C1 Chapter 1
A thirst like I’ve never before experienced wakes me from a deep sleep full of vaguely haunting dreams. When I peel my eyes open enough to take stock of where I am, I realize three things at once: I’m in a bed not my own, there is a stranger’s arm draped around me, and... we are both naked.
I study the arm in a detached kind of way, like a scientist studying a strange animal. His muscles are well-defined, and his skin is a shade lighter than mine, which is saying something given my pale complexion. His hand is manicured with long tapering fingers that I imagine are perfect for playing piano. It’s an attractive arm, but one completely unfamiliar to me.
The fourth thing that hits me is that I can’t recall a single thing from the last night.
Nothing. Not a whiff of a memory floats inside my confused brain.
The last thing I can remember before this moment is my best friend dragging me to a club on the strip after work to "blow off steam." As if working as librarians in Nevada is so stress-inducing. Something else niggles at my mind, something I can't quiet latch onto. I was meant to do something else last night. Something I planned on leaving early for.
I'm sincerely befuddled by this situation. I'm a careful person by nature and not prone to reckless acts. Sleeping with a stranger is as reckless as they come in my book.
An ache at the base of my throat distracts me from my thoughts as a deep thirst, or maybe hunger, claws at me. It's intense enough that I know I won’t be able to focus on anything else until I drink or eat something. I carefully extricate myself from the strange man’s hold and scoot to the edge of the bed to sit up.
It’s then that I realize a fifth thing.
I’m wearing a wedding ring.
And not just some cheap gold band, either.
I’m wearing a rock to rival all rocks. A glittering diamond the size of a small egg is tucked between sapphires. It looks antique. Art Deco maybe? I gawk at it, confused. Surely it isn’t real. But damn if it doesn’t look real.
I suck in my breath, and all thoughts are lost as the scent of something delicious overtakes me. My eyes land on the crimson cocktail sitting on the nightstand next to me, and my mouth literally waters. With drool. It isn’t a good look, and I have to wipe my chin with the back of my hand to keep from dribbling on the expensive sheets.
I reach for the cocktail, not even bothering to question why I’m craving liquor first thing in the morning, and I sniff. I can’t place the smell, but it’s tantalizing and sets all of my senses on fire. I take a tentative sip, expecting something with blood orange, or maybe a Bloody Mary, but it’s nothing like that. It’s viscous and coats my throat in a way that eases all worry and care. I drain the cocktail without pause and have to force myself not to lick the glass clean.
Who am I kidding? I totally licked the glass clean. You know us librarians... wild to the core.
Whatever was in that drink effects me instantly. My whole body pulses with energy and adrenaline surges through me. My senses are heightened. It was unnaturally silent in this room thanks to a private suite in a fancy Vegas hotel. But now, I can hear all the little things that keep the room functioning. The buzz from the lights. The currents of electricity surging through the wires in the walls. I can even hear guests on other floors—the sounds of chewing or early morning lovemaking. And that’s when I begin to worry about what was in the drink.
Am I hallucinating?
Maybe the stranger in bed drugged me last night, and that’s why I can’t remember anything?
And now I’ve just voluntarily drugged myself.
I rush to the bathroom without bothering to dress first. As soon as I get to the toilet, I do my best to induce vomiting. If that drink was drugged, maybe I can get most of it out before it’s absorbed. My mind whirls, planning as I lean over the porcelain rim.
I need to get whatever I just drank out of my system. Then I need to get dressed and find my phone—or any phone for that matter.
After that, I need to get out of the room and call Molly, find out what the hell happened last night, and make sure she’s okay.
Once I’m sure she’s okay, I’ll head to the ER and have them do a rape kit, just in case. I’ll also need STD testing and a morning-after pill. This has never happened to me before. I’ve never had a one-night stand. I’ve never been sexually assaulted. But I live in Las Vegas, so of course, I’ve heard stories. And naturally, I have a contingency plan. What woman doesn’t?
Oh, and before I escape this hotel suite, I need to find the identity of the man in bed. In case he did do something to me.
When my stomach is emptied, and red bile floats in the water, I flush and stand so I can then lean against the sink. I splash water over my face, wash out my mouth, and then stare at my reflection in the mirror. I look more pale than normal, which isn’t surprising given a night of drinking and god knows what else.
What is shocking is that I actually look effing amazing. And I don’t mean pretty-good-all-thing-considered amazing. I mean photoshopped-glam-pic amazing. My skin is flawless. The permanent wrinkle in my brow—what Molly calls my librarian line—is gone. A pimple that had just started to form by my nose has disappeared. Dryness. Sun damage. All those little imperfections we get used to... all of it gone! My eyes, normally a dullish brown, now sparkle and look like they’ve been run through a filter. Even my cheekbones seem more pronounced. Sexier. My mousy brown hair looks shiny and rich, like dark chocolate. And everything else is... perkier, let’s just say.
"What the hell happened to me last night?" I whisper to myself.
I’m not prepared for a deep British voice to reply. "Do you remember nothing, then?"
I turn, shocked to see the man attached to the arm standing in the bathroom door. He’s as naked as I am, but this doesn’t actually bother me. Believe it or not, I have a relatively low modesty scale and am perfectly comfortable in my own skin. Even Molly is shocked by this. So I don’t attempt to cover up when he stares at me, and I don’t avert my eyes from him, either.
For the record, the man’s body is a specimen of god-like perfection, and I do not make that claim lightly. He’s tall. At least six-four, with washboard abs, a face chiseled from marble with a dark stubble contrasting against his skin, piercing blue eyes, and dark hair that looks purposefully disheveled even though I know he just got out of bed. I’ve had my share of lovers. Never one-night stands, as I said, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. And never have I ever seen a...
"I see you drank your cocktail?"
I pull my thoughts back to the matter at hand, which is most definitely not his... man-bits.
"It was drugged," I accuse, trying to seem imposing and likely failing.
He smirks. Smirks! As if this weren’t deadly serious. "I can see how you would think so, and you likely have a lot of questions—"
"So you admit you drugged me?" I ask. My fear is pulsing at the surface of my mind, but I shove it down. I can give into that later, once I’m safe. For now, I must stay strong. Focused.
"I did not drug you," he says. His voice so deep, so smooth, that I nearly melt into it.
"Then what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I remember anything?" I hold up my left hand and point to the enormous rock. "And what’s this? Did we get married?"
I think I will die of embarrassment if he says yes. What kind of person gets drunk, marries a stranger in Vegas, and then forgets it? And I live here! I’m no random tourist. People will find out. I can only imagine Mildred’s face when she hears about this. She’ll never let me live it down, and she may be pushing eighty, but that old bat has no plans to retire. I’ll never hear the end of it.
"We did get married. Though, that wasn’t part of the plan. And that’s not actually the most significant thing that happened to you last night."
I look down at his hand, and he’s also wearing a wedding ring. It’s similar in style to mine but more masculine. They seemed to have been made for each other.
"What’s your name?" I can barely get the words out from the mortifying shame of it.
His lips curl as if amused by my distress. Cocky one, isn’t he? "Sebastian Kingston, at your service," he says as he gives a little mock bow.
"Do you know my name?" I ask, the challenge clear in my voice.
He raises an eyebrow. "Ember Elaine White. You’re a twenty-nine-year-old librarian who lives alone and is considering getting a cat but hasn’t found the right one. You fancied becoming an English teacher at one point, but discovered a deep love of the library and thus chose library sciences when it came time to declare your focus for your Master’s program. But you didn’t stop there. You went on for a PhD and then spent a year traveling the world exploring all the great libraries before settling into a position in Las Vegas. You like chocolate, but never with fruit. You hate lemons, but you love the smell. And when you get really excited, your face scrunches up in the most adorable manner."
I exhale deeply and lean against the sink, suddenly exhausted. I don’t think anyone but Molly knows that much about me. Maybe not even her. I’m a private person. I’m not on social media. I prefer books to gadgets. I don’t share every little detail of my life everywhere. I’ve often thought I was born in the wrong era, but I do relish my independence, despite lingering social sexism, and would not want to live in a time where I would be considered property.
"Did the drugs make me say all that?" I whisper. I’m no longer attempting any bravado. Now I’m just confused and scared.
He steps forward and raises a hand to gently brush a strand of hair out of my face. "Ember, there were never any drugs. At least not while you were with me. This is possibly a side effect of being turned."
"What are you talking about?"
"Watch my face and try not to panic."
That kind of language isn’t helping matters any, but I steel myself for what’s about to come.
His lips part, and the shift happens so fast I almost don’t notice. But there they are. His canines have elongated into sharp daggers.
Adrenaline surges in me, and I attempt to move away from him, but he grabs my arms and forces me to face my reflection. "Look, Ember. Look at your mouth."
My curiosity overrides my fear, and I face the mirror as he stands behind me. He’s a full head taller than me, and I should be able to see him in the mirror, but I can’t. He’s invisible.
But I’m still visible, and I look at my own teeth, now elongated in my mouth.
"I’m... I’m a vampire?"