Page 14

 D.B. Reynolds

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“That’s good, pet,” Otis said lazily, closing his knees and trapping the woman between them. “But don’t go far. I might need you again.”
The woman, who’d been poised to stand, closed her eyes in resignation and slumped back to the floor, resting her head on the sofa cushion between Otis’s legs.
Another vampire approached Otis, this one wearing neatly pressed khakis and a button-down blue shirt, his dark hair cut short. He was holding a clipboard in one hand, a pencil in the other.
“Lance is here, Otis,” he said, reading something on his clipboard. “It’s been three weeks, and I think it’s time—”
“On your knees when you talk to me, Nelson.”
The dark-haired vamp stiffened, and Duncan could see every muscle tightening as he tried to resist the order, but eventually he surrendered. His knees hit the carpeted floor with a dull thud.
“That’s a good boy,” Otis drawled. “Now, what was it you wanted to ask me?”
“Lance,” Nelson repeated sharply. “It’s been three weeks—”
“Fuck that bastard. Tell him to go someplace else.”
“There isn’t anyplace else, Otis. You know that. He’s been traveling over a hundred miles just to feed. That’s not—”
“I don’t care how far he’s fucking traveling,” Otis roared, sitting up and knocking the woman out of the way. “Let him hunt! I don’t want that bastard in my house or even my line of sight.” He smiled then, and ran a casual hand back through his long hair, as if aware his outburst had made him seem out of control. And Duncan knew that control would be everything to someone like Otis.
“Some vampires just aren’t worth the effort, Nelson. You understand,” he said with a sickening smirk. He started to lean back against the sofa, but caught sight of Duncan and his people. He sat up straight, his dark eyes skimming over each of them in turn, resting finally on Duncan.
“Well, looky who’s here, Nelson,” he sneered. “It’s our new lord come calling.”
Nelson, still on his knees, twisted around to stare at Duncan. His face registered first surprise, and then a fierce satisfaction. He grabbed the woman, dragging her with him, as if clearing a path between Otis and their new vampire lord.
“Feel free to help yourselves, boys,” Otis said, waving a casual hand at the crowded house. “We’ve a full house tonight.”
Miguel stiffened, a growl rumbling in his chest. Duncan rested a hand on his forearm.
“Well, hell, Nelson. Get these boys a room. It’s okay, gents. We’re an equal opportunity establishment, if you get my drift. Maybe a nice boy for dinner?” Otis laughed loudly, amused by his own pathetic wit.
“Miguel,” Duncan said. “Get rid of the humans.”
“Hey!” Otis shot to his feet. “This fucking house is mine! I give the orders, not you.”
The woman broke away from Nelson to stagger over to the door, and Miguel shoved her out of the room as he muttered orders into his Bluetooth mike. Several more of Duncan’s people slammed into the house and began scouring it from room to room, racing up the stairs to clear the second floor. Humans screamed and vamps roared, but the noise quickly abated as the local vamps realized what was happening and helped herd the humans out of the house. Within moments, the only hearts that could be heard beating were the vampires’.
“Nelson,” Duncan said, drawing the startled attention of the preppy vampire with the clipboard. “Come here.”
“What the fuck?” Otis demanded. “I don’t care who you are! Nelson belongs to me.”
Duncan ignored him, turning his attention instead to Nelson, who had scrambled over on his knees and was now gazing up at Duncan with unconcealed longing.
“Nelson? Is that your full name?”
“Nelson Conway, my lord. But everyone calls me Nelson.”
“You know who I am?”
“Yes, my lord. You’re our master, the new Lord of the Capital Territory.”
“Do you run this establishment, Nelson?”
“No, he does not!” Otis roared, jumping over the glass coffee table to confront Duncan. “This is my house and he’s my fucking child. I turned him to handle all this shit.”
Duncan shifted his gaze to Otis, but didn’t waste any words on him. With a silent exertion of his will, he drove the angry vampire to his knees and choked away his voice. Otis’s face twisted with rage as he crashed to the floor at Duncan’s feet.
“Nelson?”Duncan prompted, bringing the other vampire’s attention back to him.
“Yes, my lord, I run the house. Otis makes policy. He decides who gets in how often, and who doesn’t,” he added with a dark look in his Sire’s direction. “But I’m the one who manages everything.”
“And did you volunteer for this job? Did you ask to be made Vampire?”
Nelson stared up at Duncan, as if trying to figure out the right answer to the question.
“The truth will do,” Duncan prompted quietly.
The preppy vampire glanced away, as if ashamed or embarrassed, then lowered his eyes, speaking to the floor. “No, my lord. I was in Leesburg visiting some friends. That was more than two years ago, though it seems even longer. We all came to this blood house together, on a stupid dare. When Otis found out I had graduated from business school, he started hitting on me, even though I told him—”
The young vampire broke off, his face heating, and his embarrassment now obvious. Duncan could easily imagine how someone like Otis would have single-mindedly pursued the young human, seducing him into sex not because he wanted him, but because it suited his need at the time. If Nelson had been drunk, which seemed likely, it would have been easy for Otis to seduce him. And once he’d bitten the young man, the powerful euphoric substance in his bite would have wiped away whatever was left of Nelson’s will. Until he woke the next night and remembered what he’d done.
“I’m sorry, Nelson,” Duncan said. “If I could reverse it, I would.”
Nelson looked up and shook his head. “That’s all right, my lord. I still hate what he did to me that night, and I was shocked to discover what I’d become, but . . . it’s not so bad now. And I don’t mind running this house, it’s just—” He shot a hate-filled glance at Otis, but didn’t say anything else.
“Very well,” Duncan said into the silence. “Miguel, if you would?”
Miguel produced a four inch switchblade as Duncan drew his leather jacket off and threw it onto the coffee table. He shoved up the sweater sleeve on his left arm.
“Nelson Conway, do you come to me of your own free will and desire?” he asked formally.
Nelson’s eyes widened in surprise, then he turned sharply, staring in fear as Otis began thrashing like a fish on a hook. But the vampire was unable to speak or to rise from his knees.
“Don’t worry about him,” Duncan said dismissively. “Unless you’d rather remain his?”
Nelson’s head swung back around to Duncan. “Hell, no,” he growled. “Er, my lord.”
Duncan nodded. “Then let us begin again. Nelson Conway, do you come to me of your own free will and desire?”
“I do, my lord,” he said fervently.
“And is this what you truly desire?”
“Yes, my lord, it is my truest desire.”
Duncan sliced open a clean line between the tendons, from the middle of his forearm down to his wrist. Blood swelled from the wound in round droplets, turning quickly to a slow, steady rush of red.
Nelson stared, his breath coming in pants, tongue poking out to lick his lips hungrily.
Duncan didn’t taunt the young vampire by holding back. There was no need. Nelson had been his from the moment he’d walked into this house.
“Drink, Nelson,” he said softly. “And be mine.”
Duncan gazed down at Nelson’s bent head and felt the tug deep in his chest as yet another soul became his to guard, his to care for. Nelson didn’t gulp, but he didn’t waste a drop either. There was a precision to his drinking, the way some people eat an ice cream cone by constantly licking all around, keeping the cone neat and tidy, while others end up with a big mess. Nelson was a tidy drinker. It was probably the same quality that made him a good house manager.
“Enough,” Duncan said gently. Nelson lifted his head at once, settling back on his heels with a glazed look. Miguel produced a handkerchief for Duncan’s arm, and Duncan figured he must have a goodly supply of them somewhere. Boxes of plain, white handkerchiefs for the too frequent times when his master slit his own wrist. He smiled at the idea, wiping the kerchief up his arm before wrapping it carefully and snugging his sweater sleeve down. Duncan’s blood was powerful enough that the wound would begin to close in minutes, and would heal completely in a hour. There was a healing property in Nelson’s saliva, as in every other vampire’s. But it only worked on humans, not on another vampire.
“This house is yours, Nelson,” Duncan said as he pulled his jacket back on. “It has only one purpose, and that is to feed my vampires. All of my vampires. If you see someone you don’t know, you may request identification. If you have doubts, you will call Miguel or Louis.” He nodded at his respective aides. “But no one is to be turned away unless they break the rules. And there are only two rules. No drugs. No violence. And we observe human laws within the limits of our needs. Do you understand?”
“Yes, my lord,” Nelson said, still breathless from the effects of drinking Duncan’s potent blood. His eyes opened wide suddenly, and he leaned forward to whisper, “What about him?” His gaze shifted slightly toward Otis.
Duncan turned to regard the former house manager. “Otis, I’m afraid your services are no longer required,” he said, baring his teeth in a predator’s grin. “Some vampires just aren’t worth the effort. You understand.”