Evangeline wanted to sleep, but she couldn’t. She was wired. The next day, when she went out to hunt, she wasn’t coming back. She padded barefoot down the hall. If she was lucky, there would be some leftover potatoes she could sneak into her metal tin. She could survive for a week on the jerky and the dried berries she’d stockpiled, but some fresh food to help her get settled would be nice. She had her head deep inside the industrial fridge when she heard her father’s thin voice from the pantry, just around the corner.
“Hurry up. I swear, your constant need for caffeine makes all of our experiments take twice as long.”
Gary, her father’s epidemiologist, gave a derisive snort. “If you let me keep my coffee back in the lab, we wouldn’t have this problem. It wouldn’t get pilfered there either.”
“I’m not going to contaminate the blood fridges with your coffee beans. Now come on. I gave Eva batch one-eight-zero-three last week. I’ll take her blood tomorrow and harvest the serum from her plasma.”
Evangeline ducked behind the prep counter. Serum? What was her father talking about?
“We need to find a way to synthesize it without using her as an incubator. If we ever hope to mass-produce this thing, we can’t keep using your kid to make it.” Gary was standing with his back to her. Evangeline could just see the back of his head over the prep counter.
“Once we’ve proven we can aerosolize it and it’ll kill them, we’ll tweak the other women’s treatments. Eva’s the only one who’s been able to incubate the serum. Whatever her mother’s death did to her . . . it’s made her strong. But we’ve got to make sure it’ll kill the vamps first. Or at least stop them from healing long enough to drain them. This batch only delayed his healing for six minutes. It’ll take at least ten for a vamp his age to bleed out and I’m not taking the chance that when we release this into the water supply, it only kills the young ones.” Her father’s voice faded as he and Gary stepped out of the communal dining room. Her food pilfering long forgotten, she followed them. They disappeared back into the north wing of the catacombs. Into the labs. No one was allowed back there but her father’s team. The door was always locked and though she’d asked him often to show her the lab, he’d always refused.
The door opened and Evangeline flattened herself against the recessed doorway of Gary’s dorm, thankful that it was late enough that the lights in the hall had been turned down. Cassie hurried out of the lab and past Evangeline, not even noticing anyone was there. Evangeline looked back at the door. It was closing slowly. Taking off at a sprint, she covered the ten feet between her and the door and slipped into the north wing just before the lock clicked into place.
The hallway was brightly lit and smelled of antiseptic. There were six doors, two to the left, three to the right, and one at the end of the hall. The furthest door on the right was open and Evangeline could hear her father’s clipped tones. He, Jake, and Gary were talking about a scouting party near North Bend. The hell? Scouting for what?
A soft groan drew her attention to the second door on the left. It was ajar. She cocked her head.
“Close the damn door,” her father snapped. “I don’t want to hear him once the drugs wear off. All that cursing really annoys me.”
The door slammed shut, closing her father, Jake, and Gary inside and hiding the rest of their conversation. Evangeline flinched. She stepped towards the open door that had contained the strange sound, pressed her hand to the cold metal and stifled a gasp.
A long medical table was in the center of the room. Bunsen burners, test tubes, and several tablet computers were carefully arranged on the stainless steel tables. A white board hung on the side wall and chemical equations in small, squiggly handwriting sprawled over its surface. There was a small fridge to the left. But the main feature in the room, and the one that had her panicked and nauseous, was a fifteen-foot-wide silver cell. Inside it, a man was lying on the floor. He was shirtless, revealing his strong chest and bronzed skin. A pale blue pair of scrub pants were slung low on his hips and she could see the cut of his abdominal muscles angling towards . . . where she shouldn’t be looking. Evangeline forced her gaze up his body. His jaw was covered with a hint of stubble, his cheekbones high, and his eyes were sunken. Long black hair fanned out around his head, which was turned slightly to the side. His breathing was labored. As she watched, his eyes fluttered open and his gaze locked onto hers.
The power behind the purple irises compelled her to take a step back. He looked at her for a long moment before closing his eyes again. Evangeline crept forward warily. There was a circle of scar tissue on his abdomen and another just above his heart. Smaller scars were visible on his arms and his chest.
Evangeline dropped to her knees, reached through the bars of the cell, and touched his hand. He jerked, his eyes opening and widening in surprise to find her close enough to touch. There was something about the man that seemed familiar. An old memory. Not a good memory. Her palms went damp.
“Who are you?” Evangeline asked.
“No one. Not anymore,” he whispered. The man tried to shift but just groaned in pain and closed his eyes again.
“I don’t understand.”
Evangeline touched the man’s cheek. His nostrils flared and she jerked her hand away as fangs lengthened in his mouth. A flash of recognition crossed his face. His tongue flicked unconsciously over his fangs and he cursed in his native tongue.
“Oh shit.” Evangeline pressed her hand to her mouth. “You’re . . . no. You can’t be. You can’t be him.”
“Oh no? Did you think he just let me go? What did you think your father was doing with that serum he’s growing in your blood?” Nicola Angliatti asked, a bitter edge to his voice. He could barely move, but he turned his head away.
Evangeline’s heart was racing. “What? What serum? What is he doing to me? To you? I thought you were dead!”
Nicola swiveled his head back to face her and held her gaze. “You did not know.” He appeared relieved.
“Know what? Goddammit, you thought I knew about you? I saw him kill you. I hated him for it. But . . . shit. He’s kept you prisoner all this time? He’s a fucking monster.” Evangeline reached between the bars and grasped Nicola’s fingers tightly. He looked lonely, his amethyst eyes so much sadder than they had been in the forest so long ago. “I’m sorry, Nicola.”
As she held his hand, he found the strength to squeeze her fingers. The barest hint of a smile touched his full lips. “No one has used my name in years, little one. Thank you. But there is nothing you could have done. You were a child.” His purple eyes took her in, as she worried her lip with her teeth. “You are not a child now. What is the date? I do not know how long I have been in this room.”
“It’s 2031. April 19.” Evangeline’s lower lip quivered.
“Eighteen years,” he said softly. “I had not thought it to be that long.”
Her eyes narrowed. “If you’ve been here for so long, how come you still look like you could bench press a five point buck? Why don’t you have a beard?”
“This physique is the one I had when I was turned. My hair and nails . . . they grow very slowly. Barely at all. A side effect of the mutation that made me.”
“Do . . . do they ever let you out of this . . . cage? Can you move?” Tears gathered in her eyes, but she blinked them away.
“I am weak now. The serum they used a few hours ago has not left me yet. But most days I am strong. The cell is large enough. Though I miss running. The outdoors. The pleasure of good food, wine. They only restrict my movement when they are studying the serum’s effects on me.”
“Tell me about this serum. All Henry ever told me about what he was doing to me was that he was trying to make me strong. Immune. Able to fight . . . your kind.” She felt uncomfortable.
“What do you know of . . . my kind?” Nicola rolled onto his side with a grunt.
“You’re dead. You have no soul. You’re immortal. You drink blood. You want to control humans, enslave us, turn us?” Evangeline wasn’t so sure of any of her beliefs anymore.
A shadow passed over his face. “I have never turned a human. Never in all of my years, and I never will. I have used my bite to control. Three times in more than eight centuries, but I released the humans as soon as I was no longer in mortal danger. You think me dead? Feel my heart. I swear I will not bite you. I can barely move yet.”
Evangeline laid her hand over his heart. His skin was warm under her fingers and very soft. A steady, strong beat drummed against her fingers. “Oh shit. You bleed?”
“And . . . other things?” Evangeline’s voice dropped to a whisper as her eyes flicked to the chemical toilet in the corner of the cell.
Nicola laughed. “Yes. Our bodily functions are largely normal. We cannot sire children, for the mutations in our DNA preclude it, but we very much enjoy sex.”
“But the blood thing . . . you do drink human blood, right?” Evangeline chewed on her lip again.
“We do. But we long ago passed a law prohibiting direct feeding from humans. We live off of blood banks. A few sips at a time only. A pint of blood can sate us for several weeks. We eat food. Not much, but some. We are very much alive. Vampires are ‘made’ by a virus that causes mutations in our DNA and chromosomes. We even age. Just very slowly. Perhaps one year for every hundred of your years. But most importantly, only a very small number want to control humans. I am not one of them. I have never been one of them.”
“And the serum?”
“You are full of questions.” Nicola closed his eyes for a few breaths. He looked so tired—but not defeated. His eyes blinked open, and in them, Evangeline saw a starved man, filled only with eighteen years of loneliness.
“We heal very quickly. Unless a wound is caused by silver, we can heal nearly any injury in a few minutes. Broken bones, stab wounds, gunshots. None are particularly worrisome for us. But this is why your father is developing the serum. We are very difficult to kill. If he can interrupt our rapid healing with his drugs, then we could be killed as easily as a human. He is very close now. He tests it on me regularly.”
Nicola pushed himself up to a sitting position, leaning back against his cot with a heavy sigh. Their bodies were only two feet apart.
Evangeline mirrored his position. Her eyes were drawn to his chiseled and lightly scarred chest. “How?”
“You do not want to know, little one.”
“Yes. I do.” Evangeline moved closer and reached her hand through the bars again. Her fingers rested on his. “Please. Tell me.”
Evangeline’s fingers were warm and soft against Nicola’s skin, and she saw him swallow hard over the lump in his throat. He held her hand firmly, almost desperately, as he explained how he would be drugged and chained, sometimes for hours, other times for days. “They sever my femoral artery and time how long it takes me to heal. Sometimes they burn or cut my skin. They have broken bones. Starved me on occasion. But mostly they just make me bleed. Recently, one of the batches of serum was successful. I was seconds from death when your father poured a vial of blood down my throat. It strengthened me enough to heal the wound. They are working on aerosolizing that batch now. Thus far though, the process they use has muted the serum’s effectiveness. But they are close. They will kill me soon. Days. Weeks perhaps.”
An alarming thought occurred to Evangeline. “Nic.”
“Nic? I do not believe anyone has ever called me that before.” Nicola smiled.
Evangeline pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry. Nicola—”
He waved his free hand weakly. “I think I like Nic.”
“Nic, are there cameras here?” Evangeline’s eyes roamed the room, paying particular attention to the ceiling.
“No. They set up a small camera when they observe my reaction to the serum. But as far as I have learned, there are no cameras hidden in this room.”
Evangeline shuddered as some of the tension leached out of her body. “Do you know where the key to this cell is?”
“Your father keeps one. I believe some of his men have a copy. As does the woman.”
“The woman. Cassie?”
“I have not heard that name. Your father calls her Miss Duffield.”
Evangeline dashed away a tear. She’d held out the smallest morsel of hope that Cassie hadn’t been a part of imprisoning the vampire who’d tried to help her all those years ago, but in her heart, she’d known the truth the second she’d heard Nic’s voice.
“What’s wrong?” Nic shifted forward, concerned, but the silver bars kept him at a distance.
Another tear rolled down Evangeline’s cheek and she wiped it away. “You’re concerned for me? You’re the one caged and tortured.”
“My fate is sealed. I will die in this place. Your father and the others—they speak freely in my presence . . . they do not believe I will ever leave here or speak to anyone. They are trying to bait others. They wish to test the serum’s effectiveness in water. They need more prisoners first.”
He was about to continue, but Evangeline cut him off. “How?”
“How are they baiting others?”
Nic’s eyes softened. “You know how they baited me,” he said quietly.
“Oh God. No. Olivia. She went with Will and Mickey. She’s nine. She’s only nine.” Evangeline stood up quickly. She was going to be sick. “I have to go.”
Evangeline pressed her hand to her belly. Nausea rolled through her. But for him, she waited. She owed him that much. More. She owed him his freedom.
“What are you going to do?” Nic tried to stand, but too weak, he collapsed back on his cot. He was breathing heavily.
“I . . . I don’t know. I just don’t know. I . . . I’ll come back. I promise.”
Evangeline hurried over to the door and cracked it slightly. The hallway was silent. She raced back towards the lab wing door and slipped through. The run back to her room felt like miles long and when she had secured the door, she embraced the chemical toilet and vomited up the remains of her dinner. She had to do something. She had to stop her father. But how? She couldn’t run now. Not yet. Not without the vampire.
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