Bloodshifted Page 7

Wolf was still Wolf, though, in a leather vest and T-shirt, more muscled than manly, and Raven was still Raven, lounging on his couch in head-to-toe purple-black—the shade certain bird feathers took on under the right light. He wore a coat that would have been a costume on anyone else, swirling down to his knees. Jackson nudged me forward to stand by Lars, who was dressed in a black business suit, hovering by Raven’s side.

Lars didn’t look any worse for our fight—and neither did I. He was still angry at me, I could see it in his eyes, and almost feel the hate radiating off him. I wondered if he was worried that I would rat him out to our shared Master.

“Who put her in that?” Raven asked aloud as I took my place. I noticed he wasn’t asking me.

Jackson stepped forward. “There wasn’t any other clothing around, Master.”

Raven’s thin lips puckered in distaste. “She can’t attend the bathrooms in that. Not even on the first floor.”

The queenly female vampire looked to Celine, who bowed apologetically, while gesturing to her more petite form. “I don’t have anything in her size.” It was hard not to roll my eyes, but I managed.

Raven sighed as though my fashion troubles ought to be beneath him. “Jackson—”

Jackson stepped forward at the mention of his name. “If I may, Sire’s Sire—”

Beside me, Lars tensed. Maybe he thought Jackson would be the weak link. Raven waved his hand in the air. “By all means,” he said as ironically as possible.

Jackson went on, seeming used to being ironized. “I don’t think she should be upstairs at all. She was a nurse before she came here.” It was my turn to tense. I hadn’t considered that Jackson might rat me out, instead. “It is possible that she may be of use to Natasha.”

Raven made a thoughtful noise as I looked around the room for a person I hadn’t met yet. And a cruel smile parted Raven’s lips as he looked toward the door behind me, and I looked over my shoulder at the girl walking through. “Speak of the devil.”

Her black hair was pulled into a high ponytail, which then spilled down her back in a thick wave. She had her father’s ice-blue eyes and his widow’s peak and his same aquiline nose, and was wearing an oddly modest black turtleneck—which I realized hid her neck—and jeans. A simple bracelet hung at her right wrist, charms dangling. Despite her youth and her casual-Friday outfit, I recognized her instantly—she looked exactly like her father, Nathaniel, the psychopath who’d infected and then sunk the Maraschino. He’d sacrificed four thousand innocent people in his attempt to raise a monster to obliterate the vampires that’d kidnapped her.

When she saw Raven she broke into the world’s hugest smile. It was completely disconcerting.

“Hey baby,” she said, and walked across the room to him as if the rest of us weren’t there.

“Dear one,” he replied, reaching out for her. She hopped onto the couch and folded under his arm and he held her the exact way Asher held me sometimes, closing his eyes and pulling her close.

I had no idea what to make of that. Her resemblance to her father was chilling—and he was why I was trapped here. But watching her snuggle with Raven—and him snuggle back—was like watching a nature program, viewing the intimate habits of an unknown beast, being both aghast and unable to look away. Beside me, Lars tensed. I wondered if Lars had known her father—or if he’d ever tried to kill her, too.

“How’s work tonight?” Raven asked her solicitously, stroking a hand through her hair.

“It was good—I’m close, things are almost done,” she told Raven, pulling back to smile up at him. “I just need two more test subjects. I want to be sure.”

“Of course. I appreciate your thirst for perfection.” And he smiled down at her, amused, showing teeth. It was as if the rest of us weren’t even in the room anymore. While he couldn’t give her warmth or real love, I realized he could give her his completely undivided attention, a particular talent of vampires—and she basked in it like a flower does the sun. I looked around quickly, and saw the male vampire I didn’t know grimace.

Jackson did more than that. He groaned. She turned from Raven’s shoulder to look at him with an irritated frown. “I wouldn’t ask for them if I didn’t need them.”

“You said that last week,” Jackson said. Wolf subtly moved his hand to stop him from speaking further, and I could almost see Jackson biting his tongue.

“Jackson’s just upset that you’re making so much extra work for him,” Wolf apologized, as though Jackson were incapable of speaking for himself.

“Good. I would hate it if we no longer shared the same goals,” Raven said, thin lips pulling into a dangerous smile above Natasha’s head. He glanced at me again, then squeezed her, and pointed his chin at me. “Could you use the services of a nurse in your lab?”

She shrugged. “I could use-use her,” she said, “and then lazy Jackson would only have to find me one more—”

“No, I need her alive, for now. I meant to help you. I worry that you’re working too hard.”

“Of course I am. I want to make things perfect for you,” she said without the slightest hint of guile.

“I know. But maybe if she could help you some, you’d have more time to spend with me.”

The look on her face was meltingly sweet. “I’d like that.”

“It’s done then.” Raven looked over to me. “You will do whatever Natasha tells you to,” he commanded. I could feel the order go through my body, as if he’d just chiseled it into my bones.

Natasha turned to regard me as my pulse began to race. I knew every vampire in the room could smell my fear—because I’d just been given over to a psychopath’s daughter like some baby bunny to a toddler on Easter. Fuck you very much, Jackson.

She didn’t catch my horror, though—or perhaps, she was so used to seeing people afraid of her that she was oblivious to it, even taking it as some sort of tribute.

Raven smiled indulgently at her, leaning forward, rubbing his cheek against her hair, before turning to regard the rest of us in the room. “We should be open already—unless there’s anything else to deal with tonight?” No one moved or made a sound. “Let’s get on with it then. And speaking of extra work, Jackson—I’ve left some trash at the crossroads for you to dispose of, although you should make sure to blame that on Lars.”

Raven got up gracefully and offered his hand to Natasha, who took it to rise. He bowed deeply to her, kissing her hand in a formal fashion. “Soon,” he told her, then released her hand and walked out.

The vampires left the room first, then Lars and Celine trailed after them toward the dance floors. Natasha watched Raven leave with a soft smile on her face. She looked young. Asher said she should have been my age—but if she’d been turned into a daytimer when Nathaniel’s blood-testing scheme had been found out, that would have been seven years ago. She’d first gotten vampire blood when she was what, nineteen? Twenty? But she didn’t look like she’d aged a day since sixteen.

When she turned to look at me, though, her eyes were ancient—and I realized Raven’s command had given her utter power over me.

Jackson stepped up quickly as we became the last people in the room. “She’ll help me tonight—she can be yours tomorrow,” he warned.

“What, you don’t trust me?” Natasha teased, giving him a lopsided grin. “Does Jackson have a crush?”

“What kind of lab is it?” I interrupted. Her father had been doing illegal research on humans for vampires when he’d gotten in trouble with the Consortium. If she’d continued it on her own and been successful where he’d failed—

“Stem cell. Have you ever done anything like that before?” She sounded genuinely hopeful. I shook my head. “But you’re familiar with sterile procedures, yes?”


“And you can draw blood?”

“Like a vampire,” I said flippantly.

Natasha blinked, and then broke into a smile. “Good enough for me,” she said. She looked to Jackson next, much more business-like. “I’ll expect my subjects by dawn. I want a male and a female, and try to make sure they’re not addicted to anything. The last set—”

“I’ll get them to you after my disposal run,” he said, cutting her off.

Natasha nodded curtly at him, then smiled again at me and walked out of the room. I turned to Jackson once she was gone. “You don’t just clean the bathrooms, do you?”


Jackson raised a hand and pushed it through his hair while bowing his head a little. “Not really, no.”

“Why did you sell me out to Raven?” Not that I should have expected any loyalty—I hardly knew him and he was a daytimer, come on. Baby, your mother really ought to know better by now.

“Everybody here has to pull their own weight—” he began, making excuses while I frowned, more at myself than him.

I’d never worked in a lab but I’d had to have been living under a rock not to have heard of stem cells—cells that were undifferentiated, that could grow into other cell types depending on where they were used and what factors they were exposed to. Scientists were busy trying to use them to cure all sorts of things, but the research, while promising, was complicated and slow.

What the hell was Natasha using stem cells for? Was she still trying create blood substitutes like her father had been? I realized that if she was—I needed to know. She couldn’t be allowed to succeed. A world where vampires didn’t need humans for blood would be a world overrun—and no safe place for you, baby.

At the thought of that dismal future, I frowned even harder. “And what’s a disposal run?”

“It’d be easier to show you on the road. Assuming you want to come.”

I hesitated. I should be volunteering to help Natasha immediately. The sooner I figured out what she was up to, the sooner I could report her to the Consortium. It was another possible way out of here: calling the group that seemed to loosely govern supernatural creatures down on her and Raven’s heads. Unfortunately, the only time I’d met a representative from them they hadn’t handed me a business card.

“She doesn’t have any work for you yet—she’s out of human-shaped lab mice,” Jackson said. “And it does involve leaving here for about an hour in a car.”

At the thought of getting outside and being able to ask Jackson questions in the car safely, like just what Natasha was testing, I was sold. “Let’s roll.”

* * *

Jackson led me through another warren of hallways until we reached a point where the walls widened and our tunnel was intersected by another one—and a prone person’s leg was visible on the far side, as if whomever the leg had belonged to had fainted dead away. I looked at Jackson, whose demeanor said that this was normal for him, and then ran ahead.

“Are you okay?” The leg belonged to a man, a boy really, some pale club kid—made paler by blood loss. “Sir? Can you hear me?” I felt for a pulse, and it was there, but weak and slow. I shook him hard. “Hey!”

Jackson put restraining hands on the boy’s chest. “Don’t wake him up—it’s not good for him, or us. He doesn’t want to remember this, and it would only make our job harder.” He easily picked the man up and hoisted him over his shoulder.

“What happened to him?”

“What do you think happened? Raven gave you a huge amount of blood the other night. He had to get it back from somewhere—or someone.” Jackson shrugged and the man jiggled. “He’s lucky to be alive—it’s not as powerful for them when they don’t kill the victim. Something about eating the spark of life fills them up faster.”

“Psychophagy.” Once upon a time, a vampire had wanted to eat me.

Jackson’s eyebrows rose. “Is that what it’s called?”

“Yeah.” It was hard standing beside him when I ought to be calling 911 and starting warm IV fluids on the boy.

“Huh.” Jackson turned to indicate where we were standing. “This is the crossroads.” He pointed down two of the tunnels. “Those ones we don’t go down. They belong to our Masters, and if you snoop you’ll be killed on sight. And that one”—he pointed to a third—“is where Natasha’s lab is.”

I reached out for the dangling boy’s hand, digging my fingers in for a pulse. “He needs medical attention—he’s only barely alive—”

“I know. Let’s get to the car,” he said, and started going back the way we’d come.

* * *

Tunnels intersected, forming a map in my mind. I definitely knew how to get up to the club now—and how to get out to the garage. Jackson flipped open a metal box on one wall, revealing a wall of key hooks like what you’d find at a valet station. It was open—of course it was. The only person here who wanted to leave was me.

We walked down a row of cars until we reached a Honda Civic. “I don’t get to drive the fancy ones. Wouldn’t want to, either, with him on board.” He clicked the doors open and settled the boy into the back. I crawled in through the opposite door to keep an eye on him. Jackson gave me a look, but closed the door and settled into the driver’s seat.

* * *

“So it’s like this all the time?” I asked, lips pursed into a frown.

“Yeah. Rex—the other male vampire—picks out a few candidates and dopes them up for himself and the others. GHB, MDMA, coke, whatever suits their moods. Do they want an easy meal? To fuck or to fight? Even without the drugs, they’ve got their own powers, the mind-control thing they can all do, and I don’t have you tell you that they’re strong.”

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