Night Life(Vamps, #2) by Nancy A. Collins
With its airy, open spaces, Bergdorf Goodmanevoked a sense of uncluttered gentility that was a world away from the funky boutiques and consignment stores Cally Monture normally shopped. Indeed, it felt more like a museum, except that she was surrounded by mannequins in slinky evening clothes. Cally browsed the racks with her new friends from school in search of gowns suitable for the upcoming Rauhnacht Grand Ball-all the while taking mental notes on the textures, lines, forms, and colors used by the high-end labels. With a little luck, she hoped to be able to replicate some of them on her sewing machine at home.
"Ooh! What about this one?" Cally asked, holding up a sleeveless Dolce & Gabbana black matte jersey gown with a gathered bust and plunging V-line.
"It's very nice, but don't you think it's a little too revealing?" Bella Maledetto frowned.
"Duh!" Melinda Mauvais said. A tall, attractive sixteen-year-old with smooth, mocha-colored skin and smoldering jade-green eyes, she was easily the most exotic of the quartet. "The whole point of the Grand Ball is advertising you're eligible!"
"It's just not my style," Bella insisted.
Cally rolled her eyes, unsurprised by her friend's reply. Bella's fashion sense was nonexistent, and her twin sister Bette's wasn't any better, given that they dressed exactly alike. Not that the whole Tokyopop look didn't work every now and then, but only if you were trying to be ironic. The only way anyone could tell them apart was by the color of the ribbons in their hair: blue for Bella, red for Bette. Luckily, the twins were aware they needed all the help they could get, which was why Cally and Melinda had been asked to accompany them. Cally decided to try her luck with the other sister.
"What do you think, Bette?"
"I think it's sexy," Bette said. Since she was ten minutes older than her twin, Bette liked to consider herself more mature.
"You need to pick something out, Bella. After all, the Grand Ball is next weekend!" Melinda reminded her.
"What about you? Do you have something selected for the Grand Ball, Melly?" Cally asked.
"As a matter of fact, my personal shopper called to tell me the alterations to my Valentino are finished. You want to go with me?"
"What about us?" Bella and Bette asked in unison.
"Why don't you go take another look at those Vera Wangs over there?" Cally suggested as Melinda dragged her off in the direction of the alterations department.
"We'll catch up with you once we're finished."
"Here you are, Miss Mauvais," the saleslady said. Melinda unzipped the garment bag and gave the dress a cursory check. She glanced at Cally, who was leaning over her shoulder for a better look. "What do you think?"
"I think it's gorgeous, Melly!" Cally said, running her hand over the fabric. As she did, she noticed that the sales tag was still attached. While Melinda turned to speak to the saleswoman, Cally flipped the tag over and stared at the numbers in front of and behind the comma. The ball gown cost the equivalent of three mortgage payments on the condo she and her mother shared in Williamsburg.
"Would you like to try it on in our dressing room to make sure the alterations are correct?" the saleslady asked.
"That won't be necessary," Melinda replied as she reached into her genuine crocodile Hermes bag and handed the saleslady one of her father's business cards.
"I have a seamstress on my staff who can see to it, if necessary. Have it sent to this address."
"Right away, Miss Mauvais."
As they headed back to rejoin the Maledetto sisters, Melinda asked the question Cally had been dreading all afternoon: "So, what are you wearing for Rauhnacht?"
Cally paused, trying to decide whether to tell her friend she had not been invited to attend the Grand Ball as one of the year's debutantes. But it felt so good to be accepted as an equal, and she didn't want to do anything that would ruin the moment or embarrass Melinda by pointing out the social chasm between them.
"I've commissioned an original," she replied offhandedly, hoping it would deflect further inquiry.
"Cool! Anyone I know?"
"I don't think so," Cally lied. "She's just getting started, but she's very promising."
"Rauhnacht is all very sexist and medieval, if you ask me," Melinda said with a sigh. "But I can't bash it too hard. After all, it's how my parents met. My grandfather Asema came to the Grand Ball here in New York all the way from Suriname to find a husband for my mother."
"Your mom's from South America? Cool! I didn't know that."
"Since my ancestors came to the New World from West Africa instead of Europe, my totem is a panther, not a wolf. Lilith used to tease me for being different."
"She made catty comments, I take it?" Cally said dryly.
Cally and Melinda succeeded in tracking down the twins, who were dutifully sorting through the various gowns in the Vera Wang section.
"Have you found something you like yet?" Cally asked.
"I have," Bette said proudly, holding out a sleeveless black gown with a straight skirt.
"I think you have a winner there, Bette!" Cally said approvingly as she eyed the deep V-neck and ruched waistline. "How about you, Bella? What do you think?"
The other twin shook her head. "I don't like showing off so much skin."
"You know, you don't have to wear the same evening gown as Bette," Cally reminded her. "In fact, it's considered a big fashion no-no if you do."
"But we always dress alike," Bella protested. "We're twins."
"But that doesn't mean you're the same person. I mean, you two don't have the exact same likes and dislikes, am I right?"
Bella nodded. "She thinks Johnny Depp is cute. I like Orlando Bloom."
"See? That's exactly what I'm talking about!" Cally smiled. "You two might look the same on the outside, but on the inside you're different! And it's time you started letting others know that.
"Bella, how about you go pick out a gown that you like by the same designer as Bette? That way you can be the same but still be different."
Bella's face suddenly lit up. "I know just the one!
Wait here-I'll go get it!"
Melinda shook her head in amazement as she
watched Bella scamper off. "I've been trying to talk fashion sense into that girl for weeks, and you manage to get through to her in less than a day!"
"This is the one I liked, but Bette said it was boring,"
Bella said, returning with a sleeveless black satin gown with a gathered neckline, a tiny waist, and a full skirt.
"Very nice," Cally said.
"You really like it?" Bella asked anxiously. "You don't think it's dull?"
"I think it's very elegant," Cally assured her.
"Ooh! You know what would go perfect with that?"
Melinda exclaimed, her eyes agleam. "These high-heel Azzaro strappy sandals I saw on sale downstairs!" The smile on Melinda's face suddenly disappeared. "Uh-oh. Bitch alert."
"Where?" the twins said in unison, their heads swiveling like radar dishes.
"Over there." Melinda nodded toward the escalators. Cally felt her stomach knot as she turned to see Lilith Todd, the most popular and feared student at Bathory Academy. Nothing turns a fun afternoon of shopping with the girls into a bummer faster than bumping into someone who has recently tried to kill you.
Unlike the school they attended, Bergdorf 's wasn't an official vendetta-free zone. However, acting on vendettas in public, especially when plenty of humans were around, was frowned upon by the Synod. That in and of itself was usually enough to guarantee safe passage. Still, when dealing with someone as vindictive and temperamental as Lilith Todd, anything was possible.
"What do we do?" Bette and Bella whispered in tandem, the same worried look on their identical faces. Given that their father was the sworn enemy of Lilith's father, they were also concerned by her unexpected appearance.
"There's no reason to get upset," Cally assured them, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible. "We outnumber her, right?"
"Girls like Lilith never shop alone," Melinda said, her eyes darting warily about the store. "They're like cobras-if you see one, assume there are others nearby. See what I mean?"
Cally saw Carmen Duivel, in all her red-haired glory, headed in their direction followed by two other girls. The first girl was stork tall and built like a stick insect, with long, strawberry-blond hair drawn back into a partial upsweep. The second was short and curvy with sleek black hair worn in a Dutch bob that framed her oval face and accented her Cupid's bow mouth.
"Who are they?" Cally asked.
"Armida Aitken is the tall one, and Lula Lumley is the short one," Melinda whispered. "They're from established Old Blood families, although nowhere near as powerful as Lilith's. But then, that's how Lilith likes it. It's good to be the queen bee."
"I think we'd better leave," Bella said anxiously.
"We have every bit as much right to be here as she does," Cally replied firmly. "We're still in America, even if we are at Bergdorf's. I'm not going to run away simply because Lilith and her posse are in the same building. . . ."
"Well, well, well!" Lilith's voice was loud enough that nearby customers looked up from their shopping.
"It's Three-M: Monture, Mauvais, and Maledetto!"
"Shouldn't that be Four-M?" Armida Aitken asked, counting on her fingers. "There's two Maledettos. . . ."
"No, because they're interchangeable as far as I'm concerned!" Lilith hissed over her shoulder, irritated at having to explain her joke to someone who was supposed to laugh at it regardless of whether she got it or not.
As Lilith approached, Melinda and the twins stood firm behind Cally, flanking her on either side. Even if they wanted to back down, there was no way of doing so without appearing weak-blooded.
"I didn't know they allowed mongrels in Bergdorf's."
Lilith sniffed, looking at Cally as if she were something she'd just scraped off her Fendis.
"They must, because there's a pack of bitches right in front of me," Cally replied.
"Watch your tongue, Monture," Carmen growled. She stepped forward, glaring menacingly, only to freeze as Melinda moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Cally.
"This isn't school," Lilith snarled. "There aren't any teachers here to intervene on your behalf, New Blood."
"That's funny, I was about to tell you the same thing," Cally shot back.
Lilith's eyes narrowed into slivers of blue ice. "You don't belong here, just like you don't belong at Bathory. We're not interested in sharing our territory with a pack of losers, are we, girls?"
"Bergdorf's is ours!" Carmen said with a contemptuous toss of her head. "Beat it while you still can."
"Save the Queen of the Damned act for the spods you bully at school," Cally said. "You don't scare us. What are you and your little clique of Vampire American Princesses going to do? Fly around the fragrance counter? Piss on the rugs in the shoe department to mark your turf? Besides, I don't scare easy."
Cally turned and pointed a finger at a mannequin dressed in a cashmere sweater. A spark of bluish-white electricity arced from the tip of her index finger, leaving a scorch mark the size of a dime on the nineteen-hundreddollar garment. Armida and Lula gasped and exchanged nervous looks, while Carmen flinched and took an involuntary step back.
"Now, if you don't mind," Cally said, pushing past Lilith and her entourage, "as much as I would love to continue our little conversation, my friends and I are going to check out some shoes."
Cally was on the escalator before she stopped holding her breath. "Praise the Founders that's over with," she gasped.
"You were incredible!" Bella and Bette chimed in unison.
"I've never seen anyone stand up to Lilith like that!"
Melinda laughed. "And she hasn't, either!"
"Do you think the reason she hates me is because she blames me for that friend of hers getting killed-
what was her name again?"
"Tanith Graves," Melinda replied. "No, I don't think that's it. Lilith and Tanith were tight, but they weren't that tight. If you ask me, I think she's scared of you."
"Scared? Of me?"
"You can summon lightning just like that!" Melinda said, snapping her fingers. "No one else our age can do anything close! Of course she's scared of you!"
Cally glanced back over her shoulder, a worried look on her face. "I dunno, Melly. I think there's more to it than that, but I can't figure out what. . . ."
"The nerve of some people!" Carmen hissed. "Melinda knew we'd be here today for the trunk show! It's all her doing, I just know it is! She orchestrated this whole thing!"
"I agree," Lilith groaned. "Imagine! Common, lowlife trash like Monture and the Maledettos in Bergdorf's. Is nothing sacred?"
If Lilith Todd wrote down a list of all the things she hated, it would be a very long list. It would include, in no particular order: school, not getting her way, sharing, her mother, ugly people, poor people, and spods. But there was no doubt as to what would be at the very top: Cally Monture.
As she watched her archenemy and demi-sister ride the escalator to the shoe department in the company of her clique of pathetic losers, Lilith wasn't surprised that her father had kept his illegitimate daughter unaware of his true identity all this time. Looking back at her own childhood, Lilith realized he had treated her pretty much the same. They had both been brought up like mushrooms: kept in the dark and raised on a diet of bullshit. Now that she had a chance to think about it, Lilith had a new thing to add to the top of her hate list: dear ol' Dad.
Lilith had hoped spending the afternoon shopping for a gown for the Grand Ball would take her mind off her problems, but instead it was rubbing her nose in them. Although her knowledge of who and what Cally really was had shaken her to her very core, Lilith didn't dare reveal the truth to anyone, not even Jules. Nor could she let anyone know just how deeply she had been affected by the revelation. The moment any of her so-called friends sensed weakness on her part, they would turn on her like jackals taking down a wounded lion. And that included her new "BFF,"
Carmen had been bucking to take over as her confidante and first lieutenant even before Tanith's death, and now it seemed Lilith couldn't turn around without being badgered by the redhead. What are you doing?
Where are you going? Is Jules going with you?
Carmen was proving as irritating as a burlap thong, and almost as far up her butt. Still, it was important that Lilith maintain an entourage, and with Tanith's death and Melinda's defection to the Dork Side, Carmen was the sole remaining member of her original posse. And two people are not a posse, which was why she was "test driving" Armida Aitken and Lula Lumley. So far, it was rough going.
"We'll be late if we don't hurry," Carmen said. "I heard Gala will only be there for the first hour or so of the trunk show. I don't want to miss her!"
There were already at least two dozen women milling about in the section of the store set aside for the trunk show. The group of socialites, trophy wives, and celebutantes chatted among themselves as they sipped complimentary cocktails and idly examined the racks of clothes rolled out for their inspection.
Lilith glanced over at the catered refreshment table, laden with fresh fruit and cheese trays, trying to hide her revulsion. The sight of what clots called "food" was enough to make her stomach turn. She wondered how they could bring themselves to eat such slop. The store's fashion director held up her hands for silence. "Ladies, we here at Bergdorf Goodman are pleased to introduce a new designer to our collection this coming spring. Here to speak to you about their upcoming ready-to-wear line is Maison d'Ombres'
North American executive representative."
Carmen nudged Lilith as a tall, well-built man in his mid-twenties stepped forward. "He makes Ollie look like a waiter at Applebee's."
"He's cute"-Lilith shrugged-"but Jules is hotter."
"Jules is smoking hot," Carmen agreed.
"What do you mean by that?" Lilith said suspiciously.
"Nothing, Lili," Carmen replied quickly. "I was just saying, you know."
Seemingly oblivious to the discussion of his relative hotness, the young exec smiled at the women assembled before him. "Ladies, allow me to introduce to you the bright young face of Maison d'Ombres-the incomparable Gala!"
From behind one of the racks stepped a stunningly beautiful girl with high, rounded cheekbones, pouty bee-stung lips, sparkling aquamarine eyes, and long hair that spilled down about her shoulders like warm butterscotch. With her long, shapely legs and surfer-girl tan, she looked fresh off the beach at Malibu. As the model sashayed out into the audience dressed in a ruff-collar blouse paired with a bow-belted dark skirt and a houndstooth trench with rolled sleeves, a photographer with broad shoulders and a neatly trimmed Van Dyck beard swung a 35-mm Nikon digital camera into action. The preferred customers "oohed" and "aahed" appreciatively.
On seeing the camera, Lilith and her entourage shifted about uneasily. Although they still had a few years before they would totally lose the ability to reflect and be photographed, they had been raised to be cautious in the presence of photographic equipment. The photographer circled Gala like a satellite, his back to the other women in the room. As she watched the photographer click away, Lilith recognized him as the man who had approached her at D&G a couple of weeks earlier.
"Who's the paparazzo?" Lula asked.
"That's no pap, that's Kristof," Carmen explained.
"You know him?" Lilith asked, trying not to let her interest show.
"Not personally. He's this hotshot photographer who's done spreads with Iman, Kate Moss, and Kurkova. He's been signed to work on the Maison d'Ombres launch. Speaking of which-what do you think of the clothes?"
Lilith glanced over at the racks full of sample clothing. The garments all seemed to be very well made, but they weren't anything special. "I could vomit something more interesting," she said with a shrug. "Did I mention that I'm to be the last debutante presented at the Grand Ball?"
"Several times," Armida replied.
"I'm looking for something that will rivet every eye in that ballroom. After all, being the final presentation of the evening is very important. The Grand Ball can't begin before I start the first dance of the night. I want a gown that signifies that importance."
As she spoke, Lilith watched some girls come up to the model with paper and pen in hand, seeking autographs. The model scribbled her name, and her admirers eagerly bore the signatures away as if they were as precious as gold.
"I hear Gala signed a million-dollar contract with Maison d'Ombres to be their official model for the next year," Lula whispered. "Spreads in ELLE, Vanity Fair, and Vogue . . . that kind of thing."
"A million?" Lilith tapped her chin with a pearlpink nail. "How old would you say she is?"
"Seventeen, I guess; maybe eighteen."
"Would you say she's prettier than me?"
"Uhhh . . ." Lula glanced about, not sure how to respond.
"Definitely not!" Carmen protested, quickly stepping into the void created by Lula's gaffe. "You're much prettier than her! Most models would kill for your looks!"
As Kristof continued to snap pictures, Lilith thought about how her wealth and popularity were not of her own making, but of her father's. She was like the moon, which has no light of its own but merely reflects the light of the sun. Up until now, she had been content to remain within her father's orbit, echoing his glory. But now that she knew she was not his only child, things no longer seemed as certain as they had before.
Perhaps it was time she started shining on her own.