I was going to die. Again.
I didn’t mind it, afterall, I’d been through it before. If it were only me it’d be fine. I’d come back for him as many times as it took to get it right . . . if it were only me.
But he was with me. Did vampires get a second chance?
I squeezed his hand and mustered all the strength I had.
“Go, Edward, save yourself.”
He stared at me, incredulous. “There’s ‘no’ way I’m ever going to leave you again.”
“But I can come back,” I protested. “What if you can’t?”
For a split second I thought I’d won, but then he pulled me into a kiss so deep that I knew I’d never let him go myself.
“Never again, Isabella.”
I tripped on the stairs that led up to the auction block.
“Sorry,” I muttered as I scrambled up. Then I remembered who I was talking to when he roughly pushed me in the back. Ow, vampires were strong. I had to stop apologizing to my captors; it was getting into an annoying habit. For some reason I kept forgetting that they weren’t people.
I stepped into place and faced the crowd. All eyes were on me- dark hungry eyes, which caused me to shiver. I wondered what they thought as they scrutinized my body. Did they see prime rib or a cheap hotdog?
The auctioneer smiled proudly and gestured to me. “Number 37 came to us from the Midwest. We caught her hunting in the woods near Southern Michigan.”
Hunting? Ha. Like I could be stealthy enough to sneak up on a deer. ‘Failing’ to hunt is more like it. Maybe I should be revealing this information, I thought. That way they’d realize what a klutz I was and not buy me.
What happened to unsold merchandize? Better safe not to find out. At least being sold gave me a chance. They might decide to keep me around as a pet, or blood on tap instead of a one-time gorge-orgy.
“She’s well-fed for a stray. Her teeth aren’t bad either. Would become quite a beauty if you decided to change her over.”
Bile rose up in my throat. I’d kill myself first.
“Let’s start the bidding at 100.”
The last girl went for 4000, but I wasn’t sure if that was good or not. She was pretty by my standards.
I watched as the vampires determined my fate. The numbers dwindled as the sum skyrocketed. It got to 3000 and was down to two, a blond clean-cut business-looking man and a large muscular brute. It was hard to decide who I wanted to win. Appearances meant nothing when it came to vampires.
“5400,” the auctioneer proclaimed. “Come on, vamps, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. She’s a real find, this one.”
One hand went down, the body-builder’s, but then another hand came up.
“6000 dollars,” a loud voice proclaimed.
The auctioneer grinned. He pointed wildly into the mass of witnesses. “Sold, for 6000 dollars.”
I didn’t get a look at him until he moved forward to claim his prize. His skin tone was olive, which seemed odd for a vampire. His wavy hair was pulled back into a short pony-tail . . . and he was wearing a cloak.
The auctioneer did a quick bow. “Demetri, you grace us with your presence, I’m honored. It isn’t everyday that a member of the Volturi visits.”
Volturi! I’d heard of the name back home. It’d been whispered around the bonfire like a ghost story.
Demetri smiled warmly. He shook the auctioneer’s hand. “It’s nice doing business with you today.”
“Would you like your purchase shackled? It’s only an extra twenty-five. Runaways aren’t refundable.”
Demetri’s eyes landed on me. It surprised me to discover that they were soft. He reached out and clasped his hand over my left wrist.
“No thank you,” Demetri said. “That won’t be necessary. But, could you put her in something . . . more appealing? You, see it’s a gift for a friend of mine and –“
“Oh, of course! Gift wrapping!” The auctioneer seemed like he didn’t know what to do with his hands. “Tell you what, I’ll throw it in free of charge.”
I glanced down at the stained plain dress I wore. I could have passed for an overworked Amish girl back when they existed.
It didn’t take long for the transaction to be completed. I now wore a pair of jeans and a teal tank-top. Demetri had boring taste- or his friend, rather. He could have picked out any style of outfit, ranging from evening gowns, bathing suits, to even sexy lingerie.
As we walked to his vehicle I reveled in the comfortable feel of pants again. For a second I thought of trying to flee, but then I remembered my stumble on the stairs just less than an hour ago. I’d never be able to make it. Is that why he passed up on the shackles? He must have been there for my klutz fest.
My thoughts were confirmed when he said, “Watch your head.”
I complied (with a close call) as I got into his snazzy yellow Camero. It was so bright it hurt my eyes.
Demetri chatted solely on the way.
“We don’t have that long a drive, maybe three hours. My friend lives in LA. He owns a hotel. I think you’ll like it. There are plenty of rooms so you’ll get your own.”
My heart slowed at the words. So, I was going to live then? That was good, I guessed. Most wanted it over quick, but for some reason I kept holding onto the survival rope. Somewhere inside me I felt that if I held on long enough it would all work out. Maybe it sounds all Westside Story cliché but “something was coming.”
The sound of Demetri’s calming voice and the smooth driving lolled me to sleep. I dreamed that I was in a labyrinth. With every turn I found a dead end and I had to backtrack. I needed to reach the center- the center of my world.
And then I heard something in the far off distance. A lullaby. I stopped my frantic groping and slowly followed the tune. Passages formed as I walked in a trance, like a child following the Pied Piper out of Hamelin.
I awoke to new music. Demetri had on classical music, which I was pretty sure was Bach. I made it all the way to eighth grade before the vampires came to Michigan. Somewhere within my music appreciation I’d been exposed to this.
I glanced out the window and saw neon flashing lights. Fresh Blood, kept 98.6 24/7 a billboard read. The windows were slightly tinted but outside vampires roamed freely in the open. A human could go blind if too many closed in on them.
That’s why they were able to win.
“Seraph Hotel is just around the corner,” Demetri said.
I spoke for the first time in hours. “Seraph, that means angel, right?”
He nodded. “That’s right.”
The hotel was more like a condo. I stared up at the floors in amazement as he drove through the gate.
“There’s a swimming pool around back,” Demetri told me.
Yeah, like Mr. Friend would let me contaminate his water.
Demetri took my wrist and tugged me gently through the parking garage. Demetri wasn’t like any vampire I’d come across. He was so mild. It was as if I’d been exposed to soap in my eyes and suddenly I was given no tears baby shampoo. He didn’t seem to be opposed to touching ‘cattle’ either.
The lobby had a tall greeting desk. A woman sat behind it, but stood when we entered. Human. She barely seemed to process my presence as her eyes popped out at Demetri.
“Can –I-I h-help you?” the . . . (did I dare call her a receptionist?) stammered. No, this wasn’t her ‘job’.
“Yes. I’d like to see Mr. Cullen. I’m an old friend. Tell him Demetri is here.”
The girl’s eyes widened. She reached for the phone, almost dropping the receiver in the process. I could sympathize.
“Be- 9,” the girl said. “I need E-Mr. Cullen down here right away. Tell him Demetri is near the front desk waiting.”
The girl had trouble hanging up the phone.
“Thank you,” Demetri said.
We waited in silence. I shifted from foot-to-foot. The girl almost sat back down but then thought better of it.
And then he materialized.
I’d seen many vampires in my venture across the states. Never had I witness a god like this one. He could have been worshiped by the Greeks. I was sure that if he were to stand out in the sunlight he’d burn the earth to a crisp with his solar flame of dazzle.
His gaze met mine. Topaz instantly turned black as charcoal. Did vampire eyes change that fast?
The single word could have froze Hawaii.
“But Edward,” Demetri urged,” She’s a gift.”
“It’s not my birthday,” Edward said flatly.
“Today is the anniversary of your resurfacing, when you became civilized again and gave up the whole vegetarian nonsense.”
“I have other slaves.”
Demetri ran a hand down my hair. “Twelve, such a low number for your estate. You could always play with her. Or-“
“No.” Edward raised his volume.
Demetri sighed. “Well then, I guess I’ll have to take her home with me. Caius could use a rare delicacy.”
The girl behind the desk whimpered.
“No?” Demetri questioned. His mouth rose.
Edward’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll take her.”
Demetri’s smile widened. “Very good, my friend. I’ll tell Caius that you’ve accepted our gift. He’ll be so pleased. Do you like her wrapping? I picked it out with your taste.”
Edward didn’t even glance my way. “Shall I send a thank you note along with you?”
“Don’t be absurd. I can pass on the gratitude. Goodbye, Edward, 37.” He nodded in each of our direction and even to the girl behind the desk before exiting.
Edward and I stood in place. The girl relaxed.
Finally Edward turned around. “Hannah, take 37, give her a room and put her to work.” He paused. “Try to keep her out of my sight.”
I wrapped my arms around myself in his absence. Did the temperature lower?
Hannah came around the desk, now at ease.
“Wow, you rode here with a Volturi? That must have been scary,” she said.
“Not really,” I replied.
She opened her mouth in astonishment. “But- They control the world now.”
“Yeah,” I said half mindedly.
My mind was still on Edward- my new master. He’d only looked at me once and it was with pure loathing.