Turning the brass locket over and over in my hand, I frowned and opened the clasp to look at the pictures inside. My daughter Rebecca stared up at me, her cheeks red and blond hair bleached out by the sun. She’d turned eight, and I’d missed it. My son’s face filled the other oval; today was his sixth birthday, and here I sat over two-thousand miles away. Neither looked like me, with their white-blond hair-except for their eyes.
This was a familiar ache in my chest. That thudding guilt mixed with anger, frustration and wretchedness.
Taking a shaky breath, I snapped the locket closed.
The kids were growing up, and I would miss it.
My fingers traced the familiar filigree pattern before I slipped it back under the blue of my scrubs top.
Grabbing my keys I hesitated, glancing over to where my cell phone vibrated, rattling the change in the shallow dish where it rested.
I picked up the phone, Forest, the P.I. I’d hired was calling.
Smiling, I answered the phone, “Hey, are you just checking in or what’s up? You in town?”
His whisper came over the line, “Yo, I found him. Meet me in
Time’s Square tomorrow at three p.m.”
“That’s great, but why are you whispering.”
“Tomorrow, 3 p.m. I’ll be the one in pink!”
“Forest?” He’d hung up.
Pursing my lips, I set my keys down.
Looking in the mirror, I spoke to myself. “Tonight, I’m going to drink live.” I straightened my part and finger combed my hair.
“I’m going to stop in time. Everything will be fine, I’ll have a breakthrough. Tonight, will be my breakthrough.”
My reflection narrowed her eyes.
Damnit! Could I do it?
I’d been drinking bottled blood from my work, Chronos Corp, because of my problem.
My gaze lingered on my eyes, they were steady.
“I can do this,” I told my reflection again. “I’m not going to hurt anyone. I can drink live, like every other regular Moroi.”
Disgusted with my lying image in the mirror, I smoothed my dark hair into a low ponytail and headed out into the night.
My clogs tapped the rain-soaked sidewalk as I strode the dark streets of my neighborhood.
The taps seemed to accelerate along with my thirst, and I reached out with my senses to find my prey.
Ahead, I could smell someone. Metallic blood and tangy sweat filled my nose. I licked my lips in anticipation.
I liked runners and I jogged to close the distance. From a few meters, I knew he heard me.
The runner’s speed increased as I neared.
His instincts were right, he should run.
The street lamp up ahead flickered and then died. My breath hitched in excitement, yearning to find my fix.
When the runner entered the unlit section, I called out, “Hey! Hi.”
Turning, he hesitated.
I knew what he saw.
My runner slowed and came to a stop, absentmindedly stretching. He took in a breath of relief, a smile beginning to curve the corners of his mouth.
I approached, amused and biting my lip hesitantly.
He took one step, then two. His heartbeat slowing from his lack of movement.
I neared, his hoodie within my grasp. The smell of his blood mingling with the woodsy cologne of his flesh lured me in another step. Then, I flew at him, my arms locking tightly around his torso making it impossible for him to escape.
The blood beneath his skin sang to me, and my fangs slid out, slipping noiselessly into the surface of his skin.
I sighed as his scarlet magic filled my mouth.
When my saliva hit his bloodstream like a shot of morphine, the runner embraced me like a lover. His fingers tangled in my hair adding to the excitement.
There would be no need to use compulsion on him; his memory would be hazy.
Would he think he had some crazy hook up?
I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.
Warmth flooded my senses as I devoured my fill.
My mind calmed and soothed with the euphoric high from his blood.
My pulse slowed, and relief began to inundate my body.
As a real vampire, a Moroi, I wasn’t undead like the myths. I remained alive, unaged and in my original physical state. I have a pulse and body heat too, which makes it incredibly difficult for a human to identify us.
Absentmindedly, I stroked his dark hair as I drank, vaguely aware of time passing, knowing I should stop, but unable to obey that little voice in the back of my mind.
The runner’s body slumped against me. Too much of his blood had passed my lips, gulp after lovely gulp, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t care. Drinking live was the best high I’d ever had. More and more, and more, unable to let this feeling of ecstasy stop…
Suddenly, I was yanked off my feet.
I gasped, and the warm liquid ran out of the corner of my mouth and down my chin.
Blinking, I tried to free myself from my stupor.
When my eyes focused, I yelled out, “What the hell?”
In front of me stood a Viking god with his hands on his hips and an exasperated expression. Losing myself in his eyes, I couldn’t stop staring. He had striking heterochromia; one eye was pale blue and the other a dark reddish-brown.
The black Chronos uniform suggested that he must’ve been assigned to “guard” me… I laughed in my inebriation. Yeah, guard me, my ass, this was more of a babysitting gig for the poor schmuck.
My previous guard quit last week. It was a surprise to have been assigned someone so quickly.
“You are Dr. Shepard? I can see we have a lot of work to do. You almost killed him.” When he spoke, an accent lilted his words and sent chills up my spine.
He motioned to his mouth. “You have some on your…”
"I know," I told him, irritation in my voice.
I didn’t want his interference, but he had prevented me from killing again. I wasn’t sure whether to be angry or relieved.
"I’m working on controlling it,” I told him, wiping the dribble from my chin with the sleeve of my shirt.
Sitting on the sidewalk, I rested my head on my knees, the warm sensation draining away.
I'd been struggling with this problem for precisely six years today.
The Viking folded his arms and stood there watching me, feet apart, planted on the concrete.
He reached down and pulled me up. "Get up. You'll live."
I favored his stoic, no-nonsense approach to my problem. Any sympathy would have made me feel weak and awkward.
As we wandered the streets back to my house, I thought about the runner I'd attacked tonight. If it hadn't been for the Viking, that man would've died. His life would’ve been over, and it would have been my fault.
My voice broke the still silence of the night, "What’s your name, Viking?”
He laughed at my nickname and looked over at me, his mouth quirked up at the corners. “Karsten Ingvar, but you can call me Sten.”
Our pace slowed to a stop, and I put my hand out for his.
“Nice to meet you, Sten. Sten?”
“Yeah, Sten. Nice to meet you as well.” His warm hand enclosed my own for this second time, the sizzling, warming sensation of his proximity making me a little dizzy.
All humor fled his countenance as he dropped my hand, apparently recalling his duty.
Without his skin touching mine, a strange empty sensation pricked at me.
Looking out into the night, Sten motioned that we should keep walking.
“Are you new? I’ve never seen you at headquarters." I asked, sliding him a sideways glance as his long strides ate up the sidewalk.
“Yeah, Mr. Vatia hired me last week. I flew in and got settled… It’s a good thing I started tonight…” His gaze flicked to me. “Unless you’re in the habit of doing that every night.” He gestured in the direction we’d come from.
I sighed out a silent laugh. “No, thank goodness. No.”
After several minutes went by, the silence weighed heavy on me. “Where are you from?”
“Denmark, but I’ve lived all over Europe. This is my first time living here in the States.”
“Are you from…New York?”
“Born and raised,” I told him. “Except now I live here, in New Jersey…for my lab…that’s here…It’s cheaper real estate and Chronos Corp focuses mainly on pharmacology, and I’m a virologist, but they fund my research.” A blush spread up my neck. Why was I rambling so much? “So, did you know what you’d be in for when you flew all this way? It’s not exactly the dream job.”
His chest rumbled in silent mirth. “Yes. I’m what you call a specialist. I train new Moroi, usually soldiers but now I’m here to help you.”
I almost slapped myself. Mr. Vatia hired him? Aurev Vatia did not hire soldiers personally. I’d become a special case.
Was I really that bad?
My lips twisted, “Do you think you can help me? How long will it take?”
He nodded, "It's different for everyone. For some people, they don't suffer from thirst. For others, they will always struggle but can learn control."
I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Waiting at a corner for a car to pass, I surreptitiously studied this new mysterious stranger in my life.
An image of the last person I killed flashed across my vision.
I needed to get ahold of myself.
Tears stung the backs of my eyes; I blinked them away.
My Viking just stood there, piercing a hole through my soul with his strange eyes.
Finally, he spoke. "Stop," he cradled my face in his hands. “I’m not just a guard to keep you in check–I’ve trained hundreds of soldiers. Now, I’m here to help you."
I studied his face. I couldn’t help flicking my gaze between his different colored irises. His kind eyes were steady, and the corner of his lips quirked up into a sympathetic smile.
"I know. I’m just so relieved.” I whispered into the charged space between us.
Licking my lips, my mouth was suddenly dry.
The way he looked at me made me feel naked, even in the darkness of night. My Viking was straight out of my wildest dreams. Foreign, rugged and painfully handsome, he took my breath away.
When his fingers unthreaded from my hair and around my face, I noticed his pulse jumped.
Chemistry flew between us and maybe a few sparks, but I couldn't go there.
I laughed and ran my fingers under my eyes. This was Aurev’s perverse sense of humor to dangle a man I couldn’t have in my face.
In my house.
Wherever I went.
But, I needed this damn hunger to end. A day without worrying and staying away from humans seemed impossible. Karsten was my lifeline, and I couldn’t screw this up.
“Is this my last chance?” I wondered aloud.
My Viking’s mouth curved up at the corner. “No, min lille heks, no. However, when I leave, you will be in control of yourself.”