Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hotel of Lost Souls: Sample

The following content is provided for free as a sample of Hotel of Lost Souls, the first book in the Lost Humanity series, by H.S. Kallinger. Please feel free to share this page, but be kind and don't copy and paste the text elsewhere.

Hotel of Lost Souls

H.S. Kallinger

Book one of The Lost Humanity series

Chapter One

I boarded the train with about two dozen other students, looking ahead at a forty hour trip. If the train weren't nearly empty, I'd have said screw it. I'm not big on sunshine and heat. Plus, I'd ridden the train long-distance once before, and I'd had a girlfriend to get lost in that time. It had only been thirty-six hours, but it was so miserable.

I got an entire row to myself and knew that this trip would at least differ in that I would be able to sleep for more than two uncomfortable hours at a time. I plopped my bag under the seat in front of me and lifted the arms across the row. Three-thirty in the fucking morning? I don't think so. Sleeping was the best way to get through long, boring travel situations anyway. I was surrounded by bleary-eyed college students on our way to a much warmer climate, sick of the cold winter and looking forward to various warm-weather pursuits in the middle of December.

I laid across the seats, using my arm as a pillow and cursing the trains that charged for pillows and thin blankets. I tugged my trench coat over my shoulder and was glad I'd brought it for the cold travel, even if I wouldn't need it in Florida.

I was in the middle of taking a test that I'd taken a week before when my dream was torn to shreds as someone shook my shoulder and told me that we were in Virginia. I sat up with a groan. My whole body ached, and my stomach was growling. I couldn't believe I'd just slept for eleven straight hours. My whole schedule was going to be so screwed up!

I slid into my coat and grabbed my bag, hurrying along with the rest of the crowd for the bus that I was not looking forward to riding. My head was starting to pound from oversleeping, and I had planned to eat on the train before we got off. There was no way I could get food in the thirteen minutes I had to get my ass on the bus from the train.

I stumbled over the top stair on the bus into some guy who gave me a dirty look. I muttered an apology and slid into the nearest seat without looking. My hip bumped into another, so I turned to apologize again and froze.

A startled pair of beautiful dark green eyes peered at me past tousled red hair. My eyes automatically flicked downward to see the rest before I realized that my mouth was hanging open. I shut it and closed my eyes, ducking my head as though I hadn't just tried to figure out if she was a B or C cup and was just being shy.

I'm sorry,” I said quietly. “I'm just a klutz today.”

I dropped my bag between my feet and kicked it forward.

Three AM doesn't look good on anyone,” she replied, and my eyes roamed back up to her face with a blink after another quick glance to decide that she was probably a B. Realizing what she'd said, I quickly ran my hand through my hair, hoping it wasn't sticking out at every possible angle.

Doesn't seem to have had a negative impact on you,” I said and then looked away. I hadn't meant that to sound like I was coming on to her. Oh, well, what's done is done. I either blew it or I didn't, but I only had about an hour and a half to make it up.

Thanks,” she said, and I risked looking back. She was smiling in that way which is almost a laugh, and I grinned back at her. “My name is Sarah.”

She pushed her hair behind her ear in a gesture I always loved when girls did.

I'm Zack,” I answered, shaking the hand she held out to me.

And you're in my seat,” said another girl's voice. I turned, feeling my heart sink. It sped up a little at the beautiful blonde in front of me. Now this one had a nice set on her, and they were right in my face. Definitely a double-D.

Oh, Jamie,” Sarah said, “this is Zack.”

Hi,” I said automatically, holding out my hand.

Good-bye, Zack,” Jamie replied. I lowered my hand and reached for my bag to move.

Jamie, you can sit behind us,” Sarah told her. “It's only an hour and a half, and this poor clumsy boy might break something if he tries to stand up.”

My ears started burning, and I tried to laugh the blush away, but I let go of my bag.

Fine,” Jamie sighed and swung around into the empty seat right behind us.

So what's your major?” Sarah asked, poking me in the arm.

Oh, I'm studying to be an Emergency Medical Technician, not actually in college anymore,” I said. “You?”

The bus's brakes hissed, and with a small lurch, we started moving. Jamie had to move over to let another girl sit next to her. The girl wasn't particularly noteworthy. She was wearing sunglasses and headphones and seemed intent on ignoring everyone around her. Too much like me for my tastes.

I'm an art major,” she answered, and I tried to avoid smirking. Something must have shown on my face because she rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah, yeah, I know. But I'm minoring in education. I've never planned to be some famous artist, just to teach it.”

Do you have a portfolio I could look at?” I asked. I'd dated a couple art girls, and one of the pros was that they usually had a decent amount of talent, and while I've never had much of a discerning eye, I like art. I never understood why one person would make it big and another who seemed to have as much, if not more talent, didn't.

I don't think we know each other well enough for that,” she said with a wink. “By the way, what did you decide?”

Huh? On what?” I asked, completely confused.

About my boobs? You had enough of a look. What do you think?” She tilted her head to the side, and I had a moment to decide if I was too intimidated or if I should just answer honestly.

Oh, he's speechless,” Jamie said, leaning over Sarah's shoulder.

I'd guess a large B or a small C,” I answered, irritated by the blonde. Depending on how Sarah responded, I might actually like her.

Not a bad guess,” Sarah said with a smile. “Now whose are better? Mine or Jamie's?”

Ah, I'm not falling for that,” I said, sitting back. “Besides, who can judge while you've got shirts on?”

Jamie burst out laughing and fell back against her seat. Sarah laughed silently, then licked her lips and grinned at me.

Okay,” Sarah said.

Okay?” I repeated, confused again.

Okay, you can see my portfolio,” she clarified, picking up a portfolio case from the floor. She opened it and handed me a sketchbook.

I opened it, and my mouth dropped open. I closed it halfway and looked up at Sarah, who tilted her head and gave me a lopsided, expectant smile. I blinked a few times and then looked back down. The picture was pornographic, no other word for it, and as photo realistic as you could get with a pencil. The bus bumped, and I tried to ignore the pain that radiated through my back.

You plan on teaching kids this?” I asked, shaking my head in amusement. My hair flopped into my eyes, and I ran my fingers through it again. She laughed, and I flipped the page. This one was of Jamie, and it made me think that I wouldn't be able to give Sarah the winning prize on breasts. Unless it was just on drawing them. I flipped again, and the style changed abruptly. It was a comic, in Dark Horse style and as good as anything I'd ever seen.

These are insane,” I said. “You sure you want to teach? You could go work for some major comics with this much talent.”

Artists are a dime a dozen,” Sarah answered as I read her story. “And girl artists even more so. Well, outside of manga, which I'm not really interested in.”

If you say so,” I dismissed, then laughed at the comic. “Did you write the dialog?”

That was me,” Jamie piped up. Ah, figures, I thought.

You two been friends long?” I asked.

Since junior high,” Sarah answered predictably. They seemed like the kind of girls that were 'best friends forever.'

Didn't start dating until last year,” Jamie said. I stopped reading and looked up at Sarah.

Ahh,” I sighed. “So much for having a shot, huh?”

I kept reading, but with a little less enthusiasm.

Who said that?” Sarah asked. I looked up, feeling my, uh, hopes rising.

Okay, now you're just fucking with me,” I said, and they both laughed. I finished up her sketchbook and handed it back to her.

Sorry. You are super cute and all, too,” Sarah said. I felt my face burning again and shrugged, looking out the windows on the other side of the bus. “Still, if you don't mind being friends with girls you can't screw, we can keep each other company on the next train. Well, if you're going through to Miami.”

Yeah, what have I got to lose?” I asked.

I was very glad that I'd made friends with the girls during the five hour layover in Richmond. Five hours is a deceptive amount of time for a layover. It sounds long enough to go do something, see something, but really, if you do, you run the risk of traffic or not getting back in time for some other reason, so, really, the safest bet is just to hang out at the station and wait for your ride.

However, it did offer an opportunity to eat—twice—which is something I did with enthusiasm. Sarah also turned out to be good at massage, and when she saw me hunched over, she harassed me into stretching and then rubbed out the rest of my sleep-induced pain in my back and neck.

I stopped thinking of Jamie as a bitch when I realized that I was hitting on her girl and categorized her in that spot in my head where I tend to put other guys who are dating a girl I want. I knew it was stupid, because they'd made it clear—well, mostly—that I didn't have a chance, but what's life without dreams?

When the train came in at nearly ten, several other passengers had started falling asleep, and I did my share of shaking a few shoulders to make sure no one missed the transfer. Just paying it forward for whoever was kind enough to wake me from my obscenely long sleep earlier.

This train was packed, unfortunately, and I was stuck sitting next to some strange guy who was playing a movie I couldn't hear on his laptop. I cursed not being able to afford booking a room, since twenty-one hours on a train is twenty-one hours regardless of your company. At least I had enough to afford the stupidly high food prices this time.

The girls fell asleep around midnight, leaving me with no one to talk to and the guy next to me snoring obnoxiously loud. It was dark, and I couldn't see anything outside. I had to lay my seat back to get away from the guy in front of me sleeping in his reclined chair. Whoever designed the seats didn't have anyone around or over six feet tall in mind, though, and I wasn't particularly comfortable, despite the train company's website's assurances that I would be.

I listened to music, read and checked my e-mail and Facebook through my phone, but when I checked the time, only three hours had passed, and I thought I was going to just start screaming. Instead, I got up and walked around the train and over to the food car, which had big observation windows... which showed the same blank, dark view as my car had. Still, it was basically deserted, and I was able to stretch out and sit up without two other guys I didn't even know practically in my lap, so it was a vast improvement.

There was a place to plug my phone in to charge, and I took advantage of it and played Bejeweled for an hour before turning on some porn... until I realized what a stupid idea that was. Frustrated and bored, I got up and started walking around again. I contemplated the bathroom and getting rid of my problem, but then I thought of how many other guys had probably done the same thing, and I went back to my seat, feeling grumpier than when I left. I was still not tired, either, and it was now 6 AM.

I watched the sun rise and couldn't complain about the view anymore. Just as I was starting to feel less like I wanted to jump off the moving train, I finally felt sleepy.

There was a lot of water all around me, and I was trying to find a door to get out before everything filled up and drowned me when I heard Sarah's voice.

Hey, are you going to sleep all day again?” she asked. I looked for her in the room, confused, and then I recognized it as a dream, and I opened my eyes. I rubbed the sleep out of them and cursed myself for not putting on deodorant before I went to sleep. I pulled my arms close to my body and nodded to the girls. Sarah grinned back, and Jaime smirked.

Suspicious, I looked down at my crotch to check if she was seeing that I was tenting something awful, but my book was on my lap. I thanked God quietly and put my seat into a normal position, reaching for my bag to grab my shaving kit and the previously forgotten deodorant to go make myself feel as much like a human being as I could without the benefit of a full shower.

I held up the bag in explanation and left them to get cleaned up. I scratched at my stubble, wishing I'd thought to shave at the train station the day before. But it hadn't occurred to me, and now my face itched, and I felt grubby.

I pissed, shaved and washed up the best I could in the tight space and small sink before someone came knocking. I dried my face off with my dirty shirt and traded in for a clean one, then went back out to the train proper. I checked my phone for the time, and it was almost 3 PM.

Only four more hours, and then I'd be the hell out of here. I was hellbent on walking around Miami for the next two days at least; I felt so cooped up. I needed fresh air, and that sunshine didn't sound so bad after all. Unfortunately, I knew the sun would have set by the time we got there—damn winter hours—but that wasn't going to stop me.

Four hours passed a hell of a lot faster with the girls to talk to. We ate in the food car, then played rummy on a deck of cards I had with me. Playing a stripper deck with lesbians was good fun. They tried to get me to guess which of the nudie girls had tits like Sarah and laughed at my choices, but wouldn't tell me which one.

Sarah was sitting in Jamie's lap so I could sit in their row as we pulled into the train station. They were planning on hitting the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in the morning, and I agreed to go with them. I admitted I hadn't even looked around to see what I wanted to do. I just wanted to get the hell out of Ohio.

I was about to stand up to grab my bag when the entire train shook, and the lights went out. I dimly seemed to hear some bass rumble like thunder, and then I felt gravity pulling me toward the girls. Jamie held her hands out toward me to stop me from crushing her, and I put my hands out toward the window when I realized that Sarah's head was going to hit it right before I hit her. I grabbed her shoulder and pulled her toward me instead, twisting so that I hit the window. Her frightened face was the last thing I saw.

Chapter Two

The urge to throw up dragged me out of a dreamless sleep. I opened my eyes and panicked when I couldn't see anything and one of my eyes wouldn't open. I touched it and found it crusted over with something that ran up my forehead to a tender cut. Blood. My face was covered in blood. I rubbed the stuff off my eye and then tried to concentrate on trying to find out where I was.
Unfortunately, there was someone lying on top of me. I could see the outline of what looked like a girl's hair, and the memory of Sarah falling along with me returned. It was definitely Sarah, and she wasn't conscious. More body aches started cropping up, and I followed one to my wrist, where Jamie's head was resting, pressing it into the cracked glass behind. I must have flung out my arm when I twisted and protected her face from the glass, too. 
I realized that I was lying on her arm as well, and I looked up to see the guy who had been sitting next to me, his eyes wide open and blank. I flinched away and tried to reorient to my surroundings. My right arm was free enough to to pull out my phone and open it, using the light to look around. The train car was on its side, and I was looking up at my seat on the wall, touching what was now the ceiling.  

The guy lying on the glass above me had his head at a strange angle, and I figured his neck was broken, probably from the fall. He was spread out along the window where it had busted completely. It had fractured about two inches above me, leaving the girls and I on the only two solid pieces.

The wave of nausea built again, and I bit it back, not wanting to throw up all over Jamie or turn my head and either lie in my own vomit or end up with it all over my face. I had to move soon, or those options would be less 'optional' and more 'just going to happen.' I started shaking my torso, and Jamie groaned.

Jamie?” I called softly. “Jamie can you hear me?”

Yeah,” she groaned. “Just stop shouting, please.”

Sorry,” I continued in a soft voice, “But I need you to move before I throw up on your hair.”

Jamie's eyes flew open, and she looked up at me. Her face went from the beginnings of disgust to shock and fear.

Don't panic,” I said quickly, “There's been an accident. Sarah and you are okay, I think. I'm pretty sure I'm okay. I have no idea about anyone else except that the guy I was sitting next to is dead. We need to move Sarah so I can check to make sure nothing is broken on me. I can't feel my legs very well, and I'm pretty much positive I have a concussion.”

While I spoke, Jamie's features softened until she was calm. She briefly looked wildly around when I said 'dead,' but then she took a deep breath and nodded.

I'm going to try to sit up,” she told me and then followed through. Sarah moaned, and her hand reached up to her forehead.

Hi, Sarah,” I said calmly, hoping that she would respond the same way Jamie had. Instead, she coughed, and I was the one who panicked when I became conscious that she was going to hurl all over me. “Sarah, please don't throw up on me!”

I tried to twist away. When I realized that I was going to hit her head on the bottom of the chairs, I stopped and closed my eyes, waiting for her to finish, but she sat up and pushed away from us both instead and then threw up. The minute I smelled it, I rolled over, accidentally sticking my hand in her sick and threw up myself.

Oh god, oh god, oh god,” Sarah was chanting next to me.

It's okay,” Jamie said, and then she repeated what I'd told her. After throwing up again, Sarah nodded and sat up on her knees the best she could. Jamie had crawled up the seats and was sitting on the side of the aisle seat, looking down at us. I got up carefully and looked around. I had to step up adjacent to the body on the window above—next to—us. I was pretty disoriented, and trying to figure out directions inside a setup that my brain was screaming was wrong was making me feel sick again.

I noticed I still had vomit on my hand, and I looked at the dead body. I considered wiping my hand on him for a second; then I pulled off my shirt and used that to clean my hand and face before folding it over to offer to Sarah.

Thanks, Zack,” she said in a cracked voice and wiped her mouth. She offered me the shirt back, and I tossed it on the broken glass. I stepped toward the top of the car that had become the wall and tried to make sense of the mess of bodies in front of me. My training told me that I needed to start checking for survivors. Bystander assistance could save lives, even from laypersons.

I need a flashlight,” I said, picking up my bag and slinging it onto my back.

Here,” Jamie said, pulling out her phone. “It has a flashlight app.”

She slid her finger along the screen and then tapped it, and a bright light illuminated the horror scene in front of us. Jamie screamed and dropped the phone. The light went out but none of us moved to get it, and neither Sarah nor I could tell Jamie to stop screaming.

Vampires,” Sarah whispered next to me.

Yeah,” I confirmed, swallowing hard against my suddenly dry throat. Several of the people had clearly had their throats torn out, and I didn't want to move around and find out which ones right now. Vampires didn't have to scavenge, so I couldn't understand why they had done so here. “My best guess is that they must have attacked the train.”

Why?Sarah asked. Jamie had gone from screaming to sobbing, and Sarah turned to comfort her.

Because alive or dead, there are always criminals?” I offered.

Actually, it was a recruitment drive. We did not personally blow up the train,” a voice came from the darkness, and we all turned toward it. “We merely saw an opportunity and took it.”

Jamie's crying got louder and more panicked, and I stepped toward the voice, in front of the girls.

Oh, are you playing the hero? I love heroes.” The flashlight came on from behind me and illuminated the vampire in front of me.

He smiled and held his arms out as though he was putting himself on display. He was wearing a black tank top and black jeans, which just made him appear to positively glow. He was as Aryan as they come, from his blond hair and blue eyes to his pale skin and Germanic face. I immediately wanted to punch him in his smug, pretty, narcissistic face. However, I wanted to live more than I wanted to give in to base jealousy.

Like what you see?” he asked. “Because I do.”

He lowered his smirking face and shifted his posture to an aggressive stance: a prelude to a pounce.

Can't get anything consensual?” I challenged, knowing that we had no chance if we ran. He turned his head to the side and opened his mouth to show fangs. His pupils reflected back the light like an animal.

Are you saying that you are not consenting?” he asked, pulling himself up to stand at a few inches taller than me. Bastard. Couldn't he have at least been short?

Not really my thing,” I answered.

What a pity. You are such a pretty thing,” he said, stepping toward me. His hand was next to my brow, touching my hair, without me having seen the motion that brought him into my face. I jerked away, knocking the girls back. My heart slammed into my chest painfully and adrenaline flooded my system. “No? How about you, girls? Are either one of you 'into' vampires?”

Silence met his question, and he smiled knowingly. I turned to look at the girls, and they were both checking him out! What the hell? Here I was, trying to protect them, and they were groupies?

Shit,” I said, stepping away from them.

I did not want anything to do with groupies.

Have fun,” I growled. They both turned to me, and Sarah's face crumpled. I stopped. “What? I can't protect you if you want to go with him.”

Maybe they just want you to come, too,” the vampire said, touching my hair again. I shook my head.

Not happening. I may not be a big fan of the sun, but I do like food and having a heartbeat and all that,” I said. The vampire took my hand and pressed it to his chest. A very slow, thready beat danced against my hand.

Oh, but my heart does beat, Zack,” the vampire said. I pulled my hand away, and he let it go. I saw shapes moving in the darkness behind him, and I sighed.

Can I please leave?” I asked, trying to be polite. I didn't want to die, in any way, shape or form.

No, I am afraid that you cannot,” the vampire answered, looking disappointed. I suppose he expected me to wonder how he knew my name, but I was sure one of the girls had probably said it, and vampires have their super hearing and all. However, his statement caused the hairs on my arms to raise, and my already aching heart sped like a bird's.

Why?” I asked. I had a bizarre image of a mouse talking to a cat in much the way I was speaking to my own predator.

Because you are here. Because you know that we were not playing by the rules, and because you are afraid of me. I just cannot let you go, Zack.” He slid his hands around my waist in a disturbing parody of how I used to sometimes hold my high school girlfriend, right down to putting his hands in my pockets. I tried to step away, but I felt like I was pressing against padded railing. I was trapped. My body provided the appropriate adrenaline reaction, and I used it.

I slammed my hands into his chest, threw myself back and slipped out of his grasp. I hit the ground hard, and my surroundings spun unpleasantly. A wave of nausea crept up on me, but I ignored it and rolled onto my hands and knees, pushing off the ground with my feet into a dead run.

I made it all of three steps before I tripped on a body. I lost all my semi-professional composure and screamed, shoving away from it and backpedaled until I hit another. I tried to get up to run again, and my face burned. I heard the sound of impact and became aware that I'd fallen several feet away. I touched my face and looked where I had been, to see the vampire. Had he slapped me?

Do not test me, Zack. It is your choice if this is pleasant or if it is lethal.”

Pleasant?” I yelled, my voice cracking with the stress. “How is being held against my will by a vampire supposed to be pleasant?”

The women have accepted their fate,” the vampire answered, sweeping his hand back toward them.

I looked at them, and they were holding hands, clearly afraid. That's when I realized that I could see without the flashlight. A golden light illuminated everything in front of me. I looked up and saw the blaze spreading on the outside of the car. The girls followed my gaze and gasped. Sarah screamed and pulled Jamie toward the exit door away from the flames.

Oh, my,” the vampire said softly.

An arm encircled my waist a second before I was pulled along toward Sarah and Jamie, and we were running behind them for only a blink. The vampire swept them up in his other arm, and then we were moving so fast that I couldn't see where we were anymore. I found myself clinging to my abductor, afraid of what would happen if I was dropped at the speed we were traveling. I watched in fascination as the darkness sped by.

I'd seen vampires move in movies and on television, but to actually be moving with one—it was a completely different experience. When they tried to show what it was like in movies, they always slowed it down so viewers wouldn't get motion sickness. I couldn't imagine getting sick from this, though; it was so fast that I barely felt like I was moving—it was more like lying against the floor when I was very tired.

When we stopped, I marveled that there wasn't some sense of it. We were going insanely fast, and then we weren't, as simple as that. My body didn't want to continue moving forward as it would after a car accident; it just stopped with my captor. I relaxed and let go of him. I felt Jamie let go of me. He looked me in the eyes and smiled. I looked away.

Look, I won't say anything. I don't even know your name,” I told the vampire, once again trying to reason him into letting me go.

It is Lukas.”

I...” I stopped. Lukas watched me with interest. The girls were sitting on the ground, looking off in the distance. “There's nothing I can say, is there?”

Of course there is. There is plenty that you can say,” Lukas said, amused.

Then tell me what to say that will get you to let me go,” I pleaded. His eyes filled with sadness.

Why do you wish to escape me? I have spared you from my brethren and from the flames which have consumed your transportation.”

My gaze followed his hand to see what had the girls transfixed. Just as I understood what I was seeing, the fire leapt into the sky and my heart sank. He was right—we never would have escaped before it killed us. What's more, as far as anyone would be concerned, we were dead. He could do anything and no one would ever know.

I just wanted to live my life,” I answered sadly.

Who says that you may not?” Lukas asked, running his hand along my back. I gasped and flinched when he crossed over a bruise on my ribs—undoubtedly from being crushed by Sarah and Jamie.

I thought that you—”

I said that you may not leave me. I never said that you could not live your life, Zack. Zack... is your name short for anything?”

No, it's just Zack. My parents didn't like the meaning of Zachary or Zachariah and didn't like Issac as a name, so they just named me what they wanted to call me.” My mind spun at such a mundane question in this very not mundane situation.

Practical,” Lukas complimented. “Ladies, how about you?”

Oh, I'm Sarah, and she's Jamie,” Sarah answered. “Sarah Gallagher and Jamie Adams.”

Zack Henderson,” I followed. Why the hell not? This was all insane.

Lukas Ritter,” the vampire finished, holding his hand out to Sarah, then Jamie.

Now that all the introductions are done,” Jamie said, “What the hell is going to happen? I thought you were just wanting to maybe party tonight—I don't like how you're saying Zack can't leave. Does that mean we can't? Are you going to kill us?”

Can't you just wipe our memories and send us on our way?” Sarah added.

I am sorry, but no. That is simply a trick of the movies. I can no more alter your memories than you can alter mine.”

But we can just say you saved our lives!” Sarah said with enthusiasm. “After all, we would have died if you hadn't come along.”

If we had not been at the station, the bomb that destroyed your train would not have been detonated. We were its target,” Lukas explained. “But regardless, questions would be raised as to why we only saved three when we had twenty minutes to search the train for survivors. No, even then, as I said, we were recruiting. Those with promise were taken from the train to be changed, and a few humans were spared as food.”

I don't understand,” I said, “There are hundreds of people willing to feed you. Why us?”

Lukas turned and slapped me. I hit the ground, my head exploding in pain that was compounded by the concussion I already had, and I was sick again.

You will not question me again. I have chosen you; you are mine. As I said before, you will choose how your life plays out now. You may choose pain or pleasure, but you will serve me.” Lukas looked away from us as he spoke. I laid my face in the grass, cooling it from the sting, avoiding the mess I’d just made. It couldn’t cool the burning in my throat, though.

So we're slaves?” Sarah asked tentatively.

Yes,” Lukas answered.

This is bullshit,” Jamie muttered. Lukas turned to her, and I watched as she curled up on herself. He nodded.

You will understand your place. If you serve well, you will return to your lives as though you never left them.”

You'll let us go back to Ohio?” I asked, hopeful. Lukas looked at me, and I flinched without meaning to. I wasn't sure how much more head trauma I could survive. Lukas's brows knit together, and he came over to kneel in front of me.

Oh, Zack, you are injured, and I have underestimated the severity,” he said while taking my chin in his hand. “I will do what I can.”

With that, he lowered his face toward my head, and I leaned back, trying to avoid him, until I was lying in the grass again, with him kneeling over me. His tongue was warm and soft on my cheek where the blood had dried from my head wound. At first, it was gross. Some guy was licking me. But then he started using less tongue, and it was more like he was kissing my face instead of cleaning it off.

I'd never had a guy touch me in a way like this before, and I expected to be repulsed or at least bothered, but I felt nothing. I started to worry about how badly I was injured when he reached the actual wound and it started throbbing. Within seconds, the natural painkiller in vampire saliva kicked in, and the pain just vanished.

He leaned back, his lips puffy as though he'd been making out, and he bit the tip of his finger. He touched my wound with his blood, and it instantly began itching like crazy. I recognized it as a healing itch, but it was hard to keep my hand from it.

I was feeling surprisingly better, though my face still burned where it had been slapped, and I was raw from throwing up. Then Lukas leaned back in and actually kissed me. It was so unexpected that I didn't move for a second, and the soft press of his lips seemed so natural that I almost started to kiss him back.

Then I remembered that I was injured, his prisoner and had been pretty sure I was straight my whole life. I shoved him away. I braced to be slapped, but he didn't fight me. His face was lost in a moment of abandon, and I felt myself react before I knew what was happening. He opened his eyes and smiled gently. I blushed, hoping he couldn't tell that part of me had enjoyed it.

I don't go that way,” I breathed. Lukas smirked and petted my hair before he moved over to Sarah. I watched him lick and kiss her wounds as well and then turned my head back to watch my metaphorical bridges burn. Too bad the bombers missed their target.

I dropped my bag on the floor of the hotel room Lukas had put us in. Sarah set her portfolio on the coffee table. I hadn't seen her grab it, but she must have at some point, because there it was. Jamie had grabbed nothing except her phone, and Lukas had taken that, along with mine. This would have made for one hell of a Facebook status, too: 'Zack Henderson is being held against his will by vampires.' Yeah, probably would have been the most interesting thing I'd ever posted.

It's not like we even knew the name of the hotel we were in. There hadn't been anyone to call out to for help the entire way to the room. We never saw a lobby or anything, and my guess is that we came in a back entrance. It was such a blur.

One thing we did know was that we were pretty high up in the building. I could see traffic for what looked like miles out of our window. I was watching the glow of the cars going by below when the reinforced door clicked open and closed again. I touched the edge of the steel shutters and knew this was a vampire room. I knew many hotels offered them, and some even specialized, but I'd never been in one. No reason to spend the extra hundreds of dollars a night.

Well, so you're either rich or you own the hotel,” I said to the window. I could see Lukas reflected there, standing against the door and leaning on his hands, which were pressed to the steel. He looked up and met my eyes in the glass. Then everything blurred, and we were in the bedroom. He must have let me go before he stopped, because I spun and fell against the bed.

You are very brave,” Lukas said, shutting the door. I blinked and looked around. There were no windows in here, and I knew I'd never get past Lukas to leave. I didn't like being on the bed, so I stood up. The lock clicked, and he stalked toward me. I started walking carefully to the door, hoping I could just leave, but I was knocked back onto the bed again.

So what, now you're going to rape me?” I asked him, hoping to put him off.

Why yes, I am,” Lukas answered. I froze in place, not knowing what to do or say. This wasn't the kind of situation I'd ever prepared for or even imagined being in. I scooted back to the headboard as he crawled onto the bed. My heart pounded, and I felt tears burning against my eyes. Fucking hell. I closed my eyes and balled my hands into fists, refusing to cry like some little bitch.

A knock came at the door, and I opened my eyes as Lukas turned his head.

Lukas?” Sarah's voice came from the other side of the door. His eyebrows raised, and he got off the bed. I wanted to run to Sarah and kiss her and promise her anything to keep him distracted. He opened the door, and my mouth dropped open. Sarah was completely naked. Lukas stepped back, and his eyes traveled over her appreciatively.

How lovely,” he said, reaching out to brush the hair out of her face. He leaned in and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body against him. She stepped back, letting her hand slide down his arm and took him by the hand. She led him from my room, and when she turned away from him to shut my door, her face told me everything: she knew she had just saved me.

Thank you,” I mouthed, and she nodded. She shut my door, and I covered my face and breathed deeply. Before I could decide if I was going to lose it or not, my door opened again. I stiffened, afraid Lukas had changed his mind, but it was Jamie. I relaxed a little as she shut the door behind her. She wasn't looking at me, and her hair was in her face. I watched her chest rise and fall before she came in and crawled into the bed next to me. She faced away from me and climbed under the blankets.

If you touch me, I will not take my turn with him tomorrow to protect your virgin little ass.” Jamie's voice was broken, and I realized that she was crying.

I wasn't even thinking it,” I assured her.

Good,” she said. The room got really quiet, and I decided to take off my shoes and traded my jeans in for a pair of sleep shorts before I joined Jamie under the blanket. We were silent for quite a while before her voice rose softly up from her pillow. “Thank you.”

Uh... you're welcome?” I said, thinking she meant for not harassing her. I couldn't have felt less sexy. I had been thinking about my ridiculously boring complaints from the night before and how I'd give almost anything to have them again.

For protecting us,” Jamie explained. “I saw you take that fall for Sarah, and I woke up on your hand, so I guess you cushioned both of us.”

Oh. Yeah. It... it wasn't a big deal.” I picked at a scratch on the bedside table. Everything got quiet again, and I had started to fall asleep when Jamie spoke again.

What do you think is going to happen to us?” she asked.

I don't know,” I answered. That was the question of the night. I had an unpleasant suspicion as to what my fate was going to end up, regardless. Lukas had gotten off on the non-consensual thing; I could see it. Sick fucker. Clearly, offering myself up wouldn't diminish anything, because he was willing to take Sarah instead.

Sarah,” Jamie whispered, and the bed started shaking.

I rolled over and hugged her. She stiffened, and I worried I'd just pissed her off for a minute; then she started crying again. She buried her face in her pillow, and I just held onto her, wishing that I knew what the hell to do to save us and hoping that either I or the girls came up with an idea soon. I wasn't adverse to being saved by a girl. Not one bit.

You guys comfortable?” a voice broke into the strange dream I had already forgotten by the time I opened my eyes. Something about snails. Then I became aware of being curled around someone soft and warm, and I sat up abruptly.

I looked to the door where Sarah was standing, looking tired and pale. Two little scabs decorated her neck, and her face was bruised terribly. At first, I thought Lukas had hurt her, and then I realized that it was from where her face had slammed into my head during the accident.

We were,” Jamie said and then stretched out, rolling onto her back. “Although Zack might have been a little too comfortable,” she said pointedly, sitting up.

Sorry about that,” I muttered, feeling my morning wood vanish under worry and embarrassment.

It's no problem,” Jamie said. “Can't say I've ever felt anything like that before, but I know why it was there at least.”

Wait, what?” I asked. I looked at Jamie, who wasn't looking at me anymore. “Are you... are you a virgin?”

Jamie shrugged.

No,” she said, forcefully. She huffed, “I've just never... with a guy.”

I remembered what she'd said the night before, about taking her turn tonight.

Do you like guys?” I asked her. She refused to meet my eyes. I looked over at Sarah, who was sitting on the end of the bed. “Do you?”

Yeah, I like boys just fine, and Lukas is drop dead sexy. I had fun last night; don't worry about me,” she answered with a smile. Jamie wrapped her arm around her leg and rested her cheek on her knee.

But you've never been with a guy, and you don't like them, either,” I summed up to Jamie. She sighed. I continued, angry, “Then there's no way in hell you're going to 'take a turn' tonight.”

You... what?Sarah demanded. Jamie shrugged again.

It's my body. I can do what I want,” she muttered.

But you don't want to,” I pointed out.

It'll be easier for me. You were willing to get hurt for us,” Jamie said.

Like hell it will,” I said and sighed. “You are not going to give away your cherry to protect me for one night. We'll try to get out of here today, and if we can't, then one more night isn't very likely to give us a much better chance. He's going to come for me eventually anyway. You can't stop him.”

I agree,” Sarah said. She'd been staring at Jamie the whole time I'd been speaking, and now she reached out and flicked her in the ear.

Hey!” Jamie protested.

I don't mind taking one for the team. I'll do it again tonight if I need to. But I will not let him touch either one of you while I can,” Sarah said, pointing at us in turn.

You can't feed him again,” I said. “You're already pale from the blood loss. You need to drink some orange juice or something and build up your blood supply for yourself. A vampire takes about one or one and a half quarts at a feeding, and you weigh, what, a hundred-fifteen pounds?

So that means you probably have about three and a half quarts of blood, and he probably took one, because losing more than a third of your blood volume at once is life threatening. You could donate again tonight and possibly survive, but it isn't likely, and you'd be really sick and need a transfusion.”

Wow. Nice to have an EMT around, I guess,” Sarah said, touching the wound on her neck. “By the way, thanks for that guess, I'm actually a hundred-nineteen. So how long before it's safe to donate again?”

Three to five weeks,” I answered. “Ideally, you would wait six weeks if you were donating to, say, the red cross.”

Huh? I was able to sell twice a week,” Jamie said, turning around.

That would be plasma. It takes about two days to make more plasma, but red blood cells take a lot longer. When you're donating plasma, they take it all out, filter out the plasma and give you back the red blood cells. Whole blood is totally different.”

Oh, weird,” Jamie said, looking down at her arm. “But then, how do vampire junkies survive?”

With severe anemia,” I answered and started examining Sarah. “They usually live on a diet of iron-rich foods and a lot of water, and the vampires still only feed from the same person about once a month. Or they feed from several people at once, so they're losing so little that it takes a couple months to catch up.”

Is there, like, a vampire section in your training?” Jamie asked with a laugh.

Yes, actually. When we were studying blood loss, vampires were a big focus.” As far as I could tell, Sarah was okay, so I nodded to her, “You feeling like trying to get out of here?”

Yeah, I feel fine. A little tired, but I think breakfast will help with that.”

Well, let's go see if they have a continental breakfast,” I said and walked over to my bag. I pulled out a clean shirt and picked up my jeans from where I'd left them on the floor. I turned around, and both the girls were staring at me. “What?”

We, uh, don't have any clean clothes,” Sarah pointed out.

Oh,” I said and pulled out the last two clean shirts from my bag and tossed them to the girls. “That's all I've got left that's clean, and a pair of jeans that I'm pretty sure neither of you is tall enough for.”

No, this is great, thanks,” Sarah told me.

Yeah, thank you,” Jamie said with a smile. They took the shirts and left me to dress. I grabbed the sandals I'd packed instead of the shoes I'd worn on the train and walked into the attached bathroom to grab a shower first. I smelled like vomit and blood, and I couldn't wait to get cleaned up. I took a five minute shower, shaved as fast as I safely could and got dressed. When I reached the common area, the girls were still not out yet.

I figured I should check the door first, and I found it unlocked easily and opened with no alarms or bodyguards jumping out at me. I pushed it closed, which required a bit of force and looked out the peephole into what looked like a totally normal hotel hallway.

A few minutes later, the girls came out, dressed in my shirts and their own pants, toweling their hair off. They were giggling and seemed perfectly happy, contrary to our situation. I rolled my eyes and started to ask them if they were ready when Sarah piped up.

Hey, I was wondering if you could tell me something?” she asked.

Shoot,” I said.

If Lukas can't control our minds, why...” Sarah started blushing, “When he bit me...”

She looked at Jamie, who smirked and shook her head.

Why did it feel good?” I asked. Sarah whipped her head around and nodded. “Because there's a psychoactive drug in vampire saliva that only works when it comes in direct contact with blood. It kills pain, and with enough contact, such as what happens during a feeding, it builds in your system until it alters your perception. Since they don't have any anticoagulant like leeches, it's kinda necessary considering that they have to bite a few times to keep the blood flowing.

Keeps the victim from running away. Better than a spider or something, which paralyzes the prey, because the vampire's prey will come back for more.”

You kinda sounded like a textbook for a minute there,” Jamie said, sticking her tongue out.

Yeah, I'm pretty much quoting my instructor,” I agreed. “Are you guys ready now or are you planning to stick around and see how much he feeds tonight?”

Their expressions sobered, and they held hands. Jamie nodded, and I opened the door.

Just like that? It was open?” she asked, perplexed.

Yeah. I have no idea. Maybe he thinks we wouldn't wake up before he does or something.”

It makes me nervous,” Sarah admitted. I stepped into the hall and looked one way and the other. They were identical. Every door was painted white and had a key card slot next to the door knob. Each door had a number on it starting with 6, so I guessed we were on the sixth floor. The girls stepped out with me, and I indicated that they shouldn't shut the door because none of us had a key. Sarah nodded and pushed it until the latch tapped against the strike plate; then she let go. I noted that we were in 619.

We decided to go right, since it was shorter. We reached the end and turned to see the same thing all over again. Doors on either side, and none looked like an elevator or stair case. All of them had door key slots. We jogged down the hall and turned again. It was the same.

Um, where's the elevator?” Jamie asked.

I don't see anything but room doors,” Sarah said.

Me, either.” I broke into a run to get to the end of this hallway, sure that the next turn had to be the one that would get us off the floor.

What the hell?” Sarah shouted.

Jamie and I both hissed at her to be quiet, and she slapped her hand over her mouth, her eyes going wide. There was no change. The numbers climaxed behind us at 640 and the door in front of us was 601. Not a single one didn't have a card key slot, so whichever was the door to the stairs, we wouldn't be able to open it even if we could guess. A moment after I had that thought, one of the doors cracked open in front of us. I grabbed Sarah by the arm at the same time Jamie apparently had the same idea, and we stepped around the corner, pressing our backs against it.

Shit, shit, shit,” Jamie breathed. I nodded toward the hall, and we ran for it.

We didn't make it far.

Chapter Three

Sarah screamed when the vampire grabbed her by the hair. She slapped Jamie into the wall, and while I was trying to decide how to react, she blurred into my face. I dropped to my knees to avoid getting struck and lifted my arm defensively. Sarah was on her knees, having been dragged there by her hair, on which the vampire still had a grip. Sarah held her hair below the vampire's fingers with both hands. Jamie was crumpled on the floor.

Whose are you?” the vampire asked me. She had some accent I couldn't identify and was wearing nothing but a short bathrobe.

What?” I asked, stupidly. I was trying to figure out where to run. Sarah screamed, and I looked to see the vampire lifting her up by her hair.

I asked who your master is, boy.”

Oh... Lukas?” I offered.

Then what the hell are you doing out of your room?” she demanded. She lowered Sarah back down to the floor, and I got the rules to this game quickly. A few doors opened and closed around us. Great, no one was going to help us. Definitely a vampire-owned hotel.

We were hungry. She,” I nodded my chin to Sarah, “fed Lukas last night and needs something to drink.”

The vampire twisted her hand to reveal the bites on Sarah and then dropped her.

Did you not receive your instructions on how to obtain food?” she asked.

No,” I said. “We woke up alone and...”

Thought you would find a way to escape,” she finished. “If you had received your food instruction, you would also have been informed that you will not be leaving this floor without permission. That is a privilege you must earn.”

Well, what do you expect?” I growled. “We're human beings, not sheep.”

Yes, you are more like pigs,” she said and then kicked me. My leg exploded in pain. “Dangerous, but trainable, once you've been disabused of the notion that you are 'free.' What is your name, boy?”

Why should I tell you? You're not my...” I choked trying to say it, but I spit it out. “You're not my master.”

Her lips curved into a cruel smile, and she knelt in front of me, her brunette hair slipping over her shoulders to pool on the floor. Her eyes were the color of dark honey.

We are all your masters, little boy. It will behoove you to learn that now.” She turned her head to Sarah and Jamie, who were sitting on the floor against the wall. “Return to your room. Now.”

The girls looked at each other, then to me. I didn't want them to leave me with this vampire, but she had already shown that it was nothing to her to take us all down, so I swallowed hard and nodded. The vampire's eyes narrowed, and she suddenly turned on the girls.

No. You will stay now,” she commanded.

They're hurt, it's just slowing them—” I tried to defend them and found myself on the floor, my cheek pressed hard against the carpet under the vampire's foot. She pushed a little, and I tried not to yell in pain as the rug burned my cheek.

You will not look to each other for answers. You will obey or you will be punished,” she stated. “I doubt seriously that Lukas, of all of us, would have failed to instruct you in that most basic of rules.”

Yeah, he said something along those lines,” I mumbled. The next second, I was doubled over from a kick to my solar plexus. Before I could breathe in, she kicked me again.

We're sorry! We'll go back to our room!” Sarah cried, and the vampire turned to her.

Yes, you are, and yes, you will. Now, tell me your names,” she demanded.

Sarah, Jamie and Zack,” Jamie supplied, pointing, as Sarah cowered back, her hand going to her head reflexively.

Jamie, you will take Sarah back to your room.” The vampire watched that the girls didn't even look toward me as they walked off. I heard Sarah start crying halfway down the hall. Then she turned back to me. She knelt in front of me and caught my eyes with hers. I blinked hard, wondering what was going to happen next. “You certainly are a pretty thing.”

Yeah, Lukas said something about that,” I told her.

Hmm. I'm surprised that he would choose another man this soon. Even one as fair of face as you.” She looked off in the distance and then stood up gracefully. “You will stand.”

I got to my feet as fast as I could without my stomach screaming in protest. She looked me up and down.

He has not yet taken you.”

No,” I agreed. I was a bit worried about what she meant by that cryptic comment about 'another man.'

Hmm. Then I think I'll sample you. You will return to my room with me.” She didn't even bother to look at me as she spoke, as though I was beneath her notice.

Um, not to be... insubordinate or anything, but I don't think I can do that.”

Excuse me?” She turned to pin me with her dangerous gaze.

I don't have Lukas's permission,” I said quickly. “I don't want to risk pissing him off.”

You are aware that I am going to report your attempted escape, are you not?”

Yeah, exactly. And then I have sex with a hot vampire chick when he hasn't even had the chance to get first dibs?” My mind was racing. Part of it was wondering why I was turning her down, and another part was screaming that I did not want to be any more 'alone' with her. Something about her frightened me even more than Lukas. She preened under my compliment and then rolled her eyes.

Hmm. I suppose you have a point. And you might not be the only target of his wrath.” Her nose wrinkled at the thought. “Go to your room. There is a phone with which you may order room service. This floor is only served by our people, so if you attempt to use them to get out, they will report to Lukas, as we all do.”

You... all...”

I nodded quickly and sped off when her eyes narrowed. I passed two doors before she had me pinned against the wall.

Yes?” I asked, swallowing past my heart.

You forgot to say something. For my kindness.”

Oh. Um... thank you,” I replied, wondering what the hell she thought she'd done that was kind. Not killing me, maybe?

She straightened, nodded and walked away. She managed to walk as though she were wearing high heels, even flat on her bare feet. I didn't have the energy to run again, and I all but dragged my feet back to the room. There was no escape. This hotel seemed to be designed with human slavery in mind.

Human slavery. It was just a blurb on the ten o'clock news. Some far off problem that didn't even happen to a friend of a friend's cousin. I'd never met anyone who knew someone, however remotely, that had been taken by the vampires. Now, I was the blurb.

I looked up to see where I was and realized that I was in front of room 617, so I turned around and knocked on our door. It opened with a slight pop, pulling in the air around me as a breeze when the seal broke. I stared at Jamie, who stepped back to let me in, but I didn't move.

There's...” Jamie started and then just trailed off, her eyes out of focus. She whispered tonelessly, “There's a menu.”

A tear suddenly ran from her eye, and I couldn't bring myself to move. Shock. We were in shock. Knowing it didn't chase away the feeling that I was floating away, separate from my body and that nothing around me was real.

You guys! Get in here before we get in more trouble!” Sarah snapped, reaching past Jamie to grab my arm.

I stepped forward where she led me, but couldn't seem to make my legs work otherwise. I couldn't feel the floor under my feet, I just trusted that it was there. Sarah led Jamie in and slammed the door behind her.

What's wrong with you?” she asked, her face adorable with worry. I focused on that thought. Sarah was cute. Beautiful. I tried to feel what accompanied those thoughts, tried to shake myself out of this.

We're in shock,” I replied mechanically. “It's a normal reaction to trauma. We can't handle that something is happening, so we disassociate.”

Well, stop it! You're scaring me,” she said, shaking me.

I really am trying. But it's not actually something that you can control. It will wear off eventually,” I offered. I turned to the table with the phone and saw the menu Jamie had brought up. “We need to eat.”

I don't have much appetite,” Sarah said, hugging herself. She sat in the chair next to the table.

Doesn't matter. Order food and coffee.” I picked up the menu and tried to read it, but nothing sounded appetizing, so I just picked the healthiest thing I saw. “And orange juice for you.”

Sarah looked at me, pursing her lips; then she nodded and took the menu from me. I walked over to Jamie and led her to the chair on the opposite side of the phone table. When Sarah told me she was ready, I tried to hand Jamie the menu, but she just stared at it blankly.

I'll order for her,” Sarah said.

I nodded, told her what I wanted and then sat on the couch to wait for our food. There was a knock at the door only a couple minutes later, and we all looked at it, but none of us moved.

It's too soon for them to have got here,” Sarah confirmed that my sense of time wasn't off.

The door opened, and Lukas stepped in. Jamie's eyes went wide, and she went into hysterics. Sarah ran to her and kept her from falling out of her chair. Lukas looked over at her blankly, then turned to meet my eyes. I stared back, still not feeling anything. Completely numb. A part of me hoped he was here to just get over what he'd wanted to do last night while I was like this, while I didn't care.

Filomena called me,” Lukas said, shutting the door effortlessly. He said her name with a slight, lilting accent.

Was that her name?” I asked. Lukas flipped one of the light switches, and the steel shutters closed out the daylight. When they clicked closed, he walked over to me and held his hand out. I stared at it for a moment and then took it. He pulled me up and led me into my bedroom. I kept waiting to feel panic set in, but nothing happened.

He led me to the bed and then left the room. I didn't know what happened for the next few minutes. With the door shut, I heard almost nothing from the other rooms. I wasn't sure when Jamie's screaming stopped—if it was before I came into the room or after, but a part of my brain noted that it was gone when the door opened again and Lukas came in. He shut the door and walked to me again.

Your eyes have lost their light,” he said quietly, sitting next to me.

I'm in shock,” I answered automatically, unable to look away from the door. I saw Lukas nod in my peripheral vision, and we sat in silence for a moment.

Take your shirt off,” he ordered. It took a moment for me to process what he had said, but he didn't react to my lethargy. I slowly looked at him and then stood up to obey. He examined my stomach, and I followed his gaze with my own. There were bruises already forming across my abdomen. Lukas touched them, and I flinched. They were incredibly tender. The calm and pain were bringing me out of my stupor, and with that realization, fear began to grow.

I...” I didn't know what I was going to say, so I stopped.

She punished you without my permission. This was for me to do,” Lukas said, running his fingers along the bruise. At first, I thought he was trying to hurt me, and then I realized he was just feeling me up. Ah, there's the fear.

I started shaking, and he looked up into my eyes. He took his hand off my stomach, and before I knew what he was going to do, he slapped my bruise, hard. I fell to my knees in surprise and in pain. It knocked the wind out of me. He used my hair as a handle to bring my eyes up to meet his.

I'm sorry,” I whispered, knowing what he wanted to hear and not wanting to be hurt again.

You refuse me and offer yourself to another vampire?” Lukas demanded. I blinked in confusion.


Filomena told me that you 'came on' to her,” Lukas said, his blue eyes eyes going dark with anger. The way he said it, I knew he was quoting her, because the phrase sounded foreign to him.

I did not,” I protested, suddenly angry. “She tried to order me to go to her room with her, and I told her that I didn't have your permission.”

Lukas's eyes faded back to their normal color as his pupils constricted, and he stared stoically into my eyes for a minute before his expression changed to thoughtful.

I believe you,” he said, surprising me.

Good, because it's the truth,” I grumbled. He smiled.

Your instincts are too good,” Lukas explained. “I believe that they would not have let you risk your life in that way. More than half of Filomena's human lovers do not survive the experience.”

I shuddered.

I got that feeling,” I admitted.

You will not attempt to escape again,” Lukas said. “Beyond the fact that you will not be able to leave this floor, Filomena is not even the most dangerous of my lieutenants.”

Lieutenants?” I queried. Lukas looked to me, and I flinched, afraid I'd asked one too many questions again. He seemed unpredictable in how much information he would give me.

The next time that you leave without permission, it will be I that punishes you. I must deal with Filomena's indiscretion now. I will break you myself. Do not forget that.” Lukas stood and looked down at me. I swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes, master,” he instructed.

Yes... master,” I repeated. He nodded.

You will mean it soon enough,” he told me before turning to leave. I started sweating as I realized that he was probably right.

Food is here,” Sarah said, peeking in my door. I didn't respond, staying where I was curled into a ball in the middle of the bed. She walked over to me and touched my shoulder and I kept staring at the doorway, contemplating that it no longer meant what it once did. Doors were meant to be opened. But now they were the way to keep us in. “Did he hurt you much?”

The way she asked dragged me out of my melancholy to look at her. The circles under her eyes were darker, but other than that, she looked unharmed. Which meant...

Jamie?” I asked. Sarah looked away.

I stood up and walked quickly out of my room, crossed the living room and went to the girls' bedroom. I stopped in the doorway and stared at Jamie lying on the bed, on her stomach, totally naked. I turned away, closing my eyes, but the image of the bloody, broken stripes on her back was burned into my eyes. When I opened my eyes, Sarah was looking wide-eyed at me, and I realized that the circles under her eyes weren't darker, they were red from crying.

He... he said that I had fed him and shouldn't have been touched, but Jamie had given him nothing. He said... he said that it was to comfort her. That she needed to know her place, and that that's why she was freaking out.”

He didn't say 'freaking out,'” I said without thinking. Sarah looked at me sideways.

No, he said 'hysterical.' What does it matter?”

It doesn't. I... I'm just still... still freaked out,” I said and gave her the best smile I could. She smiled weakly back. “Eat,” I told her. She looked at the room service table with disgust. “Drink the juice first, then eat.”

What about you?” she asked.

I'm going to see if there's a first aid kit and take care of Jamie,” I answered.

There's one in our bathroom,” Sarah supplied, “But shouldn't I do that?”

You need to go eat,” I answered. “You don't look good and... He made you watch, didn't he?”

I guessed right, because tears started falling from her eyes. I nodded and started to turn away before I realized what I was doing. I turned back and hugged Sarah. She went stiff in my arms for a moment before she totally collapsed against me and almost knocked me down. Her sobs wracked my body as she gave into what she really needed—comfort. I was so busy surviving and learning the new 'rules' that we were living by that I had momentarily forgotten to be a fucking human being.

I'm sorry,” she was repeating over and over, and I started making those stupid 'shh' sounds and rocking her and patting her back. I don't know how long it took us to finish the ritual, but eventually, she let go and tried to smile up at me gratefully.

I shot her a tight smile back and turned back to their bedroom. I avoided looking at Jamie as I walked to the doorway across the room, trying to get myself into the detached, clinical mode that our instructor assured us would eventually come on like instinct. I didn't see how that would ever happen now.

Chasing away the dark thoughts, I walked into their bathroom and froze. There was a whirlpool tub in their room that was big enough for, like, five people. I upgraded the hotel from five stars accommodation to too-fucking-expensive-for-me-ever.

I found the first aid kit under the sink and went back into the bedroom, taking a deep breath to bolster myself. Jamie was looking at me as I walked through the door, and I froze. Her face was swollen from crying, and she was a mess. I had thought she was asleep when she didn't respond to me walking into the room. Now I knew she had simply begun the process of being 'broken.' I cursed Lukas angrily as I walked over to her.

I set the box down and went back to the bathroom to wet down a washcloth and found a wash bowl to fill with warm water. I brought it back into the bedroom and set it on the bedside table. I sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up the washcloth. I realized I would need a towel and set it down and went back into the bathroom one last time.

Sure I had everything I'd need now, I sat back down and started washing the blood off her back. The welts were thick, and I wasn't sure what would leave marks like these. At first, I'd had it in my head that he had somehow brought a whip or something with him, like white people used to use on black slaves, but those would leave thin cuts, and these were more like... like a belt. My hand shook for a moment as I imagined the force it would take to cause a belt to cut someone open like this, especially since there were no marks that looked like he'd used the buckle.

Once I'd washed all of the blood off, I put antibiotic ointment on the wounds and taped some bandages over the worst of them. Some probably would have been fine with band-aids, but I didn't want to press on the swollen, bruised flesh. In all, I counted five stripes, though it looked more like ten, since both edges of the belt had cut into her in places.

She watched me the whole time, and I was slightly disturbed by my complete inability to understand the look in her eyes. They weren't blank, but I had no idea what she was feeling or thinking. When I had her totally cleaned up, I took the supplies back to the bathroom and poured out the orangey-pink water from the bowl into the sink, rinsed the blood out of the washcloth, left it on the edge of the sink and replaced the first aid kit.

I wet down another washcloth with warm water and returned to sit next to her. I touched her shoulder gently to indicate that I wanted her to sit up, and she did. I tried not to look at her breasts, but even in as not sexy a situation as this was, they were just too great for me to miss completely. I did manage not to let my eyes leave hers, even if I could still see her breasts at the bottom of my vision. I cleaned her face off gently, and her eyes widened in surprise.

I set the washcloth on the bedside table and turned back to her, opening my arms tentatively. Her eyes moved back and forth, locked on mine, reading me, I guess. I tried to look sympathetic, and it must have worked, because she wrapped her arms around my chest and let me hold her.

Sarah walked in with two cups of coffee as I sat back and stroked Jamie's hair. Girls had such amazingly soft hair. She relaxed and didn't start crying like Sarah had. Seemed she'd had enough of crying. I did take the coffee that Sarah held out to me and drank it.

I didn't know how you liked it, so I just put one creamer in it so it wasn't black,” she said, looking apologetic.

That's fine,” I said. I didn't really care about the taste of the coffee at that moment, I just wanted it. Jamie sat up to take her cup and sipped at it. None of us said anything for a minute, and then I stood up to walk over and pick up my shirt from the ground to hand to Jamie so she could cover herself. Her pants were on the edge of the bed, so I figured she could get those herself.

My bra?” she asked, and I turned back to the floor to pick it up and hand it to her, too.

I took my coffee and left her to get dressed. It might seem silly, since I'd seen everything now, but there's a reason that doctors leave the room when the patient is getting undressed and dressed. Something about it being more intimate for some reason. I couldn't remember what my instructor had said to explain it; I just remembered the rules.

Rules. There are rules for everything. When we're children, the rules are there to protect us. When we're adults, the rules are mostly to keep us from hurting each other. A slaver laid down rules to control the slaves so that they didn't rise up and kill him when they realized they outnumbered him. Numbers didn't mean much in this situation. If there were ten of us, trained in taking vampires down, we might be able to destroy Lukas. But we were three college students.

Humans and vampires coexisted the way we did because it was what worked to keep the casualties down on both sides. It took only three days for a vampire to create a legion to take out an entire town. Humans died by the hundreds while vampires only died by the dozens during the wars. More, when a human died by vampire, there was a good chance the vampire could get his blood into the human and just make another vampire. When vampires died, they just became another dead body. Only one vampire had to survive to re-people its kind. We needed a good thirty people for genetic diversity.

As I ate my breakfast, I thought of the books I'd read that were about worlds without vampires or worlds where the wars had gone differently. In some, we were herded like cattle until we rose up and took them down. In others, we had won the wars long ago, and we'd find out one survived, hunt it down and kill it. In the books, humans almost always won. We certainly do love the underdog.

Right then, I wished I lived in a world where vampires were just a story, like dragons or faeries. I fantasized about just being in a normal hotel, about to go out and enjoy my winter break, no vampires to screw things up. When Sarah and Jamie walked in, my daydream faded away.

We ate in silence, none of us having any idea what to say. Eventually, I turned on the television for a lack of anything else to do and found myself surprised, for some reason, to not see some broadcast on the train bombing the night before. Of course, it was two in the afternoon. It was probably on the morning news.

We all stared mindlessly at the screen and watched Law and Order. No one told me to change it, so we lost ourselves in other people's miseries. There seemed to be some sort of marathon on, which didn't surprise me, since it seemed there was always a channel with it on, somewhere, for a few hours every day. It was my go-to show when I wanted to watch t.v. and didn't know what was on.

When it was over, Sarah suggested that we order dinner. I encouraged her to get a steak, since she wasn't looking much better than earlier, and there hadn't been a lot of iron in the sandwich and salad she'd ordered for breakfast. I got one, too, since it actually sounded good, and Jamie ordered pork chops.

After ordering dinner, she decided to order a pay-per-view movie. Since we weren't paying for the room, we enjoyed our little rebellion. I thought it was sad that that was the best we could do, but Lukas hadn't told us that we couldn't. Not that I expected that would get us out of trouble if it pissed him off.

Did anyone notice when the sun set?” Jamie asked, looking out the window.

About an hour ago,” I answered, refusing to follow her gaze. I had looked out it for about ten minutes earlier trying to see if I could read the names on enough buildings to try to figure out where we were. But without the internet, in a city I'd never been to before, it was useless. I did get up for the dozenth time and look out the door.

Why do you keep doing that?” Sarah asked. “The scenery's not going to change.”

Why do you keep looking out the window?” I retorted, shutting the door. Sarah frowned, and I sighed. “I keep hoping to see someone leaving. If I can figure out which door is the elevator or stairs or whatever, we might be able to find a way to get through it.”

Jamie's eyes went wide, and she smiled a dark smile.

Are you still thinking about escaping?” Sarah asked, fear flooding her face.

Of course he is,” Jamie answered. “We have to get the hell out of here.”

But... he said...” Sarah trailed off. She was looking back and forth between us, her brows coming together in worry.

I know,” I said, “And I know that you're worried about us because he's using Jamie like your whipping boy, the same way Filomena used you to control me, but that's just more reason to get out of here. I can't protect you, and you can't protect Jamie if we don't get out. Eventually, he'll have us all. Sure, this looks like a hotel room, but it's a cage.”

A gilded cage,” Sarah agreed.

I had a parrot growing up,” Jamie said, staring out the window absently. “I loved her. My whole family did. She loved us. She still does love my grandpa. She's, like, twenty-five years old and going strong. At first, we kept her in the cage with the door closed all the time. Eventually, we started leaving the door open. She would always go back to her cage after flying around. She'd fly to us when we came home.”

Jamie didn't look away from the window the whole time she was speaking.

I bet you never opened the windows, though,” I said.

We used to,” Jamie said. “Back when her wings were clipped. We'd cut off a couple inches off the primary flight feathers every few weeks, and we could take her outside. Then one day, a neighbor dog came up and attacked her while we were in the back yard with her on her perch. We stopped taking her out and let her wings grow back. Then we stopped opening the windows.”

The illusion of freedom,” Sarah murmured.

We're not parrots,” I muttered.

Our psychology isn't that different,” Jamie said. “Put us in a cage, make us helpless, give us enough love and what we need, mix in the fear for our lives, and eventually, we'll fall in love with our captors. We'll be afraid to leave our cage. Stockholm syndrome.”

Great,” I said. “And you know this because...?”

She's a psych major,” Sarah supplied helpfully.

Just second year, though,” Jamie said. “Most people know about Stockholm syndrome going into psychology. Of course, he's going to have to actually show us some kindness for that to happen.”

You're only nineteen?” I asked.

Twenty-three. I changed majors last year. I majored in language arts until I realized I had a worthless degree. How old are you?” she asked me.

Twenty-two,” I answered. “I didn't know what I wanted. I floated around college for a couple years before I dropped out and just worked for a year.”

I'm twenty-four,” Sarah said. “I did Europe for two years and came back when my parents cut my money off. They'd only agreed to one year, but I toyed with staying in Ireland with my great-aunt, and they let me. When I didn't get a job, though, they cut me off, so I had to decide between staying there or coming home.”

Spoiled rich kid?” I asked.

Not really,” Sarah answered. “Just middle class. Spoiled: yeah, probably.”

Yeah, definitely,” Jamie corrected before leaning over and kissing Sarah affectionately. She turned to me. “You?”

We hovered somewhere around the bottom of middle class. Never had to pay in with taxes, but money was always tight. Pretty average. My parents both worked. My dad's a mechanic, and my mom's a receptionist. I never really knew what I wanted to be. Went through the stages, of course: firefighter, cop, astronaut, president. But no actual set goals. As a kid, I guess I just thought you grew up, and you were something or someone told you what to do to be what you wanted. It's not really like that.”

No, it's not,” Jamie agreed. I was going to ask her what her back story was when I decided to check the door again.

I opened it, and Lukas was three doors away. I slammed the door on him and looked through the peephole as he walked up to it, my heart pounding. His eyes met mine, like he could see me through the warped glass, and he smiled. I stepped back, and a mechanical beep was followed by the sound of the bolt sliding back into the door.

Lukas walked in and glanced over at the television for a moment before shutting the door. I felt myself tense, worrying that he was going to be angry about the movie. Instead, he walked over and sat on the couch next to Sarah. We exchanged glances, and then I looked to Jamie, who shrugged.

Movies are such a fascinating invention,” Lukas said. “And the level of violence they can simulate today is remarkable.”

No violence in this one, it's just a drama,” Sarah said.

Drama,” he said with a smile. “Something that has changed so little over the years. Comedy changes. The sense of what is humorous dies and evolves over the years. But that which moves our hearts changes so little. Love, desire, longing and loss.”

Period movies must drive you crazy,” I said. “Noticing everything that they got wrong.”

I walked over to the couch and sat down. Captor or not, vampires are fascinating. I'd never actually talked to one before, but I'd had countless questions that I wanted to ask, like most people did.

Yes and no. I understand why mistakes are made. Often, such as language, they are deliberate. I hear people talk about the 'degradation' of the English language, but it has always been such. I stopped resisting the change in pronunciation, slang and such a long time ago. And it's not only English that suffers.” Lukas said something in what I think was German after that, but I didn't understand any of it. He looked around at our confused faces.

Was... was that German?” Jamie asked, her brow knit. “I... I understood about half of it, but...”

But it was archaic. It was not what you have learned to speak in this modern day. It is the language that I was born into.” Lukas turned back to the movie, and we all turned with him. It was a strange, normal thing to do. He even asked us to catch him up on what had happened in the first half of the movie. I guess I just assumed most vampires were technophobes or at least that they had better things to do than watch t.v.

When the credits started rolling, Lukas turned to me and touched my cheek, turning my face toward his. I swallowed, wondering what he was going to do as he leaned in. He tilted my head to the side and I closed my eyes, bracing myself to feel the pinch that followed. Teeth are only so sharp when they start out as wide as human canines, so the pressure to break the skin hurt. It wasn't unlike an overzealous hickey, though, and the throat is an erogenous zone, so that's what I blamed for my body's reaction.

My heart picked up, speeding Lukas his meal, and my respiration increased. I put my hand on his shoulder reflexively and tried to ignore the growing problem in my pants. The numbness that had set in a few seconds after the pain vanished, and I started feeling giddy. My jeans became uncomfortably tight, and I completely forgot what I was doing. My hand moved up and down the arm beneath it. Someone else's hand started moving along my thigh, and I licked my increasingly dry lips. My head relaxed against whatever was beneath it and fingers slid into my hand, which was resting on the couch.

The hand on my thigh brushed against my pants where they were straining, and my breath caught. I wanted the hand to free me and help. I felt like I was falling, and every touch against my skin was almost unbearably good. My bones seemed to vanish, and I wanted to just melt into the body against me. It was cool and soft like clean sheets only moments before, but now it was warm and alive and beckoning.

Then I was being pressed back, and as my skin rubbed against the couch and the hand on my thigh moved to pull me closer, I came. I stopped breathing for a moment and arched my hips against the body above me. Lips met mine and I tried to kiss them, but I was lost in the moment which lasted longer than any other orgasm before.

I don't know how long it was before I realized that no one was touching me anymore and that I was lying on the couch with my legs in someone's lap. Something hard was pressing into my calf, and I thought maybe I was on the remote when I remembered how all of this had started.

Cold washed over me, chasing away the comfortable afterglow, and my eyes flew open. My hand went to my throat and sure enough, there were two small wounds. They didn't hurt, and they were already scabbed over, but I knew they were fresh. Then I remembered that the girls hadn't left the room before Lukas had bit me, and I felt my face grow very hot. Well, at least I still had enough blood to blush. I wondered if they'd noticed that I...

Here,” Sarah said next to me, making me jump. I turned my head, and she was offering me a glass of orange juice. Hands touched my shoulders, and I twisted my neck so fast that I pulled something, and I flinched.

I'm just helping you sit up,” Jamie told me. I pulled my leg back to push against Lukas's leg and sat up, facing him. He looked so... happy. Not smirking or triumphant, just comfortably happy. I tried to be angry, and I just couldn't. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't angry, either.

I took the juice in my shaking hand and had to use my second hand to steady it before I spilled it all over myself. I drank it and felt a thousand times better after a few sips. I had no idea how thirsty I was until I'd drank enough to start feeling it. I tried to drink the whole glass at once, and Lukas leaned over and pushed it down.

Slowly, Zack, or you will feel ill,” he cautioned.

I already feel ill,” I snapped, but there was none of the venom behind it that I wanted there to be. It was soft and weak. Exactly how I felt. Still, I drank more slowly. When I was done, I turned to Sarah, and the look in her eyes told me that she knew exactly what had happened to me. I blushed again and glared at Lukas, who laughed.

You are beautiful when you let yourself go,” he said. “Thank you. You were absolutely delicious. Whatever you had for dinner, I appreciate it.”

Lukas stood up, smiling. He stepped over to Sarah and kissed her forehead. He looked to Jamie, who shrunk back, and took her hand to kiss it instead. She frowned at him, and he smiled wider. He bowed his head to us all and then left.

Are you okay?” Jamie asked, touching my shoulder. I looked into her worried eyes.

No,” I answered. “I need to take a shower. I need...” I stood up too fast and stumbled. Everything spun around, and if Sarah and Jamie hadn't both grabbed me at the same time, I'd have fallen.

Maybe the bath would be a better idea?” Sarah offered.

No, I want a shower. I want to be alone,” I said. I tried to take a step away, but my legs could barely hold me.

My eyes started burning, and I closed them, along with my fist, concentrating on the feeling of my nails digging into my palm. The burn in my eyes spread to my sinuses, and I grit my teeth. It passed, and I took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. I opened my eyes and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. The girls let me go. I saw Jamie look behind me, probably shooting a worried look at Sarah, but I ignored it.

They didn't follow me or try to do anything girly like make me talk about it or offer to help. They just let me be. I was so grateful that the burn returned to my eyes, and I had to fight it back again. I made it to the bathroom and took off my pants.

I had never bothered to put my shirt back on, since I didn't know when I'd have access to laundry again, and it was my last one. I kicked the jeans into the wall with such force that I stumbled. I caught myself on the wall and pressed my face against it, letting the cold wallpaper cool my face down.

I turned on the water and climbed into the shower, determined not to start scrubbing myself raw like my first impulse yelled at me to do. I forced myself to remain calm and just clean up like normal. If I spent more time than usual on my neck, I dismissed it as just the itch from the healing bite mark. Yeah, that's all. I wasn't crying, either.

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