A/N: Before you read, know that I WILL NOT write a sequel, so don't ask. Keep an eye out for the other two stories, since I'm still not sure which I'll continue, yet. Enjoy.
Have they lost their minds? They really expect me to believe that they're vampires? This just has to be some sort of sick joke. "Happy birthday, Gracie! You were raised by vampires!" I'm not stupid. All those stories are just stories. Vampires aren't real. Soulmates is a nice idea, but that can't happen in real life.
And I'm adopted! Why didn't they tell me? Were they ashamed of me or something? Were they ashamed of themselves? Not being able to have children is common, and nothing to be ashamed of, if a little embarrassing. And if they didn't think it was important then, why tell me now? And who are my real parents? Why didn't they want me? Was I a rape baby?
I shivered and rubbed my hands over my bare arms, wishing I'd grabbed my coat when I was storming out. It's January, for Christ's sake. Hell, if I was a vampire I wouldn't need a coat. I scoffed and rolled my eyes. I'd also be immortal and drink blood and read minds… No wonder I never got away with anything…
I shook my head. They're not vampires! I would've noticed if my parents drank blood. Unless they drank mine…no! They wouldn't do that; they're good people, even if they have gone nuts. They're not vampires. There would've been signs.
I tried to remember what those stories said about vampires. They're immortal; I suppose my parents do look kinda young for being in their forties. Blood drinking and fangs; I'd never seen any signs of that… Compulsion; well, if they'd used that I wouldn't know, now would I? Heightened senses; I have no idea how I could know that without asking. Beauty: Mom is gorgeous, and all my friends had crushes on Daddy. But they slept and went out in the sun and ate food. But the Night World stories never said they couldn't, either.
I looked up at the people on the street around me and wondered if any of them weren't human. I started picking out people and making up stories for them in my head. She's a witch on her way to buy potion ingredients. He's a vampire out for a late night hunt. They're werewolves, making backdoor deals with a butcher shop so they don't have to hurt humans. That cat in the alley is actually a 'shifter stalking someone for dinner.
But how could I know? How could anyone know? There was no way for an outsider, a human, to know what they're surrounded by. Unless… Flowers. Black flowers symbols. Roses and irises and dahlias and lilies and foxglove. If I could just look for black flowers…
I looked up and realized I had wandered into a part of the city I'd never been in before and was hopelessly lost. It was the slums, somewhere near the river, and the streets were littered with trash and smelled of sewage. I reached into my pocket for my cell phone so I could GPS my way out, but realized it was at home with my coat. I turned and tried to find my way back without it, but after a few blocks I was even more lost and slightly nauseous. I could've cried when a club came into sight, the open door spilling out dim light and loud music. The light over the door was burned out, making the sign nothing but a dark blob, but surely I could just ask for directions then leave.
The inside was very close, bodies packed onto the dance floor and into booths in dark corners and the pounding music and flashing strobe lights stifled my senses. I pushed my way through the throng to the bar, hoping the bartender was still sober enough to give me directions. Before I got the bartender's attention, though, someone sat down next to me. His smile was too wide and his nose too big for his face, and his eyes seemed manic behind his stringy black hair.
"You look lost, Sweet One. Let me buy you a drink and you can tell me all your troubles."
"No, thank you," I said, eying him and turning away, but there was already someone on my other side.
"Piss off, Oscar. She obviously doesn't swing your way. Come with me, Dearie. My friends and I will take care of you."
With a deceptively strong arm, the large-breasted blonde woman swept me off my stool and started ushering me to one of the dark corners that I could see multiple pairs of beady eyes peering out of. Before I could think to fight, Oscar grabbed my arm.
"I saw her first, Adriana. She's mine."
Adriana pulled me back like a rag doll. "The last time you took a human who'd wandered in the place was closed for a month."
"It's not my fault the bitch started screaming and I had to kill her in that alley. At least I try to take mine home. You leave your 'empties' here for Al to clean up."
My eyes shot wide as I realized I was a meal being fought over by a vampire and a werewolf. Adriana hissed over my head and I dared not look up in fear of finding fangs. She threw me to the side, and I was caught by what I assume was one of her "friends." I really wish my parents were here…
"Listen, you two are making a huge mistake. My parents are vampires, and if you-"
"Quiet human!" they both shouted before lunging at each other.
The vampire that held mw now whisked me off to the dark corner. "Adriana got us a snack." He shoved me into the open booth, and two more vampires took up positions on either side of me, holding my arms out to the sides and pinning my shoulders to the booth to keep me from moving and brushing my hair off my neck.
"Oh, God, please no! I swear I don't taste good! Please don't bite me-drink me, whatever. My parents are vampires and they're probably looking for me. They'll find you and they'll-"
"Shut her up!"
A hand clamped over my mouth and I screamed against it, trying to thrash out of my captors' grasp as tears streamed down my face. I threw my head side to side as they leaned down to my neck, stopping them for a moment and freeing my mouth. I screamed again, praying that anyone would hear me. They grabbed my head and covered my mouth again, and I squeezed my eyes closed. Oh God. This is it. I'm going to die. I should've just listened to Mom and Dad. Being adopted is heaven compared to this.
I screamed again. Please be someone who can save me. Please be someone who can save me. I was too afraid to open my eyes as I was pulled away from the vampires, lifted into someone's arms, and carried out of the club. The putrid air was a god-send after the stifling Night World club. By the time we stopped the air had cleared and a light breeze picked up, and I could hear traffic in the distance.
"It'd okay, Gracie. You're safe now."
I finally looked up from where I'd hidden my face in my savior's chest to see "Eli?" Eli and I had grown up together in the same building. We'd gone all the way through school together, and even though we weren't in the same social circle anymore, we were still best friends at home. Then I looked around and realized he'd set us down on a bench in Central Park. "What- Why did you come after me? How?"
"Your dad called to see if you'd come down. He said you freaked out and ran off."
"Did he tell you why?"
He was quiet for a long time. My being adopted would catch him off guard as much as it did me.
I laid my head on his shoulder and he hugged me. We sat in quiet for several minutes.
"How did you find me?"
"I… I'm…a falcon."
I pulled back and looked up at him. For the first time I noticed that his bright brown eyes, almost orange, really, belied the animal alertness of a hunting bird. "You're a…'shifter." It took me a second to get the word out, but it wasn't a question. Then, before he could reply, I punched him hard in the arm. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He flinched and rubbed his arm, laughing slightly. "I've wanted to since we were little, but our parents wouldn't let me."
I growled and leaned back against him, staring off at the empty park for a while. He stroked my hair absently the way he always did when he was bored-he'd say it was soft, like stroking feathers, but I never got it until now.
"Thank you for saving me."
"You're welcome. I could never let anything happen to you." He sounded incredibly sad.
"Eli?" I pulled back to peer up at him and there was no mistaking the look in his eyes. It's the same way my dad looks at my mom. "Eli…" I suddenly really wanted to kiss him, so I leaned in.
"We should probably get you home now. Your parents are worried."
He stood up from the bench, and I had no real choice but to follow him. I watched him carefully for the first few blocks, a few steps ahead of me. I never would've thought. He'd always had a steady string of girlfriends. And I'd dated, but never had a real, long-term relationship. But Eli… We're best friends. I never even considered that he could…wait…
I caught up to him and slowly reached over to slip my hand into his, lacing our fingers together. I didn't feel any electric shock like how Mom described it, but then again we'd been touching our whole lives, so maybe there wouldn't be that sign. But I did feel incredibly at peace; I wanted to lean into him and have him hold me forever. He, on the other hand, whipped around, looking at me like I'd just bit him, and would've pulled his hand away had I not held on for dear life.
"How long have you known?" I accused.
He was quiet for a long time, meeting me angry stare for angry stare. "Since we were little."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It takes away your free will, Grace. You don't get to pick who you love. There is no choice. I don't want to force this on you. You should be able to choose your own future." He pulled his hand out of mine, and I felt terribly rejected.
"So you don't want me to love you?" I asked, tears coming to my eyes.
"Now, I didn't say that."
"Then what? You don't want to love me? You don't want me to know so I go on and live my life never knowing so you can be miserable forever?"
"Your father would kill me!"
I gaped at him. Really? That's his excuse? I pulled back and punched him in the arm again, throwing all my weight into it. He staggered back a step at the impact, and I took off running. All I wanted to do was go home. I wanted a warm bath and for Mommy to make me some tea, and to go to bed.
I heard him running after me and pushed harder. I didn't want to talk to him if he was going to be a jerk. I can make me own decisions, damn it! I was out of breath by the time I got back to the building, but I managed to still sprint up the four flights of stairs two at a time. I could've cried when I found the door unlocked, since I'd left my keys, too, and leaned back against it after I closed it, trying to catch my breath.
Mom stood in front of the couch, a sad, hopeful look on her face, and I met her halfway, throwing my arms around her, my tears coming anew. I felt Daddy come up behind me, wrapping his arms around the both of us.
"I was so scared," I whispered into Mom's shirt.
"What happened, Baby?" She led me to the couch and sat me down, holding me to her side.
"I was walking, and I wasn't paying attention, and I got lost. And there was this club, so I went in to ask directions and there was a fight and I…I almost got eaten." I could only whisper the last part, and buried my face in Mom's shoulder.
There was a knock at the door, and I whipped my head up to glare at it. "Tell him to go away."
Mom and Dad shared a look that I could only guess at the meaning of, and he went to get the door.
"Hi, Mr. Black."
"Hello, Eli. Thank you for finding Grace for us."
"Yeah, it was no problem. Can I come in?"
Daddy turned and looked at me, and I shook my head frantically, but he turned back and nodded, letting Eli in. Thankfully Daddy took him into the kitchen, but it didn't save me from the disconcerting look he gave me. I hid my face in Mom's shoulder again, but strained my ears to listen.
The refrigerator opened. "Would you like a drink, Eli?"
"No, thank you."
"A beer, then. It's been a long night for all of us."
Two cans popped and there was a moment of silence.
"Where'd you find her?"
"La Vida Nocturna."
Daddy didn't say anything, so I assumed he knew what that was.
"Sir, I need to tell you something."
"What is it?" He sounded suspicious, and I didn't doubt it, since Eli was pulling out the "Sir, this" and "Sir, that" like he did when he was in trouble.
"Sir, Grace and I are soulmates."