Both of them had to wait for their eyes to adjust to the darkness, though Dayle's did so much faster. The vampire was able to lead Kruise through the room to a corner in back where they could observe the silhouettes as they moved through the room.
Kruise leaned into her partner's arms and waited till she could see more than varying shades of black. As her eyes began to pick up more details, she tried to set her nervousness aside. While she wanted to embrace Trey's idea completely, she was still unsure that she could actually participate in this feeding ritual with any enthusiasm.
Dayle leaned forward, her chin coming to rest on Kruise's shoulder. "You doing okay, babe?"
Kruise nodded, reaching up to squeeze one of the hands resting on her arms.
After a pause she got another nod, but Kruise turned her head to whisper, "I'm getting better."
"You sure you want to go through with this?"
"Do you want me to?"
"I'd love it, but only if you're comfortable."
She couldn't see the smile on Kruise's face, but she could hear it in her voice.
"I'm getting there." Kruise leaned back a little further, nestling into the arms that held her. "See anyone you're interested in?"
"Yes. Over on the left, under the window."
Moving her gaze to the person Dayle had just pointed out, Kruise struggled to pull details out of the darkness. She could see a tall, muscular woman with short hair, but nothing else.
"Do you know her?"
"Yeah, she's a regular here. Works construction for a living. Used to be addicted to pain pills cause of an injury. A friend of hers brought her here, and she's just stayed. Comes down about twice a week, gets bitten twice or three times, and heads home."
Kruise frowned. "Is that healthy?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, getting bitten over and over again. And being bitten more than once in a night -- you won't bite me more than once every week or so, and that's only if I beg or you're starved." Kruise winced internally at that last statement, knowing that she had been the cause of Dayle's beginning starvation.
"Kruise, you're anemic. I can't take a lot of blood from you, it would make you sick." She nodded toward the woman they were discussing. "JJ is used to it, plus she's got high blood pressure, which we can help ease somewhat, and she's intelligent. She gets off on the feeding, but also always makes a request from the vamp she's letting feed. They have to give her a small amount of blood, which she then mixes into a poultice to put on her back when she's hurting." Dayle shrugged. "The pleasure she gets from the bite is better than the pain killers she was on, and the poultice helps to ease the cramping in her back and lets her keep working."
"Huh." Kruise was intrigued despite herself. "So, she can handle three bites?"
"Yeah, but she mainly keeps to two. With three she needs someone to drive her home."
They watched as someone approached JJ, and Kruise was surprised to see the woman shake her head and reject the vampire.
"Why did she do that?"
Dayle chuckled. "That's the other thing about JJ. She's picky." She kissed Kruise's ear and pushed her gently into a standing position. "Come on. I'll introduce you."
JJ was watching them as Kruise and Dayle approached. Kruise saw her squint a little in the darkness and then finally smile. "Hey, Dayle," she said in a soft voice, just loud enough for the vampire to hear her.
"Hey, JJ. How's it going tonight?" Dayle kept her voice down, but pitched a little higher to carry over the music.
The muscular woman sighed. "Boring. No one cool here tonight, till you showed up."
"Yeah. You hungry?"
Dayle chuckled. "Starving." She felt Kruise wince and tightened her arm around her partner's waist. "JJ, this is my girlfriend Kruise. Babe, this is JJ."
Kruise reached out and shook hands with the other woman. Her fingers were gripped tightly yet gently, and she could feel the strength behind the hand.
"It's nice to meet you, Kruise." JJ turned to Dayle. "Does this mean you're only looking for blood, not sex?"
"Um." Dayle glanced at Kruise. "That would be --"
"Not necessarily." Kruise took a step closer to Dayle. "She's just got me along to make me feel better, but she's free to feed however she needs to."
JJ nodded, knowing what the two of them were going through. She'd seen the same issue with a couple of friends who had dated vampires. "But you'd be more comfortable if she didn't have to take the blood during sex."
Dayle looked away. Kruise dropped her gaze, then brought it back up. "That's true, but it doesn't change anything."
Again, JJ nodded. She looked up at Dayle, noting the signs of obvious hunger, then turned her gaze to Kruise. This situation, she decided, might work in her favor. "Dayle?"
The vampire turned back to her. "Yeah?"
"I'll make you a deal."
Kruise raised her eyebrow, though it wasn't obvious in the dark. "What kind of deal?"
Dayle glanced at her partner, then at the woman in front of them. "What did you have in mind?"
"No one's fed on me tonight, or for the last few nights."
"So?" Kruise moved in front of Dayle, between her and JJ.
"So, I could probably handle it if she drank without any stimulation." JJ shrugged. "But I need something back, you know."
"And what would that something be?" Kruise asked suspiciously.
Dayle hugged her. "Easy, baby, I know what she means." She looked back at JJ. "You having problems getting enough for your poultice?"
"Yeah." JJ shrugged and blew out a breath. "There's some new rule about vampires not letting humans taste blood, something about not having slaves. I tell them I don't have any intention of tasting it, I saw what that did to Rita's slaves -- damn, I'm glad that bitch is gone."
Kruise nodded. "Me, too."
"Did you know her?"
"Not really. Just met her once."
Dayle looked up at the approach of another vampire. A slight growl from the back of her throat, and the intruder left. The vampire turned back to her partner and JJ. "I think the rule's a good one, but a few people are getting paranoid about it, I know. So, what's your deal?"
"A trade. You can take blood when you need it, as long as it doesn't get excessive. You give me enough for the poultice, about two ounces a week. I don't come down here anymore, and we don't have sex when you feed." She noted that Kruise stood up a little taller at that. "Sound good?"
"You getting tired of the sex, JJ?"
The woman shrugged. "A little. The pleasure is nice, but . . ." She let her words trail off. "I'm tired of this place, and the egos, and -- I mean, the bite is still nice, but it just doesn't excite me the way it did."
"If you didn't have to trade your blood for ours, you wouldn't, would you?" It wasn't really a question, and all JJ could do was nod.
Dayle leaned down to speak into Kruise's ears. "Baby, I know you like the idea cause it takes the sex out, but I can't ask her to trade like this. I'd rather just give her the blood. The bite is a pretty intimate act, and if she's not willing . . ."
Kruise crossed her arms and looked JJ over. She waited a moment longer, letting the thoughts in her mind settle before turning to her lover and kissing her. "Go find someone to feed from, baby. I'm going to get JJ a drink and talk to her, okay?"
Her partner raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah." Turning back to the woman leaning against the wall, Kruise nodded. "Come on, JJ. I'll buy you a beer, or whatever you want."
It was JJ's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You don't want to take the deal?"
"Oh, you'll get the blood you need. But Dayle needs to feed, and I want to discuss this trade in detail."
JJ looked from one to the other, then nodded. "Beer is fine." She pushed away from the wall and took a step towards the door. "I'll keep an eye on your girl, Dayle. Get some blood before you go crazy." She saw Kruise's eyes squeeze shut with a grimace and put an arm on her shoulder. "Come on, Kruise. I'm thirsty."
Dayle watched the two of them go, worried and grateful all at once. She knew Kruise was nervous about this whole thing, but also knew the craving was getting stronger, and she was glad that JJ had gotten her partner out of the area before she lost it.
Suddenly too hungry to be picky, Dayle headed for a regular who was waiting nearby.
Nix shook her head at me and glared. "No way. It's not possible. She's in England with Tess, you told me that yourself."
"No, I told you Tess was in England. We all assumed Cam went with her. The message on Dayle's machine was from Tess saying that SHE was going to England. She never said anything about Cam, and we all assumed she went with Tess."
"She must have. Nothing could split those two up."
"And nothing could make Tess point a gun at you either, Nix."
The glare turned icy. "That was a low blow, Trey."
"I'm sorry." I was, but I had to get her to look at things honestly. "But Nix, don't you see? This all fits. Cam's been tossed out of the clubs, she's been beaten, she's trying to heal and to survive, and the blood craving is driving her crazy."
"So she's going around biting people? No. Cam would have called me."
I crossed my arms. "How? Nobody knew --"
"She has my phone number in Toronto."
"Maybe. But what if she thought you left because you were angry at her and Tess?"
"We didn't know that. We didn't know what was up with you. Maybe Cam doesn't either."
"She would have called." The statement was less forceful, and I could sense a crack developing in Nix's belief. "Trey, it can't be. You know Cam, she wouldn't hurt anyone."
"Nix, has she ever been on her own? Since you and Tess saved her that time, has she had to fend for herself at all?"
She shook her head slowly. "No. She's never been alone."
I sighed. "Then she's on her own for the first time, not knowing who she can call, and being tossed out of all the vampire clubs in the city. You tell me how she's getting blood."
Nix opened her mouth and closed it several times. Finally, her gaze dropped. "I won't believe it until we know where she is."
"Would she still be at the apartment?"
A nod. "It's the only place they have in New York. I'll call, and if I don't get an answer, we'll go over. I know the codes to get up the back way."
"Good. Want me to get Dayle and Kruise?"
"Um. No. I don't want Dayle to have to deal with this until we know one way or another."
"Fine." Out of the corner of my eye I could see Kruise leave the room with another woman, the two of them heading for the bar. "You make your call, I'm letting Kruise know we're heading out, okay?"
She nodded, already pulling out her cell phone.
Kruise noticed me coming up and nodded at me. "Hey, Trey. This is JJ."
I took the offered hand, enjoying the strong grip for a minute. "Nice to meet you, JJ."
"Same here." JJ dropped my hand and picked up her beer. "Should I leave you two for a moment?"
"No, that's okay. Kruise, I just wanted to let you and Dayle know that Nix and I are heading out. We might have a lead on our stalker, but Nix wants to check it out before we say anything more."
Kruise nodded. "Are you sure you don't want us to come with?"
"Yeah, we'll be fine. We'll call as soon as we know more."
"Great. I'll pass the word on. Good luck, Trey."
I waved bye and headed back to Nix, who was staring at the phone with a puzzled expression on her face.
She looked up at me, startled. "Um. The phone's busy."
"Busy?" I raised an eyebrow. "If Cam's with Tess, who's on the phone?"
"I don't know." She slid her phone back into it's belt holder. "But I guess we'll find out. Come on."
"So, you want to trade blood for blood, but I don't have to get bit if I don't want to?"
Kruise nodded. "It'll ease things for all of us. Dayle gets to feed without either of us having a problem with it, and you get what you need for the poultice for your back, without coming down here."
JJ had to admit it was a good plan. "And you'll get the supplies so I can draw blood without problem?"
"Or I'll ask Kelsey to help. She should have the equipment."
"How much blood are we talking?"
"I don't know. You work that part out with Dayle."
A nod from JJ. "That sounds workable, Kruise."
"Cool." Kruise smiled, pleased with herself.
JJ leaned forward. "But, eventually there'll be a problem."
The smile faded. "Why?"
Taking a moment to organize her thoughts, JJ set her beer down and pointed a finger at Kruise. "Because you have a problem with Dayle's basic nature."
"I do not!" Kruise looked around, embarrassed at having nearly shouted. "I don't," she said in a quieter voice.
"Yes, you do. And you need to deal with it, because if you don't, you'll lose her." The construction worker shifted closer to Kruise. "She's a vampire. Vampires have fed off humans for centuries. No, they're not blood thirsty creatures like the stories say, or like the Nosferatu. But," she emphasized the word by holding up a finger, "they feed off humans. Pure and simple. And if you don't accept that, then you're not accepting her." JJ leaned back and picked up her beer.
"They feed off human blood; what does it matter --"
"It matters." The beer was set down with a thump. "Look, think of it like this. You like the bite, right? You find pleasure in it, the slight prick against your neck, the feeling of being connected, the pleasure of the fangs under your skin. Don't you think that the vampire likes that as well?"
"Sure, but --"
"No buts. You know they do. Now, imagine that you've had this feeling all your life, every few days, from the time of your puberty. Add in the fact that you've been alive a hundred years or so. Think about that and do the math. Even if you fed every week, that's 52 times a hundred. You're used to it; it's in your nature. You like taking from several different people, each a different shape, a different taste." JJ watched Kruise carefully, hoping she'd get the point. "And then someone tells you, no, you're not allowed to do that, you can't do what you've been doing for a hundred years. Not only can't you drink from more than two people, you actually can only touch one of them. The other gives their blood to you in plastic."
Kruise was looking down solemnly at the wood grain of the bar.
"What do you think you'd do in that situation, Kruise?"
The answer came in a whisper. "I'd rebel."
"That's right." JJ took a long pull from her beer, then set the empty bottle on the bar. "And she will too, if you don't accept her and let her be who she is." She waited a moment, to see if Kruise would answer her. When there was no response, she continued. "It's a good plan, and it'll do for right now. But don't try to tie her down, Kruise. Don't make your relationship into a chain around her. It's just not fair."
Slowly, Kruise nodded, realizing it was the same thing that Trey had been trying to get her to think about. She'd heard the words, but not the true meaning under them.
Acceptance. That was always the key.
Dayle came out of the back room, smiling. She took a seat at the bar on the other side of Kruise and kissed her cheek. When Kruise turned she saw Dayle's eyes glittering with excitement and yet there was a calmer air to the vampire. She ordered a beer from Deb, then kissed Kruise again.
"You two work out your deal?"
JJ nodded. "You and I get to trade blood. Kruise is going to get some equipment from Kelsey so I can draw the blood if I don't feel like getting bit. We just need to agree on an amount."
Kruise was watching Dayle closely, noting the way the bright eyes dimmed a little.
"So, I get to feed strictly on you? Or, your blood rather?" Her voice was a little less eager.
JJ nodded. "I think that's what Kruise had in mind."
Dayle nodded. "All right." She turned to the bar, taking her beer in both hands. "Sounds good."
But it really didn't, and Kruise knew it.
"JJ, why don't you give me a number I can reach you at? Dayle and I will call you tomorrow, okay?"
JJ nodded and reached for her wallet. "I can wait until tomorrow." She handed Kruise a business card. "Home phone's on the back."
"Great. I'll talk to you soon, promise."
She got a nod in return. "Sounds good. Dayle, I'll see you later. Kruise, good meeting you. Take care, both of you."
Then she was gone, leaving the vampire and her human girlfriend sitting silently at the bar.
"Did you feed?"
Dayle cleared her throat. "Yeah."
Kruise nodded. "Good." She finished her beer and set the bottle down with a ringing thump. "Dayle, I'm sorry. I should have dealt with this a long time ago. You shouldn't be forced to choose between being who and what you are, and being my girlfriend."
A worried look crossed the vampire's face. "Kruise, what are you talking about?"
"I -- She took a deep breath and started again. "I'm talking about you being a vampire." Feebly, she raised a hand, then let it fall. "I've been trying to ignore the vampire in you, thinking of the bite as just a part of sex between us. It's not right. You should be free." She took another breath. "So, I'll deal. I'll try to embrace it, like Trey suggested, and if that doesn't work, we'll try something else." She looked up. "I can be horrendously jealous, but I'm trying to get it through my head that this is about you surviving, not about you cheating on me."
The vampire let her body relax, and it showed in her face. "Kruise?"
"Just know that I love you, and only you." She moved in closer and kissed Kruise's lips gently but firmly. "Does that help?"
Kruise nodded. "That helps."
They hugged each other, Dayle pulling Kruise onto her lap. "Feel better?"
"Yeah. I have to admit, I'm glad I had JJ out here to talk to. It was driving me crazy not knowing what was going on in there, or what you were doing."
"I was feeding. That's all you need to know."
"Well, yeah, but --"
"No." Dayle took her chin between her fingers and turned Kruise's face towards her. "No buts. In there, I feed. Out here, I want only to be with you." She stroked the soft skin of Kruise's cheek. "I want to be with you, babe."
Kruise smiled and leaned closer, her head turning to rest on Dayle's shoulder. "I want to be with you."
They sat there for a moment, enjoying the closeness. Then Kruise sat up and blinked. "Damn, I was almost nodding off there."
"You about ready to head home?"
"Sure. Are you?"
Dayle nodded. "Yep." She looked around. "Where are Nix and Trey?"
"Oh, that's right. Trey said they had gotten some clue as to who the stalker might be, and they were off to check it out. They'd call when they had something."
"They didn't say what it was?"
Kruise shook her head. "Nope. Just that they would call."
"Huh. Okay." Dayle shrugged. "Then I see no reason not to head home and call it a night." She helped Kruise up from her lap, then rose from the stool. "Let's go home, baby."
Biting her lip, Kruise turned, laying her hands on either side of Dayle's face. She looked at the vampire carefully, comparing what she saw to the image in her mind of a contented Dayle, before they'd gotten serious.
"What?" Dayle looked confused. "Why not?"
"Because you're still hungry." She sat back down at the bar and waved to Deb for a new bottle. "Go feed. I'll wait here."
"I'm all right."
"Are you telling me you don't want any more?" Kruise turned back to her lover. "You're satisfied? No craving at all? No hunger?"
"I -- " Dayle let out a breath, but slowly shook her head. "No, I can't tell you that."
"Then go on. Go feed, and I'll be here." She stroked Dayle's cheek. "I love you. Go on."
Kruise chuckled. "Get going before I change my mind."
Dayle leaned forward and kissed her hard. "Love you. I won't be long."
"I'll be here." She watched her vampire head back toward the darkness and took a deep breath. Turning back to her beer, she found Deb watching her, a smile on her face. "What?"
Deb shrugged. "Nothing."
"Then go wash some glasses or something."
Deb just smiled.
Nix pulled her BMW into the spot normally reserved for Tess's SUV. She shut off the engine and stared out the windshield.
"No." She shook her head. "Let's go."
We got to the elevator, and when it opened there were two security guards.
"Tim, hi. You remember me?"
The shorter man nodded. "Ms. Davidson, it's nice to see you. I take it you're the one who used Ms. Willard's key code?"
"Yeah, I did. Why, is there a problem? I know Tess is out of town, but --"
"Well, we can't change the key codes, since Ms. Willard's out of the country and we haven't been able to reach her. But we're to check on anyone using those codes."
He looked at his partner a little uncomfortably, but answered. "That's been the rule since someone using the key code got in and tore up the apartment. Also stole Ms. Willard's vehicle and crashed it. No one saw anything, and there aren't any suspects."
I looked at Nix to see her turning pale.
"So, you can't get a hold of Tess? What about Cam?"
"Ms. Brewer? Oh, yeah, she's the one who reported the break in and such. Came home and found the apartment in shreds, then looked for the car and didn't find it. We called the police, but since they haven't come up with any suspects or anything, she asked them to just drop it. We're to keep an eye on the codes, check anyone using them, but other than that . . ." He shrugged. "Ms. Brewer is staying at a hotel for a little while."
Nix nodded, but she'd gotten very white. "Can you think of any reason the phone would be busy? We tried calling earlier."
He shook his head. "I don't think anything's been cleaned up in there. Phone might still be off the hook."
Another nod. "Thanks, Tim, I appreciate it. You wouldn't happen to know which hotel Ms. Brewer is at?"
"It's the Carson. I don't know where that's at."
"I do. Do you know the room?"
"Great. I don't suppose we could go up and see the apartment?"
Tim shook his head. "No, ma'am, we're not suppose to allow anyone up there."
"Fine. You've been a big help. Thanks very much." She reached out and shook the hands of both security officers. Then with a smile she turned and left. I followed her.
We got back into the car, and Nix hardly glanced at me.
"Don't say it. Not a word, Trey." She started the engine and backed out of the spot, heading for the gate, which opened automatically.
Several moments of silence went by, and then we were pulling up in front of the Carson hotel. It wasn't much to look at, and I swallowed as I watched a couple of winos share a bottle while huddling by the stairs.
Nix sighed and pulled out her cell phone. After another few seconds, she spoke.
"It's Nix. We know who the stalker
is." She sighed, then took another deep breath. "It's Cam."
End Part Nine
Return to the Academy