Dark Heirloom (An Ema Marx Novel Book 1), page 19
He cocked his head. “Come, you’ll be fine.”
I shook my head and pressed my fingers against my temples. “No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can.”
“Then just… just give me a minute.” I shut my eyes tight. A pounding, aching pulse thumped against my temples as my throat dried. Breathing became laborious. Lava swelled inside my lungs and ran into my veins. An unquenchable thirst stirred deep within my gut.
Jalmari’s cool voice whispered against my ear. “Phase your hand.”
My eyes snapped open as hysteria wracked my brain. “Wh-what?”
“Just do it.” He took my right hand into his and phased it for me. Thick, warm, syrupy waves of blissful human energy pulsed all around me, vibrating harder than the techno beat. It clung to the molecules of my hand like bees on honey.
A tingly sensation ebbed along my arm and filled my chest with a serene calmness. The lava in my lungs cooled, and my breathing returned to normal. The thirst still beckoned me, but the urge was weak, and became tolerable. Present, but not overwhelming.
I unphased my hand and glanced at Jalmari with wide eyes. “How did you…?”
He only smiled and hooked my arm in his. I took a deep breath as he led me to the door of the nightclub. The bouncer stopped us, but the tall scrawny man dressed in black leather seemed to know Jalmari, and the two chatted in Finnish.
Violet neon lights hung on the large metal door, twisted into the shape of a winged serpent. The bouncer opened the door and ushered us inside.
Darkness engulfed us as we entered. Euro-house music shook the foundation. The only light came from a few flickering imitation candles placed near the ceiling in small candelabras. I realized the lighting was specifically done to cater to the vampyre guests. If the candles had been placed any lower, the building would appear clear as day to us, instead of just dimly lit. The humans here would have a difficult time seeing. For them, it was too dark.
Jalmari pulled me past a crowd of swaying bodies. Vampyres. They swung their hips to the beat and waved their hands overhead. Their bodies vibrated with sensual energy. They noticed me. Some of them gave a slight nod, acknowledging what I was. Some chose to ignore me and continued dancing.
There were just as many humans present. Most of them stood or danced in clusters of their own kind, but a few flirted with death. Girls in short skirts rubbed against men with dripping fangs. This place was a horror fest waiting to happen. My own thirst rumbled, demanding a taste. I swallowed hard and licked my lips.
Jalmari pulled me to the left, where we ascended a set of spiral stairs. Leather booths and polished tables lined the second floor, overlooking the first. The walls dripped with dark red paint. Dragons and Nordic emblems protruded from the corners and hung from the ceiling.
Jalmari let go of my arm and sat in a booth blocked off on three sides by heavy velvet curtains. I sat as close to the entrance as possible so I could watch the people below. Several female vampyres stared back. Their lips moved as they eyed Jalmari and giggled. Some of them narrowed their gaze at me, probably wondering who the heck I was, and what the heck I was doing with their prince.
“Enjoying yourself?” Jalmari brushed the tips of his fingers along the top of my knuckles. Heat rushed to my face. I folded my hands in my lap and fought the urge to snap at him. Better to act civil and get through the night.
“I’m not really the clubbing type.” I shrugged.
“‘Tis a shame. You truly look amazing right now. I’d like to give you more reasons to dress up.”
Was he flirting with me? What was I supposed to say to that? I decided to change the subject. “You own this place, don’t you?”
Jalmari nodded. “What gave it away?”
“The serpent on the front door. There’s another one exactly like it hanging above the fireplace in the dining room in the castle.”
He nodded. “Yes. It is the seal of the Neo-Draugrian. Korento means dragon in Finnish.”
“Isn’t that your surname too?”
“It’s more than a surname. Vampyres still use house names the way humans did during the Middle Ages. It’s how we identify ourselves with our clan. Ta Korento means Of the Dragon, which is more commonly known now as the Neo-Draugrian Clan.”
“I see. So am I… ta-kor-en-to… as well?” The words felt like cotton, and had to be awkwardly spit out with my American accent.
Jalmari leaned back and stroked his chin. “I suppose you don’t belong to a clan. Or you belong to several clans. I’m not sure how it would work in your case.”
“What am I, exactly? I mean, how can I be a vampyre when neither of my parents are? I wasn’t born one like you were, and I wasn’t bitten. If I had inherited this from my ancestors, wouldn’t I have been born a vampyre instead of suddenly becoming one?”
He stared at the table and frowned. “I wondered that myself. I honestly don’t know how it happened, or why.” He eyed a cocktail waitress and nodded. The tall, pale waitress approached our table with bubbly enthusiasm and spoke immediately to Jalmari.
“Kuinka voin auttaa, teidän majesteettinne?” Her black curls bounced with every giggle, and she couldn’t seem to stop fumbling with the pen as she took Jalmari’s order. I couldn’t help noticing her eyes—wide and star-struck as they were—because they looked like mine. Black with flecks of red. The waitress didn’t bother asking me if I wanted anything.
She turned without taking her eyes off Jalmari, and almost tripped over the next table. At the last moment, she phased the lower half of her body, regained her balance, and quickly walked through the solid table. Horror-struck, she unphased her legs and glanced around. No one seemed to notice, yet she covered her face with her hands as if she might cry.
Facing Jalmari, whose gaze narrowed to slits as he watched the incident, I asked. “What was that about?”
“She’s new. It’s easy to forget not to phase in public.” He waved to a nearby bouncer—not the one who ushered us in. This bouncer was bald, built like a tank, and covered in tattoos. He leaned in as Jalmari whispered something to him.
The man nodded then made his way to the bar where the waitress hid. After whispering in her ear, her black eyes widened and she glanced toward Jalmari. She removed her apron, set it aside, and allowed herself to be ushered out by Baldy.
Jalmari hissed at me. “Stop staring.”
“Did you just fire her?”
“Why? It was obviously an accident.”
“We serve human customers here,” he said, while leaning forward. “We cannot tolerate even one mistake like that.”
“Maybe it should be vampyre-exclusive then.” I crossed my arms. “If you’re so worried about the secret getting out, then I wouldn’t mix the two like this.”
“Establishments like these are the reason I was re-elected. No other clan in the world tolerates co-existence as much as we do. But it’s a privilege, not a right.”
“You were elected? I thought you inherited the crown.”
Jalmari leaned back. His gaze darted around the club, taking in the crowd. “I did inherit it, originally. I was… demoted… once.”
“Really? Why?” I leaned across the table, suddenly more interested than I ever thought I’d be about something Jalmari had to say. I bet they demoted him when they found out he was the real Jack the Ripper.
The same bald bouncer served our drinks, clanking the silver chalices against the table top. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to see blood. But here? Around humans? Jalmari couldn’t have been too worried if he allowed his bar to serve blood.
The sweet smell of liquid life wafted into my nostrils, awakening my senses, and intensifying the animalistic frenzy. I squirmed both in excitement and dread. I was dying of thirst, but one little drop and all the humans in here would just be dying.
“Honestly, if you really cared so much about your human-vampyre orgy, you wouldn’t have brought me here. God, I don’t want to know how many go home with one
Jalmari shushed me. “None, now stop it.”
“Just the smell is driving me crazy.”
“Of course it is. The smell is supposed to be enticing.”
“Blood is not supposed to smell good.”
Jalmari shook his head. “It does if you are supposed to drink it. And you are, so go ahead.”
“No way, I’ll hurt someone if I do. I won’t be able to stop.”
“The more you try to refrain, the worse the effects will be when you finally give in to your craving.” He pushed the chalice closer in my direction. Why was he doing this? He worried about the waitress phasing in front of a few drunken humans, but he didn’t care if I drank blood and went on a ballistic feeding frenzy?
I looked at the drink, longing for a taste. Just one little sip. My throat ached for it. No, I can’t. I shouldn’t. I wished Jesu was here. He would have taken the glass away from me, even if I hated him for it later.
How did the humans themselves not know? How did they not notice the ultra-pale groups of people each with fanged smiles, death black hair, and phantom menacing eyes? Couldn’t they sense the heavy aura of predator all around them? Weren’t they paying attention to the goose bumps on their arms, and the prickle of hair on the backs of their necks?
They were in a trap, signing away their souls as they danced. I wanted to scream. These people probably had families, parents and friends who cared about them, people who would miss them, like my mom must have. No, I wouldn’t take any part in destroying these people. I’d wait until we went back to the castle, and then I’d indulge in all the blood I wanted, where I couldn’t hurt anyone.
But the monstrous craving in my gut pushed to the surface of my skin and demanded that I drink. I licked my lips and clenched my fists beneath the table.
I glanced at Jalmari. “What did you do to me outside, when you told me to phase my hand? My cravings weren’t so bad after that. You knew that would happen.”
He watched me with a stone-cold expression. “Drink up, and I’ll tell you.”
I narrowed my gaze. My instincts grew suspicious. “Why are you pushing it? I don’t want to drink right now.”
“First, because you’re lying to yourself. You are thirsty. I can see in your face how much it pains you to resist. Second, I want you to see that you can drink and not cause harm to yourself or others. You are what you are, and to fear yourself is the wrong way to dispense your time. Just take a sip,” he coaxed.
I eyed the drink. It took all of my strength to keep from lapping it up like an animal. Taking a deep breath, I wrapped one hand around the glass and brought it to my lips. Here goes nothing.
I pressed the glass to my mouth and tilted it just enough to let the red liquid graze my lower lip. I didn’t open my mouth, even though every fiber of my being screamed for it. I only pretended to drink.
At the same time, I phased my free hand beneath the table. Waves of heated energy smacked against my molecules and stuck like glue. The sensation vibrated up my arm and filled my chest. It tingled down my thighs and shot into my toes. Renewed determination glowed from my pores with every ripple. As I exhaled, the craving lessened, and I relaxed.
I unphased my hand, placed the glass down, and quickly patted my lips with a napkin. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Jalmari. Could he tell I wasn’t really drinking? Did he feel me phase under the table? Should I act normal, or should I try to fake like I was under the bloodlust’s spell?
I cleared my throat. “Okay, I did it. Now it’s your turn. What happened outside when you phased my hand?”
Jalmari spoke slowly. “I will tell you, but not here.”
My head snapped up and I met his gaze. “But you said you would tell me.”
He glowered. “And I will. Just not here.”
“At the castle.”
“As soon as we get back?”
I leaned forward. “Do you promise?”
His gaze shifted to the chalice. “Drink some more, and I’ll give you my word.”
I leaned back and crossed my arms. “I’m not that stupid. You wanted me to drink a sip, and I did. Now you have to live up to your end of the deal before I do anything else.”
Jalmari shrugged. “I don’t have to do anything I don’t please. The drink is for your benefit, as is the information you seek. Neither one affects me.”
“Oh yeah? How about if I turn into a wolf, right here, in front of everyone?”
He shrugged. “Go ahead. You’d be causing more harm to yourself than to me.”
He leaned across the table, a sly grin spread across his features. “While I rather you didn’t ruin my nightclub, or expose my clan, you wouldn’t ruin me. I am a prince. I am protected from petty threats like that. Don’t think for a second that you’re the first one who’s ever thought to threatened me.”
I slouched against the seat. “I should have known you wouldn’t be honest.”
His lips pursed, as though he tasted something sour. “This was supposed to be a fun night.”
“Well, I never wanted to come here in the first place. You made me, remember?”
He slammed his drink on the table. “Very well then, let’s just leave.”
Jalmari rose and led the way down the stairs. As I followed him to the door, I noticed several of the vampyre guests looked disappointed that we—or at least Jalmari—were leaving.
Outside, he turned around the first corner, going into the nearest alley. I quickened my pace to keep up while muttering profanities under my breath. I couldn’t believe he acted so immature over something as dumb as drinking blood. I turned the corner a little too quickly, and bumped into Jalmari’s back. I wasn’t expecting him to stop near the opening.
I stepped around him. “What are you—”
Leena stood at the end of the alley. Her hair blew in a frizzy mess about her face. The hem of her dress grazed the damp, dirty ground, soaking up moisture. She stared at Jalmari and me, her lower lip quivering, her eyes puffy. I thought I saw a tear run down her cheek, but then I felt a couple drops of rain land on me as dark clouds covered the moon.
Jalmari took a step forward. “Leena—”
“Don’t.” She stepped back. Her fists clenched until her pale knuckles turned so white, they were almost transparent.
Jalmari froze and bit his lip. He tried again. “Leena, what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see if it was true. I wanted to see if you were really here… with her.” She sneered at me. I backed up a step. My instincts flared, but I didn’t think she was after me. At least, not at the moment.
Jalmari glanced at me, then back at Leena. “How did you… oh… Jesu.”
The drizzle shifted to a full downpour. Rain drenched my dress in seconds, and the already tight fit shrank even more as the fabric clung to my skin.
Leena’s hair stuck to her face, and her heavy makeup ran like black rivers from her soulless eyes. “Jalmari, is it true?” She took a step toward him. “Is it true that you intend to make her… queen?”
My head popped up. “What?”
“Leena, my love—” Jalmari reached for Leena’s hand, but she backed away. He cringed and clutched at his chest as if someone had stepped through his lungs.
“No, I cannot do this anymore, Jalmari. I cannot sit back watching and trying to guess. Tell me the truth.”
Jalmari hesitated. “I asked you to trust me, Leena.”
“What am I supposed to think? You shut me out of your mind ever since you found her, you speak of nothing but her, and now you are buying her dresses and taking her to Club Korento like… like you used to do for me.” Leena hunched over, hugging herself. She winced in pain, a pain I recognized. A metaphorical lightbulb turned on in my brain.
“Oh no, Leena, this is all just a big
Jalmari held up a hand, silencing me. Leena tilted her head to face him, still hunched over in pain.
With a blank expression and a flat voice, Jalmari spoke. “It is true, I do intend to wed her. I am sorry, Leena.”
I could only stare, aghast, as the woman before me, once so fierce and full of fire, coiled and fell to her knees, completely drained of verve. She trembled while holding herself, a curtain of wet black hair covering her pale face.
I wanted to run to her, to comfort her, to tell her Jalmari was a complete dumb-ass. But I didn’t. I just stood there.
Jalmari stood his ground as well, his fists clenched tight. I glared at him. How could you? At least have the guts to say something, you spineless jerk.
Leena raised her face, looking at the brick wall next to her instead of at Jalmari. She whispered. “Let me go.”
Jalmari’s expression shattered. His eyes widened with dread. “Leena, no.”
“Damn it, Jalmari! Haven’t you kept me prisoner in this game long enough? I loved you, I did everything you asked of me. I knew it would come to this, I knew… eventually… but I never thought…” She breathed heavily and shook her head. “Damn you and your selfishness.”
“Leena, you don’t understand. I do love you, it’s just… ”
Asshole, I thought. I felt like I was watching Anthony recite the same lines, the same bullshit excuses. What the heck went through a man’s head? Jalmari and I hadn’t so much as held hands without sneering at each other, and he was thinking about marriage? Me, over Leena? I wanted to kick him where all men were most sensitive.
“Don’t, Jalmari. Please. Don’t make me sit on the sidelines and watch. I can’t bear it. I’ll sooner kill myself. Please… the least you can do is let me go.” She lowered her head and shook as rain gathered in a puddle around her legs.
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