“Get her,” the male says. His voice is calm, hateful, determined.
The female newling lunges at me just as I leap at her, and with a growl, we clash and drop to the cobbles. I grab her by the throat and slam her into the wall. Immediately, she’s up and lunging at me again. I duck. She hits the opposite wall and I follow her. I have her arm jacked upward behind her. I have the strength to tear it from her body, and I almost do. Until I hear a cry, and I glance down.
“Help me, Riley!”
My blood runs cold at the familiar Filipino Dagala dialect.
The male, fangs dropped, is biting the human. Only then do I notice the short black bob, small stature, wide, frightened brown eyes rimmed by a pair of glasses. It’s my neighbor, Bhing, who owns a chic clothing boutique next door to Inksomnia called SoHo. I throw the female newling several feet away and she crashes against the steps. I lunge at the male and yank him off of Bhing. She scrambles backward.
“Bitch,” he grinds out, and with more strength than I credited him for, grabs my throat and lifts me. Eyes opaque, one small red pupil in each center, he glares. No mercy. No pity. Only rage and hunger. “Don’t fuck with my kills, freak,” he says. The streetlamp light shines off his jagged fangs.
With lightning reflexes, I wrap my legs around his waist and jam the heel of my palm into his throat. He turns me loose, and as he drops to the ground, I crawl toward him, yank the silver blade strapped to my lower back, and plunge it into his heart. He seizes, and I jump off him. I glance up; the female is running toward me. In one fluid motion I pull the blade from his heart and fling it at the female. It embeds to the hilt. She drops and begins to seize.
The craving returns. I turn for the human.
But the alley is empty now; Bhing has disappeared. Out in the street, I search. Empty, all except for a stray cat perusing the trash cans. Bhing’s gone. It’s only then that I realize why I killed the newlings.
I wanted their hunt. Their prey.
I wanted Bhing’s blood.
With both hands, I grasp my head and stumble back into the alley. What’s happening to me? Dizziness swamps me, and I drop to my knees, gulping in large breaths. Nausea crashes over me, and I fight to keep whatever was trying to come up down. With hazy vision, I notice two piles of ash on the ground. The only thing that can kill vampires is pure silver. Or another vampire.
I’d killed them with my silver blade. But had I done so to get to Bhing—or to save her? My head spins, and I push myself against the wall. Confusion grabs me by the throat, squeezes, chokes. Blackness crashes over me, and I see nothing, hear nothing, smell nothing…
“Hey, sleepyhead,” a graveled, slightly French accent whispers in my ear. “Wake up.”
My eyes flutter open. Uncertainty and disorder web their way through my memory. Where am I? The room is hazy, with the barely there early-morning light filtering in through the gauzy curtains. My bedroom. I fix my gaze on the figure leaning over me, weight supported by one elbow, chiseled face staring down at me. Eli. I’m in my room, with Eli.
His eyes bespeak volumes. I know he immediately senses my confusion. He frowns. “What’s wrong?”
Pushing up on my elbows, I sit up. “Had a bad dream,” I said, trying to recount how I’d gotten from the alley to my bed without Eli or Seth knowing I’d left the apartment—if I’d left at all. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I look at Eli. “Have I been here all night?”
Eli’s eyes narrow. “Why would you ask that?”
Frustrated, I jump out of bed. “Damn it Eli, stop answering my questions with more questions.” Pulling the curtains back, I stare out over River Street. “Have I been in bed with you all night?”
“Yes,” he says, and moves behind me. Wrapping his arms around me, he pulls me against him. “Tell me.”
I relax. “Damn, it was so realistic. I…was out in the street, at night, and I saw Bhing from next door getting attacked by two newlings. I killed them. Bhing got away.” I turn and stare up at his concerned expression. “Then I felt, I don’t know. Sick. Dizzy.” I shrug. “Next thing I know, you’re waking me up.”
“Want me to go check on Bhing?” he asks.
I sigh and move out of Eli’s arms. “No. I will. If it really happened last night I’m sure I freaked her out. Besides, I want to go visit Preacher and Estelle before I get ready for work anyway.” Preacher and Estelle keep a store, Da Plat Eye—a Gullah herbs and concoctions parlor—right next door. They live upstairs, just like I live above Inksomnia.
“They’re not there,” Eli says. “Ri, they left Monday morning to go visit Estelle’s sister in Charleston. Don’t you remember?”
Slowly, I turn and look at Eli. My insides turn cold. “Today is Monday.”
Eli’s face is drawn, worried. “Today is Wednesday.”
I close my eyes, push my fingertips against the sockets. What’s happening to me? I’m now losing chunks of time? I scramble in my memory, trying to remember. I recall going to bed, then suddenly being outside, fighting two newlings over Bhing’s blood. The last thing I want to do though is freak Eli out. The very last thing. I chuckle, shake my head. “God, I’m getting old. Dream must’ve sucked the life out of me.” I glance at Eli. “No pun intended.” Glancing at the clock on my bedside table, I stretch. “I’m starved. Think I’ll go grab some Kremes and coffee. Wanna go with?”
“Absolutely,” Eli says.
I don’t think he plans on letting me out of his sight anytime soon. It already pisses him off to no end that he can’t read my mind like he used to. The Arcoses really did a number on my DNA. Since it keeps changing, I have no idea where I’ll end up. Me. Riley Poe. What’s left of me, anyway. I can’t bullshit Eli for long about my loss of time. Don’t want to. It scares the shit out of me, truth be told. I’ll try to handle it first. See what Victorian can tell me. Maybe I can learn to control it like I have my other tendencies? I hope to God so.
“Hey, bro, running to KK,” I say. “Want anything?”
Seth glances at me, his usually bright expression dull. “No thanks.”
“Something wrong?” I ask, perplexed.
Seth’s gaze lingers on mine for a second or two, almost as if he’s waiting on me to guess. “No,” he finally answers, and pulls on his jacket. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“Where’re you going?” It’s not like Seth to be so sullen with me, but lately, we’ve both been through so much crap, we’ve learned to give each other a little space.
“School, Ri,” he answers. “Mrs. Dupré likes me there early.” Elise home-schools Seth and Josie.
I nod. “Okay. Later.”
Seth, silent, walks past me and out the door. I try to ignore the hurt I feel and look at Eli. I’m pretty sure the smile I paste on my face looks fake as hell. “Ready?”
“He just worries about you, you know?” he says quietly.
I grab the Jeep keys from the hook and head out. “Yeah. I know.”
The moment I step outside, I see Bhing at the Dumpster. She is heading back into her store and she spares me a single look and a wave. Her silky black hair, cut in a shoulder-length bob, swings with her every movement. She stares at me through her glasses. I wave back. So, she’s safe after all. I wonder what she’s thinking?
We make it to Krispy Kreme and back in thirty minutes. I eat four glazed doughnuts and sip my sugar-and-cream-loaded coffee while going over a few ink designs I have scheduled for the day. I can tell my head isn’t in the game, or in the food, and both tick me off. What’s more frustrating is that I don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes it’s worse than others. These feelings are relatively new. Eli knows my irritation; he watches intently as I dress for work in a pair of ripped, faded low-rider jeans, a black Inksomnia long-sleeved tee and a pair of worn boots. Pulling my hair into a high ponytail, I brush my teeth and head downstairs to open shop. I feel anxious. Unsettled. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Preacher and Estelle. I just can’t figure it all out.
I hear Nyx a full three minutes before she enters the shop.
Rather, I hear her heart beating.
For a split second, just before Nyx opens the front door, my vision blurs. The sound of Nyx’s heart thumping inside its cage reverberates inside of me. Her blood whooshes through the vessels as it races to and from the organ. I can friggin’ hear its resonance. I shake my head a few times, take some breaths, close my eyes, clear my head. Rid my brain of it. Goddamn it! What the hell?
“Riley.” Eli stands next to me, his hand on my shoulder, his voice stern, steady. Almost as if he knows my inner turmoil. I glance briefly at him. My mind begins to clear.
“Riley! Good morning!” Nyx greets as she steps inside, and I turn my attention to her. Luc is right behind her. Gene, the Welcome Raven—appropriately named after Gene Simmons—crows above the door. For some reason, both sounds annoy me. Nyx drops her oversized pink handbag with black skull and crossbones at her station and crosses over to me. She pulls me into a tight hug. In the span of a few seconds, she assesses me. “You didn’t get much sleep, huh? Poor thing. You look tired.”
“Gee, thanks,” I say, and move to the iPod station. “Isn’t that the same thing as saying I look like shit?”
Nyx yanked my ponytail. “Yeah, pretty much. So get some more sleep. I know you don’t need as much anymore, but a little more couldn’t hurt. You have dark circles under your eyes, Ri. You’ve lost all the color that you got from Da Island when you were rehabilitating and between your pale skin and dark circle eyes, you actually look like a, um. You know.”
I glance over my shoulder at Nyx, who passes a single look to first Eli, then Luc.
“What? You mean a vampire?” I ask. I almost laugh.
“Yes! But more like a Hollywood version. Dracula. You know?” she replies.