THAT JULIAN could sense vampires was bad. That vampires could sense something in him was worse.
He knew what lurked on the other side of the heavy, vault-like door. He also knew that the creature was aware of him.
He put his shoulder against the cold metal and shoved. The door groaned open and the warm April night wrapped around him. It failed to lift the chill that had descended over him.
Which response would he get this time, the usual hostility or veiled disdain masquerading as cool indifference?
“Come on, man, get the load out of your shorts and move it.” Tommy, a fellow musician, spoke over the chatter of their colleagues.
“Stuff it,” Julian said and exited Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony.
The rear door slammed shut, locking behind them.
A vampire sprawled on the sidewalk, legs spread wide as he slouched against a trash bin. Filthy, ill-fitting clothes clung to his frame and unkempt hair fell over his brow. From his unwashed skin came a musky, feral stink. His shabby appearance was at odds with the grand concert hall and pristine grounds surrounding it.
Julian hoped he would make it past the creature without incident. Being singled out by vampires disconcerted him no matter how many times it happened. Switching his violin case to his left hand, he pretended to notice something down the street.
Derisive laughter compelled Julian to look at the vampire.
Surprise jolted through him. Though Julian couldn’t place him, the vampire was familiar.
The vampire bared his teeth in a silent snarl.
Julian darted a glance at Tommy who seemed oblivious to the exchange with Nosferatu.
The two men skirted the trash bin and waited at the curb for a break in traffic. Julian kept the vampire in his peripheral vision.
“What the hell’s up with so many of them coming into the Restricted Zone?” Tommy asked. “The damn things are nasty. And they stink.”
“Maybe if they weren’t forced to live in slums they’d stay out of the restricted areas.”
“I know you aren’t defending them.”
“No. It’s just—”
“The government should have exterminated them when they were outted,” Tommy said.
“Not all of them cause trouble.”
“Only because they’re afraid.”
There was truth in what Tommy said. Seventeen years of subjugation and the repercussions against those who refused to give in had made a lasting psychological impression on the vampire community.
“They’re dangerous. They should be eradicated.” Tommy’s eyes narrowed and his face morphed into an ugly expression.
“What would that make us?”
“Smart.” Without missing a beat, he asked, “When’s your audition?”
“Tuesday,” Julian said.
“Don’t bother. Mine’s Monday.”
“You wish. The concertmaster chair is mine.” It had to be. The violin was his love, his passion, his mistress. And it was all he had.
From the corner of his eye, Julian saw the vampire shift. His dark eyes burned into Julian, watching him like prey.
Quit staring at me. He almost spoke the words out loud.
The vampire’s eyes narrowed. What’s the matter, Blondie? Afraid you’re gonna be found out?
A barb of surprise hooked Julian’s insides. What? He gaped at the sneering fiend.
Frosted amusement curled the vampire’s lips. You don’t remember me, do you?
Julian’s mouth dropped open. He clapped it shut. Get out of my head.
I bet you remember my son.
Cold fear jabbed Julian’s guts.
I know what you did, Julian.
It wasn’t my fault.
The light at the corner changed and the two musicians hurried across Union Street. A spot between Julian’s shoulders itched with maddening intensity and his skin prickle with cold.
Watch your back, Julian.
Surely the vampire knew better than to do anything stupid. They might not be afraid to harass a human, but they rarely crossed the line into violence. Not when it carried the death penalty.
He glanced behind him. The creature sat motionless, head down. Julian relaxed. The moment had passed.
Julian had told the truth. Mostly. He wasn’t responsible for the actions of an unstable schoolmate. A schoolmate who hadn’t even had the right to be there.
He wasn’t going to beat himself up over it. Not anymore. Nor was he going to be intimidated by a fleabag vampire. In an attempt to shut out the incident, he said, “I’m going to meet some of the girls at Magpies. Want to come along?”
“No, I’m crapped out. I’m going home.”
“Whatever. If you bring one home, keep it down.” Tommy rolled his eyes. “I don’t need to listen to you screwing one of your groupies all night. Again.”
“You know you like listening, you perv. Besides, you’re just jealous.”
“Fuck off,” Tommy said and smirked.
“You’re such an asshole.”
“Whatever. I’ll see you later.” Tommy took off in the direction of their Belltown apartment.
Julian continued toward Magpies. Lightning streaked across the sky followed by a rumble of distant thunder. A storm brewing meant a cab ride home and less money to spend at the club.
The notes to O Fortuna burst from his phone, the ringtone he’d set for Rachael. He scanned her text message.
Hurry up. I wore the red dress for you.
The first time she’d worn that dress, he’d discovered bare skin beneath thin fabric. From there, it had been a quick trip down to the lower level of the club where they’d had heated sex in a tiny bathroom.
He turned down an alleyway, a familiar shortcut that shaved fifteen minutes off his travel time. Focusing on the street light at the far end, he hurried through the darkened passage.
At the fourth alley, a gust of wind shot down the narrow pathway, scattering loose newspaper and debris. Squinting, he shielded his eyes from flying dust particles and whipping strands of hair. He pressed on, staying close to the walls where shadows swallowed him.
Moments later, the hairs on his arms lifted.
Tittering laughter floated on the air and the quiet fall of footsteps confirmed the presence of others.
Already knowing what he would see, Julian spun.
Three young males closed in with the lethal grace of predators.
A soft thud sounded behind him.
He whipped around.
Another vampire, larger than the others, blocked his path. Where had he come from? The rooftop? The fire escape?
Heart beating his ribs in a surprise solo, he pivoted to keep all four in sight. How had they gotten so close without him picking up on them sooner?
The lone vampire, the obvious leader, advanced. The other three moved with him, hemming Julian in.
He appraised each one in an effort to appear unaffected, though he suspected they picked up every tell-tale sign of fear his body generated.
The leader’s muscles bulged under a metal-studded coat, stretching the black leather tight over his form. Long hair fell over his forehead in neon indigo spikes, highlighting a youthful face set in hard lines.
Indigo’s eyes glittered with menace and something Julian had never seen before, something that made his skin clammy. Raw jealousy—that guarded, malevolent sparkle of greedy anger—burned in the fiend’s gaze.
His companions were only slightly less bizarre. The smallest sported waist-length black hair streaked with pure white. A little gold hoop decorated his lip. Adding to the disaster, a snake tattoo coiled around his throat in overlapping loops.
The other two had to be brothers. Thick kohl circled their eyes, standing out in sharp contrast to their teased, hair-sprayed, platinum-blond hair. Each wore a leather bondage collar, though one had spikes and the other hoops. They stood so close together they might have been conjoined at the hip.
All of them were adorned with lace in one fashion or another. They looked like an eighties new-wave-glitter-band-gone-wrong. An urge to laugh struck Julian so hard he bit his lip to stop it.
The vampires circled him and their image lost its humor.
Julian’s hand tightened on his violin case, easing it away from them. “What do you want?”
Indigo’s lip twitched into a snarl. “What do I want? Justice for my cousin.”
“Our uncle wanted to kill you, but I had a better idea.”
Julian had a sickening feeling he’d misread the incident at Benaroya Hall. “What are you talking about?”
“I think you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about. Juilliard ring a bell?”
Fear spider-crawled over Julian.
Indigo sidled closer. “You must think you’re pretty damn slick, weaseling into the symphony.”
Slick? For being a musician?
A blast of wind shot through the alley again, whipping Julian’s hair into his eyes. He blinked and shoved the strands away. The vampires had slipped closer in the second his eyes were closed.
He shifted his weight, fighting the urge to move back. Any outward sign of fear would invite an attack. The foursome meant business, the kind that might leave him on a slab in cold storage.
Sneering, Indigo stepped forward. “You little fraud. You have a hell of a fucking nerve. How long have you been fooling them?”
Julian’s heart thudded. “Fooling who?”
“How long have you been passing for human?” Indigo took another step, now threateningly close.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Julian fell back a step to regain his personal space, then silently cursed himself for the unthinking submissive move.
“Cut the shit. We smell you. Sense you. Vampires always know each other. Even half-breed, mongrel bastards like you.” He advanced a step, closing the space created by Julian’s retreat.
Half-breed? “Are you crazy? I’m not a vampire.” Julian retreated another step. His back touched cold brick. Sweat slicked his skin. He was in mortal danger. One mistake and the situation might escalate into something fatal.
In unison, the fanged quartet stepped closer.
“You’re vampire all right,” Indigo confirmed. “Just not a full-blooded one.”
Afraid you’re going to be found out? The words whipsawed through Julian’s mind. Oh, God. But it wasn’t so. Couldn’t be so. “You’re wrong. My parents were human.”
“Do you believe this, the asshole don’t know?” Indigo rolled his eyes.
The Bondage Twins snickered and Snake Tat shook his head.
“Nope,” Indigo said. “I don’t believe it either.” A predatory smirk spread over his face. “But it doesn’t matter. That isn’t the issue, is it?”
“What do you mean?” Julian asked.
“I think your punishment should fit your crime.”
“What crime? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Panic smothered Julian in a blanket of reeking fear.
“What do you boys think? Should his punishment equal his crime?” Indigo asked his comrades.
“Fuck, yeah,” Snake Tat said.
The others nodded agreement.
Julian’s heart crawled up his chest and lodged at the base of his throat.
His gut instincts screamed that damage to his hands or wrists might end his career. But it wasn’t a valid concern considering he probably wasn’t going to live to worry about it. How could he take on a pack of vampires and have a hope of coming out alive?
Indigo shook his head in a parody of regret. “No. You can’t win. Poor little half-breed. Your days of fancy clothes and livin’ it up are done. It’s time to man-up and pay for what you did.”
Like the shadows cloaking the alley, the dark scent of fear and anger at his impending murder hung thick around Julian. “I’m not one of you.”
Indigo made a show of sniffing, drawing in the poisoned air. His eyes glittered. “Yeah, pretty-boy, you are.” Then, as if on cue, all four surged forward.
Indigo grabbed the front of Julian’s jacket and slung him around, slamming him against the brick wall. He wasn’t prepared for the pain, bright and dazzling, freight-training from his shoulder down into his hand. His fingers lost their hold on the violin case and it clattered to the pavement.
Despite the pain, he drove his fist into Indigo’s guts.
Indigo let go. And smirked.
Julian wanted to smash the grin off his face, but he didn’t get the chance. One of the Bondage Twins struck, slashing downward with long, sharp nails, shredding cloth and flesh. The claws left burning trails and shocking pain from Julian’s chest to his navel.
Bellowing, Julian kicked hard, connecting with the twin’s knee. The blond vampire yelped and took an awkward step back.
Snake Tat danced forward and his fist caught Julian in the ribs. Agony flared in his side and he stumbled back.
Hands raked at him, nails cutting deep. More blood. The scent permeated the air.
A fist slammed into Julian’s stomach, doubling him over. Hands shoved him backward. More fists connected. Nails raked him. His vision wavered. Another shove. He stumbled and went down hard.
Indigo advanced and yanked Julian off the pavement. “You’re nothin’ but a sorry piece of shit,” he said and tossed Julian like a sack of garbage.
He crashed into a waste bin before dropping to the asphalt. Pain knifed his side, deep and sharp. His insides felt torn loose, unanchored, and blood coated his mouth. He groaned and his would-be killers closed around him.
He didn’t want to die like a dog run down in the street. Gathering the last of his strength, he tried to rise. Unrelenting pain closed over him and a pit of blackness rose up.
It was over.
He was done.
PAIN WAS the first thing Julian became aware of. His body sang with it. The next thing was that he lay on the pavement with Indigo cradling him, stroking his face as a parent might do with a sleeping child.
Indigo tightened his grip. “Smellin’ all that blood’s kicked up my appetite.” His lips twitched.
Julian’s stomach clenched. Oh Jesus. “No!”
“Oh yes, pretty-boy,” Indigo crooned.
Tensing, Julian growled as he stared into blazing blue eyes lacking even a spark of humanity. Teeth bared, he fought to yank himself free.
Indigo snorted. “And you think you aren’t one of us. The traits are all there.”
Almost too fast for comprehension, he sank his fangs into Julian’s throat.
Sharp, searing pain froze Julian as horror took control. The thick scent of fresh blood rose in the damp air. He broke free, and with a blind swing of his fist, connected with Indigo’s face.
Indigo backed off. Blood smeared his lips and trickled from the corner of his mouth. His hand lashed out and caught Julian’s jaw in a painful grip. He jerked back, but Indigo held on.
Eyes darkening, Indigo’s hand tightened. Something cracked. Agony exploded through Julian’s face. He howled, causing more pain with the movement of his jaw.
Indigo dragged him close, fastened on the bleeding neck wound, and fed voraciously.
Panicked, Julian flailed uselessly. After long moments of heart-pounding horror, his vision blurred. The alley distorted and struggling became difficult. Unable to do anything else, he stilled and lay helpless against Indigo.
The warmth of the creature felt good, countering the deep chill taking over his body. Indigo was killing him. Moaning, he closed his eyes.
The vampire thrust him away. Julian collapsed on the asphalt where he lay in a shivering heap. Blood flowed from the puncture wounds and ran down inside his shirt with each slow beat of his heart. He smelled it. So did the others.
One growled, another hissed.
Bastards. He struggled to draw his legs under him. If he could get up… Wasn’t going to happen. He tried again. The alley spun, nauseating him. Groaning, he curled up.
He didn’t want to die in a dirty, stinking alley. He didn’t want to die at all. He was only twenty-four years old. He wasn’t ready.
They talked among themselves, but it sounded far away as deeper coldness stole over him. He shivered and waited for unconsciousness to release him from the inescapable nightmare.
Indigo sauntered over and dropped to his knees. Without forewarning, he bit into his own wrist and wrenched Julian’s mouth open.
Pain cut through the fog, jerking him to full cognizance. Indigo jammed his wrist to Julian’s mouth, cutting off his agonized cry. A horrific gush of blood poured down his throat in a hot, choking surge. Gagging, he shoved at Indigo.
Indigo grabbed a fist-full of Julian’s hair. “Drink. Or you’ll die within the hour.” He ground his wrist into position.
Julian pushed against Indigo, trying not to swallow. He wouldn’t die if he made it to the street. Someone would help him.
“Drink my blood or die. Your choice.” Indigo shifted his arm, straightening it until his blood flowed faster. The coppery, nasty poison pushed down Julian’s throat in a strangling rush. Choking on the hot liquid, he swallowed.
Long minutes passed before Indigo pulled his wrist away. Gagging, Julian rolled to his side. Indigo grabbed Julian’s jacket and yanked him onto his back. “Puke and I’ll make you do it again. Got it?”
Julian moaned, but nodded.
Sneering, Indigo launched to his feet.
Julian’s fingers scraped over the asphalt in halting, clawing motions as revulsion twisted his insides. Vampire blood wouldn’t convert a human. But a cross-breed would turn.
What if Indigo was right? What if a vampire had sired him instead of a human? He sure as hell wouldn’t know. How could he when he had no memories of his father?
Pain lanced his stomach and he curled up again. What was going to happen to him? Why hadn’t they killed him instead? Why this? A shudder ran though him. They hadn’t slaughtered him because this was worse than death.
“That isn’t enough. He won’t survive.” The voice sounded faint and distant, unimportant.
Julian didn’t know which vampire spoke and he didn’t care.
As he fought to keep panic at bay, a memory of Juilliard and a student drifted up from the flotsam of his mind. A half-breed. A kid he’d hated. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to will the memory away.
“It’s enough,” Indigo said. “It’ll start the conversion. I want him starving as soon as he changes. I want this little fuck to suffer.”
“He’s in for a hard adjustment on his own,” Snake Tat said, his voice softening a tad. If he’d developed a conscience, it was too late now.
“So. You think I give a flying shit?” Indigo strode back to Julian and patted him down. He plucked Julian’s wallet, took the money out, and discarded the rest. Then he sauntered across the alley and squatted by the violin case.
Julian didn’t give a shit about the money, but the violin was part of him. “Please,” he said, not caring in the least that he’d been reduced to begging. “Please. Leave my violin alone.”
Indigo popped open the snaps and went for the zippers.
Julian tried to get up. He had to save the violin.
Indigo clicked open the latch and lifted the lid.
“Please, please don’t hurt it!” Julian’s heart twisted and he struggled to rise.
The vampire took the violin from its velvet-lined case. “You won’t need this sissy-ass shit anymore.”
Indigo hoisted the violin and slammed it down on the pavement. The antique instrument splintered and pieces skittered across the asphalt.
Julian jerked as if kicked.
Indigo took the bow from the case and ripped the horse hair from the stick. Not satisfied with that, he bent the wood until it snapped in half and tossed the pieces on Julian.
Julian’s hands curled in helpless impotence. “You’ll pay for this,” he croaked. “Someday, you’re going to pay for this.”
“Yeah? I’m scared.” Indigo motioned to his cohorts. “Come on, we’re done with this piece of shit.”
Their laughter floated behind them, leaving Julian alone with the remnants of his life. His clawing fingers touched and closed on a piece of varnished wood. He made a fist around the fragment.
Shuddering, he drew himself into a ball against the growing cold in his body. He lost track of time, of how long he laid there on the pavement.
A few minutes, or hours, later, fat drops of rain pelted his face and the need for shelter overrode his pain. He sat up, grabbed his wallet with numb fingers, and staggered to his feet.
A fresh wave of cutting pain assaulted his body. Shit, he was messed up.
On unsteady legs, shivering, he considered his options. Overhead, gray, rain-thickened clouds choked the sky. He had to get moving.
He needed medical care, but that was out of the question. Only humans received services. He couldn’t chance it. Not when he no longer knew what he was. Seeking help might backfire and send him into the clutches of the Vampire Control and Security Center. A chill crawled over him.
His phone! He would call Tommy and he could… What? He didn’t know. Still, he fished out the phone. It rattled in his shaking hand and a crack zigzagged across the screen. He pressed the power button. No response. His gut tightened.
What the fuck was he going to do? He ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. He had to get home. He’d figure it out from there.
He took a step. His shoe crunched on the shards of the one-hundred-year-old violin. Its loss ripped his heart. With its destruction, he’d lost a friend, but the world had lost a thing of beauty. Now it, like him, was destroyed. Dead. There weren’t even enough remains to gather up.
Forcing his feet to move, he stumbled through the alley and headed for Belltown. It took less than a block of shaky steps and shocked stares from the people he passed to know he wasn’t going to make it home.
He cut into another alley. Warehouses flanked both sides. One had cracked and missing windowpanes. He tried the door. Locked.
Undeterred, he wrapped his jacket around his hand and knocked the remaining glass from one of the windows. After brushing away the shards, with some difficulty, he hauled himself through the opening.
Off-balance, he fell, landing on the concrete floor with a thud. White-hot pain shot through his brutalized body. Moaning, he curled onto his side.
Enough light from an outside lamp filtered through the dirt-crusted windows for him to see his surroundings. Haphazard stacks of discarded boxes, scattered skids, and trash attested to a building long devoid of use.
When he was able, he struggled to his feet and headed for what looked like an office. The door opened onto a tiny, stale-smelling cubbyhole with ratty orange carpeting and nothing else.
He stepped inside and closed the door. Darkness enveloped him. Feeling for the lock, he flipped it and eased down on the floor.
Cold, shivering, and hurting, he pulled his jacket tighter and stared into black nothingness. The total darkness unnerved him. The unknown past, present, and future ate at him like crows picking his guts.
He couldn’t be part vampire. It wasn’t possible. Fear, anger, and confusion tore through him. He found the inside pocket of his jacket where his hand closed on a tiny knife.
Moving slowly, he managed to free himself from the remaining shreds of his expensive jacket. With shaking fingers, he unbuttoned the cuffs of his ruined shirt and rolled up the sleeves, exposing forearms bearing countless scars.
A flicker of shame ignited, but it wasn’t enough to stop him. He’d gained more than a music education at Juilliard. He’d learned how to cope. He’d learned a knife brought relief from gut-twisting guilt, relief from anguish and loneliness, and relief from the stress of constant competition.
Right now, he needed relief.
He opened the blade, placed it on the inside of his arm and dragged it downward. He didn’t need light to sense blood welling in a long, thin line. He made another cut and another, until everything faded and blessed relief spread through him like a drug.
Unlike the other pain in his body, this was sweet, healing pain. Something within his control. Something he needed. Something to help him stay sane.
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