Her fist clenched around a set of keys, Regan angrily sulked along the gravel road connecting the farmhouse to the barns and garage. She was not even sure which car she had selected, having only been shown a box of arranged keys and chains. Her other hand was still holding onto the plastic Meijer bag containing what was left of her blood-splattered, mud-soaked, dirt-coated wedding dress.
She was alone, in the middle of the country, in nowhere’s-ville Oxford. So far the only people she had met was a vampire had been a jerkwad of an aristocrat, his haughty witch of an assistant, and two thralls who were all about cleaning her clock with digging implements.
“Hey,” a voice said ahead of her.
“Daryl?” Regan stopped. He was leaning against the building, under one of the lights. She had been so busy glaring at the wide car doors that she nearly did not see him at all.
“Yeah,” he said a little sheepishly, “that would be me.”
Regan crossed the distance between them. “I thought you left.”
“We’re supposed to be running some stuff back down to His Lordship’s offices, but I just felt bad leaving you out here.” He reached up and scratched at the brown stubble lining his cheek.
Regan folded her arms. “You wanted to beat me in the head with a shovel.”
Daryl looked down at his feet. “Well, that was different. You see-”
“You wanted to beat me in the head with a shovel.”
Daryl shifted his stance from one foot to the other as Regan glared at him. “Does it help that the shovel wasn’t my idea? I guess it’s some kind of tradition, ties in with the whole burying them with it and then being there to rebury them if they come up wrong.”
Regan took a step closer, her eyes narrowing. “Fine. You wanted to beat me in the head!”
“Okay,” he said, putting up his hands. “I’m sorry. It was my first time at a rising and I kind of freaked a bit. I’m sorry.”
Regan did have to concede that Daryl had been fairly helpful and supportive in most other ways that evening.
“I got you shoes,” he offered.
Regan easily countered. “With heels so high my ankles threatened to mutiny against the rest of my body.”
“Okay, okay.” He reached up and put his hands behind his head. “I haven’t been a model of good choices tonight.”
She took another purposeful breath and sighed. It was now official in her mind. She missed breathing. “Fine,” she said, her tone softening. “We’re good. Let’s find my car and get out of here. I really just want a hot shower and a few hours in my own bed.” Daryl turned the handle on the small garage door and held it open for her. “Maybe I’ll roll over and find Harrison there and it’s all three days ago and this is one seriously bad dream.”
Daryl followed her into the darkness and hit the main switch. There was a hum as the various lighting relays came to life, and one by one overhead fluorescent rods came to life, filling the with a warm glow. Regan froze. Neatly arrayed in three long rows were dozens of cars. Small metal stands marked each one with bronze letters and numbers. She took a few steps into the space.
The sign sat on the floor of the garage before a midnight blue roadster with classic stylings. She had never been much of a car nut but she did appreciate the care with which this car had been maintained.
This marked a fire-engine red convertible, the top down and the leather interior shining under the overhead lamps. Regan leaned forward and could see her reflection in the finish and the chrome trim. She stood up suddenly.
“I have a reflection.”
Daryl blinked a few times. He had been following carefully as she made her way along the row of vehicles. “You didn’t notice that when you were cleaning up before?”
Regan frowned. “I did but it didn’t register then. I was so busy worried about how I looked that I hadn’t started to think about the fact that I’m not supposed to be able to see what I look like.” She leaned in again and took a moment to fuss with hair. “I still look like crap.”
They continued down the line looking at the various cars as they went.
“How many does he have?” Regan’s curiosity finally got the better of her.
“Between here and his garage in Bloomfield?” Daryl let out a long low whistle. “I’d have to say it’s, like, a hundred and fifty, now. They say he has one for every year starting in 1890.” He moved to see the keychain she still clutched. “Which one did he loan you?”
She opened her hand enough to see. “It doesn’t have any marks on it. Just the usual lock and unlock buttons.” She held the key up and pressed down on “unlock”. There was an echo from the back corner of the garage. Regan glanced briefly up at at Daryl then made her way carefully between a 1970 GTX and a 1971 Barracuda towards the sound.
“Oh.” Regan froze.
Daryl came up behind her. “Okay. You’re going to drive that?”
Regan offered the key over. “I already died once and the Earl hates me. I drive that, I am so going to scratch it and the Earl will kill me. That would be two deaths in two days.” She held the keys out on the end of her finger. There was no way she was going to get behind the wheel of a modern day hot rod. None.
Daryl took the key and went to open the passenger door for her. She slid down into the silver roadster, feeling the softness of the leather under her bare legs. It was as though she were slipping, bodily, into a kid leather glove. Taking his seat on the driver’s side, Daryl fired up the engine, easily put the car into gear, and maneuvered it out of its parking spot.
The breeze blew up over the windshield and down into the open T-top. The rush of air and speed gave Regan goose bumps along her arms as they made their way into the night.
“What is it with vampires and cars? They’re wickedly horrible investments. You’re better off buying t-notes nine times out of ten.”
Daryl shook his head as he eased the car around a curve and onto a long stretch of blacktop. “I guess His Lordship’s got a soft spot for them, domestics only. You won’t see a single import anywhere near his collection.” He pushed the accelerator down and the engine roared as the car surged forward. “You do have to admit this thing’s a thing of beauty.”
Regan had no immediate response and so she settled back into the seat and closed her eyes, feeling the power of the engine below her, the leather seat on the backs of her thighs, and the warm summer air washing over her face and blowing her hair back behind her. Daryl must have turned on the stereo as lyrics started to blast into the interior. The sound was so clear it actually caught her off guard, pumping out a mostly random infectious pop song. Regan laughed at the irony and shouted along. Her fist pump and shouts about “nitty-gritty, dirty little freaks” actually made Daryl chuckle.
The song ended with her laughing again, howling into the night and feeling, for the second time of the night, truly alive.
She leaned forward and turned down the volume on the sound system before the next song could flood the interior. “I’m starting to get the car thing,” she said, raising her voice over the sounds of the road around them.
An hour later they turned off the highway and into the side streets of her neighborhood. She looked over at Daryl as they rolled up to a red light. The car eased to a stop besides being the only one at the intersection. “I can’t smell you.”
Daryl blinked a few times before glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. “Okay,” he said hesitantly.
“Back at the store,” she explained, sitting back in her seat, “I could smell everyone. I could smell who had been there, what they ate, what they had been doing. I could tell you the three places in that dressing room that someone had had sex.” Her hand traced along the leather interior. “This car,” she continued, “just smells of money, with the leather, and the polish, and the ‘new car’ smell.” She glanced back over at him. “But I couldn’t smell anything from you. Is that odd?”
Daryl avoided answering at first by putting the car into gear and accelerating across the intersection. “I’m sorry but I’m a little newer to the thrall gig. I’d guess that was it. Thralls aren’t meant to be noticed. We’re just here.”
Regan considered that. “I suppose that works. I wonder if it gets worse or better.”
“The smell thing.” Regan put her hand out the open window and let the passing air push it up and down as they drove. “I really hope I get better at managing it. I nearly threw up before.”
Daryl did not respond verbally. Instead, he nodded a few times and continued to focus on driving. Regan sat a bit longer, letting the silence take over. She looked up at the sky again, tints of royal blue forming at the horizon. Sunrise was perhaps an hour away, if that.
“What else?” she finally asked. “I mean I’ve got a reflection so that was wrong. I drink blood and it’s like drinking a hyper condensed Jolt with a Red Bull chaser, so that was right. Super powered smell, sort of right and a little annoying.” She counted her new abilities on her fingers. “If I’m going live through another day, or, well, night, what else do I need to know?”
“Well, isn’t this really a conversation you should be having with, well, someone else?” Daryl looked disconcerted.
Regan shook her head in response. “Who? His Earlship wanted nothing to do with me. His assistant couldn’t wait to get me out of the house. My maker’s dead, again, and so far I can name more characters on the Jersey Shore than I can fellow biters.” She rubbed her face in frustration. “I’m kind of on my own here.”
Daryl shifted in his seat again. “Well,” he started, “I really don’t spend that much time around biters. The whole point of thralls is for us to do the stuff that you can’t.”
“Like what? Is sunlight fatal?”
“Yes,” he offered, “and no. It can be fatal, but it’s more like a really serious sunburn kind of fatal, not a burst into flames kind.” He checked the mirror again. “And you are definitely going to want to be in that bed by sunrise. Most biters just shut down the moment the sun crests. I know that His Lordship’s assistant can usually push herself an extra hour or two in a pinch, but she’s practically drinking straight caffeine by then.”
“We can drink coffee?” Regan felt her entire body rise in the seat with excitement.
“Caffeinated blood,” Daryl clarified. “I’ve never seen a biter eat food or drink anything but blood so I really don’t know if you can. Of course, seeing as I’ve never seen it, there might be a reason I’ve never seen it.”
With that revelation Regan slumped back into her seat. “So to enjoy a raspberry white mocha with extra cookie crumbs again I have to find someone to drink it for me?” She thought a bit longer, remembering the sensations of the blood in the coffin. Maybe she could live without her mocha. “What about stakes? Hit to the heart and we’re a pile of dust?”
“Not that I’ve heard,” Daryl answered. “But I’ve also never seen a vampire staked either. You could turn human again for all I know. Of course, a mortal with a stake in her heart probably isn’t the best of situations to be in either.”
“Can we?” Her voice dropped as she thought about it. “Be human again?”
Daryl turned to look at her. “Regan,” he started, saying her name for the first time. “I honestly don’t know.”
She nodded and pointed. “That’s my place.” Daryl nodded and eased the car to a stop in front of the townhouse.
“The lights are still on,” he observed, pointing at the upper window. Regan followed his gesture.
“It was nine a. m. when I left. I couldn’t have left the lights on.”
“Stay here,” Daryl said with forced firmness. “I’ll check it out.”
Regan rolled her eyes. “If someone broke into my house, I would like to know who it is.”
Daryl came around the front of the car. “Let me make sure it’s safe first.”
Regan started to open her door but Daryl’s leg blocked it. “What are you going to do? You don’t even have a shovel.” He paused. “And really, what if it’s another biter. Do you plan to face one of those, I mean one of us, alone?”
She could see his shoulders noticeably slouch forward in defeat as he stepped back from the car and let her out. They started, together, up the steps to the front door as the hallway light came on. She reached for the handle just as the door was pulled open.
Regan stood on the porch staring, her mouth open, at the man she had left, two days ago, at the altar. He was taller than her, like most, with short brown hair and dark eyes. Now they were bloodshot, and he looked like he had not slept since the failed wedding. He was wearing a white undershirt and blue jeans. She started to recoil. He smelled of Thai food, sweat, and either Coke or Dr. Pepper, it was hard to tell for certain.
“Where have you been?” he asked, his voice a mix relief and frustration.
“I’ve been,” Regan started. Did she tell him? Who could she tell? No one had said anything to her about keeping it all a secret. On the other hand, she had not known for certain about the existence of vampires until that night. That was unlikely an accident. She glanced at Daryl for guidance. He was watching Harrison, his clenched fist low at this side. She could see his arm tensing, preparing. He shook his head slightly, catching her eye.
“What?” Harrison asked, catching their exchange of looks and the time it was taking her to answer. “Have you been with him?”
“I,” Regan stammered. “No. He’s no body, just some guy.”
“I’m what?” Daryl asked, turning quickly from Harrison to her, his eyes wide in surprise.
“Well, not nobody,” Regan tried to correct herself. “He’s obviously somebody.” She glanced at him again before turning to Harrison. “He’s someone who drove me home. That counts for something.”
Harrison was still taking stock of Daryl, looking him up and down. “Thank you for bringing her home safely.” He reached out for Regan’s arm. “Now let’s get you inside and figure out what happened.”
Regan stepped forward with him, feeling the familiar grasp of his hand on her, guiding her into the house. She stopped and pulled her arm back. “I don’t think it’s going to work that way, Harrison.”
Her resistance had taken him off guard. His hand was still reaching out to hold her even though she had removed herself from it. “What?”
“Things are different now,” Regan tried to explain, unsure what to say, or even what to think. “I’m not sure this is what we do now.”
Harrison stepped forward and put his hands out to her arms, gently. He did not hold to her, but rested his palms against her bare skin. “It’s okay. You got scared. These things happen. We don’t have to talk tonight. Let’s get some sleep and figure this out in the morning.”
“No,” Regan insisted, stepping back again, out of his arms, and nearly back off the porch as well. “Things are different.”
“But they don’t have to be,” Harrison insisted. “We can still figure out what’s going on.”
Daryl took a step up on the porch steps, standing one down from Regan, which put them at about the same relative height. He looked up at Harrison. “It sounds like she doesn’t want to go inside with you.”
“I’m sorry,” Harrison said, shifting to square his shoulders towards Daryl. “I’m Harrison, Regan’s fiance and the one who keeps an eye out for her. Who are you again?” Daryl did not have an immediate answer. Regan looked at him helplessly. “Right,” Harrison finally, and then let out a long breath. “Look, I appreciate you bringing her home. But this is now something she and I need to figure out.” He turned back to Regan. “I promise, you and I are going to make sense of this, together. I love you.”
Regan knew what she was supposed to say now. She did love him. She knew that more now than she did at the altar when she ran off. But was that enough? Love was not enough to say “I do.”
“Look, Regan,” Daryl said, breaking into her thoughts. “I know a bi-,” he caught himself before completing the word. “Guy. A Bi-guy. A friend who just happens to be bisexual who has a place near here. We can crash there if you’d rather.”
Regan let out a sigh. She took a step forward towards Harrison, the house, the life she knew. She could see Daryl take another step back towards the car. She glanced at him. He was going to let her choose for herself.
It seems, dear reader, that our heroine is at a cross roads. What shall she do?