Prologue

"Doctor, shall I presume that you have never sucked the warm marrow out of a woman’s body as she screamed with pleasure? I have done so, many times over many centuries. It is an exquisite sensual experience unlike any physical gratification I could ever have imagined as a human, but it pales in comparison to the mere scent of her."

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London, 1861

The vampire tapped his foot against the wooden base of the chair and absent-mindedly slid the corner of an index card between his left incisor and canine teeth, as if picking out a bit of food. The firm closing of the door behind him caught his attention, snapping him back to the here and now.

"My apologies. Spicy soup for lunch. Didn’t quite agree with me, I must say." The doctor, still a bit red-faced and breathless, bustled with a hint of embarrassment across the small room and resumed his seat opposite his patient. “We’ll tack on another few moments to the end of our consultation, of course, if you have time," he offered with an apologetic smile.

A smirk sneaked across one side of the vampire’s full lips, drawing his mouth into an uneven bow. "Time?" he repeated, immensely entertained by the comment. "Time, I think, I can spare."

"So, getting back to the anxiousness, is it constant or do you notice that it comes and goes? Sorry, does something strike you as humorous?"

"Yes," replied the undead man to the living one. "Yes indeed. Though each of these conversations is a favor to you, a contribution to your research, every occasion seems to develop into a discussion of my emotional and psychological status. Tell me, why might that be?" He regarded his companion with eyes full of merriment.

The young doctor grinned back good-naturedly. "Simple indeed, my friend. The psyche of a vampire is a critical piece in the understanding of the drives, the urges—the hungers—that propel you and in many ways define your existence. If I am to fully appreciate your order as a whole, I must understand the workings of your mind as well as your body. In truth, even more so." He cleared his throat and shifted in his seat to mark a change in the topic at hand. "Now then, this anxiousness, is it precipitated by a particular situation, place, thought, et cetera?"

"Like a catalyst, you mean?"

"Yes, quite. Is there a particular worry you have, perhaps a new activity in your life—an employment, a relationship—that’s been revolving in your mind a great deal? I realize health concerns are irrelevant in this case, but perhaps work?"

The patient uncrossed his legs slowly, and crossed them again in the opposite fashion, his grin unfurling Cheshire cat-style as he relaxed. "I am a professor of European history at Kings College, where I have been for thirteen years. I am a recognized expert in my field, widely published, and have been teaching the subject since the French owned Canada. So no, I do not believe I am experiencing ’work-related stressors.’"

The doctor leaned back in his chair, rubbed his abdomen and looked with empathy at the centuries-old vampire and thirty-year-old man sitting downcast before him. "You know what it is already."

The statement, for it wasn’t a question, caught the vampire off-guard, requiring him to clear his throat and take a slow breath before responding. He looked down for a long moment, and in that time the sound of the air changed, as when the sun goes down in the late afternoon. His next words came in a low, more measured tone.

"She smells of spring water and sun. She is intoxicating. I cannot go near her because I want her. Not only to drink from her, but to have her. I cannot remember this feeling ... I have no recollection of ever being disturbed in this way by any woman, human or otherwise."

"Curious that you mention such bloodlust only in the context of this woman. Are you feeding regularly? Because there might be—"

Irate eyes snapped to the doctor’s face. "Yes of course I am feeding! Were I not, I would likely be slicing apart your carotid right now. Please do not patronize me, Doctor."

"Mr. Randall—"

"Roan, please, as I’ve said repeatedly."

"Sorry—Roan—I assure you, in no way do I intend to be disrespectful. We’re trying to find a trigger for what you’re feeling. So, let’s get back to this line of thought, shall we? Your desire for her is both sanguinal and sexual, then? And this is an emotion you’ve not encountered before?"

Roan sat fully forward in his chair, elbows on his knees, fingers interlaced, lavender eyes locked on his companion’s face. A full five seconds passed before he spoke, in a round, deep, and deadly direct tone.

"Doctor, shall I presume that you have never sucked the warm marrow out of a woman’s body as she screamed with pleasure? I have done so, many times over many centuries. It is an exquisite sensual experience unlike any physical gratification I could ever have imagined as a human, but it pales in comparison to the mere scent of her."

He traced his finger slowly along the small scissor-like slit he’d created at the corner of the index card, watching as the doctor attempted to hide his discomfiture and restore control of his breathing. "She is undoing me, and ... I am ... frightened."

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Winter Rain, Hew Hampshire, Today

Whack.

The maestro always stares at me. There are thirty people in the room right now, but I’m the only one he’s looking at. And his eyes just bore in, like he’s trying to see the color my soul. He notices every movement, focuses on every note. He stalks me with his gaze measure after miserable measure, because I’m the pianist.

I’ve played with the Straythern University Orchestra for six years now, and for each one of those years Dr. Maldonado has had exactly the same look on his face, disturbingly similar to the gape of a lecherous, drunken seventy-year-old waiting for the chick across the bar to bend forward and expose an inch of her bra. The difference here, however, is that Maestro doesn’t see me as sexual, or even female, for that matter. All I am to him is a channel for sound.

Whack. His baton hits the lectern in front of him a second time, and his angry, almost artificially tenor voice rolls in a shrill ring across the room.

"Dead! Again!"

The flautists fear him. The first chair violin cannot even look at him. Maldonado’s unpredictable temper is legendary within the walls of Straythern, and is the sole reason we lose more musicians than we should to other universities. He is kind to no one .... except me.

Whack. "Esteban, you’re timing is abysmal!" This particular diatribe is directed at the tympanist, who merely tightens his long, dark pony tail, sighs, and nods in resignation. Then to me in a softer voice, he whispers, "Once again for the percussion section, please, Elma." Baton up.

Fifty minutes later, the day’s battle has ended, and my fellow musicians begin to file out of the rehearsal hall with heavy eyes and slumped backs. On my way to the door, I meet Esteban, who seems unfazed by the maestro’s pounding focus on his shortcomings.

"Hanging in there?" I ask with a smile as he packs away sheet music into his rucksack. Turning to me, he offers a happy grin that dents his high cheekbones and exposes pearls of perfect white teeth.

"Hell, at least I’m not first oboe." With that, he grabs my waist, pulls me to him, and kisses me long and full on the mouth.

I’ll miss that kiss. Esteban and I have been perfecting it for just over three years, having first met in this very same rehearsal hall. He came to the university on a post-graduate fellowship in percussion, a well-regarded musician across both the classical and contemporary lanes. He was unlike anything I’d ever seen before; lean and slight and quiet, but very present all the same. Especially for a sleepy little town like Winter Rain, New Hampshire, Esteban was exotic; tattoos in all the right places, cool, with a sexy Aztec look about him. His musical timing was enviably perfect to boot. I could feel him in the orchestra in just the same way I felt him in my body--steady, dependable beats delivered at just the right pace to take you up and away.

But now, after three years of pounding out beautiful rhythms together, Esteban was moving on, musically speaking at least. A good friend of his from LA had started a band, and had been surprisingly successful right off the bat. Now they were planning to open for a fairly well-known act in a tour across Asia, and since their current drummer had a newborn son and wanted to stay local, they needed a top-shelf replacement. I imagine three years of Maestro whacking on his lectern was just about all that a free-spirit like Esteban could take. Classic-- I look at our harmonious relationship and start imagining how the name Elma Montes-Plumosa would look on the top of my personal checks, he gets an offer that comes once in a millennium and that he’d be crazy to refuse, and here we are. Or at least, here I am.

Tomorrow, my world changes a little. For the moment, though, Esteban and I can still walk hand in hand across the quadrangle and toward his little apartment on the south side of town, where we’ll pack up the few remaining bits of his Straythern life, eat Chinese food while perched on a couple of packing crates, and make love in the twin bed I’ve come to snuggle into so comfortably. Tomorrow, he’ll be a world away, but today I can still touch him, see his dazzling white smile, and watch his inky black mane blow behind him in the late summer evening, alive in the wind.

Next Chapter: Overture