Secret Life of a Vampire(7)

By: Kerrelyn Sparks
Chapter Seven
  

Before the invention of synthetic blood, Jack had preyed on women in order to survive. It was not something he was particularly proud of, but he had always made sure it was pleasurable for the woman. He would invade her thoughts and read exactly what she wanted. If she craved sex, he made sure she was fully satisfied. If she needed comfort and understanding, he gave her that. Then he would quietly take a pint of blood and erase her memory.
Lara was different. He couldn't tell what she wanted, and if he made a mistake, he couldn't erase it and start over.
It was terrifying. It was exciting. It was like being mortal again. All his senses were centered on now. He had to do it right, right now. That made him feel more alive than he had in many years. And more vulnerable.
His old insecurities crept back. Could he please her if he didn't know what she wanted? He was over two hundred years old, so he certainly had his technique down. But Lara was different. She deserved more than a practiced routine. This was a memory he couldn't erase, so it needed to be special.
He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth and caressed it with his tongue. That elicited a moan deep in her throat, and his heart swelled with joy. He was pleasing her. He swept his tongue across the seam of her lips.
They opened.
He was undone. How could he not fall for Lara? She was opening up to him without the use of vampire tricks. He molded his mouth against hers, and she kissed him back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. Santo cielo. She wanted Jack, the man. Not Giacomo, the Casanova. Nor Jack, the vampire. She wanted him.
With a growl, he enveloped her in his arms. Her answering whimper sounded sweet. Like a surrender. And that ignited a passion in him, a need long dormant, the need to possess a woman and lay claim to her. He swirled his tongue inside her mouth, and she stroked it with her own. She tasted of wine and chocolate, both tart and sweet. She was both vixen and angel, and he wanted to pounce on her and worship her at the same time.
He moved his hands down her back, his fingers splayed and pressing her against him. She melted in his arms and clutched his shoulders. So giving, yet so demanding. To hell with years of finesse and well-mannered seduction. He wanted it raw and honest. He wanted to make her scream.
He grabbed her buttocks and pulled her tight against his erection. She gasped, breaking their kiss. He trailed kisses to her neck. He could smell her Type A blood, pulsing wildly in the carotid artery. Her rapid heartbeat echoed in his ears. Her fingers dug into his skin.
"Lara," he whispered in her ear. "I want you."
She trembled in his arms.
He nuzzled his nose against her neck. God, he wanted to lick her. He wanted to set her over the edge. Normally, he could use mind control, coupled with vampire saliva, to bring a woman to climax just by laving her neck. It was an old trick to make the penetration of fangs feel orgasmic instead of painful. But he didn't need to feed, and he had no mental connection to Lara. He wasn't sure she would feel anything at all.
He pressed his lips against the pulsing artery. His gums tingled, aching to release his fangs. Even with a full stomach, she was a huge temptation. He dragged his tongue up her neck, and she shuddered.
"Jack." She raked her hands into his hair.
She did feel it. The old-fashioned way. Her reactions were honest, just like her. His erection strained against his pants. Merda. He was about to burst. He rested his brow against her temple and took deep breaths. Her breasts pushed against him as she also struggled to breathe.
"Wow," she whispered.
"Santo cielo," he breathed.
"What is that? 'Holy… sky'?"
"Heaven."
"Oh yeah. Definitely." Her hands smoothed down his back. "Good news. I have determined that your tongue isn't forked."
"That's a relief." He moved back a tiny bit to stop torturing his groin.
She gasped and pulled her hands away from him.
Merda. Too late he realized his vision was still tinted rosy pink, He'd managed to hide it before the kiss, but now…
"Your eyes are red!" She scooted away from him.
"Bellissima, don't be concerned. It is nothing."
"Bull hockey! Red glowing eyes are definitely something. I don't know what, but you'd better tell me."
How could he explain this? "It is simply an indication that I'm… turned on."
She stiffened. "Turned on? Like an android? You're like Data?"
Jack hesitated. He wasn't sure what she meant. Unfortunately, Lara took his pause as an assent.
"I can't believe it, although it does explain a lot." She gave him a curious look. "I didn't think androids could kiss like that. You'll put real men out of business."
"Lara—"
"Do you have an on-and-off switch?" She reached behind him and raked her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. "I think Data's switch was around here."
"Lara, I'm not an android. I have a heart, remember?"
"It could be an artificial heart. Or you could be like the Bionic Man, with just a few mechanical parts. It would explain your super speed and hearing." She dragged her hand over his shoulder and down his chest. "Where's the switch?"
She wasn't listening. Poor girl, she was too desperate to make sense of the situation.
She slid her hand down to his navel. "Is this it?"
He couldn't resist. "A little lower."
She glanced lower, and the bulge in his pants was larger than before. "Oh come on." She swatted him on the arm. "That's not a switch. Though it might be a little off button."
"It's more like a lever. And if you grabbed it, I would definitely get off."
She snorted. "You've got to be a normal guy. You've been trying to get a hand job all night."
He grinned. "Bellissima, when it comes to receiving pleasure, I always say ladies first."
Her cheeks flushed. "I should have known you couldn't be an android. No one would ever program a machine to be as outrageous as you."
"You wouldn't want me to be a machine, would you?"
"No, but I still don't know what or who you are." She turned and opened the dryer door. "You might as well get dressed. It's obvious you're not going to tell me."
"Lara." He touched her shoulder. "I am sorry."
With a sigh, she removed his black T-shirt. "I don't understand why you can't tell me."
He took the warm T-shirt. "It's a matter of security. There are… others who would be in danger if I said too much."
"Others like you?"
He pulled the T-shirt over his head. "I really shouldn't say."
"There's got to be a way around this." She shut the dryer door. "What if I did the talking, and if I'm wrong you can say so, but if I'm right, you say nothing."
That might be safe for a few questions. He seriously doubted she would ever guess he was a vampire.
"Are you an alien?"
"No." He tucked his T-shirt into his jeans.
"Do you have any metal parts, like the Bionic Man?"
"No."
She placed a hand on his chest. "You're a live, human male?"
"At the moment." His heart was beating now, but it would stop at sunrise.
Her mouth quirked. "You're only male at the moment?"
"If you doubt my masculinity, love, just slide your hand a little lower."
She laughed. "You never give up."
He touched her cheek. "I'm afraid I have to, for the night. I need to go to work."
"Where do you work?"
"Wherever I'm assigned."
She grabbed his shirt and squeezed the cotton in her fists. "You're driving me crazy!"
"Cara mia." He slid his hand around the nape of her neck. "The feeling is mutual."
"Why can't you trust me?" she whispered. "You came to my rescue. You probably saved my life. We shared a really nice kiss—"
"Nice?"
"Really nice." She gave him an annoyed look. "Okay, it was super-duper über-hot The point is, I would never do any thing to hurt you. You can trust me."
His heart ached. He knew she meant the words now, but if she knew the truth, she'd consider him a monster. "Lara." He rested his forehead against hers. "I wish I could be the man you want me to be. The kind of man you deserve."
She touched his face. "What's stopping you?"
He closed his eyes. "Life… and death." She was one, and he was the other.
"I don't understand."
"I know." He pressed a kiss against her brow. It was best for him never to see her again. But the thought of never holding her in his arms again, never hearing the sound of her laughter, never gazing into the blue heaven of her eyes—it was wrenching his heart in two.
But what choice did he have? Either she could remain ignorant and remember him fondly, or she could learn too much and recall him with disgust. The former option was the best for both of them. "Good night, Lara."
Good-bye, cara mia. He strode from her apartment, wishing he were dead. Unfortunately, that wish came true with every sunrise.

Five days passed with no word from Jack. Lara tried not to think about him, but how could she forget the most intriguing man she'd ever met? Or forget the hottest kiss she'd ever received?
Five long days. He had to be avoiding her. Obviously, he didn't want to tell her about himself, but couldn't they still be friends? Deep inside she felt he could be trusted. He'd come to her rescue. He'd protected her from harm. He'd been very apologetic about his inability to explain. He had to be a good man. And he was one hell of a good kisser.
LaToya kept bugging her to call him, but Lara resisted. LaToya had run his plates, so she knew his address, but Lara refused to go see him. She was hurt and disappointed that he hadn't confided in her, so she was avoiding him, too.
She wasn't supposed to return to work yet, so she spent the days cooking, cleaning, and watching DVDs, mostly romantic comedies. None of the heroes were as sexy as Jack. She avoided watching her stash of sci-fi reruns. It would be too annoying to watch the characters teleporting.
When the phone rang Sunday afternoon, her heart lurched. Was Jack finally calling? She lunged for the receiver, then mentally slapped herself. Don't act desperate.
She lifted the receiver to her ear in slow motion and assumed a bored voice. "Hello?"
"Hey, girl."
Her shoulders slumped at the sound of LaToya's voice.
"Hey."
"I'm getting off work soon," LaToya said. "Meet me at Morningside Park in thirty minutes."
"Why?"
"Can't explain now. See ya soon." LaToya lowered her voice. "Don't forget your badge."
"What?" Lara asked, but her roommate had already hung up. What was LaToya up to? She usually came straight home when her shift ended.
Thirty minutes later, Lara waited by the park's main entrance and spotted LaToya headed her way, still in her patrol officer's uniform.
"What's up?" Lara swung her handbag over her shoulder.
"I want to show you something." LaToya led her toward the entrance to Columbia University. "I didn't want to talk about it while I was still at work. The case has been turned over to some detectives there, so I'm not supposed to be involved with it anymore."
"What case?"
"A missing college student. Vanessa Carlton. My partner and I answered the nine-one-one call, then later, we turned it over to the detectives."
"So why are we here?" Lara asked.
LaToya adjusted her sunglasses against the late afternoon glare. "I was there when the detectives questioned the girls in the dorm, and it was really weird. I kept remembering the way you described Harvey and the paramedics when they were under Jack's mind control."
Lara flinched. "You think Jack is involved with this girl's disappearance?"
"I don't know what to think. And I couldn't tell the detectives about what happened to Harvey when he doesn't remember it. We would both look crazy."
"That's true."
"So I thought you'd better see these girls," LaToya continued. "You've seen mind control before, so maybe you can tell if that's what happened to them."
Lara's heart sank. "Okay." She'd always known Jack was different. Unusual. But she'd never thought he was a criminal. He couldn't be involved with this. Please.
She followed LaToya into the dormitory. A bulletin board covered the wall close to the entrance. Brightly colored paper announced seminars and parties.
Girls stood in small clusters in the hallway, whispering to each other. When they noticed LaToya in her uniform, they hushed, and a silent aura of fear hovered over them.
"Officer?" one of the girls asked. "Any news about Vanessa?"
"Not yet, sorry," LaToya said.
The girls nodded and filed into their rooms.
"This is Vanessa's room." LaToya knocked on Room 116, then raised her voice. "NYPD."
The door cracked, and a young woman peered out. Young, about eighteen, Lara figured. Round, chubby face and innocent eyes.
"Did you find her?" Her eyes were wide with hope.
"We're still working on it," LaToya said. "Megan, I brought another… detective here to ask you a few questions." LaToya motioned toward Lara. "Can we come in?"
"Sure." Megan opened the door. "But I already told the other detectives everything I know." She sat cross-legged on a twin-sized bed and set a bowl of M&M'S in her lap. "Want some?"
"No thank you." Lara sat at the desk chair that was situated between the two twin beds.
LaToya perched on the other bed and removed a pad of paper and a pen from her shirt pocket.
Lara began with questions about Vanessa's schedule, her girlfriends, boyfriends, enemies, her favorite pastimes or places to hang out. LaToya busily took notes while Megan answered between mouthfuls of candy.
"Do you have a recent photo of Vanessa?" Lara asked.
"Well, the other detectives took the best one." Megan grabbed a photo album off the desk and thumbed through it. "This one's pretty good." She handed it over.
Lara studied the photo. "Auburn hair, blue eyes, slim build."
"Yeah. Vanessa's really pretty." Megan gave her bowl of M&M'S a guilty look. "She's not overweight like me."
"Any trouble with guys?" Lara asked.
Megan shook her head, and her brown curls bounced about her face. "People are always assuming that Vanessa dates a lot, but it's not true. She… she's sorta picky. She wants to save herself for the right guy."
"I see." The missing girl didn't sound like the type to run off to have an affair. Lara turned to LaToya. "Has her family been contacted?"
"Yeah," LaToya said. "They have no idea where she is. They say she's never run off like this before."
"And the ex-boyfriend checked out?" Lara asked.
"Yeah. He has an alibi. And he's happily engaged to another girl. It's a dead end."
Lara focused back on Megan. "You have no idea where she could be?"
"Nope." Megan shoved more candy into her mouth. She filled her hand with more M&M'S.
"Did you go anywhere with Vanessa last night?" Lara asked.
Megan's hand went slack, and the M&M'S fell with a pattering sound back into the bowl. Her face went blank. "We were in our room, studying."
A chill crept up Lara's arms. Megan's face was expressionless, just the way Harvey's had been. The paramedics and the Trents had looked the same way. God, no. Don't let Jack be involved with this.
"I told you it was weird," LaToya whispered.
Lara cleared her throat. "Megan, it was Saturday night. Surely you went somewhere? Maybe to get something to eat?"
"We were in our room, studying," Megan repeated.
"And Vanessa never went out at all?"
"We were in our room, studying," Megan whispered.
"I understand." Lara stood and slipped Vanessa's photo into her jeans pocket. "Thank you for your time."
Megan blinked and looked surprised. "You're going?"
"Yes. I'll keep in touch." Lara headed for the door.
"Okay." Megan's eyes were once again eager. "I hope Vanessa will be okay. She… she's really nice to me, you know. She showed me the proper way to put on makeup."
LaToya led Lara down the dormitory hall. "You see what I mean by weird? Megan was acting normal, then she turned into a zombie."
"I know," Lara grumbled. "It looked like she'd been programmed."
"And we know only one person who's capable of doing that."
Lara winced. Not Jack, please. "There could be others with that ability." Hadn't he said something about protecting others? Others who could be like him? But if his friends were capable of kidnapping, what did that say about Jack?
LaToya knocked on door 124. "Vanessa's friends live here. Carmen and Ramya."
Lara talked to the two girls. They were both pretty brunettes. Carmen looked Hispanic and Ramya came from India. They were clearly worried about Vanessa and eager to help in any way they could. Until Lara asked if they'd gone out the night before.
Their faces went blank and their eyes shuttered. "We were in our room, studying," they answered in unison.
Gooseflesh slithered down Lara's arms. "Thank you." When the door shut, she turned to LaToya. "Don't say it. It can't be Jack."
LaToya grimaced, then headed toward the stairs. "There's someone else I want you to meet."
Lara followed her up to the second floor. "All three girls were programmed to say the same thing. They must have all gone out together. But why was Vanessa abducted, and the other girls sent back?"
"Maybe the perp can handle only one vie at a time." LaToya turned right, down the hall.
"I don't think so. With mind control, he could handle a room full of women. He wouldn't even need restraints. They would just obey him like sheep."
"Well, that's a good point." LaToya knocked on a door. "This is Roxanne's room."
A girl with dyed black hair, heavy black eyeliner, and a lip ring answered the door. "Yeah, what?"
"I'll tell you what," LaToya said. "Megan, Carmen, and Ramya all claim they were in their rooms last night, studying."
"Well, I can't swear under oath about Carmen and Ramya. I didn't go to their room. But I know Vanessa went out, so the other girls had to be with her. They follow her everywhere like puppy dogs. It's freaking pathetic."
"How do you know Vanessa went out?" Lara asked.
Roxanne rolled her eyes. "Look, I was really suffering from menstrual cramps, and Vanessa-she's like a freaking pharmacy down there. So I went to her room to score some Midol, and no one answered the door. It was locked, but I was really desperate, you know. So I jimmied the lock and went inside."
"What did you see?" Lara asked.
"A box of Midol in the top drawer of her dresser, so I took two pills. Left her fifty cents. I'm not a thief, you know." She slanted a worried look at LaToya. "You guys aren't going to arrest me, are you?"
"You're fine," Lara assured her. "But are you saying the room was empty? Vanessa wasn't there?"
"Duh. Vanessa and her chubby sidekick were gone."
"Any idea where they went?" Lara asked.
Roxanne snorted. "I don't know. Maybe she went shopping or to get her nails done. She really freaks out if her nails aren't perfect. Or her hair. She's got about fifty different tote bags for her books, so she can coordinate them with whatever she's wearing each day."
LaToya narrowed her eyes. "You don't like her much, do you?"
"Oh, brilliant detective work, Nancy Drew. But if you think I'd do anything to hurt Vanessa, you're crazy. She paid me three hundred bucks to type her papers this semester. I need her." Roxanne grimaced. "And the whole thing kinda freaks me out. The same thing happened last year to Brittney Beckford. She disappeared, and the cops never found her."
Lara exchanged a worried look with LaToya. Brittney had gone missing before they'd arrived in New York. How long had Jack been in New York? "Can you describe Brittney?"
"Typical spoiled rich preppie," Roxanne grumbled.
"English?" LaToya pulled out her notebook and pen.
Roxanne sighed. "Long hair, bleached strawberry blond. Fake tan. Blue eyes due to her contacts. Collagen lips. Fake friends who have forgotten her. The only thing real about Brittney was her low IQ."
"Thanks. You've been very helpful." LaToya stuffed her notebook back into her pocket and headed back to the stairs.
"Fascists," Roxanne muttered as she shut the door.
Lara and LaToya descended the stairs in silence, then strode down the hallway to the dormitory entrance.
"Vanessa seems to worry a lot about her appearance," Lara said.
"She and a million other girls," LaToya muttered.
"Yeah, it sounds like she and Brittney have a lot in common." Two missing girls with red or reddish blonde hair and blue eyes. Lara paused to look at the bulletin board. A pink paper drew her attention. "Look at this." She ripped it free.
LaToya read it out loud. "Do you want to stay young and beautiful forever? Free seminar. Room 4, Student Services Building. Saturday, nine p.m."
"That would be the kind of seminar Vanessa would go to." Lara studied the paper. "Let's check it out."
They located the room where the meeting had taken place, but it was empty except for a few plastic chairs and a dry-erase board. They talked to the building manager, and he checked the schedule.
"Room 4?" His face went blank. "There was no one in that room Saturday night."
Lara gulped. Whoever had run the seminar had erased his tracks. Much like Jack had erased all evidence of him and his friends at the Plaza hotel. Damn! She'd wanted so much to believe in Jack. She'd wanted to trust him.
Her gut churned as they walked across the campus. She couldn't believe he was involved. There had to be someone else with his abilities. "I need to talk to Jack."
"You're in luck." LaToya pulled out her notebook and flipped through the pages. "I have his address right here. That Lexus he was driving was registered to a Roman Draganesti. Upper East Side."
"Then let's go." Lara's heart squeezed in her chest. She'd wanted so badly to see Jack again. But now, she'd have to question him as a suspect.
"What did you learn about Jack in our apartment?" LaToya asked. "You didn't say much about it."
She hadn't wanted to talk about his kiss. It had been too glorious to cheapen with gossip. A vision flitted through her mind—Jack in his jeans and no shirt. His broad chest and strong shoulders. His warm brown eyes that glimmered with gold. Or glowed red when he was turned on.
She swallowed hard. "I'm not sure what he is."
LaToya shook her head. "It's looking bad for him."
"I know." Lara's gut clenched. Please, God. Don't let Jack be a kidnapper. Or a murderer.