Azrael listened to Morgan's constant babble as they shopped. The trip had brought out a side of her that Azrael hadn't fully appreciated.
She was a teen-ager.
She gawked at clothes, at music tapes, at all the bright and fancy trinkets and baubles. She carried on about fanciful girlish concerns, argued with her brother, and amused Azrael to no end. Despite her illness and her new life, she was for this moment showing him her inner self of youth and innocence.
"I'm taking Jason, and going to see if I can find him something a little more suited for him." Michael said.
"Are you sure the two of you are just shopping?" Morgan teased. Every time Jason so much as smiled at Michael, she had quipped that they would disappear from mortal view to ball.
"Yes, dear, I am." Michael wanted to put a little room between Jason, and his sister. She seemed to be full of mischief tonight, and hell-bent on embarrassing Jason at every turn.
"I will call you when we are ready. See what you can do about thickening his hide a little." Azrael had watched, and yes, 'enjoyed' , his newest little one, reduce her older brother to a blushing, stuttering, nervous wreck. "I, for one, know that he is not ashamed of you, but his behavior could be misread by anyone who did not understand."
Michael chuckled. "He's young, and besides, there is not a brother alive that wants to be on the receiving end of his teen-age sister's abuse. At his age, it is hard enough to think about your sister even 'hearing' about some of the things she has baited him with, much less knowing about them, first hand." Michael felt for his Chosen. His age was not an easy one, even without all the added stresses living with a vampire could create.
"You both might as well get used to it." Amber felt brave for the first time since Michael had taken her. "She is a teen-age girl. That includes giggle fits, off-colored jokes, and discussions about the one thing a girl her age lives for . . . boys." She smiled at Azrael. "Although, in her case, it's men. 'Definitely' men."
"Hey, look." Morgan looked at the glass front before her. "Slinky things," To Azrael. "May I?"
"Well, on that note." Michael said, choosing to flee. "Call us when you are ready."
* * * It took much longer than Azrael had planned to get to the pet store. Once Azrael had allowed her to start shopping, Morgan went a little, nuts. And as he signed yet another credit slip he rationalized that allowing her to shop would give him a taste for what she wanted to wear, and he could refine those choices to suit himself.
He was pleasantly surprised to see that she was easily directed to the charm of flowing peasant skirts and blouses, tight-fitting trousers, to other blouses of lace and silk. Her choice in undergarments, 'the ones she would allow him to see' , ran from usable cotton to tantalizing wisps of fog. Her nightwear was varied; simple teddies, silk short sets and cotton nightshirts in white and light blue. With the one exception of a dark blue nightshirt with stars and moons patterned on it, she chose no other color.
* * *
He was still smiling over the purchase of Tasmanian Devil slippers as they entered the pet store.
"Excuse me." He cleared his throat, gaining the cashier's attention. "Do you have, by chance, any mastiff pups?"
A young woman, with bleached blonde hair, and a vapid smile, turned her questionable charm on him as she smiled what was in her mind her most winning smile. "Why, yes, sir, we do." Azrael had to resist laughing in the young mortal's face at her obvious appreciation of his appearance. "Male or female?"
There was no need to guess, or even look at Morgan. He knew what Morgan would want. "Female. Preferably black."
The giggling sales clerk led them towards the back. "You are really going to like this one. We have several. They're thirteen weeks old, with their first set of shots." She escorted them into a small room. "If you will wait here for a minute, I'll go fetch one."
Morgan rolled her eyes, snickering. "'I don't eat meat'," she said, in a voice that mimicked the addle-pated clerk's, "'I'm a veterinarian'." She giggled mindlessly and twiddled at imaginary hair. "Please," she asked in a normal voice, "where 'did' she come from? She's a walking stereotype. Bet her boyfriend's a jock."
To Azrael's credit, he didn't laugh as the clerk returned with the pup, though his restraint was no mean feat, for Morgan's witty commentary had struck too close to how he felt about the girl. "How charming." He smiled as Morgan's eyes lit up when she took the dog. A Neapolitan mastiff, he thought, or a mix of mastiff breeds.
"She's beautiful." Morgan struggled valiantly to hold the wriggling pup and love it at the same time. The pup, in its turn, tried to lick her face and play.
Azrael gave up trying to hold in his amusement, and laughed at Morgan as she wrestled with the bitch puppy. "So, is that the one you want, precious? They have others, if you wish to look at them."
Others 'right' , Morgan was in love with the puppy. "I like her. Can I have her, please?" Again the charm of her true age came out, as she looked up at him with an expression that could only be summed up as a pout. He was completely captivated by her charming mix of innocence and flirtatiousness, one moment the sweet schoolgirl, the next a minx.
He reached down and touched the side of her head. "I told you, dear, I would get you the puppy you wanted. If that is the one you have chosen, then she is yours. But first, may I see her for a moment? It's better to make sure that we are compatible, now." He took the pup from her. The small ball of fur growled instinctively, but after a brief moment, whimpered and licked his face. Dominance was settled. "There we go. We will not have any problems out of your pet, now. She and I will get along fine."
The sales clerk giggled, annoyingly, again. "Wow. How did you do that?" She breathed heavily, trying to entice Azrael with her considerable physical charms. "It was like, you know, you have some sort of real power."
Azrael mentally clamped down on Morgan, to keep her from pouncing on this child. She was possessive. He hadn't credited her with that emotion, and the strength of it, and her dislike for the clerk amazed him. *Be nice, * he warned, before turning his attention back to the girl. "Nothing special at all, my dear. I have worked with animals for years. I simply know how to handle them." He mentally shook his head as she smiled, flirting with him again. Poor, deluded mortal, she had no idea what she was playing with. He was beginning to want to see how far she would be willing to take it.
He 'reached' out gently, curious to find out how much of this young woman's behavior was real, and how much was feigned. He was angry to find out just how bright, yet shallow, she really was. She made much of her living off older men who wanted some young meat. She would, he thought, learn to dance to a different tune if he were her master.
A slow, easy smile fell over his face. Why not, now that he had a covenstead, he would need kine for the Kin to feed from. Why not her? As food stock, she would at least serve a purpose in life rather than continue to leech off of wealthy men. "I wish to thank you, miss--"
"Wendy. Wendy Arnell," again that damnable giggle. "My friends call me Winny."
His smile deepened. He moved a calculated fraction in her direction. "Thank you, Wendy. You have been so helpful." He wasn't close enough to be threatening, but if she was fishing, it was enough to let her know he was on her line.
"I like to see good people get good pets." Again, that deep almost gasping, breath. "Your daughter will love her."
The smile on his face stayed pleasant, with difficulty. "Morgan is not my daughter. Her brother is my beloved's latest plaything."
Again that obnoxious giggle, Azrael swore to himself that he would break her of that irritating noise first thing. "So, you have, like, an open relationship, huh?" The implications in her tone were nauseating.
"Yes. I suppose you could call it that." He raised a hand to stop her next babble. "Morgan, precious, go fetch what ever you think your pet needs." Then again he turned his full attention on the shallow, vain, and petty piece of meat in front of him. "And you? What sort of relationship do you have with your lover?"
"Oh, we date other people. I'm not ready to be tied down to one guy yet." She lowered her voice, looking around her. "Though I got to say this, you are the best-looking thing to walk through my door in a long time."
Azrael threw his head back and laughed. She was shallow, but with work and time, he could make her into a worthy pet for one of his Kin. "Why, thank you. Flattery will get you many places with me, my dear."
She smiled what he assumed was her promise of erotic adventure's smiles, as she turned to the counter to take care of other customers. Yes, he would have this one. Not because he wanted her for one of his cherished pets. She wouldn't be, but because as one of the house-slaves. She would actually do something worthwhile. *Megel, * he 'reached' for his First-Born.
*Sire? * The response was immediate, if distracted. Amber was modeling some very interesting garments for him.
*I am ready to go. Would you please come to the pet store and help Morgan collect her belongings? I have a distraction that I would like to see to its end. * He opened him mind to Michael, letting him see and know through his eyes.
*I will hurry Jason and Amber along. It shouldn't take more than another fifteen minutes. * Michael's amusement and disgust flowed back with his thoughts. *Mark will be disappointed that he is not going to be the night's entertainment. *
*I will make it up to him. * He, broke contact as Wendy turned back to him, a slip of paper in her hand. "And what is this, my dear?"
"My phone number." She let her fingers linger on his.
He let her hand remain in his. "What time do you get off?" A touch of will, the lightest of brushes, "I would like to continue our conversation, uninterrupted."
She looked at the clock, almost nine. "I get off in ten minutes." She looked around for Morgan, who was with the help of another clerk, gathering supplies. "What about her?"
"Michael will take her home. He is here with her brother, shopping. He should be along soon enough." He tucked her number away. "Then you will have me, all to yourself."
She giggled 'again' . "Cool, well let me finish up here, then we can go . . . .." she winked at him. Azrael couldn't believe it. This child actually winked at him. "Somewhere, and you know, talk."
Azrael fled, but with dignity, looking for something, anything, to put, some, distance between himself and this creature. If he killed her, he would be doing the world a favor. She was a slut. There was no other word for her. 'What, were her parents, thinking of when they chose to breed' ?
His course took him past a cage of kittens, small, bouncy fur balls that caught his eye. He preferred cats. They were less dependent than dogs, and they reminded him of his youth.
"Can I help you, sir?" A young male clerk stood just to his left, voice friendly, but not over-eager. His body language spoke of self-confidence not normally seen in a man his age.
Azrael motioned at the glass. "I was just observing." One in particular caught his eye. A small, yellow and white ball that, seemed, hell-bent on beating up three other kittens. "How much are they?"
"Twenty-five dollars. But they've had all their shots, and they've been de-wormed." The young man smiled a little more. He could smell a sale from this one. If he could just get him to actually hold one, it would be as good as done.
Azrael gave the clerk his attention. Young, yes, perhaps in his early twenties, surely no older, eyes a dark, almost pewter, gray that seemed to take in a great deal. "You read people well."
The young man shrugged. "I know animals, and what people go with which. You have 'cat-person' tattooed on your forehead."
Azrael was charmed. "Then far be it for me to ruin your reputation. Let me see the yellow and white one." Such, a refreshing change from the vapid vamp at the counter. This one was one he would choose for a pet. But no, the boy had a bright future, one that didn't need interruption by his kind The kitten attacked the clerk's hand the moment he reached for him. "Come here, you." He laughed as the kitten tried to crawl up his arm. "He's everyone's favorite. I'm afraid we've spoiled him rotten." He handed him to Azrael.
"He is quite charming." The kitten sank its claws into Azrael's coat sleeve and began to purr as he petted it. As always, he was stunned by the sound that came from the kitten, a loud, raspy, constant rumble, much too great a noise to be coming from a creature this small.
'KA-CHING' ! Went the cash register in the clerk's head. "He likes you." It was a sale, or he didn't know his business.
"Well, you might as well show me where the supplies for him are kept. You are right, I must have him." He hoped that Mark was a cat person as well. This darling piece of fur was a gift, to ease his disappointment at not being the center of attention tonight.
"What are you doing?" Michael appeared at his side.
"Buying a kitten for Mark." He held up the ball of fur. "See, is he not adorable?" Michael accepted the tiny life into his hands, so that Azrael could take things from the clerk.
"This is the best kitten food on the market today. Its base is rice, which helps with digestion. We feed it to all of them here, so he won't have to change foods, unless you prefer something else." The clerk didn't think money was an issue with this man, so he had collected a small mound of things from kitty litter to vitamins. "There you go, sir. Everything to make him happy."
Azrael shook his head. "And to think, when I was a child, our cats ran free in the streets, and scrounged for food." He passed the young man his Visa card. "Here, and please add whatever my girl has bought for her new pup on it as well. Then I will sign it."
Yes! It would be his sale. It would make Wendy nuts. The guy she had been trying so hard to jump gave him the sale. There really was a God, and he was on good terms with Her for the moment. "I'll be right back."
"He's going to remember you." Michael warned softly.
"Of course he will. Wait." He looked over at Morgan, who stood with Jason and Amber. Each loaded down with packages. "I see I was not the only one spoiling my pet tonight."
"Jason needed clothes, and Amber needed to feel some of my favor tonight. I am still almost a stranger to her."
"Well, as soon as he has Morgan's things bagged, take them home. I will be along soon enough. We shall see how long it takes me to break that annoying piece of meat. She is, by far, the most obnoxious female that I have ever had the misfortune of dealing with in many centuries."
The clerk returned, grinning. "Do you want to see the amount, or should I keep my hand over it?"
"Please. Just let me sign the damned thing and get it out of my sight. The things I do for my lovers." He looked at Michael, mischief in his eyes. "That boy of yours, he had best be worth me spoiling his family so."
*You know he is. And so is she. * Michael grinned back.
The clerk returned Azrael's card. "There you go. She's all ready."
Azrael read the nametag on his shirt. "Tony," he said, placing a hand lightly on the young man's arm. "Listen to me." His power captivated the young mortal. Something skittered around the edge of Azrael's awareness, but he couldn't read it. "You know me. I have been in here many times with my lovers, all male. You did not notice anything out of the ordinary tonight, nor will you have you any reason to think of me in the coming days." He moved a little closer, hiding them from prying eyes with his power. "Your life burns brightly, boy. I would not take it from you if I could prevent it. Remember that I am your friend. You have nothing to fear from me or my kind, ever. We have no wish to take one so gifted from this world." Then he withdrew his mind. "I want to thank you, yet again, for being so helpful." He smiled as the boy blushed under his gaze. "I have no idea what I would do without you. You always seem to know exactly what I need for my zoo."
Tony laughed. Would this guy never give it up? Every time he came in here, he flirted with him. It was worth it this time, just to watch Wendy make a fool out of herself over this guy. As if it wasn't as clear as the nose on her face that he was gay. "Any time. I'm always here."
Michael and the troop left, each weighed down with bags and boxes. Azrael was ever grateful that he had amassed the fortune he had over the years. It was becoming more and more expensive to live.
A hand on his shoulder, "I'm ready to go." Wendy almost pressed her body against his.
"Then, my dear, let us be off." To the world around them, she was leaving with a large man, dressed in biker leathers. No one would ever connect him with this woman. "My limousine is parked outside. I am sorry, but my driver is off tonight, so I will have to drive. I hope you can wait until we get somewhere more appropriate to continue our conversation."
He winced at her giggle. "A limo. You must really be rich." He could smell a hunter a mile away, and this girl was definitely one.
"I suppose that I am. I really haven't thought about it. Shall we go?" If he could get her to the parking lot, he would take her.
She followed him on his arm, prattling on about her likes and dislikes, practically trying to sell herself to him. Azrael swore that once he made her his, she would never, sell, herself as such again.
"Enough." He turned to her as they stepped out into the night air. His illusion masked their presence. "You have babbled quite enough, girl. You will be silent."
Her face changed from confusion to embarrassment to anger. "Excuse me?" She tried to pull her arm from him.
Azrael tightened his grip. "I said, be silent. I realize that you are not the most intelligent creature born to man, but even you should understand that."
"Let me go." Anger was replaced by fear. Who was this man? What did he want? She struggled to free herself. "Stop it. You're hurting me."
Wendy cried out as Azrael pulled her down against him, her height forcing her to bend down a little. "You do not know what pain is, girl, but believe me, if you fail to obey me, I will teach you."
She looked around at the people exiting the mall around them. Didn't they see what was happening? Nobody could just stand by like that. This was 'Georgia' for God's sake, not New York. "Help me," she screamed, fighting as Azrael held her. "Please, somebody, help me."
Azrael let her cry for help. "No one can hear you, girl. No one can see you. Scream all you want. No one will save you. You are mine, now. Live or die, you will always be mine."
She went mad, lashing out, kicking and screaming, trying to break the hold this madman had on her. In all her life, nothing like this had ever happened. Always, she'd been able to get away, to talk her way out. She kept fighting, trying to break his grip. But it was no use. Nothing she did fazed him. The grip on her arm only tightened.
"Are you through, yet?" Azrael's tone was mocking. "I grow tired of your noise. You are mine, and no one will gainsay my right to you. Best you learn that now. If you fail, I will be forced to teach you better. That is something you do not wish to experience." He smiled a deadly smile.
She stopped fighting, blue eyes wide with near-mindless fear. She didn't know who this man was. He couldn't be human, no way. She had hit him, clawed and kicked him, yet no trace of violence was present. "Please." She still pulled at the arm that held her. "Don't hurt me. I'll do anything you say. I swear, just, 'please' . . ." her voice broke in a sob now. "Please, don't hurt me. Don't kill me."
Azrael smiled broadly, revealing his fangs. "Trust me, dear. Killing you is the farthest thing from my mind."
A whimper broke in her throat. "What are you?"
"A vampire. You, my dear, are going to be a slave in my house." He pulled her along as he began to walk to his car. "I am opening a covenstead, and will need mortals from which my Kin may feed. It really is something of an honor. Not every mortal is fit for the position."
A vampire, she'd heard of them. This thing that dragged her along was a vampire. She cried in earnest, now. He was going to drink her blood, feed her to others like him. "No!"
The hand that held her relinquished its punishing grip and the other came up to slap her to the pavement. She screamed in pain as her head struck the cement. She lay, clutching it, sobbing with pain and fear.
"I will not tolerate any more resistance from you." He reached for her and dragged her to her feet. "If you wish to live, girl, you will behave."
"Please," she shrieked, as he ripped off her shirt. "Please, don't."
He raised his hand threateningly, watching with pleasure as she flinched. "You will take off your clothes, here and now. You will stop this incessant noise, or I swear to you, I will kill you now and feed you to the ones I have at home." He let go and stepped back. She fell. "Obey me."
"Please," she screamed, backing, away as he took a step towards her. "I'm doing it." Her fingers fumbled for the front fastening of her bra, all thoughts of resistance gone.
He, watched, as she struggled with the garments she had probably easily discarded a hundred times before, amused at the mess she was making. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps the only use he would have for her was to feed the Fledglings in his care. "I grow impatient with you. If you wish to live, you are going to have to learn to be quicker in following my orders. Now remove your shoes as well, and stand before me, hands behind your back. Let me see what I am taking home to my Kin
She almost threw a shoe at him as she obeyed, but the look on his face stopped her. He would kill her, no doubt. "Please." She stood trembling, nails biting into the flesh of her arm as she waited for his response.
He touched the swelling cheek, tisking as she flinched. "Do not move, Wendy. Your life depends on it." She was not unattractive, in her own way. Yes, there were many of his kind that would find her pleasing.
It took everything she had not to scream as he cupped her right breast in his hand, pinching the nipple firmly. "I assume you are well-used. I will not have to warn any of my people to be gentle with you." He lowered his hand. "Open your legs, Wendy. Your body is mine to do with as I please." He came close, letting her feel his body against hers as he molested her with his hand.
Her body betrayed her. She moaned as his fingers found her most sensitive, tender part and pressed against it, stoking her with careless strength. "Yes. I see. You are nothing more than a bitch in heat. Trust me, 'dear' . I will see that you are well-ridden." He smiled cruelly. "You have no fear of that, of course. Sex has been your Chosen tool for too long. It will be amusing to see your response when it is used on you." He backed away and wiped off his hand. "Down with you, hands and knees. If you insist on acting like a bitch in heat, then I will oblige you by treating you as such."
"Please." She dropped, arms wrapping around, herself, as she began to sob, her whole body shaking with her terror. The world was stripping off its mask and leering at her. "I'll be good, I promise, I won't do it again. Please, let me go home."
"Now, now, my girl, I cannot do that. You know what I am. I could not let you go free, even if I wanted to--which I do not. No more of this nonsense, you will crawl behind me, and we will leave here. If you fail to obey me once more." He let it hang.
The asphalt cut into her hands and knees as she followed him. He was going to kill her. There was no doubt in her mind. He would kill her, but not before he tortured her. The reality of it sank in finally, throwing her whole world into shock.
She had never been stable. Even her parents, who loved her to the point of obsession, could agree. Her world was what she had made of it, and she hid from its ugly realities with her shallow venality. Faced with a vampire, something so far outside her understanding, her instability overwhelmed her.
The car door opened. "In you go, be a good girl, and crawl into the back for me." He followed her in. Her fear called to his darkest nature. None of his cherished pets had ever feared him like this, even in the beginning. "Come here."
She pressed against the other door, head shaking. She was trapped, now. He would hurt her.
With an oath, Azrael reached forward and yanked her to him. "Forgetful piece of trash. I see that I must be firmer with you, until you learn your place." His fangs extended fully. All semblance of humanity fled his face as he pushed her head back, exposing her throat.
Her scream at the pain of his fangs was cut short as the heat and pleasure of the feeding took her. She moaned softly, pressing against his body as he fed. Shame and terror battled in her mind as she gave into his demands, and the last dregs of sanity fled her.
Azrael thrust her away in disgust. Not only was she a worthless piece of flesh, she was now not even good for feeding. Her mind as weak was as her morals. He resisted to urge to strike her as she huddled in the far corner of the seat, whimpering.
She was mad. There would be no help for it. The knowledge had been too much for her. Well, better he know it now, that to discover it later. There was no help for it. He would have to take her home and allow Vincent and his First-Born to feed from her, what a waste.
"Wendy." He reached for her. Ignoring her mindless terror as it washed over him in waves. "Relax, I won't hurt you." He pressed against her mind, forcing a calm on her, and then . . . "Sleep girl, it will all be over with soon, but for now, sleep." Next time he chose one for his house, he would stick to the kinds he was most successful with. "We're going home now." He almost felt pity. "There, we will put an end to your terror."