A deep, base hunger stirred inside me. My master had brought another woman into his nest. I tamped down the ceaseless ache to feed as I stared at her with a spark of interest, this one wholly unrelated to the blood craving the vampire had cultivated in me.
This woman didn’t scream or cry out. She didn’t even struggle. But her big green eyes flashed abstract terror as the vampire laid her on the floor, where a weak bubble of wintery dawn sunlight filtered through the dark-tinted window.
Even had she screamed, no one would hear her. We were isolated on the top floor of the Sydney high-rise apartment my master had made his own, living in a world that was as distant from the human ants I occasionally glimpsed far below as Mars was from Jupiter.
My master’s soft chuckle set my teeth on edge and caused my veins to itch and crawl, and my stomach to gurgle with hunger. His voice was congenial and smooth, his features pale but unremarkably pleasant, a perfect foil to the monster beneath. “Your new plaything, Alexander.”
Alexander wasn’t my real name, but my master always renamed his donors. What seemed like a lifetime ago, I’d been Jake Reynolds, a normal human with normal human aspirations. Not that I recalled much of anything about my past life these days.
“Over time,” my master continued, his voice unusually smug, “I believe Maya’s blood will be as sweet as your own.”
If I live that long.
“I believe, too, that I’ve finally found the female counterpart to you. Maya’s mental strength should also extend her life expectancy.”
I put a careful hand on my forehead, covering what felt like a vein throbbing to life. Yet another innocent woman sentenced to a hell of the vampire’s making. But I couldn’t show any emotion, couldn’t let him know I cared. Nor did I answer. I never answered unless I was asked. And mostly I was too weak or consumed by my craving. Even had my master allowed me to sip from his vein right now, I’d still want more.
He’d trained my addiction to an exacting standard. And he’d do the same with this latest recruit.
I forced aside the mental image of my master’s blood dribbling down my throat to focus my attention on Maya. I wondered what her real name was—her identity was just the start of what my master would take from her—even as I ran an appreciative stare over her long dark hair, which was pulled back into a ponytail. Bright pink runners encased her feet and sweat pants partially hid her long, legs. A bright pink Lycra top covered the swell of her breasts and exposed the taut, quivering plane of her tan belly.
My master really had raised his standards. He wasn’t just looking for mental strength and those super-rare humans whose distinct hormones and blood type would sustain him. He ensured the donors were physically stronger, more resilient.
Less likely to die.
“I ordered the usual breakfast to be sent up. I expect it all to be eaten.”
His mild voice held the threat of reprisal if the food was left untouched. He knew I couldn’t care less about eating and could easily have foregone a normal human diet and lived from those few drops of blood he allocated me. Except my health was to be at its most optimal when he fed from me, both for the nutrition he ingested and to ensure I survived the feeding.
Once a week, or thereabouts, he drank from me, and at times I think he almost drained me dry. But my reward was worth the near-death that I sometimes craved as much as the tiny sip of vampire blood that sustained me and kept me permanently youthful.
But though he drank from me, I was never to take too much in return. My master had informed me more than once that even one extra drop of his blood would kill me, in the same way too much crack would kill an addict.
I was worse than an addict. I was a blood-slave whose single goal in life was to taste a couple of bright crimson drops from my master.
“Eat the food. Then I’ll ease your craving.”
My master’s fangs glinted behind his thin lips, sharper than a razor, his soulless brown eyes glowing red for just a second before he blinked and masked his bloodlust. He’d subdue his own craving before I’d get to alleviate my utter dependence, just for a little while.
With a smile that contained no humor, my master turned and strode to the door that opened into his private chambers. He’d sleep now, through the day’s heat, allow his slumber to rejuvenate his centuries-old body before he fed from me tonight and became fully invigorated.
The door clicked shut behind him. The woman, Maya, pushed herself into a seated position. I’d bet shock and blood loss was to blame for her eyes that were glassy and empty of life. My master had already sampled her. She pulled her knees to her chest. “It’s not real,” she said in a broken whisper. “None of this is real.”
I didn’t move, though every instinct told me to go and comfort her. I’d seen enough women enter the nest to know not to get attached. Despite my master’s assurance, I doubted she’d last long. None endured it here. Most didn’t even make it past my master’s second or third feeding.
Possibly because they preferred to die rather than face the reality their world had become.
The elevator dinged and a mountain of a security guard stepped into our nest to stand watch by the elevator doors, while the chef from the ground floor restaurant pushed his catering trolley inside.
Even before I looked up to meet the chef’s unblinking, light blue eyes, I knew he was in a trance, the same as the guard. My master cultivated humans to whatever best suited his purpose. And the chef’s weak mind and phenomenal cooking were more than beneficial.
The chef delivered our meals like clockwork three times a day, seven days a week. I could only assume he had no wife, no family to answer to and staff who didn’t question his odd behavior. Or maybe the staff, too, had been hypnotized by my master.
The chef paused beside the thick wooden slab of a table, where twelve could have comfortably dined. He took no notice of us—indeed, I doubt he even registered we were there.
Maya didn’t say anything more. She didn’t even move. She mustn’t have come willingly. My master must have brainwashed her as well as drained her blood in order to subdue her. It was why he hadn’t yet partaken of my vein. He’d had his appetizer. He was saving main course for tonight.
I didn’t shudder with the revulsion I once did. I’d had years—forty-six of them, if my calculations were correct—to get used to being a meal on legs. Years to want only the crimson drops I was given in return. Besides, my attention was currently preoccupied by master’s latest food source.
I mightn’t be able to drown out her silent screams, but I could distract her for a little while. I waited until the chef had unpacked his trolley and retreated with it into the elevator. Once the doors closed behind him and the guard, I peeled a plastic lid off its container.
The scented steam of mushroom omelet with a serving of fried rice saturated the air. Maya turned her head and blinked. “Is… Is the food for us?”
I nodded. “Yes. Help yourself.”
Her mouth set, she pushed to her feet and staggered. I saw her determination and I understood her foolish logic. She was weak, but if she could eat and restore her strength, she could try to escape. I stepped toward her and closed my hands over her upper arm. My mouth dried at her soft, feminine skin, her soapy, vanilla scent. And the buzz of instant attraction.
I mentally shook off my groin’s kick of sexual need. It had been some time—too long, obviously—since my master had provided a plaything. A sexual partner to relieve those other needs that at times plagued me.
I wasn’t stupid enough to believe my sexual appetite wasn’t right on the bottom rung of the ladder compared to my master’s blood cravings. In my master’s mind, Maya was simply a vessel to be used and abused. But guilt had long ago evaporated from the part I played. These days, survival was all I knew or cared about.
I guided Maya to the table even as I recounted my past playthings’ names. Sophie. Gemma. Tabitha. Carla. Danielle. Amy. Tania. Rose. Elizabeth. Martha. Louise. Charlotte. Each one had lasted between three-and-a-half weeks and four years. Each one had been a pleasant diversion from my crippling blood hunger.
Maya sat and reached for the food. A fork clattered—she ignored the chopsticks—before she clamped hold of the cutlery and began shoveling food into her mouth.
I sat opposite her, intrigued by this latest arrival. I only hoped she would survive the incarceration. Survive the constant blood loss. Survive the mental toll.
“So tell me about yourself?” I leaned forward. It was nice to hear about normal lives. Nice to imagine a place where vampires only lived in fairytales and humans weren’t little better than cattle. It was even nicer to pretend my master wasn’t one of god only knew how many other vampires there were scattered around the planet. “Where are you from?”
She chewed and swallowed audibly, before clasping the bottle of white wine and glugging it down. There was no sign of enjoyment, just a need to refuel, recharge. She was certainly a fighter. The bottle clanked as she put it back onto the table, before she wiped her mouth on her sleeve and focused on me. Her green eyes were no longer void of life—they were shrewd, assessing.
I wondered absently if she liked what she saw, if my appearance was still relatively pleasant to behold for this generation. Women had always been attracted to me, but tastes changed over time. My master occasionally sent up a barber and tailor to attend to my needs. I’d never had need for a doctor, but guessed the vampire blood I craved counteracted any ills.
“That’s none of your business.” Her eyes flashed. “You know my friends and family will be looking for me.”
I sighed, seeing through her lies. My master would have looked long and hard for the perfect target. Maya wouldn’t just be healthy, she’d also have no family and few friends. “Say goodbye to whatever life you once had.” I swept out a hand. “And say hello to your new one.”
She shot to her feet, her chair clattering back onto the marble floor. “I refuse to be stuck up here with that…monster!” She lifted her head. “And with you.”
I nodded. Better to be honest now and get the hysterics out the way. “Unfortunately, you don’t have any say in the matter. My master is also your master now. You’re his latest food source.”
Her eyes widened, her hand automatically drifting to her throat, touching the healed puncture wounds. I was impressed. Most women fell to pieces, even if they’d blanked out being fed on. Maya clearly had a very strong will and mind.
“So…what happened to the last food source?”
“She didn’t make it.” I dulled my senses to her shocked gasp in just the same way I dulled my mind to the memory of Sophie’s demise. I cleared my throat and added, “She killed herself.”
I stared at the man who seemed so eerily self-possessed. Like a prisoner from a concentration camp who’d survived the war and wouldn’t—couldn’t—examine or recount what he’d lived through.
Even with my brain screaming denial and weakness dulling my senses, I noted every inch of the man standing before me. A man I despised, but who I sensed just might be the key to getting out of this hellhole.
He was fit and honed, not to mention tall. He had to be at least six foot three. His hair was a shade lighter than dark chocolate and curled at the ends—an inch away from being scruffy. His ever darker stare was sharp with intelligence, if one discounted the apathy I’d glimpsed. He looked young, but his eyes told a different story.
I mentally shook my head. I didn’t want to dwell on a man who’d watched other women die, and who probably expected me to die too.
Not in this life.
I blew out a slow breath. “Are you that thing’s accomplice?”
He looked shocked, as though he played no part in whatever tragedy had occurred. But if he’d seen other women trapped here and taking their own lives, he wasn’t innocent of the crime.
“That ‘thing’ is our master, and you’ll soon discover that thinking or calling him by any other name in his presence… Well, you won’t be feeling too great afterward.”
I glowered, hating his strangely accented, honey-smooth voice that hinted of warmth even as I was all too aware of the coldness beneath. “He’ll never be my master.”
He shrugged. “Then you’ll die.”
He didn’t look too perturbed, yet I sensed his unease, just as I’d sensed an unexpected frisson of desire the moment he curled his warm hand around my arm.
Blood loss, nothing more, I told myself. The man might be good-looking in a hard, world-weary way, but he was far from my type. No, I didn’t go for murderers.
I stood straighter, determination flooding through me. I wasn’t waiting around for whatever hell the so-called master had in store for me. I had to find a way out of here. I would not end up like Alexander—or worse, the women who had died up here. I wasn’t being a victim of circumstance again.
I forced myself not to touch my throat again, though the twin punctures continued to burn. “So…Alexander, what exactly is your master?”