Diner

Summary:

Based on the Choice of Games hosted game 'Donor'. Lenore has escaped her captivity as a blood donor to the vampires Richard and Paul. But five months on, she finds out that she cannot escape her past so easily…

Themes: Horror. Drama. Friendship. Romance. 'M'

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Author's Note:

This fanfiction is based on the Choice of Games hosted game called 'Donor', which is based – in turn – on Elena Hearty's novels 'Donor' and 'Bait'

Elena Hearty has kindly given me permission to write this not-for-profit fanfiction – which I wanted to write, because (1) I enjoyed the game's hostage-with-a-twist concept and execution so much, and (2) I wanted to further explore the potential and ramifications of one of the game's 'Happy Endings', after the heroine Lenore manages to escape her captivity. Due credit for 'Donor', and the featured characters of Lenore, Richard, and Paul belong to Elena Hearty.

If you are not already familiar with the source material, I do recommend that you check out the free trial version of the 'Donor' game on the Choice of Games website, so that you better understand the background to my story.

Italicised text within a key stage of my story is text copied directly from the game, to provide context.

Themes: Horror. Drama. Friendship. Romance. 'M' rating for some bad language and violence (there will be blood!)

Happy reading!

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There's someone watching me as I walk home in the chilly November night.

Even though I stop and look round as I approach the apartment door - only to see no one - I'm sure of it. I had the same sensation a few nights ago, and last night too. I didn't see anyone then, either.

I'm being stalked.

I swallow hard as I freeze, my thoughts racing through my head. I suspect I know who it is, but in the city suburb where I live… Well, I can't rule out an ordinary mugger. Someone on drugs, maybe. Someone praying on little ladies like myself. Ones who look like they couldn't even win a pillow fight.

Well, I am about average height. But after being around the likes of Richard and Charles for so long, I still feel…small.

It's been five months since I escaped my fate of dying…a slow death, but once again, I sense I'm in danger. I can hear my heart thumping.

Pulling myself together, I force myself to turn and walk on, carrying the bag that contains the new clothes that I've bought myself this evening. The wind is blowing against me as I stride towards my destination. Thanks to my passage from the base of one streetlight to another, my shadow looks like it's running from behind and overtaking me at times…

There's a lump in my throat as I put the bag down and see to the door. I pause at one stage, not daring to turn around. I thought I heard quick footsteps that then stopped. A moment later, I open the door and pick up my purchases, glancing back along the way I came. Nothing in sight. But I'm convinced someone is hiding, nearby.

Sucking in my breath, I switch on the light, then close the door and apply the bolts.

Walking to the living room, I put down my bag, slip off my jacket, and release the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. Memories of being a prisoner and being manipulated – not just this year, but further back in my life – threaten to overtake me. Seconds later, I'm opening the cooler and pulling out a bottle for myself. Twisting the cap and taking a gulp to steady myself. Then another. Within the next few minutes, I'm feeling calmer. Better.

Then there's a loud knock at the door.

Jumping in alarm, I quickly shove the bottle back into the cooler. I pull out the pepper spray from my handbag and approach the front door.

"W-who is it!?" I call out, with as much authority as I can muster in my shaking voice.

"Police. Please open up, ma'am," a male voice shoots back at me.

This is one of those times that I wish the front door had a peephole…

Taking a deep breath, I unlock the deadbolts and prise the door ajar a little. Silhouetted by the flickering light outside, my eyes take in the uniform of the tall man – but I can't see his face.

Then his hand shoots up and squirts his own pepper spray into my face. I shriek, drop my can and stumble backwards, dashing to where the cloth is. Within seconds, the man has forced his way in and seized me with one arm around my neck, just after I manage to wet the cloth and wipe my irritated face. I drop the cloth as I try to strike at his eyes with my nails, but he blocks me. Next, with his free hand the intruder grabs my neck and pushes my face into the spray of water that's still running in the sink. After a few seconds, he pulls me back up as I gasp, the drips running down onto my sweater and jeans. Because of how he's holding me, I can't turn round and see his face.

"Just as I thought…" his voice growls. "Your strawberry blonde hair is very nice – but I can see the blonde roots now…, Lenore."

Shit. Oh… Shit. Just as I had thought. Just as I had feared when I saw him a week ago, whilst doing my job.

"Rich…," I mutter hollowly.

"I prefer to call myself Ricky, these days." He gives a gloating chuckle. Then – after shutting the front door - he forces me over to the living room area and pushes me into the nearest chair. He sits down on the sofa opposite; his pepper can spray now on the arm of his seat – ready to be used on me again.

My own is somewhere on the floor near the front door, which he has closed and bolted again.

Wiping my face dry with the cuffs of my sweater, I force myself to look up at the man who had been stalking me.

"I had h-hoped I'd seen the l-last of you," I stutter.

He was still good-looking, dark-haired, lean, and on the tall side. I could now see that his 'police uniform' was an imitation. A good one.

I snort, trying to cover up my agitation. "Nice outfit… Where did you get it, Rich?"

"On the black market. But let's talk about us. That's why I'm here, after all." His eyes glint with cruelty. "Don't play any tricks, Lenore. Or I'll make it even harder for you."

"H-how did you tr-track me down?" I ask him.

He sniggers. "I have a contact within the police. You are on the missing persons register; you know. I've been wandering from one city to another since we last met. But me finding you in this city was a lucky shot. I wasn't expecting to meet you in the course of my job…"

"…as a pest control officer?" I interrupt him. It had been a week ago, during a gray, cloudy day, when – as part of my new job, working at the same apartment block where I now lived – I had escorted the pest control company we had a contract with, to the apartments where cockroaches had been reported. But one of the two men from the firm had looked at me strangely when he caught me looking at him, my face turning pale. Both of us had changed our appearance slightly since we'd last met. I had recognised him – and he had recognised me, despite my change of hair colour and the fact that I'd had it cut short and tied into a ponytail. Despite my change of name, too. Not that either of us admitted to it at the time. After all, he was doing a job – and his work buddy was around. In addition, it was my responsibility to be on hand, when they made a follow-up visit, to finish the work.

I was no longer in any doubt that 'Ricky' - as he wanted me to call him now – had been my stalker on those nights when I had been walking home.

"It's a job that allows me to get around. Check out any buildings with…suitable victims in them." Ricky's eyes turn cold. "My lawyer managed to get me off the hook, after you broke off our engagement and reported me to the police. It seems that fate ain't on your side, Lenore. You moved cities – and yet I've found you again. The one who got away."

That's right. This Rich used to be my fiancé. Until I got nervous about his controlling ways and abusive behaviour. And found out that his first girlfriend had died, apparently by accident, by falling down the stairs. When I did summon the courage to report him to the cops, I also discovered that – before starting his relationship with me – Rich's previous girlfriend had also been found dead. It looked like suicide. The police weren't sure. But there had been insufficient evident to prosecute my then-boyfriend.

And yet, for a time I doted on Rich. I had no real friends – having find it hard to form relationships all my life, thanks to my anxiety issues. I was the one left alone at any school parties. Moreover, it was a relief to have a boyfriend who seemed to want to get to know me for being me, who seemed to care about me and talk about what I liked to chat about.

But his charm, all the ways he managed to turn me on… All of it was a sham. My Rich was no angel. During our relationship, he gradually showed himself to be manipulative, a bully, and a misogynist.

Still, I wanted to know for sure about those poor girls. "You…killed Joannie. Didn't you, Rich? And Kelly…"

"Ricky," he corrects me. Ricky smiles with his teeth as he fingers the tip of his mustache. "You betcha. Joannie wanted to leave me – so I helped her on her way by pushing her down the stairs, before cooking up an alibi that made it look that I wasn't in the house at the time. As for Kelly… That bitch was getting too wise as to what I was doing with the money in our joint account. I managed to stop her before she got to safety." He paused and sniggered. "And now I'll have to do the same with you, Lenore. Guess that I'm working my way through the alphabet from 'J', with my girls! Ever since you slipped out of my grasp, I'd been hoping to track you down – and have a chat again. You know. For old times' sake. So, your name is now Charlotte Vincent, huh? Was that given to you by police protection – or did you come up with that one, with your love of horror films?"

"It – uh – it was my idea." My voice quivers as I spoke, playing for time. "I thought about my real surname – Edgars… Edgar Allen Poe. Those films based on his stories. Vincent Price played in them… As for Charlotte, I – um – just like the name…"

"Really? And why did you go missing for several months, earlier this year?" Ricky smiles at me. The smile of a man who feels that he's in control – and can change gear in his behavior just how he likes, without consequence, without remorse.

"Um. Well. That's a long story," I breathe.

He turns his head to check again that no lights are on beyond the living room area where we are. The apartment is silent. Still. "Lucky for you that you live alone, Lenore. I wanna hear your story!"

I swallow hard. "I was held prisoner by… By a pair of men, in an apartment, in another city. But eventually, I managed to get hold of a weapon. I used that, and my cunning, to slip out when the front door was briefly left open."

Ricky gives a sharp laugh. "You? You outwitted two guys? You ran for it? You were a poor runner when you tried to jog with me."

"Yeah, I was… But Paul – one of the guys – took pity on me when he caught up. He…he allowed me to get away from Richard's clutches."

Another laugh. "Another Richard held you captive? It must be fate, Lenore! So, you changed your name to…"

"I decided it was a g-good idea to make sure that neither you nor the other Richard would ever find me," I sniff.

"So, you hid out in this downbeat suburb, of all places. And managed to get a job that involved meeting people? What about your agoraphobia?"

"It's…not so b-bad these days," I tell him. "I'm still taking my tablets to cope with it."

"You're an addict to that Xanax, Lenore," Ricky snorts.

I look down at the rug between us for a moment, and then slowly raised my eyes again. "Better than being an addict to treating women like dirt, I'd say. I g-guess you're going to k-kill me, aren't you?" I gulp again.

"I want to have my fun with you first – before I have…my other sort of fun." Richard gives me a shark's smile.

"D-don't! Why can't you j-just leave me alone?" I suddenly scream. "I won't say anything to the poli-"

"You've made yourself too much of a target, Lenore. Your mom's dead. Your stepfather's several states away. You ain't even got no friends! My police informant told me that they had no solid leads, when trying to track you down. The trail had gone cold when your landlord reported you missing." Ricky stands up and walks slowly, purposefully towards me. I start to shake. "Besides… I got sick of the sound of your voice by the time our relationship ended - and I don't like it any better now. I had enough of you quoting that darned 'Quantum Immortality' theory, where another you is living in a better universe. And I had it up to here with your obsession of Neil Sedaka songs! Oh, speaking of which…"

Ricky puts his pepper spray back into a pocket of his cop's uniform. Then, from another pocket, he produces a small hammer. He grins at me. "Lead me to your bedroom, Lenore. Let's see if Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Cuz if you don't do exactly what I say, I'll be breaking you up. Piece by piece. Starting with your fingers."

Oh god…

So, shaking both in fear and with anger, I lead Rich to the cramped room with the single bed, switching the light on.

"Crap. No wonder you look pale – even allowing for you seeing me again. No windows in this place…," Ricky mutters behind me.

He makes me take off my shoes and sweater, before telling me to lay down compliantly on my back, on the bed, where he uses the handcuffs he possesses to bind my left wrist to one of the posts at the bottom of the bed. Rich takes a moment to examine the marks where the PICC line had been inserted into my arm by the other Richard – who had used it to get me to pour my blood into a glass, so that he could drink it…

Jesus. I was so glad that I was free of that thing.

"What happened with your arm, Lenore?"

I tell Ricky the truth.

His wide-eyed gaze is followed by another sharp laugh. "Sounds like a man after my own heart!" Placing the hammer besides him, Ricky sits on the side of the bed, quickly grabs my free hand, and then proceeds to slowly unbutton my red blouse. I shudder as his oily fingers began to tease my nipples through the material of my bra. He shows his teeth in a lecherous grin.

My eyes start to water. "Rich…! Ricky! Stop it. I don't deserve this!"

"Oh. You wanna die the quick way, then, Lenore?"

Blast him. The way he speaks reminds me of the other Richard, when he offered me a choice between dying the fast way or the slow way. The slow way being fitted up with the modified PICC line, so that he could drink my blood 'on tap'.

But after a minute (that feels a lot longer), Rich stops midway in his unzipping of the fly of my jeans. He's licking his lips as he lowers his face too close for my comfort. "I plan to be a fine diner tonight, Lenore! I'm gonna eat you up, just like the good days…"

Urgh! I seethe at the memory of how he forced himself upon me. One of the reasons I decided to break free of him. I squirm, pushing back against him, stopping him from pulling my panties down. But then he suddenly stops, looking thoughtful. He stands up, leaving me gasping with relief.

"Back in a moment. Just need to get a beer, or even a bottle of your usual gin, Lenore. Love the fact that you've got a bar in this apartment!" he calls out cheerfully. Picking up the hammer again, Ricky strolls out of the room and back to the bar. But finding it to be empty, he instead swears and searches for the kitchen.

And whilst he's looking for booze, I roll myself over on the bed, take a deep breath, and concentrate as I focus all my strength through both of my hands. They clamp upon the wooden post that my left hand is firmly handcuffed to.

Nothing happens at first. Then, squeezing harder, the wood slowly – but surely – begins to 'crack' and splitter within my vice-like grip.

Seconds later, Ricky runs back and halts in the open doorway. "Why the hell ain't there any drinks in your fridge 'part from red wine and…Gatorade!?" he snaps at me. Then he sees what I'm doing to the wooden post. His jaw drops open.

"What the f-?"

An instant later, the wooden post breaks apart between my tensed, clamped hands. I look up at Ricky with a delighted smile. "But I don't drink…wine. Or Gatorade. Not anymore."

"Huh?"

Now that my hands are free, I swing my legs off the bed and zip my blue jeans back up. I would take off my blouse if I could, but first I would need the key to free myself of the handcuffs. Oh well. It would have to be washed, if necessary. Just as well that I chose to wear red tonight…

"This isn't my apartment," I whisper to my ex-fiancé, my nerves and stammer disappearing as I spy the man who has quietly slipped behind Ricky. "I just used my set of keys to get in. To lure you here."

"Huh!? Then whose place is…?" Seeing my gaze change direction, he spins round and holds the hammer before him as he confronts the other tall, athletically built man. A man with good-looking, if rather cruel, chiselled features. Reminds me a bit of a younger Jude Law. One who will always look thirty-three years old.

"It's my apartment, Ricky. And that isn't wine in the cooler," he tells my captor.

"Who the f-"

"I'm the other Richard in Lenore's life. But she only needs one." Richard smiles. "And you're right. I would be after your heart!"

In an instant, he moves. Ricky swiftly lashes out with the hammer as he reacts. But of course, Richard is faster as his body almost blurs with his motions. Ricky yells as his forearm is twisted and his shin is dented by the impact of Richard's shoe. The hammer falls to the floor, and Richard nods to me as his gaze falls to the dropped weapon. I soon scoop it up.

Held firmly by my ally, Ricky is slammed into the wall in the adjacent corridor and pinned there. Ricky is staring at both of us now – trying to process how he suddenly lost control of the situation.

"But…! But the other rooms were all dark. I heard no one…!"

"That's because I can be very quiet when I need to be. As for the lights being off…," Richard smiles. "Hasn't it sunk in yet, Ricky? Lenore set up a trap for you. By prior arrangement with me. She suspected you were stalking her. She knew someone was hiding outside this block at night since your accidental meeting, waiting for her to come home in the dark. She just wasn't sure which night you would make a grab for her!"

Ricky starts to shake a little. His breath is uneven now. His dark eyes wide with fright. Good. Still, he isn't afraid to look at me.

"You… You were scared…"

"Old habits," I shrug, smiling. "You did frighten me – but I knew Richard would come to my rescue. I just had to say the keyword 'Gatorade' – and he'll be there to help me tackle you." My smile fades into a grim line. "The keys to the handcuffs, Ricky. Now."

"They ain't on me…!"

Richard steps aside a little and nods to me. Understanding him, I whack the hammer into Ricky's kneecap. He screams. When he recovers enough to tell the truth, I fish out the keys from an inside pocket of his jacket – and I free myself from the handcuffs. I throw them onto the bed. Turning to Ricky, I grin at him.

"Now you're going to tell me about all of your crimes, Ricky. Every last detail…"

He gulps. "I only killed Joannie and Kelly! And why should I tell you anything else, before the cops get here…?"

"Because maybe the cops won't get here," Richard growls at him. Still holding Ricky firmly in place, Richard opens his mouth. Both my ex-fiancé and I watch as we see the four fangs extend into his mouth. "You see… If you don't tell us what we want to know, I will kill you. I won't kill you if you co-operate. Understand?"

"You… You really are a vampire… You drank Lenore's blood…"

Richard smiles. "Indeed, I did. She was my donor, not very long ago. But whilst she was a prisoner here, she managed to win my respect and trust. So now she works for me – helping me to collect the rents from the tenants and to deal with the outside agencies, like the pest control firm you work for."

And so, with some blubbering, Ricky confessed to his crimes. I quickly wrote down some names and details on a notepad. Then, satisfied that we have enough, I toss pen and pad onto the nearby bed as well. I take a moment to compose and calm myself some. My heart is pounding at the thought of what's to come.

Ricky is still sweating madly. Richard hasn't released him at all. "So… You gonna call…the cops now?"

But Richard shakes his head. "Oh no. I can't let you go after you saw what I am, can I? And you came here to rape, torture, and kill Lenore. I won't stand for my employee being abused anymore by anyone. Understand?"

"Wh-wh-what…? But you said you wouldn't kill me…" Ricky trails off and turns to face me, gaping.

I smile and nod at him, holding the hammer in my hand.

Richard releases Ricky and steps away. With his extended arm, he gently pushes me back a few steps. "Run," he instructs the other man.

So, taking a deep breath, Ricky tries to bolt for the front door to the basement, limping in agony from his damaged kneecap. But as he reaches out to open the deadbolts, I watch as Richard's body suddenly blurs and zips across the hallway and parlor, to abruptly materialize in front of Ricky. My ex-fiancé screams at the trick played upon him. Richard grins at him, exposing his fangs again.

"No way out here," he tells my would-be killer.

Ricky spins round, to see that I've slowly walked into the parlor and sat on the arm of the sofa. I'm still carrying the small hammer. My smile tightens as I enjoy the game.

I've deliberately left the passageway open to Ricky. He turns round and forces himself that way, still limping, cursing as he opens door after door, trying to find a way out of the basement. I now stand at the mouth to the hallway, watching him stagger into the kitchen. When he reappears, he's clutching a large knife. He throws me a glance, no doubt wondering why neither of us are giving chase just yet…

Then he turns and lurches towards the metal door at the end of the corridor. He yanks it open and turns on the light to the laundry room.

All of this time, I am picturing his pounding heart. I delight in how the man who caused me – and two other woman - so much fear, so much damage, is now the prey himself.

I feel Richard's hand briefly touch my shoulder. "Now," he instructs me.

I nod and drop the hammer. I don't need it to do the job I'm about to do.

Concentrating hard, I start to walk forward – and then the corridor walls and doors zip past my field of vision. In the blink of Ricky's wide-eyed gaze as he looks back at me, I have teleported into the laundry room. In fact, I misjudge myself slightly and slam into him, causing my stalker to fall backwards and hit the floor – with me on top of him. I'm startled for a moment, but then part my lips, smiling. This is perfect…

"What!? Both of you? How the hell did you zip…?"

I quickly lash out and seize the arm below his knife hand, squeezing the bone within so hard that it cracks. He screams and drops the knife.

"You could say that I've moved into the pest control business," I smirk. "Oh. Here's another Neil Sedaka song reference for you, Ricky," I tease him. "I don't miss The Hungry Years. Because I'm living them. Right now. And you won't be a diner tonight. I will." Then my mouth parts wider. The last of Ricky's former cockiness vanishes as he sees my fangs, my wonderful, drooling fangs, grow into place…

With a hiss, I angle my head and strike like a viper – piercing his neck with my sharp teeth. He screams and buckles his body, trying desperately to free himself from my vice-like grip and unyielding weight. His heart thumps out of control.

It is like being in heaven, the predator in me squeals happily. I let myself go all the way, and tear ravenously into my would-be-killer, splattering myself with his blood as I gleefully rip him apart.

Seconds later, Richard knees down beside me – joining me in the full kill with gusto, as if we were a pair of wolves eating their captured prey…

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

Later, after I've taken a quick shower in the nearby bathroom, I dry myself and try on the new clothes that I've brought with me. A matching set of dark satin bra and knickers. A green silk blouse and a pair of black slacks that complement my lean figure. Whilst the smart shoes match my new slacks. Walking to the door of the laundry room in my latest outfit, I watch Richard pause in his pumping of the mangled body to fill a glass from the bar. He looks up and nods with approval at my new look, just before I put on my red sweater and jacket. By contrast, he's still wearing his blood-soaked clothes – waiting for Paul to come and eat, before they dispose of the corpse in the furnace along the corridor behind him and use the hose here to wash away the mess. I resist the urge to lick his red-coated chin. I don't think he would approve of my cheekiness…

My blood-splattered clothes will go into the wash. If they can't be rescued… Well, that's why Richard and Paul - and now I - buy many clothes.

"Sorry about the bed post," I tell Richard.

"I'll dock your next pay so that I can repair it." Richard's stern gaze gives way to a coy smile. "You still need to reapply your hair dye, Lenore. The blonde is showing more, now…"

"I'll see to that tomorrow," I tell him. "What's more urgent is that I give Paul a call now. After all, we only have a narrow time window before Ricky's blood cools off…"

Richard nods sagely. Then he pats the body he's kneeling besides. "Good work by the way, Lenore. This guy wasn't just a threat to you. He might have exposed us, in his obsession in going after you." He pauses, holding my gaze. "How do you feel about his death, now that it's mission accomplished?"

"Honestly? I feel relieved, Richard," I tell him. "Another part of my past – the ugliest part of it – has now gone." I lick a trace of dried blood from my lips and smile. "He was delicious. And I'm really glad that I've removed a locust from the world at large."

Richard tilts his head slightly to one side. "You won't be so lucky in only plucking the bad apples when we have to go for the occasional full kill. You realize that - don't you, Lenore?"

My happy expression sags a bit. I nod. "I know, Rich. But after I accidently killed David, I really don't want to kill another innocent person if I can avoid it."

"It was a mistake to take an unturned companion for a lover, Lenore. Especially so soon after you joined our ranks," Richard scolds me. "The only good thing was that you didn't tell him any of our secrets. Or so I hope…"

"I didn't… He never knew about Akira. He didn't even realise that I was a vampire… Until I lost control." My eyes begin to water, and I wipe away a tear. I take a deep breath and compose myself. I am still buzzing from my kill. "Thanks for helping me setting up the trap, Rich," I tell him.

"My pleasure. Now get Paul here so that he can help me. You can babysit Akira in Paul's place – until he's done here. Then he can ring you, and you can bring my latest girl…- I mean guest - back to me."

"You're missing her already, aren't you?" I half-tease him. Our captor-prisoner relationship had started to change during the night when Paul's former manservant, Charles, had feinted illness to avoid bringing a victim to Richard. It had been a ruse – Charles's attempt to force a starving Richard to kill me, instead. Whilst Richard had forced me into the laundry room - where the victims died - to wait for Paul to return with Charles and a victim for Richard to kill, I'd been forced to wait with Richard, scared that if he got too bored or irritated, he'd lose the last of his strained self-control and kill me. To my surprise, during our long, agonising wait, Richard confessed that he had once been on the wrong side of the laundry room himself, when he had been…an ordinary human.

After I'd smoked a couple of cigarettes and asked him various questions, I'd broke down into hysterics. When I finally recovered, I summoned up the courage to ask Richard to put me out of my misery. Again, he surprised me by being gentle and reassuring, telling me that he would make my death quick – his forehead touching mine. That was when Richard confessed that, as a vampire, he could not enjoy women the way he used to do.

He had raised his hands to my neck, ready to tw-

Just in time, Paul had barged into our tender moment – telling Richard that he'd brought back a not-so-sick Charles and his girlfriend, Deirdre, back with him…

Akira is now my replacement as Richard's donor. I had once caught him in the kitchen here, affectionately stroking her long, dark hair, just after drinking her blood on tap. And rather than being repulsed, she had grabbed his arm and squeezed his hand, holding his gaze in a silent exchange.

Well, he had killed someone who had tried to rape her…

Back in the present moment, Richard winces from my teasing. He doesn't want anyone to think he is soft. "Just stop yacking and get Paul here!"

"Yes, my co-sire." I mock-salute him, smiling as he rolls his eyes. Then I pull out my cell phone from my handbag, as I sling it over my shoulder and head back outside to make the call.

"Hello Paul? DINNER'S ON!" I tell him, smiling widely.

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

Heading back inside after making my call, I quickly take the lift to the penthouse and use my coded knock on the door, to alert Paul. He soon opens up and he nods approvingly at my new clothes through the gap in the doorway.

"Looking good, kiddo." Then his expression turns serious. "How…did it go?"

"All good. Ricky won't be a problem to anyone, ever again." I pause. "Richard is gonna sever the head and dump it near to the central police station, with a note explaining the deaths of those deceased girlfriends. That was my suggestion. I…wanted the families to find closure."

Paul considers this, and then nods. "Glad to hear that. Just hope that nobody in the police joins the dots and thinks that you're still alive."

"Well, we even wrote down the name of Ricky's police informant… In any case, Lenore Edgars is technically dead to the world." I whisper, bowing my head. "Only you, Richard, and Akira, call me Lenore. Beyond this apartment block, I'm Charlotte Vincent. Now, if you want to eat fresh after my hard work…"

"I'm on my way! But… Maybe you can do something else for us. Akira just managed to pluck up the courage to ask me how Rich and I got turned…"

I straighten up, interested. The guys had never told me.

"Well, I said I didn't want to talk about it, except to say that neither of us had the choice…"

"But you told her that I asked to be turned," I deduce.

"Your logic is scary sometimes, Lenore. But yeah. Now I reckon Akira thinks less of you. Sorry 'bout my wagging tongue."

"Don't worry. I'll have a girl-to-girl talk with her." I smile.

"That's what I was hoping for." Grinning again, Paul steps out, drops the penthouse keys in my hand, and heads out to the lift. "Catch you later, kiddo," he calls out over his shoulder.

Looking fondly at his retreating figure, I slip into his penthouse and lock the door behind me. My sensitive nose soon picks up Akira's jasmine scent. She is in the lounge.

Akira is wearing one of the floral-print dresses I had bought for her, not long after she became Richard's captive. With her long, straight, dark hair draped over her back. As I walk into the hub of the largely barren penthouse, Akira uses the remote control to switch off the comedy programme that she had just been watching. Underneath the sleeve of her non-writing arm is the modified PICC line and spigot that I had been wedded to in a loveless marriage for over three months. I do not regret for an instant the choice I made to free myself of it. But despite feeling sorry for Akira, I cannot let her go. Even though she pleaded to me once – when it was just us girls together. My loyalty is to Richard and Paul. And myself.

"Hi there!" I call out, smiling. I sit on the sofa close to her. She looks at me guardedly. My keen ears pick up her agitated, quickening heartbeat.

"Have you come to…siphon…off me again?" Akira asks, guardedly.

I shake my head. Then she takes in my languid brown eyes, my glowing face and content expression. She sees a young woman who will always look as though she's aged twenty-eight.

"Ah! You look…blissful, Lenore. You have…just fed, have you not?" she asks me, her voice still carrying a trace of her Japanese accent, even after the years since she was illegally smuggled into this country by traffickers. Now barely into her twenties, she had been a slave, forced to work as a prostitute. Until the night in late July, when Richard and Paul – returning from a night at the Goth nightclub, Thorn – came across Akira, trying to escape from a violent client, in a side street.

The guys killed the client. But because Akira had seen their fangs, Richard and Paul apprehended her and forced her into Rich's basement. To his credit, Richard had tried to go without a donor for several weeks, after I'd been vamped – but Akira's predicament was too tempting for him NOT to take her prisoner. By this time, I was living in the apartment just below Paul's penthouse, with David as my live-in lover. After I first spoke to Akira and got to understand her past, I naturally felt pity for her situation as Richard's new donor – and I suggested that perhaps we could use Akira as bait to draw out the pimp who had been controlling her. So, we did.

Akira's pimp had been my first kill since I'd gained fangs. Mind you, Paul had bitten the creep first – before handing him over to me.

Paul and I now make a good hunting team. It helps that we were both turned at a similar age – even though he and Richard are really much older than me, by nearly a century. Paul had been right about us having fun together. I now enjoy hunting. Even though I can still be nervous of unfamiliar people. And my attempts at seduction still need working on… Still, once in a while, when we hunt at the normal night clubs, I love wearing the red dress that Paul picked for me. It fits me perfectly. It helps me to lure the occasional young man for me and Paul to chloroform and then sip from, in the nearest deserted alley, leaving them unconscious and a little drained. But at the same time, they're uncertain of just what happened to them. We leave them alive - whilst taking a little money from them, making them think that we're junkies, not vampires.

And of course, it doesn't show if I do get a little blood on the sleeves of my red dress...

Most of the time, though, we insist on only sipping from the wannabe vampire Goths at Thorn. Paul was right about another thing there, too. The Goths get just as blissed out from our feeding upon them as we do. I even like dressing up in black, applying the eyeliner, and pretending to be a Goth. The old Lenore had never been into Goth culture. And yet, by fate's design, I now – like Paul – sit at the top of the pyramid hierarchy that exists amongst the regulars at the club. I feel privileged.

I still remember the night when, instead of just lapping at the puncture marks Paul made on the wrists of our willing Goth blood donors, I felt my canine teeth extend to form my fangs for the first time upon seeing the bleeding – and so, controlling myself – I was able to carefully give one girl a light bite on her other wrist, before slowly sipping her blood like a fine wine.

After we sent our donors away, I was so excited to have gained my fangs – only a week after being turned. Paul was delighted too – and he hugged me, stopping me from giddily jumping up and down.

"Daaarn! You're a natural! Those came quick, Lenore," he told me. "Now you're a full member of…"

"…our little family. Richard, you, and me," I told him, grinning.

"Yeah. Our family, kiddo." Paul smiled, touching his forehead to mine as we embraced. "Look's like fate is telling us you truly belong with us!"

Another good thing. Unlike Richard, I found out – as a vamp – I could dial up or dial down my hearing. That's why Paul and I can tolerate the thumping music at the clubs.

"Yes. I've just been a diner. Shared a full kill with Richard," I tell Akira, my mind returning from my happy memories. Seeing her look of disgust, I smile. "Don't be like that. My victim deserved to die – just like your pimp did. This guy made my life a misery – and now justice has been served." Waiting for Akira to respond, I shift through Paul's scattered pile of magazines on men's health and grooming, TV schedules, and computers games.

"Paul just told me that you were Rich's previous donor. He also told me…that, unlike him and Rich, you chose to become a vampire. Why?"

I look up, all too happy to share some of the details with another girl who – like me – knows what it's like to be alone in the world.

"I had enough of that darned PICC line you now wear, for one thing. And for over three months, I had to live from day-to-day, week-to-week, as a prisoner – not working, not exercising, being restricted in my diet and leisure activities, and not seeing the sun until Paul took me out to spend a night here. I had to live on my wits, to make sure that I didn't act like food. Least Richard or Paul lost their self-control and gave into their hunger or feeding instinct."

"I have…learned this too," Akira admits, tapping her painted nails on Paul's coffee table. "Learned to gauge what Rich and Paul like from their captives. Rich appreciates compliance…"

"…whilst Paul likes Richard's donors to be a bit spunky. He likes playing with them. But whilst he's getting them to like him and drop their guard, he in turn ends up liking his human companions. He stuck with Charles for a decade, after all. Both Richard and Paul ended up liking me, after a few weeks. And by the time Charles died, I'd won their respect and trust. Enough for me to persuade them to end my captivity by turning me into a vampire."

Akira gauges my calm, still-smiling expression. "That was after over three months?"

I nod. "And you've now matched my record in staying alive as Richard's donor. Congratulations! I understand from the boys that most of the donors don't survive as long as we have." I pause for effect. "They like you, Akira. Just as they like me. And I like you, too. I want you to carry on living. That yoga mat and instruction CD in the guest bedroom that you use? I bought them for whoever replaced me as Richard's donor, so that they felt a bit more relaxed. I've also persuaded Richard to shop for a wider variety of food and meals, so that you could eat better than I did, before I was turned… And your chilled blood that Richard now stores in the cooler… That was my idea. I want Richard to work harder at keeping his donors alive."

Akira chews her lip in thought. The first time she had seen me at 'Rich's dungeon' I had been eating a lasagne. Naturally, she had assumed that I was another prisoner or a human lackey. She had been taken aback to find out that I had been eating just for the joy of tasting a meal that I hadn't ate for years. I wasn't ready to follow the ways of the boys and give up ordinary food. Not yet…

"Rich hasn't bought me any drinks, apart from that darned Gatorade," Akira notes sadly.

I sighed. "I saw that yesterday. I did give him a ticking off for that. Guess I'll have to go to the store for you and get you something that you want."

Akira bows her head. "Thank you. But…"

My lips twitch up at the corners. "What is it that you really want, Akira?"

"Some protection from you guys. Silver…"

"No!" I reply firmly. Since being turned, the mere mention of silver now gives me goose bumps – and I wonder how I'll ever be able to watch the Olympics on TV again, without flinching…

"No silver. And face it, Akira. You are not safe enough on the streets. Not if that gang is still looking for you. Paul and I will continue to take it in turns to take you to a diner, so that you'll never become as under-nourished as I was."

Akira looks away from me briefly as she wipes some gathering moisture from her eyes. "You are not evil, Lenore. But you know that, however pampered I am, compared to how you were, I am still a pig being fattened for slaughter!"

"Then take control of your fate and go out on your terms," I advise her, still keeping my calm state of mind. "You don't have to continue being a donor. However, if you stop being one, Richard will want to replace you. Just as I replaced Angela. As you replaced me. I was fortunate enough to be the first to survive my captivity."

"How do I stop being their prisoner?" she presses me.

I shrug my shoulders. "You could die. Or you could swear loyalty to us and become a familiar to Paul. Or you drop your objections to us killing even those who deserve death, and…" I deliberately leave the sentence hanging in the air.

"…become a vampire?" Akira whispers. She looks troubled by the thought, but not – I notice with satisfaction – disgusted. "What led you to making that choice for yourself, Lenore?"

Beaming, I scoot a little closer to her on the sofa and tell her my story as I replay the night of my rebirth in my mind. Leaving out the truth of Charles's death, of course. That was mine and Richard's secret.

"Let me tell you about how a vampire is created, Akira. And then what happened, when Paul finally honoured Charles's wish to become one…," I begin.

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

Charles had just died, having choked whilst stretched out on the sofa in Richard's basement. Paul had been heartbroken at the loss of his familiar – his servant. He and Richard had taken the body to the building's furnace for its cremation, whilst I'd helped to tidy up the taped down tarp and covers that had been laid down to prevent anyone's blood from staining the rug and carpet.

The guys had an argument over why, after their thirteenth – and latest – attempt to create a vampire, they had failed yet again. Richard knew, of course. Then they considered the six human prisoners still bound in the laundry room, whose collective blood was being used for the turning process. Richard, who'd loathed Charles, and hadn't wanted Charles to be turned – fumed about the bodies he would be burning in the furnace for days. Whilst Paul lamented about the six prisoners. Some of them were still alive by that stage. "All those poor people. It's such a waste," he had declared.

So, seeing my chance and taking a deep breath to steady my nerves, I had sat on the arm of the sofa and spoke up.

"It doesn't have to be a waste," I told them gently.

Richard and Paul had narrowed their eyes at me. "What do you mean?" Paul had asked me.

So, I said it. "Turn me into a vampire… Please."

Richard had chuckled. "And why would we do that?"

"Because you owe me a pretty big favor right about now, don't you think?" I put to Richard, as I steeled myself and looked into his eyes.

He blinked, taken aback. I guess that he intended his favor to me, if he had intended to keep it at all, to involve me becoming his familiar.

"Hold on! What favor?" Paul piped up; suspicion etched on his face as he shot his narrowed gaze from me to Richard. "What's the deal here…?"

"I… I nearly killed Lenore in the laundry room, thanks to Charles bailing out on me that night, Paul," Richard breathed, crossing his arms, as he thought on his feet. "That piece of shit wanted me to lose my control and kill MY donor! It wasn't up to him to decide when Lenore was going to di-"

Paul bowed his head. "Yeah. I know. That wasn't cool… And he deserved that torture from you. But what have you pair…?"

"So… When you carried your wounded Goth-fried freak over to your apartment the next morning, I spoke to Lenore. To apologise. I told her that if she continued to be a good, compliant guest, I would do her a favor." Richard took a deep breath. "And if she wanted it… If she swore her loyalty to us both… I would even offer her a shot at becoming a vampire herself, if Charlie boy…ever left us."

I smile at the memory, silently thanking Richard for his quick thinking and creativity. Neither of us wanted Paul to know the truth. That Richard and I had conspired, and successfully overdosed Charles on my Xanax pills, as I gave them up.

Paul rubbed a hand through his messy light brown hair as he processed Richard's words. He looked into my eyes. "Are you swearing your loyalty to us, kiddo? You wouldn't hunt with me at the nightclub, by acting as bait, remember…?"

With a flash of inspiration, I interrupted Paul. My heart was already pounding. I was making a BIG life-changing decision from which there would be no return, after all. But then, I reasoned to myself, my old life had effectively already died when it sunk in that the police weren't going to find me. That nobody was going to miss me. My curt landlord was only interested in my money. My possessions had probably been sold off.

"I hereby swear my loyalty to you both. On my honor." I had declared, with my right hand raised. Then lowering it, I faced Paul. "Besides, I heard you were in the market for a new hunting partner." My lips twitched as I thought over my next words. "Remember when I refused to hunt for you before, Paul? I told you that my helping you to hunt down people for Richard would - to me - be akin to committing murder. Well…, if I become a vampire instead, like you, hunting would simply mean survival for us both. Won't it? And for the most part, neither of us would have to kill."

Paul stared at me thoughtfully as my heart continued to go 'thump, thump' – then hit an irregular note. No doubt, he and Richard could hear it as much as I could, if not more. To my relief, Paul chuckled, and then laughed.

During our many playful or cagey conversations during the course of the previous three-four months, I had managed to charm both of the guys - enough for them to really like me, after all.

At the same time, I had warmed to Paul – and even Richard. At one time, I had asked myself – if I had ever managed to find that silver dagger Angela had used – if I could fight, even kill, my captors. Now I no longer wanted to. There was a big opportunity right before me to rid myself of that darn PICC line that was still in my arm. I didn't care if I was a coward. If I was taking the easy way out. It had not been easy for me to go clean of my Xanax – but after some reflection, I had gone for it. I'd given Richard as many pills as possible so that Charles would fatally overdose. I wanted Charles to die for his plot against me. That hour in the laundry room being shut in with a starving Richard was…terrifying. Charles had hoped that that his girlfriend would then be the next donor, and in the long term, hopefully get turned herself – ideally along with Charles too.

But as I played cards with Paul whilst watching over Charles during his slow transition into a vampire, I realised that, if the plan of Richard and myself worked - and Charles died - the boys would need me more than ever before…

"You did once tell me that I was practically one of you now, when you asked me to help you hunt, Paul," I added for good measure.

He reached out and patted my shoulder, grinning. "So, I did. Well played, Lenore! But… You might die, like Charlie did. I… I really don't want you to lose you, too…"

I glanced at Richard. "How much longer will I survive as I am, now?"

"Impossible to say – except that you'd be likely to die in this basement before long, if we can't get someone to help us out," Richard answered. "Alright. You want a shot at becoming a vampire, Lenore? You've got it. If you survive the transition, you will be loyal to us, and obey us. Otherwise, I'll have no hesitation in putting you d-"

I gulped and nodded. "Don't worry. If I turn…, I'll be like a loyal sister to you both."

Paul's smile was genuine. "I was already beginning to see you as a sister, kiddo. Well, I'd better fetch that knife again to cut my wrist…"

"I'll go fifty-fifty with you this time, Paul," Richard looked at me with respect. "Lenore will drink your blood to start with. Then mine. She'll be a…childe…to us both. Now, Lenore… Anything you want to ask before we start?"

I paused, thinking hard about what I was letting myself in for. "Actually, yes…," I began.

And so, I learnt a few things about vampires just before we got to work. If I survived the process, I would still be able to eat food, which was a surprise (as well as a relief). Vampire bodies just couldn't take in any nutrition from solids, apparently – so the guys had fallen into the habit of never bothering with it. Vampires were also sterile. What I was about to endure – what Richard and Paul had endured themselves – was the only way they knew how to create a vampire.

When I had learned all that I needed to know – and when I had finished helping the boys to seal down the tarp and covers for the sofa, rug, and carpet once more (with the blanket at the ready to cover me) - Paul held the first glass before me, filled with his infectious blood. The smell of the red liquid made my nose twitch, and I fought against the nausea that threatened to derail me. I was naturally nervous, but I was also determined. "You ready to take the plunge, kiddo?" he asked me.

"Yes. And if I do die, it'll be on my terms," I answered with conviction, as I took the glass from his hand and started to carefully gulp down my first ever sampling of blood. I gagged at first, but I forced myself to swallow as much as possible.

Feeling faint after a few minutes, I laid myself out on the sofa where Charles had died as I drifted into the first wave of my long, fitful sleeps – the vampire blood in my stomach already beginning its slow work as the virus within ever so gradually began to mutate the cells of its new host.

Me.

Over the course of the next few days, I sweated it out, feeling myself go downhill, stirring occasionally to sip water – and drinking a glass of either Richard's or Paul's blood every few hours. Then my thirst gave way to a deeper one, one where every part of my body seemed to crave respite from. A thirst that was blunted only by the drinking of the red stuff, which turned into a mix of vampire blood and blood from the victims. As the hours progressed, my tongue and idled brain seemed to sense that more and more of the blood was from…humans.

I woke at one stage to find one of the gagged prostitutes I'd seen in the laundry room was being pressed against me by Paul. Half-delirious, I seized her and tore my still-human canines into her throat, desperately trying to suck up any blood that my mouth could find. I snapped at the wrists of the guys as they pulled the now-dead woman away from me, wanting to drain the fluid from them too. Anything to put out the terrible fire that was raging inside me.

Then later on, I sniffed my now-sensitive nose and opened my eyes to see Richard and Paul holding onto the last, gagged victim. One of the homeless men. His wide eyes stared at me in horror – and I vaguely recognised him as the prisoner who had been choking to death on his gag in the laundry room, until I'd freed him. It was ironic that my humanitarian act had led to this – I had saved him, only for him to die anyway at my own hand so that I would survive.

Richard handed me a knife. By the look in his eyes, I could tell he was testing my resolve.

Thirsty! My mind screamed.

Without hesitation, I took the knife and made my kill, drinking deeply from the now-dead homeless man...

Eventually, I passed out from the enduring fever. When I woke up again, Paul was cooling my flushed face and hands with a cold compress. The thirst had abated. I heard Richard call out in astonishment that I was actually going to make it...

I was Richard and Paul's fourteenth attempt to create another vampire. Only one other before me had survived. And I had just become their latest success…

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

"The first thing I did, when I came to, was to take out that darned PICC line you are now bonded to, Akira," I tell my replacement. "My arm soon healed up, thanks to my new vampiric nature. From that moment on, I was no longer Richard's donor. Instead, I had become…a diner… Just like Richard. Just like Paul. And, after living in the shadow of death for three months, I don't regret earning my freedom!"

Akira pulls back from me on the sofa, and looks at me with revulsion, as she gulps, taking in my story. "You knifed that man you had…actually saved earlier?" she asks in disbelief. "You're a terrible person, Lenore!"

I shake my head. "Maybe. But you need to realise that all those victims were going to die anyway! I just made sure that their deaths weren't in…vain." I chuckled at my unintended pun. "Before I became a captive, I wasn't that great at interacting with the outside world. And despite having been turned, I'm still human inside, with my previous anxieties and all – but I'm a lot more confident now. Calmer."

She huffs. "And now you fancy yourself as an avenging angel of death."

"Would you prefer that I torture innocent people for fun, Akira? Because I don't do that. Paul doesn't. And thanks to me backing up Paul, Richard is slowly changing for the better, when we argue with him," I put to her. "That wasn't easy. He's quite set in his ways."

Her dark eyes grow large.

"Remember this, Akira. Every now and then, Richard is killing someone, so that you get to continue living. As he did when I was his donor. My advice to you is to decide what shape you want your future to look like. Personally, I think we have enough in common. I'd like you to become my blood sister. And maybe you could help me change Richard for the better, even more, too…"

"But…you just said that hardly anyone survives the process of turning…!"

"True. But I think what sustained me was that although I was prepared to die on my own terms, a deeper part of me wanted to survive. At any cost. Deirdre, and another girl, and those homeless people… They all effectively ended up dying so that I could live. I didn't know them, but I honor the memory of their sacrifices! So perhaps you need to think the same way, Akira. That man who tried to rape you... Don't waste your time feeling sorry for him just because Richard tore him apart. Don't feel regret over the death of your pimp. If you do decide to join us in being turned, your loyalty has to be to us and to yourself. Nobody else. That will help you to be prepared to live as a predator. Someone who will kill, every now and then, in order to survive…"

I trail off as my cell phone buzzed its message notification. I read the screen, and then calmly stood up.

"Paul's just texted. I'm to escort you back to B-14, Akira."

Her posture slumps. Sighing, she got up and went over to the window. Parting the curtain as I stood beside her, she looked out over the Chicago skyline and its many lights. The moon shone in a clear sky, high over the nearest office towers. There were no sounds. The windows of both Paul's apartment and mine were UV-tinted to prevent excess sunlight from harming us. The double-glazed windows had no locks. No way out for suicidal prisoners. When I went out, to work during the day, I used sunblock to cope with the sunlight on my skin.

It's clear to know what's on her mind. The first time Paul brought me here, to stay overnight - whilst Richard had been punishing Charles and his girlfriend - I had woken up to see the sun for the first time since my imprisonment by Richard and Paul. I had savoured the sight of it, wondering if it was the last time I would ever see it.

Now Akira is asking herself if she will ever see the sky again, after returning to B-14…

"You've been good to me, I'd admit…," Akira says to me, as she turned round. "I'll… I'll think of everything you've said."

I smile contently as I gently squeeze her hand. With my other hand, I lightly stroke her fine hair. She stiffens, but then relaxes.

"That's all I ask of you," I tell her.

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

Later, after delivering Akira back to Richard, I return with Paul to our apartments, talking the utility stairs on the way up. Whereas participating in a full-kill leaves me blissed out, on a drug far more powerful than the Xanax addiction I managed to give up – Paul is typically wearing his cat-got-the-canary grin.

"So… How did it go in your talk with Akira?" he asks me lightly. We turn another corner in the stairwell but still keep level with each other, with me on the inside track. My limbs move as fluidly as my blood brother's – a tell-tale sign of our shared vampiric nature.

"I believe I've nudged her towards choosing between servicing us – or choosing to become like us," I answer. "She knows that the chances of getting through the transformation are low, but that if she lowered her humanitarian streak, she might develop a stronger instinct to survive…"

"Good work. Did you warn her that us turned don't have much of a sex drive?"

I stop and look at Paul's wagging eyebrows. I snort. "And why would I want to put her off?"

"Fair point… You've never told her about David, either?"

"No. But I did tell Akira that female vampires no longer had periods or period pains. She actually asked me first. And that sort of detail could seal the deal in time." I grin at Paul.

He chuckles. "Good move, kiddo. And…what if Richard decided that he'd had enough of Akira, despite our objections – and he killed her, when we're all in the basement?"

I shallow hard, knowing that my primal instincts would override my morality in those circumstances. I look Paul in the eye.

"It would be the same as your justification for helping to kill Stacy, when Richard decided her fate… I might as well eat," I truthfully tell him. "Otherwise, it would be a waste of perfectly good blood."

Paul smiles and pats my shoulder. "I'm glad you think the same way as I do, Lenore."

"I would still feel upset if she died," I added.

Paul nods. "I would miss her too. Just as well that Rich likes her."

We continue walking. The one thing I had regretted about becoming a vampire was my accidental killing of David, the…human…I had charmed at the Goth nightclub. I had been so sure of my improved confidence and my self-control as a newly minted vampire that I had invited him to live with me, in my apartment. It had been going well for three months. Then, just a few weeks ago – I had pranked him whilst he was taking a shower, just to scare him and have a laugh. But he had panicked at the sight of my exposed fangs, fangs he didn't know I had – and which I hadn't intended to come out. I wasn't hungry – but the predator in me just thought it would be so easy to kill him, with the water drowning out his cries and running his blood down the drain…

I still keep his photos, including the one of us smiling together for a selfie.

And now, just in the last few days, Paul and I had decided to see, if we really tried hard, if two vampires could really love each other. If we could do it, maybe even Richard could learn together with Akira, if she was turned.

We needed to try again.

As we reach the floor where my apartment is, I make my decision. "Spent tonight with me, Paul," I tell him.

I take my jacket and sweater off, then head into the bathroom to take a pee. Yes. Us vampires still pee – and it comes out rather red, just like in a certain film…

When I find him in the kitchen, Paul shakes his head in amusement as he checks out the refrigerator and sees that I'm still buying ready meals, yogurts, fruits, and fruit juices – just some of the things I missed when I was Richard's captive donor. Paul tells me again that my body no longer needs to digest food, only real food – meaning blood. That I'm wasting my money.

"I'm not ready to give up food, Paul! Not when I still enjoy the taste and smell of it," I shoot back at him. I take his hand and pull him into my large lounge. Walking past the gramophone player and a few records that Richard freely passed onto me after I became his employee, I instead select one of my many CDs from the tower rack.

Neil Sedaka… Oops. It's the next one down. I ought to put them in alphabetical order…

Moments later, Michael Jackson is playing on the speakers, on random track selection. Paul's eyes light up.

"You're playing my jam!" He sees me standing right before him, smiling. Then he remembers his manners, bows, and extends his hand to me. "May I have this dance, Miss Edgars?"

"I was hoping you would say that," I reply as I squeeze his fingers.

We end up boogieing away to 'Jam', 'Can't Let Her Get Away' and 'Dangerous'. All appropriate titles in our relationship…

And after the music ends, Paul wraps his arms around me and parts his lips. I can still smell Ricky's blood there, and I feel…aroused.

"I'm so glad you're happier now, Lenore," he whispers. "After all the shit that Rich, Charles and I put you through. And after you lost David. I miss him too."

I sniff. "I pray to God each week, to look after his soul… And even though I hated Charles for his attempt to get Richard to kill me… I hope that he and Deirdre are happy together, wherever they are," I tell Paul, squeezing his shoulder.

"Thanks kiddo." He hesitates, and then plows on. "Remember back when you were Rich's donor? When I forced Charles and Deirdre to come back with me, so that Rich wouldn't kill you… That morning we woke up in my apartment…," he whispers. "You were worried that the sun would burn me. I asked you if you would save me if I burst into flames – not that I actually would've lit up."

I nod. "I told you that I would return the favour and save you."

"It…was just another of your lies, wasn't it? The lies that kept you alive as Rich's donor?" he challenges me.

"It was… But even as I said it at the time, Paul… I realized that it didn't have to be a lie," I tell him truthfully, my head bowing down for an instant. "And when you offered me the chance to be your familiar, when I kissed and hugged you, I was actually… Um."

"Starting to fall for me?" Paul lovingly strokes my dyed strawberry-blonde hair.

"Yes," I admit.

"Me too, kiddo. That is… That was when I realised that I wouldn't enjoy it, if I ever had to kill you. That our budding friendship wasn't an act for me, anymore. That maybe… Just maybe… I could learn to love again."

I smile sadly. "Thanks Paul. But last week we tried, in your apartment. We can kiss, touch, and stroke each other wherever we want. But you couldn't get an erect-"

"I've got some new pills to address that, in fact. Right here in my pocket…"

My eyes grow large, in surprise.

Then, grinning, Paul lifts me up with both of his arms in a firefighter's hold. I shriek, but then giggle.

"Permission to take you to your bedroom, Miss Edgars?"

"Granted!" I laugh, holding onto him.

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

To both my surprise and Paul's, after taking the pills, Paul was able to… Erm, half-rise to the occasion. It was still enough for us to actually have intercourse, after all our foreplay whilst we waited for the pills to kick into Paul's system. And, as we now bask in the afterglow of our actually-not-bad lovemaking, Paul carefully nips at my neck with his fangs and licks at the puncture marks like a cat, before my wounds heal from my enhanced constitution. Grinning, I tenderly do the same to him too with my bared fangs, liking the taste of him on my tongue. He too soon heals up. Then I snuggle into his embrace. His vampire flesh feeling equally cool against mine. Whereas David had always felt warm…

Vampire blood lacks the warmth, nourishment and appeal of human blood. Just as well, otherwise Richard and Paul might have come to deadly blows in their near-century of co-existing together. But what Paul and I share is an expression of love.

"Well… That half-worked!" Paul's giggle gave way to a serious expression. "Probably the best we can hope for, with each other. You were still good, Lenore. That was the best time I've had since…turning. Not counting the times I, um…"

"Made love to an unturned prostitute and then ripped her apart?" I put to him.

"Yeah… I wasn't always a good guy. I told you that. It was a long time ago."

Another a few minutes pass, as we lay naked in the comfort of my wide bed, enjoying the silence. Both pleased at our achievement. Tomorrow, Paul will be bragging about our night to Rich…

Suddenly, Paul tightens his grip around my arms, surprising me.

"I know you had a hand in Charles's death, Lenore."

My body abruptly turns rigid. Shit. Oh shit! He would spring this on me, just when I'm at my most vulnerable. Dammit! But why has he waited this long…?

He gives me a long look. "Alright, I don't know for sure. You're too good a liar – but I wouldn't be surprised if you had been involved."

I try to keep still and not give myself away, even as my mind races for the right words to say. "Paul…? Even if I had been… Could you really blame me? I know you regarded him as the nearest to family you had – but he tried to have me k-"

"Killed. Yeah. Charles didn't like you. He saw you as messing up the dynamics for him to supply Rich's donors." Paul's look of reflection turned sad. "But all his plans for himself and Deirdre to get turned got shot to pieces. I think you and Rich planned something to bump Charles off. That's why you turned to Rich and asked to call in a favor, after we dumped Charles in the furnace and thought about the remaining victims in the laundry room."

The lump in my throat bobs. I tried to look Paul in the eyes, to deny his suspicions, but I'm already shaking. Just a little. Dammit. I'm a predator, just like Richard and Paul are. But now I'm very afraid. Again.

Dear God. Paul's going to kill me, after everything I did to stay alive…

My eyes water, and I sniff. I try to wiggle out of Paul's arms – but despite the enhanced strength that I've gained since becoming a vampire, I'm still physically weaker than Paul. Now he knows. My reactions and body posture have a language of their own – and they are screaming out my guilt.

"I'm sorry, Paul… Wait. I'm sorry for you. I didn't want to hurt you. But I don't regret helping to bring about Charles's death. You saw how, during his transition, he wanted to 'snap me up'. If he had become a vampire…"

"…he would've gone on to kill you – and then Rich would be so mad at losing his donor, the two of them were bound to fight it out," Paul reasoned.

"And if you had been there to intervene…?" I put to him, still shaking, wondering how long I've got left to live.

"I honestly don't know which side I would've taken, kiddo…," Paul sighs. He then holds my gaze. "Wait! Yes, I do. If I had seen Charles kill you, I would've gone mental. Then I would've put Charles down myself."

My mouth gapes. "You mean after all the years you knew him… After all his work for you… You really cared enough about me, even then…?"

Paul gives a sad smile. His grip on my arms is still firm, but now he leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. "Rich is still my buddy. We grew up together in the same street. Attended school together, and all that. But it's you who is my closest friend now, Lenore." He sighs. "Charles was my blind spot. But in the months still he's been gone, I've been doing a lot of thinking. And I've concluded that my life is better with you in it – compared to me being with Charles, in another universe. Hell, Rich is more bearable since you've been around!"

I blink in disbelief, processing the fact that I've escaped death yet again. Then I sigh with relief and hug him. "Thank you, Paul. You do realise that I have no intention to leave either of you guys, don't you? Not yet, anyway."

"Yeah, I do. Eventually, though, you'll be the fledging fleeing the coop – and you'll want to be your own vampire boss somewhere else. Just like our only other successful childe did." He chuckles. "Besides, by successfully getting Charles killed – and then stabbing that last victim with that knife Richard gave you… You earned your fangs, kiddo. You definitely deserve to be one of us!"

My cheeks flush with pride, but I still need to ask him the question. He releases me, and I turn around to face him directly.

"Then… You'll forgive me for what Richard and I did to Charles. For not letting you know…?"

Paul nods. "I've already forgiven you both, Lenore," he says – and I can tell that he's speaking the truth.

I'm in shock for a moment, and then I lean forward to hug and kiss him again.

"I think I love you, Paul," I mutter.

He chuckles and kisses me back. "I think I love you, too, Lenore."

I know nothing will last forever, of course. Even though my vampire body is now effectively a broken clock where time has stopped ticking - like Paul, like Richard – I still have a slow, steady heartbeat. More stable than before I was turned, when I was addicted to my Xanax. My BRCA gene will now not give me the same cancer that killed my mom.

Living his life rather reclusively, Richard has managed to fool the world in the passage of time by posing first as his own (non-existent) son, then his grandson, and now his great-grandson. Likewise, Paul has changed his identity every twenty years or so.

If I live long enough, I will have to do the same. Perhaps, in ten years' time – thanks to Richard's lawyer and his associates - 'Charlotte Vincent' will be working in another part of the country for another vampire citizen of our small, but well-connected community. Perhaps by then she will have a different look, and a different name. And maybe Paul's right. Maybe I'll eventually become my own boss. I have all the time in the world to learn whatever I want to, after all.

But I don't have to think about all that yet. Right now, I just want to enjoy this night. This perfect night.

"Let's go to sleep, Paul," I tell my lover as I play with his messy hair. And with a final kiss between us, we snuggle against each other and slowly drift off into pleasant dreams.

THE END!