The smell of sulfur and dirt was still stuck in my nose when I woke up nestled on the couch. Kate was nowhere to be found. It was too early to start my day. I wandered upstairs to get in my empty bed. The sheets were disheveled and smelled like Henry’s clove aftershave.
A raw streak of fresh anger flooded inside my chest, filling me with a renewed energy. With no one sleeping in the apartment to disturb, I stripped my bed and began washing Henry’s scent from everything in the house.
Too early to run the vacuum, I went to the Saturday morning sunrise Tai-chi class in the park, something I wanted to do for months but never made the time to try.
When I arrived back home, I took my kitchen shears to the overgrown rose bushes on my tiny patio. I was busy gathering the clippings for the trash when Kate walked in the door with a bag of breakfast sandwiches and iced coffees.
“You have been busy, Sweetie. You feel any better today?”
“Is livid better or worse?” I slammed a wad of rose bush clippings into the pile.
“Better for sure. Have some caffeine.” I thanked Kate for the coffee and food. She explained what she needed to do to prepare for Sunday night.
A set of linen pants and a simple top needed to be hand sewn by her coven for me to wear into the White. Three necklaces with her coven’s sigil would let my group enter the Yolk under her protection. She needed the help of her coven and expected several of them to arrive before the party started.
“This length of cloth was blessed by a priest and then spelled by my coven’s priestess. I just need to measure you and cut the pieces out before the girls arrive.”
“Ooo, what a pretty color blue.” The fabric was dark blue, like a military uniform. The thread she brought with her was shiny silver.
The doorbell rang. A box appeared on the doorstep containing twelve unlabeled bottles of red wine and four bottles of pure olive oil. “We got wine and olive oil?”
“Emma sent all those supplies. It isn’t wine.” Kate wrinkled her nose. “Emma texted earlier, a few of her friends will be arriving to set up the space for guests.”
“Should I put her wine in the fridge?”
“No, blood is better served at room temperature or slightly higher.”
“Ugh,” I shuddered, losing my desire to finish my sausage breakfast sandwich.
“You would be surprised at the lengths some creatures go to live in this world.” Kate smiled and took a drink of her coffee.
“I’ve seen some recently. Pax gave me another lesson last night.”
“Really,” she swooned. “He’s been looking for a new host. Makes him even more dangerous than usual right now, be careful with him.” Thinking back over my night with Pax, he did seem more serious than normal.
I ran the vacuum all around the house and filled several bags with garbage. I imagined my mother’s disgusted face as she packed up my apartment. If I didn’t make it back alive, at least she would have clean rooms to clear out.
“Don’t think like that,” Kate grumbled, dropping the fabric to the floor.
“Think like what,” I snapped. “Stop listening to me, think!”
“If it’s within my power, you will make it back home.” Kate put her arms around me and squeezed tightly. “There are so many people invested in your success. Failure isn’t an option for any of us.”
“Thank you.” I kissed Kate on the forehead and brushed her hair off her shoulder. “And thank you for taking such good care of me. Those days are a blur to me now. My own mother didn’t care enough to come to check on me.”
“It was my pleasure, Sweetie. Your mother called and talked to Leo several times. I know they kept her at the Keith compound for days after you were allowed to leave.”
“Allowed?” I growled. “I don’t understand the other Clans?”
“Maybe it’s better you don’t.” Kate ran her hand down my arm and squeezed my hand. “I know. Go pack for tomorrow and find something sexy to wear tonight. There will be a lot of people here to meet you later.”
I nodded in agreement and headed upstairs. Continuing my cleaning frenzy, I pulled another bag of garbage from my room and packed my bags for my trip home. I even found a charging cable for my phone that was missing for weeks.
Kate was on her phone when I snuck out to dump my trash. She tapped on her wristwatch when I came back in the door.
The apartment was clean and empty when I ran upstairs to shower and change into my favorite black shorts and sequined tank top. When I returned, the living room and the recently vacant apartment next door were joined by a huge square doorway.
Gold Christmas lights hung from the ceiling flowing through both apartments seamlessly. A crackling fire pit sat burning outside on the patio, and a ten-foot trough of dry-ice packed with liquor bottles, wines, and beers divided my living room into two gathering areas.
The white fog rolling off the dry ice floated out the patio door past the flames in a dreamy cloud covering the floor in cold mystery. Green metal park benches that once lined the walking path outside my complex now lined the walls of the two living rooms.
All my furniture was missing except for my round dining table and its chairs. Six uncommonly perfect looking women sat around the table next to Kate, hand sewing the blue fabric and appraising my every move.
“Holy shit, Kate, where did everything go?” I asked with a bit more contempt than my old hand-me-down furniture warranted.
“It’s not here with us now,” she explained, rising from her chair.” but it’s not really gone. All the furniture will return when we are done for the night.”
Taking a long look around, I noticed the empty spaces looked particularly barren and clean of all dust. Even the paint on the walls looked sanitized.
“You aren’t going to wear that, are you?” Kate was draped in a silver form-fitted garment that looked longer than a shirt but short enough that her ass would be on full display if she bent over.
“I don’t really feel much like dressing up tonight.” The collective disapproval of the tribunal seated around Kate was palpable.
Emma emerged from the adjoined living room space, dusting her hands on a towel. Her silky burgundy one-shoulder top covered only the bare minimum side boob. The frilly top flowed nicely over a trim pair of black shimmery cigarette pants.
Emma pointed at a striking looking young man hurrying across the room. “You there, take these bottles to the second room.”
Emma looked me up and down as if I were dipped in shit. “Oh no, this will simply not do.” She snapped her fingers. A tall, slender man whipped his head toward us. “Take her upstairs and fix this problem. We are introducing you to your people, not sending you out to clean parking lots in a chain-gang.”
Soft, firm hands were on me, and the light scent of burnt sugar and bourbon filled my nose. It was heavenly and forbidden, smelling all at the same time.
“What? Who?” I stammered as we met the first carpeted step.
“Don’t worry, Lovely, there are a few things I do exceptionally well. Dressing you is the one you will live to talk about.” Like Emma’s, his voice lacked the same basic warmth you would expect from a polite conversation.
It felt like a supersonic butterfly was touching my face and neck with its wings. My makeup bag was strewn out across a towel on my bed. I could see the darting color of his green jacket and hot pink shirt as the man worked the space around me like a flamboyant hummingbird.
My clothes came off, and my arms raised. Lotion and powder fluttered in the air. A blur of steam and hot towels slid over my body. I closed my eyes and felt cold soft fabric slide over my skin. A heavy necklace was added and then removed, my earrings were changed and then changed again. Finally, I could smell hair products sprayed into the air.
“There we are, my lovely, open your eyes.” The man stood off to the side with a satisfied grin, his chin resting in his long-fingered palm.
“Wow, I look like Beverly Hills Barbie.” I turned to see the back of my black halter-top jumpsuit in my small dresser top mirror. “This back is so low it barely covers the top of my butt crack.”
“Beverly Hills Barbie needs a little crack, but I can prude you up if you’re ashamed of your body.”
“Not shame exactly, but a bit of class goes a long way. I don’t charge by the hour.”
“Fine. Here,” he said, whipping a few stitches through the garment at the neck and lower back. “Now, you only collect souls as payment for your affections.”
“Perfect, thank you? Sorry I didn’t catch your name?”
“Because I didn’t offer it.” The man smirked, leaving my room quickly.
I gathered my makeup, unplugged my straightening iron, and tidied my room. A wet towel hung on the towel bar. I began to wonder if he showered me again, as well.
My tall, beauty-pageant hair was too poufy for me. I let down the back allowing it to cover my bare shoulders. Slits down the side of the legs were more than thigh-high, leaving little but the bare minimums required by law fully covered by the clingy black fabric.
Looking over the edge of the stairwell, I could see the room was packed with people. Many were walking out of the next-door apartment, holding colorful mixed drinks. The music was low enough to hear the murmur of conversations floating around the room.
I spotted Kate sitting at the table with her friends. Emma stood talking with her group of vampires, nestled close to the doorway. I took a deep breath and headed down into the mix.
Emma saw me first and gave a little clap for my ensemble. The vampire who dressed me winked in my direction and took a long sip of wine. I smiled and twirled around slowly, even though the thought of chugging blood turned my stomach.
Kate appeared on my arm, pulling me toward the trough of drinks. Bottles of spirits I didn’t know existed stuck out of the foggy ice. Groups of crystal glasses sat chilling at the end of the long tub. The difference in temperatures caused the fog to swirl and linger as if by magic.
“Don’t sit with one group too long. Let Emma take you around and show you off. This is the original team-building exercise. Mingle.” Kate floated back to her coven table just as the heat from Leo’s chest reached my bare arm.
I smiled and pulled him close, taking a deep inhale of his cologne covered skin. Leo’s sparkling brown eyes catch mine every damn time I see him. He looked older and more refined in a suit. I could barely keep my balance standing next to him.