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       Created Darkly, p.11

           Gena D. Lutz
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  Rush stumbled out of his chair and pulled out my seat. As soon as I plopped down, a shriek from behind me compelled me to jump and turn. The next thing I knew, my new friend, Addie, was in mid-fling, a collision course into my vampire’s arms.

  Did I just call Rafe mine? The connection I felt towards him was becoming more intense, not to mention insane. They weren’t feelings of lust, love, or even longing. They were more aptly described as being a deep, instinctual protectiveness and somehow, an already established bond of kinship that usually took years of trials and tribulations to form. Speaking of close bonds and friendships, I thought of Jude and how much I already missed him.

  “I thought you were dead!” Addie yelled over the booming music, blaring out of the club’s speakers. “Devil and I weren’t expecting you for years!”

  Those two knew each other. Hmmm…. My ears perked up.

  “I’d still be dead as a doornail if it weren’t for the lovely Kris, and from the way you two walked over here all chummy-like, I am assuming you’ve already had the pleasure of meeting my beautiful Creator,” Rafe said while looking my way.

  Addie’s concentration was fierce as she swung around in Rafe’s arms to study me. “So I have you to thank for bringing this lunatic back to us so soon?”

  I nodded. A huge smile brightened the bombshell’s face, and before I knew it, I was wrapped in a hug of my own. “I knew there was something about you that I liked,” she said.

  Rafe quirked a brow. Amusement flickered bright in his eyes. “She raised me from the dead so I can do her evil bidding.”

  After backing away from my arms, Addison took a seat at the table. I followed suit and so did the fellas. “So…what kind of evil task do you have in mind for him, Kris?” Her voice was filled with excitement.

  Rafe snorted and answered the question instead. “She wants me to be good. Can you believe that?”

  Addie’s hair flew back as she laughed. “Good luck with that one, honey. Rafe is a letch and a randy fool, and if you know what’s best for you, you’ll keep that in mind.”

  “With friends like you, sweet Addison, I miss the company of my enemies,” Rafe jabbed back.

  Rush turned with a smile and held out his hand to Addie. “I’m Rush Davis. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

  Addison stopped laughing, looked down at Rush’s offered hand, and then turned away. After a moment, she shook her head and politely said, “I’m sorry, but without permission from Devil, I can’t touch you. But thanks for being so nice. It really is a pleasure to meet you.”

  I made a sound of disbelief; it grabbed everyone’s attention. “I know it’s none of my business, and I should probably shut my mouth now, but I never do. Your vampire master, or boyfriend, or whatever he is, has no right to control you like that. No one does. He sounds like a male chauvinist pig.”

  I crossed my arms and sat back hard in my seat. There went my stress-free drinking bender. Vampires always screw stuff up. The men at the table said nothing. They looked around, wrung their hands, and stared at their drinks. Addie, however, was a different story. She moved her head slightly to the side, giving me a curious look, one that screamed, “Bitch! Who do you think you are?” She shuffled her long, blood-red nails against the table and kicked her chin up a notch before leaning forward, pinning me with an unrelenting glare.

  “You know, looking out for another female is a trait to be admired, but to be a straight up bitch about something you know nothing about isn’t cool. Who put a bee in your bonnet, Kris? Something has to be wrong, ‘cause there’s no way you’re this big a bitch all the time.”

  The intensity of her words hit me like a fist. I wasn’t used to anyone speaking to me like that. Before I said something that could only end with me on the floor, fists full of blond hair, I reached over, grabbed my drink, and downed it. I was finally starting to feel the effects of all the alcohol I had been guzzling down like water, and my head was spinning. I reached up and cradled my forehead to try and steady myself.

  Addison stopped reprimanding me, and instead, her scorn turned to concern. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. Are you okay?”

  I peeked between my fingers at her and nodded. “I’m all right. All the booze I’ve drunk is catching up with me, is all. I’m usually not a big drinker…just having a bad couple days. Sorry for being a bitch.”

  “Her sister is missing,” Rush said. “She’s been a bit sensitive because of it.”

  “That’s one way to put it,” Rafe added.

  Wow! Rafe and Rush finally agreed on something—the fact that I was being a raging bitch. Perfect. “I like you guys better when you’re fighting.”

  All three of them laughed.

  With a smile, Addison hopped from her stool. She scrambled to stand next to a tall, well-built man. The gentleman wore a pristine black suit and crisp, ice-blue tie. He towered over Addie by at least a foot and had the broadest shoulders I’d ever seen. Any bodybuilder in his prime would have been envious of the mountainous man.

  Addie faded into the background as she stood in contrast to the imposing force of nature. His size was intimidating; I wanted to hide under the table from him. But like all things that scared me, I pushed the annoying feeling aside and forced myself to sit taller in my seat, refusing to cower down, no matter how bad I wanted to.

  My eyes burned, visibly glowing in response to the presence of such a powerful vampire. And make no mistake, his life force was potent. I concentrated on the magic invading my eyes, making the glow in them fade. I couldn’t get rid of the tell-tale sign completely, but I could make it dwindle down to a dull glint.

  “Devil!” Rafe cheered in response to the vampire’s arrival. “I thought you’d be working. What a nice surprise.”

  “Ah, there’s plenty of time for work later. Besides, how can I concentrate on paperwork when I receive word that someone who happens to resemble my dead best friend is breaking into my private quarters above the club? I, of course, had to investigate such a ludicrous claim.” The large vampire leaned down and pecked Addison on the cheek. He then slapped her rear and laughed. “Out of all the suits in my closet, you had to borrow my favorite Armani. Even undead, you’re a big pain in my ass, Rafe. Stand up, brother. Let me get a good look at you…and my suit.”

  Rafe walked over to Devil. The big ogre of a vampire pulled Rafe into a heartfelt embrace, one that looked to squeeze the life from him. They both laughed, and words were exchanged. I could hardly make out what they were saying, because their conversation came out in an excited rush.

  “That’s my Devil,” Addie whispered in my ear. “And just so you know, if you’re friends with Rafe, then you’re like royalty in this place.”

  “Why is that?” I asked, keeping an amused eye glued on the unabashed, brotherly reunion unfolding before me. It was a touching scene, and I felt privileged to be a part of their happiness. I slammed down a shot of something blue and sweet. Somehow, there was always a drink in front of me, which, I supposed, wasn’t a bad problem to have.

  “Did you notice the sign when you walked in here tonight—the big, white and red blinking one?” Addie chuckled.

  “Of course, I saw that flashing eyesore. Who could miss it? It said Devil’s Playground. Am I right?” I took yet another blue shot. “Pretty cool name for a club. A little morbid, maybe, but fitting.”

  “So?” she asked.

  “So what?” I giggled, and then hiccupped. I was pretty sure I hit drunk a while back. I was coasting on the having a fanciful time ride.

  Addie huffed and pushed into the seat next to mine, leaving the guys alone to chum it up. She grabbed two shots and downed one, and then another.

  “You’re drunk, Kris. And to that, I have only two things to say. First and foremost, we are partying tonight with none other than the owners of this here fine establishment. Devil—Get it? Devil’s Playground?—and his dashingly handsome partner in crime, Rafe Devereaux.”

  When she rece
ived only a shrug from me over her ‘big’ news, she smiled and shook her head. “And two,” she said, grabbing up another shooter, “it’s high time for me to catch up with you.” That one was red, and it looked just as yummy as the blue one. She chugged it back.

  I lifted up a red shot, eager to try the new flavor. “To that, I say…‘Cheers!’”

  Chapter Seventeen

  As result of having too many of those blue and red shooters, I teetered back and forth on my barstool. A sudden loud boom and the acoustic rattle of base, vibrating from the speakers on stage, almost had me toppling over altogether.

  “Careful,” Rush said, gently grabbing my shoulder. “Maybe you should switch to water for a bit. Here, you can have mine.” He pushed a tall glass of ice water in front of me.

  “Yeah, you’re right, but I’m feeling so good right now.” My voice sounded low and seductive. Was my drunken ass trying to seduce him? That didn’t take a genius to figure out. The answer was ‘yes.’

  Rush laughed and pushed a straw against my lips. “Just a couple of sips, and I’ll leave you alone.”

  That sounded reasonable enough. But instead of a few sips, I ended up drinking the whole glassful. “Thank you. But I’d rather you not leave me alone.”

  Instant heat blazed in his eyes. I leaned over and rubbed my shoulder against his. “How about another shot?” I asked.

  His hand cupped over my bare shoulder. With a gentle brush, he rubbed small circles with his thumb. I relaxed against him.

  “We’ll talk about shots after another glass of water, beautiful. Is that okay?”

  I sighed. “I guess so.”

  On stage, the curtain began to open. I blinked several times to try and focus my shaky vision as the lights in the club dimmed. Excited chatter began to rise all around me. Anticipation swelled and I looked over at Rafe and Devil, who had stopped talking and were both staring anxiously at the stage.

  “What’s going on?” I whispered to Addison.

  “Every weekend night, before the bar closes, Devil’s harem performs. I’m usually up there with them, but I shirked my duties tonight. I wanted to spend time with Rafe and my new friends.” Addie entwined our arms and squeezed gently. “It’s quite a show. Watch and see for yourself.” She pushed her hair back over her shoulder and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek. “I hope you don’t get offended easily.”

  I glanced back over to the stage. Addison had managed to give the show quite an interesting intro. She piqued my curiosity, making me somewhat nervous and intrigued all in the same turn. I lifted the glass and slurped down the final drops of water with a straw. I was beginning to feel even dizzier. Good thing Rush had cut me off.

  “Remind me to never drink those red and blue shooters ever again,” I groaned to everyone at the table.

  “You okay?” Rafe asked.

  “She’s fine,” Rush answered.

  I nudged Rush in the side with my elbow. “Yes, I am, thank you.”

  Rafe smiled and turned to watch the stage.

  Everything dimmed to black. The nervous chatter all around the room ceased, and any errant eyes were, all at once, looking towards the stage. The music started to flow. Winding notes that produced a lilting melody had everyone swaying to the sensual beat, almost hypnotized, like docile cobras with hoods unflared, in their seats. I had an overwhelming urge to stand up. It was a compulsion to be freed from inhibitions and throw caution, and my clothes, to the wind, so I could gyrate naked amidst the beauty of the music, which so completely reached inside of me, soul deep. But somehow, my ass stayed planted firmly in place. Thank God for small favors. In my condition, a stunt like that would’ve most assuredly left me face down on the floor.

  “It’s about to begin,” Addison whispered, giving my arm another squeeze.

  The deep red, velvet curtains swept across the stage, opening wide to reveal two of the most visually enticing women I’d ever seen, not counting their counterpart who happened to be sitting snugly at my side, giggling. The two women stood poised, arms wrapped around each other in different erotic poses.

  Their costumes hung from tender, soft curves, silver coins dangling from gossamer material; each outfit was a different, vibrant shade. A voluptuous redhead was garbed in an eye-catching emerald green. And then my personal favorite, a sable-haired temptress, showcased a sapphire blue ensemble. After taking a second look, I noticed that the two women kept subtle eye contact with Devil and Addie. I doubted anyone else could see past their beauty to notice the slight action.

  “What color is your outfit?” I asked Addie.

  Her eyes twinkled. “My paramour outfit is the purest white, almost transparent, with diamonds, instead of silver, hand sewn across the bodice. I’m Devil’s main bride, the one that’s been with him the longest.”

  “How long have you been with him, if you don’t mind my asking?”

  “It will be two centuries next month. I have something wonderful planned for our anniversary.” A happy, yet mischievous, look crept across her face.

  My jaw dropped. I knew for a fact that Addison wasn’t a vampire or a necromancer, and she was obviously not a ghost. So how was she sustaining a youthful appearance?

  I raised an eyebrow. “Okay, now I know your messing with me. You look twenty-five, if a day. How could you possibly be over two hundred years old? You’re screwing with me because I’m a little drunk, aren’t you?” I asked with a laugh.

  I looked to the side to see if anyone was listening, but the men weren’t paying attention to anything other than the erotic performance unfolding onstage. I didn’t blame them.

  Devil’s brides were moving seductively across the wood planks, hips swaying to the slow, thumping bass, arms swirling in front of them, reaching up, always moving forward. When they met in the middle, bare feet stopping in front of a pile of pillows, they merged. The red-haired beauty cradled the other woman’s jaw in her hand, her fingers pressed into the flesh at her hip. They moved a few beats, swaying and thrusting together. Sable hair cascaded to pool on floor when the second bride leaned backwards, arching her back and reaching out. Gentle fingers crawled over flesh pulled tight from the backwards incline. She smoothed her hand over the sumptuous contours of the dark-haired bride’s heaving breasts, and lower, skimming her midriff. Dropping her other hand, the red-haired bride knelt to the floor.

  With a smirk, I looked back at Addison, the women on stage almost making me forget what we’d been discussing. Her confused look swept across my face. I didn’t blame her. For a Creator, I knew little, to almost nothing, about the supernatural world and its laws, but I always thought I knew one thing for certain. The use of life magic was restricted to only the strongest of necromancers, Creators. So how could she be practically immortal without dying first, and then being awakened?

  “Devil has kept me young and by his side all these years. You are curious as to how he was able to do this?”

  I nodded.

  “The answer is simple. He lets me drink from his vein regularly. I’m the only one of his brides who receives this gift, because it weakens him a little every time we do it,” she said, hushed.

  I blew out a breath. “I didn’t know that was even possible. Can every vampire do this?”

  “Last time I checked, yes. However, the older the vampire, the more potent their blood is. Younger vamps need to hoard their magic to better sustain themselves. It takes a baby vampire about half a century before their blood is strong enough to sustain a drudge or bride.”

  Addison obviously had a lot of experience with that kind of stuff, but I’d been ignorant about a lot of things. I hiccupped and looked across the table at Rafe and Devil. Even though they faded in and out, because of my skewed vision, what my beer goggles could make out was that on the outside, they both seemed so normal, almost human, like with their excitement and in the way it was evident, how much they had missed each other. They didn’t seem like monsters at all. But who really knew what lay beneath the façade of those two well-gro
omed, gentle-mannered vampires? They indeed had the looks, strength, and animalistic instincts to wreak all sorts of havoc on mankind.

  Yes, looks could most assuredly be deceiving, I reminded myself, especially when blood lust was involved. I licked my lips and tried to act sober, but my mind was still fuzzed out by the booze. Somehow, I was able to manage a coherent thought through the muck and ask, “What’s a drudge?”

  “Rafe was Devil’s drudge until he rose anew as a vampire; he was his companion, of sorts, for longer than I’ve been Devil’s bride. Those two are closer than brothers. Although drudges are usually considered assistants, in earlier days, they would have been the equivalent of a slave.”

  I blanched at that.

  “Now, hold on,” she continued. “Consider the alternative. Servitude to a good and just master is a small price to pay for the chance at centuries of youth and the possibility of becoming a vampire, if you ask me. It’s all in whom you know, and of course, whom you do.” She turned and looked at me with the brightest smile. The intensity of it scared me, and it made me wonder about whom I was spending my time with.

  “Case in point,” she said, pushing a strand of hair from my face. “I’m now in league with a talented Creator. I’ve only met two of your kind in my entire existence. You’re as rare and elusive as a mystical unicorn in a child’s fable.”

  Her compliment made me blush. It was either that or the copious amounts of alcohol running amuck in my system, making my face flush and swarm with heat.

  Before I could take the conversation any further, an urgent nagging in my gut had me anxiously scanning the room for distress signals. The atmosphere had quickened into something ominous, and my hand jerked to the back of my skirt, only to find bare skin, instead of the gun that I had stowed away in Addie’s purse. I reached down by her feet and yanked the bag into my lap, knowing that I would feel a lot better if I had a weapon in my hands. I buried my arm to the elbow in her purse and quickly brought out my security. The cool feel of metal against my palm had an instant calming effect.

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