To celebrate Hallowe'en, I am sharing one of the stories in my Vampire Romance anthology, Vampires Don't Drink Coffee and Other Stories
I expect you consider vampires to be either the stuff of myth or blood-sucking monsters – if you think of them at all, that is. Believe me, they are real – and contrary to popular belief, most just wish to be left alone. Of course there have been occasions when blood-lust and power have turned a vampire evil, but then that can happen with humans too. As is the case with mortals, there are some undead souls who yet belong with the angels – and I mean those of the Heavenly persuasion, not the Fallen.
I know such a vampire. His name is Dimitri Nikolaides and he must surely be descended from the gods of Mount Olympus! Tall and leanly muscled, he is incredibly good-looking, the sculpted planes of his pale, angular face accentuated by his long black hair and vibrant blue eyes. I met him at a fund-raiser for leukaemia, which I had organized following my own life-shattering diagnosis with the disease. The event had helped me to feel that I was fighting back, but one thing is for sure – if I had not met Dimitri that night, I would have died.
My name is Tessa Brandon and I used to be a children’s nurse. I loved my job and I lived life to the full. Being a self-confessed, fun-loving party animal, I had a different boyfriend nearly every week. I told myself variety was the spice of life, but the truth was I had always shied away from commitment because my parents had broken up when I was small. I had never considered any of my relationships to be worth that pain. Then the disease struck. Knowing I was going to die without anyone special to care about me turned the once-colourful palette of my existence to a drab, soulless grey.
It is probable that I contracted the disease through radiation build-up whilst working on the terminal ward. It is a low risk, but nevertheless one of the hazards of the job. At first, when I was diagnosed, I went to pieces. It is one of those things you think is never going to happen to you, then when it does it is utterly devastating, but the dignity and courage displayed by all the wonderful children I had nursed inspired me not to give in and crumble. Hence the fund-raising.
This particular function was a dinner and auction of promises. As organizer I was expected to be there, but I planned to keep a low profile. It was being held in the glittering ballroom of a plush hotel, where floor-to-ceiling mirrors along one wall reflected back scores of candle-effect lights from a dozen chandeliers. Wine-red velvet curtains showcased hundreds of richly dressed socialites.
Diamonds winked in the ears and around the throats of sex-kittens and divas, while gold and platinum adorned the wrists of playboys and magnates. This was no place for catalogue bargains or polyester. The local ‘haves’ were shamelessly displaying their worth, salving their collective consciences by giving generously to the ‘have-nots’. The promises on offer ranged from balloon rides and slaves-for-a-day to a supermarket grab-it and a day-share in a racehorse. Since the tickets cost fifty pounds each, the number of ordinary folk likely to be present was limited, but the object was to make money and lots of it. Those in attendance were, in slang parlance, rolling in it.
I had felt reasonably happy with my appearance when I left the ladies’ rest room. Having been at the hotel all day, to ensure that everything was in place for this multi-faceted jewel in the charity’s money-raising crown, it had seemed ridiculous to go all the way home to my tiny flat just to change. Faced with all the glamour in the ballroom, however, my confidence was rapidly fading, along with my energy.
A stage had been erected at one end of the function hall, in front of a cream-painted wall on which coloured lights could be trained to create special effects appropriate to the event in progress. Tonight, photographic slides were being projected on to the wall to ‘advertise’ each promise. Currently, a super-size black thoroughbred racehorse was in full gallop across a long strip of verdant green turf, a tiny blob of a human clinging like a monkey to its huge back. In the background, the strains of the theme to the television series ‘Black Beauty’, which I used to watch as a child, were playing over the speakers. ‘Galloping Home’ it was called, I remembered, smiling to myself at the lack of originality. Most of the crowd were probably too merry to notice, anyway.
On the stage, the horse’s owner or trainer was talking up the ability of the nag and the races it had already contested. It did seem to have done quite well, but apart from the Grand National, I don’t know one race from another, and I don’t suppose the rest of the moneyed throng did either, so they could have been flogging a real dud for all I knew.
Nevertheless, the bidding was brisk, especially from one corner of the ballroom, where a group of businessmen were egging each other on with noisy enthusiasm. Evidently already three sheets to the wind, they managed to outbid each other – and everyone else interested – to the tune of five thousand pounds. Brian Gibbs, one-time colleague, old friend and tonight’s Master of Ceremonies was nearly apoplectic with delight and almost screamed his encouragement down the microphone. It was a lot of money, but rather cynically, I could not help thinking to myself that if the horse was as good as the owner/trainer had implied, then the red-faced gent in the tight-fitting white dinner jacket who had had the final bid was likely to win an awful lot more than that.
The next lot was the services of a limousine and driver for the day. On the display behind the dais was a picture of a gleaming Lady Penelope-type pink Rolls Royce, whilst on to the stage tottered (I cannot say walked, for her heels were too high) the leggy blonde chauffeuse… in tight baby pink jacket which revealed a quantity of cleavage – no blouse, needless to say – and a matching pink mini skirt which barely covered her… assets. Of course all the men in the room, including the balding, bespectacled auctioneer, were virtually drooling at the mouth. I noticed more than one wife or girlfriend poke an errant ‘other half’ back to a semblance of twenty-first century, rather than Neolithic, behaviour.
Even so, the ballroom was in an uproar as bids flew in from all sides.
“Fifty quid,” shouted one bright spark from the back of the room.
“One hundred,” roared another.
“Gentlemen, please!” entreated Wallis, the auctioneer. “I cannot accept an opening bid of less than five hundred pounds. And please remember that only Miss Pinkerton’s driving skills are being auctioned.”
A loud groan echoed around the room followed by a burst of laughter. I wondered wearily if some of them would stay sober long enough to view all the lots. In spite of evident female disapproval, however, competition was fierce and Miss Pinkerton was finally knocked under the gavel for three thousand, five hundred pounds. I almost laughed out loud when I saw that the winning bid had been made by the diamond necklace and tiara-wearing wife of a local bank manager. I had a strong suspicion that she would be enjoying the services of the chauffeuse while spending large quantities of her husband’s money on a shopping spree. That would teach him, I thought with a certain amount of glee.
It was beginning to feel very stuffy in the crowded hall and as the next lot was introduced, a straightforward balloon ride, I started to think longingly of floating away myself. My attention began to wander and it was then that I caught sight of my reflection in one of the mirrors. I could not help but cringe.
My face was the colour of whey and the cerise lamé turban which I had bought from a charity shop to hide my absent ash-blonde curls had clearly been made for someone with a rounder head than I. In the cloakroom mirror, it had seemed content to stay where I put it; in the warmth of the function hall, it had slipped drunkenly sideways. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, given the way matters turned out – none of this seemed to bother Brian.
Two lots later, as proceedings were drawing to a close, he swooped down on me before I had a chance to engineer my escape. Ignoring my wan face and badly-fitting headdress, he dismissed my pathetically garbled veto with a wave of his hand and dragged me up the three steps on to the stage. It was at that moment that I saw Dimitri for the first time.
I suppose I noticed him because he was standing on his own to the other side of the dais, with his attention on the merry gathering rather than the ‘merchandise’ and a glass of red wine instead of the customary champagne in his hand. His gaze held mine and for several seconds I had the oddest sensation we were the only people in the room. Slowly, almost insolently, he then allowed his eyes to travel over the spangled black party frock I had hired for the occasion. He raised an eyebrow and instantly I had a strange notion that he understood how much I hated the limelight. Something new and unheralded uncurled in my stomach and came to life beneath his scrutiny. My lips opened on a breath and my heart beat a rapid tattoo against my ribs.
I began to feel light-headed as Brian pressed me to make a speech. The bright lights of the crystal chandeliers seemed to spin before my eyes. All colours of the rainbow – pink, red, blue, green – swirled around me like a shoal of exotic fish in a turquoise ocean. Oddly, the events which followed seemed to take place in slow motion and yet at the same time, while I remember each moment with perfect clarity, they were over in a flash.
I turned from Dimitri to make my excuses to Brian. Somehow as I turned, I lost my balance in my borrowed heels. My spangled dress had a narrow, figure-hugging skirt and as I took an unwary step to save myself, the fabric snagged around my thigh, blocking my movement. I heard the crowd gasp as I teetered precariously and then made an undignified swan dive off the stage. Before I hit the parquet floor and without apparently moving, Dimitri was there, cradling me…
I fainted into oblivion.
I awoke in a high, narrow hospital bed with monitors bleeping and various wires attaching me to them. Dimitri was gone. Brian and his wife Beryl, my second-in-command, were arguing, sotto voce, in the corner of the soulless private room. It was like a thousand other such rooms in hospitals the length and breadth of the British Isles. Painted a utilitarian and dispiriting grey, there were drab grey-green curtains at the one small window, a hard, similarly-coloured faux leather chair beside the bed and a marginally more comfortable-looking armchair against the opposite wall. On a trolley table at the end of the bed was an ancient television. I tried not to, but could not help listening to the heated conversation.
“You fool!” Beryl was saying. “Couldn’t you see how pale she was? She’s run herself ragged putting this together. Throwing the spotlight on her like that, when you know how much she hates being ‘gawped at’ as she puts it… Well, it might have been the last straw. This might be… the end.”
Her voice lowered to a whisper, but I heard the emotion there. We had been working for months on various fund-raising events and were a good team, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We had become close friends in the process. I was aware of being weaker than I could ever remember, but it was too much effort to process what that meant. I felt numb. I wondered if this was how it was, at the end, this fog-like calm acceptance. My eyes scanned the unlit corners of the sterile, impersonal room; only dimly did I realize I was seeking the wraith of Death.
A nurse wearing lilac scrubs and a plastic apron came in, her grim expression swiftly changing to a cheery smile when she saw I was awake. As she checked my vital signs, she murmured words of encouragement, but I was not about to be fooled and neither was Beryl. I distinctly heard her sob. I wanted to reassure her that I was ready to go, but my brain would not cooperate. With a sigh I closed my eyes…
The hospital clock showed two a.m. when I next opened them. All was quiet, apart from the bleeps of the equipment and a low humming similar to that a refrigerator makes. A spicy aroma vied with the integral, sanitized antiseptic smell as the atmosphere in the room distinctly cooled. By the door the shadows seemed to shift… I blinked and Dimitri stepped forward to the bed. In the low-wattage overhead light I could see he was wearing navy chinos and a matching silk shirt. A heavy gold ring encircled the middle finger of his left hand. He took hold of mine, a white wisp against his olive-toned strength, and blood rushed to my nerve endings, making them tingle in the manner of feeling returning to a cramped limb.
“Fear not, pethi mou,” he murmured. His voice was deep and soothing, yet stirred my senses. “I can help you. Drink, now.”
My mind fuddled with drugs, I obeyed as he pressed something to my mouth. The liquid was warm and slightly salty, with a metallic taste. I grimaced, turning my head aside to avoid whatever it was he was giving me, but he spoke again – softly, compellingly – and I followed his bidding without another thought.
When I woke the next morning, I believed Dimitri’s visit must have been a dream, a side-effect of all the medication I had been given. However, I astounded everyone – including myself – by sitting up and swallowing some chicken soup for dinner. That night I slept more deeply than in a very long time and I dreamed of him again, though this time my overwrought hormones had his muscular body enhanced by a figure-hugging black T-shirt and black jeans. I woke up short of breath, as if I had been running, my nostrils full of cinnamon and nutmeg and a coppery tang lingering on my lips. Rubbing my rough scalp, I gulped a mouthful of water from the glass by my bed. I had never had such a sensuous and powerful dream. It disturbed me and yet I felt… more alive, more vital, than I had in months.
All week he came and each day I embellished the sweet fantasy, even though I knew that it could not happen. The handsome hero could not save me. Nothing and no-one could save me. Nevertheless, my condition continued to improve dramatically. The doctors were dumbstruck. I was tempted to tell them of my nocturnal visitor, but I knew they would somehow prevent him coming. I did tell my best friend Julie when she came to visit, but with sublime disregard for our long-standing relationship, she leaned back in the armchair, chuckled throatily and blamed the drugs. Being a mature, responsible adult, I threw my pillow at her.
Determined to prove I wasn’t hallucinating, that night I refused the medication the nurse brought me. Of course there was a mighty fuss at this. The ward sister was sent for – a frosty creature in a starched mauve uniform – and she summoned the on-call doctor, who considered me gravely and advised against such a course in a strained, over-worked tone, but finally I convinced them I was adamant. When the furore had eventually died down and I was once more alone, I set my watch alarm for midnight. Dimitri arrived soon after, dressed in charcoal trousers, short-sleeved white shirt and a black leather jacket. His hair, dark as a raven’s wing, flopped sexily over his brow. My hormones sat up and took notice.
“Who are you?” I asked as he soundlessly approached the bed. He seemed to glide across the two-tone grey tile-effect floor. “Some sort of Guardian Angel?!”
He said nothing at first, as if considering. “Once I was a doctor. I help where I can.” His voice was low-pitched and gravelly. It sent shock-waves of sensation to my stomach.
“You made me drink. Made me better.” It was a statement, not a question. “What did you give me?”
“It is best you do not know.”
He turned away, his movement smooth and assured. Suddenly I was afraid I would never see him again.
“Don’t leave. Tell me… Please.”
I climbed from the bed, reaching for him. As I clutched at his arm, my mind at once filled with images: star-filled skies; barren moonlit landscapes; a figure tramping dark, empty streets. I saw his loneliness and felt his sorrow, his need to hold and be held. Was this his life I was seeing? How could that be? I had never before had any kind of spiritual experience. In fact I had always had so much trouble deciding what to buy close friends and family for Christmas, knowing what they were thinking would have been a huge help.
His skin twitched beneath my fingers, as if his body was healing, coming back to life the same as mine was. What a bizarre thought! His brilliant sapphire eyes captured mine; their pupils contracted, the colour intensifying… and I felt oddly as though I were drowning in their depths. Raising my hand, he pressed a kiss to my palm. I trembled deliciously, my lips burning in anticipation under his heated perusal.
Without being aware that I did so, I reached upwards. His lips were cool and sweet, his kiss gentle and coaxing. I pressed closer to his hard, toned body and put my arms around his neck, pulling him down to me; shamelessly seeking more. His tongue sought entry to my mouth as he deepened the kiss. It was glorious and quite unlike any kiss I had ever had in my life. With each stroke against the sensitive skin inside my mouth, a charge of electricity shot to my toes. As I followed his lead, I heard a growl and then something pricked my tongue. I tasted blood – and then I knew what he was, how he had been able to save me. We stood transfixed, breathing heavily. My mind screamed denial, but my soul believed.
I should have been alarmed. Any sane, sensible person would have run from the room as fast as her feet could carry her… although if the myths were to be believed, he could be at the door almost before I had thought to move. However, my heart was soaring, already lost. I watched as Dimitri slowly brought his wrist to his mouth and allowed his fangs to descend. I knew no fear as he bit into the vein, only an all-consuming relief that I no longer fought this thing alone. He offered his bleeding wrist, one eyebrow quirked upwards.
“Will it make me what you are?” My voice was scratchy and infuriatingly weak.
“No. Drink and be well.”
Hesitantly and with a sense of unreality, I took what he offered. Expecting to feel revulsion, I was surprised to find the reverse was true. He tasted of wine and dark chocolate, a heady flavour which I found intoxicating. Desire raged through me like a forest fire. His. Mine. He smelt of spice and a musk which was uniquely him. My body trembled and I felt giddy, as if he had taken my blood.
He wanted me. I wanted him.
Dragging his shirt free of his trousers, I ran my hands feverishly over the smooth flesh of his back without breaking my hold on his vein. His muscles were taut and sculpted, like a centrefold model. With a groan I rubbed against him in the manner of a well-fed cat which has just lapped a saucer of cream.
Gently Dimitri withdrew his wrist. Sealing the wound with a swipe of his tongue, he gave me a kiss which was long, slow and full of promise. Patience, beloved, he spoke to my mind. Not yet. When you are stronger…
The fire in my veins abruptly died. Lifting my unresisting body into his arms, he carried me to the bed, where he lowered me to the mattress as if I was a porcelain doll and tenderly tucked me in.
“Sleep,” he whispered, brushing his lips over mine. “You must get well. Then I will make you mine own, sweet beloved.”
I sighed, the mists of slumber already claiming me. I dreamed of exotic lands, beautiful treasures and magical creatures. I dreamed of angels dancing on pink-edged clouds and I dreamed of Dimitri, my very own dark angel, whose touch promised me both heaven and earth.
Enjoy! Happy Hallowe'en!