One fateful night changed my life forever and brought secrets to light I never could have imagined, leaving me parentless, penniless, and caring for an ailing sister. My father was not the man I thought I knew, and his greed and sickness have left me with virtually nothing to use to care for my sister and get her the treatments she needs to maybe one day walk again. And now, we might lose our house, as well.
Luckily, an ad in the paper helps me regain some hope. I have something to barter with that not many courtesans have, after all, and it just might be enough to earn what's needed to secure my future as a successful Blood Courtesan. My first client turns out to be the man of my dreams, the sexy-as-sin vampire rock star I've lusted after since I was a teen, but he wants nothing to do with me or what I have to offer.
My father's misdeeds continue to haunt me and I'm left with only one option: I need to make the talented and headstrong Lyric Rivers desire me, or lose everything. Maybe even my life.
The Blood Courtesans Series, where vampires are real, rich, powerful--and hungry. Blood is bought and sold like fine wine, and the best blood goes to the highest bidder.
It's not supposed to be about love ... until it is.
Originally published in the Blood Courtesans Boxed Set: Awakenings.
IN THE GRAND SCHEME of things, what’s a little blood loss? The nurses at the hospital had already squeezed me practically dry just the other day. After everything I’d been through the past few months with my parents’ death and my sister Nina’s new disability, giving more as a blood courtesan didn’t seem so bad. I’d read plenty of articles about how the blood courtesans had changed the way society viewed vampires. Blood was now a rare commodity and humans were sold to the highest bidder. I’d become intrigued, and frankly, I needed the money. I heard a lot of the vampires paid top dollar for virgins, a commodity I still happened to possess. A brand I hadn’t been able to change. So here I was, driving through the streets of San Francisco, on this awfully foggy morning on my way to enter the world of the blood courtesans. This would be the solution for all my problems. Hopefully. The shrill ring of my phone through the car speakers startled me. I pushed accept on the screen when I saw Uncle Lars’s name. “Hi Uncle Lars.” “Neriza. Sweetheart. I’m worried about you. Let’s meet for brunch.” “I can’t. I’m on my way to … an appointment.” There was no way I could tell him I was about to become a blood courtesan. I knew he would hate the idea because he’d once called courtesans ‘blood whores,’ claiming they were the cause of many vampires starving and living on the streets. He didn’t have any issues with the vampires, just blood courtesans, and made no apologies for telling me exactly what he thought of it, claiming that rogue vampires who couldn’t afford to hire a courtesan preyed upon humans in alleyways in the city, sometimes killing them because they couldn’t control their intake. He’d also argued that too many young women were throwing away their virtue because society now condoned prostitution to vampires. He didn’t believe blood courtesans should be allowed to sell their blood and bodies as a commodity that shouldn’t have a price tag. “I’ve been thinking about your request for money. I’m sorry I don’t have enough to help pay for Nina’s care, but I do have something that might interest you.” “Um … I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’m late for a job interview, and if I get it, I won’t need your help.” “That’s terrific. Keep me posted. Your father would want me to make sure you and Nina are well taken care of.” “I will. Bye.” I pushed the end button on the console and took a deep breath. I hated lying to him. He was my dad’s younger brother and now the closest thing to a father that Nina and I had. I missed my dad so much, though, that just hearing Uncle Lars’s voice made memories of my mom and dad rise to the surface in my mind. I loosened my tight grip on the steering wheel, remembering how he’d taught me to drive. I’d begged and begged for him to teach me from the time I was fourteen. When I turned fifteen, he’d finally agreed. I glanced over at the empty passenger seat beside me, wishing he was sitting there now. But he was gone. Both he and Mom killed in a horrific car accident. The same one that left my younger sister paralyzed from the waist down. I should have been with them, but I’d been at a dress rehearsal that day. I had a passion for live theater and I’d been cast as Gypsy, in the musical, Gypsy Rosalie, for the community performing arts center. It was opening night and they’d all been on their way to see me perform. If only I hadn’t gotten that part, then they’d all be fine right now. If only my dad were still here, then I wouldn’t be driving on this foggy morning for my second, and hopefully final interview with Madame Bouchard. It seemed I had a bundle of “if only’s” polluting my mind these days. The road before me disappeared into pillows of clouds as moisture accumulated on my windshield. Even at fifteen miles an hour, I couldn’t see more than five feet in front of me. My hands tingled from gripping the steering wheel so tightly and I tried to recall my dad’s soothing words to help me relax. He’d been so calm and patient with me. I missed him so much. Relax, Neriza, my father’s reassuring voice echoed in my mind. You’re doing fine. Relax your hands. That’s right. Keep them at the ten and two o’clock positions, but not so tight. Your knuckles are turning white. He chuckled. You’re going to put dents in the steering wheel, sweetie. A blurry red light glowed up ahead and I slowed my already crawling speed. The fog dissipated to reveal a quiet intersection with no other cars, and I exhaled with a sigh of relief as my old, dilapidated Jeep rolled to a stop. Even though the fog lightened, it was dark for eight o’clock in the morning. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the light to change when an expensive looking stretched black sedan pulled up beside me, the dark windows preventing me from seeing who sat inside. I wondered if it was someone famous. You’d have to be famous or extremely wealthy to live in the west part of San Francisco and I’d heard a few celebrities had houses near the coastline. Maybe someone like … Lyric Rivers, lead singer of Crimson Rivers, sat in the back seat of that expensive looking black car. I’d heard he lived in this part of the city. I’ve been a fan since I was thirteen. I’ve been to five of his concerts. I’d even gone backstage last year when my friend scored VIP tickets from KCRA and asked me to join her. It was amazing. Lyric was sweet, and funny, and gorgeous, and sexy as hell. He’d kissed me on the cheek, an imprint that still made my stomach quiver every time I remembered the way his lips had pressed into my skin, hot and soft and sensual. Ahhh … What I wouldn’t give to be riding in that limo with him right now instead of on my way to become a blood courtesan. That is, if it was actually him. But with the dark windows up, I had no way of knowing. The light stayed red forever and I rolled down my window for some air, the thought of Lyric Rivers heating my blood. I pushed the power button on the CD player for a distraction. The speakers had been turned on high for the phone conversation and one of the Crimson Rivers’ songs blasted out since that disc was still in there from the last time I drove my car. The rolling down of the dark window in the backseat of the limo caught my attention and I glanced over. My heart caught in my throat when Lyric Rivers’ sexy smile caught my gaze. And then the light turned and the limo took off. I sat in my Jeep, stunned silly, because Lyric Rivers just smiled at me from the backseat of his limousine. It really was him. It wasn’t just my overactive imagination or my farfetched fantasies getting out of control. There was no mistaking that smile. I’d know it anywhere. He was my idol. It was definitely my all-time favorite rock star. That’s super crazy that one minute I’m imagining he’s in there and bam, there he is! I edged my car slowly forward as the two lanes merged into one. Seeing Lyric Rivers just then made my day, my week, my year. Now this dreaded drive up all the hills and one way streets didn’t seem so scary and confusing anymore. Heading up a steep incline, I glanced in the rearview mirror as another black sedan drove up close behind me. “Hmmm …” Maybe they were part of the band and were attempting to catch up to the limo up ahead. But the black sedan continued to stay too close. Too close for comfort. Why were they tailgating on such a foggy day? What was the driver’s deal? Any closer and he’d kiss my bumper. I hope the driver had good insurance because he’s about to rear-end me. Why don’t they just go around? I sped up a bit, but the stupid jerk just got closer. “What an asshole,” I said with a growl in the mirror. “If you want to pass me, pass me. Just get off my tail, will ya?” I hated impatient drivers who thought they owned the road. I steered to the right toward the curb to let them pass. I’d rather wait and go slow than put up with their aggravating aggression, but when they slowed along with me, my heart just about jumped out of my chest. What the hell? What was this guy’s deal? Why were they following me? At the top of the hill, I stopped at the stop sign. My old 2004 soft-top Jeep had a temperamental clutch and the sedan stopped so close behind me, there was no room to spare. Taking off on a hill with a temperamental five-speed stick shift was tricky. I’ll probably roll backward and smash into them. Doesn’t he realize how close he is? Beads of sweat accumulated between my breasts and under my arms. Ugh, my dress was going to be drenched by the time I got to my interview. I needed to calm down. I turned the music down to concentrate and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. It was probably nothing. Just an incompetent driver who didn’t know how to maneuver the hills of the city. I eased off the clutch and pressed on the gas, cringing as I anticipated the impact, but to my relief, I sped ahead without backing into the car. My dad would have been proud I’d executed that maneuver so efficiently. Heading down the backside of the hill, I glanced into the mirror and saw the sedan still riding my bumper. I would’ve pulled over to let them pass, but there was no shoulder. The only thing to my right was a steep cliffside overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I slowed, hoping they would go around me. Glancing in the rearview again, I watched the black car veer left. I let out the breath I’d subconsciously been holding and wiped the moisture from below my eyes as they attempted to pass. But then I screamed as the car scraped against the side of my Jeep, causing me to tug the steering wheel to the right, moving me so very close to the edge of the steep cliffside. They sped by as if they had no idea they’d made contact with my car. “What the …?” With my heart pounding frantically in my chest, I stopped my Jeep, too shaken at that moment to continue. Pulling over to exchange insurance information would have been the normal thing to do, but they just kept going as if nothing happened. I stayed stopped there for a few minutes longer to steady my breathing. I glanced at the time on my phone. I would be late for my interview if I didn’t get moving. Shifting the Jeep into gear, I guided the vehicle back onto the road just as the black car appeared once again behind me. But how? They’d already passed me. Tears stung my eyes and my hands shook. My heart beat so loudly I could hear it in my ears. Thump, thump, thump. I shouldn’t have stopped for so long, giving them the chance to get behind me again, but why were they doing this to me? Who were they? I sped up, but my Jeep was no match for the large, now ominous, black sedan as it rammed into my side. Were they trying to run me off the road? I headed down Pacific Drive, drove past the zoo that hadn’t even opened for the day yet and realized the grave mistake almost instantly as the steep cliffside loomed to my right. The black car sped up beside me and inched toward me, forcing me closer to the edge of the cliff. I screamed and slammed on the brakes as the black beast zoomed by, showing me the Mercedes emblem on the back. The car didn’t stop in front of me like I’d feared it would. Instead, it kept going down the highway as if nothing had happened. Stupid jerks! What was that all about? Why pick on me that way? I never did anything to them. I was a good driver. I never cut anyone off or did anything to incite such road rage. At least, I didn’t think I did. I didn’t even know who they were. Maybe they mistook me for someone else. Or maybe they were just some dumb ass teenage boys out for a joyride in daddy’s nice Mercedes, getting off on scaring a female driving alone on a foggy morning. Most likely the latter, because as far as I knew, I never did anything to provoke that. I eyed the side of the road and the cliffside, all too similar to the spot where my parents’ car took a nosedive just three months ago. The memory of that horrible night, the accident that took both my parents’ lives and left my sister paralyzed skimmed through my mind like a pebble across a glassy lake, plopping into the deep, dark abyss, leaving a hollowness entrenched in the bottom of my heart. I swiped away the tears dripping down my cheeks, quickly turning my Jeep onto the next road. When I came to the bottom of the hill, a police car rounded the corner and parked in front of a row of townhomes. Exhaling a heavy sigh, I turned into a parking spot across the street from the police car as a black sedan whizzed by me and down the hill out of sight. Was that the same car that just rammed into the side of me? Could they have gone around the corner that quickly and now they were back? That didn’t make sense. What the heck was going on? I shook my head. I was being ridiculous. There was more than one expensive black sedan on the streets of San Francisco and I was just imagining it was the same car. I eyed the cop sitting in his car across the street. I should report them. Hairs on the back of my neck tingled as a frisson of malaise thumped at the base of my throat making my heart race in my chest as I opened the door to run over to the police car to tell them what had happened. But I stopped when I realized I hadn’t even gotten the license plate of the car and those creeps were no doubt long gone by now. Plus, there was a black Mercedes sedan cruising down practically every street in this part of the city. I glanced at the clock on the dash. Time was ticking by and the cops would no doubt ask a ton of questions that I didn’t have time to answer. I didn’t want to be late and ruin this opportunity. I needed this job. Desperately. Decision made, I walked around my car to see if there were any dents. But my Jeep was old and most of the scratches were no doubt already there. I didn’t see any damage so maybe I imagined the bumps, they had been light, after all. Shit. I was just being paranoid. I glanced down the street. I was only a block away from Madame Bouchard’s suite and parking nearby had been quite a challenge the first time I’d been there, so I thanked my good fortune on snagging this spot and grabbed my purse from the back seat before heading on foot the rest of the way.
I sat in a large chair in the luxuriously furnished reception area outside Madame Bouchard’s office for the second time in a week. The two black suede sofas that sat adjacent to one another looked like they were taken right out of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion. Sitting on one of the six cushy, red velvet chairs that graced the area, I studied a large mural painted on one of the walls. A naked male vampire cradled an equally nude woman on his knee. One of his hands was tucked between her legs while his long arm curled under her back with his hand coming up the side to cup her breast. With his face pressed in the side of her neck, blood dripped down from behind her and onto his leg. I unconsciously ran my finger over my bottom lip as a stirring fluttered in my stomach. The painting brought heat to my cheeks, invoking a flame into my core at the idea of a man, no a vampire, touching me that way. I flinched at the whine of a shredding machine as papers were stuffed into the slot by the young man sitting behind the counter, reminding me I wasn’t alone. I quickly averted my attention to the adjacent wall painted a deep, dark purple, while the other two were a pale beige with just a hint of violet. I stared straight ahead, occasionally glancing at the slim young man sitting behind the large reception desk. He wore his black hair slicked back and had a gold ring in one of his nostrils. He had to be in his mid-twenties. Someone I might actually have liked to date. Except, instead, here I was waiting to find out if I’d been accepted as a blood courtesan. Goosebumps prickled my arms as I tried to focus on breathing. Fear of what I was getting myself into slid its way into my mind like a slippery piece of ice. Cold and slick. Long slow breaths in one nostril and slowly out the other just like my acupuncture friend, Wendy had taught me. I had to remind myself, this was my second interview and that had to be good, right? I must have impressed them enough the first time to be called back. Once, the guy at the counter caught me looking at him and he smiled. I’d quickly averted my gaze down to the pink roses etched into the dark red carpet beneath my black high-heeled sandals. My hands shook. This was probably a stupid mistake. Should I be doing this? Was this really my only option? Standing, I walked to the window overlooking the San Francisco skyline. Tall glass buildings reflected the rays of the late morning sun peeking through patches of clear sky with radiant hues of blues and purple caused by the dissipating fog. I paced in front of the window, overwhelmed by the debt that weighed heavily on my shoulders. To be honest, I was embarrassed to be there. To be seen by the receptionist, or anyone, knowing why I was there. What must he think of me? Uncle Lars’ harsh words reverberated in my mind. Those damn ‘blood whores’ are why so many vampires are starving and living on the streets. Best not to think about that, or the young man behind the counter. I stepped back to the seat I’d been sitting in. Better to look relaxed in a chair, than to nervously pace around the room like a caged animal. I’d probably never be considered respectable to another human male again after this. Blood courtesans were, like Uncle Lars said, blood whores, although according to the advertisement in the newspaper, the title actually carried a great deal of prestige. Of course, that all depended on one’s social circles and ethical beliefs. I doubted my parents would have agreed. My mother would probably roll over in her grave if she knew what I was about to do. But I really didn’t have any other choice, and like I said, what’s a little more blood loss when my sister’s life depended on it? Plus, I’d be giving someone else life. Right? Wasn’t that the right thing to do? The humane thing to do? Oh, wait. He won’t be human, will he? Still, I would be saving a life. Human or vampire, did it really make a difference? The phone buzzed again and the clerk picked up the receiver. He nodded and placed the phone back on the cradle and looked out toward me. “Miss Swan? Madame will see you now.” I stood as he gestured toward the other side of the room. I walked slowly toward her office, swallowing the lump in my throat. I stood just outside the closed door and smoothed down my dress, making sure that my panties were smooth and didn’t show through the tight, body-hugging outfit. Now I was having second thoughts. This was it. My entire life was about to change. I shoved the heavy door open and Madame Bouchard immediately stood from a dark brown leather chair and walked toward me with her hand extended. “Neriza. Darling. I’m so glad to see you again. And you look as gorgeous, if not more, than I remember.” I took her hand and she placed her other hand on top of it. “Tha … thank you for seeing me again.” I wanted to kick myself for stammering like an idiot, but my tongue somehow got caught in my throat. “Come. I want you to meet someone.” A man stood and turned toward us. He wore a dark blue pin-striped suit, a dark blue shirt that was the same color, paired with a dark blue silk tie. All the garments blended together, but complemented each other. “Neriza Swan, this is Keegan Storm.” “It’s a pleasure, Ms. Swan,” he said with a likable smile, extending his hand out for mine. “Very nice to meet you, Mr. Storm.” I placed my hand in his and was surprised to find his warm. Very natural feeling. “Please call me Keegan. May I call you Neriza?” “Yes. That’s fine.” I supposed, though I had no idea who he was. I didn’t think he was a vampire, especially since it was daylight, though I’d heard that some could walk in the sunlight for a short amount of time. I wasn’t sure on the particulars. He was handsome and clean cut with short hair and a smooth-shaven face. “Neriza is my newest courtesan and my most beautiful at the moment.” Madame Bouchard smiled at Keegan and then turned toward me. “Let’s all sit down, shall we?” I sat in one of the leather seats adjacent to Madame and directly across from Keegan. Tiny tremors quaked through me and I crossed my leg over my knee in an effort to stop the shaking, hoping this interview wouldn’t be as personal as the first. My first meeting with Madame Bouchard consisted of all kinds of embarrassing questions about my menstrual cycle and if I’d ever had sexual intercourse. Her thin dark eyebrows rose with interest when I said I hadn’t. At first, I’d thought about lying and telling her I had loads of experience with men, but then I’d relented to the truth—which was always best when it came to interview etiquette according to the internet when I’d Googled ‘blood courtesans’ for advice. You never know when a lie could come back to bite you in the ass-- “What do you think so far, Keegan? Will she do?” He smiled and nodded as he dragged his gaze down to my breasts and then all the way to my ankles before settling back on my face. I quickly uncrossed my legs as I realized how much thigh was exposed when they were crossed. “Her picture didn’t do her justice. I think she’ll do just fine, just fine indeed. Lyric will be pleased.” “Lyric?” I asked. “Then you’re not the one who will be, um … purchasing me?” He laughed. “No, of course not.” What was obvious to him wasn’t to me and I didn’t like being laughed at. This was my first time. How was I supposed to know how these things worked? “Yes, dear,” Madame Bouchard supplied with a gentle smile. “Keegan is human and is the agent for a couple of my clients.” My cheeks heated. I hadn’t realized vampires used agents to purchase their courtesans. “Some of our clients have agents since they cannot be out in the daylight. Most humans have daylight hours until they’re signed up to be blood courtesans, so it’s more convenient all around. Except of course, when there are auctions, those are always held at night.” This wasn’t really an interview at all. I already had the job! I smiled slightly, but inside I wanted to jump up and down with excitement. I was going to be able to pay for Nina’s care after all! Oh my God! This was real. Will the vampire I’m contracted with be attractive? How will he treat me? Will he be kind, considerate? Or would he be mean and dominating and only interested in his own needs? How old was he? “Lyric Rivers will be your client,” Keegan supplied, breaking into my sudden, self-induced panic attack. I blinked rapidly. “Lyric Rivers?” “Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. All the young girls know who Lyric Rivers is.” “Lyric Rivers, as in Lyric Rivers of the Crimson Rivers band?” “Yes, exactly.” Holy shit!