Aiden had walked Janice back to her car when she had decided she wanted to leave. She had wanted to protest, she had actually opened her mouth to do so, but Aiden had cut her off by leaning uncomfortably close to her and whispering, "If I let you go off by yourself, I don't know what will happen to you, Janice. In case you haven't noticed, you walking straight up to me has attracted a lot of attention," and his eyes trailed behind her, prompting her to look behind her. Sure enough, everyone in the club had their eyes trained on her. The Vampires—at least that's what she assumed they were—stared at her with open curiosity and something...darker; something about the way they gazed at her made those warning bells that had saved her life so many times go off so loud to the point where they were defeaning. And the humans—at least she assumed they were humans since many of them were hanging all over the Vampires the way a toddler grasps at its mother—stared at her with open envy and a hint of respect. She could almost hear them thinking, You're so lucky. How did you do it?
In the end, Janice couldn't find it in her to argue and she let him escort her to her car. The two people at the door—the first Vampires she'd unknowingly come into contact with—watched in wide-eyed surprise as Aiden exited the club with Janice. Even the people standing in line all stared; most of them were gaping at Aiden though, men and women alike.
The woman in the leather catsuit just stared at Janice. The way she stared at Janice made it clear that she wasn't being rude and the stare didn't carry any loathing like she wanted to punch Janice in the face. The stare held some kind of morbid curiosity that matched the look the Vampires in the club had given her. The more Janice looked at her—with her perfect eyebrows, enviable figure and her shiny dark hair—the more enviable she became. As Janice watched her icy blue eyes grew brighter until they glowed and she flashed Janice a smile, sliding her tongue across her fangs.
Janice looked away after that.
Once they had gotten to her car, Aiden had opened his mouth like he wanted to say something but no words came out. Away from the club, he seemed like he was no longer sure the choice he had made was the right one.
"Tomorrow," Janice said.
Aiden looked up at her, his eyebrows pulling together in confusion.
"Tomorrow, let's meet at Happy Java. You know the one?"
"Good," Janice said, the words coming out as a sigh. "We'll talk tomorrow and you'll need to explain everything about...vampires," she faltered when she said the word.
Aiden promised her he would and Janice didn't doubt that he would keep his word. They agreed to meet at ten the next morning since it was the only time when Aiden could make himself available.
Now that she was back in her apartment, sitting in front of the board she used to keep track of everything she'd learned about the case, none of it seemed real anymore and she could almost convince herself that she'd imagine the whole thing. She had imagined the fangs, she had imagined Aiden being there. Hell, given enough time, she'd probably be able to convince herself she'd imagined Euphoria existed at all.
But the only problem was, she knew she hadn't imagined a thing. It had all been real. Knowing that made her wonder a lot of things but the most important thing she wondered was, Did a Vampire kill my mother?
She laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, willing it to cough up some answers. It never did.
Janice was relieved to not get a call from Commissioner Alistair the next morning. That meant that the killer had not claimed another victim. Or at least that no one had been found. That thought immediately turned the relief into worry. Part of her hoped that the killer just disappeared so that no more innocent girls had to be hurt but the other part of her wanted to catch this son of a bitch with her own hands.
Happy Java was only a walk away from her house and Janice greedily took the option to walk rather than to drive. The brisk October air woke her right up and let her think in a way she just couldn't do if she had driven. Janice tried to think of what she would say the entire walk over to Happy Java but she couldn't really force her thoughts to align themselves in an orderly fashion. They were all over the place. And honestly, she couldn't imagine someone who wouldn't feel the same if they were in her shoes. She was about to interrogate a Vampire. And while people often interrogated people who claimed to be Vampires, a good ninety-percent of the population knew that those people really weren't. They were just people who were fans of the lore and took it to the extreme.
But today, in Happy Java, Janice was going to talk to someone that she knew for sure was an actual Vampire. Of course, she was going to ask for more proof—could he snap a tree in half or run at speeds to quick for humans to detect?—but she was basically sure that Aiden was the real deal. The beautiful woman dressed like a dominatrix most certainly had been. Janice could feel that in her bones, that woman had given off an aura that was intoxicating and dangerous at the same time.
When Janice walked up to Happy Java—a little hole-in-the-wall café that only the locals and a few lucky tourists knew about—Janice saw Aiden through the glass. He was sitting at a table as far away from the other customers as possible, which was a smart move given what they were going to discuss, and he was drumming his fingers on the tabletop, his lips pulled in a tight line and his face anxious.
That made her feel a little bit better, knowing that he was as anxious about the whole thing as she was.
After a quick pep talk and a deep breath, she swung open the door, prompting it to give a little jingle to alert the staff of her presence. One of the staff members, a woman who seemed to be around Janice's age, looked up at the sound of it, smiled routinely and greeted Janice to which Janice smiled and tipped her head in acknowledgment.
Aiden was already looking at her when she walked up to his table and sat down. His gaze, steady and fearful, made her feel both excited and nervous at the same time. Her heart was pounding and her hands were shaking but she needed only to think of Ayana and the other girls who'd had their lives snatched away from them to sober herself up.
Seeing the change of demeanor, Aiden asked, "Should we order something to drink? Something to eat?"
Janice gave a nod. "Yeah, we're probably going to be here for a while."
Aiden went up and ordered. Two lattes and a half dozen of Happy Java's signature doughnuts. Aiden came to sit back down as they waited for their order to be prepared and Janice decided there was no time like the present. To be honest, she couldn't hold herself back from asking the questions that had been bubbling inside of her since last night.
"Are you really a King?" she blurted out as soon as he sat down. His eyes went wide with surprise and she felt a little bad for catching him off guard but she could restrain herself. "On Euphoria's website, they called you the King of the Undead and the redhead at the bar called you the king, too. Are you?"
"Yes," Aiden admitted.
"How does that work?"
"The same way it does with humans. My father was the king and now I am."
"Well, I have two questions about that. Firstly, your father is a Vampire, too, I'm guessing, meaning he can live forever and be young forever. I doubt he'd just give up the throne." Didn't most men dream of being king for eternity? "And secondly, you have an older brother and a brother who's around your age. How did you end up getting the throne?"
Aiden just sat there for a few seconds. Not because he wasn't planning on answering, Janice realized, but more because he seemed like he was wondering how much he should give away.
"We agreed last night," Janice pressed, looking him dead in the eye. "Tell me everything."
Aiden closed his eyes, sighed, and then opened them again.
"Among Vampires, there is a tradition. The throne is usually passed down from father to son but there are cases where the father is unwilling to give his sons the chance to succeed the throne. Should that happen, you have to fight to the death to take the throne from him."
Janice felt her blood run cold. She hadn't known her father—he had died before she was born, he'd served his country well according to her mother—but she couldn't imagine having to murder her own father to gain access to the throne.
"You couldn't—I mean—did you—?" She didn't know what to say.
"My father is alive and well. My father had some problems with giving the throne over, so when I celebrated my most recent birthday, I challenged him and he yielded. My older brother isn't interested in the throne. He loathes the very idea of it. He'd prefer to do collect first editions of famous books or haunt museums in Paris. The whole "king" thing bores him to tears. And my adopted brother, although he could challenge me if he wished but he's been busy doing charity work in other countries and handling much of our families finances. Neither of them is very interested in the throne."
"And your father?"
"He's alive and well somewhere in England throwing lavish parties for humans who can't help but be entranced by him. He gets off on that, toying with humans. He thinks it's fun."
The disgust in Aiden's voice was clear as day to Janice and then suddenly it dawned on her. "That's why you fought him for the throne."
Aiden looked up at her in surprise before he smiled, shaking his head.
"That's kind of creepy," he said, sounding like he was close to laughing. "But your observational skills really are excellent." He sighed. "Yes, that's why I fought my father for the throne. He was a good king for a long time, but some of the things he wanted...morally, I just couldn't agree. He wanted to keep humans as...pets. He felt we were superior to them."
"And you don't?"
Aiden looked up at Janice without any expression at all and Janice continued, "Wouldn't most people in your position think so?"
"Not me," he whispered, looking down at the table with his eyebrows furrowed together.
The lady at the front called out Aiden's name and he got up to get their order. His reaction had been strangely defensive and Janice knew she'd hit a nerve. Something about what Janice had said had hit Aiden deep and she wondered why. She thought over what she said again and again and couldn't see anything that could have hit him that deeply. Something about his gaze just then had been...sad.
He returned with a box of donuts and two lattes in hand. When they were settled again, Janice decided she'd file what she learned for later and not press it. The look on his face when he'd sat back down from getting their order told her he wouldn't answer any questions about his response, anyway.
"Okay, next set of questions," Janice announced, leaning forward. "Firstly, how old are you? And secondly,"—she watched him take a calm sip of his latte as she asked this next question— "you're able to digest something other than blood?" She glanced around after she'd said it, afraid someone might overhear her.
"To answer your first question, all you need to know is that I'm far older than your great great great grandparents. I've lived a long time. And to answer your second question, Vampires can ingest human food, just not too much of it. Much of our body is...dead, I suppose you could say. Eating is possible but it's also quite painful. Drinking, on the other hand, is another matter altogether." He raised his latte cup. "Our bodies can digest liquids quite easily but solid foods are a lot more difficult." He made a face.
The two of them sat there in Happy Java for what felt like only minutes. Janice learned many things about Vampires from them. No, garlic didn't make them fizzle out into oblivion but the smell was so strong that sometimes the smell got to them. Yes, they could be out in the daytime, however, standing in direct sunlight was a big no-no. Also, some Vampires actually did sleep in coffins—it helped block out daylight better than being in a bed—but nowadays, most vampires just used dark drapes to escape the daylight. Only Vampires set in the old ways still used coffins. He was about thirty times stronger than a normal human and twenty times quicker than a cheetah. Also, apparently Vampires could perform some kind of hypnosis on humans. It was, according to Aiden, a trait that all Vampires possessed. Beautiful. He'd also elaborated on the whole mating season thing he'd bought up last night.
"It's when most of our time go out and either find one person to mate with for life or sow their oats if you will." His lips twitched like he was fighting a smile.
"You're not participating?" Janice asked.
Once she asked it, she immediately wished she hadn't. Aiden's gaze snapped over to her and he gave her a lazy grin that, annoying enough, made her heart beat a little faster. He leaned across the table, giving her a seductive, level gaze.
"Why? You interested?"
She blew out an annoyed sigh. "No, I'm not. I was just curious about whether you were doing it since you're a king and all and it's supposed to be good for kings to "sow their oats.'"
Aiden laughed out loud at the annoyed look on Janice's face and shook his head before he finally answered.
"No. Fall and winter are the only time of year when Vampires are fertile. I don't want children, Janice." He gave Janice another come-hither smile and said, "But if you ever want to have some fun in the spring and summer..."
"You'll be the last person I tell."
"You're so cold to me. I can only take that to mean you're secretly in love with me."
"In your dreams, bloodsucker."
Aiden laughed loudly at that right as Janice's phone chimed. Janice looked down and the message she read wiped away all of the humor of their conversation.
Aiden seemed to know what had happened before she said anything but she said it anyway.
"There's been another murder."
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