Leah shifted and rubbed her achy shoulders against the brick’s rough edge, trying to focus her tired mind on the here and now. Through her newly emerging gift, she tasted dishonesty on every dragon in the surrounding meadow. The observation left a rancid feeling behind. Yeah, a feeling, not a taste, though the pressure behind her eyeballs called her mixed up senses a funky side effect of the real issue.
She’d known from the beginning finding a trustworthy dragon might prove difficult. They weren’t known for their compassion, especially when dealing with other species. And as far as anyone knew, Leah was vampire, not a dragon.
Disheartened, she began rethinking her hastily made plans to search for a trustworthy dragon. Not for one moment had she believed her search impossible. Now, she wasn’t too sure. The whole stupid ‘my mom said I'd die without a dragon's help' would go over like a ton of bricks with this bunch of ego-driven dragons. From what she'd seen of them, they might sell tickets to the event.
She was so screwed. She'd never find an honorable dragon in time, certainly not one she could trust. Every single dragon within sight would fry her to a crisp the instant she dropped her problem at their clawed feet.
She sighed in disgust and straightened her shoulders. Right. Stop the pity party. She desperately needed a change of plans. Yeah, right, good luck with that one – she was so dead.
From the auras surrounding every dragon, her pure dumb luck ranked zero to none. She glanced over the dragons dotting the meadow and shuddered at her limited choice. She’d watched them for hours. Her options hadn’t grown, but shrunk as dragon after dragon either lost their temper or lost interest, and flew off in a roar or had an irrational outburst like Mr. Crabby Pants, thirty feet due North.
Mr. Crabby’s unreasonable actions summed up the attitude for all of the scaly skinned shapeshifters. He issued order after order, ignoring all questions, no matter how polite the inquiry. After every few words, with the sound of a steel trap he’d snap his jaws shut emphasizing his current rant and splattering unwary victims with dragon spittle; big globs of the stuff flew everywhere. It would make her day if he accidentally bit his tongue in half. Truly, she’d laugh herself silly.
Her revulsion had nothing to do with Mr. Crabby’s rough muddy green scales, peeling wings, or even the unnatural ballooning deformity on the tip of his abnormally stubby snout. No, not hardly. It had everything to do with the dark red-ish orange aura oozing in a worm-like swarm, covering his small frame.
The slight empathic instinct she felt in her gut, coupled with the transparent aura surrounding the swampy colored dragon, provided her with the complete picture. Yep, the combination of color and emotion warned her of Mr. Crabby’s innate treachery and a deep festering hatred – among a dozen other nasty traits, all of them appeared as twisted as the first two. Treachery and hatred of what or who? She had no clue what the answer might be; her question hit a solid and very blank wall.
Aura Sight was like all other 'sight' related gifts that God blessed the Sídhí people with, whether Empathy Sight, Foresight, Hindsight, or Tactile Sight. The information she understood popped up a dozen more questions rather than answers. Very rarely did she get an absolute answer. Using her gift was frustrating to say the least.
Leah blinked several times, refocusing, she pulled her eyes out of aura sight. The world shimmered before her eyes; colors and shapes returned to normal. Looking at people’s auras made her slightly nauseous. After using her gift on and off for the last two days she shouldn’t be surprised. The more she used her second eyesight the easier it became, but at the moment, seeing people with colors swirling around them gave her the sickening view of looking through mucky colored water.
The nausea quickly faded, but her body’s dull cramping didn’t. Yeah, her cramping muscles added a different kind of problem to her list of woes, one needing a quick fix. She needed to feed, but where in the world would she find a blood donor? Not feeding and muscle cramps went hand in hand. The prim and proper residents of the Sídhí Alliance considered feeding – on other sentient creatures – a big no-no. Recreational feeding was a whole different story. Or, at least, that’s what she’d heard.
The sunny day didn’t help her grouchy thoughts or her achy head. Even behind dark sunshades, her light sensitive eyes watered from the brutal glare. The dragons should have warned them about a delayed check-in.
If the dragons had given any consideration to the second wave of campers arriving today, the bone-headed morons could’ve avoided the congested check-in by bringing in smaller groups. But no, why make anything uncomplicated? Dragons made no sense what so ever.
She snorted at her ridiculous thoughts. Too bad she was half dragon.
Ooh laa laa! Hunk Alert!
The thought popped into her head as a drop-dead gorgeous guy strutted past her shallow sanctuary. He was trailed by four, no five girls. He was tall and broad shouldered with a literal full mane of hair falling down his shoulders, all golden strands of honey streaked with dark and milk chocolate. Sculpted muscles rippled across his shoulders and… ooh yummy, a light wet sheen highlighted a wonderful pulsing vein.
Thump, thump, thump.
The throbbing of his jugular called to her as it ran down the side of his golden neck, pulsing with neon intensity. Decisions, decisions! Join his growing harem and get a speedy lick and a mouth-watering bite or starve? It almost seemed worth the humiliation of trailing after him. Almost, but not quite.
She groaned, thumping the back of her head against the cool wall. She quit after several brain bashing thumps, but only because her ears began ringing. She seriously needed some shuteye if random, unbelievable thoughts – like chasing and biting total strangers – started popping into her head.
She’d never bitten anyone. She drank her daily blood allotment in a metal – totally no-see through – cup. If no one was watching, she even pinched her nose shut.
What was wrong with her? Maybe lack of sleep combined with lack of feeding made her mentally unstable. That certainly sounded better than getting hot and wet over a total hunky stranger. She clenched her legs and to her consternation, she really did feel slightly damp. That was so wrong on multiple levels.
She never chased gorgeous guys, not ever. The PuckinKnück twins, Bart and Burt, taught her that lesson years ago. She still carried the mental scars proving evil people hid behind outer beauty. She definitely needed some zzz’s. Counting the time difference, she’d been up for two nights and hadn’t fed in forever. Or it felt that way.
Leah stiffened. The once refreshing mountain breeze carried a sickly scent, reminding her of an outhouse on a hot summer day. The silent wisp of air gave her a moments warning. She slipped a calm mask over her suddenly flaring anger and unwillingly gave up her shaded sanctuary, quickly pushing through the thin Rose of Sharon bushes, a moment before her scrawny half-brother invaded her shaded refuge.
“Leah, get into the receiving line and get us checked in. I need out of this freaking sun,” snapped Mortimer PhńDick, Mort for short.
The solid red of his eyes made the pupils appear dead. But not even the blood colored eyes of a bloodsucking vampire had total distract-ability when it came to Mort's appearance. Stringy brown hair lay limp around his rat face, while prominent bones made points under the silk of his shirt. He looked more like a pimply face skrivett than the eldest son of a duke.
At nineteen, Mort was a late bloomer, not having reached his adult growth spurt, the twenty-one day puberty period that all Sídhí youth went through. Until he did, he wouldn’t have fangs, claws, or the added strength of an adult vampire. Nor would he have the increased healing ability. He was, essentially, a pre-pub easily stomped into the ground by anyone past puberty.
She sighed, unwillingly acknowledging his guards. Stomping Mort into the ground would be easy if his constant shadows weren’t present.
As the golden child and heir apparent – looks not withstanding – Mort personified the perfect slime ball through his actions. Quite willingly he followed in his father’s vicious footsteps amid growing rumors of him promoting pay-per-view info sessions. Sessions where he sold viewing ‘new and improved’ torture techniques to the highest bidders.
His sick practices started as a toddler. As with all vampire children living in one of the Dhark Valleys he couldn’t feed as an adult vampire, but his eyes still reflected the solid bloody pits that came from feeding solely on human blood. On more than one occasion, she’d watched him slice open the wrist or neck of a blood slave, slowing drinking and grinning as the life drained out of his victim, while soldiers held the poor person still.
Any vampire could feed without killing the donor. The only time Mort showed restraint was if he ran out of money. His monthly allowance was hefty, but so were his perverted pleasures. And killing two or three blood slaves per week got expensive very fast.
Growing up in the same household, she quickly learned a harsh lesson. She never showed any servant the slightest kindness. If she did, they ended up drained and gnawed on. At times, she despised him more than she did their father.
“Of course, Mortimer.” We can’t have the poor pre-pub in the sun too long, she sarcastically added in her head.
“Make sure it’s a private cabin and you aren’t in it.”
“No worries, Mort. She causes too much trouble and I’ll dig out my silver cuffs. I brought my new set just for her.” Bart PuckinKnück, one of General PuckinKnück’s sons, leered at her.
“Good, father said to keep an eye on her. If you see her causing trouble, restrain her. Oh, and remember my promise. By the end of camp, whichever of you two gives me the best results, I’ll give her to the winner. Father already approved my plan.” The twin elves nodded in unison, acknowledging Mort’s words, but their eyes slithered across Leah, making her feel dirtier by the second.
Mort’s eyes narrowed as an obvious thought hit him in the head. “Stop calling me Mortimer. It’s Mort, Stupid.”
She absently nodded her agreement, still in shock over his promise to the twins. She’d been handed over to the PuckinKnück boys before. Thank God, she hadn’t been raped, but she still woke screaming from the nightmares. According to the lecherous looks the twins gave her, she might not be so lucky next time.
Mort dismissed her without a second glance.
Clenching her teeth, she ignored her simmering anger, shoving it into a deep corner of her mind and forcefully reminded herself: today was a good day.
Turning swiftly, she left the protection of the shade.
Once out in the open, she wracked her brain for a reason why it was a good day. Being optimistic didn't help if she couldn't support it. She remembered Mort’s last words and smiled, briefly wondering if she might get away with calling him ‘Mort Stupid’ at least one time. She knew she couldn’t. He’d flip, popping a gasket or two.
She sighed in disgust. Then he’d sic the Adonis twins on her. It wouldn’t be the first time she ended up a bloody pulp from opening her big mouth.
The twins looked as beautiful as a piece of art, but under all the perfection lay rotting cores of corruption. She knew from experience the blue-eyed twins were wickedly fast and had cinder blocks for hands. At six and a half feet, they towered over her. For all their cunning and sadistic wit, the handsome duo should’ve been named Lucifer and Lucifer II. Only fear of the duke kept them from turning on Mort. The wretched little beast wasn’t even aware of the thin wire he walked.
Shaking off her thoughts, she weaved through the crowd, ignoring the various booths selling a mixture of Sídhí and Earth made items. Near the end of a long row, she hesitated.
The bookseller’s booth called to her. She shouldn’t stop. She had very little money, but the amazing covers pulled her into the booth. Running her fingertips over raised lettering, she snatched up the latest New York Times best seller and read the back cover. An hour later, she had read the back cover of every book in the booth. The sales woman, a twitchy fae, specifically a water banshee with blue hair and a hooked nose, asked in a shrill voice – for the ten thousandth time – if Leah needed any assistance.
“No, thanks.” Why would she need assistance when she couldn’t buy a book? Hello? Daft woman.
Leah left the book booth with a heavy heart. She found the check-in table and slipped into line behind two young women. The line was much smaller than she feared. Standing under the hot sun looking at her beloved books she could handle, but waiting in a check-in line with total strangers with nothing to do but twiddle her thumbs under the noon sun was torture.
Leah silently waited in line, watching and listening. Duke PhńDick would never have allowed her beyond his territory’s border if her name hadn’t been on the list of required attendees. A list provided by the dragons. Thank God.
She sighed and tried making herself unnoticeable. She did the same thing at home, quietly standing or sitting in a corner, until she blended with her surroundings. Her mom called it a chameleon effect, a characteristic held by the more powerful DeLeigh dragons. Whatever. It came in handy.
Most of the conversations revolved around the dragon’s arrogance and how only the dragons could’ve pulled off something of this magnitude. Who else could've demanded the attendance of youngsters, between the ages of seventeen and nineteen, primarily from politically important families? Yeah, only the dragons had the power to force the co-mingling of age-old enemies in a summer camp of all things.
She understood the reasoning: money and power. If one characteristic of the dragons stayed tried and true over the years, it remained a dragon’s lust for the largest hoard of jewels, precious metals, and works of art.
One of the Ancient Laws, enacted eons ago in a last ditch effort for the old world’s survival amid high tech wars, forced the blockade of all gateways within a territory during wartime. No supplies or troop movement would be allowed through the gateways, not even refugees received exit.
So, every time war broke-out, the Dragon's lost money by the freighter load. War, any war, made the unpredictable dragons extremely irritable, not a good idea under any circumstance.
The dragon’s solution was what Leah didn’t understand. Granted, she didn’t know much about the Sídhí Alliance. Children may or may not be precious commodities to the other races, but the Dhark Empire considered any person, whether child or adult, a tool, – a very expendable tool – nothing more.
What good would a summer 'peace' camp do? Sure, some of the attendees might make friends, but who really cared? Get real! The political atmosphere in Dhark Empire did not allow for weak alliances.
The Empire firmly believed in the law of the wild: the strong survived and becoming the strongest meant manipulating or killing the weak without remorse. To the Empire, any friendship or non-dhark valley alliance equaled a weakness.
The entire peace camp was a total waste of time. The races within the Sídhí Alliance refused to associate with people from the Dhark Empire. They refused to even call the empire by its proper name, instead shortening it to the Dhark Valley. It didn't matter that there were dozens of valleys under Empirical control.
“I’m starved,” complained the sleek blonde in front of Leah.
Trying not be too obvious, Leah shifted to the right and sniffed the breeze flowing past her. Both girls smelled like mundane humans; only shapeshifters smelled like a mundane after puberty. It meant they had to be dragon, but why were adolescent dragons in the check-in line? She didn't think the Dragon Council would allow any of their own children to attend camp, not a camp that might have a few fatal accidents. From the rumors circulating around camp, one girl had already died.
“Me too,” the shorter of the two agreed. “The smell of pizza is about to kill me.”
“Where’s Derek?” the first one asked then immediately shook her head and snorted. “Never mind, let me guess. He’s flirting with every available girl and making notes on which cabins the prettiest are in, true?”
The petite girl shrugged; her long sun-touched brown hair swished against her hips with the movement. “More likely they’re falling all over him and begging him to remember their name and cabin number.”
Leah huffed to herself. Ugh, she despised the Casanovas of the world. They always expected a girl to drop everything and jump to do their every command. And the truly sad part was how many girls jumped to do whatever Mr. Perfect Casanova wanted, some even asked how high.
Sighing, she caught a whiff of a delicious sent. Deeply inhaling the various new smells of the mountain campground, she searched for another trace of it, filling her lungs with an aroma that made her heart race in anticipation.
She glanced around. The hunky guy she noticed earlier walked toward the two girls in front of her.
He smelled as human as the girls did, but she’d never encountered anyone with such an incredibly attractive scent. She couldn’t even pin down what she liked about it. His scent was like a heady blending of warm wild musk wrapped in a fresh mountain breeze with hints of smoky hickory and dark cinnamon. She almost growled in frustration. Attempting to describe something so stimulating proved impossible.
She leaned forward, ready to sniff his bare arm as he walked past when she abruptly jerked back and quickly glanced around, making sure no one was watching her. What in the world was wrong with her? If he caught her sniffing him, he would assume she wanted to bite him… quite literally.
Well, she did want to bite him, but that was beside the point.
She wasn’t a pure blood, but she smelled like a vampire and with her lily-white skin and dark sunshades covering solid red eyes, she appeared to be an Exile, a human blood-drinking vampire.
She sighed in disgust, because that’s exactly what she was, or as the other valleys called her kind, a filthy exile; a blood-sucking vampire from the Dhark Valley. Some vampires, namely Clan vampires, didn't drink blood. Instead, they ate real human food. But every vampire living in the Dhark Valley drank strictly blood. Eating solid food was considered a weakness.
As a baby, her nanny bottle-fed her human blood and as she grew older she drank her meals from a glass. Her father would have beaten her to death if human food touched her lips and killed whoever gave it to her.
Leah’s diet wasn’t by choice. She didn’t like being a leech, but it was a necessary part of life. It was her fervent hope she wouldn’t have to drink another drop of blood for the rest of her life. Her mom had secretly taught her the way of the DeLeigh Dragons; they were her mom’s people, honorable people from the way her mom described them.
Everything the Dhark Valley stood for and did was thoroughly soaked in evil and malevolence; including drinking human blood. If it hadn’t been for her mom, Leah wouldn’t have known how wrong it was to drink another person’s blood. It was how her father’s staff raised her.
Leah focused on her aura sight and blinked; the DeLeigh dragon ability to see auras immediately slid across her vision. The rich smelling guy had a beautiful pulsing aura. Auras were normally blurry almost fuzzy, and in that respect, his was no different.
The halo of colors surrounding him throbbed with intensely vibrant emotions. A pure white ribbon swirled between massive swaths of bluish-purple-green and the brownish-orange band of color was dotted with glowing red highlights. It had other bits of color, but those stood-out from the rest.
The tickling pressure in her mind – almost a taste in the back of her throat – helped interpret what each color meant. She didn't have enough experience to interpret everything, but she guessed the white and bluish-purple reflected honesty, integrity, and honor. The mint green was a huge chunk of arrogance and overconfidence. The red glowing dots filled her mouth with the literal tang of being hot-tempered to the point of ‘fight then think.' Without more training, it was about as close as she could get. Well, except for the brownish-orange and it all but screamed a protective and stubborn attitude, a true bull-headed approach toward life.
The line of teenagers moved forward.
She watched him lift three large duffel bags; thick muscles rippled under his skin-tight t-shirt. She had a near uncontrollable urge to run her hand across the stretchy blue cotton, just to see if he felt real.
~ ~ ~
Derek strolled past the check-in tables, looking for Beth and Brianna when he noticed the dark haired beauty standing immediately behind his little sister. He’d met a dozen new girls. Of course, they had given him their cabin number. A couple even invited him for a midnight swim in the lake. Yeah, like he'd pass that up. Nighttime couldn't arrive quick enough.
But this dark-haired girl was above average, he’d put her in the beautiful category, but he wanted to see her eyes first. He had a real thing about eye color and stylish clothes. So far, so good, because he loved her cute short set with its unique black vest. Most of the girls in camp had on the same boring outfit: shorts and spaghetti t-shirt.
The dark chocolate brown of her hair seemed to drink in the sun. Twisted into an intricate braid, it dropped past her shoulders, teasing his imagination. His hands twitched with the desire to unwind it and run his fingers through it.
He grinned; he’d have her eating out of his hand in no time flat. No doubt, if he gave her a small smile, it would prompt her to introduce herself before he had time to say hello. It amused him, to no end, how girls (and women) threw themselves at him.
With an entirely new hunting ground to choose his next play toy from he couldn’t wait to check into his cabin. He had a great new selection of bubbly redheads, laughing blondes, raven-haired sirens, and sultry brunettes. And sultry definitely described the delicious beauty standing behind his sister.
He chuckled, anticipating his summer. He planned to have a new girl each week of camp. A new girl each week made the whole pain-in-the-butt Peace Camp well worth his time.
He walked up to his sister just as the line moved forward. Perfect timing as usual; they were the next group in line.
“Derek, I’m not helpless you know,” Beth said in exasperation as he picked-up all three bags, silently moving them. His sister stood just to the right of him with her hands on her lush hips.
“Yeah, Sis, I know. But your bag is nearly bigger than you are. It’s twice as heavy as Brianna’s and my bag put together.” He chuckled, unable to resist teasing her. “You didn’t slip your computer in that thing, did you?”
Derek was still teasing his sister when the breeze shifted directions. He inhaled the brunette's scent. Suddenly, he burned with the need to taste the exotic mixture. Turning, he found himself looking down into dark sunshades. Not believing his first reaction to her scent, he inhaled and the sweetest smell he’d ever encountered filled his lungs. Her scent literally overwhelmed him, smelling of fresh spun cotton candy and strawberries on a warm summer eve, and of vampire. His insides curled with heated anticipation, knowing his newest conquest was a vampire. He'd heard amazing things about having sex with a vampire.
Derek smiled at her, turning on his well-known charm with a flick of a switch. “Hello, beautiful. I’m Derek.”
His smile grew as she gave him the once over.
“Hello Derek,” she said, her voice husky and soft. She smiled a sweet welcoming smile.
His response to her voice was instant. He ached for her; he could almost taste her rosy lips as her slender tongue flicked-out wetting plump lips.
“My name’s Leah and I’m one hundred percent – not – interested.”
~ ~ ~
Leah smirked when Derek’s perfectly arrogant mouth dropped open in shocked disbelief. He really was gorgeous; at least a foot taller than her own five and a half feet, with brown hair streaked from dark chocolate brown to honey blonde, and his eyes. She could sink into his eyes. They were an incredible shade of light brown mixed with yellow and red, a beautiful amber color she’d never seen before today.
“Line’s moving, you’re up next,” Leah said in a dry, humorless voice.
~ ~ ~
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