950 YEARS AGO
“Fuck you Vladislaus!” Ana pressed her back into an old plank, trying to use the nail to tear her ropes.
Vladislaus was settled comfortably in a coffin with a glass of nectar. He barely looked up from his book. “That would be a feat in the state you’re in.”
Bastard. Twisting to her side, she worked harder at breaking her ropes. She might’ve slept with him. She might even have made the mistake of asking for his help. But now she understood what a piece of shit he was. The Good Order Monks were right to hunt him. “I will not stay here!” she whispered to herself.
She finally weakened her bindings enough to slip free, but she wanted the element of surprise. It was her best bet against him because, in addition to being liars and absolute pieces of shit, vampires were strong. She stood up, clutching at her ropes to give the illusion of still being tied up.
“Off for a midnight stroll?” Vladislaus sipped his nectar and turned another page. He was mocking her, which was a good sign. Ana did her best work when she was underestimated.
She smiled pleasantly and then took a running leap intending to crash through the window beside him. She was aloft briefly, and then Vladislaus’s forearm brought her to the floor. The sheer force with which she hit the ground winded her. She panicked, trying to suck in more air even as her brain told her she didn’t need it.
“If it were up to me, we would drain every villager in this occult-forsaken hellhole. But then where would we eat and rest when the sun comes up and lights your pretty little skin on fire? Besides, I would like to finish my book before sims show up with pitchforks.“
Ana didn’t give a fuck about villagers or pitchforks. She fought when Vladislaus knelt and tipped a flask to her lips. “You’re thirsty,” he soothed, “And it’s making you foul-tempered. Drink.”
She ignored the way the warm liquid tasted when it hit her tongue. Screwing up her courage, she momentarily held it in her mouth and spat it back in his face.
“I said I don’t want any blood.”
Vladislaus, the devil that he was, stood and grinned. “Not only do you want it. You need it. You’re weak, Anastasia. An infant could knock you over at this rate.”
“I’m not!” Pressing her advantage, she swung at him. She missed by a mile and swayed on her feet. “You idiot! I don’t need blood! I…I need food!” But even as she said it, the smell of it splattered on the ground made her stomach want to curl in on itself with hunger.
She did want it. Llamas help her; she would die without it.
Anastasia called on the last of her strength. As a mortal, she’d been a damn good fighter, and now, she used those skills to tackle Vladuslaus to the ground. She shoved his head to the side and sank her fangs into his neck.
The blood was strange-tasting. Not as satisfying as whatever was in the flask, but it would do. Eventually, she started feeling full. Her awareness returned, and with it, white-hot shame. Ana flung herself away from him, crouching and hissing. The smug look on his face as he rose to his feet confirmed her worst suspicions.
He let her tackle him so that she’d eat.
Bastard. Next time, she wouldn’t make that mistake. Next time she’d—
“Next time, you’ll drink,” he didn’t bother wiping the blood off his face as he climbed back into the coffin, repositioning his long limbs. He took up his book and nectar again. “And you’ll drink the time after that, too. You’re a vampire, Anastasia. And if you’re going to master your occult energy, you need sustenance.”
“But I don’t want to be! I want…I want…” she fumbled with her words, embarrassment scalding her. She’d never felt so exposed, so broken.
Vladislaus rolled his eyes. “We have been over this. Countless times, in fact. Welcome to being a vampire. You drink blood, live forever, and suffer the incessant nattering of new vampires who didn’t read the fine print.”
He was still angry with her. He told her not to go after Miko, and she did. Worse, she ended up a vampire, the exact thing she’d rejected when he laid it out and offered to find someone to turn her so they could be together. It had been terrifying to wake up surrounded by her classmates as the thing they hunted. She needed his help, and Vladislaus and his brother gave it. But she didn’t know if he’d ever forgive her.
If she’d ever forgive herself.
“What is you want, Anastasia?”
For you to forgive me. For all of this to be over. To grow old and ornery and die like I planned.
“I want to live in a house and eat food and see the fucking sun!” Just as she screamed the words, there it was. The thing everyone had been pestering her about for years. Ana was so startled by the damp feeling on her skin that she just stood there, pressing her hand to her cheek. “Why is this happening to me?”
“Because the studio thinks I can be helpful.” Vladislaus shifted in his coffin and gave her a jaunty wave. “Hi, I’m Luna Villareal.”
DEL SOL VALLEY, PRESENT DAY
Ana frowned. She was drifting again, only now it was in front of some barely sentient teenager.
“This is my resume,” Luna continued, “I graduated from Britechester with a bachelor’s in communication. I’m organized, detail-oriented, and I know how to make your life easier without getting in the way.”
Ana took the paper she handed over but didn’t look at it. “What do you mean not get in my way? Why would you say that?”
“You’re Anastasia Barrister,” the girl replied as if that was explanation enough.
“You are one of the few Del Sol Valley stars who doesn’t have someone like me at their beck and call. Everyone says you like your privacy, but I think you don’t want to take the chance that someone will get in your way and mess something up.”
“What an astute observation.” Ana crumbled up the paper, trying to ignore the way her mouth wanted to curve into a smile. She’d have to find another way to appease the studio. A personal assistant was not going to happen.
“Here,” Luna handed Ana an identical resume, “I came prepared with back-ups just in case the first one had an accident.”
An accident? A surprised laugh fell out as Ana sized the girl up: Glossy yet perfectly coiffed hair, pink tartan suit, twin spots of determination burned onto her cheeks. She had balls.
Still, it was impossible. Ana couldn’t have some mortal bounding around after her while she lived her full vampiric life. And she certainly couldn’t have her bounding around after Penny. The new werewolf was more closed off than usual. She didn’t want to talk about being a werewolf; she didn’t want their relationship—which she always said with a pained expression—made public. She didn’t want any of the chaos Ana’s life brought around.
“I’m not hiring,” Ana replied as she crumpled the second resume.
“You should. I’m not afraid of hard work. I won’t miss deadlines or details. I will improve your life. I can handle anything you throw at me.”
Ana cocked her head to the side. What a presumptuous little twat. Luna wouldn’t get the job, but she would get a lesson in fucking around with dangerous creatures.
Even if Ana peeled the memory out of her brain afterward.
Calling on her dark form was easy. “Oh, I see,” Ana bared her teeth in imitation of a smile. “You can handle that I’m a 950-year-old vampire who keeps her life private so she can freely feed off your blood? You can handle that my schedule is demanding because I’m immortal? I have no patience, no heart, no feelings, and no interest in being told what to do, least of all by some insipid child.”
She could hear the wild beating of Luna’s heart—sense the increase in her adrenaline. In a few moments, the child was going to run screaming.
Only she didn’t.
Ana watched in awe as the girl, still terrified, began to smooth her clothes and pulled out a clipboard. “D-does that mean you prefer to take meetings at night? I can flag that in your calendar.”
Luna made one more note and then looked up at Ana expectantly. “And one more thing…what is blood?”