Copyright © 2010 Renea L. Spidell
Cover Image Copyright © Damon DeMartin 2010
Edited by Toni Bower
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, incidents or
locales is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form,
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without
prior written consent from the publisher. For information please
contact Clayborn Press.
Printed under Authorization, All rights
This is the first book I ever published. It is the story of how vampire prince Arjun Kumar came to Phoenix and met his mystery, his destiny, his mate.
Heated wind blew sluggishly over the paved parking lot. The sun's glare from directly overhead denied the existence of shadows at the same time as brilliance outlined the street in clarity. To human eyes, windows blazed with reflections and the breeze created a mirage of water on the street. From a seat in the dense shade of the park, Arjun watched as nothing happened.
He loved Phoenix. He also felt ready for a long string of nothing to happen. That of course is why he preferred a place with so many cloudless days. The valley of the sun was not a popular vacation spot for immortals and Arjun was not in the mood for company. Months ago he had accidentally witnessed a confrontation that stayed in his mind until he could think of nothing else. The innocent human family with compassionate eyes and amazing love for one another haunted his steps until he found himself shying away from human prey in a way he never had before.
He remembered every word of the intervention they held to save their son from a life of drug abuse. Arjun did not think he had been evil, but even as he listened to them talk about having a substance control every aspect of the boys life, the words rang true. He followed the family to support group meetings and listened through the walls, intrigued by the science, the psychology of it all. Arjun was a substance abuser. Constantly looking for his next hit, out of control with cravings. He had no real friends, could never live in one place for long, and sometimes killed humans without meaning to. The first step to regaining control of his life, or unlife, was to admit That he had a problem. Arjun was addicted to human blood.
His once red eyes faded in color to gold as he walked among humans for the first time in two centuries as a friend instead of a predator. I cannot forget, he thought to himself, I am no barbarian. I understand technology, cell phones, paying bills, and slang. Have I not listened and watched humans build this sea of technological wonders? Have I not played with these toys myself? I should not feel lost in a strange world like I do now. It is the cardinal rule to not stand out in a crowd while hunting, and I was good at playing the game. Now I will join the flow of time instead of hover outside it.
He could not understand why this change felt right, but it felt as right as the sun in the sky and heat in the desert. Arizona seemed a good place to settle down and blend in.
During the day the heat helped keep the street and park clear of humans. Arjun's resistance to the lure of blood could not yet stand up to the temptation of living under the clouds up north. Immortals of his type didn't need as much sleep as weaker vampires, as little as four hours a day. Too much freedom to mingle with humans during the empty hours of daylight would not help his control, so he moved south.
As for the rest of it, the valley of the sun now belonged to him. He had a claim of territory over one hundred years old and the few younger and weaker vampires remaining scattered when he arrived. So many vampires had met final death in the last great territory war that there were hardly any left to scare off. An uneasy peace settled between the stronger bloodlines and the weaker pawn scum, enforced by the Elders. They were, it was said, bored by all the fighting and planning to take firmer control over their subjects and children. He shrugged, moving to evenly warm his skin in the blistering air. An answering sigh emerged from the deep shadows behind him.
It sounds like you have a customer, Leareth whispered. Of course, he could not be certain if spirits ever shouted. They all sounded like whispers, all the time. In life he had been a medium, a mouthpiece of spirits. Arjun hesitated to say he spoke with the dead because that didn't seem to cover it. Many of the spirits he spoke to had never lived a mortal human life. They came in the form of animals, insects, birds, and fantastical creatures like dragons and faeries, but he never could be sure what they really were. If you could look like anything at all, would you pretend to take a normal physical form?
Leareth seemed human enough unless a medium who could actually see him looked closer at the sharp clawed fingers, small fangs, and vertically slitted pupils. This spirit companion hovered by Arjun's side from the day he turned thirteen years old to this, and he still had no idea what he is. By description this spirit could be called a demon, but how many demons liked vampire fiction and eavesdropping on the dreams of teenage girls? His job included irritating Arjun, feeding him information when the demon felt like it, and giving sometimes accurate warnings or visions about future events.
Shalima, a small golden dragon, helped out with reading emotions of people around him. Not complete thoughts, unfortunately, but the morsels of information regarding a person's past, present and future that Shalima could pick from a target's mind added together with a century or two of observant people watching made Arjun seem like a mind reader, without actually having that talent. Now that Arjun wanted to live among humans, a nomad's small resources couldn't create a good enough cover. He used the psychic gift as one means of support. If only he had paid a little more attention to how money worked in the human world.
So many things changed in a century. Mining was big in the southwest of 1906, the last time he stopped by Phoenix. It had been a good sized town with plenty of hard working families and just as many young or old men seeking to dig up a fortune. When he fed off these men, not one person was surprised when a prospector failed to come back from the mountains. The gold and precious metals taken from these victims over the years as he roamed from California to Colorado stayed securely hidden in inaccessible mountain caves.
Now he wished he had stashed it in a bank instead of under a rock. Gold nuggets seemed all but impossible to spend without attracting human notice, so he had to pay rent on the minuscule bookstore with it's shadowed courtyard by readings and book sales.
He slipped through the back door to greet the customer. He wondered if she would like a Tarot reading, Palm analysis, or some magic supplies as he examined her. She was neither old nor young, and wore her hair long and wild like a country witch. Her skirts were too long for the modern fashion and printed with colorful designs. The large silver shape of a pregnant woman hung around her neck. A faint whiff of "High John the Conquerer" oil drifted from her, as though she had just used up the last of the oil in the bottle.
This one was easy. He knew what she would need before she asked, and gently lifted a small tray of essential oils from the glass counter. Her eyes widened and she smiled in pleasure. Arjun knew she would be sending more customers here soon. She thinks you're the real thing, Love, hummed Leareth.
I AM the real thing, L.
"Welcome to my shop, can I help you?" He smiled without showing his sharp teeth.
"Yes, I'm here to refill a few things, but some of the things I'm looking for may seem a bit", she hesitated and glanced down. The rhythm of her heart sped and her eyes widened as other responses to the shop keeper raged through her body. Unconscious of the differences that should send her running out of the shop, not certain if she felt attraction or fear, her eyes blinked several times. She seemed startled by her own reaction to his beauty, and treated Arjun like the sun. Glancing to get a sense of it, then looking away. She looked anywhere but him, at the decorations, books, and piles of crystal clusters, perhaps searching for things he usually kept in stock in the back. "I don't see what I'm looking for." She sighed, hiding the intimate burn he knew bloomed in her cheeks, like so many human females before her.
Phoenix wasn't an easy place to find things used for gray magic. And if Arjun knew witches, discomfort and shyness meant this one was leaning a bit toward the black. Most customers focused on the jewelry cases full of gold rings and silver figures which he cast and formed himself, or the hand polished gemstones and crystal points he dug from natural caves during hunting trips. These sales also paid for the shop, and laundered the raw materials of his hoarding days into actual cash. Arjun pointed toward a purple velvet curtain that led into a separate room. This room had been a closet but it was more than large enough for the limited inventory less popular charm spells called for.
"You might want to look in that room. If there is anything missing, or past freshness, I would love to order it for you. We have the most comprehensive inventory in Arizona." Arjun suppressed a chuckle as the four or five usual spirits around him burst into peals of laughter at what this harmless witch considered dark magic. She wants to attract a man who is already attracted to her…She is blind and deaf! Shalima flew around the room, a tiny golden dragon breathing and trailing flames.
Shush. Not everyone can taste the fire of passion, Shalima.
The woman spent half an hour in the closet while he held his breath. She made quiet noises like a child in a candy store and emerged with a basket full of items, a wide smile, and a large bill. The instant she left, he turned on the fan to blow her scent out of the open door and began to breathe freely. It was getting easier not to kill them. They all smelled so appealing. He sighed, determined to test his theory about the blood. There was something dehumanizing about drinking human blood. It affected the vampire brain. Overpowered thoughts of compassion and friendship. Arjun could already feel subtle changes in himself. He wasn't about to ruining the experiment with an evening snack. She will tell all her friends about you, boss, Shalima hissed a laugh. Your looks must really be something. He nodded.
My looks really are something. If the most perfect features of India could combine in one face, creating a being painted in countless temples and countless poses, and that being stepped out from the wall to say hello, you would be talking to Arjun. His skin is fair for an Indian, the color of coffee with a little cream and caramel. It was darker in life, but years have paled it. This delicious color rippled over the muscles of a fighter in his 25th year, lean and strong. A military leader in the prime of his life. Dangerous. Large eyes, especially hypnotic when black with thirst, rested like glinting jet colored eggs in a nest of rich eyelashes. This was their natural color in life, blacker than the darkest chocolate. High eyebrows arched like graceful birds over this rich nest. A waterfall of dark ringlets falls to his shoulders, tempting fingers to touch, and a few stray shorter ringlets decorated the smooth forehead in the same way all gods and angels have, a tiny curl to attract the heart of the observer.
In spite of all this, he was not made a blood drinker for looks. It was both his strength as a fighter and gifts as a psychic. A pity that the transformation had not completed in time for Arjun to help defend his maker. That was a story from another time. Now he lived here, worked here, and meditated here. The shop was always open, unless he was out hunting the over-populated coyote packs in and around town. He hunted sometimes very close to streets of the city. Other times he traveled far into the desert to practice hunting and fighting without being observed. There were always coyotes, more than any other furred hunter in this land. They hunted, he hunted. It was the way things are whether gold or blood was the target.
Tonight Arjun would be hunting more money to add to his pitifully small bank account. Several thousand dollars didn't hold a candle to the kind of cash some immortals had laying around and he cursed the laziness of the last few decades. He could have been coming into the human world with style. Maybe someday he could buy an island or a mansion like all those fantastically wealthy fiction vampires and entertain small countries on the weekends. He snorted. Carefully he packed the entertainment kit for the New Age birthday party. Crystals, pendants, tarot cards, silk gloves, a pendulum, salt, mood music both to play and for sale, some books on contacting the angels, also for sale. His favorite California white sage smudge bundle, camphor, lavender oil treated candles. Three excellent ghost chasers, never leave home without them. Truth was Arjun hated having the dead crash parties. It was worse than getting drunk voice mail messages from your grandmother about how you looked on that bear skin rug as a baby. Worse than Spam in your email box on how small your penis is, and worse than trying to have a rational chat with a televangelist. Nothing killed a psychic party like a real uncut unedited message from the dearly departed. Ghosts that liked popping up to talk to mediums often lied to get attention, claiming to be a famous historical figure or some kind of character from fiction. If the ghost wasn't lying, it could still be wrong. Just because a person died doesn't make them any smarter than that person had been in life. The little group of usual spirit allies handed him more than enough information for reading, without all the confusion.
The purple table cloth functioned as padding for a random Hindu deity from the shop that he packed. Parties always went better with more atmosphere, even though the whole bundle made a hefty duffel bag to carry five miles to a full house of paying customers. Hefty was a matter of perspective. He smiled, easily shouldered the bag, and stepped out into the deepening twilight. The sky promised a storm later that would ruin his silk shirt with dust and grimy raindrops. The storm will really start in three hours, Shalima offered. Soon Arjun planned to buy a used car to avoid being at the mercy of the weather. Showing up to parties soaked and smelling like a dirt parking lot was never part of the plan.
The hostess allowed plenty of time for setting the mood in the reading room. She kept busy on last minute adjustments to the sound system, but Willow seemed to want as much time alone with Arjun as possible, as if after the party she might interest him in personal consultation in the bedroom, and a much larger tip. He frowned when flames of thirst tore predictably at his throat. As often as he hunted, Arjun knew he wasn't thirsty. The monster inside of him didn't need her blood, it wanted a fix. Like a drunk reaching for another bottle even though he was already falling down with the affects of an all night drinking binge. It was a shameful desire to own her death. Focused on the ritual of setting up, he refused to think about holding her soft body in his unyielding arms. The blue silk veil she wore over her costume for the party would tear like a spider web and fall to the floor. Her white warm skin under the contrast of his caramel hands, his hungry lips, the quickening pulse of her…
Stop it now, Leareth hissed. Or don't, I could care less.
You are right, he answered. You are right. A calming exhale, relief. A calming inhale, fire, thirst, crushing her to him. Maybe breathing isn't a good idea here. Exhale. Fake moving the shoulders for an inhale. Remember to blink. He allowed the rising perfumes of incense and candles to calm his body as he completed final arrangements of the crystals and cards on the purple velvet cloth. After mentally grounding himself into the bedrock beneath the house, Arjun opened his eyes to the curious audience. He kicked himself mentally for not asking more questions. A costume party. A belly dance costume party. All the exposed throats, bare shoulders, and transparent silk. He groaned and almost had to spit excess saliva out into a tissue. The party, and the house was larger than he expected. He heard people walking in through the open door carrying rustling bags. The sloshing thud of bottles setting down on a marble counter could be wine or soda drinks. From the scent of things, large amounts of food and sherbet punch were piling up on the long wooden tables Arjun had glimpsed in the kitchen earlier. He wondered what else was on the entertainment list for tonight but did not want to ask. He certainly didn't want to watch one of these luscious en trees dance.
Willow asked simple questions with easy answers. "So, Arjun, how long have you been doing this?" She ran her fingers over the cards and crystals on the table.
"All my life", was not a lie. The last two centuries he wasn't technically alive although he had not done much paid reading since life, unless it was a preamble to feeding. "Who taught you?" A shy one asks. "My mother", truth again in a way. Recently he used books to brush up on modern Tarot cards, a brilliant invention fake psychics use to give real talent a bad name.
"Do you have a gift, are you very good?" Willow winked.
He nodded. "I certainly do have a gift," He murmured. And sometimes, I am very bad. Truth came easily when surrounded by such scents. It was like feeling warm from too much wine as the perfume of innocent blood filled a room already warm from candles and breath. He settled into the feeling as though in a pool of steaming water. His voice became as smooth as the pace of a leopard as he touched her shy, pale hand with a silk gloved finger. Her breath caught again, eyes fluttered. She is mine.
"Most readers don't like to have their crystals and cards touched," Willow stated, but it sounded like a question. Arjun realized he slipped up on some modern psychic etiquette.
"It all depends on how the cards are feeling." He smoothly replied while his thumb caressed the pulse of the largest vein of her hand under her long, unbroken lifeline. She sighed softly. "Today, they want to be touched." Arjun got down to business with readings. "The lines of the hand are a window to the soul. Your left hand, tells me about your desires. The right hand, reveals what you will become. Where the hands match, you find that your real life matches your subconscious desires, and you are happy."
This one wanted to know her love future. "Here where the heart line graces the palm. See it looks like a chain the whole way across, how it breaks and splits and lines rain down from it like falling tears. You heart is broken. I am sorry. Very sorry." He continued gently. "Willow, the hand changes over time. Your heart needs to learn to love herself before loving anyone else will work out." His eyes bore into her pale blue irises and found pain.
Shalima, help me out here! He reached out for help. OK boss, I have something. He sent the information in a fast paced blur of images.
"See this line here, there the chain makes a short single line?" Arjun pointed. "A man you already know is interested in you. He has been hurt before, so he is too careful to approach. If you seemed more confident, if you approached him firmly, you would easily have him for a lover." She leaned in, her face intense.
"What is his name?"
"James Turnbull." He nodded firmly. The ladies erupted into gossip about the fabulous James and how he looked, dressed, talked. They were already plotting how Willow could lure him in. "But you must not play games with him, Willow. Treat him how you want to be treated. Your heart line may heal over time." She got out of the chair with a dreamy look on her face, and a line of hopefuls formed for more readings. Every movement of the ladies in the room caused ankle bells to jingle and coin belts to rustle musically. Arjun desperately used the sound as a focus of meditation to sink deeper into the medium trance. The discipline paid off tonight more than ever before.
One woman worried about money, another worried about her children, and so on. All the trinkets and books brought, sold. A young man asked if he would be successful at selling his motorbike to upgrade for a new one, and how angry his father would be. They also talked about his college career and whether he would return to India after graduation or find a job in America. It was a relief for Arjun to be reading for a typical guy from the Punjab. He wasn't bad looking, but at least he didn't smell like hot, sweaty, tasty, dancing female. He probably didn't even hear Arjun's answer. At that moment a lovely peach pie (Stop it, she's a person!) distracted him by entering the room. The packaged love or money spells, fixed candles, silver pendants, and gemstone figures even sold, most likely destined to be marked up in Willow's high end Scottsdale gift shop or passed out to her relatives on Solstice. He liked that she looked ahead in her life, shopping in the middle of August. To him it meant that she would have a life to look ahead to. He certainly could not kill someone who had just finished her Christmas list, he smiled to himself. That would be a shame. Some of the ladies listened to his advice to seek answers from the angels and higher beings instead of from the dead. He left with a tidy sum in cash and checks, a much lighter bag, and no innocent blood warmed his amber eyes. Arjun rode a strange, emotional high of success. Hunting was good.
Wind picked up and thickened the air with dust, so he stopped breathing to avoid eating blowing dirt. Hair constantly lashed into his eyes to further blind him but he foolishly did not tie it back. Confident he was in no danger, Arjun focused on the feel of the concrete beneath boots and trusted the textures of that surface to keep him on the sidewalk. This was a game he played as a boy in India during such storms to make his way with senses other than eyes. Wind lashed the trees mercilessly while lighting flickered from cloud to cloud like the flash of one thousand cameras. The idea of continuous lightning and the monstrous growl of thunder that flowed from one end of the sky to another began to make him wary. He walked faster, wondering if anyone would notice if he ran full speed several miles to the shop. Into this tempest broke a sound so unusual that it came from another dimension. A long forgotten version of the Hanuman Chalesa, a song from his homeland, praising the strength of that most fabulous king of monkeys, Hanuman, and his ability to remove troubles from the world. The words of the ancient poem are well known to millions, but this regional vocal arrangement of the chalesa had been lost.
The voice in song rose like a flight of angels above the hopeless, barren earth, seeding joy and freedom and purity to all inhabitants below. For several minutes he walked slowly toward the voice. She was flawless, crystal, passion, and rapture all at once. The troubles of the world fell from his heart and left him stripped defenseless before her voice. He swept the hair out of his eyes and caught only a dim outline of the angel before his own scent betrayed him on the wind. In less than the space of a lightning flash, without looking back, the immortal fled forward at a dead run. He dropped the bag and sped after, stopping briefly at the spot where she had stood to sample the trail. Over canals, through trees, and across rooftops they chased, all at incredible speed. She dodged cleverly, so close to capture but almost losing him so many times that a sense of admiration grew in him during the chase. Running her down on foot was not a good way to meet the kind of talented lady who could sing beautifully enough to make rocks weep, then fly faster than a hummingbirds heart.
Finally, he stopped. He froze beneath a street lamp miles away from the start of the adventure and murmured, "You win, I will chase you no further." How could I let her go when my mind, my heart, thought of nothing but her voice? Was there no hope of seeing her again? Did she feel as curious as I and perhaps watch me from a hiding place nearby, a rooftop or a tree? Gravel ground into the knees of his jeans before he was conscious of falling to the ground in a spot of light. Using the envelope from tonight's party invitation and a cheap pen from his pocket, Arjun wrote the singer a short note.
"Would the devotee of Lord Hanuman condescend to meet the lost soul from the street? Please reply to this note. Arjun Kumar"
He breathed upon it a kiss, wrote his number on the back, rolled it up, and stuck it into a hole in one of the fence posts that lined the road. Without looking back, feeling like a fool, he walked away. Back to the dropped bag lying in the street. Back home to the empty shop and a head full of dreams. There was hardly a one in ten thousand chance that she would read and respond to that note, but immortals are curious creatures. They dream and plan and sometimes fantasize about things they wish to know. Arjun wanted to know how sensitive, how exquisitely soft her lips would be on his. To touch her braided hair, freeing the silken flow across his fingers, the scents mingling together, would be heaven. Scene after scene flashed through his head. She would answer, she wouldn't answer, she was laughing right now. He should take the note down. No, he should ignore the note. Most likely the rain that moved through afterward destroyed the childish thing and washed it, along with any hopes of meeting her, into the canal. He sang quietly to himself the popular words of the old poem as he walked home. "Friend, remember Hanuman, Jai, Jai, Jai, Hanuman gosai…" Singing did not calm his rabid fantasies. The thought of Hanuman reaching for the sun as if it were a fruit made him think of reaching for the delightful singer and tasting her lips. This was becoming unhealthy. Hadn't I just been wanting some time alone, now I longed for a nameless, faceless, voice?
Faceless. Not once had she looked back so Arjun could see her face. He was only sure of her long braided hair, black as night. Her lithe and small of stature dancer's body, her incredible scent. If American vampires smelled of violets, Indians smelled of Amrita. Jasmine, roses, honey, spices, and cream. Even the nightly meditation exercises Arjun practiced failed to settle his mind. Finally, he decided to take the note down. Just a few hours before sunrise he broke off the fitful meditation and hurried to retrieve the note. He planned to move on and regain peace of mind, to take it back from the recent intruder. But, where was the note? What did this mean? The note had been taken and replaced by none other than the elusive singer. Her delicate fingers had touched this thick paper. She had drawn a tiny lotus flower in one corner. Her graceful handwriting crushed Arjun's spirit in five words. "I must not see you." Signed, 'N'. The ink smelled fresh. This was maddening. Why write back at all if only to say five words? Holding the fancy bordered paper inflamed him more by the second. He barely stopped from shredding the note into a thousand pieces. Instead he tore the top half of the page off and put the written portion in his pocket. On the other half he placed some words of his own.
"My dear 'N', I know so little about you, yet I must know more! If you will simply answer the riddle of last night. Why were you singing in a lighting storm? I let you go last night because I came to respect you as we chased. I am sorry I frightened you. You posses immense speed and agility, your voice is impeccable. Something tells me you have many other talents I long to explore. You refuse to see me, then please write to me or call me. I live or die by your hand. Your servant, Arjun".
He stuffed the note with violently into the fence and looked at the thickly clouded sky. He needed a distraction. He needed real human friends and a hobby.
Just then a group of riders on sport bikes sped past the spot he stood and completely took his mind off everything else. It seemed meant to be. The young man at the party needed to sell his bike, and Arjun needed a vehicle. The boy seemed nice enough and had already invited him to 'hang out' with friends. Davinder answered the phone on the second ring. By the banging and thud along with laughter on the other end, followed by a voice far away from the speaker, it was obvious the boy had dropped the phone when he answered it. Probably drunk. Yes, they were hanging out at home watching rented movies. Sure Yadeen was a bit of a chick flick but some guy gets punched in the face at the end. Pretty edgy. Yes, he would be thrilled to sell the bike. In a matter of nights Arjun was riding along with them on Davinder's old bike, after paying him cash. "Beast" was a good girl, Davinder said, but he was ready for a woman with fewer miles and less meat on her bones. He immediately upgraded from from the used Eddie Lawson racer replica Kawasaki to a very drool-worthy Triumph Sprint ST in a virginal custom paint job. His father had sent money from the Philippines for Davinder to buy a new bike weeks ago, but it was five thousand dollars short of the bike he really wanted. Dad thought Dave should learn to bridge the gap himself, but thought that good girls preferred sensible transportation and wished Dave would settle down.
Arjun tried the bike for the first time and lit up like he found a new best friend. Everyone laughed, placed bets on how fast the new guy would get to the hospital on the big beast, and invited Arjun to join them at Cooper's Town that night. Arjun's reflexes made him an instant natural. The first ride felt as easy as standing still on a level street. The speed ruffled his hair and felt almost as good as running without the fear somebody might see him. Exhilarating. Why didn't I do this earlier? He thought. I can always make up for lost time. He had some catching up to do on motorcycles during the day and bought some books. They loved to talk bike, and he needed language lessons. After a week, shop hours shortened to only daylight hours so he could spend more time with his pet distractions. The road, the rumbling, the mink oil on new boots, drinking with Davinder, Ronit, and Robert. After two weeks he fit right in. The bike hummed in perfect working order now that Arjun had tuned it replaced a worn out part or two, but he wanted to take it out for a ride to check for any small defect. Really it was just an excuse to speed through the winding road of Usery Pass. His lips moved by themselves as he turned the bike around. He had darts and pool tonight with the guys and didn't want to be too late.
I'm humming the Chalisa again, aren't I? He thought to himself. He was parking the bike when Davinder pulled into the lot next to him. Dave's eyes sparkled under his new helmet.
"Nice night for a ride, isn't it Arjun?" He patted his Sprint. "You know you should get a helmet. Those shiny teeth of yours won't look so good covered in bugs." He teased. "I was just out on the freeway, you know the one through the reservation with the seventy-five mile per hour speed limit. Felt like going a smooth and easy thirty-five on this baby."
"It's a great night for a ride, Dave. I was just out at Usery Pass."
Dave grimaced. "Isn't the limit forty-five out there? Well you are still new to riding, I guess you can start out slow!" He joked. They walked into the bar and ordered two boiler makers. Dave spoke once about how he should drink less and study more, but the way he drank his, then Arjun's boiler maker made Arjun think Dave was planning on cutting back some time in the misty future, not today. These college kids drank more than most humans Arjun had observed so they never noticed the telltale signs of moving too fast or not drinking. It helped that Dave made sure no drink stayed untouched in front of Arjun for too long.
"So how have you been holding up?" Arjun asked ask he racked up the balls on the table. "Anything new? It's your break."
Dave's face fell. "That is exactly my break. Missy Carmelle leaves for Europe in four weeks." He performed the break pitifully, sinking only one ball. "Stripes," he sighed.
"Who the hell is Missy Carmelle?" Arjun sunk one solid and deliberately missed the second, setting up a perfect shot for Dave. Which he didn't take advantage of.
"She is a belly dancer I met at that party, same as where I met you. I'm going to marry her. If I can get her to listen, that is. She's smart, funny, beautiful, she has skin the color of cream and lips like peaches. Her hair is a golden field with a hint of blush." He smiled and licked his lips. "And she wears lip gloss that tastes exactly like…"
"Peach Pie." They said at the same time. Dave looked angry.
"I will fight you for her! Don't tell me you kissed her too!"
"Calm down, calm down. I don't want her, I just remember her from the party. She walked by so close I smelled the peaches." He laughed. "You have it bad, Dave, but there is always a Missy Carmelle or other girl you are dreaming of."
"Porn stars and motor bikes don't count, Arjun!" He hissed intensely, grabbing a cold bottle of beer. "This isn't just talk, and it's not about money. I've bought her gifts, but she won't take most of them. She is dedicated to her dance troupe right now, and says she can't afford to have any distractions. They plan to go to Europe on a tour, then stop in India for two weeks doing dance shows."
"Is Missy any good?" Arjun seemed curious, but he was really just distracting Davinder from the fact that Arjun was sinking ball after ball.
"Does it matter? I've looked into it. Sure some acts make it on tours like this but dozens fail for every one that succeeds. If they make enough money to fly back from India, I'll be surprised."
"So let her fail. Then fly in with an extra return ticket and rescue her." He suggested.
"That's brilliant, that's perfect, but that will take too long. What if I can't find her in India? It's a big place! She could get kidnapped." Dave looked panicky again. "I asked her to marry me. She turned me down. Threw me right off a cliff"
"Let her go then. Another will come along."
"You haven't seen her dance, Arjun. She won't have me for love or money, she wants a chance at the stage, a tour of Europe, and Bollywood. It's once in a lifetime stuff, she says, and I'm all for it. That is, if it isn't her that is going." He frowned glumly. "She's too good for me. Such a sweet, kind girl. My mother would love her, too."
"You already told your mother?" Arjun smirked. "What did she say?"
"Mom offered to buy the diamond ring I'll need when I catch up to her. It's all very romantic, she says. I can take a semester off school, pick up a ring and a wife in India and then come back. Dad isn't so happy."
"Why do they think this belly dance thing is going to go well overseas? Who is backing it with the money?"
"I haven't really asked, the backer is none of my business. As for the dancing, you would be surprised. There are belly dance competitions all over the world, even in Korea. They think Americans will be an exotic treat and people will want to see how they interpret the style of dance." Dave rolled his eyes. "I can't see that working in India, though. Not when you count the competition of Bollywood stars. I mean, who would look at a nice American girl at all when the lady MC of the show makes her look like a pale sickly caterpillar by contrast?"
"You've got a point." Arjun nodded, thinking of his own Indian lady in the storm. "Too much competition."
"I've got a plan." He rushed. "She is superstitious. I'll send her to you for a reading, and you tell her not to go to India. You tell her at least to buy a return plane ticket before she leaves. You tell her to marry that nice boy on the the bike." He added slyly.
"You want me play the prophet for you? Then you will have to pay me." He sunk the eight ball and held out his hand. "I don't do freebies. It's a standing rule."
"What do you think of Missy?" He asked suddenly.
"Charming. Long hair looks just like satin. She wore that peach silk coin bra and skirt set, right?"
"About a D-cup, perfect cream skin, and a little black beauty mole right next to her flat navel?" Arjun leered.
"Get your mind off my woman!" Dave growled, gripping the pool queue tightly. His knuckles whitened.
"Just checking, Dave, just checking." He chuckled as he retrieved all the balls for another round. The rest of the guys walked in and that ended all talk of Missy Carmelle.
He loved working on the bike, browsing upgrade parts on line, and playing pool. One part of his mind waited for a response from the mysterious lady. A phone call, a note, a letter of any kind would have helped but she gave him nothing. He passed the fence post every night hoping that that last note would disappear and be replaced by another but it never moved. Not one millimeter. That same torn end of paper stuck out of the bottom of the fence for several more hopeless days. She had not even read it. Tonight on the way to throw a few rounds of darts he passed the fence and checked by reflex. The fence post was empty!
It wasn't so bad moving in slow motion but he didn't feel like losing at pool again. He was just too happy. "I got twenty on this next shot for RJ," Davinder grinned, "He's on fire!"
"It's just luck and it's running out, I bet against. He'll scratch!" Robert leaned back confidently. Not tonight, he snorted. I won't miss a single shot. Arjun felt happy even after Davinder talked him into meeting Missy after her show tonight. He lined up the ball and leaned in to hit it, took a deep breath, and lost interest in the game completely. She had been here. He traced the line of her scent with his nose. She had deliberately walked in, touched his usual pool table, ran her hand down the side of the table, down the panel, and up under the table surface from below. His own hand followed the path hers had taken. Taped to the bottom of the table, impossible to see from any angle, he felt an envelope. Surprise jolted through him like he'd stuck his finger in an electrical socket. He pulled the envelope from the tape and slipped it, unseen, into the back pocket of his jeans.
Arjun excused himself to the bathroom for a moment of privacy with his letter. His fingers trembled as he studied it. The powder blue paper held a perfume of jasmine and roses. The handwriting was as graceful and elegant as the last note, and the whole letter spoke of a woman of culture and education. It seemed like the complete opposite of his hasty notes on torn paper and envelopes. He could almost hear her laughing at him in the short lines of the letter.
I am sorry that I must disappoint you again, but I will answer your question. I was singing because at that moment I was happy. Do not waste time exploring my talents. Go find some talents of your own.
Neha sped around the corner of a large, closed store and stopped suddenly in the edge of light from a street lamp. Her talent worked best in the borders of light and shadow and she needed every advantage she could get. What she attempted required absolute concentration. The small figure turned into a still, silent, stone statue and melted out of site like a chameleon. Sinking further into a trance, smoothing away all emotions of panic and desperation, even her scent vanished. In less than the blink of a hummingbird's eye, and just in time to save her, Neha was hidden in plain sight. This hunter was easily the fastest immortal she had ever seen. She could not shake him or confuse the trail enough to lose him. It was only a matter of time before he closed the chase and caught her. This last gamble at freedom froze her in place like a rabbit hiding in a hole. He rounded that same corner like an eagle diving, stopping inches from her, in a slight crouch that brought his face even with hers. He breathed deeply, tasting the air. His white silk shirt clung to his muscular chest, the top two buttons left undone to expose a tempting target of smooth neck under a strong jawline. Above that she dared look directly into the topaz eyes of her hunter, as he seemed to lock gazes with her.
"You win." He sighed, defeated. "I will chase you no further, dear lady." He crashed to his knees with a groan while lightning flickered above them. The fear she had been fighting vanished, replaced with an irrational urge to reach out and touch the top of his bowed head. She wished he would look up again and catch the flickering light of the storm in those strange eyes of his. He wrote a note and touched the paper briefly to his lips before hiding it and walking away without looking back. There was much Neha did not understand about this powerful, confident immortal. It did not make sense to give up a hunt and fall to his knees in the dirt like a man in prayer. Those golden eyes in a face full of conflicting emotions held no trace of viciousness or anger toward the escaped prey. The note did not contain a threat to hunt her down like a dog or an ultimatum to get out of his territory. She flickered in and out of sight as confusion warred with curiosity inside her head. At last a plan began forming in her mind as Neha blinked her bright red eyes and ran lightly away.
He decided to write more, longer letters to try to draw her out of her shell. He detailed his new friendship with Davinder, and Ronit, and his new motor bike. If she could be careful, she could meet them. He became creative about places to hide the notes and letters. This mostly one sided conversation continued until the letters formed a daily journal of his thoughts on paper. He folded them into interesting shapes like animals and birds. He hid one behind a poster in the bar. He taped one to the bottom of a chair. He stapled a folded crane to a light pole near his store, twenty feet up. One he simply left on the bookshelf inside his shop, right next to a vase full of flowers. She found them all. At first she responded with thick expensive paper and glossy envelopes, then her letters came in the form of folded animals like his. The daily game of writing, folding, and hiding the letters felt a lot like talking to an invisible friend.
"I thought about you a lot today," This letter began. "I wondered if you have been to the Grand Canyon. It is so big, ancient, and beautiful. I feel young and small every time I look at it. The water wears down the stone and carries it away. One day I hope you will give in to my persistence, like the stone gives in to the water. We both understand the power of time." He drew a picture of two doves in the corner of the note, folded it into the shape of a bird, and left this one in plain sight on the cash register. He knew she came into his shop without leaving a trace, but he did not want to catch her. He wanted her to come to him willingly. Traps would make things worse. Her replies, like his letters, started short and became longer over the days. She revealed nothing about herself, but her tone became happier and more honest in her opinions about what Arjun wrote.
"My dear lady N, I cannot put into words how much I enjoy seeing a note from you. Whether I find it on my doorstep or hidden at the bar, I feel like a child searching for candy eggs on Easter. It has been decades, if ever, that I have been so fascinated by a mystery like this. Take pity on me, and see me before I go mad. Love, Arjun." He had the perfect place for a note like this one. Arjun carefully folded the letter into the form of a lily blossom and affixed it to a long wire stem. He placed it in the center of a large and fragrant bouquet, with a card that read the typical "From Arjun to N" on a stick right next to the note. Again he left it on the counter of the shop without looking back.
Arjun walked to his bike and blinked in amazement at the tiny folded pink pig taped to the bike seat. Only seconds had passed since he left the flower. This was either the fastest answer yet or she had left this before finding the bouquet. He picked up the note as gently as if it were a soap bubble and unfolded it to read. "Ah," he gasped. This pig was a reply.
"The Grand Canyon was carved by water, yes, but over centuries. At that rate by the time you conquer my heart we will be writing in a forgotten, dead language. If humans intercept our notes they will wonder if some elder dragon or cursed mummy had awoken, with the sole purpose of passing love letters." Arjun sighed and refolded the pig. He studied it as he carried the memento back into his shop in order to set it next to the growing collection of origami farm animals N created for him. Hidden in the animal's carefully drawn eye, making up five tiny words, was another message Arjun had nearly overlooked. Five words had crushed his hopes before, now five words lifted him into the clouds.
"I will see you soon."
Arjun chuckled darkly. "In a pig's eye."
"Whoa, don't look now but today's special just walked in with a side of chips." Davinder whispered across the pool table. The barest glimpse satisfied him. This could not be her. The scent swirling in through the door, around her and over to him belonged to none other. But the body? Not even close. What part of this wide-eyed human girl held my attention? The smooth skin, perfect face, brown eyes turned toward me. It is all an illusion, boss, Fake. Leareth warned. This IS her. Neha took a seat at the bar after glancing nervously at Arjun. He did not glance. His eyes slowly lingered over her figure looking for gaps in the illusion. They drifted from the green leather slides on her feet, up the smooth and fit legs, her short clinging green skirt showing enough thigh to guarantee the rest was worth seeing. The swell of her hips and the good sized breasts seemed too lush for the athletic woman he sought. Somewhere behind that perfect disguise of brown curls and full lips hid her impossibly delicious perfume. It pulled on him, demanding his attention. The bartender sent her a drink and pointed at Arjun. She looked confused and her eyes flickered towards Arjun again.
"I'm done with this game, Davinder. Be back in a bit." He heard a stifled laugh as he set the pool cue down and walk toward the singer. He stopped so close to her that the side of her leg touched his. "Hello, N," he almost purred in his most non-threatening voice. Her brown eyes turned red for a moment as she startled, then composed herself. "It's so good to see you again." She stiffened, nostrils flared, eyes wide and alert for danger. Suddenly Arjun saw a different lady. A wild mare pranced nervously in his memories. She was distrustful. She had been hurt before. Only a master handler could hope to soothe her. Arjun had a talent for difficult cases and this mare was one of the worst. Going by instinct, he subtly mimicked her breathing rhythm and wide eyes. Then as he slowed the pace of breathing she unconsciously followed his lead. As his eyes slowly relaxed, so did hers, until her hand opened to reveal Arjun's last note. It was folded and creased many times. "You read my note." He prompted gently.
"Yes," she whispered. He leaned in to murmur in her ear.
"I live or die by your hand." He inhaled a full dose of the scent in her hair. It burned down his throat like a coal dropped from a match, setting strange fires in his body. Arjun knew that immortals often chose mates to travel with as a matter of safety and sharing useful gifts. Sometimes nomads traveled together for protection from other vampires, or formed covens as a pooling of resources like hiding places and cars. Many times his companions had been female, but desire like this had never touched him before. Physical desire for this shy creature hit him now with a powerful force. His gentle taming changed to covert seduction. One hand lifted to the nap of her neck and touched her soft hair. She stiffened at first, then relaxed again. His long fingers caressed her jawline and stroked her creamy shoulder.
"I should not have come", she sighed. "Your note made me so curious. I want to know what you are, Arjun. Such strange eyes you have."
"I am what you are, love." She leaned into his touch instinctively, eyes drifting half closed. "I just have different tastes, a simple change of diet, really. Animals." I whispered this so quietly only another immortal could hear it.
"Really? I didn't know that was possible." She looked deeply into his eyes as if memorizing the color there.
"What is your name, love? You can have anything you want of mine, just give me your name." His eyes glinted with fire smoldering up from below as his powerful arm slid around her waist. She gasped as he deftly slid her from the barstool onto her feet and pressed the full length of his body against hers. Their bodies molded together so closely that she had no question what he offered in return. Her clothes seemed insubstantial and the sheer lace of her bra held no extra padding. She took a deep breath to steady herself but the combined force of the alluring scent of him, the gentle touch caressing the small of her back, and the increased closeness caused by that hand dizzied her again. "Why were you singing in the storm?" He asked. His voice turned a rich velvet.
"Lightning is so free, so wild. It made me happy, so I sang." Her smile turned down a bit as she remembered. "Why did you let me go?"
His lips brushed her earlobe as he quietly growled an answer. "I like things wild and free." More than anything in the world, he wanted to speak to her alone. Her real face remained hidden from him, her secrets also locked away behind her unspeaking lips. "Come with me", he commanded a bit forcefully, pulling her out the back door of the bar. Like a striking panther he swept her into his arms and jumped forty feet straight up to the flat rooftop before setting the now much paler lady back on her leather heels. Her eyes also glowed red as her snarl slipped through the disguise.
"Never!" She almost screamed as she stepped back. "Never touch me again without my permission!" A shudder of disgust passed through her like a bad memory. "You do not own me." Shalima caressed his mind lightly. It is memories that are her enemy, that is all I can tell.
Memories. Matching her frustration again, he allowed a quiet snarl of his own. "First I need to apologize, Love. Writing that note was a childish thing to do. You did not want to see me, it was unforgivably rude." His paced breathing slowed hers again until she relaxed. "I've had too many hours to think about that note, and laugh at my own stupidity. I was certain you would ignore it until rain washed it into the gutter where it belonged, but I also hoped that you would answer." A half smile lifted the corners of his full lips when she laughed. "I never dreamed that you would reappear like the full moon lights the darkest night, and fill the silence in my heart with your haunting voice once more." He finished on his knees, those amber eyes swimming with sincerity. "Will you forgive me?"
"The moon hides her full face more often than she shares it." She shrugged. "And the only thing haunting your heart is imagination. You are a romantic fool, Arjun." Her eyes softened. The words seemed to harsh for tonight. She wanted a few hours alone with dim and ancient memories of her human girlhood. Years ago she had lived in a world of romance. Jasmine vines perfumed the air by night, tulasi blossoms spiced the atmosphere by day. Lovers threw blossoms over her father's garden wall to land at her feet when she sang. Although they could not see her, they wanted her. Everyone wanted her. Those pictures dimmed so badly and now almost lost, she needed brighter pictures to keep her soul from drowning in the blackness. She needed to make a memory. "I laughed at your letter too. It brought me sweet memories I thought were dust. For that, I forgive you." Wild hope burned in his eyes as he rose from his knees and breathed deeply.
"I need to see and touch the real you", he growled urgently. "I think of little else but giving myself completely to you." His eyes stroked a burning trail across her shoulders and neck. "My hands would worship you like a goddess." Hunger turned his voice husky and low. An answering sigh punctuated her own labored breathing as he closed the distance between them.
"But you must not know me. I came to tell you in person, there is no hope." Her voice caught. "I'm risking too much by even seeing you." He groaned. She was so afraid and walled off. So different from the voice he overheard in the storm. So helpless.
"Tell me, dear lady, whatever it is. Tell me what would make you happy enough to sing again, and sing for me?" His arm circled her small waist once more as he looked deep into her eyes. She yielded to his touch. She flowed into him as a flower bends to the sun, the mesmerizing effect of his expert touch causing her to forget the constant fear in her existence. She longed for just one night of irresponsible happiness, just a little fun to revive some memories of hope from a fading heart.
"A kiss." She murmured shyly, but with a glint of challenge in her smile. "A kiss might help. That is, if you remember how?" Arjun wordlessly accepted the challenge by pressing her body close to his once more. One large hand pressed the center of her shoulders, molding her pliant breasts to his chest while his other hand tangled deeply into her hair. An impatient moan escaped her parted lips as she turned her face up to the stars. The lips that brushed hers felt like the flutter of butterfly wings at first. Gentle, but enough to awaken long faded passions of stolen kisses, building heat, and soft sighs between a human woman and a human man. She moaned again, deeper and more urgent. He intensified the kiss, his lips crushing into hers while the taste of their mingled lips drove him past caring why she was in his arms.
Their heaven came to a reluctant end when Arjun realized she had given nothing away. She had not revealed her name. Blind trust in a world of dangerous predators may be romantic, but it could be suicidal. She knew where he played pool. For the last two weeks she had been following him, learning intimate details about how he spent his days and nights. She knew where he lived and worked. The idea that she could follow him so deftly he could not sense her unsettled him. She breathed a contented sigh and closed her eyes, leaving herself open to attack. This could be a show of trust, or the lady was a gambler, he thought. "Happy or unhappy," she breathed words as quietly as falling leaves, "Why would it matter to you? After this night I will leave you to the silence I found you in. We both have a lovely memory to day dream about for years to come, sparing us the horrors of a romance." She shuddered. "I've no heart to spare for love. That would kill us both." His head spun. Was that a death threat? She did not look like a killer. The mystery deepened faster than the attraction, an obvious chemistry between two powerful beings. One, self assured and calm. The other, lonely and desperately unhappy.
"I am warning you, Lady, a single memory will not be enough. I will lay traps for your affection, bribe you for smiles, and ambush your body. I will find where you live and who you are. I will know your face." He promised fiercely.
She shook her head. "Let the mystery live by letting it go. This dream of love you cherish needs more air than my dead lungs can give it. Besides, you will never find me." Her eyes flashed with confidence. "You will not recognize me if I do not wish you to. I can hide my scent and my self so well, I could stand inches away and remain less than a ghost to you." Her secret smile spoke volumes. His long fingers twitched at the thought of her hovering invisibly, untouchable near him.
Leareth! He growled mentally. You knew! Only a fading laugh met his mind. "You have my kiss, may I have your song?"
"Right here?" She looked skeptically at the street below.
"I know a great place for singing." They jumped from the roof and landed at the back door. Not wanting to parade Neha through the bar as they left a second time, he led her around the side of the building and swung her onto his bike. Neha did not seem surprised at being lifted onto the large motorcycle. It's engine thrummed and vibrated while the shape of the seat pressed his firm backside between her thighs, hiking up her green shirt. His rough jeans caressed her where she gripped his thighs, setting off dozens of tiny, thrumming engines under her skin. Their hips aligned perfectly when she leaned in and curled her arms around his waist. She spread her hands against his flat stomach and rested her cheek against his back. Her breath disturbed the hair on the back of his neck as they sped through the almost empty streets of the valley after midnight. Arjun drove straight across the parking lot past his store, and up the sidewalk under the thick ficus trees. His bike rumbled to a final tingling stop next to a fountain in the center of the courtyard. Surrounded by dark shops and closed businesses, it seemed like a private park. Behind the fountain, a small concrete amphitheater and stage gleamed dully in the starlight.
Arjun spun her from the bike and turned the dismount into a dance. Pressed closely to her, his hips guided her to the stage. For a long moment his eyes smoldered. His jaw clenched from the sensation of having her molded against his back on the bike. He steeled his willpower until the raging hunger for her came back under control. "There must be just one moment when you drop the mask for me. The immortal face must be far more beautiful than this borrowed one."
"Is there any mask as terrible and deceitful as the face of the dead?" She shook her head. "It is a stone mask frozen in stillness; capable of lying, loving, or tearing out a heart without a single blink. No, you want my voice and nothing else." She stepped away from him to take a deep breath. One eyebrow raised at him, she teased. "You can't expect me another unaccompanied performance, can you? I assume you can at least pound out a rhythm on that trashcan over there?" Arjun looked insulted.
"Pound out…on a trashcan? My God, woman, you'd think I didn't come prepared!" He walked into the shop instead of running to avoid looking desperate. Feeling extremely grateful to the New Age movement for having drum related meditations, Arjun searched for the most suitable instrument in his small, dark store. He didn't need to turn on lights to find the small dolok on one of the highest shelves. The strap and tassels smelled dusty, not surprising in a dirt bowl like Phoenix, but a quick test of the drum head proved it could do the job. His eyes fell on the other musical instruments in the shop. Hand cymbals. She would look lovely dancing and playing hand cymbals. The thought of her hips swaying and chest bouncing to music made his mouth water. Maybe next time.
Neha smiled at the way his long fingers gently held the carved drum. In many ways he was different from other blood drinkers she had known. Few could push past the addiction of violence and blood that made up this unlife. The foolish notion of humanity she clung to became more solid every minute she spent with this marvelous creature. He had already helped her in a very real way. She planned to give animal blood a try as soon as possible. It might make a small, permanent difference in how she smelled and looked. Neha felt a thrill of happiness, no doubt temporary. She allowed the joy to bubble up inside of her and out in the form of a more modern song from an Indian movie. Davinder and Robert lent the Bollywood soundtrack to Arjun two nights ago so he could play it in his shop. He did not know whether to feel angry or amused at her unsubtle reminder that she invaded his privacy at will. He thought about that while the complex beat and speed of the music took off. She sang and danced through the seductive love song with a look of pure pleasure on her face. Arjun played deftly enough to make a professional drummer sell his soul. His eyes did not stray from her performance while his fingers never strayed from the music. Hips rocking, hands tracing patterns in the air, her feet tapped out a second beat on the concrete. He continued into the next song, a duet, with a chance to show off his own above average voice.
"Indian cinema music is a favorite of yours?" She laughed and tossed her head. The sensuality of the simple movement caught his breath.
"I'm sorry, you asked?" He looked dazed. It was not really necessary to be disguised for his sake, but for her. This small taste of joy and romance only set spurs into the side of her appetite. The proverbial itch that gets worse if it was scratched threatened Neha. If she ever saw him again surely it would flame across her soul like poison ivy on every surface of her body. She could never forget a face, but at least he would not have her face to remember. "You sing magically." He looked down at the drum. "What are you thinking?"
"I cannot say," she spoke in French. He was not expecting French, but he understood it very well and spoke it somewhat. He answered in the same language.
"It is not cannot, but will not, I think." He countered.
"You are a riddle solver with a riddle, a child with a toy!" She his in German. Again he mustered an answer in the same.
"You are a sphinx and a toymaker." He grinned.
"You pursue me mercilessly, even across through several countries." She spoke in Spanish this time. Again he answered, this time more confidently. Spanish was his favorite European tongue.
"I do not pursue you, Love, it is you who are chasing closer to me by leaping from Germany to Mexico. I must simply wait for you to run into my arms."
"That's where you are wrong." She clapped her hands. "Spanish is also spoken in Argentina. I doubt your arms are that long. Tell me more about this animal diet of yours. How did you come up with it? Why?"
"I did not think of it at all. There have always been some few who choose a peaceful life. They keep jobs and make mortal friends. They actually pay for things instead of stealing. I've met some over the years but was never tempted by the lifestyle before now. They are very strange. Animals nourish their bodies, but it seems to have side effects. I decided to try it."
"Side effects? Bad ones?" She seemed a little disgusted, but curious, so he continued.
"Only if you think nobility is bad." He shrugged.
"Nobility among the tombstones?" She scoffed. "Impossible fakers."
"Not the kind of self-styled enforcers that play at being royal. I refer to nobility of the heart and mind." He looked very serious now.
"I'm listening." She nodded for him to continue.
"I have travelled most of the world and have found royalty everywhere. A prince of this city, a duke of that island, a king of this city block. You know exactly what I mean. We have a strong territorial drive. A need to control the environment we find ourselves in and dominate others of our kind. An addiction to power. I believe it is possible to resist the base instinct to control. Instead I might enrich, inspire. I decided to try going without human blood as well. To fight the addiction. Feeding on animals calms the thirst and so much more. It's hard to describe. When I see you now, I do not think of fighting you off or forcing you to serve me. I have such human thoughts of you, such tender feelings." He cupped her chin in his hand. "This is the nobility I speak of."
"Yes, I believe you are right. Strange."
"Who would guess such a thing? Human blood. It is bad for us. Just like sugar for a diabetic or heroine to the addict. We crave poison." His mouth set in a grim line.
I crave you, she thought, then flinched.
"How can you tell the beast from the noble? Power mad murderers live in mansions with silk rugs, or roam like animals in the woods. They all look the same to me. They are all beasts!" She argued. "You say it is in the eye color, where is your proof? I could have yellow eyes right now!" Her eyes flashed through a rainbow of colors and settled on a rich buttery gold.
"I have seen the proof. These…vegetarians have no need to fight for money or territory. They do not betray friends, destroy coven members who are no longer useful to them, or harm their lovers. Every human life is a treasure. Every partnering is for love." He laughed. "In general all my pairings have been as dry as business contracts. I'm sure you agree."
"Just business," she echoed bitterly. "I'm tired of being in business."
"I'm tired of being beastly." He agreed. "Imagine a family with a husband, a wife. Mothers, brothers, friends. To live in a home that is a haven. To have a wife, not a mate. Beasts talk of nobility all over the world, but I would like to make it more than talk. I'd rather try to live in lonely peace than return to the insanity of being pulled this way and that by my own instincts. Lonely, of course, unless I happen to be lucky enough to find a partner as bored with being a killer, as myself." He looked pointedly at Neha. "Am I boring you?" She started breathing again.
"No, not at all. I am starting to admire this theory of yours. I have seen many things in our kind, but never any good. I would like to see that."
"I'm not really sure they are still alive, actually. I came here hoping, but found no trace. Last I saw them was 1923." He felt anxious at the thought of her searching for them alone. To gossip about these vegetarians was one thing, but to seek out a group of strange immortals was another. Self defense or not, he suspected they had been destroyed in a territory battle anyway. The lady, while charming and witty, was far too delicate. She played a mean game of hide-and-seek. Now he sees her, now he doesn't. Now he looks at her without seeing her. The unfairness of it made his fist clench. So close to him the awareness of her made his skin tingle. Nobody would be going anywhere if he could help it.
This mystery woman came here to his lair, his territory, to cover an old pain with a new memory. Did she now have her moment of joy, her freedom from worries? Was she even now preparing to vanish? An immortal mind cannot forget anything, but it is easily distracted. She had new thoughts to think and a new life to begin, what more did she need from him? Her mind, no matter how roomy, had not one space left for new regrets. It was too late for her rapacious, kidnapping monster to be slain by the noble prince. Her rescuer came long after the love story ended.
"May I ask a question?"
"Then I won't ask if you have any traveling companions."
"Then I will not say that I do not."
"I'm afraid at any moment you will vanish."
"The way I did in the storm?" She enjoyed her secret for another moment. "That night, I thought somehow you had sensed me. You stopped in front of me, and knelt in the rocks. Not looking at the stars, but at my face. When you spoke, my eyes met yours. Your breath actually brushed my hand. I almost forgot I was hidden." She remembered how the thrill of fear turned into less familiar feelings. More intimate feelings. One hand rubbed the other absently, remembering the touch of his breath.
"You don't like hiding," he stated.
"How do you know?" She leaned forward, shocked. "My whole talent is based on hiding."
"If you can go anywhere you want in secret, but you choose a place you don't need to hide, that tells me you don't like hiding. Arizona doesn't exactly have the highest population of vampires in the world." He pointed out. "You came here for the same reasons I did; to be alone. Last place an enemy would look. You can relax the disguise for a few moments. I'm certain that's it."
Her eyes evaded his. "What did I say of enemies?"
"Nothing. You have told me nothing." He spat in frustration. "I am defenseless before you. You know so much of me and I know so little." His eyes flashed over the figure of the mortal seeming girl in front of him. She did not stimulate his hunger for blood because her scent was all wrong. For other hungers, however, her scent was perfect. If only he could get her to open up, to make this last longer than just one night. Arjun felt her interest in him. The kisses they shared were not polite or friendly. They were bone crushingly passionate.
"Just remember how little you know," She warned. "I will not talk of my enemies." Once again the mystery reared it's head. Was this a trap, some kind of ruse to get his attention? Did she sing where she knew he would hear, on purpose?
"Could you always sing, did you always have a voice when you lived?"
"You could say my life was always about singing. I sang before I even had a life, it seems."
"After tonight, where will you go?"
"Back into nothing. Vanished into the silence that all songs end with, I promise." She laughed. "I am not scouting out territory or spying on you for the Eldest. Although, they do have plenty of spies. Think of it, I'm so talented at spying, I should apply for a job!"
"But you don't like false nobility." Arjun regretted saying that, not knowing how far the latest rumors of the excesses of the elders had spread. He had not kept up with how other immortals felt about the ruling clan.
"The Eldest are not false, they are an important part of keeping the balance. I believe society needs rules, especially among the beasts. Without rules, history would be much changed." She shuddered. "On the other hand, rules are best when the rulers are far away. I don't think I would enjoy the dungeons of Romania."
"You speak German beautifully," he complimented to change the subject.
"That's the funniest thing you've said all night. Nobody speaks German beautifully, not even the Germans!" A real smile, teeth included, took his breath away. "Languages are important for disguises."
"I wish I studied languages. I have wasted so much time, not using the years to learn. A few bits and pieces of learning is not the same as applying myself. I feel like a barbarian," He admitted. "You could teach me so much. It is a pleasure to hear your voice speak any language. We will travel to Europe together." He offered eagerly. "In France you could read to me from the old French masters of poetry. In Germany let's translate inscriptions on old churches and crumbling tombstones. Here lies Jurgen, he loved his cow, she kicked him in the head. That is how, he is dead." He smiled brightly, tempting her more than he would ever know. "Together we would go mad in the floating markets of Italy. You do speak Italian, right?" She nodded. "I can picture you out bargaining the shop keepers, leaving a trail of shopping destruction in your wake." His quick hands tapped out an exciting music for their imagined adventure. "Buried in the treasures of six countries, we will stagger home like Sir Frances Drake after sinking the Spanish Galleons." They laughed together, the mingled sound of wind chimes and bells dancing around the courtyard like bubbles in a glass of fine champagne.
When she sang again it was a song of regret. This was her way of rejecting his offer. She sang an old song about being an unworthy, ungrateful servant to the god Krishna. A servant whose apology, in endless tears, fell upon His feet.
"My father had many girl children. A sage offered to make sure his next child was a son. All he had to do was sacrifice one girl child by giving her to the temple as a servant. He could not afford to arrange my marriage, so I was getting old. At least fifteen before he traded me to the temple for a blessing. This was the best thing that ever happened to me. They raised me to be a credit to the temple. A decoration as lovely as any of the paintings and statues. I lived to serve. I learned to sing and dance. My whole life should have been spent there. I lost track of years eating His food, playing His drums, and walking barefoot on His floors. Every moment I served Him was bliss. Cleaning the beautiful floor even felt like a treat. I knew every day when I woke up, what that day would be like. No surprises, and I loved it all. I strung flowers into thick garlands to decorate the temple on holidays. For hours I worked and sang, swimming in the bliss of holy service, until I smelled just like a flower. I dreamed of Krishna, mistaking me for a flower, picking me up to place in His toy basket with His other treasures." Her face hardened. She should have died in the service of Krishna. "Now you know more about me than you did, but it won't help you find me again."
There was nothing ordinary about being turned into a vampire, no matter how it happens or who does it, you can never forget those first few days. The words horrific, difficult, and lonely were a good enough place to start. The joy of Neha's life came to an end in the middle of a cloudless summer day. One moment she was washing temple laundry in the creek. Then someone who smelled like neem oil and bad breath grabbed her from behind and threw her small body onto the back of a horse. She screamed and fought and kicked, but nothing worked to free herself from the smelly men. They blindfolded her, gagged her, and without looking back dragged her away from heaven, to be thrown straight to hell. Neha knew she had been abducted and most likely would not live through the night. She overheard some talk about an experimental subject. One subject would be enough for testing the theory, they agreed. Neha felt new bruises forming with every step of the horse, the saddle digging into her soft skin and jabbing her swollen ribs. Breathing became a difficult chore through the gag. Soon the world went black and she did not wake up until a sharp line of pain sliced through her arm. She still could not breathe. The gag and blindfold remained in place and her entire body had been tied hand and foot while she lay unconscious. One male voice asked if a few drops would do the job. Another suggested that he measure the dose to collect accurate data. If it doesn't work they could try it again.
A few drops of something that burned and froze at the same time fell into the knife cut. The cruel scientists had used so little of the bottled blood plasma on her for this experiment that her pain of transformation lasted four days instead of three. It burned like venomous fire through her flesh while they watched. They observed and wrote down all the results of the experiment. On day three her newly sharp teeth bit through the gag so she could scream at last. Day five did not go well for the scientists, but she was pretty sure none of that made it into the lab book. Dead men don't write notes. Neha destroyed the lab before running into the forest. Her main goal was simple; to run far away from her family's land. She knew that she had become a blood drinking goddess of destruction. She was now an instrument of Kali. Neha thirsted for blood, but at the very least she could avoid killing her father, mother, sisters, and the son they loved so much.
Distracted by her incredible strength and new born vampire thirst, Neha ran too fast from the lab. She missed one of the notebooks. Left buried in the rubble of the underground lab, protected from time and weather by a pile of bricks, hid the complete notes of her transformation process and accurate description of her new demonic form. How could she know what horror that hand written book would bring into her life fifty years after her death? She cursed that book every day.
Arjun noticed the change in her mood and dropped his arms. "You are leaving now?" He asked sadly. "I want to ask you to stay, but I won't." He smiled gently and set the drum on the edge of the stage. Arjun felt a wrenching tear in his heart as he turned away from her. He forced himself not to look back as he walked slowly back to his bike. If she wanted him, Neha couldn't expect him to beg. His jaw tightened angrily and he gunned the engine, going over fifty before hitting the main street.