Casey resisted the urge to jerk around and look behind her; instead she let her eyes unfocus as she sipped her tea, reaching out with her psi senses toward the area behind her, searching for minds that felt dangerous or out of place.
She sensed the usual jumble of humanity that she had learned to screen out…
…and then something LEAPT out at her in the crowd… a sense of living hatred… powerful and deadly.
Her eyes widened for a moment, then she carefully schooled her features back into an expression of friendly interest for Camille’s benefit. Leaning back in her chair, she turned slightly and scanned the crowd with what she hoped was a casual gaze. “Yeah, Austin does have more than its share of weirdos, doesn’t it?”
“That it does,” she heard the girl respond.
Casey zeroed in on the chilling, hateful entity, trying to identify its physical presence. A small crowd of darkly clad men and women were milling about across the street. In the center of them was a man wearing a black trench coat. The garment seemed less like a coat than a cloak. The color was not black, but death. His dark hair was long, flowing about his head like a mane.
A lion, she realized. He was not at all unlike a predator, proud in his viciousness — self assured in the knowledge that he was the deadliest most dangerous animal of all.
Casey frowned slightly, taking in the death-cloaked predator and his entourage with an uneasy mix of wariness and fascination. “Some weirder than others,” she commented absently to Camille. And to Falco, **Who is that?**
::Never met him, but I know of him. Ronan Murphy. Hired killer. And vampire. He’s not here for us.::
She stared at the group now with an expression of barely-concealed revulsion. Most of them were vampires, she could see that, but a few of them looked human to her senses. Or…mostly human. Something wasn’t quite right about them.
She found that a good night’s sleep and a pleasantly-spent day hadn’t taken the edge off her abhorrence for the undead abominations at all. With the directness of youth and the naiveté of new power she asked, **Should we kill them?** Just beneath the question was an undercurrent of tense loathing. Her heart was already beating a little faster.
:: Perhaps later. For now, we ignore them. We do nothing to draw attention to Camille. ::
Casey reluctantly acknowledged the wisdom of that. It required a determined force of will to turn her back on the pack of bloodsuckers and return her attention to Camille, but at least Falco was in a position to watch their movements.
“So what’s your major?” she asked the girl with what she hoped was a friendly smile. She could hear the barest trace of strain in her own voice, but it was hardly noticeable.
“Art history,” Camille smiled, “It’s a truly fascinating field of study.”
The vampire and his entourage did not seem to note they had been observed. They continued on their way. **What’s wrong with the ones that look not-quite-human?**
:: They are humans who have drunk of the vampire’s blood. They are completely in his thrall. They are gifted with heightened strength, reflexes, and senses. As long as they continue to drink of the vampire’s blood, they live forever. In theory. It never quite works out that way. ::
Casey’s stomach churned at the whole idea. Drinking blood from a vampire…the image was grotesque, sickening. And to willingly — was it willingly? — place themselves in the control of those soulless killers! Could the promise of power and immortality be so seductive to them that they’d trade away their own souls for it? Casey could imagine no worse fate than to spend eternity under a vampire’s unholy mastery.
A little weakly she said to Camille, “It sounds fascinating. Do you have a favorite area of study?”
“Byzantium,” the girl answered at once. “You know, the late Roman Empire?”
**Do they come voluntarily to the vampire the first time, or are they forced into it?** Casey wasn’t sure which idea was more appalling to her. The cool March evening suddenly seemed chillier than it had five minutes ago; she pulled her light jacket closer around her with a small shiver.
::Depends. Both on the vampire and the person. Many are forced. Some are seduced. Others request it.::
While she was still trying to absorb those equally horrific possibilities Falco added, :: There are no limits to the degradation some people will seek and others will provide. ::
It was getting harder and harder to keep the expression of pleasant interest on her face for Camille’s benefit. “Right,” she nodded. “Constantinople, all the religious art.” Then she blinked, wondering how she’d known anything about the late Roman Empire. An instant later she remembered this morning’s dream…no, not a dream…for a few moments she’d actually lived the experiences of one of her ancestors. It suddenly occurred to her that to seem knowledgeable about the subject in which Falco has supposedly been mentoring her, she need only reach back to that ancient member of her family and try to share in what he’d known.
Ignoring a faint twinge of misgiving, she let her gaze slide out of focus again as she sipped her tea, mentally seeking out the long-dead silversmith in the sunlit bazaar. He was a part of her, he must be in there somewhere…
She had a sense of wandering through a dark reception hall full of people which she couldn’t see. The twinge of misgiving grew stronger. She shouldn’t have been trying this now, here, in the middle of Falco’s visit with his granddaughter. She was just about to shake herself out of it, when —
“Looking for me?” A lean man with long sinewy arms emerged into the light. He wore a raw, untreated cloth of grey. It was sturdy, rugged, giving him the look of a commoner. His flesh was olive in tone. “I am Usi.”
She stared at him, enthralled by her success. Thoughts of leaving vanished from her mind — standing face to face with her own great-great-great-etcetera-grandfather as though the two millennia that separated them had never happened was an unexpectedly heady experience. “Usi,” she breathed. “I’m Casey. But I guess…you know who I am?”
“That I do,” he answered. His voice was deep, strong. There was something peculiarly sensual about him. Without quite meaning to she walked closer, drawn to the charismatic essence of this long-ago artisan.
“What can I do for you, Casey? What service might I perform?”
Despite her earlier chat with her dead grandfather, Casey hadn’t expected this dip into her ancestral pool to go quite this way. She flushed, suddenly shy, and explained, “I’d expected…I mean…this morning I had a dream…or a vision…” She stopped to collect her thoughts into a more coherent order. “For a few minutes this morning I seemed to inhabit your body. I saw what you saw, knew some of what you knew…that’s actually what I was trying to do again just now. I wanted to know about Byzantine art, so I could talk about it to someone I’m with right now.” By now her ‘absence’ had probably been noticed — Camille must think she was some kind of narcoleptic. “I’m sorry, I should go. This is something I need to practice later, at home. It was nice to meet you, Usi.”
“Wait,” he said, grasping her arm.
Casey involuntarily stopped. She didn’t normally like to be grabbed; her instinctive response was usually to pull free of uninvited restraint. But Usi’s hand on her arm somehow aroused a desire to move closer rather then pull away.
His touch was warm; his eyes golden. “I can help you.”
Something about this man made her cheeks flush and her stomach clench with excitement. She reminded herself that Usi was family, that his blood flowed in her own veins. But the twenty-one hundred years that had passed between his life and hers made the matter seem trivial, unimportant, in the sudden heat rising within her.
She shifted fractionally closer, until her pale green shirt was nearly brushing the coarse grey fabric of his garment. “How?” she whispered. The masculine scent of him, the warmth of his body, almost made her forget why she’d come here. How could he seem so alive when he was little more than a memory, and less than a ghost?
His powerful arms moved around her, his hands stroked down along the center of her back. She gasped softly at the sensations he was awakening in her, at the way her body responded instinctively to his touch as if she were intimately familiar with the embraces of men. Her hands came up to rest flat against his chest, then slid slowly up the rough cloth to his shoulders, taking a reckless pleasure in the hard, solid maleness of him. His scent filled her head, more erotic than any cologne, nearly making her swoon.
His palms spread across her hips, pressing her against him. Casey’s blood turned to warm molten honey in her veins as she melted helplessly against him. She’d never in her young life felt this hunger before, this aching need. She pressed her flushed face into Usi’s shoulder, then lifted it again to look searchingly at his face.
His gaze was loving upon her… and hungry, hungry for her. His yearning — as strong as hers — was tangible. His expression mesmerized her, held her gaze as though she’d lost the ability to think for herself.
“I can help you access the knowledge of the ages.” His voice was a whisper, his mouth tantalizingly close to her own. His lips brushed hers.
“Yes,” she whispered, trembling now. “That’s what I want. Show me….”
She distantly realized that her shirt was open and that his rough, powerful hands were moving across her belly. A hand moved up her side, stroking just below her breast. The caresses drew a low whimper from her throat as she leaned into his touch, and her own fingers moved to twine through the hair at the back of his neck. He kissed her mouth, her neck…she clung tightly to him, tilted her head back as his mouth trailed kisses along her throat, sending hot shivers of pleasure through her. She was on fire with the heat of wanting him. She pulled his head down again, savoring the feel of his mouth on hers, the fiery pleasure it sent coursing through her whole body.
Her shirt dropped to the floor, joining his own tunic. Had she removed it or had he? Casey didn’t remember and didn’t care. She ran her hands across the smooth olive skin of his chest, her fingers exploring well-defined muscles and the flat brown nubs of his nipples. She lowered her mouth to his warm shoulder, breathing in the knee-weakening scent of him, tasting the intoxicating musk of his male flesh. Her senses were filled, overwhelmed, by this new experience; her newly-awakened passion cried out for more, more…
But then the sheer impracticality of her situation intruded, unwelcome but inescapable, into her awareness. Spirit journeys aside, right now her body was seated at a public table with Falco and his granddaughter and they must be wondering what was wrong with her. Falco may be able “see” where her mind’s gone to, but Camille must think she’s having some kind of fit or something.
Come to think of it, the possibility that Falco might be searching her thoughts and seeing her tryst with Usi brought a sharp pang of embarrassment…and for some reason, guilt. It cooled her ardor somewhat, made her pull away from Usi’s kisses and try to move free of his embrace. “Um…Usi…” she breathed huskily, “I can’t…this isn’t something I can do right now. I’ll come back…later…sometime…but right now I have to go. We’ll talk again later….”
His disappointment was etched on his face. “Carpe diem, little one.” He held her. “Seize this day… Let me share myself with you…”
She stopped trying to move away from him. Usi was too strong for her, and too irresistibly desirable. Instead she melted pliantly back into his arms, but focused all her mental strength on pulling free of the ancestral plane and returning to her outward surroundings.
“Come back to me, Casey…” his voice echoed as she found herself once again seated at the restaurant across from Falco and Camille, who was still talking.