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Secret Vampire (Chapter 5)

James dodged as Poppy lobbed a paper back book athim. "Poppy"

"You jerk! You snake! How can you dothis to me? You spoiled, selfish, immature-"

"Shhh! They're going to hear you "Let them! Here I am, and I've just found out that I'mgoing to die,and all you can think of is playing a joke on me. A stupid, sickjoke. I can't believethis. Do youthink that'sfunny?"She ran out of breath to rave with.,James, who had been making quieting motions withhis hands, now gave up and looked toward the door.

"Here comes the nurse," he said.

"Good, and I'm going to ask her to throw you out, "Poppy said. Her anger had collapsed, leaving her neartears. She had never felt so utterly betrayed andabandoned. "I hate you, you know," she said.

The door opened. It was the nurse with the flowered blouse and green scrub pants. "Is anything the matter here?" she said, turning on the light. Thenshe saw James. "Now, let'ssee; you don't look like family," she said. She was smiling, but her voice hadthe ring of authority about to be enforced.

"He's not, and I want him out of here," Poppy said.

The nurse fluffed up Poppy's pillows, put a gentle hand on her forehead. "Only family members are allowed to stay overnight," she said to James.

Poppy stared at the TV and waited for James to go.He didn't. He walked around the bed to stand by the nurse, who looked up at him while she continuedstraightening Poppy's blankets. Then her hands slowed and stopped moving.

Poppy glanced at her sideways in surprise.

The nurse was just staring at James. Hands limpon the blankets, she gazed at him as if she were mesmerized.

And James was just staring back. With the lighton, Poppy couldseeJames's face-and again she had that odd feeling of not recognizing him. He was verypale and almost stern looking, as if he were doing something that required an effort. His jaw was tight and his eyes-his eyes were the color of silver. Real silver, shining in the light.

For some reason, Poppy thought of a starvingpanther.

"So you see there's nothing wrong here," Jamessaid to the nurse, as if continuing a conversation they'd been having.

The nurse blinked once, then looked around theroom as if she'd just awakened from a doze. "No,no; everything's fine," she said." Call me if …" She looked briefly distracted again, then murmured, "If, um, you need anything."

She walked out. Poppy watched her, forgetting to breathe. Then, slowly, moving only her eyes, she looked at James.

"I know it's a cliche," James said. "An overuseddemonstration of power. But it gets the job done."

"You set this up with her," Poppy said in a bare whisper.

"No."

"Or else it's some kind of psychic trick. The Amazing Whatshisname."

"No,"James said, and sat down on an orange plastic chair.

"Then I'm going crazy. " For the first time that evening Poppy wasn't thinking about her illness. She couldn't think properly about anything; her mindwas a whirling, crashing jumble of confusion. She felt like Dorothy's house after it had been picked up by the tornado.

"You're not crazy. I probably did this the wrongway; I said I didn't know how to explain it. Look, I know how hard it is for you to believe. My people arrange it that way; they do everything they can to keep humans not believing. Their lives depend on it."

"James, I'm sorry; I just—" Poppy found that herhands were trembling. She shut her eyes. "Maybe you'd better just-"

"Poppy, look at me.I'm telling you the truth. I swear it." He stared at her face a moment, then let out a breath. "Okay. I didn't want to have to do this, but …"

He stood, leaning close to Poppy. She refused toflinch, but she could feel her eyes widening.

"Now, look," he said, and his lips skinned backfrom his teeth.

A simple action-but the effect was astonishing.Transforming. In that instant he changed from the pale but fairly ordinary James of a moment ago-intosomething Poppy had never seen before. A different species of human being.

His eyes flared silver and his entire face took on a predatory look. But Poppy scarcely noticed that; she was staring at his teeth.

Not teeth. Fangs. He had canines like a cat's. Elongated and curving, ending in delicate, piercing points.

They were nothing like the fake vampire fangs soldat novelty stores. They looked very strong and very sharp and very real.

Poppy screamed.

James clapped a hand over her mouth. "We don'twant that nurse back in here."

When he lifted the hand, Poppy said, "Oh, myGod; oh, my God…." ,

"All those times whenyousaid I could read yourmind," James said. "Remember? And the times when I heard things you didn't hear, or moved faster than you could move?"

"Oh. my God."

"It's true, Poppy." He picked up the orange chairand twisted one of the metal legs out of shape. He did it easily, gracefully. "We're stronger than humans," he said. He twisted the leg back and put thechair down.

"We see better in the dark. We're builtfor hunting."

Poppy finally managed tocapture an entirethought. "I don't care what youcan do," she saidshrilly. "You can't be a vampire. I've known yousince you were five years old. And you've gottenolder every year, just like me. Explain that."

"Everything you know is wrong." When she juststared at him, he sighed again and said, "Everything you think you know about vampires, you've picked up from books or TV. And it's all written by humans, I'll guarantee that. Nobody in the Night World wouldbreak the code of secrecy."

"The Night World. Where's the Night World?"

"It's not a place. It's like a secret society-for vampires and witches and werewolves. All the best people. And I'll explain about it later," Jamessaidgrimly. "For now-look, it's simple. I'm a vampire because my parents are vampires. I was bornthatway. We're the lamia."

All Poppy could think of was Mr. and Mrs. Rasmussen with their luxury ranch-style house and their gold Mercedes. "Your parents?"

"Lamia isjust an old word for vampires, but for usit means the ones who're born that way," James said, ignoring her. "We're born and we age like humans-except that we can stop aging whenever we want. We breathe. We walk around in the daylight. We can even eat regular food."

"Your parents," Poppy said again faintly.

He looked at her. "Yeah. My parents. Look, why doyou think my mom does interior decorating? Not because they need the money. She meets a lot of peoplethat way, and so does my dad, the society shrink. It only takes a few minutes alone with somebody, andthe human never remembers it afterward."

Poppy shifted uncomfortably. "So you, um, drinkpeople's blood, huh?" Even after everything she'd seen, she couldn't say it without half-laughing.

James looked at the laces of his Adidas. "Yes. Yes,I sure do," he said softly. Then he looked up andmet her gaze directly.

His eyes were pure silver.

Poppy leaned back against the pile of pillows onher bed. Maybe it was easier to believe him because the  unbelievable had already happened to her earliertoday. Reality had already been turned upsidedown-so, honestly, what did one more impossibility matter?

I'm going to die and my best friend is a bloodsucking monster, she thought.

The argument was over, and she was out of energy. She and James looked at each other in silence.

"Okay," she said finally, and it meant everythingshe'd just realized.

"I didn't tell you this just to get it off my chest,"James said, his voice still muted. "I said I could save you, remember?"

"Vaguely." Poppy blinked slowly, then said moresharply, "Save me how?"

His gaze shifted to empty air. "The way you'rethinking."

"Jamie, Ican'tthink anymore."

Gently, without looking at her, he put a hand on her shin under the blanket. He shook her leg slightly, a gesture of affection. "I'm gonna turn you into a vampire, kid."

Poppy put both fists to her face and began to cry.

"Hey." He let go of her shin and put an awkwardarm around her, pulling her to sit up. "Don't do that. It's okay. It's better than the alternative."

"You're . . .freaking . . .crazy," Poppy sobbed.Once the tears had started, they flowed too easily she couldn't stop them. There was comfort in crying, and -in being held by James. He felt strong and reliable and he smelled good.

"You said you had to be born one," she addedblurrily, between sobs.

"No, I didn't. I said I was born one. There areplenty of the other kind around. Made vampires. There would be more, but there's a law against justmaking any jerk off the street into one."

"But I can't.I'm just what I am; I'm me. Ican'tbe-like that."

He put her gently away so he could look into herface. "Then you're going to die. You don't have any other choice. I checked around-even asked a witch.There's nothing elseinthe Night World to help you.

What it comes down to is: Do you want to live ornot?"

Poppy's mind, which had been swamped in confusion again, suddenly fixed on this question. It was like a flash light beam in a pitch-black room.

Did she want to live?

Oh, God, of courseshe did.

Until today she'd assumed it was her unconditional right to live. She hadn't even been grateful for the privilege. But now she knew it wasn't something totake for granted-and she also knew it was some thing she'd fight for.

Wake up, Poppy! This is the voice of reason calling.He says he can save your life.

"Wait a minute. I've got to think," Poppy saidtightly to James. Her tears had stopped. She pushed him away completely and stared fiercely at the white hospital blanket.

Okay. Okay. Now get your head straight, girl.

You knew James had a secret. So you never imagined it was anything like this, so what? He's still James.

He may be some godawful undead fiend, buthe still cares about you. And there's nobody else to help you.

She found herself clutching at James's hand without looking at him. "What's it like?" she said through clenched teeth.

Steady and matter-of-fact, he said, "It'sdifferent. It's not something I'd recommend if there was another choice, but …it's okay. You'll be sick while your body's changing, but afterward you'll never get any kind of disease again.You'llbestrongandquick-and immortal."

"I'd live forever? But would I be able to stop aging?"She had visions of herself as an immortal crone.

He grimaced. "Poppy-you'd stop aging now.That'swhat happens to made vampires. Essentially, you're

dying as a mortal. You'll look dead and be unconscious for a while. And then…you'll wake up."

"I see." Sort of like Juliet in the tomb, Poppythought. And then she thought, Oh, God…Momand Phil.

"There's another thing you should know," Jameswas saying. "A certain percentage of people don't make it."

"Don't make it?"

"Through the change. People over twenty almost never do. They don't everwake up. Their bodies can't adjust to the new form and they burn out. Teenagersusually live through it, but not always."

Oddly enough, this was comforting to Poppy. Aqualified hope seemed more believable than an absolute one. To live, she would have to take a chance.

She looked at James. "How do you do it?"

"The traditional way," he said with the ghost of asmile. Then, gravely: "We exchange blood."

Oh, great, Poppy thought. And I was afraid of asimple shot. Now I'm going to have my blood drawn by fangs. She swallowed and blinked,staring atnothing.

"It's your choice, Poppy. It's up to you."

There was a long pause, and then she said, "I want to live, Jamie."

He nodded. "It'll mean going away from here.Leaving your parents. They can't know."

"Yeah, I was just realizing that. Sort of like gettinga new identity from the FBI, huh?"

"More than that. You'll be living in a new world,the Night World. And it's a lonely world, full of secrets.

But you'll be walking around in it, instead oflying in the ground." He squeezed her hand. Thenhe said very quietly and seriously, "Do you want tostart now?"

All Poppy could think of to do was shut her eyesand brace herself the way she did for an injection."I'm ready," she said through stiff lips.

James laughed again-this time as if he couldn'thelp it. Then he folded the bed rail down and settled beside her. "I'm used to people being hypnotized when I do this. It's weird to have you awake."

"Yeah, well, if I scream you can hypnotize me,"Poppy said, not opening her eyes.

Relax, she told herself firmly. No matter how muchit hurts, no matter how awful it is, you can deal with it.

You haveto. Your life depends on it.

Her heart was thumping hard enough to shake her body.

"Right here," James said, touching her throat with cool fingers as if feeling for a pulse.

Just do it, Poppy thought. Get it over with.

She could feel warmth as James leaned close toher, taking her carefully by the shoulders. Every nerve ending in her skin was aware of him. Then she felt cool breath on her throat, and quickly, before she could recoil, a double sting.

Those fangs, burying themselves in her flesh. Making two little wounds so he could drink her blood… Now it's reallygoing to hurt, Poppy thought. Shecouldn't brace herself anymore. Her life was in the hands of a hunter. She was a rabbit trapped in thecoils of a snake, a mouse under the claws of a cat. She didn't feel like James's best friend, she felt like lunch….

Poppy, what are you doing? Don't fight it. It hurts whenyou resist.

James was speaking to her-but the warm mouthon her throat hadn't moved. The voice was in her head.

I'm not resisting, Poppy thought. I'm just ready forit to hurt, that's all.

There was a burning where his teeth pierced her.She waited for it to get worse-but it didn't.It changed.

Oh, Poppy thought.

The feeling of heat was actually pleasant. A sensation of release, of giving.

And closeness. She and James were getting closerand loser, like two drops of water moving together until they merged.

She could sense James's mind. His thoughts-andhis feelings. His emotions flowed into her, throughher. Tenderness…concern… caring. A cold black

rage at the disease that was threatening her. Despair that there was no other way to help her. And long ing-longing to share with her, to make her happy.

Yes, Poppy thought.

A wave of sweetness made her dizzy. She foundherself groping for James'shand, their fingers intertwining.

James,she thought with wonder and joy. Her communication to him a tentative caress.

Poppy.She could feel his own surprise and delight.

And all the time the dreamy pleasure was building.Making Poppy shiver with its intensity.

How could I have been so stupid? Poppy thought. To be afraid of this. It isn't terrible. It's.. . . right. She had never been so close to anybody. It was as if they were one being, together, not predator and prey, but partners in a dance. Poppy-and-James.

She could touch his soul.

Strangely enough, he was afraid of that. She couldsense it. Poppy,don't-so many dark things-I don't want you to see …

Dark, yes, Poppy thought. But not dark and terrible. Dark and lonely. Such utter loneliness. A feeling of not belonging in either of the two worlds he knew.Not belonging anywhere. Except …

Suddenly Poppy was seeing an image of herself. Inhis mind she was fragile and graceful, an emeraldeyed spirit of the air. A sylph-with a core of puresteel.

I'm not really like that, she thought. I'm not talland beautiful like Jacklyn or Michaela….

The words she heard in answer didn't seem directed toward her-she had the feeling they were something James was thinking to himself, or remembering from some long-forgotten book.

You don't love a girl because of beauty. You love her because she sings a song only you can understand….

With the thought came a strong feeling of protectiveness. So this was how James felt about her-she knew at last. As if she were something precious,something to be protected at all costs….

At all costs. No matter what happened to him.Poppy tried to follow the thought deeper into hismind, to find out what it meant. She got an impression of rules-no, laws …

Poppy, it's bad manners to search somebody's mind when you're not invited.The words were tinged with desperation.

Poppy pulled back mentally. She hadn't meant topry. She just wanted to help….

I know,James's thought came to her, and with ita rush of warmth and gratitude. Poppy relaxed and simply enjoyed the feeling of oneness with him.

I wish it could last forever, she thought-and justthen it stopped. The warmth at her neck disappeared, and James pulled away, straightening.

Poppy made a sound of protest and tried to draghim back. He wouldn't let her.

"No-there's something else we have to do," hewhispered. But he didn't do anything else. He just held her, his lips against her forehead. Poppy feltpeaceful and languid.

"You didn't tell me it would be like that," she said.

"I didn't know," James said simply. "It never hasbeen before."

They sat together quietly, with James gently stroking her hair.

So strange, Poppy thought. Everything is thesame-but everything's different. It was as if she'd pulled herself up on dry land after almost drowningin the ocean. The terror that had been pounding inside her all day was gone, and for the first time inher life she felt completely safe.

After another minute or so James shook his head,rousing himself.

"What else do we have to do?" Poppy asked.

For an answer, James lifted his own wrist to hismouth. He made a quick jerking motion with hishead, as if tearing a strip of cloth held in his teeth.

When he lowered the wrist, Poppy saw blood.

It was running in a little stream down his arm. So red it almost didn't look real.

Poppy gulped and shook her head.

"It's not that bad," James said softly. "And you have to do it. Without my blood in you, you won't become a vampire when you die, you'll just die.Likeany other human victim."

And I want to live, Poppy thought. All right, then.Shutting her eyes, she allowed James to guide her head to his wrist.

It didn't taste like blood, or at least not like theblood she'd tasted when she bit her tongue or put a cut finger in her mouth. It tasted–strange. Richand potent.

Like some magic elixir, Poppy thoughtdizzily.Andonce again she felt the touch of James's mind. Intoxi cated with the closeness, she kept drinking.

That's right. You've got to take a lot,James told her.But his mental voice was weaker than it had been.

Instantly Poppy felt a surge of alarm.

But what will it do to you?

"I'll be all right," James said aloud. "It's you I'mworried about. If you don't get enough, you'll bein danger."

Well, he was the expert. And Poppy was happy tolet the strange, heady potion keep flowing into her.

She basked in the glow that seemed to be lighting herfrom the inside out. She felt so tranquil, so calm…. And then, without warning, the calm was shattered. A voice broke into it, a voice full of harshsurprise.

"What are you doing?" the voice said, and Poppylooked up to see Phillip in the doorway.

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