeply, had vanished. Perhaps she’d just matured more herself

231
and understood people better now.
When they’d been together, she’d seen Liam as an ambitious,
confident, intelligent, mature man on his way up in the world. He’d
been very attractive to women and known he was—or so she’d
thought. Or so she’d wanted to think? But now Liam had some
darkness in him. Looking back, he’d had just as much then. She’d
never seen it during their relationship, but now she finally saw that it
filled him: Self-loathing, and more than that, anxiety. Anxiety was
what had made him blabber and work long hours and never spend
time with her before.
How had she never seen it, this deeper layer?
What had she failed to see about Jackson?
But she didn’t really want to get with Liam… he was seeing Qi,
after all. What would Jackson say?
Where was he?
Another week at work passed, and Charlotte made sure to stock her
weekend with activities. As she waited on the subway platform
Friday evening, she was dreaming of Jackson and reviewing her
weekend plans at the same time.
A shadow moved across the ground next to her and stopped. Others
were waiting for the train, but not so many that two people needed to
get on at the same spot. She would not look to see who it was. One
glance at the wrong pair of eyes—that was all they needed to twist
your soul. But from the corner of her eye, she made out gatorskin
boots and slightly loose designer jeans. Probably some rich hipster.
Or a drug dealer.
As the train pulled in front of them, screeching and singing like a

232
steel choir, Charlotte scoped out the figure through the reflection in
the windows. He was a male between man and boy. His posture
boomed confidence. He must be a high-school quarterback or
something. About six feet tall, and his face was startlingly boyish, yet
attractive. You could see the swell of his powerful shoulders straining
the black leather jacket he wore. His platinum-blonde hair, probably
bleached, poked out in gelled spikes. He was so good-looking and
stylish, he almost came off as a cartoon or a cosplayer.
In the reflection, he caught her eye.
She looked down, stepped onto the train when the doors opened,
and found a seat between a thickly built, somewhat chubby woman
and a sleeping man in a cheap suit.
Jackson, Jackson, Jackson…
Everyone on the subway was either asleep or drowning in their
smartphone. The muscular boy hung on to the ceiling rail and gazed
into his phone. How long can this ride go on? And yet they hadn’t
made it past a single stop. Something bad was going on here; she
could feel it. Her hands shook. She could barely use her phone.
People were staring at her. Was she talking to herself?
I’m about to freak out. I have to get home.
Will Jackson be waiting for me?
She jumped in her subway seat, dinging her foot against the pole in
the middle of the car.
“Are you okay?” said the muscular boy. His voice was oddly high.
His designer jeans and fine leather jacket blocked her view across the
car. He’d moved to stand in front of her. She wouldn’t look up at him.
Clearly, he could be a vampire.

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“No,” she said, caught off-guard. “I mean, no, thank you for
asking. Yes, I’m fine.”
“Did you get lost or something?”
“What? No. I live here. I’ve lived here for several years.”
“Oh. Well, if you need any help, let me know.”
As if I’d let you know. Creep.
At her stop, she stepped off and waited a second to see if anyone
would follow her. Sure enough, the muscular boy stepped off as well.
She walked toward to her exit, then waited to see if he’d come up
behind her. In one hand, she readied a 9-11 call on her phone. In the
other hand, pepper spray.
But he didn’t follow, and she made her way back to her apartment.
“Qi??” she suddenly said, passing the small vampire woman on the
street.
But the figure kept walking. It wasn’t the vampire. What kind of
racist am I? Thinking all East Asian girls look like Qi?
Charlotte skipped the elevator and raced up the stairs. When she hit
her hallway, the fear really took her. Something was off here.
Somehow she’d known since leaving work that something waited for
her, something was in her apartment to get her…
Nope. She went inside, set down her purse, and changed clothes.
The only thing waiting was the sofa and Netflix. She checked her
phone. Nothing. Nothing, and still a few hours before she might be
able to fall asleep.

***

234
That Sunday, Charlotte’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend
visited in the afternoon. It was a new boyfriend for her mom: Bill, a
retired businessman of some sort from Texas. Bill had met her mother
online about four or five months ago, and in the past two months,
he’d started flying to meet her in person. Bill had never been to
Central Park, so the three of them—Charlotte, her mother, and Bill—
went for a long walk in Central Park.
As the sun set, it got too cold. Charlotte suggested dinner, but Bill
kept asking about the subway. He was quite a bumpkin and regarded
the subway as some kind of tourist attraction. He wouldn’t stop
asking about it, so her mother suggested they take the subway. Then,
she could show Bill her apartment and they’d get dinner.
So they made their way to the subway. Bill must have gone
through a turnstile at some point in his life, but he looked at the
subway turnstile as if it were a car with ten steering wheels. He
stutter-stepped and then stopped in front of it, causing the line behind
him to bunch up. After a few seconds, he plowed through the turnstile
with aggression.
Standing on the subway would tire out her mother and Bill, and
they’d probably turn in early. But nothing of the sort happened. They
moved with energy people their age never had. The fact was, her
mother and Bill were somewhat—God—in love. Charlotte didn’t like
Bill, but maybe it was a good thing. Despite their ages, Bill brought
enough life to her mother, and perhaps her mother to him, for them to
stay out on the town all day.
When they emerged from the subway, night had fallen. No one was
on the street. No one at all, save for a few homeless. Early Sunday

235
evening with good weather—where had everyone gone? Had there
been a riot? It didn’t sound like it, and no police were here either.
Perhaps a severe storm was coming—but the sky looked normal, and
no wind blew.
On the corner stood an extremely sharp young gentleman—
immensely tall, medium build, broad shoulders and small waist, a
tailored suit, well-styled black hair, and a roguishly smooth, pretty
face. He stood as if King of the World.
Four huge men clustered around the young gentleman, who was
obviously the boss. Each of the four larger men faced in a different
direction, and their gazes shifted here and there constantly. One of
them was even bigger than Jackson. The others, though not so
superhumanly big, were certainly large men. The second man looked
oddly normal compared to the rest, having a strong widow’s peak,
salt-and-pepper hair, and a plain, slightly chubby face. The third man
had a glass eye and burn marks across half his face. The fourth
looked even younger than his boss, almost like a high-schooler’s
head had been stuck on a brawny man’s body. But this fourth man
stood tall as the rest, and something about the way his arrogant,
savage mouth twisted made her think of a knife going into a dog’s
abdomen.
As Charlotte, her mother, and Bill passed, the voices of these five
men came to her ears. They spoke in a strange language, probably
from Eastern Europe—or no, it was vaguely Latinate, and yet it
jumped and fell the way Chinese and Thai did. Strange.
She shouldn’t stare, but her eyes were tethered to the man in the
middle. What was it about him? From far away, he looked

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staggeringly tall—much taller than Jackson or Liam, or anyone she’d
ever seen. But up close, it was clear the men around him were all
much taller. The boss himself couldn’t have been over five ten. He
wasn’t so good-looking either. It was more the way he stood. How
could she explain it? He stood as if the whole world waited for him.
How could such a young man have such an incredible presence?
Because he’s not young… he’s a vampire.
On the subway, it had been just anxiety making her imagine things,
but this time, she was more certain. The young man was either a
vampire or some kind of twenty-something tech billionaire, and
something about those four bodyguards made the former seem,
surprisingly, far more likely.
“He’s a looker, huh?” said her mom as Charlotte continued to
gawk.
Bill nodded begrudgingly. “He’s sharp as a diamond fillet knife.”
“I was talking to my daughter,” said her mom, smiling.
“Yeah, he’s hot,” said Charlotte, distracted and not thinking too
much about her reply.
They walked on, past the large church. Here, too, there was no one
out. Why was that vampire, or whatever he was, standing on the
corner surrounded by bodyguards?
And as she thought this, another group of four scary individuals
came toward her. They marched in step. Like the group around the
young gentleman, their eyes were constantly scanning in different
directions—up, down, north, south, east, west. No two looked in the
same direction at the same time; they must have practiced this a great
deal. They all wore large, long coats. There was a thickset, large

237
woman; a solidly built boy with platinum blonde hair; a chubby,
broad-shouldered man with a bald head; and someone very tall and
dark—and sexy.
Ali Rafael. It was definitely him—the same enchanting eyes, the
same white scar. Her stomach jumped. Her heart fluttered. Did he
excite her? But no, that wasn’t it. His leisurely walk was wholly
gone, replaced by a strange, contrived sort of march. The others in
the group marched in step with him, and their eyes constantly shifted
and scanned every direction, including up and down.
His eyes caught hers for a second, then moved on.
And then his glare came back to her face and stopped its
directional scan. His eyes widened—a look of recognition.
Charlotte stumbled a bit on the sidewalk and stopped.
“Are you okay?” asked Charlotte’s mom.
Charlotte didn’t answer. She was still looking at Ali, and Ali was
looking at her. The other vampires kept marching as if they hadn’t
noticed, and Ali mouthed the words, “Get inside.”
Then the stare broke, and the vampires marched on to wherever
they were headed.
“We need to get out of here,” said Charlotte. Her voice was bare
with fear.
“What?” said Charlotte’s mother. “What’s wrong, honey?”
“Um—rain,” she said quickly, settling on the first excuse she
thought of. “It’s about to rain.”
“Looks fine to me,” said Bill.
“New York weather,” said Charlotte, trying to calm her voice but
only half-succeeding.

238
“I thought we were close to your apartment,” said Bill, confused.
Charlotte looked around. No one was out, and not a single car on
the street. What had made everyone leave? They couldn’t sense it—
or could they? Something severe was happening, something that had
called those two groups here. It didn’t seem like they were here for
her. Ali had told her to get inside—And her gut said to listen to him.
“We’re pretty close,” said Charlotte, trying to sound casual. “But
let’s walk fast.”
So they took off down the street and made it to Charlotte’s
building. She rushed toward the staircase, but then remembered her
elderly mother and Bill. They took the elevator. As the doors opened
on her floor, she turned to go down the hall and saw him ten feet
from her waiting, a huge figure blocking the hallway.
Jackson.

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Chapter 23

“Jackson!” Charlotte shouted, her voice rich with surprise and joy.
She dashed down the hall in one second and wrapped her arms
around him. He lifted her clear off the ground and they kissed. His
touch and his warmth felt so good. His tongue grazed her lips. Her
body heated up. But her mother was there. She backed away from his
kiss.
“It’s great to see you,” Jackson said with muted passion, his
volume halfway between a whisper and normal speech. “It’s been too
long.”
God, couldn’t Bill and her mother just disappear? Then Jackson
would throw her over his shoulder and take her inside and have her
right then. He’d have her in any way and all ways and all day and all
night. She ached down there, for him. And Jackson must be getting
hard for her.
But her mother was there—and how could she be thinking of sex,
with what Liam had told her?
“Jackson,” she said, taking his hand and turning back to the others.
“I want you to meet my mom, and this is her boyfriend Bill.”
The two had come down the hallway after her, and were now
shaking Jackson’s hand.
“Wow, so this is…” started her mother. “You didn’t tell me you
were seeing someone.”
“We just started dating,” said Charlotte.

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Now Bill was shaking Jackson’s hand, and both were smiling.
Jackson, smiling? At her mother and Bill?
“Goddamn, you’re built like a truck,” said Bill, still grasping
Jackson’s hand and now grabbing his bicep. “Did you play football?”
“American football?” asked Jackson.
“What else is there?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” said Bill. “You’d take one step on
that field and all the other players would shit their pants!”
Bill laughed at this. Jackson laughed too. Jackson didn’t actually
find this funny—he couldn’t, could he?—but he was putting on a nice
show for her mother and Bill.
“We just took that subway over,” said Bill. His Texan drawl had
increased in speed just a bit, showing excitement. “You been on that
subway before?”
“Yes,” replied Jackson.
“You know it goes under the water? Under the river. It goes under
the river and you’d never even know.”
“It’s an engineering marvel,” said Jackson. And he did not sound
glib, or smug, or condescending. “All the tunnels, right under a river
without a drip, and so many trains on each track.”
“Don’t you know it!” said Bill. “I tried to ask them about it at the
hotel. At the fancy hotel I’m paying five hundred a night to put us in.
And they think I’m just a dumb redneck. They said, no sir, we’ll
order a car for you. I said no, I don’t want a car, tell me about that
subway.”
“It’s hard for them to understand,” said Jackson, “how people from

241
smaller places feel when they see something like that.”
“Don’t you know it,” replied Bill.
Charlotte was watching Jackson and Bill with a smile of curiosity.
They paused for a second and she took the opportunity to invite
everyone inside. Charlotte sat her mother and Bill on the sofa and
offered them something to drink. Her mother had hot tea; Bill, a beer.
“I need to talk to Jackson about something real quick,” Charlotte
said. She grabbed Jackson’s arm and dragged him into the bedroom.
When she set her hand on the door to close it, her arm shot out from
her body like a spring, and the door slammed shut with a bang.
Jackson’s lips found hers. They kissed with hungry, wide-open
mouths. His tongue raced across her gumline, her palate, her canines,
her molars. She gulped and suckled it with a few hard tugs. The hard
body under his shirt was as perfect as she remembered: Broad,
powerful, sliced with lines, bulging with muscles. He cupped her
breast. Her sex trickled, ready for his entry. A pulse of blood pressed
his sex into her leg. A moan escaped her lips.
“No, no, no,” she said. She pushed him away. His ravenous eyes
would not leave hers. His irises burned for her with hues of green and
amber. Heat swirled through her body. Sweat beaded on her hairline.
“We’re not doing that,” said Charlotte through the arousal. “Not
now.”
“Why not now?” he teased, grabbing her hips to pull her in.
Her lips, her body, her core were hungry for more. It had been over
two weeks. But she held herself back.
“They’ll hear us,” she told him.
“Let them listen,” he answered, undaunted.

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The temptation was kind of hot—throwing it all away, her future
and health, the perception of her own mother outside the door,
throwing it on the floor and having sex right on top of it without a
care in the world.
But that was fantasy. “You’re crazy,” she told him.
His huge form bent around her—hot, protective, aroused, arousing.
“Of course I am,” he growled in her ear. “You always make me like
this.”
Her lust churned her stomach and dizzied her skull. She had to lean
on the wall. But there was another reason she’d brought him in here,
and yet she couldn’t quite—
“How is it that you’re so incredibly sexy?” he snarled, and he
pulled her hair.
“Dammit, Jackson, I’m getting too wet.”
“I want to kiss you down there.”
“No. No!” she said, and she stepped back. Jackson’s erection
throbbed through his jeans. He grimaced a second and then put a
straight-face on and took a step back himself.
“There was something else,” she said, her normal course of
thoughts returning. “Something bad.”
“You want to know where I’ve been?” suggested Jackson soberly.
“Yes!” she shouted.
What were Bill and her mother thinking outside?
“Godwin said it wasn’t safe, and they might be monitoring us,”
said Jackson.
Charlotte wasn’t entirely satisfied with this explanation, but it
would work for now. There was something more immediate,

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something dangerous, that Jackson’s sexy voice and hot kisses had
wiped from her working memory.
“It’s, it’s…” said Charlotte, racking her brain. “Ah! That’s it.
There’s something strange going on outside. There’s no one on the
street.”
“It’s cold,” Jackson replied simply.
Charlotte shook her head in wide, dramatic arcs. “No. I mean there
was really no one, except a few homeless. And I saw Ali Rafael.”
Jackson jumped. “Where? Here?”
“A few blocks away,” said Charlotte, remaining calm. “Close to the
church. But he wasn’t here for me. He was with three others, and they
were like, marching.”
“Four together,” said Jackson, recognizing something. “What did
they look like?”
She described the second group she’d seen.
“Rafael House warband,” said Jackson. He was looking at the
ground with one hand on his chin, as if remembering something.
“They’re elite. Ali is second-in-command of Rafael House. I’ve
marched with them, the ones you described.”
“I saw another group too. Much scarier. One of them was bigger
than you. Another had burns and a glass eye.”
Jackson nodded. “And a handsome, smaller man stood in the
middle?”
“Yes! And the weirdest thing is, I saw him from far away and he
looked like he was seven feet tall and just, so beautiful you couldn’t
even look at him and walk straight. And young too. But I got closer
and he looked—it was like how I’d feel looking at someone like that,

244
like in awe, but I could tell he was normal-looking. Between that and
the four men around him, it just struck me: he’s a vampire.”
Jackson searched her face. “You know who it is, I think.”
“Yeah,” she said in a whisper, the realization hitting her. But it
wasn’t much of a realization—it was more her seeing she’d known it
all along. “I don’t know how, but from what I’ve heard, I just knew it
was him. Antonio Rafael.”
“Yes. He has a sort of charisma effect. Like Godwin described, the
way you trust us. But in Rafael, it’s much stronger, so powerful it’s
become like something else. Rafael’s charm is so powerful it even
affects other vampires a little. I can’t imagine how he might look to a
human.”
Charlotte nodded slowly, thinking for a second. “But he’s not here
for me or you, is he?” she asked, looking for confirmation. “He
wouldn’t come out for just us?”
“No,” replied Jackson. Suddenly his head jumped a couple inches
back on his neck. “Strange. Very strange.”
“What?”
Jackson squinted. His eyes sharpened. His jaw clenched and
unclenched.
“Why now,” he began, “with them here, did Godwin tell me I
could see you? I’m sorry I couldn’t come to you sooner, but Godwin
said they were watching me. He kept me away from you, always
saying it was for your own safety, and then finally, tonight, he
ordered me to go see you again. And now you say no one is outside.
And I think he knew they’d be here. But how did he know?”
“I don’t know. What’s happening outside?”

245
“That many warriors… Most likely, I think, they’ve found that
rogue. The rogue who lowered the body from the mosque. The rogue
may be doing it again, right as we speak, at the large church down
there. And the Rafaels will watch and see, catch the rogue in the act,
and they’ll butcher him.”
Seeing all those large men, and the one woman, and then hearing
the word “butcher” like that—it made Charlotte grimace in fright.
“They won’t like, have a trial?” she asked.
“No,” said Jackson solemnly. “Not for something like that. You
drain a body, spill the blood to show you aren’t thirsty, do that to a
well-known public figure, and you lower them like that, spinning it to
show you used no wires, slowing it so no one could confuse it with
gravity. It’s a message that makes no sense to humans, but to
vampires… how can I say this? It’s a provocation. More than a
provocation… In English, you might say it’s a big fuck-you. It’s a
challenge and an insult to the vampires who rule this area—Rafael
House. And Rafael has answered with strength, and they’ll kill the
rogue.”
“And that’s just outside?” said Charlotte with a worried look out
the window.
“They’re clearly here to fight. It’s that rogue, or someone else. But
it’s something, and it’s not human. There will be a battle. We may
hear it. Don’t let your mother and Bill catch on.”
“But…”
“What?”
“I mean… Part of me, I just… I saw the way Godwin spun those
particles when you fought, and I just… I thought he was the rogue.”

246
“No,” said Jackson, quite firm and without doubt. “Godwin
wouldn’t do that. He’s calculating. He’s a planner.”
“So who is it?”
“That’s what makes rogues dangerous. No one knows who they
are, what they can do. Most of the time, they appear, they cause a few
problems, they disappear back into the open lands outside the cities.
Or the Houses kill them. But once or twice a century, one of them
comes out of the wild who is too ancient and powerful to deal with
easily. A vampire’s powers increase with age. Different vampires are
good at different things, but all our abilities strengthen with time. A
vampire who’s fifty, next to one of two hundred, is a boy next to a
full-grown man. But next to someone like Godwin or Rafael, that
vampire of two hundred is the child. That’s why we keep our age
somewhat secret. It keeps things civil. Most rogues are younger and
weaker than me, but a few of them were here before the first
Europeans, so no one knows how old they are. Or that’s what people
say. And sometimes these ancient rogues just appear, powerful and
wild and half-crazed. No one senses them, no one knows who they
are, but they touch down among us like whirlwinds with minds.”
Charlotte folded her arms and tucked her chin down as if cold.
Jackson saw her fear and hugged her warmly. She thought of Ali
telling her to get inside.
“We’ll be safe here, right?” she asked, her cheek resting against
Jackson’s powerful chest.
“Yes.” Jackson had one arm around her shoulders, and the other
hand was caressing her hair. “The warriors you described are some of
the best, and they’ll handle that threat. Rafael himself has come out to

247
make sure. But let’s stay inside. And we need to keep your parents
here until the battle is done.”
“Bill isn’t my parent,” she put in.
“Just keep them here. Give them drinks, keep them here at least a
couple hours.”
Charlotte shook her head. Did I really convince myself this wasn’t
real? Here he was in front of her: A huge, muscular, beautiful being
who drank blood and could jump from skyscraper to skyscraper. At
the same time, he was just Jackson.
Bill and her mother were still waiting. How long had they been in
here? And she still didn’t know why Jackson had disappeared for so
long. Godwin, sure. Godwin said to stay away. Who was Godwin to
keep Jackson from her? Couldn’t he have called?
“We shouldn’t leave our guests waiting,” said Jackson.
Charlotte shelved her feelings behind a mask of politeness. They
went back out to the living room and sat down. Jackson talked with
Bill, who asked how much he could bench press. Charlotte and her
mother chatted about her little brother Dean, various cousins, and
finally Charlotte’s work.
“Yeah, so I had dinner with the boss two levels up last night,” said
Charlotte.
“Oh,” said her mom, her eyes large with approval and curiosity.
“That’s good. What was her name?”
“Theresa.”
“The one you like?”
“Yeah. So she invited me to dinner. She and her wife had a dinner
party at their place. It was a little weird. She got pretty drunk. But I

248
did a good job of, you know, making friends. Her wife likes me. I
complimented their apartment, because I could tell one of them must
have decorated it.”
“Good,” said her mom firmly. “Score some points.”
“So yeah, Theresa got really drunk and said they’ll probably fire
my direct boss within six months, and I’ll get the spot.”
“Promotion!” yelled her mom.
A beaming smile swelled across her mother’s face. She raised both
her fists as if cheering for a sports team. But after a few seconds, her
mother’s smile twisted into a little worm.
“What’s wrong?” asked her mom.
“Oh, um…”
Her heart raced. Actually I make six figures now from doing
vampire experiments so I don’t care about a promotion for my old
job. I could quit my office job but I keep going in every morning. I go
into the office every morning because it’s the only thing left in my life
that’s normal.
Oh, and my new boyfriend Jackson over there kills people and
drinks their blood and some vampires are about to kill each other
outside.
“Well, you know it’s more responsibility,” said Charlotte, going
with a stock answer.
“You’ll handle it fine, honey,” said her mom, putting her soft, age-
marked hand on Charlotte’s arm and running it up and down a few
times.
Their talk drifted to other things. Jackson got Bill another beer.
Every now and then, throughout their conversation, an unearthly

249
vampire scream shook the windows.
“Demolition work,” said Jackson, the first time a vampire scream
sounded.
“What kind of demolition?” Bill asked, quite intrigued.
Did Bill work in construction? Charlotte thought, a bit anxious
about how Jackson might handle the answer.
“Steel frame construction,” said Jackson firmly.
Bill gave a stern nod. “Serious business there.”
A few other times, the ground shook.
“That’s them working on the subway,” Charlotte put in.
“Gotta get that subway work done,” said Bill.
There were also gunshots.
“Somebody shootin’?” said Bill.
Charlotte and Jackson glanced at each other.
“There’s a gun range down the street,” said Charlotte.
Bill’s face squinched with confusion. “In the city like that?”
“First Amendment,” said Jackson forcefully.
“Amen!” replied Bill with gusto.
Charlotte poured herself into the conversation, determined to keep
her mother and Bill there, keep them from noticing the time. It turned
out to be the best conversation she’d had with her mom in a year.
Charlotte said nothing of the research study or vampires, of course.
But she did open up about her real dissatisfaction with work—its
tedium, office culture, sitting in a chair all day, the dead-weight
sensation of going nowhere. Even with the promotion, she would just
be doing a similar job with more money, supervising people to do
that similar job. Still dull. And with many promotions over twenty

250
years or so, she’d be in Theresa’s position—comfortable, but
unexceptional.
That was the best-case scenario. That assumed they didn’t get
bought out and laid-off, or the economy crashed and half of
management was let go, or, worse, software engineers created bots
that replaced their entire profession. Her mother took all this in with
concern in her eyes, and puzzlement when Charlotte mentioned the
bots. But at the end, her mom affirmed that Charlotte was young,
bright, and hardworking: She would adapt and succeed. And as her
mom told Charlotte this, Charlotte confessed mixed feelings—she
was starting to like the job more, like its tedium and stability, finding
intrigue in the back-room politics and gossip of the office.
Charlotte also asked about her mom; her mom’s responses brought
Charlotte happiness. The older woman spoke with more energy in her
voice and eyes than she had for several years, and she glanced at Bill
often—very often. Charlotte wasn’t sure she liked Bill, and the
frequent glances tinged her bright mood with hints of discomfort. But
seeing her mother so obviously happy and healthy, and knowing it
was Bill who did it, eventually swallowed these doubts. In their
place, Charlotte felt a twinge of affection for the countrified Bill—as
it seemed Jackson had from the start. Perhaps, in a strange way, the
vampire saw something of himself in the Texan—two old men from
simpler places and times, transplanted into the digitized tangle of the
modern metropolis.
When the sounds of the battle had ceased altogether for about
twenty minutes, Jackson closed the conversation.
“You must be getting tired,” he said. “Need to get back to the

251
hotel?”
Bill checked his phone. “Goddamn! That clock snuck up on me!”
“Yes, we should probably get back,” said Charlotte’s mother, with
a wise smile at her daughter.
“Shall I help you get a cab?” asked Jackson.
“We can take care of it ourselves,” replied Charlotte’s mother. “But
thank you.”
“You’re a solid man,” said Bill with a hearty pat on the vampire’s
back. “I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”
“You two lovebirds just can’t wait to be alone,” said Jackson.
They all laughed. Inside, Charlotte cringed. Yep, Bill and her
mother were clearly in love. And Jackson had just made a joke about
the fact that they were going back to Bill’s five-hundred-dollar hotel
room to have sex.
As Jackson shut the door behind them, Charlotte sat on her
recliner. The conversation with her mother, even with all the strange
noises and fighting outside, had warmed her spirits.
But now fire stabbed through the warmth. She folded her arms and
fixed her eyes on the coffee table, not wanting to look at Jackson.
There was too much to say, so that no words came out. Instead, they
sort of boiled up in her stomach and pinched her lips together. She
glanced over at Jackson. He was concerned, slightly worried, trying
to look empathetic. He saw something was wrong, but he didn’t
know what was coming. Neither did she.
“Where have you been?” Charlotte finally put out, her tone slightly
sour.

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Chapter 24

“We had to hide out for a while,” explained Jackson, leaning on the
wall several feet away as Charlotte sat, arms folded, on the recliner.
“We weren’t sure how much the Rafaels knew. I wanted to come see
you, but Godwin said they knew their two agents disappeared in this
neighborhood, even if they didn’t know exactly where. He said
they’d have someone watching, and they could send a warband to
ambush me.”
“Okay,” granted Charlotte, but her tone was still disapproving. “I
mean, I figured something like that might’ve happened. But I also
thought maybe you’d gotten killed or captured. I was really worried
about it, and you know, sometimes I thought, maybe he’s just not
interested anymore and he doesn’t want to see me.”
“How could you say that!” said Jackson, standing up straight and
no longer leaning on the wall. “Of course I wanted to see you! Every
night!”
“Okay,” Charlotte replied with knife-like irony. She’d expected a
reaction like that and was ready to follow up. “So you wanted to see
me every night, but you couldn’t call me one time and tell me you
were okay?”
“Phones aren’t secure,” said Jackson. “You know I don’t use
phones.”
“Then borrow one!” Charlotte shouted. “Or get a burner! I know
you have my number on that paperwork I filled out for them.”

253
Jackson looked at her, but she didn’t meet his eyes.
“I wanted to,” said Jackson. “They… We may have left a USB
behind with some of the study data on it. It was encrypted, so it
should be okay. But if they break the encryption, they would know
your information. All of it. And all of it for the other research
applicants and the human researchers. If we then contacted you, they
could find us or use you against us.”
Charlotte gulped when he said they might have her info.
“So they know who I am now?” she said, struggling to keep her
voice steady.
“No,” said Jackson firmly. But she was still scared, unsure whether
to believe him.
“At least, it’s unlikely,” Jackson went on. “Highly unlikely. They
probably can’t break the encryption. Or it would take them like fifty
years. That’s what the computer guy said. It’s also possible that,” and
here Jackson cleared his throat sheepishly, “we just dropped the USB
somewhere during the evac.”
Charlotte raised her eyebrows but couldn’t stop a grin. “Centuries
old. Scientists and doctors. Vampires. And you drop a USB, just like
anyone else.”
Jackson shared her smile. “We have an extra copy stored online.
Cloud storage or something. The computer guy handles it. But
Godwin said we’d monitor the locations of the study participants, see
if the Rafaels sent anyone. So far, no one. So it doesn’t look like we
have reason to worry.”
“That’s good,” said Charlotte. Relief softened her voice. “I was just
really worried about you.”

254
Jackson walked over and knelt by her recliner. He covered her
shoulders with his long arms and pulled her into his chest. Safety and
warmth flowed out of him into Charlotte. She could lay her head into
his chest and hug him all night, lost in his safety and comfort.
But something else hung over her, tying down her mind, keeping
her from bliss, from love.
“I thought about you every night,” said Jackson. His voice was
deep, soulful, half-broken by emotion. Charlotte squeezed him
harder. His good looks and passion or just his vampire charm—
something, she didn’t know what—was closing her mind, shutting
out that other thing she had to ask. She was supposed to confront him
about something, but the feelings now were so strong.
“I thought about you too,” she said, her vision blurring from tears
welling up. “All the time. And I knew you were alive, or I had to tell
myself that. I didn’t know. And sometimes I thought…” And
sometimes I thought I’d just imagined it all and you weren’t even a
real person, and none of it was real and I wondered if I’d just gone
crazy but now you’re here again and I know it was real.
If she said that, the tears would burst free, and she’d never confront
him about that other thing. She checked herself, sniffled in a drip in
her nose, and pushed Jackson gently away.
“What is it?” he asked.
She almost said it then. But Jackson hugged her in, kissing her
forehead, running his hand through her hair.
“What is it?”
She had to say it, but he was holding her too close. The wrong
thing came out of her mouth.

255
“So did Godwin, um, did you guys get another lab or whatever set
up?”
“Yes,” said Jackson, sounding relieved. “Two nights ago, we
finished. I’ll tell you where it is and you can keep doing the surveys,
get the checks. It’ll be fine.”
“That’s good,” she said, though the two grand per week hardly
crossed her mind.
Jackson kept hugging her, swaying back and forth to comfort her.
“We’re back together,” he said softly. “It’s okay.”
Now she put her hands on his chest and pushed away again. She
stood and walked over to the other side of the room. Jackson’s feet
thumped the floor behind her as he followed.
“No,” she told him, without turning around. “Stay over there.”
Charlotte leaned on the wall, facing away from him, tucking her
chin to her chest. She snorted in a few breaths and shoved them back
out of her lungs through pursed lips. Fear, anger, and anticipation
rattled her arms, shook her guts like dice in a cup.
Finally, she turned to Jackson, looked him dead in the eye, and said
it.
“Liam told me vampirism is an STD.”

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Chapter 25

The words came up Charlotte’s throat like golfballs.


“Liam said it’s an STD, and it kills most people who get it.”
A crumbling sound came from her side. Jackson had pinched a
corner of the wall out with his bare hands. He grunted something
horrible in Italian.
“Who is he to tell you that?” said Jackson.
“He’s someone who cares,” said Charlotte. Her throat was tight
and sore from raw emotion. “He said you’re putting my life at risk.
You’re putting my life at risk every time we have sex and you don’t
use a condom.”
The broken chunks of wall tumbled from Jackson’s open hand. He
didn’t answer.
“Is it true?” she demanded.
“Yes.”
“So what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jackson turned away. His huge form blocked the window.
“Don’t try to think of something,” said Charlotte, her voice razor-
sharp. “Just answer me. What made you think it was okay?”
“I slipped up,” said Jackson, facing sideways and speaking over his
shoulder. “You’ve seen me sometimes, when we make love. A
darkness takes me. It controls me. I had to feel you with nothing
between us. I didn’t wear the condoms, and I should have.”
“And when were you gonna tell me about this?”

257
“I…” Jackson sighed. His head hung low and his spine slumped.
“Answer me,” said Charlotte, “or you can get out.”
He turned to her. Fire filled his green eyes. He pressed his lips
together as if ashamed.
“I was going to tell you,” he said, seeming contrite.
“When?” she snapped, knowing he’d have no answer for this.
But he avoided her question. “It’s something a vampire can talk
about with a human if we get involved. It’s hard to talk about. If
someone had HIV, they might have trouble talking about it right
away. But it’s something for partners to talk about. I was going to tell
you. It wasn’t Liam’s place.”
“Liam cares about me,” corrected Charlotte in a hot, angry, uneven
voice. “He was concerned. You can shut up about him. Stop making
excuses and answer the question. When exactly were you going to
tell me?”
“I was planning to.”
“When?”
Jackson said nothing.
“Doesn’t seem like you were gonna tell me tonight,” she went on.
“Seems like you were plenty ready to not tell me tonight. You
could’ve told me any time. Any time! After we had unprotected sex
the first time. That would’ve made sense. Or the second time. Or any
other time. But you didn’t. Why?”
“I should have a better reason.”
“Yes?”
“I should have a better reason, but I don’t.” His eyes were sullen,
stuck to the floor. His voice was leaden, guilty. “I knew I should tell

258
you, but I didn’t. I enjoyed being with you, and it was easy to forget.
I really was going to tell you. I was always so happy when I saw you,
and it never came out. I have nothing else to say.”
“That’s it?!” yelled Charlotte. “I could’ve died. I could’ve died
from that disease. See, and this is how I know you don’t care about
me.”
“You can’t say that,” he said, shaking his head. “I care about you
deeply.”
“Really? You go and hide for weeks. You don’t contact me. You
put my life at risk and then don’t tell me about it, because it just
doesn’t come up? Because you were having fun with me and you
didn’t want to talk about it?”
“I was going to tell you,” said Jackson. He spoke with confidence,
force, and a hint of anger.
“Get out!” she roared.
Jackson’s torso shifted, as if he’d been struck.
“You not hear me?” she shouted, so loud it strained her throat.
“Charlotte—” said Jackson, as if trying to comfort her. He started
to move across the room with his arms open in a hug.
“I’m not joking.” She backed away from him. “Get away from me.
Or are you gonna call me ridiculous again because I don’t wanna
fuck you?”
“I never said such a thing!”
“You did! Now get out of my apartment!”
Jackson shuffled toward the door. All his vigor and rhythm were
gone. As he unlocked her front door—with his hand, not his mind—
he looked over his shoulder. His stare cut across the whole apartment.

259
His words came out uneven, half-hoarse, ugly.
“You really think I don’t care about you?”
“I don’t know,” she answered.
As soon as the door clicked shut behind him, Charlotte slumped to
the floor, yelling with anger and starting to sob.

***

Charlotte’s alarm woke her at seven the next morning. She’d blown
her nose a hundred times last night. It was sore and pink. Her
swirling stomach would accept no food. But if she stayed home all
day, her thoughts would drive her crazy.
So she dressed for work. Perhaps she wouldn’t get much done.
Perhaps her bosses would notice. They’d notice and they’d never
consider her for that promotion. And then this might continue,
because Jackson and vampires drove her crazy. And then they’d fire
her instead of Kyle. Would they be wrong to fire her? A girl who
couldn’t control herself?
No, she’d get something done. She had to, didn’t she? For her
sanity, at least. She’d hated this job for so long, but now…
Work was her only link with a normal life. The only thing that was
stable. Her only link with sanity.
She had to hold on.
Charlotte trudged into the office, pulled up the jobs on her
computer, and set to it. She never smiled or laughed, but she got
some work done.
At lunch, she nibbled a pre-made Caesar salad at her desk,

260
pretending to work through the break. That was when she thought
most of him.
Will I ever see Jackson again?
This question turned the chunks of romaine in her stomach to
gravel. She had to set her fork down and gulp some water.
If you never see him again, it would be better for you.
Wouldn’t it? All the violence, the killing, the death around her. And
always wondering if the vampires were manipulating her. Did she
really trust them, or was it just their vampire nature making her feel
trust? Could one of them have gazed her again without her ever
realizing it? Qi could have. Godwin could have. Jackson had gazed
her once and bowled her over… she’d know if he gazed her again.
But maybe he’d done it extra hard that time to fool her. He couldn’t,
could he? Absolutely he could. This man risked her life with a deadly
STD and never said anything about it… and he was never going to.
No. He would’ve told me.
But it really wasn’t clear he would have.
It’s a low risk. One in ten thousand.
And it was her life. Not something to reduce to a fraction.
But it was his nature, to regard life as less valuable. He was
working to change that. He was surrounded by people who wanted to
change it too… people like Godwin.
Stop making excuses for him. He’s a murderer.
There was such caring, such passion and… even love in his eyes.
Had she imagined everything she’d felt with him? Imagined that he
was feeling things for her? No. But you don’t know. These things can
flip your feelings like light switches. You know they can.

261
Jackson hadn’t, though. Had he? Yes, she trusted him, liked him,
wanted to see him in a good light. But wasn’t it always that way with
an unusually attractive person? It had felt the same with Liam when
they were first together, although not half as strong as with Lucas.
And Liam had never been willing to give her him whole self, always
ducking off to study or work extra jobs he didn’t need, only spending
time with her when he was too tired to do anything else… sometimes
just a few hours a week, when he got really busy.
Jackson wouldn’t do that. Even if he swayed her feelings—whether
with his good looks, his charm, or his vampire nature—there was
proof he’d make sacrifices. He wouldn’t have saved those people if
he cared nothing for humans. Wouldn’t have set himself up to be
hunted, exposed himself. Wouldn’t have killed those two Rafael
agents. And he had used the condoms some of the time.
But just some of the time. He’d risked her life with a deadly STD
and never said anything about it… and he was never going to.
No. He would’ve told me.
Keep telling yourself that…
Her thoughts were going in circles, smashing against each other,
eating themselves, spinning her around like she was stuck in a giant
washing machine. Wasn’t it all water under the bridge, anyway?
She’d never see him again. Back to her normal life. Back to this job,
all day… There were other men out there. Other men who could
never compare to Jackson.
And her body needed him. Just one more time, to feel him, to be
handled and pleasured for hours and hours by him. No one could do it
like Jackson. Even if she never saw him again, she’d still be thinking

262
of him when other men were inside her…
No. Her life would go on. Her life would be stable. She’d go to
work. She’d get a promotion. She’d sleep for eight hours a night.
But it couldn’t be that easy.
Did she want it to be that easy?
Will I ever see Jackson again?

***

The hallway in her apartment building reeked when she got home.
The smell was odd but familiar—something burned, slightly
chemical, and so strong she had to pull her sweater over her nose. But
the scent punched through the knitted fabric, and it strengthened as
she closed on her apartment.
There he was. Slumped against the door to her apartment was
Jackson.

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Chapter 26

Her steps slowed. She hesitated. Maybe it would be better if she


just ducked off, came back later when Jackson wasn’t around. But
she kept walking toward him, one foot in front of another, drifting at
him inexorably like an asteroid sucked in by Jupiter’s gravity.
Then she stopped in front of him—this man, this thing who had
erupted into her life. A nameless emotion suffocated her. It was like
blocks of cold lead mashing in at her sides, all around her, and yet at
the same time, raw fire smoldered within.
“Hi,” she managed to choke out, not even sure why she said it.
Jackson’s face as he looked up at her brought a taste of Caesar
dressing up her throat. His skin was horribly burned. Blotches of red
opened between leathery patches of brown. Blisters covered his
cheeks, his forehead, his nose, his chin, his lips. His whole head was
swollen and ugly.
“Oh my God!” she cried out. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll live,” he said gruffly. With labor, he got to his feet.
The sight of Jackson burned like that had stirred Charlotte’s pity,
but as soon as he got to his feet, towering over her as he always did,
her wariness returned.
“Why’d you come here in the day?” she asked, suspicious and
scared.
“Because I… I couldn’t sleep.”
“Why here, though?”

264
“I… I don’t know. It was stupid. I just wanted to see you when you
got home from work.”
Charlotte folded her arms. She kneaded the skin by each elbow
with the opposite hand. Her lips pinched together. His body was just a
few feet away. If she only looked up at him, she’d see his beautiful
eyes full of passion for her. She’d see those eyes and go back to
seeing him the way she saw him before. But she couldn’t allow that
to happen. Her eyes stayed locked on the floor.
“I don’t know if I like seeing you here,” she said, struggling to
keep her voice steady. “I don’t know how I feel about seeing you
outside my apartment when I come home.”
“You wish I’d stay away, keep my distance for a while,” he said,
guilty.
“Yeah. Or maybe call. Or text me. The way normal people act.”
“I had to see you, Charlotte,” he said. His voice was breaking with
sadness and pain. “I utterly had to. I told myself it was the
responsible thing to do, to stay away. Give you a few days, even a
week. But today, I couldn’t sleep. It tore through me as I lay in my
bed in my windowless room. I told myself the agony would lessen
with time, but the clock didn’t move. Minutes passed like hours.
Before I knew it, the sun was searing my face as I darted from my flat
down the stairs and into the subway. I couldn’t stop myself. I had to
come here, to see you and to apologize.”
The emotion in Jackson’s voice dizzied her. She’d never heard
such passion spill forth. She didn’t even know the stoic Jackson had
such raw feelings inside. But she wouldn’t be swayed.
“You had your chance to apologize last night,” she told him firmly.

265
“I was angry, uncollected, caught off guard. I was overcome.”
“So what?” she said. “You were speaking honestly, and you didn’t
have anything good to say. And you come here all burned up, like
you think I’m just gonna—” She hesitated here. Her stomach jumped.
But she pushed the words out through her lips. “You hurt yourself
and come here like you think I’m just gonna roll over and take pity
on you. It’s not happening.”
“Just give me a chance, Charlotte. Just hear me out.”
“I heard enough last night. You want to apologize, use your clever
vampire words and vampire charm to clear everything up. It’s not
happening.”
“I made a lot of mistakes,” said Jackson, as if it were painful to
speak. “But I was always trying to do the right thing. If you look back
on it, I think you’ll see that I tried. And I really was going to tell you
about the disease. You have to believe me.”
“Why should I?” she demanded bitterly.
“I tried to be safe with you. I hope you can see, looking back, that I
tried. And I failed a couple of times. I should’ve told you sooner, but
it’s an awkward thing to discuss. People can put things like that off.
I’m a vampire, but I have human failings. Can’t you understand
that?”
She could understand it. It wasn’t the strangest explanation in the
world. But just because she could understand didn’t make it okay.
“You could’ve told me before, though. You had your chance.
Plenty of chances. And you never did. Why? Human failings?”
“Yes.”
“No,” said Charlotte. “It’s more than that. You’re a killer. It’s what

266
you do for a living. Killing for so long… Maybe that’s changed you,
or maybe that’s how you always were. You didn’t tell me about
vampirism, even though you had plenty of chances. And you go and
disappear for weeks. Even if it was just a simple mistake, what kind
of relationship am I supposed to have with you? I spent the whole
day asking myself if it was better if I…” Charlotte stopped her to
suck in a painful breath. “…if I never saw you again, and it was hard,
but I think the logical part of me decided it was better.”
“But deep down, you knew it wasn’t,” said Jackson, full of
conviction. “Don’t deny it.”
“I won’t,” she granted. “Part of me did feel that way. You… you
make me feel very strongly. So it was hard. But I think ending this
now would be better.”
“It’s not better!” he shouted, affronted. “You know it’s not! You
know we’re special. You can go back to your job you hate, and I can
go back to what I do. And our lives, forever, would be worse because
of it. Less meaningful, more empty. No one can replace you for me or
me for you. You know this.”
“Then why don’t you act like it?”
Fury and confusion trenched his face. He was ugly in his torment.
Only his green eyes, stricken with passion and wild emotion, shined
through.
“What can I do?” he wailed. “What can I do to make you see it was
just a mistake? Or do you still doubt, as you did last night, that I care
for you?”
“I… I…” She shifted on her feet and avoided his eyes. “Yeah, I
do.”

267
Jackson’s eyes seared through his scalded face. They were watery
and wild with pain. “How?! Why?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But I’ve thought about it, and… you know,
you do these romantic gestures like burn yourself in the sun or stop
the bullets, but the less romantic things that really matter, like having
honest conversations with me, you don’t do. I guess you like having
sex with me and you like seeing me, but do you really care? No. I’m
not convinced.”
Breaths rasped through Jackson’s throat. His lips quivered with
fear, passion, desperation. “What else can I say? I care about you
utterly, hopelessly. I must be with you! I’m not perfect. I made
mistakes. I’ll handle it better in the future.”
“Will you? I don’t know. You put me at risk, multiple times, for a
fatal disease. And then you said nothing about it. Those are the facts.
You say you care, but that’s not someone who cares. That’s not love.”
“If this isn’t love, then love isn’t real,” he declared with ardor and
torment. “You feel as much as I do. I know it. How can you doubt
what we have?”
“How can I not?” she said. “You’ve given me plenty of reasons.”
“And I wish I could blot those away. I’ve been stupid, reckless.
I’ve made stupid mistakes. I admit that. I’m not perfect. But I
promise to never endanger you again. From the moment I met you, I
saw you were different. After that night in the club, I worried for your
safety. I thought always of your laugh, your smile, the happiness and
hope that’s always in your eyes. I thought of your touch, of
everything. And if I didn’t know you well enough to love you then, I
knew I couldn’t leave New York without seeing you again. The

268
Rafaels were tracking me. They would get me unless I fled, ran off to
some other city and lay low. But I couldn’t leave without seeing you
again.
“The police had compiled a list of names of everyone at the
shooting. They didn’t release it, so I gazed one of their employees
outside the office and got him to email it to me. I googled your name,
got your address, and showed up. We talked, and we made love, and I
knew. That’s when I knew. I knew we had something no one else had.
I knew the love between us was something most humans and most
vampires would never have. It was unique, and it overpowered me. It
controlled me. It made me stay in New York just to be near you.”
Jackson was kneeling before her. His eyes watered, tears ready to
trickle through his long lashes. But she shook her head at him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, choking on the words. “I’m sorry to hurt you.
I… I can see you feel very strongly. But you… if you care so
much…”
Jackson waited for her to finish. His face was pure anguish.
“You say you care so much, but when you stayed here, you
dragged me into all this.”
“What? No!”
“That’s what happened.”
“I would never do such a thing.”
“But you did,” she said. “And you’ve put me in danger in other
ways.”
“I never will again.”
“How can I believe you?”
“Because I’ve put my life on the line for you before,” he said,

269
kneeling with one hand clapped across his heart. “And I will again.
But before, I saw only threats outside. I didn’t see the danger inside
myself. My passion for you drives me insane. It clouds my judgment.
It overpowers everything else. But with that same passion, I’ll battle
myself. With my whole being, I will change. I must. Because my love
for you is the strongest thing I’ve ever known. I’ve never cared about
anyone or anything more.
“I was stupid before. You’re with a stupid man.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re not stupid.”
“No, it was stupid,” he said. “You talk to me like… Sometimes the
way you look at me, it’s like you think I’m perfect. But I’m not. I’m a
stupid man. I’m not a thinker. I’m not a leader. I’m a brute. I’m a
soldier. I’m a thug. I’m an animal.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“I won’t be. I won’t be ever again. And maybe I’m not smart, but
I’ll protect you. I’ll protect you from any danger outside and any
danger within myself. And if protecting you takes my immortal life
away, I’m glad to die. I’ve never cared about anyone or anything
more. I love you, Charlotte.”
She still didn’t know if she believed him, but the emotions building
inside her were too much. She’d have to give him another chance. As
tears stung her eyes, she looked at her Jackson. He still knelt before
her, eyes lowered, his own tears streaking down his burned face. She
gently turned his chin up and lowered her own lips to his. They
kissed through the salt of the tears, through the blisters and burns.
Then they went inside and held each other for many long, tender
moments.

270
But she would not make love with him that night, and she made
him sleep on the couch.

***

That night was a Tuesday; Jackson visited her on Wednesday as


well. They stayed in, watched a movie. She was still wary, still
mistrustful. But in the way Jackson acted, there was a new softness, a
sense of being defeated, real remorse and contrition. Her trust of him
started to return, trickling into her moment by moment. He returned
Thursday, and it went much the same, though they did go for a walk
in the park, Jackson with his disguise on. She relaxed more around
him. They started to act, sometimes, like a boring normal couple.
“I have some work for Godwin later tonight,” he told her on
Thursday at about 10 P.M. “So I have to get going.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said, somewhat disappointed. She’d
wanted to do more boring normal couple stuff with him, at least for
another hour or so.
“Yes,” he said, running the back of his finger along her cheek. “But
I have the weekend off. And I was wondering if you’d spend it with
me.”
Charlotte’s eyebrows jumped with surprise. “The whole
weekend?”
“Yes,” he confirmed with satisfaction.
“Doing what?”
“We’ll be visiting my country house, and you can meet my
family.”

271
“Oh.” This invitation excited and intrigued her. Meet Jackson’s
family? Sign me up. “Okay. That sounds good. At your country
house?”
“Yes,” confirmed Jackson, sounding even more confident than
usual. “Upstate. We’ll leave early Friday evening. Sound good?”
“Umm. I mean, I had a few plans, but I can cancel them.”
“Good. Pack warm and bring something formal to wear. Meet me
on the roof on Friday at 7:30 P.M.”

272
Chapter 27

Friday evening, Charlotte hauled her suitcase up the stairs, dinging


the wheels on some of the steps. Jackson said she’d stay the whole
weekend, so it wasn’t the lightest piece of luggage. But it was good
exercise. Her chest heaved from the effort by the time she reached the
door to the roof. Wind whistled through the door’s edges and brought
creaks from its hinges. It was unlocked. As she opened the door, icy
wind blasted across her face.
“Good evening,” said Jackson.
“Hey,” she said.
Jackson’s green eyes glowed in the night. His powder-blue silk
shirt peeked from a navy sports jacket. The wind dragged the sports
jacket across his V-shaped body. His top few buttons opened, as if
they couldn’t stand to keep his manly chest hidden. The wind yanked
his pleated trousers to one side, tightening them over the corded
muscles of his quadriceps. His dark-chocolate hair ruffled in the
wind.
“You look good,” she said, raising one hand to block the wind from
her face.
“Thank you,” he said.
An arctic gust broadsided her. She shifted her footing, but Jackson
was already by her side, holding her steady.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah.”

273
Hauling her suitcase up the stairs had left her body warm, but the
wind on the roof bit her face and hands, and the icy air seared her
nostrils.
“It’s cold,” said Charlotte loudly. “Really cold!”
Jackson hugged her close for warmth. “Yes. Winter’s here.”
“Is it cold like this at your house?”
“Much colder,” said Jackson. “My house is upstate near the
mountains. I thought I told you.”
“You said something about it. When did this front blow in?”
“Don’t know. I just woke up.”
“That’s right.”
“You’ll need warmer clothes,” said Jackson. “Do you have them?
Larger jacket, hat, gloves, whatever else humans use?”
“Yes.”
“Put them on. I’ll load your luggage and meet you back here in
five.”
In her closet, she dug out her biggest jacket—a down parka in red,
with a large hood rimmed with faux fur. Cute, fashionable gloves—
no, that wouldn’t cut it. They were apparently going to Siberia. She
grabbed her mittens and the ugly warm hat. Thermal tights went on
under her jeans. Snow boots on the feet. And into her parka pocket
she crammed three pairs of wool socks.
Back up to the roof, and Jackson waited again. The way the wind
blew his clothing and hair was very sexy. They really must not get
cold—any human would be dying in that outfit up here.
“Ready to go?”
“Yeah.”

274
He seized her in his arms. Their raw strength made her gasp and
shudder. He’d gazed her that first night when he jumped to those
different buildings. That hadn’t scared her the way it did now. What if
he slipped or something?
“It’s fine,” he said. His wise green eyes met hers. Yes, it would be
fine. They kissed. He jumped.
Yet after only one or two leaps, her feet were on another rooftop.
“There already?” said Charlotte.
“No,” said Jackson.
Jackson gazed at something behind her. She turned and saw it: A
helicopter.
“Oh. You… you can fly that?”
“Yes,” confirmed Jackson. “A hobby.”
Jackson loaded her bag and she climbed inside. He handed her
some ear protection—a large, heavily padded set of headphones.
“It’s got a jack on there,” said Jackson, pointing one thick finger at
the cord. “You can plug it into your computer or something.”
She put the headphones on. They blocked every sound from
outside. Unable to make conversation, she glanced around the
helicopter. A bewildering array of gauges dotted the control panel.
Some kind of steering device rose by Jackson’s legs. It looked like a
joystick covered in smaller joysticks. His feet rested on some pedals
below. The joystick barely cleared his legs. His knees poked up above
his hips, like a large man riding a small bicycle. The helicopter was
clearly designed for shorter pilots.
“Put the headphones on,” he said. “It will be loud.”
No sooner had Charlotte covered her ears than the whole craft

275
started to vibrate. Her seat buzzed and a quiet, low-frequency hum
came through the earphones. The city lights reflected on the
windshield quivered. Jackson thumbed over some of the gauges. He
pushed something and it vibrated more. Then he flipped various
knobs and scanned over the multifarious gauges. Jeez, Jackson is
good at so many things. His eyes caught hers, and he leaned over
with a kiss.
New York’s lights flailed in the glass as the machine shook and
jittered. Finally, the shaking lessened, and the lights slid down around
her. They were in the sky.
Charlotte wondered how flying over Manhattan would feel. She’d
watched so many superhero movies where they swung or soared
between the skyscrapers. But though Manhattan rose across the river,
they did not fly past it, and instead turned north. The lights of the
suburbs rolled beneath them, the streetlights like strands of glowing
yellow beads, the cars like lines of bioluminescent ants.
Beyond the suburbs they skirted rocky hills woolly with pineforest.
Frozen rivers snaked through the land like strands of talc flecked with
crystal. Small towns’ lights clustered in cross-shapes, the glow of
their two biggest streets. The broad contours of the hills blocked out
the lowest stars, and these curves became points as they approached
the mountains. Mysterious midnight forest sprawled in strange shapes
below, black and bristly as bearhide. Human lights became fewer and
fewer. She reached over and held Jackson’s hand. He gripped hers
back.
The darkness and grandeur of the landscape swallowed her. It was
so vast and mysterious. Who lived down there? What animals ran in

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those forests? What scent came from the trees and the rotted leaves
underfoot? How would it feel to walk up each hill, summit each
ridge? Over it all, she soared with this man—with this thing who was
half-god.
They set down in a white meadow just over a forest-covered crest.
Under the endless stars spread several dark wedges, and under these
rested a broad black rectangle. There was only starlight. Jackson
switched the engines off, and she removed her ear protection, but
they stayed in the chopper.
“Incredible flight,” said Jackson, struck with profundity.
“Yes,” agreed Charlotte, grabbing his hand on the joystick. “I can
see why you like it.”
He leaned over and they shared a long kiss. It started with gentle
hugs of their lips. Then it turned aggressive. Jackson’s sucked her
tongue, tugging at it with sensuous rhythm. Each pull on her tongue
made her core tighten and ooze with delicious heat. They hadn’t
made love since before he’d disappeared—about three weeks. On a
physical level, she hungered for Jackson more than ever. They’d been
easing into foreplay last night when she’d stopped him. Now, she
couldn’t help but reach over to palm his firm shoulder, his bicep, and
his lean, powerful chest. Her hand started wandering down to his
cock—she could see its massive swell through his pants, even in the
night. But the seatbelt pinned her shoulders to the seat, and her hand
couldn’t stretch below his solar plexus. She fumbled with her seat
buckle, but it was very strong; almost like a child seat, it wouldn’t
open.
“The house is over there,” Jackson said. His voice was low and

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playful. He saw what she wanted and was teasing her by changing the
subject. “Wesley said he’d turn the lights on when he heard the
chopper.”
“So do we just wait?” she said impatiently.
The veins of color in his large eyes still glinted a little in the dark.
He rubbed a strand of her hair between his pointer and middle finger,
then unbuckled his seat belt, leaned in, and smelled her neck.
“They should be on, any second,” he whispered in her ear, “unless
my brother’s drunk already.”
“Vampires can get drunk?”
“Wesley sure can.”
She fumbled with the seatbelt more, but she couldn’t see it well in
the dark. Jackson just sat there watching her struggle. She finally
popped it off, and at that point, she straddled him. They kissed more,
hungrier. Her sex was seeping, utterly hot. She mashed it against the
bulge in his pants, feeling it pulse with pleasure as she grinded on it.
Oh, she’d made sure to pack condoms. Large ones, two different
brands. Sure, her plan had been to break their abstinence in Jackson’s
country bedroom—perhaps in a more romantic way—but it was too
hard to wait. Three weeks was way too long.
The top buttons of his shirt were open. His chest was warm and
hard. She found his nipple and teased it while sucking his lower lip
and tongue. He groaned, eager for her warmth. Even through her
thermal pants and her jeans on top of them, his erection was iron-hard
and warm. She massaged his length between her bottom and his
thigh. It lengthened. Hot trickles poured through her core. Her purse
was on the floor by her seat, a few condoms waiting inside. Perhaps

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they could just skip meeting his family and whatever else—
“There,” said Jackson, and he grabbed her hand. “Wesley. Wesley
got the lights on.”
Charlotte looked up.
Wow. Wow.
He lives in that?
Bathing in the groundlights and blocking the stars was an immense
building of cream-colored stone. It rose three floors from the snowy
white ground, and all around it swayed green pines on dark hills. It
was huge, well designed, finely built, and yet natural in its place as a
log on a riverbank. It was a building that would amaze even the
president.
But that was just the center block. Moving out from this, the
building became irregular, charming, strange. The stone facade
undulated like a dancer’s belly; dozens of gables triangled out from
the roof; stone finials and volutes grew like ferns. Far off to one side
bulged a dome, as if the building were with child.
She was wonderstruck. “Wow. It’s… it’s big.”
“Yes,” he said begrudgingly. “It’s a bit of a sprawling mess.”
“It’s incredible.”
“Thank you,” he said politely. “It’s much colder here. Make sure
your hat is on well.”
After double-checking her hat and mittens, she opened the
helicopter door and chucked her suitcase out. It sank into the
powdery snow. Coming toward them from the house was a black
figure in the white landscape. This figure bent over and hobbled, and
yet it was closing the distance quite fast.

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“Who’s that?” she asked, not sure whether she was excited or
frightened.
“Wesley!” Jackson yelled with joy, or as close to joy as he ever let
out.
She climbed down into the snow. The figure, somehow, was
already next to the chopper.
Jackson’s brother looked nothing like Jackson. He walked with a
cane and had a gangly build, with long poky arms and stork legs.
Ringlets of redbrown hair spilled out from a baldspot in the center.
And yet when he looked right at her—such eyes! He had the cutest,
most endearing eyes she’d ever seen. Blue and huge and wide-open,
and such light beamed out from them. It was like looking in the eyes
of the world’s happiest child. His teeth were crooked but white as
Xerox paper, and the way he smiled, so bright and open, sent joy
fluttering through her chest. Anyone who he smiled at had to smile as
well.
“Let me get your luggage!” said Wesley. His voice was as happy as
his face, and he had a very thick, gentlemanly British accent.
“That’s okay,” said Charlotte reflexively, and she reached into the
snow to pick the suitcase up.
She reached into the snow for her bag.
“No, no,” chided Wesley. “Allow me to get that for you.”
Wesley leaned on his cane. Chunks of snow covered his shoes and
caked his pants up to the knee.
“It’s okay,” said Charlotte kindly. “I’ll take care of it.”
“You must be cold,” said Wesley.
“Yeah. It’s Siberia up here.”

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“Hurry and get on in, then,” said Wesley cleverly. “I’ll get the
bag.”
“It’s okay,” she said, refusing his offer. “I’ll carry it and warm
myself up.”
Jackson was suddenly next to her, hugging her. “Sweetheart, just
let Wesley take your bag.”
Both brothers clearly wanted Wesley to take the bag. “Okay,” said
Charlotte with hesitation, and she gave Wesley an enthusiastic
“Thanks!”
Jackson grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the large house.
They had walked a few feet when a whistling came behind them. The
whistle jumped and bounced with as much precision as a violin.
“He’s quite a whistler,” Charlotte said to Jackson.
“Yes,” agreed Jackson. “And quite a bag carrier.”
Something behind them was grinding through the snow. It sounded
like car tires on salted roads. Then the grinding passed to her side.
Wesley was dragging his bad leg through the snow—but he dragged
faster than a human jogged.
But where was her bag? Not in Wesley’s hand.
“Oh, Wesley,” Charlotte said. “Did you… We can get the bag, it’s
okay.”
Wesley laughed.
And then her suitcase swerved through the air five feet in front of
her face. Charlotte gasped. Her bag had been floating up above them!
Wesley whistled another song, and the bag began to shake side to
side with the beat. His whistle leapt and the bag jumped with it,
twisting like a ballerina as it shot into the air.

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“Wow!” she exclaimed.
“See? He’s a good bag carrier,” said Jackson. “Let’s get you a
better view.”
Jackson lifted her up and set her on his shoulders like a child.
Wesley made her suitcase dance and bob around her head as they
walked through the snow. His whistle carried through the whole
landscape.
As they approached the grand staircase leading up to the house’s
front door, Wesley went up ahead. The tune stopped. Her bag soared
up in the air—it must have been at least forty feet above them.
“You sure you can get that?” Jackson asked his brother.
“With ease,” replied Wesley in his enthusiastic British gentleman
voice. “Just tip open the latch for me.”
“I can’t get a latch from this far away.”
“Surely you’re joking?”
“I can just jump up and put it in,” said Jackson, dismissing his
brother’s taunt.
“No thank you. I’ll take care of it.”
Her bag plummeted groundward. She gasped. But Wesley caught
the handle neatly in his free hand.
“Why are you putting it up there?” she asked, confused.
“Why, that’s your bedroom!” replied Wesley with verve.
“Oh. Thanks!”
Charlotte craned her neck up and could see the window fly open.
Her bag shot skyward and went right through the window. She’d have
guessed the window was only two or three feet wide. But her suitcase
was tiny as it went through. The window must have been eight feet

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across. Everything looked small on such a ginormous house. And the
window closed on its own.
As she gazed up at the monumental house, Jackson bounded up the
large flight of steps. The front door opened for them. Warmth and
light flooded out, and Jackson set her down inside.
A healthy-looking young woman, shorter than Charlotte, greeted
them. She walked up to Jackson with her arms spread open. The two
embraced in a long hug. The girl had a generous figure—a little fat,
by modern standards—and very large breasts. She pressed these into
Jackson as she hugged him. Then she released him and did the same
thing—but with less of a press—to Wesley.
The girl couldn’t be more than twenty. She had a full, soft stomach
and a pear-shaped body with broad hips and thick legs. The lacy red
neckline of her dress plunged halfway down her stomach. Her
cleavage was sumptuous, perfect in shape, and quite excessive. The
dress could barely hold her breasts in, but they did not sag in the
slightest.
She had a gorgeous smile and breathtaking eyes. Her face, though
fuller than the modern American standard of beauty, was
unquestionably beautiful. She combined the cuteness and health of a
younger girl with the refined, sharpened beauty of a sophisticated
woman. Not a single wrinkle or blemish dotted her face. Every inch
of exposed skin on her face, her neck, her hands, and her chest was
pale and flawless. She glowed with the slightest pink hue of health
and youth.
“You must be Charlotte,” said the girl in the sweetest songlike
voice.

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“Oh, yes. You’re their sister?”
The girl held Charlotte’s cheek in her soft hand and laughed a bit.
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “I’m Aletta. It’s wonderful to finally
meet you.”
Charlotte reached her hand out for a shake, but Aletta moved her
hand around to the back of Charlotte’s head and, slowly, pulled her
in. With lips that were skillful, plump, and almost intoxicatingly soft,
Aletta kissed her—on the mouth.
Though she had never done anything with a woman, Charlotte did
not protest. Aletta was a great kisser. But it was awkward.
“Um, okay,” said Charlotte when the kiss was done. “Is that like, a
European thing?”
“No,” said Jackson sternly. “It’s not. Stop playing with her, Aletta.”
“You have the sweetest kiss,” said Aletta, lengthening the word
“sweetest” in a suggestive fashion.
Jackson barked something in another language to Aletta. When
Aletta responded, her voice sounded entirely different—not only a
different language, but angry and sharp, and a little bit deeper.
“Charlotte,” said Wesley, getting her attention as Jackson and
Aletta argued. A wicked, mischievous smile snaked across his face.
“I’m so happy for you to meet our beloved mummy.”
“Your mom?”
“That’s right!”
Her head twirled. Jackson and his mother kept sniping at each
other in that language. Their mother? Jackson’s mother?
Wesley patted her back.
Of course a vampire, though older than their “children,” needn’t

284
look older. She’d known that. Wesley didn’t look like Jackson
because they had different genes. It made sense.
But wow, she’d expected… well, she hadn’t expected her to look
like this!
“Let’s not tarry in the entryway,” said Wesley loudly, grabbing
everyone’s attention. “To the Great Hall, or to the upstairs drawing
room?”
“Charlotte is our guest,” said Aletta. “We should show her the
Great Hall.”
“Too cold,” said Jackson. “Too cold for her.”
“It’s the most impressive room in the house,” said Aletta.
“She’ll have time to explore the house tomorrow, when we’re
sleeping,” said Jackson, signaling with a downturn in his tone that the
matter was settled. “Let’s go somewhere comfortable while dinner is
prepared.”
“Dinner?” asked Charlotte loudly. The helicopter ride and the
strange rush of Aletta’s kiss had dulled her hunger, but it was nearly
nine P.M., and she hadn’t eaten since lunch.
“Yes,” confirmed Jackson, seeing her eyes light up. “You’ll have a
human entree, and we’ll have some… what is it tonight?”
“Pigs’ blood with vodka,” Wesley answered, saying the last word
with more relish.
“Pigs’ blood?” asked Charlotte, curious.
Jackson started to explain, but Wesley cut him off.
“Upstairs,” said Wesley.
They stood in a double-height room, and just the first floor must
have been twenty feet high. A white marble staircase with black iron

285
railings rose to the next floor. Their footsteps echoed as they mounted
the marble staircase. But not a single vibration came through the
marble as they walked up. The stairs were solid as a hill.
“Did you build these stairs, Jackson?” Charlotte asked.
“No,” replied Jackson, stopping to look up and down the stairs’
length. “But they’re nice, aren’t they? You’ll see things I’ve built
later.”
They continued up the massive staircase. Could Wesley handle
this? She turned to look. He was struggling, shaking, leaning on his
cane and stomping his good leg up one step at a time. Yet he kept up
with all of them: He did everything in fast-motion. Jackson and Aletta
could probably go faster if they wanted, couldn’t they? And Jackson
could just jump.
What had happened to Wesley’s leg? Didn’t vampires regenerate?
But it would be awkward to ask.
They reached the top of the staircase and turned down a long
gallery. One side was all windows. On the other side hung all sorts of
paintings: oils that looked straight from the old masters, newer oils of
ships and trains, a variety of modernist styles, and the strange swirls
and blobs of abstraction.
An odd frame hung on the wall at the far end. From the side, it was
the thickness of a chalkboard. But from the front, you could see deep
inside. Charlotte looked at the side and then the front again. What
was the secret?
“So it goes into the wall?” she asked, tilting to her head to see if
the picture changed.
Aletta came over and pulled the frame off the wall. There was no

286
hole in the wall behind it. Aletta held up the painting, and it still
seemed like it must be three feet deep.
“Oh,” said Charlotte. “So it’s an optical illusion.”
“I suppose that’s what you’d call it,” said Aletta, smiling with a
clever light in her beautiful eyes. “But it’s not that cheap kind with
the young and old woman, or with the miscounted cubes, or what
have you. You haven’t really seen it yet. I’ll hold it for you. Stand at a
few different angles and have a look.”
Aletta held the artwork and Charlotte shifted to this side and that,
peering into the frame. Tall buildings and trolleycars leapt into the
picture. Yet from another angle, a forest came into view. Finally, she
stopped straight in front of it and lowered her head.
It was the most breathtaking still-life—no, it was actually there.
Charlotte cocked her head. Was it? It was more realistic and three-
dimensional than any photo. Dates and figs and pomegranates
surrounded a sliced steak, charred black on the outside and crimson
within. Blood oozed onto a white plate. It looked so delicious that she
reached out to take a piece of steak.
The painting swallowed her hand.
“Oh my God!” said Charlotte, jerking her arm back out. “Did my
hand come out the back?”
“No,” said Aletta. She was smiling wickedly, enjoying how
Charlotte looked at her painting.
“No, it had to,” asserted Charlotte.
“I’m holding it in front of my body,” said Aletta, a hint of flirtation
in her voice. “So if your hand went through, you’d feel my stomach.”
“I didn’t, though.”

287
“And I didn’t feel your hand.”
“But then where did it go?”
Aletta smiled again. “I’m glad to see that you enjoy my art.”
“Uh, yeah,” said Charlotte, taking another look at the frame. “It’s
beautiful. It’s incredible.”
“Thank you,” said Aletta, and she replaced the frame on the wall.
“I just, I don’t know how it works,” said Charlotte.
Aletta stared at Charlotte for one long second. She was an
imposing presence, beautiful and mysterious.
“You’re not supposed to,” said the female vampire.
“Mother,” said Jackson, cutting in. “Charlotte’s hungry. We’re
going to skip the sitting room. Charlotte and I will go get changed.
You and Wesley can take care of the dinner, and then we’ll meet you
in the dining room.”
“Right-O,” said Wesley, chipper as always. “How strong do you
want your pig’s blood?”
“Not as strong as yours.”
“I can do that.”
Jackson took Charlotte’s hand and led her further down the
hallway.

288
Chapter 28

“Your family is very nice,” said Charlotte as they walked on


through Jackson’s expansive, regal country house.
“I’m glad you think so,” said Jackson, pleased to hear this. “I liked
meeting your family as well.”
“You haven’t met my family.”
“I met your mother and Bill.”
“Oh. That’s not my family. Well my mom is.”
“I liked both of them.”
They came to the end of the corridor and went through another
room. The ceiling here, as in all the other rooms, rose high above. It
smelled of wood polish. Thick carpets muffled their footsteps.
“This will be our room,” said Jackson as he opened the final door
and held it as she walked in.
Charlotte stepped inside and the lights flipped on. She gasped. It
was pure luxury. A bed the size of her entire bedroom—if not bigger
—sprawled across the center. Its four corner posts were each a trunk
of wood thick as a phone pole. Into them were carved all manner of
ivies, animals, and shields. Folded blankets sat neatly at the foot of
this huge bed. Crimson sheets of silk spread over its surface. An
assortment of pillows—some shaped to support the human body
during intercourse—piled up at the head.
“Your bed is so big,” said Charlotte, walking up to it and then
striding around its length.

289
Two nightstands bracketed the bed’s head. Her luggage waited by
one of them. Their bedroom window had looked so small from the
ground, but it was easily ten feet wide.
Jackson came behind her and held her tight. His forearms, a weave
of long muscles and tendons covered in veins and fine hair, crossed
her stomach.
“You like the room,” he observed.
“Yes,” she said, feeling the hardness and power in his forearms. “I
mean, I’ve never seen a room so nice.”
“Thank you,” said Jackson. “I particularly like the ceiling.”
Carved beams of dark wood crisscrossed on the ceiling above. In
the spaces between each crossing were painted lovely scenes in bright
colors—some of the countryside, some of ships, some of canals
crossing between ornate buildings.
“It’s beautiful,” said Charlotte, the back of her head pushing into
Jackson’s pec as she tilted her head up. “It’s like a palace.”
“It was in a palace. We brought it over from Aletta’s palazzo in
Venice.”
“Aletta had a…palazzo?”
“They call all the houses in Venice palazzi.”
“Still… I just…” She didn’t finish her sentence and instead ran her
finger along a groove formed by two of Jackson’s forearm muscles.
“What is it?” he asked, bending his neck to bring his face closer to
her collarbone.
You’re incredibly rich and apparently so is your entire family. It’s a
little weird.
“Um,” she began, and then decided it was better to just get it out.

290
“This is an incredibly nice house. You fly your own helicopter out
here. If you don’t mind me asking, where does all this money come
from?”
“Different places,” said Jackson evenly. The question had not
bothered him, and he answered casually. “I started out with some
from Aletta. She gave me some after she made me. I invested in
railroads in the nineteenth century, real estate and pharmaceuticals in
the twentieth.”
Charlotte squeezed his forearm. “Wow. Financial genius here.”
Jackson laughed.
“No, no. Wesley and Aletta suggested those. They’re the ones who
are smart with money. But railroads. Wow. Railroads. It’s hard to
explain to someone today, what the railroads were like when they
first came out.”
“What were they like?”
“They were monsters!” he said in an exaggerated, energetic voice.
He released his hold on her so that she could watch him tell the story.
His eyes were lit up, his face more relaxed and less stoic than normal.
“And they were monsters as much to us as to humans! We couldn’t
believe them. The humans had labored for years to make these clever
little machines to help them work, and we all laughed. They’d never
be stronger than us. Never. And then the railroad came! They had
steam engines before that, but I guess none of us… well, we didn’t
live in England, and I don’t think any of us knew quite what a steam
engine was. Rafael and Wesley were the only ones who really knew.”
“Rafael?”
“Yes. Antonio Rafael was our lord, back in Italy. He and Mother…

291
well… Rafael said they’d built similar things in Alexandria, fifteen
hundred years before. They were trifles, he said. Glorified toys. They
could never be stronger than a vampire. Wesley told Rafael that he
didn’t understand science, and that a locomotive was easily stronger.
“So Wesley found some people to build the railroad. I drove in
some of the ties myself. It was fun. But we only built about a mile of
track. We built it on a piece of Rafael’s land where it was nice and
flat. And when that was done, we had some engineers construct a
locomotive for us. They told us the whole time our track wasn’t long
enough. They said we could use a weaker locomotive, and if they
gave us the strongest one, it wouldn’t stop in time and would fly off
one end of the track. So Rafael just gazed them to hell to build the
strongest they could.”
Jackson was enjoying telling the story. He hadn’t talked quite this
way since the night in front of the church.
“So they built us this huge, strong locomotive,” Jackson went on.
“And then Rafael and Aletta wanted to eat the engineers, but Wesley
convinced them not to. He said that there weren’t many people with
the skills to build locomotives, and by eating those men, we’d set
back development for all the trains by a number of years. They said
they didn’t care. So then Wesley said the locomotives would bring
more people into cities—far more—and it would be easier for us
to…”
“What?”
Jackson paused a second before continuing with less enthusiasm.
“He said we should support more urbanization because it would make
people more convenient to… harvest.”

292
“Oh.”
“I was quite young at this time. I didn’t have much say. But even
back then, Wesley was starting to see that humans were smarter than
us. In some ways, anyway. Rafael still doesn’t think so. Aletta doesn’t
think so. But you are. The point is, Wesley convinced them. He saved
the engineers.
“So we built the track for one reason, and that was this: Wesley had
said the train was stronger than any vampire, and Rafael laughed at
him. And Wesley said… We won’t go into the details, but they bet on
it. A large bet, very large. Then Rafael brought his sons out to have a
tug-of-war with the locomotive. He started with the weakest son first.
He got dragged and they could barely stop that huge engine in time to
keep it from going off, just like the engineers had said. So then he
went to the next strongest son, and the next. Finally, he reached his
oldest, strongest son, a man named Memnon. You may have seen him
when you saw Rafael that night. And Memnon pulled the train at
first, but just slowly. But after a minute or so, the train took over and
dragged him back. Then Rafael wanted me to try, so I did. And I did
almost as well as Memnon, even though I was very young.”
The whole time he told the story, Charlotte had gazed into his eyes.
She’d watched them light with merriment. It was a side of him she
seldom saw.
“It sounds like a good memory for you.”
“Yes,” he said, gazing off as if at something far away. “It was a fun
time. Fun and very memorable. We were all there together. Ali,
Wesley, me, Aletta, Diego, Gaius, Pabi, Memnon, Teodato, Vitale,
Branca, Gaita, many others. They’re still so warm in my memory.

293
Rafael House was my family. It’s strange to think of them all now,
where I stand, where they stand.
“But with Antonio Rafael himself, it is not strange. He didn’t pay
the wager, and he hated Wesley after that. That and other things. We
left for America about ten years later.”
“So Rafael didn’t come with you?”
“No. Rafael came with his sons and his whole clan at about the
turn of the century, when New York was becoming the largest city in
the world. There was another clan here before them, and there was a
war, and the Rafaels won.
“But we’ll have time to talk later,” said Jackson, setting his hands
on her shoulders. “And some of these stories, if you want to hear
more, Wesley can tell them better than me.”
“Wesley’s very nice.”
“Yes,” said Jackson. “But we’ll be late for dinner. You brought
your formal wear, as I asked?”
She had.
“Good,” he said, gesturing to one of two closets that opened off the
bedroom. “That side’s yours.”
The closet was larger than her bedroom. An island with drawers
was in the middle. Garment rods hung on three walls. The fourth had
flat shelves and some slanted shelves for shoes. All of them were
empty and meticulously clean. No dust anywhere. Yet it smelled…
old. Old but clean. Perhaps the scent of the house had somehow…
gotten into it?
Who did he build this for?
High up above one of the garment bars, beyond where she could

294
reach, ran a very high shelf. She used the nearby shelves as a ladder
to climb up. Then she dragged her finger along the highest shelf. Dust
covered her fingertip. Old, old dust.
He’s had a human girlfriend before… maybe more than one. And
he built this place for her.
Who was she?
Where was she now?
Did she get to meet his family too?
But she couldn’t have Jackson think she was snooping around. And
dinner. They couldn’t be late for dinner.
You will have a human entree.
What did that mean? Were they just going to microwave
something?
No. You are the human entree. You’re dinner.
But the thought only made her laugh.
She changed into the long black dress she’d brought, one that
enhanced her curves and contrasted wonderfully with her pale skin. It
showed some cleavage. Normally, this made her quite confident. But
sitting next to Aletta, her breasts would look so small, and she’d look
so… old.
She’s been with him before. Does she want him again?
Charlotte zipped up her back and stepped in front of the mirror.
Yep, still fit her perfectly. She’d picked the right dress. She strapped
on her shoes. Eager to see the look on Jackson’s face, she stepped
out.
But she could hardly catch the look on his face: When she saw him
in that tux, it was her own eyes bugging out.

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The black jacket hugged around his massive shoulders and then
tapered, so perfectly, to his trim waist. It must have been custom-
made. She’d never seen him look so broad-shouldered AND so thin.
His handsome hands, with their thick veins and broad palms, bulged
from the sleeves, with the white of his shirt peeking out just slightly
from the jacket cuffs. A silver watch wrapped around one wrist. His
pants went sleekly down to a pair of shiny black oxfords. From his
jacket pocket poked a vermilion square. His green eyes, brighter than
ever, blazed from his strong face. His hair was slicked back; his face,
clean-shaven and butter-smooth.
The whole impression he gave was incredible: He was at once an
aristocrat and a slugger. Through his perfectly fitted custom tuxedo,
his sheer size and huge hands made his power clear. Looking like
that, anyone would believe him if he said he was a prince, or a model,
or the world’s most badass secret service agent.
Her eyes returned to his, but his stare was roving over her body.
Then he looked at her. The fire and passion in his eyes were
breathtaking. She looked down. A distinct, familiar, and
inappropriately large bulge reached along his leg through the tux.
She giggled.
“What?” he said.
She glanced at his erection. “You gonna go to dinner like that?”
“With the way you look in that gown, I may have to.”
His mouth came down on her own. She melted. She could barely
stand. He held her up as he ravished her mouth with his.
She was ready for him to take her right there. Take her with all
their nice clothes still on. It had been so damn long, nearly three

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weeks. A quickie before dinner in this opulent room… just make sure
to get the condom on him. But he put those big, powerful hands on
her little shoulders and pushed her back.
“We have to go to dinner,” he teased.
Her body hungered for his weight and heat and hardness.
“Real quick,” she said, chest heaving with excitement. “Like at the
office.”
“We’ll have time later. I want you to meet my family.”
She put one hand on his wonderfully muscular, broad chest. “I met
them.”
“Yes, well…”
There was lust in his eyes. He was craving her just as much as she
craved him, and seeing that just made her, even more, want to forget
dinner.
But then his eyes stilled. Instead of lusty, they grew cold, aloof,
dominant—and even sexier.
“After dinner,” he said. “And I want to eat for a long time.”

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Chapter 29

Jackson’s dining room was clean and old as the rest of the house.
Thirty could’ve sat at the table that crossed its length. Not one tiny
crack or seam broke the table’s surface: It was carved from one great
tree. Twenty feet overhead crisscrossed beams of thick wood. Unlike
in Jackson’s room, they were unpainted and displayed the beautiful
mocha woodgrain. Off to one side blazed a fire in an oversized
fireplace of creamy marble. Female figures carved into the marble
held up the mantel, and when Charlotte walked up to it to warm her
hands, the mantel was still a foot overhead.
A massive chandelier of multicolored crystal dominated this all. It
was a scintillation of sky-blue and ruby and lavender crystal, shaped
into a geometry at once alien and primally familiar: Square pink arcs,
curved green cubes, blue triangles of circle, purple trapezoids of
spheres, umber-streaked toroidal snowflakes, pearlescent trees of
branching mobius strips, glowing forms more precise than Euclid,
more organic than any coral reef. With each step to one side or flicker
of the light, the whole percolated through itself. All the shapes and
colors ate their neighbors and formed anew. Was it moving? Where
was the center? A glance at the ground betrayed no real shadow, only
a serpentine spatter of color and light.
“You made this?” Charlotte, her voice rising from how impressed
she was.
“No,” said Aletta with a generous smile. “But thanks for the

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thought. This was made by Murano’s greatest craftsman, an
immortal, about three hundred years ago. It is the second-greatest
chandelier ever created.”
“Not the first?”
“Antonio Rafael has the first. Naturally.”
“Oh.”
When Charlotte turned away from the chandelier, Aletta was
looking back. Aletta was one of the most beautiful girls she’d ever
seen. No, not girl. Woman. Hundreds of years old. Aletta was still
talking. Her voice sounded with the slightest music, honeyed and
charming. Yet there was also the confidence and control, the authority
of a powerful older woman. The voice and the appearance didn’t
match. Did she really look so young? Yes. Aletta could almost be in
high school. And why is she wearing a dress with that much cleavage
to a family dinner? Because she’s had sex with Jackson.
A firm arm grabbed round her waist, and Jackson pulled her
against his hard body.
“We’ve prepared a special meal for you,” said Jackson.
“Just for me?”
“Just for you,” said Jackson. “We’ll eat with you, but we’ll have
something else.”
All four of them sat at one end of the huge banquet table, which
looked like something from a medieval king’s castle. Jackson sat at
the head, with Charlotte on his left. Wesley and Aletta sat on
Jackson’s right, very close together.
A manservant brought out four wine glasses and three bottles—one
opaque, one of clear liquid, one of white wine. He then returned with

299
a glass of water and a salad, both of which he placed in front of
Charlotte.
“To start off,” said Jackson in a refined voice, “we have a rocket
salad for Charlotte, and lamb’s blood for us.”
“Actually,” put in Wesley, “we’re drinking vodka with a touch of
lamb’s blood.”
“That’s what Wesley’s drinking,” said Jackson with the hint of a
smile, holding her hand. “I’m drinking lamb’s blood with a touch of
vodka.”
“So you can drink alcohol?” said Charlotte.
“How else would we keep from getting bored for so many damn
centuries?” said Wesley. “But only vodka, Everclear, some of the
very strong liquors. Nothing with starches, bready stuff, fruit juice,
sugar. Any of that.”
Charlotte nodded. “So no carbs?”
“Precisely. We’d throw them up, then horrible stomach pain.
Horrible. Like you if you ate a poisonous mushroom.”
“Why lamb’s blood?”
“It tastes nice,” said Wesley cordially. “It’s satisfying in the mouth,
if not in the stomach. Like a light salad for humans, I suppose.”
“So if you wanted to, could you stop drinking humans?”
Wesley shook his head and frowned. He was very open and
obvious with his emotions, or it seemed so.
“Definitely not,” he said firmly.
“But what would happen if you did?” Charlotte asked, very
curious. “Like if you just drank animal blood and not humans?”
“We must drink human blood,” said Jackson, as if this response

300
settled things. “It’s essential.”
“Right, but what happens if you don’t?”
“If you don’t, then you will,” said Wesley grimly. “You’ll lose
control. It’s horrific. Not a good dinner subject.”
The waiter poured Charlotte’s wine and then poured from the
opaque bottle—lamb’s blood—for the others. They each mixed in
some vodka. The wine had a remarkable flavor—complex, light,
fruity yet pointed. And rockets were one of her favorite greens. She
downed the whole salad quite quickly. Aletta asked her some
questions—the typical party stuff, fairly dull. The wine relaxed her,
and she started to ask her own questions back to them.
“So who lives out here?” Charlotte asked. “Like full time?”
“The staff,” answered Jackson.
“I spend the most time out here now,” Aletta put in. The almost
devilish manner with which she’d shown off the painting faded, and
she was rather sedate now—or bored. “Jackson used to live out here.
He built the wings of the house.”
“Really?”
“Yes. He designed the wings, and in some places, he laid the stones
himself.”
“Wow. Wesley, you don’t come out here often? You seem like
you’d like this place.”
Aletta and Jackson laughed
“What?” asked Charlotte.
Jackson patted her hand. “Wesley hates it.”
“Oh. I just thought… I mean, you’re British. It looks like one of
those British country houses, you know?”

301
“Thank you,” said Jackson, raising his glass and toasting her.
“That’s exactly what I was going for.”
“That’s why I don’t like it,” said Wesley, as cheery as ever. “I was
born in a house like this, but I like to live like a chav. Jackson was
born a farmer, so he likes to live like an aristocrat.”
“Oh.”
“Mummy was born with no heart. She’s a cold bitch, so she likes
everything.”
Aletta giggled and said something to Wesley in a foreign language,
one that sounded vaguely Italian but with rougher consonants.
Wesley retorted in the same language, and Aletta laughed. It was then
that Charlotte noticed the irony running through Wesley’s enthusiasm
and energy.
They continued drinking. They all had a buzz going and loosened
up. Charlotte asked other questions—how old the house was (seventy
years), how many staff there were (five—a butler, two security men,
and two maids), and how many rooms were in the house (they didn’t
feel like counting). Jackson was quiet. He let his mother and brother
answer Charlotte’s questions. But their eyes met often throughout the
meal.
“So is it normal for vampire families to eat dinner like this?” she
asked.
“No,” said Wesley. “Not so often.”
“Not at all,” said Aletta.
“I mean, do you ever like… share a… you know, do you ever drink
someone together?”
“Yes,” said Aletta, lighting up a bit. “On a special holiday. Every

302
ten years. We take a human in here, and we strap him down to the
other table, and everyone in the family drinks.”
“Oh. There are vampire holidays?”
“Yes,” said Aletta. “Very ancient. Older than the calendar or the
years we use now. But that’s the only one we still celebrate. It’s
coming up in about two years. And I’d like to get one of those nice
fat blobs you Americans are growing these days, and lay him right on
that table. Jackson, any fatso zombies you can get for us?”
“It’s still two years away,” replied Jackson.
“I thought you didn’t do that anymore?” said Charlotte.
“We… we have a system worked out.”
Aletta said something in the other language, the one she and
Wesley sometimes used. Then no one spoke. Jackson and Wesley
sipped their drinks. They would not look at her.
“What did she say?” said Charlotte.
Aletta answered something else, and Jackson sat up straight.
“No,” said Jackson sharply. “You will tell her. You say it to her
face. You want to say something like that in front of her, in my
house? You say it to her face.”
Aletta continued to speak, still not in English.
“No, tell her,” Jackson said in English, suddenly angry. “If you
really believe what you said, it won’t matter.”
Aletta said nothing.
“She’s keeping quiet,” said Jackson. “So she must not mean what
she said. She doesn’t mean it, and she was making a joke in poor
taste.”
“No,” said Aletta, sitting forward in her chair. A seriousness came

303
into her face that Charlotte hadn’t yet seen. “I fully mean it. I said
that we are higher up the foodchain than you. Your lives are short.
You die so fast. You don’t have time on earth to learn anything. And I
like you, sweetheart. But my sons here think they can stop killing
humans to eat, and they can’t. They stumble over themselves to find
special people to kill, to make themselves feel better, and it doesn’t
matter. Within the past year, both of them have drunk several people
to death. They have to. We all have to. They can’t stop any more than
you could make yourself stop breathing.”
“There are better ways,” said Jackson.
“Stop repeating other people’s words,” said Aletta dismissively.
“You haven’t changed. You want to feel righteous about it. Or you’re
guilty. But you’re not soft.”
Jackson said something in their other language. His voice came out
deep, guttural, brutal. Aletta’s eyes hit the floor. When they came up,
they glanced at Charlotte, then at Jackson, and back at Charlotte
again. Aletta licked her lips and then, in her perfect musical voice,
she spoke.
“You don’t know what he said there,” said Aletta.
“And you won’t tell her,” said Jackson.
“But you heard it,” she said, turning her luminous, breathtaking
eyes on Charlotte. “Did you hear the darkness in his voice? The hate,
the strength, the desire to put fear in me? What I love about my
Jackson is that his soul is pure hellfire. He burns with all the intensity
of the center of the sun and all the cleverness of Satan. Have you seen
it?”
Charlotte’s stomach lurched.

304
“Shut up, Aletta,” snapped Jackson.
“Yes,” said Aletta, not taking her large eyes off Charlotte. “You’ve
seen it. You’ve seen the heavenly blackness of his insides. He’s a
hellspawn, and the sexiest one to ever walk this earth. Do you know
that his passion will kill you some day?”
Jackson bellowed something, and Aletta laughed. It was the shrill,
exuberant laugh of a teenage girl free from all self-awareness. There
was no fear in Aletta’s eyes—and that only scared Charlotte more.
“Stop it,” said Wesley. Both Aletta and Jackson glanced at him, and
their faces returned to neutral—the laughter going from Aletta, the
anger leaving Jackson. “Charlotte, would you like to try some of my
vodka?”
“Your vodka?” said Charlotte, happy to move the conversation to
something safer.
“Yes,” said Wesley. “I make it myself from potatoes Jackson
grows.”
The situation was tense, and he’d made it himself. It was
impossible to say no. He poured her a healthy glass, and she sipped at
it.
“It’s very pure,” she said, taking another sip.
Wesley changed the subject. The vodka calmed Charlotte. It kept
Aletta’s strange words from digging in. The waiter brought out a
second course of soup and a third of shrimp. A perfectly paired glass
of wine arrived with each plate. The others kept drinking their blood
and vodka. Soon they all slumped down, a bit drunk.
The fourth course arrived—a steak. Its flavor astounded her. She’d
never tasted anything like it. It had a full-bodied, complex funk about

305
it. Its meat flavor was truer and meatier than any other meat she’d
ever tasted, and yet there were other notes she simply couldn’t pick
out.
“What kind of steak is this?” she asked.
“Dry-aged,” said Jackson. “I’m not sure of the cut.”
“The chef cut it off Mummy’s chest,” said Wesley.
Aletta gave a thick belly-laugh at this. Was the joke funny? If it
was, Charlotte certainly didn’t get it. She was enjoying her meal
greatly, and the wine mellowed her out, but moments like Wesley’s
joke jarred her from her relaxation. It was like normalcy ran to hide,
and a razor-sharp awareness of her situation sliced through her skin:
Here she was with three vampires, immortals who fed on humans the
way she fed on chicken or fish, in a strange high hall that would be
more at home in 18th-century England. Their languages shifted from
English to Italian or to that other language with the greatest ease, and
sometimes words from yet other languages would filter in as well.
The three of them had known each other for over two centuries—a
relationship almost as old as America itself. Perhaps Wesley’s joke
about the steak was some kind of inside joke.
For Charlotte’s dessert, the butler brought out some kind of pastry
and wine. He told her to dip the pastry in the wine. It tasted
wonderful—sweet but complex, and the alcohol sliced through the
sugar to make her taste it more.
The drinks kept coming for all of them. They sat there drinking for
a long time. The conversation drifted, and someone said something
else about Rafael.
“Oh, Rafael,” Charlotte put in, somewhat intoxicated. “You mean

306
Antonio Rafael? I saw him.”
Aletta’s eyes sharpened, and the roundness of her smile flattened a
bit. “Where?” she asked with great interest.
“Just on the street,” said Charlotte, taking a gulp of wine. “I just…
I know you two have known him for a long time, and I was
wondering what your opinion of him was.”
Beneath the table, Jackson gave her fingers a slight squeeze, as if
to say, This should be interesting.
“We’re best friends,” said Wesley. His voice had a bite in it.
“I like him,” said Aletta earnestly. “He’s the most interesting and
cultured man in the world.”
“He’s a regressive cunt who hates progress and loves control,” said
Wesley.
“He doesn’t hate progress,” said Aletta. “He values tradition.”
“Yes, yes, he values tradition,” said Wesley. “Tradition and control.
That’s it! Just two values. Human life? No, he’ll take a pass on that
one. Three values might be too much for the great Antonio Rafael to
handle.”
“Or you don’t know him, don’t understand him, and won’t take the
time to try,” said Aletta. Her voice was playful on the surface and
sharp underneath. “He’s got plenty of values, perhaps more nuanced
and complex than your own. He’s read thousands of years of
philosophy and ethics, and he’s thought a great deal on all of it.”
“Irrelevant,” said Wesley bitterly. “He’s a megalomaniac, and
every piece of information he has about the world comes through
hopelessly twisted lenses.”
“Charlotte,” said Aletta, “they say—and I think it’s true—they say

307
that up to the year seventeen fifty, Antonio had read every book ever
written. Every single one, in every language. And he read them in
their original languages too. Even the ones in China. They printed
thousands of books in ancient China, and Antonio read all of them.
He’s read books that were in the Library of Alexandria before it
burned down, books that are now lost to everyone.”
“Lot of good it did him,” said Wesley.
“He still reads,” said Aletta. “He just can’t read everything
anymore. He’s an immensely interesting man.”
“Charlotte, the objective truth of it is,” Wesley began, a devious
smirk stitched across his face, “Antonio Rafael is a sentient mound of
feces who gets by on pure arrogance and all his hopelessly loyal
sons.”
Aletta shook her head. From the two vampires’ sardonic tones and
the way they batted the topic back and forth, it was clear this was a
well-worn disagreement between them, and one they’d learned to live
with.
“Why does he have so many sons?” said Charlotte.
“Because he’s old,” said Aletta.
“No!” said Wesley loudly. He glared at Aletta with disgust.
“Because he went around raping all the biggest and strongest men for
a thousand years, and some of them turned into his vampire sons, and
then he brainwashed them. And enough of them stayed loyal that he
could come here in nineteen hundred and drive all the native
elements out.”
“He keeps the peace,” said Aletta.
“And what’s he going to do to Jackson when they find him?”

308
“If he wanted to find Jackson, they know they can find him here.”
At this point, a look passed between Wesley and Jackson. Jackson
then met Charlotte’s own eyes. They said no more about Rafael and
changed the subject.
The dinner went on. Aside from those few tense moments,
Charlotte relaxed and enjoyed it. Wesley told good stories and made
many jokes. He’d met Aletta in Venice while on his Grand Tour. She
made him a vampire, and the two of them lived in Venice until
Napoleon took the city in 1797. Aletta talked a lot too but said little
about herself. She was, like Jackson, rather mysterious.
Charlotte started her fifth glass of wine. Jackson kept staring into
her. His eyes were full of joy, excitement, and unapologetic lust. Her
fingers worked up and down the stem of her wineglass. Their eyes
twinkled in rhythm. Her foot crept over to his leg. Then she grabbed
his thigh under the table. Jackson set both his hands flat on the table
—but something crept up her thigh, towards her sex.
Is he grasping right now?
The touch was uneven. The other vampires had commented on
how clumsy Jackson’s grasping was. She wasn’t sure if she wanted
him to continue up her thigh—at least not with his mind. She’d
waited so long and now the wine had stolen her inhibitions. She
clasped his hand and motioned to the door with her eyes.
“We’re done for the night,” said Jackson, standing up. “Charlotte
isn’t quite on our schedule.”
“You sure?” said Wesley. He and Aletta were in the middle of a
drunken giggle.
“Yes,” said Jackson.

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They started the walk to their bedroom, back through the manor’s
vastness. Jackson carried a large candle in one hand and led her with
the other. Charlotte didn’t stumble, but the wine did make her weave
side-to-side as she walked. The candlelight cut shadows around
carven mahogany, clocks of sculpted gold, coffered ceilings, marble
in all colors, and oil paintings from other centuries. The drunken
giggles of Aletta and Wesley echoed around them. No one else was
there.
It was a long walk back to the room. Too long. As they walked,
Charlotte slid her hand over Jackson’s lean hips and onto his
buttocks. It was so tight, she couldn’t get enough between her fingers
for a good squeeze. They rounded a corner and a marble staircase
rose to the top floor. Moonlight flooded its landing. Female nudes in
marble stood on each side of the landing. Their skin glowed a
sensuous gray, the cusps of their hips and breasts creamy white from
the moon. Sheer fabric clung to their lithe bodies.
“You like them,” said Jackson in a mysterious, provocative voice,
sliding his fingers over the veins in Charlotte’s neck.
“Yeah.” She wanted, for one second, to lay her palm against the
statues’ marble skin, see if it felt as warm as it looked or if it were
cold as marble should be. “They’re beautiful.”
Jackson’s large left hand grabbed across Charlotte’s soft stomach
and pulled her back against him. The muscles in his chest and
stomach pressed against her shoulders, her spine. Their heat and
hardness came through his shirt. With his right hand, he pointed her
chin up at him. His kisses were swift, skillful, commanding. Iron and
vodka covered his tongue. His left hand slid up her stomach onto her

310
breast. He massaged her in generous circles, her nipple hardening
with the pleasing motion. A warm rod rose against her backside, and
she slid the bouncy curve of her butt up and down it, measuring its
length.
“You’re wild tonight,” he growled. “I like it.”

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Chapter 30

“You kept giving me wine,” Charlotte told him, as if excusing her


wild actions. In fact, she’d been ready to jump on him—making sure
to use a condom—since they’d been in the helicopter.
“No, the butler kept giving you wine,” corrected Jackson, teasing
and goading her.
“Your butler,” she said, and she backed up onto Jackson’s erection.
The promise within it, and Jackson’s large, firm body, were already
exciting her and lubricating her with pure heat.
But Jackson stepped back, and his warmth and pressure left
Charlotte’s back. Again Jackson’s hand covered hers, and he led her
up the stairs. They turned down a small hallway and passed through a
fine door with brass knockers. A small dome formed the room around
them. Moonbeams spread light through a hole in the dome’s center.
Large marble statues, looking Greek or Roman, bordered the room.
One strong hand on her hip spun her to face him. They stared at
each other for five deliciously tense seconds, neither moving. Jackson
looked down on her, a fiercely sexy man with eyes of green fire and
brutal-thick chiseled facebones. Her chest heaved with excitement
and eagerness. Under that gaze, a full breath wouldn’t come in, and
her lungs wouldn’t fully empty.
She bit her lip. He grabbed her so hard, she coughed when her
stomach hit his sculpted midsection. His kiss carved her lips,
spelunked through her mouth. Their tongue tips clashed, his pushing

312
hers around. She was too drunk to use much finesse—and too turned
on. Three weeks with no sex was suddenly exploding, turning her
core into a riot of arousal and heat. She lapped at him, wild and drunk
and eager. Her head tipped back as he yanked her hair and kissed her
bare neck’s tender skin. His thumb entered her mouth, and she sucked
it, hinting with each pull and lick what she’d do elsewhere.
He walked forward with her against him, grabbing her butt and
lifting when she stumbled. Then iron-hard marble met her back. A
huge statue of a Greek god towered over her. His beard curled around
his face like dog hair; his abs bulged forth as if pregnant with pure
manliness; the veins on his arms were so perfectly chiseled, they
must have a pulse. The god’s thigh and lower torso, where the V-
shape of his lower abs tucked into his groin, dug into the muscles of
her back. Jackson’s heat and strength engulfed her from the other
side. His hard sex poked at her stomach, her thigh. He undid her dress
and yanked it down. His cock could almost reach her breasts. His
kisses were furious, swift, and hard. Each stroke of his tongue made
her tight sex wetter. The bare, oily-smooth head of his sex brushed
her arm, her naked stomach. He did not enter, but his whole body
pressed against her, squeezing her between his body and the statue
like an orange in a vise.
“Jackson,” she said, her voice deep and broken with gasps,
“Jackson, you’re gonna tip the statue over.”
“It’s heavy,” he growled, and his body surged forward with more
kisses.
“You’re gonna break it,” she protested.
“Then I’ll glue it back together.”

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His hand yanked off what was left of her gown. They didn’t have
time to worry about shoes. But at that moment, Jackson stopped and
backed away. He reached into his trousers, drew out a large condom,
pinched the reservoir tip, and rolled it on. He stared over her body as
he unrolled it, his breath heavy and rapid with his need for her. His
glowing beastlike eyes scared her, fascinated her. She’d brought this
out of him. The owner of this house, a killer, an immortal. She’d
made him boil—but he controlled himself as he finished with the
condom.
“Hurry up,” she goaded. His naked form was gorgeous and raw in
the moonlight. He stepped to her, her back still against the large
statue. She lifted a leg for him.
His brutal stroke exploded through her, scalding out from her core
to her breasts, nipples, thighs, toes, throat, face. His cock was thick as
her forearm and hard as the Greek statue he crushed her against. He
thrust with his full length each time, stretching her and filling her
most hidden places. His body heaved against hers, compressing her
lungs and organs between it and the statue. The force on both sides
squeezed sweat from her forehead, her stomach, her shoulders. Her
sodden core squelched. But her breath couldn’t come in and all the
weight left her head, as if it were full of helium.
“Can’t… can’t breathe,” she gasped.
He lay her on the ground; a thick carpet covered it. Her breath
returned. They were both naked now. He folded up either his tux
jacket or trousers, lifted her butt with one hand, and thrust the
garment under her. Her legs went over her head. Just before he
entered, some woman moaned with pleasure.

314
Aletta?
A second full-bodied shout of womanly joy echoed in from
elsewhere in the manor. But Jackson’s eyes were all passion, all heat.
He entered with the same fury as before. Her own voice reverberated
through the domed room and came back in her ears. She brought her
hips up to meet his thrust. It was like they were dancing again,
moving their bodies in perfect rhythm.
And that other woman’s voice sounded again.
But Jackson was lost, too far inside her to even hear. With his next
thrust, Charlotte screamed as loud as she could. The other woman’s
groans answered. Jackson’s wrists and hands planted on the ground
as he pleasured her, and she grabbed those wrists as hard as she
could. Then she met his glowing vampire eyes.
“Harder,” she ordered him.
Her scream with his next thrust hurt her ears and tore her throat.
He moved again. Her voice boomed through the room, drowning all
else. The other woman’s sound disappeared. She lost herself to the
pain and fury and helplessness. As she came, her voice echoed from
the deepest chambers of her belly. It poured from her core through
her throat. The whole room vibrated. Her vision blacked. There was
nothing but the perfect noise and her orgasm and his cock. Growls
joined the chorus, more animal than any Rottweiler’s. His seed
rushed up his cock, stiffening the whole thing for a split-second as it
burst forth. His mouth opened for his growls. His fangs bulged forth.
Their bodies spasmed as one.
These spasms of joy grew fainter. They turned into occasional
shudders and left a glow. And as they did, the other woman’s voice

315
came back, and now a man’s joined it.
“Who is that?” whispered Charlotte. A taste of sweat came into her
mouth as it opened.
“Aletta and Wesley.”
“Why’re they so loud?”
His deep voice had a melodious, confident roll to it as he
answered. He knew what she wanted to hear, knew where her
thoughts were. “They’re not as loud as we just were.”
She kissed him. She kissed him with all the passion and love she
could muster.
“I love you,” she said in a voice so soulful it was like the words
carried part of her out of her mouth.
“I love you too,” he returned in a voice just as full of emotion, and
they sealed this thought with a kiss.
They dressed, returned to their room, and made love again on
Jackson’s giant bed.

***

Charlotte woke at 11 A.M. the next morning. A shower wouldn’t


wake Jackson, so she went into the bathroom and started the water. It
was hot in three seconds, streaming from six or seven heads on all
sides.
Again, there were the two closets opening off the shower and bath
area. Had he built that woman’s closet for someone? If it wasn’t for
someone else, he wanted it to be for someone.
Jackson knew who was with her before him—Liam. He worked

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with Liam now. Was that awkward for them? Maybe a little. But at
least Jackson had an idea of who her ex was. She had no idea. And he
could’ve been with her just last year, but it could’ve been ten years
ago. Or fifty. His ex could be a grandmother now. A great-
grandmother.
Or Aletta.
After the shower, she grabbed her gloves and parka and tiptoed out
the bedroom door. The butler greeted her and offered breakfast. But
after the wine and vodka last night, her stomach was like a
bobblehead.
“No thank you,” she said politely.
“Very well,” said the butler, a bald man of about fifty. He spoke in
an extremely formal voice—too formal. It made Charlotte feel a tad
awkward. “Mr. Racco asked me to give you a tour if you’d like. Or if
you prefer, you may wander by yourself.”
“Um. Thanks. That’s very nice of you. I’m kind of in a mood to
wander by myself.”
“Very well.”
The butler then stood there looking at her, as if waiting for her
command. What was she supposed to say? She’d never dealt with a
butler before. It was weird, having a butler. This guy just lived in
Jackson’s house, taking orders, doing whatever they asked—
apparently her servant, yet he was so utterly formal. How was she
supposed to act around him? Should she chitchat or say nothing? Was
she supposed to tip him? Does he know he’s working for vampires?
“I’ll give you my cell number,” said the butler. “Please call if you
need anything.”

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“Okay,” she said. “This place is so big. I might call you if I get
lost.”
“You’re very welcome to do that, ma’am.” He wrote her number
on a small notepad, tore off the sheet, and handed it to her. “Here you
are.”
She took the sheet and decided to take advantage of the butler’s
willingness to serve to ask a few questions.
“So how long have you worked for Jackson?” she asked.
“Mr. Racco? About ten years, ma’am.”
“Is he a good boss?”
“Certainly,” answered the butler solidly. “Mr. Racco and Mr.
Fitzwilliam are quite accommodating.”
“Not Aletta?”
“You must mean the girl.”
Interesting—the butler didn’t know Aletta’s name, even though she
supposedly spent the most time out here.
“I suppose she must be a woman by now, but she always looks the
same.” The butler’s polite tone started to cramp up here—he wanted
to say more about Aletta but was holding it back. “She… she can be,
ah, hm… She’s out here more than the two gentlemen. She lives here
three or four months a year. But mostly she keeps to herself.”
“Okay,” said Charlotte, deciding not to dig anymore for now.
“Thanks.”
She walked about the house for most of the morning. There were
many stairways, and outside the central block, the hallways snaked
about chaotically. The whole house was beautiful, but aside from a
woman dusting, she saw no one and heard nothing. Very eerie. After

318
a few minutes, it was less like being in someone’s home and more
like being locked in a museum. About half the rooms were
unfinished. Of the other half, most had ornate old furniture, but a few
had modern sofas, coffee tables, and TVs like you’d see in any
suburban home. One small room was a simple office with a
computer, printer, and filing cabinet. Close to the dining room, in the
main house, was the library. Shelves of books stretched to the ceiling.
A ladder on wheels leaned into a groove at the top of the shelves,
sliding along and allowing safe access to the highest volumes.
Jackson’s library had more books than the library at her high school,
and there were fine leather sofas and intricate hardwood tables.
Quotes in many languages were painted on the huge beams that
supported the ceiling.
Toward the last segment of the east wing was a narrower point
where windows opened on both sides. Outside, hills rolled up into
mountains in the distance. Snow covered everything save for the
robust green of the pines. Grey crags jutted here and there from the
snow. The woods must have a lot of wildlife. Pristine blue sky
covered it all. There was no hint of a road. In fact, outside the house,
there was no mark of humans anywhere. No power lines, no fences,
no outlying buildings, no parking lot, no roads. Nothing.
He either owns all this, or we’re in the middle of nowhere.
The three vampires couldn’t use all this. Who was this house really
built for? What would someone do with such a big space? Hold
concerts? Giant parties? But they were so far out, and how would any
guests arrive with no roads?
No, dummy, the roads are covered in snow. Of course there are

319
roads. How else would the stones get out here?
Still… Aletta was the only one who spent much time out there.
Jackson said she was better with money than he was, and she’d had
longer to pile it up. She must have plenty of houses of her own.
What was all this for?
Charlotte’s feet tired before she’d explored everything, so she went
back to the library. There, she passed the day reading and napping.

***

They made love again when Jackson woke that evening. Upon
learning she’d spent the whole day inside, Jackson suggested a short
hike. So she donned her jacket, and Jackson handed her a flashlight.
They exited the house through a back door and started up into the
hills.
As they walked, Charlotte first asked him about the roads. She’d
guessed right: Only a small dirt road connected the house to anything
outside, and that was snowed over. Most came in by helicopter. Then
she asked him what she really wanted to know.
“Who did you build that house for?”

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Chapter 31

“What do you mean?” Jackson asked, caught off-guard.


“I mean, it’s so big,” explained Charlotte. “So many rooms, and
most of them, you don’t use.”
“I like to build,” he said casually. “I like large houses.”
“But it’s… it’s like the size of a Walmart.”
“Wesley wasn’t wrong last night. I was born a peasant, so I want to
live like a gentleman. I have a variety of rooms. I enjoy or at least
have enjoyed each one.”
“But there are parts of that house you can’t do anything with.”
“Which parts?”
“Your bathroom,” she said, cutting right to the point. “The closet.
Why do you have two closets?”
He answered as if it were so simple. “Standard way to build it, in a
house like this.”
Is he avoiding me?
“Okay.” She took a second to summon courage. Her throat
tightened up. She was excited but nervous. “But…I mean, I can tell,
from the way the shelves are, it was built for a woman. I just… I
mean, am I the first woman, the first human, you’ve brought out
here?”
“No,” he said calmly.
“So did you build that house, you know, for her?”
“I built it for myself. And I built parts of it with my own hands. I

321
like building. But you’re right, about the closet, at least. I was in love
with a human before you, and I built that closet for her. I wanted her
to live with me here.”
“What happened?”
“She died.”
Charlotte frowned. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.”
“I mean, was it like, just a normal thing? Old age or something?”
“No,” he said curtly.
They continued up the slope, their steps compacting the crisp
snow. Deer tracks pocked the snow, and pine mingled with Arctic
chill in the air. It was beautiful. She’d never hiked at night before.
The brisk air and the solemnity of it invigorated her, and perhaps
made her bold.
“Were you married?” Charlotte asked, still curious. “With the
woman you built the closet for?”
She couldn’t read Jackson’s expressions in the dark, not without
hitting his face with the flashlight. But his voice was somber.
“We were going to get married,” he said.
“Oh. But then she passed away?”
“Yes.”
Jackson was holding something in, guarding something. But it was
a nice hike, and perhaps it wasn’t the best time to ask about his dead
ex—his ex who had died from something other than old age,
something that Jackson hadn’t wanted to explain.
“So can vampires have children?” Charlotte asked, curious about
this and wanting to change the subject.

322
“No,” answered Jackson.
Her previous line of questioning had quieted him. It was better, for
now, to just enjoy the hike. Their feet crunching the snow was the
only sound for miles. The narrow path through the trees hit the top of
the ridge and they turned to walk along its crest, still moving upward.
There was a full moon.
“I like children,” Jackson said abruptly after several minutes of
hiking.
“Oh,” replied Charlotte. “I guess that’s sad for you, that you like
kids but can’t have any.”
“A little, maybe. But I like all children. If I were with a human
woman, I’d be happy to raise her children as my own.”
She pictured Jackson with a chubby blond toddler on his knee. He
was doing got-yer-nose with his thick fingers. The joyous smile on
his face matched the child’s. The image filled Charlotte’s heart, and
she had to grab on to a tree for a second. Then she heard the butler’s
formal voice: “I suppose she must be a woman by now, but she
always looks the same.”
“But wouldn’t that be weird raising kids,” asked Charlotte, “with
you never aging?”
“It would,” Jackson admitted, hopeful. “But we’d figure something
out.”
They walked on. The slope was not so steep here, but raising her
legs to get through the snow made Charlotte huff and puff. Jackson
handed her a bottle of water, and they rested a minute.
“There’s an owl in that tree,” said Jackson quietly.
“You can see it?” Charlotte whispered, trying to follow the

323
direction of Jackson’s eyes.
“Yes. Give me the flashlight.”
Jackson spotlit a blocky, knotted branch.
“There’s no owl there,” said Charlotte, squinting.
“It’s right in the middle of the light.”
Was it? No, it was just a knot— Oh! The knot turned its head to
look around! The flashlight caught the owl’s eyes and they turned to
iridescent yellow planes.
“It’s camouflaged,” she said.
“Yes.”
They kept hiking along the ridgetop. The exercise and the quiet
night made Charlotte incredibly comfortable and trusting—or
perhaps it was that she’d told Jackson she loved him last night, even
if she’d been drunk. But after the conversation about children, she
asked him about anything that came to mind, not needing to steer
conversation into the topic first.
“What was Aletta talking about last night?” asked Charlotte. “She
said you’re full of hellfire.”
“She was drunk,” said Jackson dismissively.
“What did she mean, though?”
“She means that I have strong emotions and I’m evil.”
“Why would she say that?”
“Because it’s true,” said Jackson gruffly.
“No it’s not. You’re a good person.”
“Am I?”
“Yes,” Charlotte confirmed. “You save people’s lives. You care
about people. You just said you’d raise another person’s children.”

324
“Maybe,” said Jackson, thoughtful and pensive. “But kindness is
just one reason to do kind things.”
“You are kind. I don’t know why Aletta would say that. In the
middle of dinner like that. She must’ve been really drunk.”
“She wants to provoke you. And she was tipsy. But it’s true, what
she said. You’ve seen it come out.”
“When?”
“When I fight,” said Jackson. His volume was lower, as if he didn’t
want to admit these things too loudly. “Sometimes, in bed.”
“That’s completely different. You get rowdy in bed, and you’re
good at fighting.”
“It’s not that I’m good at it. It’s that I’m an animal, and I like it.
When I killed the shooter in the club, I enjoyed the way his skull felt
under my fist.”
“Jackson, you saved hundreds of people.”
“But I could’ve saved them without liking how it felt. Without
liking his fear.”
“He was an asshole and a murderer. It’s okay for you to like it.”
“I’ve liked it before. Without such reasons. And you’ve seen it too,
a few times, when we make love.”
“You’re aggressive in bed. It’s sexy.”
“I’m trying to tell you,” said Jackson. His words sharpened, cutting
through the mountain air harshly. “What Aletta said is real. There are
parts of me that are wild, uncontrollable, dangerous. And she sees me
hiding that with you. There’s something in me very deep, very evil.
You’ve seen it. When I fought Godwin, you saw it. That was the only
time it fully came out.”

325
Charlotte shook her head. “That wasn’t you.”
“That was the core of me.”
“No. That was something else. That’s not you.”
“It’s happened before. Other times, not with you. And when it
comes out, I can beat almost anyone. I’m stronger and fiercer and
fight better than anyone. I’m invulnerable. That’s the second fight
I’ve ever lost, and the only one where it came out. It comes out of me
and I can beat vampires a thousand years old. But when it came that
time, Godwin still won. I don’t know how. He’s incredibly old,
incredibly strong. I think he’s older than Rafael. And he knew things
about me I could never… I don’t know. He asks me things, he knows
things about me I’d never even thought about.”
Charlotte looked at him, intrigued, trying to read Jackson’s features
in the dark. “Like what?”
“One time, he asked me to help him move some equipment. And
he was telling me where to put different things. And he told me to put
the swords in the left case, and I did it, and then I suddenly realized
he’d told me in a different language. But I had no idea what language
it was.”
“You sure you didn’t just get confused? I mean, maybe the
languages got mixed up.”
“No,” said Jackson. “I understood, and it sounded so familiar, but I
had no idea what language it was. See, and moving equipment is low-
level work. There’s no reason Godwin would do that himself, unless
he only did it to try asking me that. And it worked. Another thing, he
asked me if I was very strong two or three years after becoming a
vampire, and I told him I was almost as strong as I am now. But we

326
have a vampire researcher who was changed four years ago, and he’s
still very much like a human. Now he’s as strong as the strongest
humans, much more than he was four years ago, but nowhere close to
an older vampire.”
“Okay,” said Charlotte, confused. “So what’s he getting at?”
“He wants to get at the root of it. He’s a researcher, a doctor, a
biologist of sorts. He wants to know why I’m stronger than other
vampires at a younger age. I was a large, strong human and that helps
to make stronger vampires, but even given that, it’s odd. So after
Godwin asked me those things, I let him take a blood sample.”
“That’s good, helping Godwin with the research,” said Charlotte,
though she wasn’t sure. It was strange Godwin wasn’t explaining
more to Jackson, telling him why he asked these things. “So I guess
you and Godwin made up after you fought him?”
“Yes. He said that I’d been offered blood in a state of arousal, and
it brought out the older, more animal parts of me. He didn’t blame me
for it. He also said you shouldn’t offer me blood, especially not when
we’re being intimate.”
“Yeah, I kind of figured that out.”
“But while I couldn’t walk, he brought me a human to feed on. An
older person with cancer, lots of pain, wanting to depart. He talked to
me while I couldn’t walk and brought me a few books.”
“That’s nice of him,” said Charlotte. But part of her thought, It’s
too nice.
There were some rocks poking out of the snow here, and she
concentrated on getting good traction with her snowboots. “How long
you think you’ll work for him?” she said offhandedly.

327
“Two or three decades, at least,” said Jackson in the same casual
manner.
His easy reply made her snort a sudden breath in. Its icy chill
seared her nostrils and she coughed a bit.
“You okay?” said Jackson, putting his bare vampire hand on her
parka-covered back.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. As she turned back to him, she saw that
they’d both let their guards down in that moment. She’d just been
talking on, not thinking, and in the same way, he’d replied. But as
they dropped their defenses, the differences in their lives stood out
too starkly. The kindness in his eyes made it clear he understood all
this, and so she couldn’t change the subject. She had to speak her
mind.
“That’s just a really long time to me,” she said. “I mean… to be
honest, I… I guess I didn’t think you’d work there too long. It really
doesn’t seem that stable.”
“I have faith in Godwin,” said Jackson with conviction. “He’s a
good leader. Twenty years isn’t so long.”
“Most people didn’t even have the Internet twenty years ago.”
“That’s true,” said Jackson. “The world is changing on an ever-
steeper curve. Wesley keeps up with everything, all the new
technology… Sometimes, I don’t try. It’s too much. But that’s all the
more reason to attach myself to someone so timeless, like Godwin.
He may be older than Rafael, but his thinking is more modern.”
“He’s very mysterious,” Charlotte said, fixing her eyes on the
ground fifty feet ahead. “I mean… he’s a little shady, if we’re being
honest. Like you clearly respect him, and that’s good. But the way he

328
hides from the other vampires. Or he sent that woman to my work, in
broad daylight. Why did he have to do that? Or him sending you to
my apartment just as that battle was going on. I just wonder what he’s
up to. Then last night, you didn’t mention him once. We were
drinking and talking for four or five hours and he never came up, and
it seemed like you were steering away from that. Because Aletta and
Wesley were there?”
“Aletta, yes. She has sympathies with the Rafaels, and she doesn’t
need to know.”
“Does she even know who Godwin is?” Charlotte asked
skeptically.
“Of course not,” he said bluntly.
“Why ‘of course not’?”
“We talked of this. He needs to stay hidden from other vampires.”
“Or they’ll kill him?”
“Yes.”
Charlotte’s stomach tightened. “And if you’re with him when that
happens, they’d kill you?”
“They might try.”
She shook her head. “You’re so confident.”
“Fighters have to be confident,” he replied, cocksure. “You go into
a fight thinking you’ll lose, and you do.”
“But there’s two fighters,” said Charlotte logically, “and if they
both think that, one of them has to be wrong.”
“Not me.”
“You were already wrong with Godwin.”
“And one other time. Out of hundreds.”

329
“What was the one other time?”
Jackson’s lips started to pull into a snarl, and his eyes pinched, but
he stilled his face before he replied. “About fifty years ago. Ali
Rafael.”
His strong reaction made her not ask about that further. She went to
the earlier topic.
“I just… you’re so confident,” she continued, “and maybe you’re
right 99% of the time. But… 1% isn’t really that low. I just worry.
You only need to be wrong once, and you could die.”
“You’re right,” he admitted. “I’m a soldier, and that’s part of my
job. But I’m careful, and I’m good at what I do.”
“You’re gonna get killed!” Charlotte blurted out. The words almost
shocked her, but they hit the point. “You don’t need the money.
You’re so confident, but Rafael has more fighters and more power.
Godwin wouldn’t run like that if you had the advantage. I don’t
understand why you’re doing this.”
“It’s what I’m used to, and to be honest, it’s what I like. And I need
purpose. Godwin has given me that.”
“Until the Rafaels raid his facility again. I just… You talk about
him like you trust him so much. You don’t know him! He sent that
woman in the middle of the day to gaze me. To my work. I just find it
hard to trust someone like that. And if he’s trying to stay hidden, why
doesn’t he, you know, not stay in a huge city full of other vampires?
I’m sorry, Jackson. I just find him suspicious, and to be honest, I
don’t like you working for him.”
“I understand your worries,” said Jackson. They had stopped
hiking some time ago to stand on the slope. He pulled her in with a

330
reassuring hug. “But I’ve done jobs like this for a long time, and I’m
not easy to kill. You’re right, I do trust Godwin, even if I don’t know
where he came from. He has an incredible vision and he’s a great
leader. He’s as strong, as cunning, as wise a vampire as I’ve ever met.
He cares about human life. We have the same enemies. We’re both
hiding from the vampire world. I’ve never been happier with a job or
a boss, and I understand your worries.” He brushed a lock of hair
from her face with the back of his index finger. “Women have
worried when their man went off to war since time began. But I was
in danger before I started working for him, and I’d like to think, with
his intel and his organization, I’m in less danger now. I like working
for him, and if everything turns out okay, then yes, I’d like to work
for him for a long time.”
“Okay,” said Charlotte. He had a point, that the Rafaels would be
hunting him with or without Godwin there. “That makes more sense.”
Jackson grasped her hand through the mitten. He kissed her slowly
and gently to show that he really did understand. It was a sweet
moment, but as his warm, luscious lips pulled away from hers, she
still wished he would work somewhere less dangerous.
“It’s a beautiful night,” he said.
“Yeah,” she agreed, gazing up at the black vault glazed with flecks
of crystalline blue. “Can’t see stars like this in the city.”
Hand in hand, they continued to hike over the snowy hills.

331
Chapter 32

The rest of that night passed much like the one before: They had a
long dinner with Jackson’s family and then made love, this time in
the shower. The next day, Charlotte chatted with the butler and hiked
around herself outside the manor. She also took time to admire all the
sculptures and paintings in the house. All in all, it was a romantic
weekend of lovemaking, long walks, exploration, fine food, art, and
alcohol.
They took the chopper back Sunday evening.

***

The next week, Jackson only visited her once, on Wednesday. He


wanted to spend weekends with her, he’d said, and so would need to
work more during the week.
When he dropped by on Wednesday, she gave him a burner phone
she’d bought with cash.
“Thank you,” he said, turning the phone over in his hand and
eyeing it as if it were a strange insect. “I’ll read the instruction
manual and call you.”
She grinned. “Text, also. It can text.”
“Yes. I’ll text you too. By the way, we’re doing something special
Friday.”
Her eyes widened. “What?”

332
“Something very special,” he said with promise, not specifying. “A
night for us. Don’t plan anything else.”
She didn’t have plans, but it was awfully presumptuous of him.
“Actually, I’m hosting a birthday party Friday,” she said.
“Saturday, then,” he replied without hesitation.
She smiled weakly. “I was joking.”
“Oh.” He frowned. “So is Friday, um, is Friday okay with you?”
“Sure.”
“Be ready at six thirty. I’ll call you using this telephone. Formal
dress.”
“Sounds good,” she agreed, smirking at how Jackson referred to
the burner as “this telephone.”
Besides Jackson’s visit, the week was boring. She went to work
and stopped by Godwin’s new building to do the questionnaire and
give samples. While there, she didn’t run into Godwin, Liam,
Jackson, or even Qi. She texted Jackson Thursday evening and he
replied quickly, but with few words.
Friday arrived. All day at work, questions about what Jackson had
planned tortured her. Was he getting her a present? Surprising her
with a fun date? Taking her on a trip?
No. He wouldn’t get nervous for those things. He’d been nervous
when he asked her plans. He never got nervous. And he’d specified
formal dress.
It’s something big.
No, it’s just a nice dinner or something. Or an evening stroll. Or a
party.
Nope. You met his family. He talked about raising your kids.

333
This is it.
It couldn’t be…
Unable to focus, Charlotte started browsing presents for him on
Amazon. He’d flown her in his helicopter, saved her life, and hooked
her up with her survey job that paid two grand a week. She’d never
given him anything besides a twenty-dollar burner phone. He’d like a
nice, thoughtful present from her.
He liked to read; he stared at her bookshelf nearly every time he
came over. Jackson would prefer paper over ebooks. But what
subject? He liked stonemasonry and gardening. He seemed to already
know everything about stonemasonry. What about Italian gardening,
herbs or veggies or something from Italy? No, he must know
everything about that too. He probably knew more than the people
who wrote those books. What, then? He liked gardening, watching
things grow, building things… what would he like most?
She browsed and made her choice.
At six thirty on Friday, she was touching up her makeup. She
looked good. The book she’d bought for Jackson had arrived at five
thirty. Her choice of book pleased her, even made her smug—so
smug that she forgot to order giftwrapping. But she had a few
giftbags stored away, and she tucked Jackson’s book into one of
those. Then she paced about the apartment. Would he call or text? He
was late. Perhaps he’d slept in. Could a vampire sleep late? Did
vampires who slept late get up at midnight?
No, this was a special occasion. He hadn’t woken late. He was
taking his time to get ready—for her.
At 6:50, twenty minutes late, her phone rang.

334
“Come downstairs,” he said.
“You’re late.”
“Traffic.”
“That’s funny.”
“I’m not funny.”
Typical Jackson humor. She took the elevator down. Outside her
building waited a huge man in a tuxedo—a huge man with an odd
mustache and chunky glasses.
“Hello,” came Jackson’s voice from under the mustache. He was
wearing the disguise Aletta had made him. “My car is over there.”
“Your car?”
“Yes. I’ve bought a car.”
“No more jumping?”
“Too easy to be seen,” said Jackson. “Those were emergency
measures. And I like jumping.”
“I could tell,” she said, and she pulled the package out from under
her arm. “I got you something.”
He turned the rectangular package in his hands, examining it from
different angles. “A book?”
His tone stayed flat, but the words came out faster than normal—
he was excited. He opened the bag and took the book out.
“Advanced Home Hydroponics?” he said.
“I found it online and thought you’d like it.”
“I haven’t done any hydroponics.”
“That’s good,” she said. “You like to build things and grow things.
So you can build it and then grow stuff. And you can do it in your
apartment in the city.”

335
“It’s perfect,” said Jackson. “You’re absolutely perfect.”
He lifted her clear off the ground and kissed her. It was a deep,
thrilling kiss, and probably too much for a public place. Then he
carried her the half block back to his car, manhandling her as if she
were light as a silk sheet.
Jackson drove a blocky black luxury car. The door on her side
opened without a touch from either of them. The sumptuous leather
rolled under her finger. Soft grains roughened its surface. The seat
warmer turned on as she sat down. Jackson sat on the other side and
the engine gave a low rumble. Jackson’s subtle musk mixed with the
leather scent. Nice. Very nice.
“Where to?” she asked.
“The finest steakhouse in the city.”
“Oh. Steak?”
“Yes,” said Jackson. “We’ll eat together.”
“Are they gonna give you blood mixed with vodka, like Wesley?”
Jackson ran a finger through her hair. Something very deep and
interesting sparkled in his eye.
“No,” he said. “We can eat steak. It doesn’t nourish us. It’s like
lettuce for a human. But it doesn’t make us sick, and I like the taste.”
“Oh. So we’re actually sharing a meal this time?”
“Yes.”
“Are you gonna wear the disguise the whole time?”
“No. We’re in a private room. I’ll tell the waiter not to bother us
after we get the main courses, then take it off.”
The steakhouse was on a building’s fortieth floor. They passed
through the busy public area and through a small door. Mahogany

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paneling covered their private room. Windows opened out onto the
city lights and looked over Central Park.
The prices on the menu shocked Charlotte. And not everything had
a price listed. But his house—no, just his country house—was the
size of a Walmart. He could afford it. She ordered a dry-aged ribeye
with hashbrowns and creamed spinach. The sommelier recommended
a bottle of wine, and she ordered that too. Jackson chose a T-bone and
a prime-rib roast. No sides. Vodka for Jackson to drink.
As they waited for the food, Charlotte nibbled the warm bread and
herb butter on the table. Jackson asked her about her day at work.
Then he asked her what TV shows she’d watched in the past two
days. His eyes would pop off to one side as he spoke, then come back
to hers, then dart off again. He twiddled with his fork, sliding his
finger up and down its tines. A few times, he stopped speaking and
stared. He asked her about her day at work three times.
Something was bothering him. Something was coming.
Their steaks arrived, and Jackson asked the waiter not to return, as
he’d promised. The disguise came off. His beauty shocked and
aroused her—The sculpture-like bones of his harsh, masculine face,
his ravishing green eyes like gemstones formed of pine needles, the
thick spikelets of his rich, coffee-brown hair. He really was too
perfect.
The steak was perfect too: A meatiness with more dimensions than
she’d known any steak could have—funky, profound, complex,
coating her whole palate with variety and depth of flavor. It was
incredibly delicious and Charlotte stuffed herself with it, along with
the creamed spinach and the hashbrowns cooked in duck fat. Her

337
stomach ached and an antacid would hit the spot, but wow, the whole
meal was incredible.
Then they sat after the meal. Their chat was boring, strangely so.
Her wineglass was empty and the waiter, ordered out of the room by
Jackson, wasn’t there to refill it. So Jackson poured Charlotte’s third
glass of wine himself.
And as he poured, his hand shook.
Then her own hand started to shake. She grabbed the stem of her
wineglass to keep it still. Her other hand went to her stomach. It hurt
bad now—that rich fatty steak and the creamed spinach and all the
wine. The hand on her wine glass shook more. Jackson’s saw her
shaking hand and covered it with his own.
“Charlotte,” he began. His voice had trepidation in it she’d never
heard from him. “I…I want to ask you something.”
Is this it?
Is this really it?
At that second, her whole stomach writhed as if full of electric
grease. No, not now! Steak, wine, and stomach acid coursed up her
throat and splashed her tongue. She gulped it back down.
“Be right back,” she said quickly. She jumped up from the table
and sprinted, high heels and all, to the toilet.
She darted into a stall and shut the door. For a second, her stomach
calmed, and then—
He’s going to ask me to marry him.
Her vomit splattered across the toilet and restroom floor. Red wine.
Steak chunks. Green driblets of spinach. Mutilated potatoes. Chewed
balls of bread. The stench. Oh, that stench.

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At least she’d missed her dress. Was he going to ask again when
she went back out? Probably so. I’m saying yes, aren’t I? How could
she not? She loved him more than anyone she’d met.
If that was even what he was going to ask.
You know it is.
At the sink, she washed her hands and rinsed her mouth.
“I’m really sorry,” she said, looking at the bathroom attendant in
the mirror. “I’ll tip you a twenty. I’m sorry, I’m so nervous.”
“It’s fine, honey,” said the attendant.
There were two attendants looking at her in the mirror. Were there
always two? No. Shouldn’t there be one? And one of them looked
very familiar—A heavy-set woman, mid-thirties or so. Charlotte
examined the woman’s face through the mirror. And at that second,
the woman locked her gaze on Charlotte’s own.
That woman had been walking with Ali Rafael on the night of the
battle. Yes, that was who it was. And her gaze was so kind and
trustworthy. This woman was very kind and trustworthy. Kinder and
more trustworthy than anyone.
“We’re leaving now, Charlotte,” said the woman. “Follow me.”
And Jackson could wait for later. He loved her. They loved each
other. He could propose another time… No, she needed to see him.
Something was wrong. But this woman just wanted to help her. This
was a very nice, trustworthy, wise bathroom attendant. This woman
would just give her a pep talk so she could get through this.
“Good, Charlotte. Right this way. Good. I’m here to help.”
She’d never trusted anyone like this, since the day she trusted Qi in
the office. Qi really had wanted to help too, hadn’t she?

339
Charlotte and her new friend took the elevator and went out
through the building’s back door. A van waited, and Charlotte got
inside.

340
Chapter 33

Charlotte woke in a room very like the one Jackson had brought
her to hide in: Very plain, with a queen-sized bed with white sheets, a
nightstand, and a bathroom. In the bathroom was a thick metal door
with no handle. Unlike that first room, no window opened here. But
where that window would’ve been, there sat Qi.
“What are you doing here?” said Charlotte. She’d just woken, and
her voice lacked politeness.
“Same as you,” said Qi sullenly. “Prisoner.”
Charlotte glued her eyes to the wall. She didn’t trust anyone at that
moment, and wouldn’t let her eyes meet those of Qi.
“I’m not going to gaze you,” said Qi.
“Sure you aren’t.”
“I promise I won’t.”
“That one last night would’ve promised too.” Charlotte examined
the room more carefully, still sure not to connect eyes with Qi. “I
know what they do with these rooms. They’re for keeping humans
before the vampires eat them.”
“Some of them,” said Qi. The vampire’s voice was full of defeat—
neither the martial sharpness of the day of the evac nor the cuteness
of the gazing incident at Charlotte’s office remained. “This one’s for
vampires as well. That’s why there’s no window.”
“Why would they put us in here together?”
“Easier to keep an eye on us,” replied Qi, confident this was the

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answer.
Charlotte blocked her eyes with her forearm.
“I’m not going to gaze you,” the vampire repeated.
Charlotte was still hesitant, given recent events. “Sure.”
“Why do you hate me?” asked Qi.
“I don’t,” Charlotte replied without thinking.
“Then why was I ordered not to go into the medical area while you
give samples?”
“What? I didn’t—”
“You told someone you didn’t want to see me.”
Charlotte shook her head. How the hell could Qi not see the
problem with what she’d done? “You gazed me.”
“And?” replied Qi, saying it the way others would say “So what?”
Charlotte put her hands on her head, exasperated. “And? And!?
You can’t just do that to somebody.”
“Why not? You were happier and worked better because of me.”
“That’s besides the point! You manipulated me into spilling
information! And you show up at my work like that! How long had
you been following me?”
“We didn’t follow you. Liam told us where you worked.”
“You gaze that out of him too?”
“No. Liam recognized you on the video, and there were reports of
Jackson, or RLS as the media calls him, dancing with someone of
your description before the incident. We thought Jackson might be
hiding with you, and thus, you were in danger from Rafael House.
Liam felt it in your best interest to tell us your location.”
“You just have an answer to everything.”

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Throughout this conversation, Charlotte’s anger and fear would get
the better of her, and her eyes would go to Qi’s face. But the vampire
woman kept her eyes on the floor. Qi wore no makeup and gray
patches puffed out beneath her eyes in a fat U-shape.
“I’m going in the bathroom,” said Charlotte, and she slammed the
restroom door behind her.
When Charlotte had first woken and saw Qi, she’d thought: Of
course Qi has something to do with this. Yet Qi’s voice was so…
defeated. Unhappy. Wholly unlike the confident, aggressively cute Qi
from before. But was that trust just a trick? Had Qi gazed her? No. Qi
kept her eyes on the ground, even turning her head into the wall a few
times. She’d gone out of the way to make it clear she wasn’t gazing.
Slowly, Charlotte’s nerves calmed. She cupped her hands and
drank a bit from the faucet. The cool water relaxed her stomach,
which was still sore from vomiting red wine and steak After a while,
Charlotte opened the bathroom door and walked out.
“Hi,” Charlotte said to Qi, smiling but not making eye contact.
“Um. Did they bring my purse in here?”
“No. They take personal belongings. No phones or anything.”
“Oh. Right. Yeah, I’m really sorry I blew up a bit.”
“It’s okay.”
Charlotte rested her eyes on Qi’s small hands and sat down. “So
what’s going on here?”
“So Rafael House—” Qi began, but Charlotte butted in.
“They could be listening!” said Charlotte.
“They probably are,” said Qi, and she pointed to a black bubble on
the ceiling. “You can see the camera up there. But I’m not telling

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them anything they don’t know.”
“Oh.”
“Just facts. Things they already know. Essentially, Godwin
captured two of Rafael’s sons. One of them is Ali, the best fighter and
military leader of their group.”
“The tall guy with the scar,” said Charlotte, remembering him from
their meeting on the street.
“Yes. He’s very strong, over a thousand years old, an excellent
fighter. Supposedly, Ali is the only one ever to defeat Jackson in a
fight. So it’s quite a statement for Godwin to capture him. Him, and
another son, Diego.”
“How did they get captured?”
Here, Qi made a tiny motion—her pinkie lifted slowly.
“I’m not sure,” said Qi. “Jackson would know. Godwin would. But
I’m not involved in the military aspects of the organization. Basically,
Godwin captured those two sons. Rafael then captured us.”
“Oh. So it’s a prisoner exchange?”
“Right.”
“But it seems like—”
Here, Charlotte stopped herself.
“What were you going to say?” asked Qi.
“It seems like, you know, it’s just you and me. I’m just a human.
I’m not even supposed to know they’re alive. They think I’m just a
piece of food.”
“And it doesn’t seem like a good trade-off,” said Qi, following her
logic, “for me and you to be traded for Rafael’s most powerful son,
plus another?”

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“Yeah.”
“Three possibilities,” said Qi. “They know Jackson loves you, and
that capturing you would cause Jackson to pressure Godwin to make
the trade. But I think a more likely explanation is that there are others
captured, waiting like we are in such rooms. The third option is that
they have some other deal worked out.”
“What kind of deal?”
“Rafael would want Godwin to kill the rogue and swear fealty.”
Charlotte glanced off to one side. “You know, I always thought
Godwin was the rogue.”
“No,” said Qi firmly. “I can assure you he isn’t.”
Charlotte searched the other woman’s face, but there was no hint of
a lie, and no squint or facial tic.
“That doesn’t make sense, though,” said Charlotte. “That makes
less sense. So Godwin has to kill the rogue and swear fealty, because
he has better prisoners?”
“Rafael is a… Raphael is the law here, and he has the most power.
Lords don’t make bargains with disloyal subjects. The best Godwin
could ask for is to exchange us, swear fealty, and be granted leave to
move to another city.”
“But what if they’re walking into an ambush?”
“Which party?” asked Qi.
“I don’t know. Either of them.”
Qi shrugged. “Who knows?”
She knows something, thought Charlotte. Someone’s getting
ambushed. Qi’s shrug was fake. Something was definitely going on.
Qi wasn’t someone who shrugged. Though she’d only met Qi twice,

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the female vampire just wasn’t a shrugger.
“I’m very tired,” said Qi. “It’s daytime outside. I can tell. I tried to
stay up so I could explain to you when you woke.”
“Oh. Thanks,” said Charlotte. She tried to sound nice, regretting
her rudeness to Qi when she’d woken up. “You can get some sleep.”
As Qi slept, questions stampeded through Charlotte’s mind:
Which parts of what Qi said were true?
Was Qi lying to her or lying to the cameras?
Why was Godwin trading Rafael’s best fighter and most important
son for Qi and her?
Or is this all just a really long dream, and I’ll wake up and go to
work?
Or am I completely insane? Is this just my room in the madhouse?
No.
Why? Because Jackson. Jackson would save her. If he had to kill
every soldier in Rafael House—if he had to kill every other vampire
in the world—he would. His love for her was in his every gesture, his
every word, his every glance. His love for her had made him nervous
—had made this beast who took assault rifle rounds to the chest
nervous. That love would make him come through. Jackson would
save her.
Or would he?

***

Someone carried her. Pure blackness. Night? No, a bag on her


head. She writhed, but the hands—immovable vampire hands—held

346
her fast.
“Where am I?” Charlotte said. “Where are we going?”
No answer from the vampire holding her. This vampire’s torso
tilted side to side and rotated slightly. They were descending a flight
of stairs. Then the steps flattened out. Arctic air burned her bare skin.
Her hands were tied across her waist, her elbows tied tight to her
ribcage, her ankles and knees both tied together. She could move
nothing but her spine and her head.
They set her on a seat in some car. Its engine purred. It smelled
clean. A seatbelt was buckled across her chest and the door closed.
Then the car was moving.
The bag remained on her head, but her ears picked up clues. From
in front of her came a clicking. Something metal clicking into
something plastic, repeated and regular. This clicking gave her a bit
of nostalgia, a feeling of childhood. Her grandfather’s face floated
into her mind. But what exactly was it?
“Charlotte?” said a woman’s voice, now familiar.
“Yeah,” said Charlotte. “Qi?”
“Yeah,” said Qi calmly. “I’m here.”
“Where are we going?”
“The meeting.”
“The meeting?” Charlotte asked.
“Godwin and Rafael are meeting.”
“Oh. The prisoner exchange?”
The clicking in the front stopped, and whoever was in the front
said something in another language.
“Yes,” said Qi. “The prisoner exchange.”

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The voice in the front, a man’s voice, spoke again in the other
language.
“Your friend here won’t tell you,” said the man in front, now using
English. It was a clear, steady voice with no accent, one Charlotte
hadn’t heard before.
“She doesn’t need to know,” said Qi sharply.
“Maybe she’s religious,” he said. “Give her time—”
Qi yelled something from the back seat.
“Charlotte, can you hear me back there?” said the man in front.
“Your friend is lying. There’s no prisoner exchange. It’s time to make
your peace.”

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Chapter 34

Charlotte’s guts tangled together. Was the car crashing? What had
she heard?
“What? What?” she asked in a panic. “What do you mean?”
“It is your time,” said the man in the front seat. “Make your peace
with your God or with yourself.”
No, I’ve heard wrong. That can’t be right… “I’m… I’m… I’m
going… What? What, What do you mean?”
“You’ll be dying soon,” he said. His voice was solemn. “As part of
his oath of fealty, your former lord, known to you as Godwin, will
kill you and drink your blood.”
Charlotte howled and screamed. She writhed like an electrocuted
snake. Her head smacked the car window. Qi shouted in another
language at the man in front.
After a time, all was again quiet in the moving car.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Charlotte furiously.
“I don’t know,” said Qi. “I thought you’d… I didn’t want to cloud
your last moments with fear.”
“Jackson will save me,” she said desperately. “He has before.”
“I’m sure he will,” said Qi.
“Stop lying to her,” said the man in front. “Giacomo agreed to the
terms as well. He will partake of you to show his contrition.”
“He’d never do that!” yelled Charlotte.
“It’s difficult to accept death,” said the man in front. “If you’re

349
Christian, I can help you make your peace.”
“You a priest or something?” said Charlotte.
“Yes. I was a Catholic priest before I changed.”
“You must not have been a good one, if you got changed.”
“Maybe not,” the man admitted with a hint of regret. “But I
believed in God then, and I tried my best. We're all flawed creatures.
And I still believe in God. I can give you confession, if you want it.”
“I’m not dying,” said Charlotte, but horror was chewing up her
insides. Her head swirled inside the black bag. Sweat broke out on
her forehead and she could hardly breathe. Repeating the idea that
Jackson would save her was the only thing that made it feel better.
“Jackson loves me,” she asserted, “and he will save me.”
“He agreed to the terms,” said the man in front. He was not being
cruel: He sounded as if he truly believed it better for Charlotte to
know the truth. “Even if he wanted to save you, he couldn’t.
Giacomo and Godwin are two. Perhaps they’ll bring a few more.
Rafael House will bring a dozen warriors. Perhaps two. This Godwin
loves humans. He’ll make it painless. But he’ll do it or he won’t
leave alive.”
“He doesn’t fear you!”
“Immortals fear death more than anything,” said the man in front.
“More than humans do. Isn’t that right?”
“I’d say it’s true,” said Qi.
“Jackson doesn’t fear anyone,” said Charlotte. Her voice was
breaking, getting even more desperate. “He won’t let Godwin hurt
me.”
“He agreed to the terms, and he’ll stick with them,” said the man in

350
front.
“Of course he will,” said Qi. “That’s why you’re loading a gun.”
That’s what the clicking sound was! A gun loading! Once, when
she’d stayed at her grandfather’s house as a child, she’d watched him
load his rifle. It had been the first time she’d seen a gun. That
clicking was bullets going into a clip. That’s why it made her
remember him. Yet the clinks were tinnier, and their rhythm was
faster than her grandfather loading his rifle.
“Everyone takes precautions,” said the man in front.
“I thought guns don’t work against vampires?” said Charlotte.
“They’ve made bullets of vampire bone,” said Qi.
“Yep,” said the man in front. “They’ll punch straight through a
skull or sternum. And Rafael will bring a dozen warriors. Or more.
Memnon among them. What can your Godwin do?”
“Godwin already captured your best fighter,” argued Qi.
“While the rogue distracted him.”
“And how well did your warriors and vampire bone bullets work
against that rogue?”
“Have you seen the rogue?” said the man. “She’s unreal. The most
powerful I’ve ever seen. Godlike. I didn’t know there was anything
that old in the New World.”
“Jackson is going to save me,” Charlotte put in with forced
enthusiasm. Her arms had started to shake in the cold car, trembling
against her ribs and her twisted, sour stomach.
“He loves you deeply,” asserted Qi. “He loves you very, very
deeply.”
“I know,” she said, and the words made her feel better. “He was

351
going to propose.”
“That’s very special. It’s uncommon for us to marry. Very
uncommon with a human.”
“Even if it was common, I’d know it was special with him.”
Charlotte’s nose ran. For some reason, she felt happy.
“Do you—” began Qi.
“What?”
“Do you think Liam would ever propose?” Qi asked.
“No.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know.” Charlotte paused to think. Her thoughts cleared
now that the topic had changed. “Liam’s a very goal-oriented person,
and when we were together, he never even brought it up.”
“But… he’s older now. Maybe he’s changed.”
“Yeah, that’s true. He’s different. I guess knowing about vampires
changes someone.”
“Has it changed you?”
“Yeah. But it’s not… I don’t think it’s bad. I think this is bad, right
now. But… I hated my job before, and it’s okay now. I just… I notice
small things around me. And all this chaos, it made me savor just
sitting and being calm. It’s simple. It’s almost too simple to explain.
But if this is all over, and I’m still here, I don’t know. Maybe I could
just get a house in the country and, I don’t know. Just relax, watch the
sun go up and down, and have a garden.”
“You’ll have that house,” said Qi, “and that garden. With Jackson
as your husband. Everything here will work out fine.”
Charlotte smiled. Qi was someone who wanted to make people

352
happy, regardless of the cost. It was an admirable, if misguided trait.
The vampire knew something she wasn’t saying, but it was a nice
thought on her part.
“Thanks,” Charlotte told her.
The car moved on.
“Qi,” Charlotte said after a few minutes. “I think you and Liam
could get married.”
“Really?” said the vampire woman with hope.
“Yes,” Charlotte confirmed with as much sincerity as she could
muster. “Really.”
“It’s pretty to think so, isn’t it?”

353
Chapter 35

After some time, the car stopped. The same hands as before carried
her. Were they the hands of the priest? It was cold here and wind
blew. Then the wind stopped and it was warmer but moist. Feet
scuffed and clicked on the floor around, and everything gave a slight
echo. She was put into a chair.
“Untie her,” said a familiar voice, one that was logical, steady, and
compelling— Godwin.
“Why?” said a melodic, singing voice—something like a perfect
choir shifted from song to speech.
“You worried she’ll run?” taunted Godwin.
“Not at all.”
The ties around her shoulders, knees, and ankles were removed.
Then, a knife came between her wrists and cut the duct tape. The sack
on her head lifted off.
She sat in an old, vacant building. It spread out a hundred feet to
the front and back. A few old bulbs hung from the high ceiling,
bathing everyone in a jaundiced yellow. But these few dim lights
weren’t enough for the large building. Shadows hid the building’s
further reaches, and figures moved within them.
Qi stood unbound next to Charlotte. All around them stood large
men in long jackets and one thickly built woman—the woman who
had kidnapped her at the restaurant. The singing voice sounded
behind her. The most beautiful and charming voice she’d ever heard:

354
It must belong to Antonio Rafael.
Thirty or so feet away, on the light’s edge, stood vampires she
knew: Godwin, the homeless woman who had spied on her, and
Jackson.
Jackson.
His eyes met her own, but his face didn’t move. No emotion.
Nothing.
“Jackson!” she yelled.
“Stay calm,” he said. It was a voice without malice—and without
love. “It will be over soon.”
Five or six other vampires stood with Jackson and Godwin,
including the sexy darker man who had approached her on the street.
He was taller than Jackson by a couple of inches, and just as good-
looking. That must be Ali Rafael.
Godwin said something in a very strange language, the one she’d
heard on the street from Rafael’s war squads. The singing voice
behind her replied. She twisted her neck around and saw, three feet
behind her, Antonio Rafael’s beauty: Dark hair, boyish face, broad
shoulders, perfect skin, slender excellent arms and hips. His majesty
wiped her mind of all thoughts. But as she stared, his eyes moved not
a millimeter. He didn’t register her existence.
He shouted something in the other language. Ali Rafael and one of
the other men crossed the space between the two parties. Strong but
delicate arms lifted her. Qi looked down in her eyes. And in Qi’s face
was no pain, no sadness—only absolute confidence.
“You’ll be okay,” confirmed Qi.
Qi carried her across the gap and set her down in front of Jackson.

355
Charlotte hugged him so hard it hurt her arms. He kissed her on the
top of the head.
The singing voice came from the room’s other side. It vibrated
through the whole room, as if there were a thousand little speakers
inside the walls. It sounded like another language, but the voice was
so strange, it was hard to tell.
“No,” said Godwin—simple, clear, in English.
Jackson’s large arms grabbed around her. In one motion, he spun
both of them so that he stood between her and the vampires across
the room. He kissed her quickly. Then he shoved her behind his back,
turning to face the Rafaels across the room. He reached into his long
jacket and pulled out two swords.
“I am older than you,” said Godwin. His words were simple, plain.
He had none of the sonority of Rafael. And his voice was loud but not
horribly so—for it was more than a voice. It rumbled through the
concrete floor like a low-grade earthquake. When he intoned each
word, it was like Charlotte had set her feet on the surface of a struck
gong. “I was a king when the civilization that birthed your
civilization was itself not born. Of those here, you alone know who I
am. I will not pledge to you. You will pledge to me.”
From across the room came a cherubic, ringing laugh. It was the
laughter of merry children. Then the choirlike voice of Rafael rang
out again:
“You have no force! Drink that red and bow to me, or we will
make your bones into bullets.”
Godwin’s strange voice, more a feeling than a sound, rumbled out
again. “I have killed three and captured two of yours already.”

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“That was the rogue,” said Rafael. “And how you two managed to
take Ali and Diego prisoner—well, it’s easy in the chaos. You have
Jackson, and yourself, and two other motley warriors. And two little
women. What can you do? And if you ever see the rogue again, she’ll
kill you for bringing my warriors against her.”
“I will not bow,” he said simply and clearly. Charlotte then saw
what she’d seen when Godwin fought Jackson: The lines in the room
bending towards Godwin, as if he were warping reality with
unbelievable weight. “And I will not leave the city.”
“You’ll be killed anywhere you go,” said Rafael, his musical voice
unchanged by Godwin’s show of force. “Research, on us? Records,
on us? Choosing which humans to make and not make immortal, as if
you’re God? We’ve all wanted to be God. We’ve all had our fun
pretending to be gods. What you’re doing threatens our whole
society. It threatens every civilization on earth. We will kill you. Last
chance to bow.”
“No,” said Godwin, and the tones of that word rippled the room
and it returned to a normal shape and sound.
Rafael sang out an order in his own language. Someone came forth
from the shadows and handed Ali Rafael a vampire-bone broadsword.
A case on the floor in front of Godwin opened. Inside were about a
dozen small daggers, all of the same strange metal as Jackson’s
swords—vampire bone. Yet these daggers had no handles. They were
simply two small blades coming together in the middle. Jackson
stepped forward, turned his body to the side, and raised his swords.
Two other vampires did the same. The older vampire woman, the one
who had spied on her, opened a case like Godwin’s. It was full of the

357
same knives.
“You can’t win,” said Charlotte shakily. “They have guns. They
have bullets made of vampire bones.”
“We know,” said Jackson. He looked at her over his shoulder.
“Stay with me. If they start shooting, get on the ground.”
Across the room, the Rafaels had their swords and pistols out.
They stood in four-person formations, and had four of those. Ali
stood next to Antonio Rafael.
The double-ended knives lifted from the case in front of Godwin,
and they began to swirl around him in two great circles in the air.
Rafael laughed.
“Combat from another century,” said Rafael.
“Yes,” said Godwin calmly, in a human voice. “You’ve never been
a fighter. Step down. Last chance.”
Rafael laughed again. Then Godwin’s knives stopped in the air and
formed into two lines. Rafael just smiled.
Then his son, Ali Rafael, raised his broadsword and clove his
ancient father’s torso in two.
His unholy scream punched Charlotte’s left ear. Her hand went up
to it. Something wet was coming out and in place of sound was pain.
The other Rafaels were looking at their father. He was still moving
his head, his eyes. Something gurgled from his throat. They all stood
there, waiting, panicked. Ali leapt into the shadows. Then, one of the
sons shouted.
CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK!
Jackson’s body covered her own, crushing her into the floor. His
weight suffocated her; she drowned in his scent.

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Godwin yelled something. The gunfire rang on. Shot upon shot,
rapid and horrible—machine guns. A vampire scream cut through the
horrible noise.
A murderous bellow burst from Godwin. The roaring stopped.
Something whished through the air. A vampire on the other side
screamed. Jackson got off her. Then Jackson, the old woman,
Godwin, and the two others, leapt toward the Rafaels. The shadows
spat out a human form—Ali Rafael rejoining the fray.
They fought too fast for human eyes. A shiny dark liquid dappled
Jackson’s face. He stood back-to-back with Godwin fighting, and
Godwin’s knives swirled around them both. The old woman stood in
her own bladestorm. Pistols firing.
CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK
Qi lay face down a few feet away. She wasn’t moving.
A panic rushed over Charlotte.
I’ll protect you. Stay with me.
And where was he now? He was a soldier all along. Not a lover. A
brute. Not a good man. As he’d told her. And she’d wind up dead,
like Qi next to her, like Aletta had said.
He didn’t love her. He wanted to. Acting as if he loved her, for
some reason, did something for him. But he didn’t love her.
No one blocked the door at the warehouse back. The police would
arrive soon. The vampires would all kill each other, and Rafael House
wouldn’t be there to clean up the vampire bodies. All the chaos, her
wrapped in it, and suddenly her job and her peaceful life and her
parents and maybe finding another boyfriend, a human—she was still
young, she still had so much.

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Pure panic jetted through her veins. It electrified her limbs; it
revved up her heart; it sent blood and oxygen rushing to every
muscle. It removed all pain.
Get out that door. Never see these things again.
On her feet, her bare feet, sprinting at the exit. Bullets buzzed.
Gunfire cracked. Here and there a vampire deathscream. Plop, plop,
plop of her bare feet on the ice-cold concrete floor. The door came
closer, and something came behind her. Her legs pumped harder than
they’d ever done. Breaths rushed in and out, tearing at her throat.
Something behind her. Something coming closer. The door so close
now. One last burst of speed—
A huge weight collapsed around her, heaving her to the ground.
Her head jerked forward, but before it hit the concrete floor, a hand
wrapped around it and held it so that it didn’t smack the hard ground.
A warm large human form blanketed her, pinioning her to floor.
His scent overwhelmed her; the size and shape of the hand on her
head were familiar: Jackson.
“Let me go,” she said, squirming in his grasp. He covered her,
trapping her between the cold concrete and his warmth.
“You almost got shot,” he said—scared, rushed, and slightly angry.
“I told you to stay on the ground.”
She was still panicked. She thrashed about in his grasp.
“I’m getting out of here,” she said. “I don’t want to be part of this.”
“You can’t run like that in a battle. There’s bullets everywhere.”
“I don’t care,” said Charlotte, freeing her legs from his pin and
setting her heels on the floor. “I was almost out.”
“There’s cops coming. It’s icy out. You have no shoes. There’s

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guns going off everywhere!”
He was not letting her go. Five feet lay between her and the door.
He still thought she wanted to stay with him.
“I don’t want any of this,” said Charlotte through a furious
grimace. “I don’t want to be with you!”
“You can’t leave.”
“You’re not my owner!” she shouted. “I’ll leave if I want.”
“You could die!”
“Jackson, I don’t want any part of this. I don’t want you.”
“You’re scared. It’s a battle. You do want me. You know it.”
Her panic still thrashed within her. She put her hands on his chest
and tried to bench-press him away, but she only shoved her own back
harder into the concrete.
“You’re just scared. You love me.” Raw emotion—sadness,
passion, longing, love, fear—dripped from his voice. “And I love
you. We’ve both said so.”
“I don’t care,” she said, turning her eyes away from him, giving
another kick at his hips. “I’m done with this. I’m done with vampires,
death, shooting, battles—all of it.”
“Then I’ll be done with that too,” said Jackson, his eyes luminous
with sorrow. “I’ll give all this up for you. I’ll give up all this fighting,
and we’ll run away and live in some tiny town, peaceful, just happy
to be together, and I’ll never get you into this again.”
“Don’t lie to me,” she said through a hot, angry throat. “You like to
say things like that, but you don’t mean it.”
“I mean it more than anything.”
“You wouldn’t throw your job away. You said you wouldn’t.”

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“I’ve never loved anyone or anything more,” he said. “I’d give it
up for you, all of it.”
“Then let me go!”
“Charlotte, there’s a battle going on. If you want to go, fine, but not
now!”
Charlotte had to get free. She did love him, but her safety mattered
more. At that time, she wanted nothing more than to crawl into her
bed, her safe warm bed, and hide forever.
“Your friends are in trouble,” she told him, making her voice soft
yet logical. “I’ll stay low to the ground. I’ll stay right here. Your
friends need you.”
“Not as much as you do.”
A bullet whizzed by, and a woman’s vampire scream came from
the other direction.
“I’ll stay on the ground,” said Charlotte. “Go to them.”
Jackson glanced over at the battle. When he saw the situation over
there, his fingers tightened into claw shapes, as if pulling up the
concrete floor. “You’re right. It’s my duty. I love you.”
“Me too,” said Charlotte. She didn’t know whether she meant it.
He rolled off her and, with a kick from his powerful leg, flipped
and spun his body to face the ongoing battle in a prone position.
Across the warehouse, five or six vampires surrounded Ali Rafael, all
with swords drawn, some with a pistol in the other hand pointed at
Ali. He was pleading with the others, his arms spread and his palms
up, bending himself slightly at the waist to duck down to their level.
About thirty feet from Ali, Godwin and the older woman who had
pretended to be homeless, along with one other vampire she didn’t

362
know, stood inside a whirling mass of knives. The double-bladed
daggers used by Godwin and the older woman swirled around them
in great arcs, so fast the knives blurred together to make large circles
of deadliness. Ten or so of the Rafael vampires stood outside this
whirling mass, and they were taking shots into it with their pistols.
A larger man with a widow’s peak, one whom she’d seen on the
street that night with Rafael, was shouting orders. One of the knives
darted out of the bladestorm and rocketed straight at his chest, but he
dodged aside. Then the bands of knives widened and all the vampires
outside backed up. But one of them, as the circle of knives around
Godwin widened, jumped over the top and stabbed the vampire
woman next to Godwin. She went down under the blade with a
scream, and half the knives in the whirlwind fell.
Jackson leaped forward. Charlotte suddenly saw how he could
cover great distances with little noise: He would take one great
bound, covering forty or fifty feet in it, but somehow land on all fours
silently. He stood and stabbed his blade through the back of one of
the vampires around Godwin, and then two or three turned to face
him. The large Rafael vampire, the one who seemed to have taken
leadership, shouted another order—his words somehow sliced
through the gunfire and clang of swords—and two of the vampires
around Ali went to join the others in fighting Jackson. Now there
were still seven or eight vampires around Godwin, and four or five
each around Ali and Jackson. Ali suddenly sliced the leg of one of his
assailants with a spinning motion and brought his elbow into the
other vampire’s skull, sending him to the ground. Jackson saw this
and immediately swung his own sword in a big path, meeting Ali.

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Then the two stood back to back. But now it was seven vampires
against those two, and seven or eight still firing guns into Godwin’s
bladestorm. Those around Ali and Jackson took their pistols out and
began firing as well. Godwin groaned a savage bellow, deep as an
earthquake, as apparently one of the bullets found its mark. But he
still stood, and the circle of knives expanded again.
Charlotte lay on the ground by the door, watching it unfold as
Jackson rejoined the fray. In her panic, she’d wanted nothing more
than to get Jackson off her so that she could break free and run out
that door—a door that meant not an exit to a building, but freedom
from vampires and this horrifying life. So she’d told him to go help
his friends and assured him she’d stay put—a sentence she’d intended
as a lie. She’d only wanted to run. And now she was free to do it.
None of the vampires were firing in her direction, none of them were
even paying attention to her. Just a few feet out that door, and forget
all this. Go back to her job, her normal life, and start trying to
convince herself that vampires didn’t exist. Find a new boyfriend, a
non-vampire, and get back to Normal.
But she couldn’t leave. She just couldn’t.
Jackson really had been about to propose to her at that restaurant.
And he’d just said he could leave his job—after the battle, of course.
He wasn’t someone to leave his friends. Maybe they could just go off
somewhere, to that lovely country house upstate or anywhere they
chose, and live happily ever after.
Or she could get out the door and free herself from the
innumerable pains that would, without a doubt, vex her if she married
a vampire. He’d given her plenty of reasons to go, plenty of reasons

364
to doubt him. She’d never have a normal life with him.
Did she even want one?
The panic welled again inside her, the animal drive to sprint to
safety and hide in a dark hole. But watching Jackson, back-to-back
with Ali Rafael, she simply couldn’t leave. Godwin, Ali, and Jackson
were cornered. They might lose, and then the Rafaels would drink
her.
Still, she just couldn’t take her eyes off it. Jackson lunged forward
and sliced a leg out from under one of the vampires surrounding him,
and Ali deflected a counter from the sword of another as Jackson did
so. It was clear the two had fought together like this before. But a
third and fourth vampire of the seven, as Ali parried, both shot him
with their pistols. Ali let out a groan but stayed standing.
Just then, a massive wind sounded outside, louder than any she’d
ever heard. The air pressure inside the warehouse shifted oddly, and
the walls of the building shook. At that moment, the door to the
warehouse screeched off its hinges and flew into the night, as if a
tornado had torn it off. Through it walked a tall woman.
This woman had umber skin and was bald. Though it was winter,
she wore a torn T-shirt and a flowing green skirt. She was about six
feet tall, with broad shoulders, slender hips, and a long, utterly flat
stomach—a lissome and attractive physique only slightly more
feminine than masculine. Athletic, lean muscles ran down her long
thighs and slender arms. Her eyes were black diamonds—gorgeous,
awe-inspiring, and somehow deadly. From the outside corner of each
eye, a banded tattoo extended toward her ears. It was a very primitive
tattoo, looking like one tan and one black rope twisted together.

365
Charlotte stared at this marvelous creature, unable to move. The
vampires across the warehouse were still fighting. None of them saw
her. But as the woman stepped closer to them, gliding over the floor
quickly, a sort of THWACK came through the air, as if someone was
strumming the tension in the room. Three of the Rafael vampires fell
down, but their leader, though his clothes swept around his body as if
moved by wind, stood firm. As he turned and saw the woman, his
head jumped back with fear.
But this fear lasted only a second and then he was shouting orders
again. The Rafaels jumped out from around Ali, Jackson, and
Godwin to form a line. They all raised their guns and fired at the
mysterious woman. A great rushing or whirring sound emanated from
the woman. The bullets whizzed through the air. Not four feet from
Charlotte’s head, a bullet dinged the concrete floor; another five feet
away poked a hole in the metal side of the warehouse. Godwin and
Ali stood back-to-back now, with Godwin’s knives in a cyclone
around them. The woman was inching closer to the Rafaels,
apparently unharmed by any bullets they shot.
And outside the open warehouse door, police sirens blared from all
directions—drawing ever closer.
Another THWACK went through the air and four of the Rafaels
fell. Their guns leapt from their hands and skidded across the floor
toward the woman. But the others kept firing, and some of them
turned to shoot at Godwin and Ali. At that moment, Jackson took
three great leaping bounds across the warehouse, covering a hundred
feet in a few seconds, rushing right through the storm of vampire-
bone bullets, and he once again covered Charlotte with his body.

366
“Time to go,” he said. As if by instinct, Charlotte rolled over and
grabbed his thick torso with her arms, wrapping her legs around his
hips. He lifted up on all fours and crawled to the exit door, keeping
low. Voices from the vampires shouted, and the guns stopped.
Outside, ice cold air whipped Charlotte’s bare feet. The cycling red
flash of police lights colored the buildings in whatever area they
were. From inside the warehouse echoed Godwin’s steady voice, an
oddly deep woman’s voice, and the voice of the Rafael leader.
Jackson crawled ten or so feet outside, stood, and grabbed on to
Charlotte so hard it hurt a little. Then, with one great leap, they were
off the ground.
Ice-cold night swirled around them, vertigo, buildings dropping all
around, the warehouse further away below them. Sirens blared.
Jackson landed at the street level, ran, jumped, ran, jumped. She
hugged his chest for dear life. When he set her down, a quarter-mile
separated them and the warehouse. They stood on a roof of five
floors. And sometime as they’d been going, the gunfight had roared
back to life.
A woman’s deep voice rang over the landscape, drowning out the
sirens. Thunder boomed overhead. Gunshots and screams still
sounded from the warehouse. A bolt of lightning cracked the sky, and
another. The whole warehouse appeared to be shaking, as if its sides
were made of cardboard and being struck by great wind.
“Unbelievable,” said Jackson, goggling the warehouse.
“Unbelievable.”
“So that’s the rogue?” asked Charlotte, clinging to Jackson.
“Yes. But it sounded like she and Godwin were disagreeing about

367
something.”
As they watched, police cars were pulling up around the
warehouse. Swat teams were unloading. A helicopter moved in.
“We should leave,” said Charlotte. “That helicopter will see us.”
“No they won’t,” said Jackson, sure of this. “They’re paying
attention over there. They have no reason to check the roof of a
building four blocks away. Anyway, they can’t tell us not to stand on
a roof and watch.”
She tucked her bare arms into her chest and leaned into his body to
warm them. He removed his long jacket and draped it around her
shoulders.
“I don’t have shoes,” she said, as her feet were the coldest.
Jackson lifted her off the ground and covered her bare feet with his
warm hands. Two SWAT teams were waiting outside the warehouse,
and the helicopter continued to make circles. The woman’s voice
went on, but the gunfire had decreased.
“What’ll happen?” asked Charlotte.
“I don’t know,” said Jackson. “Godwin and the rogue were
arguing. She wasn’t killing any of the Rafaels, just disabling them.
But Memnon and the others are strong fighters. We only got two of
theirs. They won’t give up. And now the police are here. With so
many humans coming in, I guess they’ll all be leaving.”
“Did you mean it,” Charlotte began, “when you said we could
leave together, and you’d leave this job?”
“Absolutely,” he said, and she believed it this time. “I don’t want
you in danger. And perhaps you’ll always be in danger here,
especially with me working with people like that. You had a point,

368
and I should’ve listened. So we’ll leave the city, together, and be
happy.”
“Where’ll we go?”
“Wherever you like,” he replied without hesitation. “Anywhere.
Small town, maybe. Simple place. But far away. Very far away.”
“That sounds great.”
“Another thing,” said Jackson. “It’s… It’s not the right time, but I
have to ask you. I’ve been waiting to ask you. I shouldn’t have
waited before. I’ve wanted to ask you, and I… I don’t know. I guess I
have to ask you now.”
“Yes?” she said eagerly. Nothing else could scare her that night.
Two thumps hit the roof behind them. They turned. Standing not
fifteen feet away, with dark vampire blood seeping down his chest,
and smeared across his face, and red-black on the sides of his running
shoes, was Godwin.

369
Chapter 36

Jackson stood tall and pulled a sword from his belt. He pivoted to
face Godwin in fighting stance.
“We know how that ends,” said Godwin. His voice was as level
and clean as always, but his eyes narrowed as he looked at Jackson,
and his lips bowed into the slightest frown. “You left me during
battle.”
“I had to save Charlotte,” said Jackson, not lowering his sword.
“Save her by drawing attention to her, by leaving Ali and me to
fight a dozen alone.” Godwin’s tone grew sharp, critical, and slightly
cruel. “Save her by letting our enemies win—enemies who want
Charlotte dead.”
“But they didn’t win,” countered Jackson, “and I got her out.”
“Due to the human police arriving so quickly, something over
which we had no control. You endangered us all, and endangered her
more.”
“Then I’m sorry,” said Jackson, not very apologetic. Godwin’s tone
angered him, and aggression crept into his voice. “I won’t endanger
you or her anymore. Charlotte and I are leaving.”
“That’s impossible,” said Godwin, his words hard as stones. “You
swore an oath. You have a contract.”
“Then I’m breaking it,” said Jackson firmly.
“This isn’t some flimsy human signed page,” said Godwin, taking
a deliberate step towards Jackson and Charlotte. “You swear like that,

370
and you keep your word. One way or another.”
Godwin, his hands resting easily by his sides, took another slow
step towards Jackson. Jackson deepened his stance and extended his
sword arm. With the way their fight had gone before, it was clear
Jackson would lose, even if he held a sword. Charlotte backed away
from them, forgetting the cold on her bare feet. She backed up until
her calves bumped the parapet.
But Godwin stopped when still about six feet separated him from
Jackson. He folded his arms behind his back and set his feet wide
apart.
“I’m not a tyrant,” said Godwin, still with his typical calm
authority. “Though I have been in ages past. And if you swore an
ancient oath, I’m a modern man. I won’t make you a slave. If you no
longer wish to work for me, then ideally, I’d release you.”
Jackson raised the sword a couple inches higher, putting the blade
tip level with Godwin’s face. “But you’re not going to.”
“No,” said Godwin, unfazed. “I’m not. More conflict is coming.
More fighting. War, even. Tonight was my declaration. You’re not
reliable enough to be my head of security. I suppose Ali will take that
role. But I still need good fighters, capable men. I still value you as
one of the best and strongest. But your feelings are elsewhere.”
Godwin glanced over at Charlotte, a gentle smile on his lips, before
continuing to speak to Jackson. “This has all been too much for your
human love. You wish to leave because you see how this harms her. I
respect and even admire your love. I will give the two of you thirty
days of leave and recovery.”
“And then what?” said Jackson, lowering the sword halfway.

371
“And then I’ll give you more work, and you will do it,” said
Godwin. “New York will be bad for a while. I suggest you take your
thirty days somewhere else.”
“And what if I leave and never come back?”
Godwin stepped closer, and Jackson jerked the sword tip up again.
But Godwin spoke on, undeterred.
“If you take your thirty days and decide to leave, then that’s your
choice. I need your help, but I’m fighting for ideas, and I can’t step
on those ideas to fight for them.”
Jackson shook his head. “I don’t believe you.”
“What will I do? I can’t come for you myself if you run. Who
would I send for you? Any warriors I could send for you would serve
me better here.”
“You could use Charlotte. Use her family to make me return.”
Godwin’s arm blurred. The red-metal sword leapt from Jackson’s
hand and clattered across the roof.
“Don’t insult me by suggesting I’d stoop to that,” said the ancient
vampire. His speed shocked Charlotte. She cowered against the
parapet.
“The fact is,” Godwin went on, “you’ll come back to me, one way
or another. We worked well together. I could see it in you. With me,
you found something you’d lacked: a purpose. With me, you saw true
principles, a way to the future and not merely a mummification of
morals and lifestyles we’d had for centuries. And in you, I saw
someone to help, someone to guide, and a useful tool to achieve my
dreams. I also saw a mystery: a vampire who couldn’t remember
much of his human life, though the rest of us treasure every memory

372
from our own. A vampire with the strength of two thousand years and
the grasping ability of twenty. A vampire who changes into an animal
at times.”
Jackson shrugged. “That’s just the way I am.”
“True. But that’s not much of an explanation. I’ve analyzed your
blood sample. You weren’t born in 1799.”
Jackson’s eyes sharpened, intrigued. “Then when?”
“I’d need to do more research,” said Godwin. “And with the
reorganization we’ll be having, I don’t think I have time. But those
are answers that wait for you when you return to work for me.”
Jackson went over to Charlotte, walking right past the older
vampire. He hunched down and embraced Charlotte. She pulled
herself against his warm body, snuggling her cold face in his chest, in
his scent and his safety.
“I’m here, baby,” said Jackson. “It’s almost done.”
Charlotte’s eyes were closed as she buried her face in Jackson’s
chest, but she felt his neck turn.
“Look how you’re scaring her!” Jackson yelled. “I won’t have
this!”
“You have thirty days,” said Godwin, his voice carrying across the
windy rooftop.
Charlotte glanced up at Jackson. The city lights glistened in his wet
eyes. The concern in those eyes sent love racing through Charlotte’s
heart. Jackson let this gaze linger for a moment and kissed her with
soft warm lips. With one large hand, he tucked her face into his
shoulder, and turned to address Godwin again.
“You said if I decided to leave after those thirty days, that it was

373
my choice.”
Jackson spoke loudly. The emotions made his voice wobble, but he
sounded strong, serious, and slightly angry.
“Yes,” replied the older vampire. “That’s correct.”
“Then I’m telling you right now, I’ll never return.”
“Take your thirty days and then make that choice.”
“No,” said Jackson firmly. “You’ll never see us again.”
Jackson stood up next to her. She turned her body around to see
that Godwin walked toward them. He stopped a few feet away.
“I won’t make you a slave,” said Godwin. “If you want to leave, I
accept that.”
Jackson made no move and said nothing. Charlotte clutched his leg
as she squatted on the roof. The ancient vampire loomed over them.
She was scared to raise her eyes.
“I gave you my sword,” Godwin finally said to Jackson. His voice
was flat; Charlotte couldn’t tell how he meant this. “You want to
forsake your oath? Then go get my sword and hand it to me.”
“Get it yourself,” barked Jackson.
“No,” said Godwin, and his next words marched out slowly. “You
will pick it up and hand it back to me.”
The muscles in Jackson’s legs tensed. Godwin stood four feet from
Charlotte. If Jackson went to get the sword, Godwin would be alone
with her.
The pads of Jackson’s large fingers went through her hair and
found her scalp, skimming it lightly in a tender caress.
And then Jackson walked away.
Charlotte shrieked in horror. But as she did this, Godwin himself

374
stepped back. He walked slowly to the other side of the roof, seventy
or eighty feet away. And from there, he looked at her, and his words
came into her ear as if he were close by.
“I’m sorry to scare you,” he said gently.
Jackson had picked the sword up and was moving toward Godwin
on the other side of the roof. The city’s ambient light let her see the
two figures clearly in the winter night. She sat down to get her bare
soles off the cold roof and worked her icy toes with her fingers to
warm them.
Jackson, sword in hand, arrived at where Godwin stood. They
stared at each other. All Charlotte could think of, with Godwin asking
for the sword, was what Ali had done to Rafael. Her heart
jackhammered her sternum. Her entire body trembled horribly. She
shook her head at Jackson to mean Don’t do it.
But Jackson turned the blade around in his hand, pointing the hilt
away from his body and the blade toward it. He stepped forward, and
the older vampire grasped the sword handle and took the blade.
“Kneel,” commanded Godwin.
Jackson stepped back and remained standing tall.
“Kneel before me if you wish to leave,” said Godwin, tightening
his grip on the sword.
And Jackson hesitated. But then, he stepped forward and dropped
down on one knee. His head as he knelt was the height of the shorter
vampire’s chest. Godwin stepped toward him, lifted the sword, and
sheathed it somewhere inside his long white jacket. Then he grabbed
Jackson’s dark head of hair and pulled it into his own chest. Jackson’s
arms rose and he embraced the older vampire, who then bent his neck

375
to kiss the top of Jackson’s head.
Charlotte was speechless. Leftover fear still shook her knees and
made her hands quiver. The raw cold had turned her bare skin red.
The chill of the concrete roof stabbed into her bare feet like nails of
ice. And yet there was something brutally, starkly beautiful in this
embrace of two ancient beings. In that moment, she loved Godwin as
a father. But she checked this feeling, knowing the influence a
vampire could have on her. And for a split second, she was more
scared than ever, because she wondered if she’d ever again trust her
feelings fully again.
“Goodbye, Charlotte,” Godwin was saying, as Jackson released the
embrace and rose to his feet. “Best of luck to you and Jackson in the
future.”
“Oh. Uh, thanks,” she said, having nothing more profound to utter.
Jackson was walking back towards her, but she couldn’t take her
eyes off Godwin. The ancient rose off the roof as if there was an
invisible, rising platform beneath his blood-stained running shoes, a
platform that kept accelerating, and soon Godwin’s dark form was
forty feet off the roof, and his outline blurred into the dark night sky.
“He can fly?” asked Charlotte.
“Looks like it,” said Jackson, reaching her and swallowing her
shivering body in a warm, protective hug.
They turned their heads together to look at the battle site. The
sirens had wailed through all this, but the gunfire had ceased. The
entire warehouse was on fire. Against the flames, a tall, thin form
rose into the sky.
“You’re cold,” said Jackson. “We’ll hide out for tonight, and

376
tomorrow, we’re out of New York.”
“Where are we going?”
“You choose,” said Jackson. “But let’s get off this roof. Let’s go
somewhere warm.”
“Very warm.”

377
Chapter 37

They spent the rest of the night in a luxury hotel overlooking


Central Park. The room was extravagant, the best she’d ever seen.
But five minutes after arriving, she slept like a rock.
When she woke, the thick curtains were drawn. Her phone said it
was four thirty P.M. A night like that could really put you out. She
was supposed to be at work tomorrow.
Work? The office? After this?
Perhaps it was time to leave. She’d never liked the job, but in the
recent weeks, it had comforted her. It was the most normal, regular
thing left in her life. Her boss would be awake and available right
now. It was a good time to call and give notice. But her finger just
wouldn’t come down on the green button.
Is all this real?
Yes. Jackson sprawled across the king-sized bed not five feet away,
face-down. Crimson boxer-briefs still covered his butt, two lean slabs
of slightly tanned gluteus maximus. His impressive, unclad back, its
muscles bulging even in sleep’s full relaxation, fanned V-shaped
above this. On the nightstand beside him, a small sheet from the
hotel’s branded notepad was folded to stand up. On the fold facing
her was written, in the neat penmanship of a draftsman, “WAKE ME
WHEN HUNGRY FOR DINNER. KEEP BLINDS CLOSED.”
Her first impulse was to let Jackson sleep in a while—it was still
light outside, and an hour before his usual waking time. But her

378
hunger had gone far beyond a low growl: It was a snarling, rabid
mastiff. She hadn’t eaten since the steakhouse, two full nights ago.
Hadn’t really eaten then, given her vomiting.
She gently pushed Jackson but got no response, so she shoved him
with more strength.
The sound Jackson made was “urrrgggh,” the same as any man
woken suddenly, but louder and deeper.
“I’m hungry for dinner,” Charlotte said, so loud it made Jackson’s
eyes pop open. Her hunger was making her pushy.
Jackson rubbed his eyes.
“It’s what the note said,” Charlotte added.
Jackson blinked a few times, and his eyes sharpened with
wakefulness. “I have to make a few calls. We’re having a special
dinner, but I had a fruit tray brought in last night. It’s in the fridge.”
Charlotte dashed to the fridge, pulled out the fruit tray, and wolfed
down the mango, strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, and everything
else. The question of who Jackson was calling at 4:40 PM with all the
other vampires asleep was pushed aside: He ducked into the other
room of their suite to make calls, and Charlotte gulped down the wet,
cold sweetness of the fruit. The whole tray was gone in less than five
minutes. She couldn’t resist lifting the tray, tipping one corner down
to her mouth, and gulping the juice that ran off.
“You were hungry,” Jackson said suddenly, re-entering the room.
She set the tray back down quickly, feeling as if he’d caught her
doing something bad. He looked at her a second, then bent down with
a soft kiss.
“I’m still hungry,” she said as their kiss broke, one hand on his

379
face. “What’s for dinner?”
“Tonight’s a special night,” he said. His breath was warm across
her lips and skin.
“Why’s that?” she asked.
“We’re having a special dinner, and then we’re embarking on a
special trip together. Did you think of where you might like to go?”
“A restaurant,” she replied glibly.
“That’s taken care of. Just wait a few minutes while I get ready.”
He stepped away from her to a packed suitcase on the floor. As he
turned to the side, she caught the V-shape of his thick ab muscles
branching out from his boxers. Those boxers could barely contain
him—his thigh muscles bulging with raw power, his sex nearly
spilling from the elastic. He really was the perfect man.
“I was thinking maybe Thailand,” she said, still admiring him.
“That’s a good choice,” he said, drawing a formal silk shirt from
the suitcase. Why was he putting that on?
“I just, I don’t know how it goes with you guys and flying. I think
with the time difference, we could leave and arrive at night. But
maybe sunlight would come in the windows through part of the
flight? It’s hard to figure out, with the earth’s rotation and stuff.”
Jackson could dress very quickly. His vampire speed helped in
day-to-day tasks as much as in a fight. The shirt was already on and a
bowtie had found his neck.
“You worry too much,” said Jackson. “We’re flying by private jet.”
Excitement straightened Charlotte’s back as she sat in the chair.
She’d never flown by private jet before.
“Wow,” she said. “That’s nice.”

380
“Glad you like it,” he said, pulling on a pair of formal black pants.
“Are we going out?”
“No,” he said, pulling a dress sock over each of his large, oddly
wide feet. “But we’ll have dinner.”
“Oh. Hotel restaurant?”
“Room service.”
Odd that he’d dress up for room service.
“Should I get dressed?” she asked.
“You can eat naked if you want.”
“You’d like that.”
He stopped tying his black oxfords to look up at her. “Of course I
would.”
A few minutes later, just as Jackson was straightening his hair in
the mirror, a knock came from their suite’s door.
“Go and get that,” he said. She went and opened it. The waiter
rolled in a cart laden with silver, a bottle of wine, and some glasses. A
heavenly meaty smell oozed from under one of the silver covers.
“Where shall I put this?” said the waiter.
“By the window,” said Jackson. “Don’t uncover it. Open the wine,
though.”
“Yes, sir.”
The waiter started working the corkscrew into the wine.
“You look tired,” Jackson said to the waiter. “Have you had a long
shift?”
“Um. Sir,” began the waiter, slightly awkward. He was a skinny
man in his early twenties. “Well, I have a double today. So I just
started dinner, but lunch went late. I have about five more hours to

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work.”
“Here,” said Jackson, and he gave the waiter a one hundred. “I
hope you enjoy your night and find plenty of energy.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the waiter, and he left.
“Wesley gazes people as a tip,” said Jackson. “But I know you
don’t like that.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Come and sit over here.”
Why didn’t they go out? Why had Jackson put a suit on? She sat
down, and Jackson pushed a button on the wall. The curtains opened
to a marvelous nighttime Manhattan view. Lights twinkled
everywhere. Sky-blue from the departing day rimmed the horizon.
Central Park with its lake and all its trees was still visible. She sipped
the glass of wine Jackson had poured for her, savoring its taste and its
scent at the same time. The heavy warmth of Jackson’s hand fell
across her own.
“It’s a beautiful view,” said Charlotte.
“Yes,” said Jackson. His voice wavered and broke. His eyes were
the same way they’d been at the steakhouse: Huge, dreamy, a bit
nervous.
“I’m not waiting this time,” he declared.
He dropped to one knee. There he was before her in his suit, with
his ravishing green eyes and broad shoulders and fine hair and
gorgeous face—yes. He was perfect. This was perfect.
“Charlotte,” he said, and he opened the case to reveal a scintillating
pink-diamond and platinum ring. “Will you marry me?”
“Yes!” she cried out. “Yes! Yes!”

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Chapter 38

Jackson rose and kissed her. Charlotte kissed him back hard. So
much love filled her. She couldn’t control herself. She covered his
face in kisses; she drank him in. Warmth poured off his body. Her
love filled her, rushed through her body, and flowed in her deepest
places.
They forgot dinner.
His lips caressed hers, buttery soft, interlocked, smooth and warm.
His minty mouth tugged at her own, leading her, hypnotizing her.
One of his hands lay flat on the small of her back. With the gentlest
push, he brought the length of her body against his own. Her breasts
plumped out against his abs. They were warm and hard and wide like
sunwarmed rocks. Her hands wandered up the knots of fierce muscle
on his back, down the two corded sinews along his spine, onto his
toned, fatless butt.
Jackson’s hand fell to her own butt. With no effort, he heaved her
whole body up onto him. His easy force, and the thrill of how her
body flew through space and up onto him, brought a cascade of
wetness through her core. She gasped and panted. One of her hands
plunged through his dark hair and clasped his head, holding her
steady. He extended his arms, leaning her back so that their eyes met.
They gazed at each other, utterly lost in the moment, in each other, in
love.
“We’re getting married,” she said. Her voice came out strangely,

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made awkward by all the emotion. But she loved the sound of those
words, so she said them again, much louder. “We’re getting married!”
The simple joy in Jackson’s face when he looked at her was the
most beautiful sight in the world. Her Jackson, her stoic warrior, so
simple and happy. They were getting married!
His free hand wrapped around her neck. Its rough, thick fingers
excited her. The golden fire in his green eyes, and the whole of his
perfect face, bored into her. She waited one long second, almost
begging. When his mouth came down on hers, it was not so gentle.
His tongue explored, darting in and out, hungry, eager, firm, and
swift. His lips slid and pulled. She couldn’t really kiss him back, such
hunger and passion came out of him. Yet here and there, he’d pause
and suckle at her lips or tongue. Yes. That was the motion he’d use
down there. Down there, where she needed to be touched so badly
that she was rocking against his hard torso as he held her in the air.
But Jackson would not give so quickly. He held her, squirming and
eager as she was, and kept on kissing. His free hand unbuttoned her
shirt, faster than a human hand could, and then he kissed at the tops
of her breasts. A lacy bra of dark purple guarded them from his eager
mouth. The bra contrasted with her creamy skin and gave her great
cleavage. Jackson admired this for a second. Then he kissed her left
breast and massaged her right one. His stout hand swallowed her
whole breast as it teased her hard nipple. Somehow, her bra came
undone, and Jackson reared back. The bra floated off her chest.
Jackson gazed at her breasts, very pleased.
Her sex throbbed, needy for his touch. The bra floated off through
the hotel room and dropped on the floor, right next to the window.

384
The window with no drapes drawn?
“Jackson,” she panted. She wanted him so badly that the words
struggled out of her mouth. “Jackson, we left the curtains open.”
“Who cares,” he replied.
“Somebody could see us.”
“Let them watch.”
Should she ask him to close them? Yet they were high up in the
hotel, and anyone who really saw them would need a telescope, and

“Ahh!” she moaned. His hand clamped her wet sex.
Jackson chucked her down on the sprawling hotel bed. Standing in
front of it, he removed first his jacket, then his shirt. She gazed on
him. His handsome skin, healthy and smooth, stretched so thin over
his delicious abs. Cords of muscle went, in a V-shape, from the sides
of his abs down into his trousers. Within those trousers, larger than
she’d ever seen it, throbbed the scepter of his passion. He unbuckled
the pants, slower than he’d done her shirt or her bra. Deliberately
slow.
It was too much. No more waiting. Her hand dashed into her
panties. She grazed her swollen clit and gasped.
Jackson watched her. His lips spread open, but he wasn’t smiling—
no, this was a ravenous, beastly sneer. What a strange and erotic
look! She could just kiss it off his face. Her panties came off, and she
tipped her sex up so her fiancé could watch her pleasure herself.
Moisture beaded in her soft, curly mound.
Jackson grabbed both her wrists and pushed them back over her
head. “That’s for me to do tonight.”

385
“So do it.”
Jackson transferred both her wrists to one of his hands. He pinned
them both above her head. His weight, his strength, his flawless body
above her. His free hand, he brought down and lay, finger by thick
finger, over her entrance. He pushed it in just slightly, then slid it up
and down. She grinded her sex against it. She was so ready for more.
She could almost get off just like this.
The he lifted his hand off. Her thighs rubbed together, struggling to
apply more friction there. She couldn’t use her hands. Jackson’s own
hand glistened with her. He brought this wet hand to his mouth and
took a deep whiff. His long tongue lolled out, between his thick hot
fangs, and licked her juice off his hand.
Then he just looked at her. It was like he understood her whole
being in that look. It was like that gaze simply ate her. He was so
sexy, so dominant, so owning, so powerful, so one with her that she
nearly came from his look alone.
He shifted himself downward, bringing his face up to her lower
lips. With a swipe of that broad, warm, slightly rough tongue, he wet
her from bottom to top.
She panted. She was starting to sweat.
Lick. Lick. Long and lovely lick.
The rhythm built. Her hips bucked and sway. Jackson released her
hands and brought his stout arm down around her legs. He pinned
them in place, so that squirm as she might, she couldn’t escape his
incredible tongue. Then, with the other finger, he parted her swollen
lips.
“Ahh!” she groaned.

386
Her hips kept bucking and swerving. The licks piled together. His
fingers kneaded her tender insides as his tongue commanded her clit.
The orgasm electrocuted her whole body. It sent her heart
machinegunning. It juiced sweat from her skin. Her core squeezed his
thick fingers. She writhed like a spastic weasel. And yet he held her
perfectly in place, licking her still with that rhythm, his fingers never
losing their place inside her. She groaned and screamed fifty or sixty
times, and still he kept going. She was gasping, out of breath, half-
blind with pleasure. Finally, his hold around her legs loosened.
His hard, heavy form climbed up next to her. Where am I? Was
that the hardest I’ve ever come? Who cares.
His kisses moved over her, and a gentle hand played over her
breast. She took his lips in her own and pushed her own tongue into
his mouth. Against her thigh and her stomach, a warm pole pulsed.
She lay her hand around it, moving her fingers up and down its oily,
vein-striped surface. Jackson’s large fangs bulged out. He bared them
for her. His eyes smoldered.
His cock sprouted tall over her little hand, clasped at its base. Blue
veins climbed its sides, and a bundle of muscle swelled at its front. A
caramel brown at the base, it shifted to lovely pink color at its tip. His
foreskin had retracted and an oily sheen covered his crown. Every
pump of blood enlarged it. Charlotte dragged her finger up the ridge
beneath his glans and lightly, so lightly, over his tiny hole. She leaned
in and blew on it, but she could tease him no longer.
She swiped his tongue across his glans. He gasped. Then she took
him in slow. He tasted slightly of salt, but there was a subtle, organic,
rich note beneath that. Her lips slid easily over his silky skin, but her

387
jaw almost ached from stretching wide to get him in.
Jackson gave a long groan. With one hand, she tickled his
perineum. He chuckled with delight. Then, she grasped his sack.
Yet she could only slide her mouth about halfway down. She’d
need her other hand to help her. She brought her mouth up and down,
twisting and swirling her tongue. He pulsed and grew in her mouth.
His torso and hips rocked. He thrust into her mouth. Muscles up and
down his body tensed and relaxed, tetanized by her pleasure. What a
splendid cock, what a splendid man. His pleasure in her mouth
thrilled her. She wanted to feel him in her mouth coming.
But she needed him down there more.
She pulled her mouth off and eyed him where he lay back. His
whole face was puckered, needy, so eager to come. It gave her a rush,
seeing him like this. But she wanted him hard and heavy on top of
her. Reading her mind, he lifted her up and flipped her onto the bed.
With lightning speed, he tore a package and rolled on the condom.
He entered her in one sharp, decisive, painful stroke. Her swollen
lips, so very eager, were finally—exquisitely—parted. He drew out
and thrust in again. Even now, his sheer girth surprised her. His sex
pulsed inside her. Her sodden, blood-filled lips wrapped tight around
him, throbbing. His thick arms rose from the bed next to her like
support beams. His large body heaved atop her like a swaying house.
His hips jabbed and darted, this way and that. The swollen nerves
inside her relished every millimeter of his thickness as he slid past
again and again. With one hand, he kneaded her breast. And then,
though both his hands were busy, something lighter than air slid
across her clit.

388
It was altogether too much: Each iron stroke bringing a moan; his
hand tickling and kneading her breast; his body so rhythmic,
crushing, hot on top of her; the strange circle of air swimming around
her clit.
A second orgasm exploded. Groans struggled, hot as magma, up
her half-hoarse throat. Her sex squeezed rings into his iron cock. Her
nipple swelled in his hand. Spots danced across her vision. A great
bellow sounded above. His sex pulsed, throbbed, shuddered. Spurt by
spurt, his seed filled the condom. Her spasms continued, and he did
too—thrusting, touching, emptying out. So long, and so much, and
still it surged on. It blossomed from a moment into a period of time,
an tiny age of pure bliss that swallowed both of them whole.
Finally, her spasms ended. Jackson thrust a few more times and
pulled out. Yet if his cock had softened just a tad, it was still harder
than that of many other men.
“Vampires don’t go soft?” she asked.
“Not when we’re in love.”

389
Chapter 39

The steak was quite cold when the two of them had finally had
enough. It had been sitting out so long, in fact, that Charlotte wasn’t
sure it was safe to eat. Jackson assured her it was, so she plunked the
plate into the microwave, punched the time in, and waited. Out of
habit, she checked her cellphone.
A text had come in from her brother—a couple of hours ago, in
fact. Her younger brother, Dean, also lived in New York, but he was
busy with medical school and didn’t text much. What could he want
right now?
His text:
New RLS video out. Girl almost looks like u. Weird huh?
Another video of Jackson? Couldn’t be.
She went to YouTube. It was right there on the front page: RLS
MONSTER FIGHT SCENE. CLEAREST ANGLE.
Thirty-one million views. She tapped the thumbnail to start the
video, and there they were: Jackson, Godwin, Rafael, Ali, Qi, all the
others. They were speaking for a second, then everyone started
getting out weapons. Who the hell had been there to film it?
Somehow they’d been in the warehouse when the vampires showed
up, waiting with a cellphone.
But this wasn’t cellphone footage. It was steady and came from
something mounted high up.

390
She gasped.
Her sidebar for upcoming videos:
RLS MONSTER FIGHT SCENE ANGLE 2
RLS MONSTER FIGHT SCENE ANGLE 3
RLS MONSTER FIGHT SCENE BACK VIEW CAN SEE FACE
What the hell? Four camera angles?
“Jackson!” she shouted.
“What is it?” he said, alarmed. He jumped to his feet and went to
her.
“Someone made a video of last night!” she said. She was gripping
the phone so hard her fingerbones hurt.
Jackson put his arm around her and, with a curious relaxation,
watched the video playing in full-screen mode on Charlotte’s phone.
“It’s not like a cellphone either,” Charlotte said frantically.
“There’s four different camera angles!”
“All four turned out, then,” Jackson said, a relaxed humor in his
voice. “That’s good.”
“You knew?” she said, spinning her body away from him to glare
at him with shock.
“I was there when they set the cameras up,” said Jackson, pulling
her back in and kissing her playfully on her temple. “I was disabling
the guns. Another guy set the cameras up. Looks like the angles are
okay. Lighting not great. Hm.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, clutching his forearm and
hand tightly.
“You had enough to deal with,” said Jackson, giving her another
kiss on the head. They were both still naked. “I just wanted to relax.

391
Wait, who told you?”
“My brother. He messaged like two hours ago.”
“How did he know?”
“It’s got like thirty million views.”
Jackson grabbed the phone out her hand. “This is on YouTube?”
“Yeah. Four different camera angles.”
Jackson’s jaw hung open. Shock and confusion widened his eyes.
He said nothing and didn’t look back at her.
“What is it?” Charlotte asked.
“Godwin said he was making a statement. I thought… I thought he
was just going to send this to other vampires, or, I don’t know, study
it for his research.” Jackson leaned his head back and gave the ceiling
the same dumbstruck look. “He put this online?!”
Seeing Jackson so frightened scared Charlotte as well. She went to
him and wrapped her arms around his stout trunk, squeezing him. His
calm, comforting hands came onto her shoulders, smoothing up and
down her arms.
“We’ll be fine,” he said, now trying to calm her. “I quit. We’re not
mixed up in this anymore.”
“That’s good,” said Charlotte. She kissed his bare chest. “Thank
you, by the way.”
“Thank you,” he said, tilting her head with a thumb under the chin
and kissing her.
“For what?” she asked.
“For filling my life with joy and purpose.”
His words shook her insides. Jackson could be so raw, so sensitive
at times. There were no words to answer this, so she hugged him

392
tightly again, laying her head on his chest and squeezing his hands in
her own.
A meaty smell hit Charlotte’s nose through the hug, and the
microwave beeped right next to her. It was such a beautiful moment,
but two days of hunger were pretty damn powerful. She reached in
for the plate and jerked her hand back as its heat hit her skin. She
grabbed a towel, removed it from the microwave, and set it on the
table. It had been two days since her last proper meal, and the smell
of the steak alone was potent as a drug.
Jackson was watching the videos on her phone with much interest.
It was a crazy thing to see, but she could see it with more food in her
stomach. She dove into the plate, slamming down bite after bite. The
large steak, herb-roasted potatoes, and side salad went down her
throat in large, half-chewed chunks. She guzzled some wine and then
switched to a large glass of ice water. When the plate was empty, she
slumped in the chair like an overstuffed caterpillar.
It was glorious.
“They’re arguing at the end,” said Jackson, seeing that she’d
finished her meal. He was sitting on the bed, hunched over her little
phone. “I could hear that a bit when we were leaving, but Godwin
and the rogue are arguing about something, and Ali is trying to get a
word in, but they’re not really listening. Then Ali and Memnon start
shouting at each other.”
“What are they arguing about?” asked Charlotte, rubbing her happy
stomach with one hand.
“I don’t know. I guess we didn’t set the microphones up properly.
You can’t really hear anything.”

393
“Oh. That’s too bad, I guess,” said Charlotte, taking a sip of ice
water. “But I thought you guys were all secretive. Godwin was just
trying to hide and run from the Rafaels, just a couple weeks ago. So
why’d he upload it like that?”
“Because he’s crazy,” Jackson blurted out. He paused a moment
and started again. “He’s not crazy. That’s the scary part. Why exactly
did he do it? Only Godwin knows. But he certainly made a statement.
He’s told everyone that he doesn’t care about any of the old laws and
has the muscle to back it up. He’s put a target on his own back and
invited every other vampire in the world to take a shot.”
Charlotte burped and got a taste of steak. Now that she knew
Godwin had all this planned, and that Jackson no longer worked for
Godwin, it didn’t worry her quite so much. Or perhaps all the food
was just calming her down.
“Bring the phone over here,” she said. She was stuffed and didn’t
want to get out of the chair. Jackson gave her the phone and sat down
next to her. She didn’t want to watch the video. But the comments
section was always interesting. Skimming a few dozen comments
quickly, she picked up the gist.
No one thought it was vampires or supernatural anything. This
wasn’t so surprising. It had taken her much more personal proof than
a couple of videos, hadn’t it? Most people said it was some kind of
film shoot. A few people asked about the director. Some people said it
was guerilla marketing. Scattered mentions of superheroes and
special effects.
She yelped and dropped the phone on the ground.
“What is it?” asked Jackson.

394
Charlotte only shook her head like she’d seen a ghost, bent to the
floor, and picked the phone up again. She opened the screen and
screamed at what she saw before putting the phone, face-down, on
the table.
“What?” said Jackson, leaning in to comfort her.
She covered her face in her hands and lifted her feet up onto the
chair. With one finger, she pointed at the phone. Jackson lifted it off
the table, looked at the screen, and frowned.
One of the comments, quite far down the list screen, said,
Notice to all Houses: The large, tall white man with brown hair is
Giacomo Raccogliere, using the name Jackson Racco. His human
consort is Charlotte Pickersgill. Both are kill on sight.
“It’s okay, Charlotte,” said Jackson. “I’ll call Wesley. He’s very
smart with computers and will know what to do.”
She’d started to sob and could not move off the chair. Jackson held
her with one arm while the other took out his burner phone, the one
she’d bought him, and called.
“Okay,” Jackson said confidently, in response to something on the
other end. “That’s it? And the docs are coming here tonight, by
courier?”
The British voice on the other end confirmed.
“Thanks, Wesley,” said Jackson. “I love you.”
It sounded like Wesley, on the other end of the phone, echoed this.
“It’s fine,” said Jackson, hugging her and hanging the phone up.
“Everything’s okay. Just give Wesley your Google password, and
he’ll use your account to report harassment. The comment gets taken
down. Then Wesley’s hacker friend floods the comments section with

395
similar comments full of fake names, and no one pays attention to
any of it.”
Charlotte looked up with hopeful, doelike eyes. “That’s it, then?”
“Yes. It’s fine, sweetheart. Everything is fine.”
She sniffled and gulped. “But someone out there knows who we
are.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Jackson. “Wesley’s courier is bringing over
a half-dozen fake passports for us. We’re flying out in a few hours on
my private jet. We’re getting far, far away from all this, and no one
can find us, and even if they could, they’ll have more than enough to
worry about here.”
She wiped the corner of her eye and put on a hopeful smile.
“That’s right. We’re going to Thailand and having a good time.”
“Yes,” said Jackson, smoothing her hair and glancing with
appreciation at her soft smile. “Just the two of us, in paradise. We
never need to worry about that again.”

***

Charlotte and Jackson have escaped… but can they


really live happily ever after? And what about Godwin,
Liam, and Qi, or the mysterious Ali Rafael?
Be the first to know! I'll personally inform you by email
when the next book arrives: jpswannack.com.

396
About the Author
J.P. Swannack was last seen in Beijing, China. Current
whereabouts unknown, though spottings in Istanbul, Thailand,
Guatemala, and Venice suggest a prediliction for travel.
The novels produced by Swannack thus far show a dedication to
well-written erotic scenes, violent and brooding heroes, dark themes,
and fast-paced action that may cause sleep loss in some readers.
Author website and email list sign-up: jpswannack.com.
Swannack also tweets regularly: JP Swannack on Twitter.

397

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