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11/Tread Carefully

Nash recounted our story from when he woke up in the cave, including every element. I inspected the floor to vaulted ceiling bookshelves. A spontaneous pick from the lower shelves credited the book to be nearly two hundred years old. I guffawed, which lured both men’s attentions.

Michael had a faint smile. “Careful with that one, the lower shelves are the oldest from my line.”

“Your line? Like your great-great grandfather?” I asked innocently, trying to add up two hundred years of generations.

Michael side eyed Nash’s suspiciously quavering body. “No, just my grand-sire. He’s gone now so I’d like to keep his belongings intact, if you don’t mind.” He motioned for me to replace the book back to its rightful place.

I stuttered an apology and did as he asked carefully. While tucking a stray hair behind my ear I cringed at how greasy it felt. “I don’t mean to be rude but could I-” Before he could grant or deny my request his secretary from before appeared in the door.

“This way.” Her tone was matter of fact. She turned on her pointed heels and clicked down the hallway. I absently waved a goodbye before dashing after her wiry frame. Every few forceful steps she took jostled her thick rimmed glasses down her nose, of which she would promptly push back up the bridge of her nose with one finger. A binder with an attached clipboard was held fast in her other hand. Most of her body was covered in a pinstriped pantsuit, her hair was up in a tight bun which revealed the two puncture holes on her neck. I tried not to stare, I really did. Either she had eyes in the back of her head or one of the gold adorned mirrors lining the walls gave me away. “What?” The word was clipped with haste and venom.

My automatic response was to rear back in defense. “Nothing.” Avoid eye contact and deny, deny, deny. Her eyes bore into my cowardly gaze. Was that marble flooring? I took a quick peek up only to drop again to the floor. “I was just curious, about the mark on your neck.”

“The master needed to feed.” Her expression relaxed into her normal stern scowl.

“Did it hurt?” I inspected the two puncture wounds from my peripheral.

Her free hand covered the fang marks in the time it took her complexion to turn a tomato red hue. “He would never hurt his loyal servants.” She sounded affronted.

“Oh no I didn’t mean any disrespect. I’m new to all this-” My hand waved in the air indicating the unspoken word. “I don’t know much about vampires or Michael for that matter. I’m grateful for his hospitality though.”

She turned on her heels again and took the staircase. “The master is very generous. I’m sure your companion has told you about how the humans have come to be his servants?” At my nod she continued in a brisk tone which matched her pace. We passed by two women in their late thirties folding towels on a side table. They quieted at our approach and dipped in a curtsy as we turned the corner. “My master took those two in nearly a year ago. They were starved and homeless for three months before he came along and gave them a home and a chance at happiness. All he asks in return is for their service and a small amount of blood every so often.”

She took a sharp turn, I belatedly turned and bumped into a man in overalls replacing a light on a wobbly ladder. He swayed from side to side before correcting himself and jumping down. I apologized profusely and retreated into a corner at his raised fist and beat red hue. My guardian angel came in the form of thick rimmed glasses and a wiry frame. “Lay a hand on one of Master’s guests and he will drink you dry.” Her inflection was glacial. It took a moment for the man to drop his fist. The rough hand flexed and scratched at his graying whiskers under his chin. He looked to be pondering whether it was worth dying over. A malicious grin spread his lips thin. A slender hand wrapped around my arm and pulled me from the corner down the hall.

My frame trembled in remembrance of his big fist. “Where did your master get him from?”

She scoffed at my question. “He’s new.” I attempted to get more information about my would-be attacker but she remained tight lipped.

We turned down a plush hallway with blue accents in the walls. My guide opened the second to last door with a key from her pocket. With a flip of the lights my breathe escaped in a gasp. The size alone was triple my dorm room, with a king sized bed and private bathroom and balcony. Floral portraits and oil canvases of a famous paintings scattered along the walls. The room smelled of the fresh roses in crystal vases on every surface.

“The room is to your liking I assume. A meal will be brought up to you shortly. Are there any food preferences or allergies I should be aware of?” I shook my head and she must’ve taken it as her cue to leave. After touring the balcony for a short and frigid second I made it my personal mission to wash every spec of dirt I acquired this week out of my hair three times. A fluffy white robe hung from the bathroom door. I opened the new toothbrush from its pack and completed my cleansing with mouthwash. After being dirty for so long I felt like a new woman coming out of the bathroom. A hot plate of chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes competed with the floral aroma. Washed, full, and happy I didn’t think twice about the knock on my door until I opened it.

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