The chandelier was crying, long tears of palest amber that streamed across her line of sight. Her mind was like shattered glass, jagged pieces that no longer fit together into a coherent whole. She lay, moored to the side of the large bed, that even now seemed to be pitching and heaving beneath her, and rummaged through her mind for thoughts that made sense....
Foremost in Melindaís mind was the paralyzing pain that ran down the right side of her body, emanating in dizzying waves from the welt on her neck. She probed gently at her throat, wincing as she touched the bruised and tender skin. Dried blood crumbled beneath her fingertips, as she ran her hands down her chest and arms to find the stinging traces of claw marks. She moaned and tried to turn over, but she was too stiff. She felt as if sheíd been dissected and pieced back together.
Her memory yielded images unwillingly in self-defense, as she fought her way back to consciousness. She remembered fighting with her boyfriend, waiting alone on the deserted subway platform, and the bright lights of the approaching subway. She recalled boarding the train and staring at the drunken occupant who had passed out in the seat across the aisle. The train crossed a junction in the tracks, veering off to the right and downhill. The lights went out.
"Youíre awake," said a soft voice from the end of the bed. He turned into the candlelight, and Melinda looked into the face of her nightmare.
With a hoarse cry, she scrambled away from him, crouching in the corner of the four-poster bed. The sudden effort sent points of light searing through her vision. She fought for breath, for the tenuous hold on consciousness.
"Shh," he whispered, coming to sit on the bed beside her. Melinda tried to move away from him, but succeeded only in falling forward. He caught her in his arms and placed a finger against her lips to quiet her. Helplessly, she looked up into eyes that were a deep brown, bordering on black. He didnít look like the horror her fragmented memory insisted he was. Rather, he resembled a dark angel with his handsome face and head of unruly curls. But the powerful hands that held her with much restrained strength ended in ten, long, talons. He let her down against the bed and propped the pillows up beneath her head. His hands lingered against her neck.
"Stiff?" he asked with genuine concern. His voice was deep and melodic. She nodded dumbly.
With strong, warm hands he tenderly massaged the feeling back into her neck. "Itíll pass," he said. And, for the first time he looked human, almost.
Solemnly, he surveyed the damage, running a finger over the red welts on her throat and arms. "Youíre hurt," he said, more as a statement than a question.
"Yes," she croaked, her voice a rasping remnant of its former tone.
"Iím sorry, you must believe that."
Melinda choked back a sob and stared at him in mute terror.
"The first time is always a shock. But youíre safe now."
"Safe?" she whispered in absolute horror, "I donít think so."
"Youíll see," he said, almost sadly. For a moment he looked as if his mind was far away, dwelling on some old and familiar sorrow. He looked back at her suddenly, making her jump. "Besides Melinda," he said. "You really donít have any other choice."
"How do you know my name?" she asked, trying to keep the tremors that resonated out from her knees from working their way up into her voice.
"I looked at your driverís license, of course," he said, as if she was incredibly naive. Then he remembered his manners and said almost apologetically, "Well, youíve been asleep for a day and a half, it wasnít as if I could ask you."
She stared at him, waiting. "I donít suppose Iíll need my license when Iím dead," she said finally.
"Dead? Whatever gave you the idea I was going to kill you?"
"Look what you did to me!" She wanted to scream. "You were trying to kill me!"
"I am trying to save your life," he said and looked away.
An icy shiver snaked down her spine. She hugged her wounded arms and shuddered.
"Really," he said gently. "I have no more choice in this than you."
"I donít believe you."
"As you wish." He grasped her head in his taloned hands and turned her face so she was forced to look into his eyes. "But I want you to understand something. You are in a situation in which you have very few options. In a few short hours you will be thinking very differently about all of this. I will await your call."
He left the room, pulling the heavy metal door to with a loud resounding boom that had an ominous note of finality to it. As if in emphasis, she heard the jingle of keys as he locked the door.
The room was spinning, clockwise, then counterclockwise. Melinda looked about slowly, trying not to turn her head too fast and send the dizziness flooding back upon her.
The mammoth bed on which she lay was the only piece of furniture in the cavernous room. It was an imposing creation with its heavy curtains and towering columns. Judging from the tiled walls and floor and the persistent rumbling above, she suspected she was still underground. An abandoned subway station perhaps. Sheíd read once that there were a couple in the Toronto Subway System. The place had a haphazard look to it, as if he made do in surroundings less opulent than he was accustomed. Tapestries, embellished with gold and silver thread covered the walls, and Persian rugs warmed the utilitarian tiled floors. The foyer was flanked on either side by what looked to be a small study and a large closet.
Gingerly, Melinda placed one foot on the floor, then stood, holding on to the bedpost for support. She willed herself to remain upright. Awareness was her only defense. She had to find a way out.
Slowly, she walked about the perimeter of the room, lifting up the corners of the heavy tapestries, examining the wall underneath. She pounded on the tile, bruising her hand on the hard cement it covered. Not even an echo. The place was as solid as a tomb. It was doubtful anyone would even hear her screams.
There were no windows, and the door was locked as securely as it sounded. She threw herself against it, gaining only an aching shoulder for her efforts.
Desperate for clues, she lurched toward a desk in an alcove off the main bedroom and almost fell into the fragile antique chair. She flipped through a stack of parchment papers on the side of the desk, searching for a means to defend herself.
Something silver slid from the paper, falling to the desk with a loud clink. Melinda turned the slender object over in her hands. Faded runes ran along the silver blade that was worn smooth by years of use. A blood...red jewel was set in the hilt. It could have been a dagger, but she guessed by its presence on the desk, he used it as a letter opener. She folded it tightly in her fist. As a last resort, it could be used as a weapon against him.
Melinda turned her attention to the row of leather...bound books on the back of the desk. A similar volume lay open before her, as if he had tossed it there expecting to return shortly.
She reached for the book, feeling its soft leather cover. The passages inside were scripted in a strong hand, a form of calligraphy so ancient and decorative it was difficult to read. The open page was dated the twenty...sixth of April. A few days ago then. Scrolls of red and black ink revealed the beginning of a poem, lovingly bordered with much care. Melinda read the words aloud, wondering at the odd imagery,
The blood of sunset stains the sky
lips, of ruby wine
darkness like a feather falls
into the depths of midnight
bless the glow of candlelight ...
Was he the author of the poem? She replaced the book carefully, and selected another from the row behind it.
A huge plume of dust burst from the book, as she opened it, making her cough. The pages were brittle and yellowed with age. Some leaves were loose, their corners ragged. She gasped aloud as she read the date, The First Day of May in the Year 1795. Identical handwriting stared back at her, disguised only the by antiquated patterns of speech. It had the look of a journal to it, an account of preparations for a trip to the country, including much annoyance over the hiring of a carriage.
The next entry was a sketch drawn in thick black strokes of ink. It was a portrait of two people, a man and a woman in historical dress. The inscription underneath read íKirsten and Me in the countryí. The drawing was signed with a blood...red íMí. She forced herself to breathe. The man in the picture was her captor, and he looked exactly the same.
Hastily, she replaced the book, not wanting to think about what her eyes were trying to tell her. Could these entries, nearly two hundred years apart, actually be written by the same person? Who was this creature that lived below the city in a forgotten rat...hole in royal splendor? More accurately, what was he?
She wanted to scream. For the first time in her adult life, she wanted her mother. But her parents lived in Unionville, too far away to be of assistance. Hysteria would accomplish nothing.
Research, she reminded herself. Thatís what good detectives do before anything else. She decided to tackle the closet on the other side of the room.
The contents were a lesson in fashion history. The Textile Department at the Museum would love this! Medieval cloaks, jeweled, brocaded jackets, frilly lace shirts were neatly arranged among blue jeans and black leather jackets. Melinda reached out a hand to feel the rich textures, pitching forward suddenly, her vision going black. She came to staring at her knees, and huddled there a moment, shivering and sweating while her head cleared.
A flash of brass caught her attention. Hidden away behind rows of old...fashioned clothing was a small trunk. It was fashioned of dark wood and decoratively hinged in brass. Melinda tried the lid. It wasnít locked. She cast a backward glance over her shoulder. The room was quiet. She lifted the lid and peered inside.
The box revealed a medieval womanís gown. It was a beautiful piece of work, fragile with age, hand sewn and lovingly decorated. It seemed curiously out of place among such male accouterments.
Who does it belong to? A past victim, a lost lover, someone dear to him ... the person who made him what he is? Strange, to keep an article of clothing instead of a portrait or a piece of jewelry ... Perhaps she left suddenly....
Melinda awoke to the sounds of her own tortured screams. Searing pain radiated from the center of her stomach. Her veins throbbed with an agony that rendered her limbs useless. Every nerve, every cell in her body cried out in misery. Each rasping breath was an exhausting undertaking. She prayed and begged the empty air for anything that would end her suffering. Finally, he appeared beside her.
She looked up at him, desperately hoping against all reason that he would help her.
"You seem a little happier to see me this time," he said, gazing down at her.
"Make it stop," she whimpered.
Desire burned in those black eyes that flickered from her throat to her face. Desire and something else ... reluctance? "Only one thing will make it better," he said sadly.
"No," she gasped trying to sit up, but her weakened body would not obey. Too much effort was required to hold the letter opener in her fist. It fell from her hand, a silver flash in the golden candlelight.
"And what were you going to do with this?" he asked with the faintest hint of amusement. "Slit my throat perhaps?"
Melinda offered only a groan in reply. He walked to the desk and tossed it back on the pile of paper. He returned and stood looking down at her thoughtfully. She felt the bed give as he sat down to wait, as if heíd been through all this before, while she valiantly tried to resist the crushing anguish.
"Why do you make this so difficult?" he asked softly, when this had gone on for some time. "It wonít get any better. Youíre half changed already. Either we continue, or you die."
She shuddered. "Youíre lying."
"Why would I do that?"
"So you can have it your way."
"I will have it my way."
"Iíd rather die," she moaned, as a fresh wave of nausea washed over her.
"If I wanted you to die," he said quietly. "I would have killed you already."
Silence filled the room, punctuated only by her labored gasps.
"Why me?" she demanded through clenched teeth.
Whatever the reason, he didnít want to share it with her. "You were in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said at last. "Let me help you, Melinda. I hate to see you suffer so."
Her mind was a gray expanse of pain. The yearning within her urged to surrender to him, to let him do whatever unthinkable things would satisfying this intense longing. But logic reminded her how heíd pounced upon her in the empty subway car, torn at her neck with his piercing teeth and ripped through her flesh with his razor sharp claws. She whimpered and tried to slither away from him, but he stretched out beside her on the bed and gathered her into his arms.
"I promise it will only hurt for a second this time. A little pressure, a little pain, then youíll just feel very drowsy."
She wanted to tell him to go back to whatever hell he crawled out of, to leave her to die, but he was kissing her gently, wiping the tears from her eyes. And with every feather...soft touch, a little of the pain disappeared.
"Please donít suffer anymore," he whispered, "itís breaking my heart."
The last of her will crumbled. "Just do it."
He ran a taloned hand over her eyes, shutting them, and grasped her tightly. His lips traced a line of fire from her mouth to her neck. He lingered there for a moment, then she felt his lips draw back, baring his fangs. She heard him suck in his breath, and she held hers. His teeth pierced her neck.
She screamed in the first shock of pain and flailed against him. But he held her still, and soon she found she didnít have the strength to move at all.
Blood rushed from her neck under the gentle pull of his lips against her throat. Her body seemed to flow into his like melting wax. He shuddered in ecstasy, relaxing his grip a little, freeing a hand to caress her tenderly. She was feeling light...headed, it was difficult to hold on to consciousness. As he promised, the pain drifted away, dissolving into a total absence of feeling.
With great effort, he lifted his head from her neck and lay back onto the pillows, pulling her with him. He looked down at her, black eyes glazed with pleasure and lazily licked the last of her blood from his lips.
Moving was out of the question. Her body was unresponsive, her limbs as heavy as lead. She hovered somewhere on the brink of consciousness and tried not to think.
Pain jarred her back to wakefulness. She had the vague impression time had passed. But how much time. Hours? A day?
Something shifted in her jaw. With a wet sound, her gums tore. She probed with the tip of her tongue and gasped as she cut herself on the razor...sharp points of her new teeth. She swallowed a mouthful of her own blood and looked at him in agonized bewilderment.
Gently, he drew back her upper lip. What he saw seemed to satisfy him. "Itís almost over," he said, stroking her swollen lips.
To Melinda, the torment seemed endless. Cracked and flaking remnants of her nails lay in bloody pools about her cuticles. Beneath she could see a new set of coarse, white nails sprouting. They looked like claws.
Deep within her a desire was awakening, a sinister, compelling lust. It was a longing beyond sensual, a thirst that could only be quenched by something warm, red and salty. She stiffened in his arms, dismayed to discover it was blood she craved.
"Ah," he said. "Now youíre beginning to understand."
"Oh, God. No!" Melinda pleaded, realization dawning on her with frightening clarity. She sat up, trying to free herself from his embrace, but he rose with her, preventing her escape.
He didnít seem perturbed at all, rather, he was patient, eager to have her participate in this carnal act. He held out his wrist in offering. "You might want to try the wrist. The neck takes a bit more skill."
She gagged and shivered. "I canít."
"No......" She started to protest, but he raised his wrist to her lips.
"Come," he said softly, pointing out a thick, blue vein. "This one right here."
The desire was stronger than her will. Tentatively, she placed her teeth on his wrist. She was going to be sick.
"Youíll have to apply a lot more pressure than that." He placed one strong hand behind her head to guide her.
He kissed her on the forehead in reassurance, then fixed her with that black stare of his. She looked helplessly into his eyes. "Itís all right," he said. "You canít hurt me. This is a beautiful experience, the sharing of anotherís lifeblood."
She was falling, tumbling into the depths of those ebony eyes. She lowered her head and bit deeply into his wrist.
He winced at her clumsiness, drawing in a sharp breath. "Careful," he warned. He let the breath out slowly, going limp against her.
His blood was warm and thick like sherry. With each mouthful the pain and exhaustion receded, until she felt well and whole.
"Enough," he said abruptly. His hand gripped the back of her neck like a vice and gently disengaged his wrist from her mouth.
She swallowed blood and retched, letting her head fall to his shoulder. He held her quietly.
"Arenít you even going to ask my name?" he asked some time later.
"Your name," she repeated. It was hard to think of him as having something as simple as a name.
He held her away from him, facing her gravely. "I am called Valdemar."
"Valdemar," she repeated, trying out the unfamiliar syllables.
He smiled and pushed a sodden lock of hair from her face. "Youíre a mess."
She reached for his wrist, to assess the damage sheíd done.
He took her hand and led her down to his bathing chamber, a level below the bedroom. Standing on the marble staircase, she looked in awe at the tiled pool that resembled a Roman bath.
"What is this place?"
"Lower Queen Subway Station."
Valdemar smiled. Her interest seemed to please him. "From what I can gather, it was supposed to be a junction point for a proposed subway line. Apparently, the transit company decided not to build it. They locked it up and forgot about it."
"You built all of this?" In spite of her fear, she was fascinated.
He shrugged as if everyone constructed Roman Baths in their spare time. "Time is the one thing I have a lot of."
"No one ever found you here?"
"Not yet." Valdemar held out his hand. "Come, letís get you cleaned up."
"Youíll need a shirt," he said, standing in the doorway to his huge closet. He tossed the torn and blood...stained blouse aside. "Your jeans might be okay once theyíve been washed."
Melinda sat before the gilded mirror in his dressing chamber and tried on the borrowed shirt of soft suede.
"Thatís better," he said, turning and startling her by casting a reflection in the mirror.
"Surprised I have a reflection?"
"Now that you mention it, Iím surprised I can see myself."
"Well," he said, gesturing toward the mirror. "There you are. And you look beautiful."
She looked again at the creature in the mirror, seeing familiar features that now glowed with a beauty that was somehow cruel in its intensity. Her skin was the color of palest alabaster, her lips the color of deep red wine. She drew back her lips, revealing two sharply chiseled eyeteeth. They were only fractionally longer than her original teeth, barely noticeable, yet deadly sharp. Violet eyes stared calmly back at her. It was an illusion. She certainly didnít feel calm inside.
Tentatively, she touched her face. The sight of her long, white claws made her freeze mid...gesture. They were easily as thick as a dime. She suspected that even filed down, they would still be deadly. She ran a tentative claw over the tender skin on the back of her hand and watched in horror as it left a streak that soon turned an angry red. Such talons were fashioned for dismemberment, Melinda thought with a shudder. Theyíd caught on her clothing as she dressed and snagged in the cloud of thick sable hair that before had been straight and fine.
"But I shouldnít have a reflection," she protested. "I mean, in all the books Iíve read......"
"You shouldnít believe the superstitious nonsense you read in books."
She turned and really looked at him for the first time. He seemed so ordinary, standing there in his black jeans and ebony shirt. It was easy to think of him that way, until she looked into that face that seemed carved from whitest ivory, and knew that she was privy to a beauty too flawless to be entirely human. That striking face was framed by unruly black curls that spilled onto his forehead and over the collar of his shirt. He had the kind of innocent wide...eyed stare that beseeched her sympathy on one hand and looked right into her soul on the other. Melinda didnít want to look into those raven eyes that compelled her to do things against her better judgment. But, when he smiled, as he did now, he was blindingly handsome.
"Come to my parlor," he offered. "Iíll explain it all to you."