Bloodshifted Page 10

Which was what he was, no doubt. He could’ve killed me. Or, made me kill me. And you, baby.

Shit. Jackson was up there culling people like they were antelopes. I wanted to do something about it—Race upstairs? Pull a fire alarm?—but looking at the scar on my palm, I was too scared.

I was used to being nervous, and worried, and anxious—but what racked me now was a full-body fear. I might not have always had much concern for my own life, and I might have been too willing to trust in whatever luck had gotten me this far, but I couldn’t bet my baby’s life on it.

If it was always going to be like that with Raven, I didn’t know how I could stop him. I had to figure out some way to warn Anna.

She had to know she was coming into a trap. She was too smart not to. But—even though I was frightened, I didn’t want to believe I was impotent. Not doing anything would scar me worse than the silver had.

Yet how could I help her while I protected my baby?

I needed to learn as much as I could about this place, immediately. If there were safe places to hide, or alternative ways out, or ways I could somehow help Anna to get in. It didn’t matter what he told me to do, or what my blood wanted, or that I was afraid—I knew who I was. I want to be a mom you can be proud of, baby. Not enslaved to a horrible vampire for the rest of my too-long life. I steeled myself and stepped outside.

On my right, the lights were stretched farther apart, like pinpricks into the darkness. The prisoner I’d met in my dream—was he down here too? Could he really free me? I had a good excuse to be here now, since Raven had brought me himself, but I might not get another. One hand protectively over my belly, I silently padded down the hall, glad I was in tennis shoes.

There were doors on either side—I listened at the first one I passed, holding my own breath, listening.

Storage? Or bodies? Or storage for bodies? I leaned in and tried to smell at the edges for blood but the only thing I could scent was pervasive musty damp, my own smell, skin, and the residue of Jackson’s soap from earlier on today.

I decided it would be more useful to figure out how far the tunnel went than to open doors—door opening would be vastly safer during the day—so I trotted down to the end of the hall.

It sank and turned again. The tunnels under the Catacombs were just as tangled as Los Angeles’s highways. I raced to the end of this one, bolder now that it seemed like everyone was busy upstairs in the club. The lights were farther apart; I counted off three of them and raced up to the last one, expecting to find another turn, then drew up short.

I’d reached the final light.

I was pretty sure the hall continued—it’d stopped being painted a long time ago, and the floors and ceiling were now smooth stone like you saw inside caves with stalagmites. But the power cable that’d been following my path ended with this last lightbulb; it was capped at the end.

Were these tunnels abandoned? Was it even a tunnel in front of me anymore? For all I knew it could open up into some massive cavern, or into an awful pit. I snapped my fingers once and heard the echoes reverberate into the blackness.

Did the vampires come down here at all? Was this where they slept? How could they see? Or were they hearing instead? Sonar? Heat vision? Scent trails, like ants? So much I didn’t know, and so much that could kill me. I frowned into the dark. I’d seen all I could tonight—literally. After I swiped a lighter or a flashlight, I could risk coming back.

* * *

I wound through the halls I’d just come down, the stone rising subtly beneath my feet, and counted doors. There was a difference between the old ones and the worn ones. I assumed the old ones were unimportant, but I marked the worn ones in my mind—anything that was of use to a vampire might be of use to me.

I’d reached the land of paint again—was that Jackson’s job too, I wondered?—when I heard a commotion near the crossroads, off to one side. I trotted up to the area I was allowed to be in right before the female vampire arrived.

She would have beaten me there if she weren’t carrying a man along.

He was almost twice her size, and she had her arm around his waist, pulling him up against her the way a toddler sometimes carries a large doll. Her hair was wild, freed from its updo, pins hanging down akimbo. He had one hand sloppily beneath her collar around her shoulders and neck; his free hand was grasping for her breast, and she was laughing at him—until she saw/smell/heard me.

She stood straighter, wheeling him behind herself like she was hiding him from me, despite the fact there was no way that I could fail to see him around her. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Her voice sounded like a whipcrack in the silent hall, and I realized she was trying to control me—but it didn’t quite work. What a relief.

“I got lost,” I said, awkwardly bowing. “Mistress,” I tacked onto the end, voice authentically unsure, peeking up at her from between strands of hair, meekly.

She looked at me like a bird would, one side then the next, as though her eyes were far apart and she needed to bring both of them to bear. The man was wearing a dark shirt with black stripes and a pattern with points of shininess. Some of her white makeup had transferred onto him, and his lips were stained the color of hers. He pushed her collar out of the way to try to kiss her neck. I wondered how he’d feel shortly once the tables were turned.

Would he be another of the satisfied customers that Jackson had told me about? Would he remember anything about how he got that makeup on his shirt tomorrow? She kept eyeing me while the man pawed at her. The weight of her gaze was far heavier than the tone of her voice—just because she couldn’t control me didn’t mean she couldn’t hurt me. I didn’t want her to drop the man and take up with me. I knelt lower, reaching one hand down to the cold ground, desperately trying to think of excuses for me to be down here. “I was hoping that I could find some clothing that would fit me better.”

Her kohl-rimmed eyes narrowed and she let go of the man. He slid down her and to the floor without support, and then she flowed over to me, her heels hardly making a sound on the stone floor. It was hard not to move away after what I’d already been through with Raven. I wanted to scuttle backward and protect myself, cross my arms over my baby and curl into a ball, but I knew moving would be bad—in the same way that deer did, right before they got hit by cars.

She leaned down, putting one of her pale hands underneath my chin, lifting my head up until I was on my knees and her face was beside mine, her eyelashes batting against my cheek. She inhaled deeply, then exhaled. “You smell like him.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. She released my chin and looked at me as though she’d just found out a secret. “I could make you irresistible,” she crooned, her voice an instrument played for me alone. “I know his needs. His wants. His desires. I could show you how to please him.”

I had a feeling she wasn’t talking about the incapacitated man on the floor. “No, thank you,” I said, as politely as I could.

“Pity,” she said. Her tone was mocking, but that could have just been her accent. “I can help you with clothing tomorrow, but if I do you a favor, you’ll have to do me one.”

I nodded, because that was generally how favors with vampires worked, and I didn’t want to anger a creature that could snap me in two.

“Good.” She bent over and picked the man off the ground, heaving him up to her shoulder as if he were a sack of flour, he didn’t outweigh her by 150 pounds, and she weren’t in heels.

“You’re a strong one!” he laughed as he was manhandled aloft.

“They think we women are weak, but we know otherwise,” she said, grinning at me with fangs out before turning to finish carrying him down the hall.

I waited until she was gone and hurried back to Celine’s room.

* * *

I prayed I wouldn’t see anyone on the way there, and I didn’t. Jackson, true to his word, had left a bag of fast food for me. I had no idea how long my detour had taken, but the burger grease was congealed and the fries were cold. I supposed I should be glad it wasn’t pickles and ice cream. I ate all the burger and half the fries and hoped that there was some folic acid in it somewhere, since I didn’t think I could get anyone to go out for prenatal vitamins on my behalf.

While I ate, I thought. About the last time I had fries with Asher, on the Maraschino. It really hadn’t been all that long ago, but it seemed like my life kept picking up speed, actions and consequences blurring into a red shift that was becoming harder to make sense of.

An unknown vampire had contacted me in my dreams, I didn’t know what Natasha was researching yet, Raven wanted me to lure Anna in, Jackson wanted me to betray Anna to House Grey—and Anna was my only hope of ever seeing Asher again.

I missed him. I’d been so busy or scared since I’d gotten here that I’d hardly had a chance to breathe, but oh, I missed him. What I wouldn’t give to be able to curl up into his arms and be safe—or put my back against his and fight our way out of here together.

I put my hand against my stomach. “I don’t know if you can hear me, baby—but I love your father very much.”

“We’re honestly touched,” muttered something from the bottom of my bag of fries, followed by a rustling sound.

I jumped, startled, and heard the sound of the Shadows laughing at me.

“Too rich by half!” they chortled.

I reddened with shame. “Stop it. You’re not supposed to scare me, we’re supposed to be a team. Have you been in there this whole time?”

“Long enough that you ought to feel foolish.”

I had the temptation to walk the bag over to the vanity and open it up beneath the light—they might not all die, but they’d have to hide under the last half of my fries.

“Temper, temper,” they chided.

“How’d you get in there?” I asked, as I saw. There was a shadow extending from one of the posters on Celine’s bed out to where Jackson had set the bag. “What were you hoping to accomplish?” I squinted at the bag’s outside. “Were you hoping to get thrown out?”

“And crawl back across two thousand miles on our own? Not hardly. We were merely bored.”

“I’m so glad I’ve been risking my life and dealing with insane vampires all night while you’ve been coming up with ways to startle me.”

“You can’t blame us,” they said, their voices shifting. “We thought you might have died. In fact, we’re surprised you’re still alive, given your propensity toward self-sacrifice, although it’s probably hard to find something worth dying for in here.” I could see their form in the shadows created on the inside of the bag. They pulsed when they spoke, like a miniature heart. “What did you learn? Don’t make us sift around in your brain. We’re afraid the vacuity there might kill what’s left of us.”

I didn’t appreciate their tone, but realized they were merely blustering. The portion of Shadows I held here had originally come from a much larger mass, a frightening powerful darkness, capable of, it seemed, almost anything. But this little group here—easily killed by exposure to light and half a world away from Port Cavell—was as lost as a lamb.

“Don’t you dare feel sorry for us,” they warned me with a growl.

“I didn’t find any useful way out yet. I’m working on it.”

“You do realize that with every moment here you weaken?”

“Thanks for the reminder.”

“We’re saying you need to hurry, girl. Not just for yourself, but for us.”

Like them being in danger would hasten me to action. I snorted. Then their shadow inside the bag suddenly flattened completely, like a gopher dropping into a hole.

I shook the bag. “Shadows?”

The bell rang as Celine pushed open the door behind me, and I understood why they were hiding. She was carrying a bag of food just like I was, and eyed me, my fingers still covered in grease. “Club’s closed, and mostly cleaned. Thanks for being so much help.”

“You’re welcome,” I said back with equal sarcasm. “Do we have to present ourselves again?” I figured Jackson would have come and found me if so.

“No. Usually everyone drifts off when they’re done.”

“And all your ladies, they’re through?”

“It’s a Tuesday,” she said with a shrug. “The promise of sex can only do so much—and only men who have to work tomorrow can afford them.” She carefully took her shoes off, lining them up beside her bed, and then sat down on it and pulled out her burger. Maybe being a daytimer meant getting to eat all the hamburgers you wanted, hooray. I folded the top of the bag the Shadows were in to keep them safe and set it down nonchalantly.

“Do you enjoy being a daytimer?” I asked, to keep our conversation going and so she wouldn’t ask why I’d been talking to a bag.

Celine made a face at me while she chewed. “Yeah. It’s fantastic. Rainbows and ponies, the whole time.” She took another huge bite of burger.

It was hard for me to imagine her being any other way, but clearly she hadn’t always been a daytimer. She must have had, once upon a time, other hopes and dreams. They were probably pinned like butterflies underneath her framed head shots. “What were you before this? An actress? Or a model?”

She swallowed, then took another bite, rather than answer me. I watched her eat, trying to wait her out, but it didn’t work. When she was done she pulled her legs up onto the bed. “Can it be bedtime now?”

“Is anyone else going to try to kill me tonight?”

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