Crimson Night (Night #1) by Marie Hall
The moon hung low, a bloody slash of color against the deepest ink of night. There were no stars to be seen. Clouds, thick and a shade lighter than the sky, moved at a lazy crawl, casting long malevolent shadows against the backdrop of the Black Hills Forest. Trees, their skeletal branches extended to the sky in prayerful worship, swayed from a strong breeze. The wind was chilly, nipping at my nose with a frost bitten kiss.
The only light for miles came off the neon pulse of carnival rides. The blues and yellows, red and greens, bled into the shadow, casting a sickly pallor on everything it touched.
I inhaled the night, taking the rich scents of pine, earth, and the grease soaked stench of carnival fare, deep into my lungs. I leaned against the metal fence, waiting, watching. The Ferris wheel I ran sat empty for the moment, but I knew it was a matter of time before I started seeing some action.
Guys thought they were so slick: Hey, doll, let’s go ride the Ferris wheel. See I’m a sensitive kind of man. Isn’t the night pretty, oh what...I don’t know how my hand found your tit. But since it’s there, how ‘bout we make out?
So pathetic, it made me want to gag. Worst part of it was, night after night I saw each and every insipid girl fall for that tacky ploy. You’d think they’d have figured it out by now. Unfortunately I just ran the ride, too bad I couldn’t give the girls half a brain while I was at it. Humans disgusted me in so many ways. Or maybe I was too old and forgot what it was like to be young.
The cold seeped deep into my body, chilling my blood but doing nothing to bank the restless heat of Lust crowding my bones. I hadn’t sated the beast in over two nights, I needed to feed her. Luc—my boss—often told me I was too picky for my own good. Maybe he was right. But then again I was a creature of habit. I hadn’t suffered much more than the occasional headache and malaise from waiting for my perfect prey in over five thousand years. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The night rang with the cacophonous pitch of rides and the thrilling screams and laughter of riders. Some type of heavy metal played over the loudspeaker, too loud for me to tell who it was. Knowing Luc, it was probably something creepy and mood setting, a-la Black Sabbath.
I watched the scene with cold detachment, not paying much attention to the women or children. I wasn’t into that sorta thing. I preferred my prey young, muscular, and full of testosterone.
Crowds clamored, running from one ride to another. Lovers held hands, staring wordless into each other’s eyes, never suspecting or knowing that for some, this would be their final night.
This was Carnival Diabolique; the world’s greatest traveling show. People came in droves to see the hottest gig in town. We weren’t your typical carnies—greasy, fat, out of touch with the world. Our men were beautiful and the women so sweet, just looking at us gave you a toothache. This place was a Goth’s wet dream. We played dress up for the crowd and had a little bit of everything—from Cyber, to Trash, to Death Rocker.
I preferred the romanticism of Victorian myself. Black corset top, black elegant rider bustle skirt with red satin threading up the sides, vintage stockings and boots, right down to the Lolita style top hat. In this get-up I’d have made Marilyn Manson a very happy man indeed.
Diabolique was Luc’s brainchild. Years ago, none of us could have imagined how popular and mainstream ‘dark’ would become. There’d been a time to admit you dabbled in darkness meant a swift and excruciating death. Dancing with the Devil was a strict no-no. Now, to be cool meant embracing every dark thought and deed and making it your own. Funny how things change.
Luc had pounced on this new subculture with a vengeance. There was nothing we missed. We were perfect. Against all odds we’d carved an exclusive niche for ourselves, each year growing in popularity.
This place was no theatrical display of talent, it was as genuine as it got. Not a surprise really, considering we were the monsters that went bump in the night.
Some people came because they liked to pretend they had a clue what it was like to live dark and bad. Seriously. I will never understand the appeal. I think if I’d had a choice I would have liked the ignorance and not the knowledge of knowing just how bad, bad really was.
Others came because they were curious. It wasn’t everyday that you found a carnival run by modelesque beauties that catered almost exclusively to a certain type of clientele. You wanted drink. It was here. Strippers? We had them too. Narcotics? The best money could buy.
How did we get away with all this?
Let’s just say we had our ways. After thousands of years, my kind had perfected the art of stealth. If we didn’t want you to know something, you wouldn’t.
I’m sure it’s obvious by now this carnival is a front. For some, this will be a night of fun, with no regrets and little memory of it. For others deemed worthy, well, they might wish they’d not been chosen for that dubious honor.
I was nice. I played with my pets, then sent them along their merry way. I didn’t kill if I didn’t have to. But some—I glanced at our Master of Ceremonies, Bubba, walking up to the big top platform—were not so nice.
I turned and stared at a man trying to push two ticket stubs into my hands. He had his arm draped protectively around a petite little thing. With her big blue eyes and corn silk hair she reminded me oddly of a pixie. Fragile, too delicate to toy with, and a complete waste of my time. The man on the other hand was a different matter entirely.
I took the tickets and as my fingers grazed his, a jolt of electricity passed from him to me. That hot current shivered down my spine and made me burn, tightening things low in my belly. He jumped and I smiled. I knew he’d felt it too.
Mine. Lust undulated through my body, coming alive like a caged lioness restless to be set loose. She paced back and forth, screaming, clawing for release.
Soon, I told her.
Her soul bristled inside me like a rattler coiled for the strike. She hated to wait. As demons often do, she craved instant gratification.
Within this shell, this body, beats one heart and two souls. Me—Pandora—and the demon—Lust. Desire, need, sex they feed her, make her stronger. The way I learned to control her was to feed her frequently, every two or three days usually kept her sated and contented.
I’d just had sex yesterday, but something about this man had Lust wiggling around like a girl with her first crush.
I let my gaze slide slowly up the long length of his muscled frame.
Of course, I couldn’t honestly say I blamed her. He was delicious.
Trite as it sounds, clichéd as the phrase is, I knew in that moment that it was a hundred percent true. It was like the world stopped. Took a collective breath and held it. My vision narrowed down to nothing but him.
He was dressed in jeans, tattered and scuffed at the knees. The material hugged his legs to perfection. White, button down shirt opened at the collar gave me a peek of smooth, flawless skin. No hair on the chest. Good. I hated chest hair.
His lips were firm, sensual. The kind of mouth that made a good girl want to go bad. Or a bad girl go badder. I licked my lips, taking a small step closer and poured out a little of my magick, or glamour as some called it. It wasn’t much. Or dangerous. A minor thrall. One, that if he thought of later, might make him wonder what it was about me that made him unable to look away.
He narrowed his eyes, his long, slightly hawkish nose flared. My heart pounded. Did he sense it? If he did I was screwed. I preferred my prey willing and pliant beneath my touch. His needs and satisfaction as important as my own. Unlike most of my kind I didn’t delight in force. But Lust needed to be fed and what she wanted was him.
I wouldn’t rape him. I could. I had the power to make him want me to the point that he’d be willing to sell his soul for a taste of me. I was not a good person. Never pretended to be. But there were some lines even I wouldn’t cross. That was one of them.
I stepped closer. He smelled of sandalwood and man. Adrenaline surged through me, my skin prickled and my nipples puckered.
He didn’t move.
I wished I could see his hair color, I’d always had a thing for brunettes, but he had it covered with a ball cap.
Everything about him stood out, except his eyes. Brown. That was it. Just brown. No flecks of color inside of it. No unusual iris. It was about as humdrum brown as you could get. I’d even call it boring. Except that after years of seeing nothing but the unusual, the usual made my pulse hammer. Heat coiled like a sling between my thighs, making me wet and needy. I bit down on my lip and his eyes honed in like a missile to target.
Lust grew more impatient. Demanded I walk my fingers up his chest, touch him in some way. Any way. Just so long as I branded him as hers.
I shoved the thought away. I was in charge here. Not Lust.
“Billy...” The girl hanging onto his arm shook him hard.
That name just seemed so wrong. I didn’t know him from Adam, but he definitely didn’t seem like a Billy. Maybe more like a Thor. My lips twitched.
God of Thunder.
“C’mon, Billy, I want to ride the Ferris wheel before it gets much later.” I had to fight the urge to snarl at the sound of her saccharine sweet Southern drawl. What was he doing with her? After several thousand years I'd prided myself on reading others pretty well, and something just wasn't adding up here.
She was too sweet. Too good. And while the "Billy" facade seemed to imply corn fed country, the eyes were the true window of the soul and his screamed: Warning! Danger! Brown eyes needed a woman with fire. A woman who knew how to handle a man like him.
A woman like me.
Billy glanced down at her and smiled. A secret, private thing hinting at possession. Carnal and raw. But also tempered with something softer. Gentle.
Men never looked at me like that. With lust yes. But that, whatever that was...never.
It wasn’t normal for my kind to want what he’d shown her. I touched the thick scar on my chest barely concealed by the curls of my streaked hair. The scar was tangible proof of that.
“You’re right, Belle.”
He shot me a look, his eyes filled with barely disguised hate.
Call me stupid, every alarm in my brain was warning me all was not what it seemed, and yet, my pulse continued to thrum with heat and need.
But no matter how thick that need got, Billy didn't bat a lash. In fact, he seemed oblivious. Which was odd, the need Lust exuded was akin to a pheromone no mortal could resist. I’d seen it work thousands of times before, why not now?
Belle growled, her big blue eyes moving from Billy to myself and back again with annoyance. “Are you gonna let us ride or what?” she snapped at me.
I couldn’t believe this. Was I really going to have to admit defeat? This had never happened to me before in my life.
He lifted a brow, as if in challenge.
What the hell was wrong with me? With Lust? Was she sick?
You know how when a parent tells a child no, suddenly it makes the desire to do exactly that even stronger? That’s how I felt right now.
He was telling me no. And now I wanted him even more.
For the first time in my life I contemplated breaking my own rule. But my rules were the only thing that kept me sane. Kept me feeling not so dark, not so inhuman. I wouldn’t do it. Not even for him.
I spread my arm, standing to the side and allowed them to pass.
Lust raged inside me, the echo of her discontent scraped my nerves raw and my head throbbed with white hot pain. I grabbed my skull, pressing against my temple to try and ease the pain.
Billy hugged Belle tight to his side, almost protectively, and pushed past me to take a seat on the ride.
I watched him and Belle watched me.
I didn’t care.
He intrigued me. Very little did anymore. Who was he? What was he? I hadn’t sensed him as anything other than human, but there was no way. No human male could resist Lust.
The pain in my head started to slowly subside.
There was something very curious about Billy. Maybe I should have been scared. That would have been the sane reaction. Instead, for the first time in centuries, I didn’t want a man because Lust demanded it.
I wanted this man because I demanded it.