I stared at her for several moments, then swallowed hard. "Tess."
"I heard that Cam's staying here. Is she around?"
"Where'd you hear that?" I wondered who else knew she was back.
"I went to the penthouse. Security there explained what's been going on, the break-in at the apartment and everything. They said Cam left this address as her current location, that she'd been in a couple hotels until now." She shifted awkwardly. "Can I come in?"
For a moment I thought of saying no, but with a sigh I moved out of the way so she could enter. "Sure. Cam's in the kitchen. I'll get--"
Cam beat me to it, coming out of the kitchen and stopping with a gasp. She stared at Tess, who smiled at her.
The two of them stared at each other for several long seconds. Then Cam came forward to hug Tess, who wrapped her arms around the smaller figure.
"When did you get back?" Cam's voice was muffled.
"This morning. I flew in around seven." Tess kissed her gently on the forehead. "I'm so sorry. I should never have left like that."
Cam nodded, and I saw tears on her face as she looked over Tess's shoulder at me.
I shuffled in place, not sure what I should be doing. "So -- I take it Nix's message caught up with you, huh?"
Tess glanced my way. "What message?"
"The message Nix left with someone in England."
Cam pulled away slightly. "All we knew was that you had headed for London, so Nix called Sarah to ask her to have you come home, or at least call."
The vampire shrugged. "I didn't stay long in England, and I never talked to Sarah."
"Then -- how did you know to come home?" Cam looked puzzled.
"I didn't. I just -- wanted to. Very much." Tess kissed Cam gently on the lips. "I missed you, and I knew I had to come home to you. I can't believe I was stupid enough to walk away like that." She wrapped her arms around Cam once more. "I love you."
I couldn't handle seeing the two of them like that, so I looked away, then grabbed my jacket.
I couldn't look at Cam. "I'll be back later." I went through the front door, still open from Tess's arrival, and closed it behind me.
I took the stairs down to the first floor and started walking, not knowing
where I was going.
Nix stared at the plastic container in her hand. It was her third pack in the last four hours, and she was scared. Bloodlust in vampires had always been a legend, but now she was constantly wanting to feed, and with the need came a fear that the hunger would overcome her natural senses.
Kelsey's phone call hadn't helped.
"Nix, there's nothing I can find in your blood that shouldn't be there. You are low on iron and your white cell count is slightly elevated, but the only thing that indicates is you need to feed more."
"But I'm feeding every few hours, Kelsey! What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"I don't know." Nix heard Kelsey sigh through the phone. "I've never heard of this happening, and I can't give you any answers at the moment. But I have a call in to a few European colleagues who might have some insight. I just -- wanted to let you know I hadn't forgotten."
The blond vampire closed her eyes at the memory. The conversation had yielded no new information, and her increasing frequency of feeding had alarmed Kelsey, who'd promised to meet her that night at Trey's with a larger supply of packeted blood. She was hoping to bring answers at the same time.
Nix hoped the answers would be there. There had to be a reason for what was happening, something they could correct. But so far, all efforts had proved futile. The hunger persisted, returning again and again, to disappear with the first few swallows of blood, only to renew itself a short time later.
Great, she thought to herself. I finally get things straightened out with Jesse, and I have to leave her cause I can't control myself.
But she knew that wasn't an option, really. She'd promised Jesse that she wouldn't run. Just that morning, Jesse had cornered her, demanding a guarantee that no matter what, Nix wouldn't just leave.
Nix had agreed, partly relieved at Jesse's demand, and partly angry at herself for agreeing. Staying put Jesse in danger if the hunger got out of control. Leaving put her relationship with the dark woman in danger.
And the vampire was no longer sure which would be worse.
The phone rang again and she reached for it automatically.
"It's Jesse. You okay, babe?"
Nix sighed and leaned against the window she'd been staring out. "No. It's bad."
"What's wrong?" There was a touch of panic in Jesse's voice. "Nix? Talk to me."
The vampire sighed. "It's getting worse, Jess. The hunger. Kelsey can't find anything wrong, and -- it's getting so much stronger." She bit her lip. "I'm not sure it would be a good idea to go to Trey's. It might not -- be pleasant."
Jesse took a deep breath and let it out. "I think it's a good idea if we go, Nix. Otherwise everyone's going to know something's up." She chuckled. "Besides, it's probably best that we see Dayle and let her know you're okay. I don't think she was as certain of us as you were."
Nix had to smile at that. "You're right about that. But, Jesse, I -- I don't wanna go alone. I don't think I can trust myself, and I didn't want to tell the others about this yet."
"You won't be alone. That's what I'm calling to let you know. Looks like I don't have to work late tonight. I worked through lunch instead, and the judge said that was fine. I'll be leaving at my normal time, in about twenty minutes, and can join you for dinner."
"Yeah?" There was a hopeful sound in Nix's voice, and Jesse smiled.
"Yeah. I'll be home in about an hour. You be ready, and bring a blood pack. After dinner we can stop by a club if you need to."
"I'll see you soon, love."
"Soon, baby. Love you."
Nix disconnected the call and put the cordless phone on the table next to her.
"Great." She looked down at the packet in her hand and shook her head. "Just great."
"Are you ready?"
Kruise nodded, but didn't turn around.
"Babe?" Dayle slipped her arms around her girlfriend, who was staring into the bathroom mirror intently. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm fine. Are we leaving?"
"In a minute." The vampire took Kruise by the hand and led her back into the bedroom, and to the bed. She sat down, pulling her lover down onto the surface as well. "What's going on, Kruise? You almost look like you don't want to go see Trey and Cam."
Kruise shrugged. "I do, I guess."
"I think I just -- I don't know. I don't like the idea of the two of them together. It bugs me."
Dayle nodded, keeping Kruise's hand in hers. "Do you know why it
"Not really. I just -- have a feeling Trey's going to be hurt when Tess comes back."
"And you're angry at Trey cause you think she'll be hurt?"
Kruise looked up at her. "I didn't say I was angry at Trey."
"You didn't have to say it. I've known for a while now that you've been angry with her. And it started even before she left to go find Nix."
Her lover blinked at her. "That's not true."
"Yes it is. Think about it." Dayle shifted on the bed, scooting closer to Kruise. "You've told me all about the times you and she would go do stuff, the long conversations you had, the times you took her out on your bike. How many times have you done that in the past few months?"
"Well, none, but you and --"
"Uh-uh, don't you even try to blame it on me, or on the two of us getting together. There were plenty of times, before and after we got together, that I suggested you go over to see Trey, or that Trey called to talk to you. You always made excuses, sometimes saying you were going somewhere with me, when we had no plans to go anywhere. Now, if you weren't angry, why didn't you want to talk to her?"
"I --" Kruise stopped, her eyes wide. "I didn't -- okay, I did do that, but -- it wasn't that I was angry, I just -- wasn't sure what to say. I mean, when Jace left, I just -- didn't know what to do." She sighed, her shoulders dropping. "I still don't, really."
Dayle squeezed the hand she was holding. "So, you avoided her because you didn't know what to do, right?"
"But you don't think you were angry."
"Then, why did you tell Jesse that it didn't matter to you what she was doing with Trey? That you didn't want to even know."
"When did I say that?"
"Right after Jace left. Before Jesse began to get really crazy."
"Oh." Kruise frowned, remembering. "I don't know. I remember that I was angry when I said it, but I don't remember why."
"Uh-huh." Dayle hesitated. "I think I might know why."
The vampire paused, taking a deep breath. "I think you're angry at Trey because Jace left."
"No, that's not true." Kruise stood, pulling her hand away from Dayle. "It wasn't Trey's fault that Jace left."
"No, it wasn't Trey's fault, but I didn't say you were angry because you blamed her for Jace leaving. You were just angry, and it was Trey that you turned the anger on. Jace was too far away to be a target."
"That's not true." Still shaking her head, Kruise folded her arms and moved to look out the window. "I'm not angry at Jace, either."
"Then you don't have a problem with her leaving?"
Kruise whirled around. "Of course I have a problem with her leaving! If she wanted a better job, she could have gone for one here in New York, she could have done a hundred different things. She didn't have to move all the way across the goddamn country, and she didn't have to hurt Trey like that!"
"And she didn't have to leave you."
"That's right! She didn't have to leave . . . me . . ." Kruise stopped. "But, she didn't leave me. She left Trey."
"No, she left everyone. Trey, Jesse, you, me . . . all of us." Dayle stood, taking slow steps across the floor to her girlfriend, who was staring wide-eyed at her. "Trey got the worst of it, absolutely, but you were hurt as well. You just never said so. Or showed it. Or did anything about it. You avoided it."
"By -- avoiding Trey."
"Uh-huh." Dayle slid her hands onto Kruise's shoulders. "Babe, you told me the story of how they met. You introduced them. You took Trey under your wing, she became your best friend, and you introduced her to someone that she fell in love with. And then your best friend got hurt by the very woman you introduced her to. So, not only were you angry at Jace for hurting you and Trey, you felt guilty about introducing them in the first place. Which is another reason you avoided Trey."
Kruise could only stare and nod.
"And now Trey is with someone, and both of us can see her getting hurt by it. Add that on top of all the other hurt and guilt, and I'm not surprised that you don't want to go see her."
It took a few seconds longer, and then the facade that Kruise had carefully constructed, collapsed under the weight of Dayle's truth. She leaned forward into the vampire's arms, letting her tears fall.
Dayle held her, rocking her gently, and saying nothing. She knew there would be more conversations in the near future, and more pain for the both of them to work through. But for now it was enough to just hold her girl and let the tears flow.
Dinner could wait a little while longer.
After wandering for a while through the city, I ended up taking a cab to the Janx club.
It was six-thirty by then, and I knew the dinner party was well started. My cell phone had rung several times, all from different numbers; first my own apartment, then Nix's cell phone, and finally, Jesse. It rang once more, and I didn't bother to look at the number. Instead, I turned the phone off and ordered my first Jack and coke of the evening.
By quarter till seven, I was mid way through my second drink, and Fish, who was bartending that night, was watching me with a raised eyebrow. She knew me, cause I'd been in so often with Jesse.
"You don't usually put the liquor away like that, Trey. You okay?"
I nodded, finishing off the liquid in my glass and slamming it to the bar hard enough to make the ice rattle. "I'd like another, Fish. And this time, no ice, and a little less coke. More Jack."
Her eyebrow went a little higher. "You sure you're okay?"
"Absolutely." I slapped a second twenty on the bar and watched as she poured the Jack Daniel's.
Fish put the glass in front of me but didn't take her hand away. "Okay, but this is the last one for at least an hour, Trey. I'm not gonna have Jesse kicking my ass cause I let you get yourself drunk and sick, hear?"
I was going to protest, but the look on her face told me she was serious. I sighed, nodded, and she let go of the glass. Taking a deep breath, I picked up the drink and moved off to a table, away from the bar, away from the stage, and as far away from anyone else as I could get. The tv screens were still showing porno movies, even at this time of day, and though it was straight porn, I decided to lose myself in it while I nursed my drink.
The thought wandered through my mind that I was probably going to get yelled at by Kruise and Jess, but I couldn't find the energy to care.
"What do you mean, she's not here?"
"I mean, she's not here. She left. Nobody knows where she went, she just took off."
"What the hell did she do that for?" Kruise glared at Jesse. "She's the one that invited all of us."
Jesse had let Kruise and Dayle into Trey's apartment and given them the news that Trey was gone.
"I know, Kruise, but -- something happened."
Before Jesse could answer, Nix came out of the kitchen, Tess trailing behind her.
The two new arrivals stared at the vampire, and Jesse held her breath, waiting for the outburst.
Dayle looked at Kruise and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, Kruise, Dayle." Tess stood easily, her hands in her pockets the only thing that betrayed her discomfort. "How are you both?"
Kruise shrugged. "All right. I take it Trey knows you're back."
"Yeah. She let me in and then took off."
"And neither you nor Cam thought you should check on her?"
"Cam tried to stop her, but Trey didn't listen. I didn't know what was going on, so I didn't think twice about it." It was Tess's turn to shrug. "Now I know. I'm sorry."
Dayle sighed. "How long have you been back?"
"I got in this morning. Cam left this address at the penthouse, so I came over here."
"How much do you know about what's been going on?" Kruise asked.
Tess sighed. "Cam and I had a very long talk. I know just about everything, I think."
Cam came out into the living room. "Kruise? Can you try Trey's cell phone? I've tried, but I'm not getting anything."
Jesse shook her head. "Don't bother. I tried, and it said the phone had been switched off."
"Great." Kruise raised her hands and then dropped them to her sides. "Anyone got a clue how to find her?"
Dayle stepped in a little closer. "Well, babe, she's your best friend. Where do you think she'd go?"
Kruise looked at Jesse, and they locked eyes for a moment.
Jesse nodded. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
"Yep. The Janx." Kruise reached for her coat once more.
Getting drunk does strange things to my angry moods.
One of the reasons I don't get drunk much is because of the way it affects me: either it mellows me so completely that I go numb and dumb, or I go right past mellow to depressed. Kruise can tell you that drunk and depressed writers are pains in the ass.
I had been planning on getting thoroughly trashed, and three drinks in half an hour was a good start. But as I nursed the third one, the anger started to mellow, and I began to think.
Questions popped into my head, in a voice distinctly like Jesse's. The first one was, who the hell are you mad at?
I immediately said Tess, but that wasn't true. I mean, it was, and I was furious at Tess, but I couldn't come up with a reason other than that she had awful timing. That wasn't her fault, really, and since the bad timing might have been mine instead, I tossed out that as an excuse, and let Tess slip away as the object of my angry mental rant.
Then I said I was angry at Cam. But that was so not true I discarded the idea with my very next thought. Cam was as innocent in this mess as I thought I was.
So who was I mad at? I went through every name I could think of, starting with Star. She was dead, though, and it seemed stupid to be mad at a dead person. I was mad at Nix for simply dragging us all into her world, then I blamed Jesse for the same thing; if she hadn't set out to seduce a vampire, none of this would have happened. Jesse's voice spoke up in my mind, reminding me that she didn't know Nix was a vampire, so what was I blaming her for?
I considered Dayle, and tried to be angry that she'd taken my best friend from me. That lasted several minutes while I thumped my nearly empty glass on the table angrily. Eventually, however, that fell through as well, since it was ultimately Kruise's decision to leave me for Dayle.
Yeah, okay, so I think a lot when I'm drunk.
Since, I thought, it was Kruise's decision to leave me for Dayle, I can safely be angry at her. That decided, I upended my glass, letting the last of the melted ice wash away the taste of the whiskey. My mind, however, which was completely engrossed in this internal debate, asked how Kruise could leave me when we were never together?
I sighed in disgust and started over.
The most obvious answer was Jace, and in a way, that was very true; I was angry with Jace. But it was more of a hurt kind of angry than the furious angry or depressed angry that I'd been experiencing lately. I loved Jace, I missed Jace -- but for the first time there was a sense of acceptance along with the pain. Jace was gone. I'd survived, and had even found myself being sexual with another woman. There was no longer a sense of agony at the thought of being without Jace. I was still sad, but not depressingly so.
Jesse's voice cut into my mind again. "So, who are you angry at, dufus?"
Well, myself, of course.
I almost slapped my forehead in response. She was right, I could be a dufus at times.
The problem wasn't that JACE had left, but that Jace had LEFT. It wasn't that I was no longer with her, but that I wasn't with anyone.
At one time I cultivated being a loner. I liked it, I was good at it, and I was convinced that I could handle anything. But after a year of having someone to depend on, having someone depend on me, having someone to hold at night, I was no longer that good at being alone. It had nothing to do with who I was or wasn't with, it had to do with not wanting to go back to the life I'd led before I got involved with Jace.
I stared at the empty glass in front of me, tempted to order another one in celebration of this less than wonderful revalation. The Jesse voice in my head growled at me, and I smiled. How could I be alone when I always had her and Kruise?
And something told me I would always have them -- as long as I let them be there for me, and was there for them.
I nodded, and stood. Fish raised an eyebrow at me as I came up to the bar, but I shook my head and just put the empty glass on the counter. I didn't need another drink. I needed to go home.
The wind had picked up a bit when I got to the street, and I stepped forward to hale a cab, still a little unsteady from the liquor. I had half raised my arm when something sharp poked into my back and I felt breath on my left ear.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Little T."
I glanced at Shelby and realized with a sinking feeling that I was suddenly
in very deep trouble.
End Part 18
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