Dante’s World, Book 2
by Willa Okati
eBook ISBN: 1-59596-165-8
To settle their dispute, Creed challenges Morgan to a tri-fold battle: feeding, fighting, and making love. Morgan, who denies her Vampire nature, relishes the idea of going tooth and claw with Creed. Little does Morgan know that after their duel, things will never go back to the way they were…
Publisher’s Note: Although set in Dante’s World, Morgan’s Creed is not included in the Black Leather Night and Other Tales (Collection)
The city looked like a warren. Built up from a few huts around the spaceport, it had grown into a vast maze of tall mansions, low dwellings, alleys, and shops. Easy to get lost in. Easy to lose yourself in. A dangerous place for a woman alone.
That was why Morgan was here. She couldn’t protect them all, but she could keep a few safe in her house. A low stone enclosure attached to a tall mansion, it had been abandoned when she moved in. She figured her house had been servants’ quarters, once. No matter. It suited her needs, and those of the women she protected. They each had a small den-like room of their own, with very few windows.
Important for her kind. Especially during the day.
Morgan smiled without humor as she looked down on the city. Dark hair, the color of a raven’s wing, soft and smooth, fell down into her eyes, across skin the color of milky mocha, luminous in the moonlight. Small and slender, she nestled into the window cranny with no problem, and could gaze down, drinking in her fill of the night.
Some of the things she saw made her furious. She didn’t use her fangs or her strength to defend any except those under her care, but truth to tell, the human brigands roaming the streets were the least of her women’s worries. Far worse were the vampire-kind, those who lurked in the alleys. They’d leave their victim half-drained to die or be rescued, uncaring which one. Sometimes they would take it all and make that helpless soul one of their own, another to hunt and stalk and kill.
Vampires were evil creatures.
She’d been there.
Absently, she felt at the two small puncture wounds on her neck. She’d heard a small rustle from a nearby cranny one night. Thinking only that it might be a small animal, trapped under rubbish, she’d gone to look, and —
Awakened the next night one of them. A vampire.
Abandoned, with no one to teach her, she could live as she chose, without having been indoctrinated into the vampire-kind’s ways. She drank blood from bags stolen from the hospital or bottles bought in the black market. She did not hunt, but protected, instead.
She’d begun gathering street-dwellers to her for protection, keeping them safe from the vampires and the human vultures who preyed on the weak. It made restitution, somehow, for being what she was. She knew she could never change back into what she had been, but she could keep others from falling prey to the same fate.
Always women; always the helpless. Women who used their bodies to eke out another day’s food and shelter. Her home had turned into a house for soiled doves, and the rooms into love nests, but she didn’t mind. With a vampire there, the men treated her girls well, and paid them what they should. The women passed on to her the pittance she asked for, only enough to serve her needs. If she stayed clear of men, and kept to herself, no one asked any questions.
It was a good life, altogether.
But if she sometimes longed for something… something insubstantial… as she gazed down on the city, no matter. Her women were friends as well as housemates. And she had —
A small noise issued from the cupboard where they kept food. A little rustling, but enough to perk up her sensitive ears. “Sascha,” she crooned, rolling off the counter and landing on all fours. “Sascha, what ails you?”
She crept forward, peering into the bottom of the pantry. A handsome calico cat lay on her side amid swaddlings of clean rags, with six puffballs of kittens, all colors, nursing at her plump nipples.
Sascha shifted again as Morgan came into sight, and opened her mouth in a silent “meow.”
“Are you hungry, love?” Morgan asked softly. “Feeding all those, you must be starved, yourself. Hold on, I’ll get you an early breakfast.”
Her women said she spoiled the cat, and, well, she probably did. All Sascha had to do was make the slightest of complaints, and Morgan would rush to her side to mend the wrong. But she’d always had a soft spot for small creatures, even when she was mortal. Now that she lived as a vampire, the cat was one of her great comforts. Before the kittens, she had always crept into Morgan’s sunless interior room during the day, to nap away the hours curled up on her feet or at her side.
Morgan missed that, now. But the cupboard was where Sascha had chosen to litter, and like Morgan, she was faithful to her little ones.
She felt in a small drawer for a tin of sliced meat. She spent most of her own small monies on things for the cat, especially luxuries like the canned food Sascha loved. She laughed at the loud caterwaul from the cupboard as she cracked the tin open. “Here you are, little one.”
Laughing, Morgan lay on her side to watch the mother and babies. She could afford the luxury. It was an hour until dawn, and the last of the clients had left some time ago. She could savor the warmth of the clay stove in the kitchen without fear of sunlight streaming in the window. Hunger gnawed at her, but it was bearable.
She was… dared she think it? Content.
Just as she thought that, a small snick caught her ears. She whirled around, staring narrowly through to the front door. Baring her fangs, she growled low in her throat. If it was a man, come to take advantage of a house of women…
The door opened fully, and Agnes staggered in under the weight of a full linen basket.
“Aggie!” Morgan exploded. “Where have you been?”
Agnes jumped and pressed a hand to her heart. “Morgan! I didn’t know you’d still be awake. It’s almost dawn.”
“Almost, but not quite.”
“You’re trying to distract me.” Morgan rose easily to her feet, stalking toward the woman. “I thought you were an intruder.”
“No! No one would dare come in here, with you around.” Agnes was a tall woman, with soft, corn-colored hair, and dreamy blue eyes. Eyes that were now spiked with wet lashes. She had tear-trails down her rosy cheeks. Still, she smiled and reached out a gentle hand. “You’re our Protector.”
Morgan laid her hand across Agnes’ for a brief moment. “You didn’t answer my question. Where were you, at this time of night? What’s had you crying?”
Agnes ducked her head, as if to hide the tell-tale signs.
Morgan hung on, like a terrier with a rat. “You have been crying. What happened? Were you attacked?”
“No. I was careful. You’ve taught us too well to be caught by surprise. I couldn’t sleep, so I went to the laundress to pick up our fresh bedclothes. And I’m not crying, not really. It’s just… Creed. Creed and his women, down the block.”
“Creed?” Morgan blinked in surprise. “Who’s he?”
“You don’t know? Well, I suppose you wouldn’t. You hardly ever leave here…” Agnes busied herself with lifting the linen basket to a low countertop. From inside, she drew a fresh bed-sheet, so often washed that it was soft as fur, and began to fold it. “It’s nothing, Morgan, truly.”
Morgan narrowed her eyes. “I think you should tell me about this Creed, and his women. If he’s a threat to you, I’ll see to him.”
“Oh, no!” Agnes lifted a hand to her throat. “Don’t, Morgan. It’s just my own silliness. Never mind me.”
“I will mind you. Now tell me.”
“Creed is a… a vampire, too,” Agnes said reluctantly. “So are his women. Vampires, or those that crave the bite.”
Morgan growled softly in her throat. She’d heard of such deviants, women and men who savored the pain and the supposed orgasmic bliss of being punctured and drunk from. “Filth,” she spat. “And?”
“He runs his house like this one. The women are there as pleasure servants. He protects them. But they — Morgan, they’re so bold. Close to dawn as this, and they were hanging from the balconies of the mansion he’s taken over. Dressed in corsets and leather, cat-calling to the men below. Our own clients have dropped lately, and now I know why. They’ve been lured in by the vampire-kind.”
“Do they change them over?” Morgan’s hand shot out and tightened on Agnes’ wrist. “Tell me, do they make them into vampires?”
“I don’t know. Please, Morgan, you’re hurting me.”
Instantly, remorsefully, Morgan dropped the woman’s wrist. “Forgive me. But this Creed, he takes our business? His women, they flaunt themselves like that?”
Agnes looked down at her own leather vest, long skirt, and slippers. The skirt was filmy, showing her long legs through it, and her vest tight enough her breasts were thrust high and up. There could be no mistaking what she was, and her lovely face only added to her attraction. “They do,” she admitted. “They’re painted, Morgan. And when I walked by, one of them laughed at me. Called me a baby who should still be home tagging onto her Momma’s shirt-tails. They don’t know, Morgan.”
Morgan’s face tightened. Agnes had run away from a fat old man who’d already used up three wives in his effort to get a son and heir. Her family had been more than willing to sell her off for the right price, so she’d run. It had been luck that Morgan had found her after only a couple weeks living on the streets.
“No,” she said flatly, “they don’t know. Is this the first time this has happened?”
“If you’re trying not to make me angry, it’s too late,” Morgan said in a voice so angry that it whispered like silk. “You’ve been hiding this from me. Trying not to upset me? They’ve done this before, haven’t they? And not just to you. To the other women, as well. Am I right?”
Agnes nodded, her head dipped.
Morgan stood still for a moment. If she had still had blood, it would have been boiling. Who was this… this Creed, who dared come into her neighborhood, upset her business, and abuse her women? A vampire? Ha! She didn’t fear her own kind. Despised them, yes, but she had no qualms about taking one of them on.
An hour until dawn.
“Agnes, look after Sascha,” she ordered. Glancing down at herself, she adjusted her own tight-fitting trousers and long-sleeved, high-necked top, both black, so that they fell in neat lines.
“Morgan, you’re not going to –”
“I am,” she snapped. “I won’t let this Creed get away with what he’s been doing. I am your Protector, and I mean to do just that.”
“But he’s bigger than you, Morgan. Much bigger. And stronger.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “What if he hurts you? Or kills you? Please, don’t go. We can take a little teasing.”
Morgan stuck her feet into the slippers. She straightened and smoothed her hair back out of her eyes. At the terrified look on Agnes’ face, she paused to touch her reassuringly. “I’ll be back, little dove. Creed may think he’s a big man, but he can’t touch me. I swear it.”
Agnes looked doubtful.
“None of that,” Morgan scolded. “It’s an hour until dawn, and I have the time. We’ll just see what Creed has to say for himself.” Determined, she turned toward the door and headed out into the waning night.