Monday, December 23, 2013

Bridges: Chapter One


The following content is provided for free as a sample of Bridges, the third 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.












Bridges


H.S. Kallinger


Book three of the Lost Humanity series








Chapter One



Korn was blasting from the stereo a few feet from my ear as I sat down in the padded black chair. Sarah was chattering happily with the guy sitting on the swivel stool next to me. His nickname was Paradox, they had known each other for over a year now, and I was the one who introduced them. Right at that moment, I wondered if I should be regretting it while he pulled on purple nitrile gloves. It covered the art on his hands, but left plenty for me to work out as it crawled up his arm.

I eyed the little tray with its sealed plastic implements with trepidation but didn't display any indication that I wasn't completely on board with this. He was attentive to his work station, checking that he had all of his instruments in their autoclave packets. Adrenaline was flowing freely, and a part of me wanted to jump up and run out of the shop without a backward glance.

Another part of me was actually excited.

It had taken Sarah years of pestering to get me in this chair, and I wasn't going to disappoint her by wussing out just because that needle Paradox was opening was large enough for me to see that it was hollow. It wouldn't poke a hole in my ear; it would slice it with the razor edge.

Just the one today?” Paradox asked me.

Yeah,” I answered.

Your first?”

Heh, I'm getting you to pop your piercing cherry,” Sarah giggled. That, right there, was why I was in this chair. My wife had been lamenting that she couldn't get any new piercings for another month at the least, so I had finally caved on her long-time wish of stabbing me with metal.

Speaking of cherries, have you picked your ink yet?” Paradox asked her.

I don't know,” Sarah told him. “Nothing has passed the six month test yet.”

Her bedroom walls can't pass that test,” I commented. Paradox turned to me, grabbed my earlobe and drew on it with a purple marker.

You guys have separate bedrooms?” he asked and held up a mirror, showing me the positioning of the indigo dot. I nodded, and he cleaned the area with a long q-tip. Then he applied a disinfectant while I rested my head against the chair.

Have to. Her art stuff takes up an entire room,” I explained.

This seems to have passed the six month test,” he commented, pointing to Sarah's belly. She laughed.

I don't know that I want a giant belly tattooed on me.”

I did a footprint on a belly this morning. Lady said it was the spot her mini was always kicking her. My wife has a handprint on her boob from where ours was always blocking my access. I got his name here.” He turned over his wrist and showed that a branch of his tentacle tattoo had letters for suckers, spelling 'Joe.' “Those critters make good creative material.”

There was some crinkling noises, and then Paradox turned back to me with a pair of forceps and affixed them to my ear. He lifted up that needle I had been glaring at, and it disappeared to the side of my head.

Okay. Take a breath, and I want you to let it out on three,” he said. I took a breath. “One, two, three.”

As I breathed out, I felt a sharp pain in my ear. Well, Sarah had been right that it wasn't a big deal. Sarah pulled out her phone and pointed it at me. I stared at her as she took a picture of the needle sticking out of my ear. Then she backed up and took a picture of Paradox positioning the little U of metal against the needle. He pushed the needle out with the jewelry and then put the needle back on the table. He turned back to screw the ball in place.

Okay. Just leave it alone unless you want to do sea salt soaks for a few weeks. If you do that, you just mix non-iodized salt—not table salt, that would suck—into hot water in a clean shot glass or disposable cup and cover your ear with it for five to ten minutes. It's on the care sheet you get.” He cleaned up my ear while he talked, and Sarah took more pictures.

My ear throbbed a little, but that was to be expected, especially with a larger needle. I had picked a ten gauge, which was six sizes up from standard and eight to ten from a piercing stud. Sarah approved heartily. Paradox held up the mirror for me to look, and I just looked like me with a horseshoe earring in my ear.

Thank you,” Sarah said to me and kissed my head.

You keep your hands and mouth to yourself until it's healed,” the piercer said, wagging his finger at her. “I know you're always touching yours, but his is off limits for the next six weeks, give or take.”

I know, I know,” she said. “Hey, how long after I pop out the kid before I can get my nose done?”

You gonna breastfeed?” he asked.

Uh... yes? I think?”

Then when you're done. Some people will pierce you sooner, but I won't. Don't try to bullshit me, either. It's for the kid's safety. I run a clean ship, but no matter how small the risk is, it's not worth it.”

Fine,” she sulked. “I've waited this long, what's another few months? Hey, can I get one if I'm just pumping?”

Nope. Same deal. Welcome to parenthood.”

Don't give me that—it doesn't affect you the same way,” Sarah protested.

My wife made me take out my palang after she had the kid. Didn't like it anymore. Do you know what a bitch that was to heal?”

Your what?” I asked, completely confused. Sarah was blinking rapidly.

You don't want to know. It's from the frozen hell list,” she answered. Which meant it was probably a penis piercing as those took up the majority of my 'when hell freezes over' list. I felt mine shrink back at even the thought.

Yeah, it sucked taking it out,” Paradox said.

You still could have got something else pierced,” Sarah pointed out. He shrugged.

I guess. Point is, though, that shit changes.” He pulled off his gloves, slid his chair over to a trash can and tossed them in.

Yeah,” Sarah said.

I knew that she was thinking about the time crunch she was under. She was planning to die in two or three years, because she was already approaching thirty, and she wanted to be young forever. Which meant that she had to get all of the piercings she would want readily available to her for the rest of her existence, since vampires rejected piercings the majority of the time. She could still get them for a few days or weeks at a time, but any that she wanted to get without having to redo them constantly, she needed to heal while she was human. She could get tattoos any time she wanted.

Well, you like it?” I asked her, pulling her out of her head, and she smiled.

Yes! Are you sure you don't want another?”

Let's see how this heals,” I told her, and she grinned. It really wasn't a big deal after all, and as I looked in the mirror again, I did kind of like it.

That was twenty,” he told me.

Oh yeah,” I said. I pulled out my wallet and handed him a twenty and a ten.

Hey, thanks, man,” he said, smiling and holding up the money in a sort of salute. “Tippers go to heaven.”

I got out of the chair and followed Sarah out of the shop, repeatedly having to stop myself from touching the odd sensation on the left side of my head. As soon as I stopped thinking about it, it stopped hurting completely, but I still felt strangely off balance.

We walked over to a Mexican restaurant, because that was all Sarah had wanted to eat for the last month. I'd heard of strange cravings in pregnant women, but I think it was more accurate to say that they just became insanely picky. If something made her nauseated once, she wouldn't touch it again, even though her morning sickness was long gone. Mexican had yet to offend her.

We walked two more blocks to the bus stop and rode it back to my bookstore, Bound To Entertain, which is where we'd left the car. Sarah curled up under my arm and fell asleep on the way. I played with her wildly curling red hair until it was time to get off the bus.

I helped Sarah stand up and wobble off the bus, but she was fine once we got to the pavement again. We walked down to my shop, and I smiled to see it again. I'd only been open for a week, and things already felt like they were back to normal.

We piled into the car, and I drove us home. Sarah flipped idly through stations on the radio and then turned it off after four of them had commercials playing. It wasn't a long ride home, and she talked to me about piercing, happy that I finally had some perspective. As we turned onto our street, though, the mood in the car plummeted. I wished that we had anything else to do except pull into our driveway with its missing car.

I parked, turned the car off and stared at the garage doors, wishing that the sun would set sooner. I was already missing winter and its short, dark days, but especially today...

Maybe Jamie heard something while we were gone,” Sarah offered. I don't think either one of us actually had any hope for that. I certainly didn't. We climbed out of the car, and I selected the right key on my keyring to unlock the front door. I opened it, stepped inside and froze.

Jamie was dancing around, wearing her headphones. This, in itself wasn't so abnormal, but she was really going. I stepped to the side, letting Sarah walk in, and she dropped the food. I turned to her, alarmed, but she rushed past me to grab Jamie. I shut the front door, suspecting that we didn't need to air whatever was coming to the few neighbors we had. I guessed I was right with my feeling that something was off.

Are you high?” Sarah demanded, ripping Jamie's headphones off. They stared into each other's eyes, and I stepped quickly up behind Sarah to check. Jamie looked up at me, a small smile on her lips, seeming completely oblivious to Sarah's reaction. I could see the light reflected in her eyes, which were almost black and definitely unresponsive.

Shit,” I said, turned to grab the food and walked out of the room. I didn't want to be involved, especially with the pregnancy hormone-enhanced rampage that was about to happen. I braced myself for a lot of yelling, and when it didn't happen, I got worried. I returned to the living room, and Sarah was sitting on the couch, crying.

Don't cry,” Jamie was saying, sitting behind her and petting her hair. Her voice was high and... not hers.

What did I do?” Sarah cried into her arms, which were folded on the couch.

Huh?” Jamie asked.

What did I do?” Sarah repeated, spinning around. “You haven't done this in years. You think I didn't make the connection after what you said in the cabin? You only did this shit when I cheated on you. So what did I do?”

It wasn't you!” Jamie said, her voice still weird. “I just wanted to—you guys—while you were gone, I wanted—I've been really stressed the past few days, and I couldn't just go—that is I—”

Jamie was talking so fast that I couldn't catch much of what that followed. Something about being blocked on her book, being unable to distract herself and needing an upper.

I walked out and went into Jamie's room to check her desk. There was a small, curling piece of paper and a bit of powder on the surface in front of the chair. I closed my eyes for a moment and waited until my head cleared to go back into the living room. Sarah looked up at me, tears streaming down her face.

It was supposed to be done by now,” Jamie was saying. “I thought it would just get me past the wait for you guys to get back.”

You could have gone with us,” Sarah said.

I really did want to get some work done.”

And snorting coke helps that?” I asked.

Cocaine? You fucking idiot!” Sarah said, hitting Jamie in the arm.

Ow! Don't hit me!” Jamie said, putting up her arm. Sarah hit her a few more times and then fell back against the couch, crying again.

Dumbass,” I said when Jamie turned to me.

You guys are mean,” Jamie said.

You don't get to call me stupid anymore,” I told her, pointing a finger at her as I walked past to hug Sarah. “Look what you've done.”

Sarah turned into my arms, and I kissed her eyes before she could bury her face against me and cry. She sniffled and looked up at me. She looked so miserable that I reached out and smacked Jamie in the back of the head, although not hard at all.

Ow!” Jamie yelled again. “Fuck you guys!”

She got up and stalked into the kitchen.

Come on,” I said to Sarah. “Let's get you fed.”

I don't want to eat.”

Yes, you do. You'll feel better after you have some food in you,” I insisted.

I don't get to do stupid shit,” Sarah said as I helped her get off the couch. “You get to go and get drunk; she gets to go and get high. What do I get?”

Sex,” I answered, easily. “You fuck your problems away.”

But I'm not sleeping around anymore. So I'm not hurting anyone with it!”

And if we hadn't gotten home when we did, Jamie probably wouldn't have hurt anyone, either. She's going to come down, so don't pick on her.”

Her own goddamned fault,” Sarah said, but she did stop picking at Jamie and sat down at the table while we got out dishes.

I'm sorry,” Jamie said softly, her voice closer to normal, as she put Sarah's glass next to her plate.

I'm sorry for hitting you,” Sarah said. “A little. Because my hand hurts.”

It's okay, I only felt it when you were hitting me. You can hit me again if you want,” Jamie said. Sarah glared at her, hard.

I wouldn't tempt her,” I warned Jamie as I pulled the tops off of the salsa cups.

Oh yeah, how did it go? Do you like it? Let me see,” Jamie bounced up, her voice pitched higher again.

Is her voice always that... childish when she's high?” I asked Sarah, pushing my hair away from my ear so that Jamie could get a look.

Yes.” Sarah was dividing the takeout containers between our plates and clearly didn't want to talk about what was going on anymore.

It looks good,” Jamie said, still very... chipper.

How long ago did you take it?” I asked her.

I don't know. What time is it?” She looked over at the microwave.

Seven,” I answered, reading it before she did.

An hour ago?”

Did you cut it with something?” I asked.

Booze,” Sarah said while taking a bite of refried beans. “Can't you smell it?”

I don't have your pregnant vampire nose,” I answered. “All I've smelled is Mexican food since we picked it up.”

I had a shot or two of vodka,” Jamie said. “It was supposed to help cushion the comedown.”

For fuck's sake, Jamie,” I said, grabbing her wrist and feeling her pulse. Her skin felt hot, and I touched her forehead while I counted heartbeats. “Are you dizzy?”

Yeah, but I have been since I did the lines.”

Couldn't you have just smoked weed?” I growled as I started doing the math. Four times 41 was 164. I subtracted her age from 220 and cursed that Sarah's math skills had deteriorated with pregnancy as I worked out 80 percent of that. She had been as good as any calculator before. Still, I knew that Jamie was definitely in the danger zone.

Did weed already.” Jamie had a personal policy of not doing the same drug twice, except for two exceptions. One she repeated because she suspected it was tainted. The other was vampire. “You can't really get my temperature from your hand.”

I can feel that you're running a fever, though,” I said, getting angry. “Go take your temperature.”

'Kay,” she said and trotted out of the room. I turned to stare at my plate, my appetite gone. I grabbed my burrito and took a bite anyway. I was used to eating when I wasn't hungry, since my body's go-to reaction to stress was to stop telling me to eat. Since I lost a significant amount of weight doing that at one point, I made sure that I ate on a schedule, regardless of my mood.

What was her pulse?” Sarah asked. I looked up to see her moving her food around with her fork, not really eating.

Eat,” I said, taking another bite.

Answer the question.”

Hundred sixty-four,” I said and turned to watch Jamie walk back in with a thermometer sticking out of her mouth. It beeped, and she tossed it down on the table in front of me. “How many shots did you do, anyway?”

I don't know,” Jamie said, her voice agitated. I looked at her, and she was frowning.

Coming down?”

Whatever,” she said, stabbing at her enchiladas.

If you're not going to eat it, put it away for later,” I told her, picking up the thermometer. 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fine,” she said and then grabbed a takeout tray and dumped it all in. “I feel like puking anyway.”

Does your chest hurt?” I asked.

No.”

Do you have any benzos?” I asked.

I've got a Valium,” she said quietly. I dropped my burrito back onto the plate.

I... fuck,” I hissed and stormed off to her room. I had been hooked on Temazepam the last year after being kidnapped by a hate group who tried to brainwash me. I'd used a Valium mix to get off them, and I felt betrayed that she'd bring that shit into our home. “How many goddamned drugs do you have in this house?”

A few,” she said sullenly.

Get every single one of them, right now,” I snapped.

Who the fuck do you think you are?” she asked, spinning on me. I looked at her hand because I noticed it was shaking, and she jerked it behind her body.

I'm your best friend. The one who was forcibly addicted to drugs and had to go through hell getting off of them, remember?”

So? That's not me. I've taken all sorts of shit and never got hooked,” she snapped.

Yeah, I'm sure that will last forever. Just like you're not fucking on the edge of ODing right now.” I shoved her into the bedroom, and she stumbled, spun on her foot and shoved me back.

You're also the guy who is fucking the person I love,” she yelled and swung at me. I grabbed her hand and twisted her wrist, pushing it in toward her ribs, which made her turn around. I slammed her against the wall.

I'm married to the person you love,” I corrected her. “And I am just as scared about where Lukas is as you are. Hell, if anything, I'd say it affects me more since he's my husband.”

Let. Go.”

Are you going to get all of your drugs?” I asked.

I'll get the Valium,” she said, and I released her, remembering why I had asked her in the first place. The first thing I needed to do was get a hold of myself. I didn't like being scared, and I was. I was afraid because Lukas had been missing for four days now, and we hadn't heard a word from him. I was terrified because I didn't want to lose Jamie to either jail or the morgue.

I concentrated on my breathing while she opened and closed a few drawers. Then I put my hand on the wall and leaned my forehead against it. I felt the anger slowly drain out of my body, being replaced by a sense of calm. There was still the fear in the back of my head, but I was doing better when Jamie came back out, holding out her fist. I turned my head to look down, and I held out my hand so that she could drop six pills into my hand. I picked out the orange tablet and handed it back to her.

Take it; then I want you to take a cool shower. If your temperature had been one degree higher, or you were having any chest pain, I would have hauled you to the ER as fast as I could.”

Is it really that bad?” she whispered, and I pointed to her shaking hand.

You could die off one hit, and I know you're intelligent enough to know that,” I said. “I will never understand how you can be so smart and do this.”

Don't push it,” Jamie said, walking to the bathroom at the end of the hall where we had a shower stall.

I'm sending Sarah in in three minutes,” I said.

Don't,” Jamie turned back to shoot me a plaintive look. “I don't want her more upset.”

Okay, then I'll be in as soon as I'm done eating my dinner,” I told her. Jamie stared at the floor and nodded.

Fine.”

Leave the door open.” I walked back to the kitchen to eat my burrito, stopping in the girls' bathroom to flush the pills on the way. When I reached the kitchen, Sarah was still pushing her food around.

Why did you have her take Valium?” she asked.

Because it will help with both her heart rate and hyperthermia,” I replied.

Should we take her to the ER?”

I want to see how she's doing after the shower. Or if she develops any chest pain. We're going to have to stay with her, though, to make sure she...” I stopped myself from finishing the sentence.

Make sure she doesn't die,” Sarah finished for me, “Like Lukas might have.”

She started crying again, and I took the last bite of my food. I rushed over to her to try to stop her from getting hysterical.

Sarah, honey, I've got to go sit with her to make sure she's okay in the shower. Please calm down and eat.”

I can't!” She pushed me away and stood up, wobbled and fell back into the chair. I waited to see how she was going to react, because she promptly stopped crying and appeared to be deciding how to feel. “Fuck it.”

She grabbed her fork and started picking at her food again. I guess she'd chosen anger—or it chose her. I wasn't really sure, but she was eating, and that was what was important. I tossed down a glass of water and then went to keep Jamie company in the bathroom.



I was sitting on the floor between Sarah's legs, my head touching Jamie's, which was resting on Sarah's leg. Jamie was sleeping off the Valium on the couch while Sarah and I played Portal 2 on the X-Box 360. We were well on our way to beating our best time through when the sound of a key turning in the lock interrupted us. I hit pause and stood up, bolting for the door as fast as I could.

I grabbed the knob, yanked it open and stepped back in horror. If I didn't know that only two other people had a key to our house, and one of them came exclusively in the mornings, I might not have known who I was looking at.

Sarah, go to our room,” I said, stepping between her and the door.

Why?” she asked.

Please,” I begged, turning to make sure that she complied. She stared hard at me for a moment; then she turned left and walked into my bedroom. I took a step back, letting Lukas come in. He was moving with great difficulty, and I did a quick count to make sure that he had all of the fingers on his left hand.

He didn't.

I shut the door and moved in close to offer him my throat. He shook his head and limped into the living room. I realized that his jaw must be broken, and I wasn't sure what to do.

Should I call Nicky?” I asked. Lukas nodded, so I pulled out my cell phone and gestured through the menu until I found his picture and slid my finger to the left to dial him. Lukas knelt by the couch, touching Jamie's hair.

Unless you want to be very sick, you don't want to feed from her,” I warned him as the phone started ringing. He rolled his remaining eye at me and made a hand gesture that I didn't understand. I think he was pointing out that he couldn't feed on anyone.

What is it?” Nicky answered on the third ring.

Lukas needs help. His face is crushed, his arm is mangled, and he's missing fingers. There's also a gaping hole in his chest that I could probably stick both of my fists in.”

You certainly don't mince words,” Nicky said. “I'm on my way. Does he have any instructions?”

He can't speak. I think his jaw is broken.”

Is Bonnie safe to call?” Nicky asked. I looked at Lukas, and he nodded.

He's nodding.”

Then do it.” The phone made the disconnect chime, and I went back to my contacts to find Bonnie Pedraza and poke her image. Nicky had been as much on edge as the rest of us, but that was still pretty damned abrupt for him.

Did Lukas show up?” Bonnie greeted me.

Yeah. He's in bad shape. Get here now.”

On my way.” Bonnie ended the call, and I put it back in my pocket.

Anyone else I should call?” I asked, and Lukas shook his head no. He touched Jamie and lifted his hand in a questioning movement. “She freaked out today and decided that cocaine was the answer to her problems.”

Lukas's right eye widened, and he looked back down at her. He petted her hair.

Can I come out?” Sarah called.

No,” I called back. “Lukas is here, but he's a mess. The less you see, the better.”

Okay.” I barely heard her, but I knew she was worried. Why shouldn't she be? Two-thirds of her polyamorous relationship was in shambles.

Is there anything I can do?” I asked, and Lukas stood up.

He indicated that I should follow him and started walking in the direction of the bathroom. I followed him, knowing that his lieutenants would just let themselves in. He turned on the shower, faced me and touched the muddy, bloody mess of his jeans. I unbuttoned them and pulled them down, following it up with his underwear. There was nothing left of his shirt. I reached into his pockets to retrieve his wallet, phone and... his missing fingers.

I tossed them in the sink, because that was almost more than I could handle, and vampire appendages didn't need to be iced to be reattached. I tossed his phone in with them because the screen was shattered, so it was trash, but I would want to take out the SD card. I stuck his wallet in my back pocket on the opposite side from where I kept my own.

Lukas was watching me, and I realized that he needed me to help him get clean, so I stripped down and followed him into the stall. It wasn't huge, but it was big enough for me to help him wash off all the dirt, blood and gore. He kept his back to the water and tried to clean around the wound on his chest. The water pouring off of him wasn't the usual orangey-pink of bloody water, but a horrible red.

I took the washcloth from him and did it myself. He had to be exhausted. I could barely look at his face, but I knew I needed to if I was going to get it clean. Touching it seemed unthinkable, but I was as careful as I could be, because even without the risk of infection, the mud had to come out. While I was cleaning around his eye, it was leaking vitreous—the jelly part—and I almost lost it. I had never dealt well with eye trauma. My own eye ached as I wiped it away.

Lukas's good hand came up and grasped mine, stopping it from shaking for a moment. His right eye looked more sad than in pain, and I leaned over and kissed his uninjured cheek lightly. I dropped the washcloth to be washed by the running water and reached up to touch his jaw.

Can you move it at all?” I asked, and he opened his mouth, flinching. It didn't move much and blood ran out to mix with the water. He closed it again and swallowed. “Do you have the missing tooth?”

He shook his head and indicated his throat.

You swallowed it?”

He nodded. Well, it could have been worse. Vampires could heal things like magic, but regrowing missing parts—particularly bone—was problematic. It took decades to regrow a finger and up to a century for something bigger, like an arm. I wasn't sure how long a tooth would take, but he could throw it up when he was able to open his mouth again and put it back in.

Were you attacked by another vampire?” I asked, and he nodded.

It would help if you would come out so that we might see his answers as well,” Nicky's voice carried through the bathroom door, and I jumped.

We'll be out in a minute,” I called. I reached past him to turn off the water. He stepped out of the shower first, and I followed. I grabbed the towels off the rack and handed him one. He looked at it for a moment and then down at his chest. I dried myself off while he tried to dry off his legs and groin. Once I was dry enough, I pulled back on my jeans; then I turned around and took Lukas's towel back.

I dried off his back first, tossing my towel over his shoulders to catch the water dripping from his hair. I did my best to get his torso dry before getting his butt and legs. I picked up my boxers and held them open while he stepped in. I pulled them up as I stood and grabbed the towel from his shoulders to rub against his hair for a moment. Afterward, I draped it back over his shoulder so that he didn't have rivulets of water itching at him.

I waited for him to leave the bathroom before I fished his fingers out of the sink, sorting out which was his pinky and which was the top half of his ring finger. I ducked into the girls' bathroom on the way out to the living room to grab the heavy duty first aid kit from the linen closet, leaving the standard one behind.

Why is Jamie passed out drunk?” Bonnie greeted me as I walked into the living room.

She's drugged,” I answered her. Anything more was none of her business.

Why?”

Because she needed to be,” I told her, making it clear that I was done with that line of conversation.

Is she hurt?” Bonnie asked.

She's not a viable donor,” I answered.

That's not what I meant, Zack. Why are you being evasive? I thought we were friends.” Bonnie looked up at me with big, sad brown eyes. I sighed.

We are. You're not really friends with Jamie, though, and it's a private matter,” I told her.

Okay,” Bonnie said, still looking a little hurt. I dismissed it, because there was nothing I could do about it.

Lukas,” I said, getting his attention. He turned, and I held up the big metal case with our major medical supplies. He nodded and walked into the kitchen to sit at the table. I pulled up a second chair and opened the box to get out four tongue depressors and a roll of paper tape. Next I pulled out my old knife from my days as an EMT.

The first thing I had to do was reopen the wounds on his hand so that the new flesh didn't get in the way of reattachment. The detached digit didn't need to be messed with—it hadn't healed. After that, I taped the sticks to his detached pinky finger, lined it up on his hand to the stump and taped it together. He was shaking from the pain, but didn't make a sound. I wished I had some way to stop that.

So, since we missed it, did another vampire attack you?” Nicky asked. Lukas nodded. “Was it a territorial fight?”

Lukas nodded again.

Tell me that you killed them,” I said as I slipped off his wedding ring from me. I put it on the table and started taping the ring finger to two more tongue depressors. He shook his head. “Maimed them?”

He nodded. I cut open the end of his stump and slid the rest of his finger into place.

Was it a guy?” Bonnie asked, and Lukas nodded. “Is he in worse condition than you?”

Lukas shrugged and winced.

We have to get blood in him, but opening his mouth is a problem,” I told them.

Do you have a drinking straw?” Bonnie asked.

Uh, let me look,” I said and got up. I looked through the cabinets until I found a round canister of rainbow-colored straws. “Yes.”

Get a knife, a glass and a straw,” Bonnie told me, and I complied.

I came back to the table with the supplies and wondered if I could cut my own arm or if I'd have to have one of the vampires do it. Bonnie answered my unspoken question by taking the knife and cutting her own wrist. She turned it over the glass and let it seep out. When it closed, she repeated the procedure. It took four cuts to get a significant amount in the glass, and then she stuck the straw in and handed it to Lukas.

He tried to drink, but apparently couldn't suck, because he couldn't pull anything up through the straw. Bonnie frowned and looked at Nicky and me. I took the glass, stopped up the end of the straw with my finger and drew it out of the glass, half-full of blood. I held it up to Lukas's mouth, slid it inside, held it upside down and let go. The blood drained into his mouth, and he swallowed. I looked down at the glass. This was going to take a while.

Bonnie got the idea, though, and she took it back from me. She set it down on the table, put her finger over the top of the straw, her mouth around her finger and then sucked the blood up to the opening, clamped it down and fed Lukas. An opaque film started spreading over the skinless parts of his face, and I recognized it. I'd seen him grow new skin before after sustaining deep partial thickness second degree burns from the sun.

Nicky bit his own wrist and pressed it to Lukas's chest, letting the blood flow into the major wound. I had to look away because watching it closing was nauseating for some reason. Staring at his chest at all was hard, but this just looked wrong.

This is too friggin' slow,” Bonnie said. I snapped my fingers as I realized that there was an easier way.

Hold on,” I said. I retrieved a sandwich baggie from a drawer, took the straw from her, pushed it down through the bottom corner, then took a small bit of cloth medical tape and sealed it. I held it open while she poured in the blood and kept my finger over the end of the straw. I transferred it to Lukas's mouth and held it upright while he fed. He held the straw to his mouth. I walked to the sink to wash my hands.

When the bag was almost empty, I noticed that he had started sucking and moving his jaw. His swelling was going down along his entire face, and he had shiny pink skin instead of raw meat. I knew vampire blood healed better than human, but this was remarkable. I was looking at a full day's worth of healing in a matter of minutes.

Bonnie held her wrist out to him, and he took it in his right hand and bit her. After a moment, her eyes clouded, and she slid down onto her knees. She rubbed her breasts against his leg, and he looked over at me.

Don't look at me. If either one of us touches her, Sarah will flip her shit—and that is your fault.” He rolled his eye and lifted his head, releasing her wrist.

No more, Bonnie,” he said quietly, but she was past the point of being able to hear him. She collapsed to the ground, and her hand went under her plaid skirt. We all stood up and left, giving her privacy because there wasn't a one of us who didn't understand. Lukas's voice was pained, and his mouth did not move easily. “She will need to feed when her mind returns to her.”

She'll have to hunt because my blood is only going to you,” I said firmly. I could not touch Bonnie. Years before, when I was Lukas's slave and not his lover, he ordered me to have sex with Bonnie to make certain she was safe to go out on her own. I had sex with her before I ever made love to Sarah, and even if it had been 'work,' I had enjoyed it, a lot.

I meant for you to call to order her a donor,” Lukas explained.

Ah, okay,” I said. I walked over to the computer to look up the number for the nearest blood donor service. That turned out to be RH Factor, and they had online ordering, so I grabbed Lukas's wallet, took out his debit card and started the ordering process. I tried to ignore the sounds coming from the kitchen. Especially how they made me feel. I hadn't had sex with a woman in almost a month.

I wasn't sure what Bonnie preferred as far as food, so I selected the American Indian male, since he looked the most like me, and I was the only food I had as a reference for her. I just hoped it wasn't my eyes she liked. My eyes were blue, like my Irish mother and Scottish paternal grandfather's. The black hair and tan skin came from my half-Shawnee father.

Sarah and I had talked about our genealogy when trying to figure out what our baby might look like. She was Irish and Jewish. Jamie was pure Scandinavian: Norwegian and Swedish. Lukas was German and possibly some kind of Norwegian. His mother had been Varangian Rus'—a viking.

I finished paying—five hundred dollars, yeesh—and the website said that he would be over within thirty minutes. I wondered if pay-for donors had a place that they hung out, waiting for a call, or if they just went about their normal lives until the call came.

A state bill had come up two years ago trying to make donor delivery businesses illegal, declaring that it was akin to prostitution, but it was defeated. All of these businesses had a strict 'no sexual contact' rule—not that it wasn't easily broken—and you couldn't get pregnant or catch disease from feeding a vampire, so it was entirely an ethical dilemma for the anti-vampire lobby.

I thought it was interesting that there were picture profiles for the food, though and thought back on the woman Lukas had ordered in Ohio. I wondered if she was his ideal or just the best of the options he had. You could even sort by gender, race, body type, diet, hair and eye color. Lukas had once told me that the only variable that affected the taste of blood was what they ate, so appearance didn't matter.

Bonnie's food will be here soon,” I said, turning in the computer chair. Lukas was feeding directly from Nicky now, and his chest was covered in a mess of scar tissue. I didn't like it one bit. That fucker had tried to dig out my husband's heart. He had gotten too close.

We should move to my room,” Lukas said, releasing Nicky's wrist. Nicky swayed in place on his knees, but didn't lose himself like Bonnie had. He took a shaky breath and stood to follow Lukas.

Do I stay and wait with Bonnie or come with you?” I asked.

I do believe that Bonnie is finished recovering,” Lukas said. Bonnie appeared in the doorway, looking at the floor.

Please forgive my rudeness,” she said.

I had to look away before my first thought escaped from my brain. I didn't think that, 'What's a little fapping between friends?' would go over very well. Heck, the slang would definitely be lost on the older vampires.

It happens,” Lukas said, and I suddenly wondered how he reacted to the chemical in vampire saliva.

Bonnie had actually fed from him a few months ago, but I was out of the room while it was happening because she was healing much more severe wounds: decapitation and cardiectomy. A hate group had kidnapped her while she was guarding Sarah, cut out her heart and removed her head. Had we not found her when we did, she would have never recovered.

I looked at the spiked leather collar she wore around her throat and wondered how well-healed she was. She ran a hand through her short, spiky purple hair and nodded. It was again the color she had sported when I met her. Only a couple months ago, it had been striped in a rainbow. It was a bit longer than when I first met her, but not by much.

Come back with us until your food arrives. Niccolo, do you need food as well?” Lukas asked him as we walked down the hall.

I will feed on Crystal when I return home,” he answered. Crystal was Nicky's favorite pet human. I'd met her a few times when we had met at his house. She was on the heavier side, and I blamed her cooking—I had teased Sarah that I was going to leave her just for Crystal's brownies. Unlike us, she had been picked up voluntarily to be his live in food and submissive companion—which was why she was a pet and not a slave.

So, tell us what happened,” Nicky said as Lukas settled on his bed.

Zack,” Lukas said, patting the bed next to him. Guess it was my turn. I walked over and climbed up into the bed.

I want to hear this, too,” I said. “Sober.”

I know,” Lukas said. He put his arm around me, pulling me against his chest. Then he rested his cheek on my head, and the knot in my stomach loosened a little. He took a deep breath and let it out.

I am uncertain how many nights ago—”

Five. You've been gone for four days,” I supplied.

How has it been so long?” Lukas asked quietly. “I was unaware of the last few days, it seems. I was jumped in an alley outside of BloodLust on my way to the front door. He told me that his name was Uriah and that he intended to take this city from me—as he grabbed me by the throat. We grappled and ended up taking it out into Penry Park, which was not occupied at the time.

I do not know how long we fought or what became of him, but while he attempted to tear out my heart, I tore his throat out and fed on him, which is the only reason that I survived. He had a finger hooked into my heart, and I barely managed my final attack.”

I had a death grip on his leg from the moment he said that he was attacked on the way to the club. He went to BloodLust at least four or five times a week. He had to go out to get food on a regular basis because we could only feed him once every four to six weeks. What's more, while Sarah was pregnant, she was off limits for the baby's safety. The drug in vampire saliva crossed the placenta with very bad consequences, like fetal seizures and cardiac failure.

Now I was going to be a wreck every time he went to feed until I had time to forget about this a little.

I was left there to die. When I felt the sun coming, I buried myself in the earth,” he continued.

Ah, that explained why he looked like something from a horror movie when he came in. The combination of mud and blood had made it appear that he had walked out of a bloodbath. The only thing nearly as bad had been the smell.

It took until tonight before I was healed enough to crawl back out. I am concerned that I may have been seen by a couple 'necking' on a bench, but I doubt that they would have been able to identify me,” he concluded.

No chance. You looked like some kind of murderous golem. I wouldn't have known it was you without your key. For a second, I thought you were the thing that ate you,” I assured him. Everyone was looking at me, disgust on their faces until Bonnie's head swiveled to the living room.

Dinner's here,” she said, standing. “Be back in a minute.”

Enjoy,” I said. She smiled and left us.

Now,” Lukas said, turning to me and pushing me back against the bed.

I will give you a few minutes,” Nicky said. “I'll be just outside the door if you have need of me.”

Think we got this,” I said, my heart pounding. I heard the door click and Lukas leaned in to my throat. He stopped before his face had left my vision, and he looked down at me.

I am sorry that this time is being wasted to my damaged condition,” he said. “I would much rather make love to you while we did this.”

You're hurt—I'm just glad that I can help you get better, even if it won't be as much as Bonnie and Nicky.”

I will not be able to take much—I regret that I have already gorged. But I am quickly burning through what I have taken in,” he said.

Are you sure that you don't want to wait until you're not as full?” I asked.

The thought of returning to you pulled me early from my grave,” he whispered. Then his mouth was on my throat. A second later, the pleasant pinch of his teeth pushed every negative thought out of my brain, and I got hard. I felt his tongue, and it was only a handful of seconds more before I was blissed out of my mind, desperate to be touched. Something was wrong, though; I knew in the back of my mind. This was one of the best ways to get off, but I wasn't going to.

I fought my wandering hands, stilling them when I felt cool flesh under my palms. I had to stop, even though everything felt so good. It was important.

My body cried out in protest, but I slid my hands under my butt. The ecstasy became painful, and I wanted to beg for release. I was good, though, and I stayed silent, reveling in the fingers I felt touch my face. I could hear words that I didn't understand floating through my haze and felt cold, soft lips touch my own. I wanted to respond, but that warning voice said to hold myself back.

Ich liebe dich. Jeg elsker dig.” The words floated around me and I knew them. Love. They were love.

I love you, too,” I replied, letting my left hand pull free and reach out to touch Lukas's face, though I couldn't really see it yet. I opened my eyes, and everything was still abstract and overwhelming, so I closed them again.

Zack!” Jamie's scream cut through my haze and I bolted up, running without thinking.

Pain exploded in my face, and I hit the ground, clutching my eye, certain that I'd just broken every bone in my face. I clenched my teeth, forced my eyes open and sat up while the air swam and the walls moved away. I forced my eyes to focus on what I'd run into—the doorway. I crawled out the doorway and felt an arm snake around my chest to lift me up.

I was on my feet again and used the wall for support to get down the hall. I could hear Jamie crying, and thanks to my face, I wanted to join her. Normally, the vampire drug killed all ability to feel pain. I had a feeling that the sensation was as exaggerated as sex was in this state, and I wobbled drunkenly down the rolling hall.

I swung myself through the doorway and spotted the couch. Jamie was curled in a ball in the corner crying into her hands. I ran to her and hit the coffee table, banging my shin painfully.

Fuck!” I shouted; then I limped the rest of the way to her. I fell onto the couch and felt myself fall a second later, which lead to me tipping over onto Jamie. She sat up, twisted her body and crawled into my lap, helping me to sit up straight. I could feel that her fever was gone, and I knew that was a good thing, although I was having trouble focusing on why as she sobbed against my shoulder.

Can I come out now? Please?” Sarah called. I tried to remember why I stored Sarah in my room, but I was having difficulty thinking about anything except how much pain I was in now.

Yeah, sweetie, you can come out,” Bonnie called back. “Lukas, you should go put on a shirt, though.”

I looked over, and the room didn't move or spin. I would most definitely not be volunteering for sex-free vampire feeds in the future. Lukas disappeared back down the hall, and Sarah came out into the living room.

Jamie, what's going on?” I asked into the pile of blonde hair beneath me.

I had a bad dream,” she whimpered.

I'm sorry,” I said, petting her hair. Jamie hadn't had a coherent dream since she was hit by a car 11 months ago, so she definitely hadn't had any nightmares. I had some horrible ones while I was on a diazepam weaning dose, so I figured that was what caused it. “Probably the Valium.”

I know,” she said, hugging me tighter and sniffling.

Do you want to talk about it?”

No. I want to forget it ever happened and have it never happen again.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Everyone died. It was down to just you and me, and then I found you dead.”

That's when you yelled for me?”

Yes. I woke up, and you guys were gone, and you weren't supposed to leave me.” Jamie clutched my shirt, her fists shaking from holding on so hard.

That's because Lukas came home,” I said, still stroking her hair. Her head shot up, and she started looking around. She flushed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, smearing off what was left of her makeup.

Where has he been?”

He was in a territorial fight. He... didn't win or lose,” I said, nervous about what that meant.

He survived, and that is enough,” Nicky said. “We'll ask around about this Uriah and gather information useful in protecting Lukas.”

None of my people are to travel alone until we know more,” Lukas said, stepping back into the living room. He had on jeans and a t-shirt now and looked a lot better—except for the massive scar tissue all over his face.

I knew it would slough off as he healed further, but it was disturbing, especially since it affected his eye so badly. Vampire scarring was weird—it wasn't like humans, where it stayed around. The tissue was just the same, but eventually, it faded to nothing and wasn't even visible on a microscopic level after enough time. Still, it stuck around for varied amounts of time, depending on the individual healing factor of the vampire. The more severe the injury, the longer it stuck around.

His left arm was several different colors from bruising. The bone was straight again, though. I had never seen a vampire that needed a bone set—their bodies did it on their own.

Understood,” Nicky said.

Well, how are we supposed to get home?” Bonnie asked.

I'll drive you,” Sarah offered.

I am forty-five minutes by car,” Nicky said, frowning. “We will need to leave now.”

No problem,” Sarah said.

Wait, you're still part of our people,” Jamie said. “If you take them home, then you'll be driving back alone. I can't go because I'm still fucked up from the Valium.”

There's also the problem that Bonnie lives alone,” I pointed out before I offered to go with them. I didn't think Jamie wanted to be alone with Lukas right then. She had not released her grip on my shirt.

Do you object to staying here?” Lukas asked Bonnie.

I guess not,” she answered, looking around. “I'd probably feel safer, too. I don't have any humans making my house safe against vampire intruders.”

Then you will accompany Sarah and Nicky and return him to his Crystal, stop by your home if you need anything that we do not have and return with Sarah.”

Okay.” Bonnie walked over to the door, and Nicky joined her. Sarah followed them, slipped on a pair of shoes, grabbed her keys from the key hook and then came back over to kiss Jamie and me good-bye.

Love you both. Be good. I'll be back as soon as I can,” she said.

Love, you, too,” we said together. We looked at each other, and Jamie rolled her eyes. Sarah walked over to Lukas to hug and kiss him, too.

Please avoid getting hurt any more,” Sarah told him.

I will endeavor to avoid any territorial disputes in my own home.”

Ich liebe dich,” she said, kissing his cheek.

Ich liebe dich, mein Bärchen,” he said; then she joined the vampires waiting outside, and they left. I turned back to Lukas, who was staring off into space.

Your beard is wrecked,” I commented, and his hand went up to touch the damaged side of his face.

Scheiß,” he swore. He turned back to us on the couch. “Now, explain why you were using drugs?”

I knew he was addressing Jamie, but she seemed so miserable, curled up under my chin...

She was worried sick. We all were, but while Sarah and I were out, distracting ourselves—”

I want to hear from Jamie,” Lukas said, frowning at me.

And I want to protect Jamie,” I replied. Lukas's eye widened.

I am not going to hurt her,” he said. He came over to join us on the couch and sat with the arm at his back, facing us. “I want to know what was wrong. Certainly it was not only concern over me.”

What, because I don't care about you?” Jamie asked, peeking her head out over my shoulder.

Of course you do,” Lukas said. “But I did not think that—”

No, of course not. Look, just because I don't fuck you doesn't mean that I don't love you. I was wrecked from worry, and I couldn't say a goddamned thing because Sarah was already suffering from her own, and Zack was carrying both of theirs around. Most of the time, Zack and I can talk about this kind of shit to keep ourselves sane, but not about you. He loses it when it comes to you or Sarah. I guess he does for me, too, but I'm not exactly going to be there for that.”

Lukas lifted his right arm and held it out to her. She stiffened and hid behind me for a moment; then she crawled past me to curl up in his lap exactly how she had been in mine. Lukas kissed her head.

I am sorry that I worried you,” he said, then sighed loudly. “I am sorry that I was caught—what is—with my pants down. I have clearly become complacent. To be attacked at my own feeding grounds—it is a grave insult. We do not fight where food is willing. It is a rule.”

That's what you get for being a rule breaker,” I teased.

This is not a rule to be broken. This is foolishness.”

I agree,” I said and positioned myself so that I could lie down with my head on his free leg. I put my hand on Jamie's back and closed my eyes.

Don't shit where you eat,” Jamie said.

I am not certain that is the proper use of that idiom,” Lukas said.

Doesn't that have to do with not fucking people at work?” I asked.

Yeah,” Jamie said. “But it can be used to mean not doing anything to fuck something up for everyone.”

It was originally from The Adventures of Augie March, a novel from the fifties. Although that was taken from 'don't shit on your own doorstep,' a phrase from the UK.” Lukas expanded. “I think, more appropriately, I would use the phrase, 'It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.' Only this is not his nest; it is mine.”

Four years ago, could we have sat around talking about the origins of proverbs an hour after Lukas closed a gaping hole in his chest?” I asked.

You couldn't,” Jamie answered. “And a what?”

Jamie sat back and yanked up Lukas's shirt. Her sudden movement dumped me off the couch onto the floor.

Hello, floor. We meet again,” I mumbled, staring up at the ceiling.

Oh my god!” Jamie exclaimed. I turned my head to see her examining the splints on Lukas's fingers; then I sat up.

Have those reattached yet?” I asked.

I believe so,” Lukas said, looking down at them. “Although the nerves have not.”

That has to be a good thing,” I said.

Very much,” Lukas agreed as he stared at his left arm. Slowly, he lifted it up, then hissed and pulled it back against his body.

How long would that have taken you with only human donors?” I asked, climbing back onto the couch.

A week, perhaps. Do you feel up to feeding me again?”

Ah, yeah, about that...” I stared at the floor. “I don't know if I can handle doing that again. That hurt.”

What?” Lukas looked confused.

Well... I mean, not... Not the biting part. But when I got ripped out of it and ran into the wall—and the coffee table—the pain was really bad. It was a bad trip.”

I am sorry about that,” Lukas said, looking concerned. “I have never seen anything like that happen before. I have also never seen anyone able to feel alarm in that state and respond. Normally, you would not be able to process what had happened while it was still impairing the rest of your senses.”

Oh, so that was just because I freaked out about Jamie?”

You ran blind and senseless into a door frame. I was barely aware that you had moved before it happened. You seemed strangely more aware this time than you usually are.” Lukas frowned, but kept petting Jamie, who had settled back into the crook of his undamaged arm to poke at his chest scars. I think she was counting. A horrible thought occurred to me.

I can't be developing a tolerance, can I?” I asked.

No. Humans cannot be exposed enough for that,” Lukas assured me. “I believe that you were just on high alert regarding Jamie and... what? Worried about hurting me?”

Yes to both,” I confirmed, relaxing a little.

I am healthier now; I will not merely take what I need. I will thank you properly if we might retreat to your bed?”

Okay,” I said. I looked at Jamie.

I'll come with you. I don't want to be alone,” she answered my unspoken question.

I wasn't sure why you didn't want me to go with Sarah, but I kind of got the vibe that you didn't,” I commented.

I didn't want any of you to leave,” Jamie said, scooting back from Lukas. “But she left anyway.”

Our allies need to be safe,” Lukas said as he slid his leg free.

I know. I'm just being selfish.” Jamie looked so lost and hurt that I wished I could give her my turn with Lukas. Lukas leaned in to her and kissed her forehead.

I would be, too, in your position,” he assured her and stood up.

I followed him into the bedroom with Jamie right behind me. She held my hand until we got to the bed; then she curled up at the foot of the bed to wait. This time, nothing went wrong and I got my usual explosive orgasm from feeding Lukas. As it faded and I came back to myself, lying on his chest, I wondered if I would still get to do this with him once I had become a vampire.

Lukas?” I decided I may as well ask.

Yes, Geliebter?” His eyes met mine, and I followed the tiny bit of blue around his dilated pupils. Vampires could dilate their pupils much further than humans. There were times where his eyes were basically black.

When I'm a vampire... will we still do that?”

Oh yes,” Lukas said, smiling broadly. “I look forward to it. We must be careful, of course, that we do not get lost in it, lest we starve.”

Right, 'cause every time we do it, we kill more red blood cells that we need to replace.”

Yes,” he said. “Though we learned that it was not true sustenance long before science ever asked why.”

Did you do that often with Pia? I remember you said that you learned it from her.” I asked. Pia was his wife of over a hundred years from the Italian Renaissance.

I did. I have done so with all of my vampire lovers. Although Sébastien was too obsessed with control to allow me to bite him often. He delighted in doing it to me. He did not like the loss of awareness, and I do not believe he trusted me in the end. He did not allow me to feed from him, even when I was grievously injured, for the last sixty years.

He really couldn't give you what you needed, could he?” I asked and watched the last of my jealousy over Sébastien dissipate.

No, he could not. For years, I thought that it was that he would not. That he was doing it because he no longer loved me. Eventually, I realized that he was just afraid to let go. Did I ever tell you that after he betrayed me, he never allowed me to bring him? When we were together, there was always a human for him to finish in. Then they were given to me.”

I remember you saying that he fucked all your lovers first. That's why you were an asshole to me about Thomas.”

Which was seriously a dick move,” Jamie said and we turned to look at her. She was lying on her stomach, her arms folded and her cheek resting against them. “Zack got so drunk that he jumped into our bath, and I was afraid that he'd either drown or fall and break his head open. Then he spent all night puking.”

I only remember the once,” I said. Thomas was the vampire that Lukas whored me out to—forcing me to give my first consensual gay sex to another guy. When we got home, he refused my advances and left me with nothing but the pain and rejection.

It was about five times, actually,” Jamie told me. “We had to help you back into the bed twice after you fell out. That's why Sarah was completely out when you finally woke up. She was worried sick about you. I had to make her sleep on the other side of me after she spent ten minutes crying in your hair while you were crying.”

Without warning, Lukas's right arm wrapped around me and pulled me close to his chest. He kissed my head and buried his face against my neck. I guess I had never told him how I'd reacted to his rejection—why would I? Apparently, I didn't even remember it all. He had to go finish the takeover that had led to our enslavement in the first place, so I hadn't seen him again for over two weeks. I stroked his hair and stared at the ceiling.

Whatever did happen to Thomas?” I asked.

He is still in Miami,” Lukas told me. “Enjoying his place as third in command. He has always been immensely powerful, with no ambition. He is a hedonist. He wants only enough power to ensure that he does not have to do anything unpleasant. He does not desire responsibility.”

I can't really blame him for that,” I said. “Apparently, I just prefer to get my safety net by sleeping with the boss. Also, it's really weird to learn the first facts about someone beyond 'he's hot' years after screwing them.

Was he hot?” Jamie asked, a smile tugging at her lips.

He could have stepped right off of a movie set,” I confirmed.

Was he as pretty as Lukas?” she continued, and I got her game. I looked at Lukas and pretended to scrutinize his features.

It's really not a fair time to compare. It's been so long since I saw Lukas's whole face... But then, I suppose it's been longer since I saw Thomas's. Let's see, starting with the face. Well, Thomas had more of a square jaw. His hair was shinier.” I felt Lukas start growling, and I tried to think of anything that was nicer on Thomas and failed. He pounced, pinning me under his chest and arm.

If you miss Thomas so much, I can send you to him for a while,” Lukas rumbled, and I had one of those moments where I was reminded that he was a predator and I was his prey. It thrilled through me. I wasn't the gazelle, though. I was another lion. Another male lion. I pushed him back, and since he was injured, I was able to do it. I flipped him onto his back and stared down at him, my hair falling to frame one side of his head.

His ass was firmer, and his eyes were—oh hell, his eyes were like mud in comparison,” I said, unable to keep teasing Lukas, who was giving me his most neutral stare at this point. He harrumphed, leaned up and bit me. I collapsed on him, and he let go. “And his ass was flat. He was selfish in bed and had no stamina. Which I was grateful for.”

Did I miss watching them go at it?” Sarah asked from the doorway. I rolled onto my side.

Oh no, my wife's home. Now she knows about our tawdry affair,” I joked.

That's okay, honey,” Sarah said. “I've been meaning to tell you about my true love for ages. You see, I really love to eat out girls.”

Lukas made a noise, and I snickered. He really didn't like that phrase. It was apparently the 'out' part, since he had no problem with eating people.

Wait, does this mean that you and Jamie...” I continued with the joke.

Yes,” Jamie said, sitting up on her knees. “We really should have told you sooner. The baby is mine.”

If we are making confessions,” Lukas said, sitting up, “then I, too, have something to reveal. For you see, Jamie—I am your long lost twin brother.” Jamie groaned, Sarah fell onto the bed laughing, and I chuckled.

Welcome home, Sarah,” Lukas said, touching her face. He kissed her cheek and scooted to the edge of the bed. “Was your trip uneventful?”

Very,” Sarah confirmed. “Unless you count Nicky and Bonnie bickering over the radio until I turned it off.”

Bonnie, are you feeling left out?” I asked, not bothering to raise my voice.

Completely,” she called from the living room. “It wouldn't be so bad if you guys weren't so obviously in love. And complete dorks!”

I hear jealousy,” Jamie commented.

You can tell it's twisting her out there,” I agreed.

We should all have really noisy sex,” Jamie added.

If you do that, then I'm going to rifle through all of your stuff!” Bonnie called. “Underwear drawers! Personal belongings! Anything at all that is alphabetized will be rearranged with abandon!”

Jamie sat up straight and bolted from the room. She was the only one of us with any interest in organization, and she was a little OCD about it. I had only messed with her once, reverse alphabetizing her bookshelf, and she had cut three of my guitar strings. I got the message: she didn't give two warnings.

Speaking of my guitar... While Lukas and Sarah left to join Jamie and Bonnie in the living room, I walked over to my guitar and took it off its stand to look it over and make sure it was in tune. I plugged in my headphone amp, put on my noise canceling headphones, curled around my guitar and let out a bit more of my stress in private.

I had a feeling that I would be hit with a lot more over the next week. Or more.














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