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|Blood Ties(Blood Coven Vampire,book 6) by Mari Mancusi|
He looks up with pitiful, scared eyes. “Sunny,” he whimpers. “You’ve got to help me. I think... I think I might have been turned into a vampire.”
My first thought is to move him—to drag him somewhere—somewhere safe. But then I see he’s trapped himself on a small island of shadow, surrounded by an ocean of sunshine, squinting up at me with pale, bloodshot eyes. New vampires are less sensitive to the sun than fully mature ones—they won’t spontaneously combust into flames like the ancient ones do—but I know from personal experience the rays can still hurt like crazy and give you one hell of a sunburn.
My second thought is to call for help. But I realize, too late, that in my haste to make a grand exit, I left the book bag containing my cell phone in Magnus’s limo.
So instead I squat down next to him, trying to ignore the rank smell of rotting garbage coming from the Dumpster a few feet away, and wrap my arm around his shoulders, pulling his shivering body against my own. It’s like grabbing onto a supersize icicle, and I wonder wildly if my tongue would stick to his skin if I tried to lick him.
“Oh, Jayden, what happened?” I ask, my voice breaking at seeing him in this condition. He clings to me too tightly, as if desperate to absorb my warmth. I squeeze him even tighter, rubbing his back, feeling his spine jutting out from under his thin skin. What’s wrong with him? Could he really be infected? He was fine when I saw him a couple weeks before. Recovering nicely from his run-in with Cornelius, healthy enough, even, to take over the leading role in the Dracula musical at the Sun Casino.
So how did he go from playing a creature of the night to becoming one in reality? I mean, I’ve heard of life imitating art, but this seems a bit extreme...
“I don’t know,” he confesses. “I felt fine when I was originally released from the hospital. Just went about my business, taking care of the animals by day and acting in the show by night.” He looks up at me, an accusing flicker in his otherwise hollow eyes. “I thought you’d gone back to Massachusetts.”
My heart pangs guiltily. Of course he had. And I hadn’t exactly done anything to make him think otherwise, either. Sure, I’d been meaning to call him the moment I got back to Vegas from my adventure in Fairyland, but somehow I kept finding reasons to put off the call. Or pick up the phone when I recognized his number on the caller ID, for that matter. So much had happened—so much of my life had changed—so completely—that, to be honest, it was easier to avoid a conversation altogether than to figure out a place to even start.
And now, here in this alleyway, with Jayden fighting for his mortal life, the whole “Sorry, I was busy getting kidnapped by fairies” excuse sounds lamer than “The dog ate my homework.”
“It’s okay,” Jayden adds, his voice laced with bitterness. “I know your boyfriend probably discouraged you keeping in touch.”
He wasn’t wrong. While Magnus had never specifically spelled out the idea that he didn’t want me hanging out with Jayden anymore, I knew he believed no good could come out of a friendship with a guy who clearly liked me as more than a friend.
If only Magnus knew the truth: that I’d been fully prepared to dump him and run away with Jayden. And that it was Jayden himself who talked me into giving Magnus another chance. Maybe then he’d have more respect for the guy...
I force my thoughts back to the present. “But then you started feeling weird?” I ask, urging him to continue as I attempt to swallow down the floodwaters of guilt rising to my throat. If only I’d checked in on him. Answered his calls. I am seriously the worst friend ever.
He nods. “The light started bothering my eyes. And then I found it almost impossible to get up in the morning and go to sleep at night. But the biggest change was with the animals.” He stares down at the ground sorrowfully. “Now when I enter the room, they all freak out. The dogs start howling uncontrollably. The cats hiss in fear. Sweet little Rex even tried to bite me.” His voice chokes on the little wire-haired terrier’s name. “I eventually had to quit. My presence was stressing them out so much, they couldn’t concentrate on the show.”
My heart breaks for him. Poor Jayden. He’d devoted his entire life to working with the rescue dog and cat performers at the Comedy Pet Theater. I remember going backstage with him just weeks ago and seeing the affection in his eyes as he showed off his beloved animals. And, it was clear to me at the time that they loved him as much as he did them. But that was the mortal him. Pets, as a rule, don’t take too kindly to vampires. Something about the smell. Dead meat walking around. Most cats find it confusing. Most dogs simply want a taste.
“After that, everything became a blur,” Jayden continues. “I’d have blackouts, wake up somewhere and not remember how I got there or what I’d done. I was starving, but couldn’t keep down any food. I started to lose weight like crazy and then this horrible sickness came over me. Like the worst flu I’ve ever had. I tried to crawl to the hospital, but never made it that far. I’ve been here in this alleyway for the last three days, I think. I’m losing track. I’m so weak. So hungry. And all I can think of”—he makes a face—“is blood.”
I swallow hard. This is not good. “But I don’t understand,” I say, trying to make sense of his story while at the same time moving away from the topic of drinking blood. “I mean, it’s not like vampirism has suddenly gone airborne or anything. You would have had to literally drink vampire blood—or have it injected into you somehow—to become a vampire. But obviously you would remember something like that...”