Chapter 3: Stranger

Rosa leaned forward on the counter, watching the clock as the second hand ticked slowly around again. Fifteen minutes. Just fifteen more minutes and then I can close. I should have never switched shifts with Keely. As she was stretching her arms over her head, Rosa heard a sound that killed her good mood. It was the chime of the bell above the door. Turning, she watched in annoyance as a huge man strolled into the otherwise empty café and sat down at the corner table.

Bastard, Rosa thought before saying aloud "We close in fifteen minutes."

The man shrugged. "I'm meeting someone."

"Are you going to order something?" Rosa asked, voice laced with a touch of exasperation and irritation.

He eyed her for a moment, obviously having picked up her annoyance with him. "I'll have a coffee. Black."

"Like your damn heart," Rosa muttered under her breath as she dug out a cup and saucer. "That'll be a buck twenty-five."

Sighing, the brown-haired man jumped lightly to his feet, surprisingly agile for a man his size. Digging in his pocket for a moment he came up with a bill and handed it to her. Rosa had only just shut her fingers on the proffered money when all of a sudden she felt herself flying backwards, stopping only when she hit the wall. The man had jumped over the counter and slammed himself into her, pinning her to the wall.

"Arastami," the man breathed, blue eyes bright.

Rosa glared and savagely kicked up at his crotch. The man winced slightly but didn't move otherwise. "Don't struggle," he ordered.

"Fuck you," Rosa snapped while with one hand, she groped frantically at the counter beside her. Fingers brushing against something sharp, Rosa eagerly grabbed the bread knife, which she swiftly pressed to the man's neck. "Get the hell off me before I rip your mother fucking throat out," she hissed.

Before either of them could react further, the jingle of the bell above the door announced the arrival of another customer. "Call the cops!" Rosa yelled, eyes not leaving her attacker.

In a move that Rosa considered purest arrogance; the man looked towards the door and called out to the newcomer. "You're late."

"Caleb, why are you assaulting the staff?"

Rosa knew that voice. "Evander? What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Rosa? But you were not scheduled to work today!"

"You know her?" The man, Caleb, wanted to know.

"Yes. And I would appreciate it if you would release her."

"She's an Arastami."

"I am well aware."

Caleb eyed Evander for a moment before complying. As soon as he let her go, Rosa held the knife in front of her body as she backed up until she was beside the phone, keeping her eyes on both Evander and Caleb.

"Rosa, I would very much appreciate it if you would refrain from phoning the authorities as it would complicate things unnecessarily. Also if you would be so kind, please put the knife down?" Evander asked.

"If you think for a second I'm putting the knife down while he's in the store, you're crazier than I thought!" Rosa said with a head jerk in Caleb's direction.

Evander sighed. "I assure you Caleb will not harm you."

Caleb yawned. "Of course not. She's an Arastami. I was just making sure she didn't run off. I've always wanted an Arastami. And she's unclaimed."

"That would be…problematic. Rosa is a Named Arastami," Evander replied.

"A Named…You have got to be kidding me!" Caleb cried, whipping around to stare at the blonde vampire lord. "There hasn't been a Named Arastami in over six hundred years! Who's her lord then?"

Evander just gave Caleb a look.

Rosa noticed. "Oh hell no! You are not starting that lord bullshit again! I don't know what kind of drugs the lot of you are on, but no one's my damn lord anymore than you guys are actually vampires!"

Caleb gave her a dirty look. "Don't lump us together with those run of the mill types. We're Vampire Lords. Clearly Evander's been soft on you. If you were mine I'd have taught you proper manners," he told her before turning his attention back to the blond. "Really Evander, what were you thinking? You haven't even claimed her yet. If word gets out that there's an unclaimed Arastami around here, the others will start swarming."

"Rosa was unaware of our kind up until very recently. I don't wish to overwhelm her," Evander explained.

The other man rolled his eyes. "You're too soft. She's an Arastami. She'll get over it. Honestly. You do realize you're the only one who'd act like this. The others would have just hauled her off. And that's just for a regular Arastami. If she is really a Named Arastami you don't even have to bother with that stuff. Just order her to do it."

"I don't take orders from anyone," Rosa hissed.

"Evander, mister-won't-lie-even-to-save-himself, says you're a Named Arastami. Which means you can't disobey him, so yes, you do take orders, Arastami."

Rosa glared at Caleb, not liking the reminder of what had happened the other day. "My name is Rosa, not Arastami."

"You'd better get used to it. There are many among our kind who consider Arastami to be one the same level as pets."

"I'm no one's pet!" Rosa shouted, hands clenching into fists, the knuckles of the hand that still clutched the knife turning white around the handle.

Caleb waved his hand in a dismissive gesture before sitting back down at his table. After a glance at Rosa, Evander followed suit, sliding gracefully into the chair that put him between Caleb and the girl. Rosa noticed. Not taking her eyes off either of them, she rummaged through her purse with her free hand until she came up with a pencil. Close as I'm going to get in here. Just in case, Rosa thought, hands tightening around her two weapons as she listened intently to the two Vampire Lords.

"So I assume you called me here for something other than showing me your Arastami, Named though she might be," Caleb said lazily as he leaned back in his chair.

Evander nodded. "I wondered what you could tell me of the other Arastami."

Caleb chuckled. "I warned you about not paying attention. Ah well. Not much to tell really. Last Arastami to get picked up was somewhere around fifteen years ago. That was Anthea and you know as well as I do she still won't let him out of her sight despite him being bound to her. But then again that's understandable. It's always harder with male Arastami. Yours is the first female Arastami to have been found in a century. Those damned witch hunts put such a dent in the population, there are hardly any Arastami left."

"Thank you. You haven't heard…"

"No. And some warning from you would have been nice. If I were anyone else I'd have taken her, Named Arastami or not."

"I could not be certain that some hint of her would get out. As you said I have not formally claimed her."

"And you're not going to. Ever," Rosa told him angrily from where she stood behind the counter. "I don't know what the hell all this Arastami stuff is about but you can count me right out."

"Rosa," Evander sighed, voice a little sad. "I am very sorry but I can not do that. Even if I were not to claim you someone else would certainly attempt to do so. You are an Arastami. There is no help for it."

Turquoise eyes ablaze, Rosa stared right into Evander's eyes, making sure he saw her anger and disgust. "You keep calling me Arastami like it should mean something to me. It doesn't. I don't care what you believe it makes me, I'm. Not. Interested."

Caleb looked shocked. "You don't know? You honestly don't know what an Arastami is?"

Rosa turned her glare in Caleb's direction. "No. Nor do I care. Not my problem. I intend to stay as far away from both of you as possible."

"Caleb," Evander warned quietly when the other man opened his mouth to reply. "Please don't. She is still getting accustomed to the idea of us. I do not wish to worry her unnecessarily."

"Evander, I love you like a brother, but you're being an idiot. I know you want to gentle the girl along so as not to burden her, but she's in more danger not knowing. Besides if she knows, and knows what the others would do to her given a chance, she might actually be grateful," Caleb said.

Rosa gave him a dirty look. "Grateful for the psycho who thinks he's a vampire interfering in my life? I think not."

"You're a Named Arastami. Named to Evander. He can make you do whatever he likes. You should count yourself lucky he's too soft to actually make you do anything you don't want to. Others wouldn't be so nice. I wouldn't be that nice. As long as you refuse Evander, others will try and claim you. Most of our wish to claim an Arastami."

"And what is so important about Arastami?"

"I assume Evander at least told you the differences between our kind and the common vampires?"

Rosa snorted. "You guys can come out during the day. You can eat garlic. So can almost everyone else I know."

"Our kind is born, not created."

"Hurray for you."

"Two vampires, even a Vampire Lord and Lady cannot create a child between them. Humans can't bear or father a vampire child as they end up being either turned by the blood of the vampire child or else their seed is killed before it can reach the egg. Only Arastami cannot be turned and so only Arastami are capable of fathering or bearing children to our kind. That is why Arastami are important to our kind and why, sooner or later, you're going to end up with someone as your lord. You might as well accept Evander now since he's probably one of the few of our kind who actually care what you want."