Content advisory: Violence, graphic description.
This story ties in to the world of the Judgment series.
Jaida faced her boyfriend and steeled herself. “I’m pregnant.”
Fallon’s beautiful blue eyes widened. The color drained from his face then his mouth tightened and a little crease formed between his brows, sure signs that he was about to detonate. “What did you say?”
Insides clenching, she repeated herself.
“You promised you’d taken precautions,” he hissed. “You lied to me.”
“No! I didn’t. I used the herbs. I swear I did. I drank the tea the night before when I knew my heat was coming on.”
It was mostly true. She had forced down the nasty concoction guaranteed to prevent an egg from implanting in her womb. Except it hadn’t worked because it wasn’t strong enough. And now Fallon’s baby was a month along.
True, she had known there was a chance Fallon would impregnate her, and she had welcomed him into her bed anyway to relieve the pain of her heat cycle.
“I don’t believe you. You’ve been trying to get me to commit for the last five years.”
“I love you. Of course I want you to commit to me. But I swear, I did everything I could to prevent it.”
Fallon bared his teeth then spat out, “I don’t believe you for one minute. And I’m not going to take you for my mate. It isn’t happening.” An ugly scowl contorted his handsome features. “I told you a hundred times, I don’t want any offspring. Do you think I’m going to let you ruin my life, too?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean you’ve destroyed any chance you ever had. I don’t want this and you aren’t going to find a decent male who will take in someone else’s bastard. I’m just sayin’”
“Please, I can’t lose you.” Physical pain stabbed her chest.
“Shoulda thought about that.”
“I couldn’t help coming in heat. You think I wanted to go through that? And while we’re at it, your constant riding me is what brought on my fertility.”
“I don’t think you minded the two days I spent between your legs. I think you enjoyed the shit out of it. And I think you wanted to get pregnant because there is no way that drugs fails when it’s taken properly.”
“I ran short. I couldn’t afford to buy more.”
“You could have told me. I would have got it for you. You can bet your ass on that.”
“If you didn’t want any chance of conception you should have kept your dick in your pants.”
“Oh really? I recall you being as enthusiastic about getting laid as I was. You sure as hell didn’t try to stop me.”
Pain made her lash out. “Only because I was in heat. You sure as hell weren’t that damn good.”
Surprise flitted over his face, to her satisfaction.
She went for the kill. “I could get just as much satisfaction from my little finger.”
“Then I suggest you do just that,” he said stiffly.
Jaida dug her nails into her palms in an effort to ward off the tears that burned the backs of her eyes. “Get out. Get the hell away from me. You don’t have to worry about your precious freedom. I don’t want you.” She marched to the door and yanked it open.
Fallon didn’t need another prompt. He stomped through the doorway. “Good luck with your brat,” he tossed over his shoulder and continued down the dingy, dimly lit hallway.
Tears streaked her cheeks as he disappeared into the stairwell. The door slammed behind him with finality. She stared after him. A minute later a door slammed down on the lower level of the dilapidated apartment building.
She pushed the door closed and sank to the floor where great wracking sobs tore out of her. She had expected him to react badly. She hadn’t expected an un-repairable rift to tear apart the fabric of their feelings for one another. She had fully thought he would come around and they would be the little family she had wanted so desperately. Now she knew that wasn’t going to happen and a little part of her heart died with that knowledge.
Fallon’s world had come down around him in an amazingly short span of time. How could Jaida have done such a thing to him? He had never deceived her. Never pretended he wanted anything more than sex from her. He enjoyed the time he spent in her company but that didn’t mean he was looking to settle into domestic family life. He was young and so was she.
He had plenty of living, years worth, before he considered taking a mate and settling down. Hell, they weren’t even thirty yet, barely adults. He stalked down the street, anger in his stride. He glanced up. In the distance the Space Needle reached into the sky. Why had she allowed such a disastrous thing to happen? He couldn’t afford to take care of a mate and a baby. He barely got by on his own. It wasn’t like jobs were plentiful for Seattle’s vampire population. Nor were there any social services to bail them out.
Vampires were on their own. They lived however they could. That’s just the way it was. The way it had been since he was twelve years old. Scratching to survive was all he knew or had to look forward to.
It dawned on him that he had just blown off his feeding partner. Shit. Now what was he going to do? He hadn’t fed in days and soon he would have to either find someone else to partner with or take a chance and prey on humans. Taking blood from a human without their consent was a capital crime and if caught, punishment would be swift and final.
What about Jaida? The little voice of guilt jabbed at him. Who would take care of her? And pregnancy would put a strain on her. She would need to feed more often. Who would take care of her? She didn’t have anyone that he knew of. All she had was one brother and Fallon didn’t even know if they were close or if her brother lived in Seattle. She never talked about her only sibling.
His strides faltered. What would she do? The idea of her suffering from hunger didn’t sit well with him even if she had pulled a fast one on him. There was no one to help her with anything. No one to protect her if she needed it. No one to help her with the baby when it came. No one to help with the expenses. She worked as most females who had jobs did, cleaning the homes of humans. She barely made enough to pay her rent and buy food. What would she do after the baby arrived? Who would watch it for her while she worked?
Shit. He stopped and fidgeted on the corner. He didn’t want to be a father. He didn’t want Jaida to suffer. He’d seen females so scrawny their bones stood out while their bellies were huge and protruding. Their offspring would be born half starved to a female to couldn’t produce milk. How many of those infants survived?
Would that happen to Jaida and his baby? What would that make him for abandoning her? A total piece of shit. That’s what. Across the street, four men wearing the olive uniforms of Security Center officers made up his mind for him. He spun on his heel and headed back to Jaida’s. They would have to work out something for the good of the baby. He might not want to be there full time, but he couldn’t stand the thought of her going hungry and the baby starving.
He would do the right thing by her—no matter how badly he wanted to run like hell from the situation. He made it halfway back to Jaida’s place before an overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right struck him. He strained his ears to detect a pursuer. Nothing stood out over the usual street noise. Honking horns, cars whizzing by, segments of conversations, but no one directly on his path.
Had he imagined it? He was certainly off center tonight. Jaida’s announcement had thrown him a mile off center. His decision had further tilted his world. He was no more ready to be a part of a family than he had been an hour ago but what else could be done?
His guts twisted when he reached the apartment building. This was so not what he wanted. Regardless, he went inside and hit the stairwell. He jogged up the steps and let himself out into the hallway on her floor.
Forcing himself to plod to her door, he knocked twice and waited.
She didn’t answer.
“Jaida. Let me in. We have to talk.”
She didn’t respond and anger sparked to life. He should just leave. If she wanted to be like that she didn’t deserve a second chance. “Damnit, open up.” He pounded on the door. “I’m here to give you what you want. You win.” If that didn’t get her to the door nothing would. He waited knowing he’d hit the right button.
Except she didn’t answer his knock.
“Jaida. Come on. Quit pissing around or I’m going to break in. You don’t want that do you?”
No answer. No nothing.
Shit. He pressed his ear to the door. He didn’t hear anything on the other side. “Jaida?”
Well, fuck. She’d left. Where the hell would she have gone? She didn’t have any close girlfriends. No one that she would have run to for comfort.
With a curse he turned and retraced his steps to the stairwell.
Reluctant to return to Jaida’s apartment, Fallon put it off three days. She deserved to sweat it out for a few days. He’d made his mind up to do the right thing, and by God, he was going to do it. Besides, he wasn’t going to be a full time mate. She would just have to deal with the arrangement. Sure she would like more. Like having him there all the time, but that wasn’t going to happen. She would just have to be happy with the best he could offer her.
He trudged back up the steps and down the hallway. He rapped on the door and waited. No answer.
What the fuck? Where the hell could she have gone?
Was she with another male?
Hope shot through him. That would solve everything if she’d found a male to give her a little sympathy. Maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe there had been someone else all along. No. He didn’t believe that for one minute. She wasn’t like that. She’d left because she was upset.
So where had she gone and why hadn’t she returned? His insides tightened. Had something happened to her? Maybe she couldn’t get home. That idea shot through him like an arrow of guilt. He might not want to tie himself to her permanently, but he sure as hell didn’t want anything to happen to her either.
He turned and strode back down the hall with a knot in his stomach. He reached for the door knob and stopped cold. What if she hadn’t left the apartment at all?
What if. . . No. She wouldn’t be in there and not answer.
Not unless she couldn’t answer, a nasty little voice whispered behind his forehead. Not unless something was terribly wrong. On legs suddenly gone rubber, he turned and retraced his steps back to her door.
He knocked one more time, forceful enough to rattle the door on its hinges. “Jaida. Open up or I’m breaking in.” He waited, heart thumping hard.
He listened at the door but heard nothing. He put his shoulder to the door. It crashed open, banging back against the wall with a very loud crash. The apartment was silent except for the hum of an ancient refrigerator.
Stifling heat and a startling odor assailed him. He froze. He knew that scent. He’d smelled it before.
“Jaida?” he called.
Silence greeted him.
Oh, fuck no. On feet turned into lead, he headed down the short hallway. On one side was her bedroom on the other was the bathroom. He stopped with his hand on the bedroom doorknob. His gut tightened. He twisted the knob and shoved the door open.
Nothing. She wasn’t there. The bedding was undisturbed and everything was in its place. The room had a look of calm normality.
One more place to look. He turned and faced the closed bathroom door. A thin strip of artificial light shone under the bottom of the door. Fallon swallowed with a dry click. He didn’t want to look behind that door. “Jaida? Are you in there? Please answer me.”
Hand shaking, he reached for the knob. It was cold to the touch. He turned it, hesitated and then pushed the door slowly open. The sink came into view, then the commode, then the tub.
His stomach lurched and his throat closed up tight. He had found Jaida, and the source of the smell. He clapped a hand over his nose and mouth.
She lolled in a tub filled with scarlet water. Her nude body had bloated and her stomach protruded above the water like an island of rotting flesh. Her skin had taken on a grey hue with mottled blotches of blue and black. Her mouth hung slack and her blackened tongue protruded.
His stomach turned and he swallowed convulsively.
As bad as she looked, that wasn’t the worst of it.
The outside of the tub and the sparkling white linoleum was splattered with dried blood. A butcher’s knife lay on the floor. The blade was black with blood.
One arm dangled over the side of the tub. A large black puddle had formed on the floor below it. Deep slashes crossed her wrist, cut so deep he saw exposed bone. More slashes ran from the inside of her elbow down to meet the cuts across her wrist.
The other arm, submerged in water, bore similar slices. She had been very thorough. It had not been a cry for help. It had been a final solution to all her problems and she had not taken any chances on failure or rescue.
The chain reaction of her deception had ended in a train wreck. When had she done it? An hour later, a day later, five minutes later? Could he have stopped it had he gone early the following night? He didn’t know. She had been dead long enough to be in decomposition but he didn’t know how long that took. She hadn’t died recently that was obvious.
He backed away. Sick with remorse, he fled the apartment and her dead body. She hadn’t died because she’d made a mistake. She had died because he had failed her. That fact was not lost on him.
He hit the stairwell and raced down the steps. He needed fresh air. He couldn’t breathe and his throat felt clogged with a thick bundle of cotton. Her death was directly his fault. A wave of unrelenting sorrow crashed over him. If only he could take it back and make it right.
Fallon burst through the door, escaping into the cool night air.
A huge vampire materialized from the shadows, blocking Fallon’s path. He moved to dodge around the stranger. A hand shot out and caught Fallon’s jacket, yanking him up short.
“Shut the fuck up, you piece of shit,” the vampire snarled.
By the time a male hit twenty-eight, being mistaken for dinner by a rogue wasn’t a common occurrence, but it did happen on occasion. If he didn’t get away fast, he might not get away at all. Fallon took a hard swing at his captor.
The vampire deftly dodged.
Something clicked, drawing Fallon’s attention to the vampire’s right hand where a wicked blade caught glints of light from a street lamp. Before Fallon reacted, the rogue jerked him closer and something like a punch hit him in the gut, followed immediately by blazing pain. A second and third blow hit him in quick succession.
Fallon looked down and stared stupidly at the blood soaking his shirt. It took a moment for him to gather his wits and understand that he’d been stabbed. The rogue released Fallon’s jacket and shoved him backward. His feet tangled and he went down hard.
The rogue moved to stand over him. His eyes burned with black anger.
Fallon scrabbled to get up.
The rogue kicked him in the side, putting him back down on the asphalt.
Fallon lay for a moment trying to get a grip on the pain before he tried to defend himself.
“Turn over, you son of a bitch. Face me,” the rogue said.
Fallon struggled to turn over. An alarming amount of blood slicked the pavement where he had lain for a very short time.
“You dirty bastard.”
“What are you talkin’ about?” Dizziness washed over Fallon.
“You caused my sister’s death. She took her life over a piece of shit like you.”
Fallon stared dumbfounded at the other vampire. “I came back to make things right.” It sounded as dumb as it was.
“Yeah, you came back after she’d been dead for days. You really cared for her, didn’t you?”
“I did care. I just didn’t—“
“Shut the fuck up. It’s way too late for excuses.” The vampire moved faster than Fallon could track. The blade sank to the hilt in Fallon’s belly and the vampire ripped upward before withdrawing the knife. Agony tore through Fallon. He clutched at the long rip in his flesh, trying to hold things together.
“That’s for Jaida,” the rogue hissed.
Then the vampire was behind Fallon, one hand twisted in his hair. He yanked Fallon’s head backward. A second later he struck again, drawing the blade over Fallon’s throat in a quick cut.
Blood sprayed in an arc and Fallon choked. As lightheadedness closed over him, he collapsed on the asphalt.
“And that’s for me,” the rogue said and turned away.
~ Nickie Asher ~
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Copyright © 2011 Nickie Asher
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.