Chapter Two, Part 3
Rafael stood on the porch, drumming his fingers on the column as the helicopter circled overhead. Small chance there were any New Orleans vampiros left in Texas and, yet, it was better not to take the chance. Behind him, the night shift of vampiros and day shift of compañeros gathered, watching him silently. He and Donal O’Malley were the only patrones to have compañeros serve as novice vampiros, not just sex slaves and food sources when present at all.
The eastern sky lightened beyond the distant hills, shifting from black to indigo. The warning sign sent a chill through Rafael, although it no longer meant danger to him personally. His vampiros were safe now in the deep shade, but it would be better to send them all the way indoors.
The radio crackled to life. “Don Rafael?” Caleb’s voice asked politely. “May I speak to you, please?”
“Certainly, amigo. What is it?”
“We have a limousine here, at the ranch road east out of San Leandro. The driver has an invitation in your name for Miss Shelby Durant, a student at Yale. He keeps apologizing for being late, saying he became lost on the ranch roads.”
Rafael nodded, every sense on full alert. What the hell was Señorita Durant doing here now? The Oscar-winning, eighteen-year-old star would hardly invite herself a day early simply to discuss fundraising for the Special Olympics. “And?” he prompted Caleb.
“I haven’t seen Miss Durant but her scent is, ah, unlike anything I’ve smelled before, sir. It’s not prosaica. But it’s not vampira or compañera, either.”
Rafael growled, baring his fangs completely. His men’s heads snapped up and they stared at him. Ethan drew his gun.
“Who else is with her?”
“Lucien Saint-Gerard is the driver, sir.”
¡Ay, mierda! “Send them up but don’t let them out of your sight.”
Rafael met the long, black limousine in front of the main house, where the drive made a great circular sweep before a spectacular view of the eastern valleys. Ethan, Jean-Marie, and Gray Wolf stood in the house’s shadows with the rest of his vampiros. Compañero snipers lined the roofline, displaying the extent of his power. The sky was still dark, with only Venus to give any illumination, although the sun would soon change that.
The grassy sweep between the house and the drive was in full shadow, as was the house and the porch, shielded from the rising sun by the eastern hills. The sun’s rays would only shine down on Compostela when it rose high enough to be seen over those hills.
The sleek limousine slid to a stop on the macadam drive’s east side, with Caleb’s armored Suburban pulling in to block him from behind. The limo’s driver stepped out promptly and turned to face the house. Lucien Saint-Gerard, of course, once an ornament of Marie-Antoinette’s court, before he’d become a pimp and whore in New Orleans. Now he was an errand boy for Madame Celeste and still the worst sort of procurer. He wore a silk Italian suit, disheveled and bloodstained.
Rafael’s nostrils flared slightly at the scent but he kept his expression haughty and bored. Luis flanked him, in his role as siniscal, while Caleb moved to block Lucien from returning to the limo. His two oldest compañeros were a deadly force in their own right, especially since they could act in daylight, unlike a vampiro such as Lucien.
“Don Rafael?” Lucien bowed as formally as at Versailles – one leg forward and flourishing his arm. Rafael gave the appropriate response of a head of state greeting a traveling diplomat – a perfunctory nod.
Lucien glanced suggestively at the stairs into the house. Rafael made no response but Luis took a single step sideways, completely blocking the steps from Lucien. The visiting vampiro was now trapped in the open, watched by Rafael and his men.
He cast his eyes down, more like a snake than a courtier studying how to mend fences. They flickered sideways, measuring escape routes from the rising sun. “Forgive me for being late but I was overwhelmed by the magnificence of your mountain scenery.”
Rafael waved his fingers for the newcomer to continue. The long-time city dweller had probably been thoroughly lost.
“I have brought your gift as Madame Celeste ordered,” Lucien turned and pulled the limo’s door open with a flourish. A stench rolled out, worse than the foulest of sewers. Then he yanked Shelby Durant, the most promising actress of her generation, out of the black conveyance.
The previous Christmas, the world had celebrated her as Joan of Arc, the warrior maiden who’d freed a nation. She’d been fêted and showered with awards, including an Oscar. But today, a sewer rat would have been more attractive.
She was covered in blood, vomit, and excrement. Her dress had been clawed to shreds, as had her underthings. A few drops of blood welled sullenly, slowly, from long scratch marks on her breasts and belly. Two great, purple bite marks gleamed at the base of her neck. Other than those, she was ashen white, as if she could fade into a mist. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her face was contorted into a grimace, while her tongue darted out over her lips. One hand plucked at her nipple, while the other rubbed continuously at her mound.
“What the fuck –” Caleb muttered.
Her once golden head of hair came up in a heartrending parody of its former alertness. “Fuck? Yes. Now. All of you. We fuck.” She stumbled across the grass toward the men, fumbling at the remains of her clothing.
Rafael clenched his fists. Lucien had forced Shelby, famous for her strong views on pre-marital chastity, into El Abrazo. To see her deep in La Lujuria, an infant cachorra’s mindless demand for sexual congress, was an abomination to both God and man.
Could any of her sanity remain? El Abrazo was notorious for scouring a woman’s wits to dust, more so than a man’s. Dios alone knew how Madame Celeste had survived her passage. He’d always wondered how much of her sanity had been permanently scoured away.
Lucien sauntered after Shelby, beaming like a proud father as she staggered forward. “You see, Don Rafael, the perfect fuck and the perfect meal, to seal the bargain with Madame Celeste. Durant will do anything and everything, just to get a little blood and sex from you, even when you kill her. Nothing like feeding on a dying vampira, while you’re fucking her. We’ll finish her off in the main house, then share a bottle of champagne.”
Rafael’s fangs stabbed against his jaw as a stream of curses spun through his brain. But he had to rescue the young lady before he could kill Lucien, that spawn of Satan.
He started toward her, speaking soothingly as one would to a very small child. “Dulce Shelby –”
Suddenly the first bright shaft of daylight lanced across the hilltop. It caught Shelby in the back, the shock arching her slender body like a medieval saint in the grips of the final passion. For a moment, sanity – or something close to it – glinted in her blue eyes.
Santísima Virgen. . . Rafael blurred into motion, hoping to pull her into the shade. But he knew, even as he leapt, that all his speed couldn’t save her now.
Shelby blazed – incandescent as a magnesium flare, brighter than the sun itself, brilliant as the love so many people held for her. Within two seconds, her flame consumed her and became a pillar of ash that quickly crumpled upon itself. A little breeze ruffled the grass but all signs of her were gone.
“Merde,” the murderer muttered.
Rafael crossed himself.
“Don Rafael, she was only a female, nobody to fuss over,” cooed Lucien, fingers twitching nervously below his bloodstained cuffs.
Ethan growled an order. Behind Rafael, soft clicks told of safeties being set on sniper rifles, soft thuds as boot heels snapped into place. Another order and the compañeros began to march.
Lucien’s eyes darted from side to side, his head swiveling, his tongue darting over his lips like a nervous cobra.
Rafael’s lip curled. He didn’t need to look to know that his men had now taken their place as an honor guard, their weapons at rest before them. His compañeros lined up around the drive, circling him and Lucien, while his vampiros stood deep within the house’s shadows. And compañero snipers stood erect on the roofline like gargoyles ready to hurl evil away.
“What is the first law of La Esfera de Texas?” Rafael asked, his deep voice carrying effortlessly across the hushed space.
“Only El Patrón de Texas may create a vampiro in Texas,” the assembly growled behind him.
Lucien muttered something profane under his breath.
“What is the penalty for breaking this law?” Rafael continued.
“Give me an hour and I could get you another girl. Eighteen – no, call it twelve – hours after that, she’d rise and be desperate to be fucked. You could fuck and feed on her easily,” Lucien suggested desperately. “Or maybe you’d prefer a boy?”
Rafael looked Lucien straight in the eye. “Last night, I refused Madame Celeste’s offer. She left an hour later with the rest of her entourage.”
The slime turned pale and shot a glance at the limo, checking the distance. Too far, compared to the speed advantage Rafael’s greater age gave him, even if he managed to get past the compañeros.
“You broke Texas’s first law when you gave El Abrazo to Señorita Durant,” Rafael continued implacably, “and are hereby sentenced to death. However, because you have been a diplomat for Madame Celeste, I will offer you a choice. You can fight a judicial duel against me, to earn the right to return to New Orleans. Or you can be executed here and now, under Texas’s law.”
Lucien’s jaw dropped. “Duel against you?” He shook his head. “I won’t give you the opportunity to drink my blood. I’ll die when and how I want.”
He snarled at Rafael like a cornered rat. “But I’ve seen someone who’s faster than you are and will drink your blood on the dueling field one day: Beau, Madame Celeste’s little toy. When she tells him to kill you, she’ll grind Texas into dust.”
He bowed mockingly to Rafael, sweeping his hand high over his head as if he doffed a plumed hat. Sunlight caught his fingers. His fist became a torch, then his arm and head. . .
Rafael crossed himself. El hombre propone y Dios dispone. Man proposes and God disposes.
Even so, I will never create a vampira. It is the only way to guarantee protection of the innocents, the women who cannot survive El Abrazo and stay sane.
The sun rose up over the horizon, all golden magnificence – as if it was laughing at his determination.
Excerpt from Bond of Blood by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved