Chapter One

Flaming Swan

Kira eyed the couple making out at the bar as she put the liquor away and finished up the last of the glassware. It was her Friday night, which was Tuesday to the rest of the world. The bar had gotten busy, but that was normal for a full moon, so she shouldn’t have been shocked. Usually a chill night at Booth’s, she whittled away the time making up fake histories about her customers. All she wanted to do right now was let out Jake, her red pitbull/boxer, kick up her feet, and catch up with a weekend’s worth of tv.

The couple was the last of the stragglers left in the bar. She printed out their tab and set the black check book, standing upright and partially open, in front of them. Clearing away their empties, she chuckled to herself. Gotta be an affair. Suits don’t usually hang out with white trash dye jobs. Maybe he was slumming it, looking for a chance to recapture his glory days. Kira thought the blonde probably saw him as a way out of whatever one bedroom walk-up she currently rented.

She watched them reflected in the mirror of the ancient walnut bar and noticed they weren’t getting the hint. Well, it’s hard to get a clue when your face is plastered to someone else’s. She turned up the lights, and, realizing that they probably wouldn’t notice the harsh glare, grabbed her iPod.  Five seconds later the quick, syncopated, electronic drums of Head Like a Hole burst through the sound system. There was an itch pricking the back of her brain, it was not a Les Miserables kind of night.

As she wandered through the room, putting the chairs up on the old oak tables, she remembered when she first discovered this album. Eighteen and angry at the world, she played it until she knew the lyrics to every song. A decade later, it could still take her back to the brash teenager with too much black eyeliner, dressed like Neil Gaiman’s Death.

She glanced at the bar. They were still there, but at least the blonde in the acid washed jeans had begun to gather her things. Mr. Middle Management, with his faded grey polyester suit, fumbled for his wallet, as if suddenly noticing the lateness of the hour, and the seediness around him. He threw down cash on his bill and directed the blonde outside. She couldn’t keep her hands off him, and Kira wondered how he would drive like that.

She locked the door behind them, heading back to the register to count the drawer and take care of the deposit. Her thoughts wandered as she closed up. Something felt heavy in the distance, like the still sizzle of ozone before the crack of lightning. She chalked her uneasiness up to the guy in the dark jeans and leather trench who had been there earlier in the night. It was the third night in a row that she’d seen him.

His dark hair stuck out at odd angles. A rough stubble of beard gave him the look like he rolled out of bed and just happened to look this good. His face held an aloofness that didn’t invite conversation, but made you want to know his story. The scar that jagged down just shy of his left eyebrow drew you in to his grey eyes, and held you there. She knew from one look that he was trouble. So of course, she tried to talk to him, that first night at least. It hadn’t gone well.

*******
Three nights ago…

Breathe. And don’t act like a freak. She approached him with a “Hey, I’m Kira. How ya doin’?”

Without glancing up he responded, “Bushmill’s. Neat.”

“Well that wasn’t what I asked you, but sure. No problem.” She grabbed the bottle and two glasses. She could play it cool. She tried to look unaffected as she slid the glasses onto the bar, tilted the bottle of whiskey, and poured two healthy shots. “What’s the book?” she asked, nodding to the antique hardcover that lay open in front of him.

His icy pale hand brushed against hers as he reached for the glass. He instantly recoiled and gave her a cursory and disdainful look. “Never you mind about that.”

She could feel her face flushing. “Well alright Mr. Crankypants, I’ll be putting my whiskey on your tab. Cheers!” She clinked his glass and turned to walk away, banging her hip into the ice bin behind her. God, I am such a klutz. She risked a quick glance back at him. He simply raised an eyebrow, and went back to ignoring her.

She caught sideways glimpses of him as he pored over the book. He had a stillness about him that was unusual in her clientele. In fact, he didn’t have much in common with her customers at all. Her regulars at Booth’s were good people: poor, working class, and trying to get by in a world that had all but forgotten them. Sure, the neighborhood was a little rough, but the people made up for it.

Despite everything else, she liked it here.

*******

Shaking off the residual embarrassment, she glanced at her phone, and saw that it was already past two. The messy bun that she’d thrown her mousy brown hair up into earlier hadn’t weathered the unexpected busy pop. She could feel the shorter stray hairs plastered to her cheeks and temples, her bangs pushed up haphazardly. She shrugged on her red and black plaid pea coat over her matching baseball long sleeve and blue jeans. She grabbed her bag and keys, stuck her phone in her back pocket, and turned off the lights.

Her green ’91 Mustang sat parked a half a block up just past the far corner. Her old Dr. Martens crunching as she crossed the street, she thought she saw something shift out of the corner of her eye, but she kept her pace, keys in hand. Something felt off.  She had the feeling that she was a squirrel about to be pounced on by a mountain lion that had no business existing in the city.

Thank god for automatic locks, she thought as her fingers grasped the door handle. It had just started to open, when a sharp pain hit her from the right, and her head cracked into the window frame.

“What the effin hell?” She tried to whip around to block the blow she sensed coming, but never got the chance. Feeling the fist grab her hair, her arms flew up to protect her face. She crouched quickly, scraping her cheekbone on the rusted paint job, and spun around. She left strands of her hair knotted around her ponytail holder intertwined in his fist as it smashed through the window.

“Hey, watch the car,” she yelled, in an effort to stall as she frantically tried to figure a way out.

It took only a split second before she shoved him and tried to run, but her five foot five frame was no match for a man who outweighed her by a good hundred and fifty pounds of granite and muscle. Her attacker stumbled slightly backwards, gripping his knuckles and cursing her mother, before lunging at her.

I made it all of two feet. Crap. Think.

She twisted, and took the brunt of the impact on her right side, smashing her cell phone to bits. Their bodies hit the ground with a grunt. Pinned beneath his hulking, hairy body, she fought for control. As her head whipped around searching for escape, she caught a glimpse of a grey polyester leg, hanging off the sidewalk next to the car. Her legs scrabbled desperately for freedom; the glint of the streetlamp off the single silver hoop in her attacker’s right ear taunted her.

“Seriously? I refuse to be brought down by a pirate wannabe.” Her knee snapped up as her forehead cracked into his.  She skittered backwards in an attempt to get out from under him. His hands slammed back down, trapping her wrists, his pockmarked face inches from her own, his thick legs crushing into her just above the knees. She felt a sharp snap, followed by a shot of pain straight into her hip. She doubted her left knee would be good for much now. She would remember his slicked back ponytail.

“You weren’t supposed to fight back, you little whore. I might just…” he growled at her.

“Screw you asshat. You’ll have to kill me. I’ll be damned if I’ll let some piece of shit rattle his sabre anywhere near me.” She took a good look at him. “Get over your twenties, black tank tops and leather pants are so 1994,” she quipped in an attempt to hide her panic.

“Now Raymond,” a whiny voice chided, “We don’t have time for you to play with your food. I have better things to do tonight.” Kira searched for the voice and found she was staring at the dye-job from the bar.

“Shut up Jennifer,” the pirate Raymond threatened. Jennifer the bimbo leaned against the side of the Mustang, pouting.

“Get your skanky ass off my car,” Kira said derisively, still struggling to free herself.

He focused his attention back on Kira. His eyes took on a dangerous edge, fully eclipsed by an untamed darkness. He snarled at her, and all her guts and bravado vanished. Her blood turned to icy terror when she saw his eyes and the intentions behind them.  They promised that her body would be used as his plaything, and discarded only after he beat the fight out of her. He would enjoy it.

She watched in frozen revulsion, as his face seemed to stretch back on itself. His teeth lengthened into fangs. He dragged her upright, his arms slithering into a vise grip. She had a moment to gasp before he struck, savaging her neck between throat and collarbone. Sticky warmth streamed down the front of her chest, fading into the black of her shirt. A scream tried to claw its way out of her throat, but was silenced by a low, menacing growl.

The last thing she saw before oblivion claimed her was a monstrous dog, with huge eyes that contained the fires of hell, and the stranger from the bar, a sword in one hand and a leash in the other.

*******

Eyes opening only a slip, she tried to grasp her surroundings, but there was something wonky. The entirety of her body felt like she had been rolled in glass and shoved off a cliff. Her head felt filled with rocks and rice pudding. Gravel crushed into her back but her upper body was propped up slightly.

Her eyes flew open. She tried to sit upright and failed, earning a reminder of her every ache in the process. A small cry escaped her and she found herself staring up into slate grey eyes of the Bushmill’s guy.

“What the hell? Who are you?” She tried to break out of his arms, but every bone screamed at her. She stifled a shudder as she realized that she was at the mercy of a man who was probably about to cut her into tiny pieces as a treat for his massive beast. “And what in God’s name kind of dog is that?” She shrank back from the animal whose muzzle was buried in the bloody stump of a leg that used to wear acid-washed jeans.

“You must be still. My name is Drake and that dog is Balez, a hellhound bound to me by blood. He helped me rescue you but he might have gotten a bit carried away. I’m sorry, I know you must be terrified, but I need you to listen carefully.” The serious look on his face said that she was unprepared for what he was about to say.

“You are dying. There is a virus eating its way through your system. Your body cannot fight what has infected your blood.” He looked at her, his shoulders hunched and heavy with the weight of the knowledge.

She could feel it now. The right side of her body would no longer obey her. There was a burning that spread outward from her neck; like a brillo pad scouring her veins. She tried to focus on him, but her vision swam. She obviously couldn’t stand, let alone run, and every breath she took shot waves of pain through every limb.

“Why can’t you just take me to the hospital?” A cough rattled through her ribcage.

“You are beyond the help of modern medicine. The man who attacked you…” he started to tell her, but she cut him off.

“The bastard bit me,” she sputtered as the words began to sink in. “He was a vampire,” she stated trying to convince herself she wasn’t trapped in some nightmare. The pity in Drake’s eyes confirmed the worst.

Her voice came out as a creaky whisper, “So I’m out of options.” Drake didn’t respond. In his eyes, she could see there was something he wasn’t telling her. “Are you stalking me? How did you just happen to be here? How do you know what he is?” Another shuddering cough sent knives slicing into her and a coppery, metallic taste filled her mouth. She could no longer feel Drake’s body cradling hers. The burn had turned icy and seeped into her arms, down into her chest, and spread into her fingertips. Her leg throbbed in time with every sluggish heartbeat.

“Please assure yourself, I was not stalking you. I found myself intrigued by you the first night I wandered into your bar, but there are things about me.” He paused and glanced at her warily, as if he were afraid to tell her the truth. “I know about Raymond because I am also a vampire.”

“So why aren’t you offering me immortality? Because if it’s a choice between dying and not dying? I always choose the not dying.”

“You have no idea what you’re asking for. First off, you will have to die. I will drain the life from your body, then bury you until you reawaken and claw your way out of your own grave. Then comes the bloodlust.” Drake shook his head as if remembering his own violent beginning.

“But I’m dying anyway.” She paused as she took a quick look of what was left of Jennifer. “Question? I noticed that blondie has been taken care of but did that douchebag Raymond survive?” She glared at him with the last of her strength. He nodded. “Then I say no. No way that guy kills me. Whatever the price, I’m willing to pay it.”

“We’re talking an eternity here.”

She interrupted him. “Yes. I get it. At least I’ll survive. So either do it, or take your freaky dog and leave me to die in peace.”

A slow resignation passed over his face that flickered with just a moment of what looked like joy. “Maybe I’ve been alone too long, and I’m being selfish, but I’ll do it. You should know that it’s going to be painful.”

She was glad he agreed. There wasn’t much fight left in her. “I kinda figured.”

He shifted her body upright as gently as he could and his icy fingers swept her hair back from the unwounded side of her neck.. His head bent down towards hers and he asked in a whisper, “Are you sure?”

Kira nodded as her eyes slipped closed. The slice of his fangs pierced into her neck. “PS. Terrible rescue by the way.”

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