Blood & Curses

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Chapter 9: The Deal

Matthew maneuvered the car into a parking space while Eleanor tapped her heel on the car floor. She wasn’t nervous, but instead, was trying to keep herself focused on the task without giving too much thought to the bloodlust building inside her. Matthew grabbed her slender hand to ease her.

“This will all be over soon. As soon as he signs the contract, I’m taking you to feed,” Matthew said. “Besides, you can help me make sure to erase all their memories this time.”

She slid him a sideways smile. Eleanor knew how difficult it was for Matthew to control his abilities. With the others, it had come so naturally, but for him, it was like a mental block he couldn’t seem to push away. He wanted so badly to be independent but in the end, he knew he would always need his family’s help or he would have to resort back to killing his prey.

They got out of the car, a manila envelope under Eleanor’s arm with the contract safely tucked away inside. She had chosen to wear a navy blue pencil dress to accentuate her feminine features. While Adrian may have been a king pin within the city, he was still a man and it was something she could use to her advantage.

After bypassing the bouncer, Melaina escorted them up to Adrian’s study. They were becoming regulars within the club and starting to recognize each other by scent alone.

“Ah! Eleanor,” Adrian said as he strode over to her, taking her hand and placing a kiss upon it. She was surprised by the chivalrous gesture and yet, pleased that perhaps her plan would work. “You must be another Elderidge.”

He held his hand out for Matthew to shake, which Matthew took firmly in his grasp.

“I’m Matthew, Eleanor’s other brother,” he confirmed.

“So does this mean I’ve met the whole family now?” Adrian asked as he went behind his desk to take a seat. Eleanor and Matthew sat upon the two chairs in front of his desk.

“What’s this?” Eleanor asked as she picked up a premade glass of wine from the tray on the small table between them.

“It’s a special blend created by yours truly. Go on. Taste it,” he implored.

She took a sip of the wine and immediately tasted the sweet hint of blood within the dark red liquid. Trying to steady herself so as not to down the whole glass in front of him, she took a few more sips before placing it back on the tray. Seeing his sister not react in a negative way to the beverage, Matthew too took a sip, his face full of surprise.

“I think your wine is tainted,” Eleanor said with a sly smile.

Adrian leaned forward in his chair. “That’s the whole point. It’s exclusively being sold to vampires within the city who may not want to waste their time hunting. Sometimes, we just want to stay in and relax without having to worry about our bloodlust. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Eleanor gulped as her craving intensified. How could this man know about her weakness? It was like he could see right through her. “I’m sure you’ll have a large client base to offer it to.”

“Melaina, tell Emrick to load a case of our Lust into the Elderigde’s car before they depart. Let’s just call it a gesture of good will,” Adrian assured.

Before Matthew could object, Eleanor placed a gentle touch upon his arm. Matthew relaxed as Eleanor took direction of the conversation.

“Thank you for your gracious gift. I’ll be sure to let the other’s know how kind you’ve been. Of course, we have all been contemplating your offer of protection and your feeding grounds in exchange for our services and have drafted a contract that we believe may be suitable for both parties involved,” Eleanor explained as she laid the manila envelope on his desk.

Adrian flashed a brilliant smile at her as he took the contract out of its package and began reading the details. Eleanor crossed her legs as she watched Adrian read. For someone who was supposed to be their enemy, she couldn’t help but admire his strong jawline, high cheekbones, and sultry lips. His eyes were the palest blue she had ever seen and that’s why they had appeared silver in the lights of the club the last time she met him. He had thick dark brown hair that was disheveled. She assumed it was from running his hands through it, a sign of stress or worry.

“I see,” he commented as he sat the contract down on his desk. “So let me get this straight. You’re countering my offer and suggesting that I partner with you and your brother in a business agreement that you believe will mutually benefit all of us. Is that right?”

“Yes. With my massage parlor and his escort service, we can promote your club and possibly even cohost events together. The benefits will be financial, of course,” Eleanor ended.

“I’ll partner with your brother but not with you,” Adrian confirmed.

Matthew glanced over at Eleanor. It was a move that none of them expected. Eleanor was surprised and slightly offended that Adrian didn’t want to have relations with her parlor.

“Does this mean you’re still going to build your own massage parlor down the street from mine, like you had intended?” she asked. She needed to know if this was personal.

“No. You won’t have to worry about that, Eleanor. However, I would like to have free access to your facility as much as I please,” he replied with a smile.

“What’s your game here?” Matthew spoke up.

“No game. I can assure you of that. Just take it as a sign of good faith. My assistant, Melaina, will iron out the details with you, about the business plan. Would it be okay to speak to your sister in private?” he asked.

Matthew shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Eleanor reached over and touched his hand letting him know that she was alright to be alone with him. He nodded and got up from his seat to follow Melaina into another room.

“We’re alone. Now, what do you want?” she questioned. Her words were hard as they escaped her lips.

Adrian got up from his seat and sat beside her. He poured two more glasses of his special wine and indicated to her to toast with him.

“Cheers to a nice long and fruitful business with your family,” he stated as he clinked his glass to hers, taking a sip. She took a sip of her own and paused.

“I don’t understand, Adrian. You had both of our businesses served to you on a silver platter and yet you took a lesser deal for what?” Eleanor inquired. “I thought you were a savvy businessman.”

“I am,” he replied, placing his empty glass on the tray. “However, I’m not greedy. I’m sure by now you’ve met the Ashfords and they’ve told you all about our history together.”

Eleanor stiffened. “You could’ve told Victoria and I when we were last here. We’ve heard their side of the story, yes.”

“Then no doubt you know about how much of a monster I am?” His words were cold. “As much as I would like to say that I regretted butchering their workers back in the day, I don’t. It was all part of the process for me to get where I am today. I can say that their little curse did help me in a way. I had to learn to feed without getting caught.”

“Thus, the reason behind your bars and clubs around here?” she asked, taking another sip of the wine.

“That’s all part of it, but this,” he said as he pointed to his glass of wine, “is a game changer for every vampire out there.”

“I suppose it is,” she said, hesitantly.

“Imagine only having to feed once a month or less even? This product will not only prolong feeding for vampires but it’ll also be safer for those trying to avoid detection by Hunters. It’s harder to find those that feed when they aren’t feeding as frequently,” he remarked.

“I must say that you’re a remarkable person,” she mused. “How do you expect to market and distribute this product?”

Adrian shot her a wicked grin.

“Ah,” Eleanor said at the sudden realization. “Through my brother’s escort service. Now I see the reasoning.”

“Matthew can offer the product in his cars with his girls. They’ll be completely safe from frisky vampires since their thirst will be satiated while providing marketing for the product. Word will get around in our underground community and that’s all it will take,” he said.

“Sounds like you have it all figured out,” Eleanor said as she took another sip of the sweet, intoxicating concoction.

“I’m not as bad as they’ve painted me to be,” Adrian declared. “If you give me a chance, I can prove it to you.”

“You don’t need to prove anything to me,” Eleanor said. “I know exactly what kind of person you are.”

“Oh? And what’s that?” Adrian asked intrigued.

Eleanor stood up and set her empty glass down on the tray beside him. Adrian rose from his seat awaiting her response. She smiled as she reached her hand out to shake his.

“Thank you for the case of wine, Mr. Clemente. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other,” she finished before taking her leave. Adrian watched her as she sashayed away from him, leaving him speechless.

Eleanor smiled to herself, knowing his eyes were burning holes into her backside. There was no harm in having a little fun with the man even though his intentions towards her family were yet to be clear. It never hurt to have a potential enemy sweat under the scrutiny and she knew that appearances meant everything to Adrian. She wasn’t sure she bought this whole redemption arc he had planned out.

Eleanor waited in the lounge for her brother to make an appearance after Melaina took him back to revise the contract. She glanced up at the mirrored wall above her knowing that Adrian was most likely looking down on her right that second. She found pleasure in toying with him. If he was going to play games with them then it was only fair that she returned that same energy.

Moments later, Matthew emerged from the side door and followed around to her seat on a couch in the lounge. He strode forward and she rose as they left the club together and back to the parking deck. He was quiet, more so than usual. Matthew started the car and exited the deck before finally speaking.

“Adrian is using the escort service to get the word out about his new wine,” Matthew stated.

“Yes, he told me back at the club while you were away,” Eleanor confirmed.

“Really? Did he also tell you where he’s getting the blood from?”

“No…,” Eleanor trailed off. “Is there a problem?”

“I’m under the impression he’s kidnapping homeless people and using them as blood banks for manufacturing his product,” Matthew replied.

“What? That’s…insane. That can’t be true,” Eleanor said. For some reason, she wanted to believe that Adrian wasn’t the monster everyone made him out to be.

“I saw some medical files on Melaina’s desk before she cleared them away. They were of runaways, old veterans, and junkies they had found on the streets outside the club and his other properties. There’s something going on around here and I’m not sure I like being tied to it. If Hunters get a whiff of this, we’re all in big trouble here. It wouldn’t even matter that the rest of you aren’t involved,” Matthew continued.

“Is there a way we can prove this? I mean, we need proof before we go around telling the others that we just got roped into a huge vampire conspiracy,” Eleanor pointed out. “I suggest we keep this to ourselves. At least until we figure out what’s actually going on.”

“I don’t know, Eleanor. Adrian has a lot of reach in this town. Maybe we should all just get out of here while we still can,” Matthew admitted.

“We can’t do that.”

“And why the hell not?” Matthew wanted to know.

“Because…remember what Ebele said? Maybe we’re here for a reason. What if this is the reason?” Eleanor tried to explain.

“Ebele is an old, dead maid. Why would you put any stock into what she says?” Matthew asked.

“But they’re not dead, Matthew. Not really. They just need to find a way to get back into their bodies. That’s not the point though. The point is that we might have a chance to do something good for this town and I can’t leave knowing that there’s a chance Adrian is doing something like this. I have to know for myself,” Eleanor replied.

“I have a very bad feeling about this,” Matthew said.

“Please. Let’s figure this out together. The others don’t need to know until we know,” Eleanor said as she placed a hand on Matthew’s hand. He snatched his hand away.

“Stop trying to make me feel a certain way. I know you can do that through your touch and all but seriously, let me make my own decision without being influenced for once,” he said annoyed.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that,” she admitted. “I don’t always realize when I’m doing it.”

“It’s okay,” he sighed. “We’ll keep it to ourselves for now, but if I start to feel like this is going sideways, I’m pulling us out. You got it?”

She nodded as they pulled through the gates of the estate.

“Not a word,” she confirmed.

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