Dark Heirloom (An Ema Marx Novel Book 1), page 3
Unlike the man’s smooth voice, a Greek accent thickened the woman’s speech. Pointed teeth showed when she grinned. I hesitated, afraid of answering someone who could be my attacker’s mother. The only difference between them was her eyes. Black like dark pits, they lured me in, prompting a response. I slowly shook my head in reply. I wasn’t in pain. I didn’t feel much of anything, physically. Maybe they gave me a sedative. Morphine would explain some of this.
“What’s your name?” I asked hesitantly.
The woman’s smile broadened, exposing more of her sharp teeth. She bent her knees in a slight dip. “Maria, at your service.”
I tilted my chin in the direction of the pale-blue man. “And yours?”
He licked his lips before returning my gaze. “I am called Jesu.” He pronounced the soft J as a Y-sound; Yes-oo.
“Nice to meet you.”
“It is nicer to meet you,” he whispered.
“You look well,” Maria interjected, beaming. “Why don’t you stand up?”
She held out a pale hand to help steady me. Cautiously, I took it and slid off the edge of the bed, being careful not to snag any of the medical tubes attached to the IV. My bare feet stood firm against the wooden floor boards, but the sensation felt off. I didn’t feel the coolness of the wood I expected, and I couldn’t tell if the floor was smooth or rough. All I felt was the slight pressure of my weight anchoring my feet.
Maria released my hand and gently prodded my arms, shoulders, and neck. “Do you feel anything at all, darling? Weak, lightheaded, dizzy?”
I shook my head. “No, I actually feel numb. Was I given painkillers?”
“No. You’ll get used to the numb feeling in time.” She smiled.
What does that mean?
“You had a broken tibia and three fractured ribs when you came in, but you’ve healed beautifully. We can take those tubes out now.”
She reached for my hand, but I pulled away. “Are you a doctor?”
“Are you a nurse, then?”
“I have the skill but not the title. Now, do you want me to remove the needle, or would you like to do so yourself?”
After a moment’s hesitation, I extended my arm. Maria gripped my hand and gently peeled the medical tape away. I winced in anticipation as she reached for the base of the needle, but felt nothing as it slid out. My fingers flexed as I puzzled over the pallid tone of my skin. What happened to my tan? Then again, I suppose it was normal to be a little pale in my situation.
“I will send for Master Jalmari,” Maria said. “I’m sure you are wondering what happened. He is better equipped to explain things than either of us.”
My brow quirked. Who referred to anyone as ‘Master’ in this day and age? Suspicion burned in my chest. I was now positive this wasn’t a hospital and, though I didn’t want to admit it, I had a strong feeling I wouldn’t like whoever Master Jalmari was, but I did want to know what happened to me. “Yes, thank you.”
She smiled sweetly, then toted the medical equipment out of the room, opening and closing the door behind her like a normal person. I suppressed the urge to ask her to leave the bag of blood behind.
Definitely lost your mind, Ema.
I glanced at Jesu, whose emerald eyes traced the contours of my torso. I snatched the blanket and wrapped it around me. With nothing but a white linen nightgown, I was sure he saw a great deal more than he should have. I narrowed my gaze. “And when are you leaving?”
His regard rose to my face, but he showed no remorse for his uninvited inspection. “I think I will stay.”
“Can you at least keep your eyes to yourself?”
A sideways smile dimpled his left cheek. He bowed his head, then fixed his gaze on the scenery outside the window. An awkward silence followed, only it wasn’t really silent. His breath and heartbeat filled the room with an even tempo. I knew I shouldn’t have been able to hear the mechanisms of his body as clearly as I could, but my ears defied logic. His scent, the sweet fragrance of grass after a light rain, filled my mind with memories of spring. The fire snapped, reminding me of the odd darkness, yet how could my eyes discern such vivid detail without daylight, or at least a few lamps?
I rubbed my palms against my temples. I needed a distraction before the contradiction of my senses drove me insane. “What time is it?”
Back to crazy non-silence.
“So,” I traced the bed frame with a finger. “Who is this Jalmari guy?”
Jesu winced. “My brother.”
“Was he the one who… rescued me?”
“You can say that.”
“He brought me here, I mean.”
I couldn’t think of anything else to ask. At least, not anything I thought Jesu would answer.
The thump of footsteps drew my attention to the door. The sound grew terrifyingly loud as the steps came closer. I cupped my hands over my ears. A musky scent leaked into the room, causing my nerves to tingle. Jesu must have smelled it too, because his attention turned to the door and he moved to the other side of the fireplace. The vast wooden door creaked open. A polished black shoe stepped into the room, followed by the rest of the man who’d attacked me.
A gasp caught in my chest as I dashed to the opposite end of the room, the blanket still wrapped around my torso. A low growl rumbled in my throat and I blinked in surprise, unaware I could make such a noise.
“Stay away from me!”
His emerald eyes no longer glowed as they narrowed to bemused slits. With a newly enhanced vision, I noticed him in ways I hadn’t while in the shadows of the allies. He wore black Givenchy slacks and a crisp, button-down shirt. His ebony hair was gelled back, except for a single strand falling over his left eye. The darkness of his attire played up his fair complexion and enhanced his sharply defined cheekbones, the high arch of his nose, and his strong-set jaw. In complement to his features, his face erred on the rounder side and looked more soft than ridged.
He snickered while closing the door.
He tried to kill me, why is he laughing?
I sucked in a deep breath and thought about the times he’d pointed his dagger at my heart. I held onto those images to fuel my hatred. “What do you want from me?”
He scanned my body, moving only his gaze. “I want to know who did this to you.”
My brows furrowed. “Excuse me?”
“Do you know what you are?”
“Is this a joke?”
“Brother,” Jesu whispered. “She just woke.”
The man glanced at the floor for a moment, and then returned his gaze to me. “Do you remember your name?”
I squared my shoulders and lifted my chin. “Yes, and I know your name. Jalmari, isn’t it?”
Jalmari narrowed his gaze as he gave his brother a sidelong glance. Jesu shrugged.
“Yes.” Jalmari faced me and dipped his head in an informal bow. “I am Prince Jalmari ta Korento.”
I scoffed. “Sure you are. Do me a favor and ring the butler. Tell him to arrange a carriage. I think I’d like a ride to the courthouse to get a restraining order against Your Majesty.”
Jesu chuckled, but stopped cold as a snarl ensued from Jalmari.
“Come.” Jalmari lifted a pallid hand decked in thick silver rings. He began to cross the room, coming toward me.
“Don’t you touch me.” I backed into the corner between the canopy bed and the vanity.
Jalmari stopped and gestured to the vanity. “Look in the mirror.”
Jesu stepped forward, eyes wide. Jalmari shot a glare at him. He hesitated, and then stepped back and fixed his gaze on the floor while chewing his lip.
What harm can a mirror do?
I stole a quick glance in the ancient glass. I did a double take and gasped. The girl in the reflection was far too pale, her hair too dark, her teeth too pointed. Her eyes frightened me most. Flecks of dark re
My lip quivered as I ran my fingers over my face and hair. This wasn’t my reflection, and yet, I saw bits of myself within the changes. “What did you do to me?”
Jalmari sighed and stretched out his hand.
“Don’t touch me!”
He withdrew, turning his palms forward. “I did not do this to you. On the contrary, I hoped you could tell me what happened.”
“Liar. You know what happened better than I do.”
He winced. “I beg you, calm down. I rather we not make a big commotion of this.”
“Like I care?” I ran my hands over my body. It felt different, foreign. This couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be me. “Where are my clothes?”
“In the wardrobe.”
I scrambled over the bed to avoid walking past him and flung open the doors of the wall-sized bureau. My clothes and backpack were in the middle drawer along with something else I hadn’t seen in a while.
“My purse. You went back for it?” I snatched the handbag and opened it, but all it contained was some money and my chapstick. Then I noticed my cellphone. I yanked it out and pressed the power button, only to sigh at the dead battery. Silently, I vowed to carry a cellphone charger on me at all times after this. “What did you do with my credit cards and checkbook?”
“They were destroyed, alongside your driver’s license.”
I closed the purse and faced the men. “I want to go home.”
“I’m afraid I cannot allow you to leave.” The tone of Jalmari’s voice made me wonder again why I wasn’t dead.
Am I a hostage?
“What are you going to do with me?”
He studied me for a moment. “I have not decided yet. Until I do, you will be treated as a guest, so long as you behave.”
I didn’t get it. Was I a guest until he thought of a pleasing method for murder?
Jalmari smoothed a hand down the length of his pressed shirt. “I understand you are upset with me—”
“Upset doesn’t cover it,” I blurted out.
“Yes, well, I suppose I understand—”
His face quickly turned into a scowl, but I didn’t owe him courtesy after what he’d done to me. He cleared his throat. “For your protection, I must know who bit you.”
“So, now you’re concerned for my well-being? Just the other day you attacked me and tried to kill me. You’re a sociopath.”
A fierce growl erupted from his lungs. I cupped my ears and ducked as he lunged forward. Jesu jumped between us and shoved Jalmari before his feet touched down. The floor shook as Jalmari landed on his back. He pushed himself up again, fists clenched.
“Pois tieltä!” Jalmari spat as he marched over and jabbed his shoulder into Jesu’s chest. Jesu held tight to Jalmari’s shoulders and struggled against the force of his brother. He spoke to Jalmari in a foreign tongue. I remained crouched, studying them, ready to move quickly if I needed to. I didn’t know where these tactics came from, but I wish I’d had them before.
Eventually, Jalmari relaxed his shoulders and backed away from Jesu. He growled in the same language Jesu had used, then turned and vanished from the room like a ghost, leaving the scent of nitrogen in his wake.
“What the hell was that?”
Jesu ran a hand through his long hair and sighed. “I apologize. My bother has a short temper.”
“Not that. I meant the way he disappeared.” A light bulb brightened in my mind. My eyes widened. “We’re all dead. Jalmari killed me, and now we’re ghosts haunting this house.”
“You think this is funny?”
“Kyllä… I mean, yes.”
I crossed my arms and glared.
“You are not dead. None of us are.”
“Then how do you explain any of this? The way I look, or the way you look, for that matter?”
Jesu frowned and glanced at his hands as though noticing the blue undertones for the first time. He shoved them in his pants pockets and shrugged. “Simple. We’re vampires.”
I scoffed. “Vampires, huh? So we’re undead?”
He smiled and shook his head. “No. We are just as alive as any other being.”
I rolled my eyes. “Right. If I’m not dead, then I’d like to go home and get back to my life.”
His smile faded. “I do not think you understand. You cannot go back to America.”
My brow rose. “‘Back to America’? What do you mean, where are we?”
“I think you should sit.” He pulled out one of the wicker chairs for me.
He shrugged, sat in the other seat, and placed his palms on the table. “Ema.” My name rolled smoothly off his tongue. “We are in Lapland, in Northern Finland.”
My stomach sank. “That’s not possible.” I rushed to the tall window and peered out. Nothing but pine forest stretched to the horizon beneath the night sky. Glimmering snow frosted the treetops. Rays of pearly gray-blues and greens reflected in the moonlight. I definitely wasn’t in Chicago, but that didn’t mean I was out of the country, or even out of the state. Jesu could have lied. I turned my face from the window. “I don’t believe you.”
He bit his lip. “You have no choice, Ema. My brother will not allow you leave the island.”
“Island?” I refocused on the horizon, thinking I would need to strain my eyes, but my vision zoomed in like a camera lens. Beyond the dense forest lay a thin strip of brown followed by a thicker strip of pale blue; a cliff and a body of water. So, it was an island. I sighed, resigned. Lake Michigan didn’t have islands. I took a seat in the wicker chair across from Jesu and crossed my arms. “Go on then.”
He sucked in a deep breath. “Jalmari and I are princes of the Neo-Draugrian Clan. We are Scandinavian vampires.”
My brow quirked. “Neo-Draugrian?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “The true Draugrian Clan no longer exists, save for my brother and I, but he is only half-Draugrian.”
I bit the inside of my cheek and leaned forward. “Jesu, is this Neo-Draugrian thing some sort of cult revival?”
He snickered. “No.”
“Then what does your brother want with me?”
He glanced at his hands. “At first, he wanted to kill you.”
Duh. “But why?”
“Because, you are of Romani heritage.”
My chest deflated as I sagged against the backrest. “He wants to kill me because he’s racist?”
Jesu winced. “It is more like a job.”
“How does he even know? What if I was Hispanic, or a Hindu? I mean, I’m only part Romani anyway.”
He shook his head. “Romani have a very distinct scent.”
I frowned and then leaned my head to the side and sniffed.
Jesu smiled. “You are a vampire now, you no longer smell of gypsy.”
“If I’m a vampire, why did I need an infusion?”
“I told you, you lost a lot of blood.”
My lips pursed as I thought of what I knew about vampires. Most of my knowledge stemmed from a couple of Anne Rice’s novels and a slasher flick. “You said you’re not undead?”
He nodded. “That is a stereotype.”
“Right. Like a smelly gypsy.” I rolled my eyes. “Are you immortal?”
“No, but we live much longer than humans.”
I studied his face and figured him to be about my age. “What year were you born?”
“According to the modern calendar, 406 B.C.”
“Yeah right. Nothing lives that long.”
“We heal very quickly. When ailments are not a threat, age slows.” He inclined his head. “If you were still human, you might have died of blood loss. Your leg would certainly be in a cast, at minimum.”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “You realize this all sounds like bulls
“I can show you.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out an army knife. The sight of the blade startled me, but I relaxed a little as he unbuttoned his sleeve cuff and rolled the fabric up his arm to expose more of his pale blue skin. He pressed the tip of the blade into the soft flesh of his wrist then dragged it up along his forearm.
I gasped. “What are you doing?”
Blood quickly seeped from the cut, filling the air with a salty-metallic aroma. My stomach groaned with want. Then, the blood stopped, and his flesh sewed itself together. A pale scar ran the length of his arm.
“Wow.” I leaned across the table and ran my fingertips along his skin, but the scar had already vanished.
Jesu rolled down his sleeve and pocketed the knife. “Your injuries healed the same way. Your bone had already mended by the time you arrived.”
“How did Jalmari bring me here?”
I shook my head. “Security wouldn’t let an unconscious person board an airplane.”
Jesu laughed. “Jalmari doesn’t need an airplane. He can fly.”
I leaned my elbows on the table and cupped my hands over my face. This conversation was becoming childish and tiring. People couldn’t fly. They also couldn’t walk through walls or vanish into thin air, and yet Maria and Jalmari both had. Still, whatever magic tricks they were playing, vampires didn’t exist.
“Ema.” I peeked at Jesu from behind my fingers. His eyes sparkled as his lips pursed with concern. “Ema, I promised my brother an answer.”
My hands fell to my lap. “An answer to what?”
“Who did this to you? Who bit you?”
“I don’t understand. Jalmari did, you know that. You said yourself he wanted to kill me. I don’t know what made him change his mind—”
“Jalmari brought you here because you were already changing. If not, he would have finished the execution. There must have been someone else involved.”
I opened my mouth to argue, then paused. I remembered the woman, how her agile shadow broke my leg, and the way her jaw clenched as she stared at the pool of blood afterward. “There was someone else.”
Jesu perked up and leaned across the table, his face inches from mine. “Who?”
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