The Taste of You By Sara Bell "I can't believe you're actually considering this," my brother said for no less than the sixth time. He was sitting on the closed toilet seat, harassing me while I shaved. I said a little prayer of thanks that I'd at least finished my shower before he'd gotten to my apartment or he'd probably be standing beside the tub right about now, preaching to me while I lathered up. Kirk wasn't big on personal boundaries. I sighed, toweling a glob of shaving gel off my bare chest before it made its way onto my last pair of clean jeans. I'd been so busy this week, laundry hadn't been high on my to-do list. "I can't A Torquere Press Sip - 1 .
believe Mom told you." I picked my razor back up and removed the final stripe of foam and stubble. "Strike that. Yes, I can." "She's worried about you, for God's sake." He lowered his voice, eyes the same color brown as mine narrowing to slits. "We shouldn't even be tolerating these bastards, and now you want to go and offer--" That last statement smacked of so much prejudice I practically choked on it. I wiped the remnants of shaving cream off my face and turned a glare on Kirk. "Define we." Kirk crossed his arms over his chest. We were both tall and lanky like our dad, but he was more muscular than I was, and seeing those pecs of his reminded me I needed to squeeze some gym time onto the same to-do list as my laundry. "Are you even going to pretend to listen to me?" Kirk jumped off the toilet and stamped his foot like a two-year old. "Sorry." I splashed aftershave on my cheeks and chin, whistled through my teeth at the burn, and then said, "What did you say?" "I said I'm talking about us versus them." Kirk's face flushed red with anger. "I don't care what kind of hype the media spins, they aren't human." Okay. He had me on that one. Ten years ago, facing reality meant working to end the economic crisis, trying to bring peace to the Middle East, and vying to stop global warming. That was before vampires, werefolk, selkies, the fey, and all other manner of supernatural creatures had decided to come out of the closet and take their rightful places in society. The term "reality" had taken on a new meaning since then. "Just because they aren't technically human doesn't mean they aren't afforded the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the rest of us." Since the great revelation, more than one supe, as they were commonly known, had gone to court -- and won -- to protect those very rights. I stalked out of the bathroom and made for my closet. Since I wasn't exactly sure what one wore to a meeting like this, I grabbed a clean black T-shirt and pulled it over my head. I should've known Kirk wasn't going to give up. He came out of the bathroom and plopped down on my bed. "They don’t want equal rights. They want to take over." I shook my head in disbelief. "You can't honestly believe that." He rolled his eyes in disgust. "When did you become so naive?" I wasn't backing down, not on this. "Probably about the same time you became a bigot." A Torquere Press Sip - 2 .
"Call me names if you want," Kirk said stiffly as he rose from the bed, "but at least I know where my priorities are." He was almost to the bedroom door when he stopped to give me the evil eye. "You think you know so much about the world, think you're better than me 'cause you went to college and I make my money with my hands." "That's not true." It was all I intended to say on the subject. We'd had this conversation so many times I was sick of it. Nothing I said was going to convince Kirk I didn't look down on him, anyway. He'd started at the Press Works gasket plant right out of high school. He made good money, was a great provider for his wife and kids. I admired him for that, but because I'd committed the cardinal sin of going to college and getting my engineering degree, Kirk was convinced I thought I was better than him. Once he got something in his head, there was no changing his mind. "You think you know so much," Kirk said again, "but you're stupid if you think what you're doing is brave, or noble, or even right. I'll work with these supes, do business with them -- be as polite to them as the government says I have to -- but I draw the line at offering myself up like a ribeye in the choice cuts section at Winn-Dixie." With that parting shot, my brother hit on the main bone of contention between us, the reason my mother was upset, the reason Kirk had come over here and acted like a complete and utter asshole. I was thirty minutes away from feeding a vampire, and nobody in my family liked it worth a hot damn. *** I have to admit, I'd never given much thought to how vampires fed. I mean, I knew they drank blood, but I just assumed they went to a blood bank or had the stuff bottled or something. It wasn't until I got a call from our local ASC chapter -- Advancement for Supernatural Citizens -- informing me my blood type, B positive, was especially nutritious to vampires, that I realized it was a little more complex than that. Many vampires fed straight from the vein, and I was being asked to be a live, willing donor. I said yes. Why not? I'd been giving to the Red Cross since I turned eighteen. The lady from the ASC gave me some instructions -- drink lots of fluids before I come, wear comfortable clothes, plan to stay about an hour after my donation -- and we set up the appointment. Now, though, as I pulled my Infiniti onto the highway, my nerve was beginning to desert me. I'd been instructed to go not to the ASC headquarters, but to a local supe hangout called Sable. The ASC lady explained the atmosphere there was more relaxed and it would give me and my recipient a chance to get to know each other in a non-threatening environment. When I parked my car in front of Sable and saw the assortment of creatures standing outside, I decided that woman needed to rework her definition of "non-threatening." A Torquere Press Sip - 3 .
A lot of the folks milling around the parking lot looked human. Maybe a few were, but judging from the near-translucent skin of some, I took them for vamps. A few had the petite builds, sharp features, and pointed ears that marked them as fey, and there were some animals darting in between parked cars that I seriously doubted were purely animals. Before I had the chance to wuss out completely, I got out of the car. I didn't even bother to lock the thing. I figured anybody in this group who wanted inside wasn't going to be deterred by some paltry, factory-installed anti-theft device. I approached the club's door slowly, my head held high. The prejudice my brother had shown went both ways. A lot of supes wouldn't spit on a human if his guts were on fire, but I was here to help somebody out and damned if I was going to show fear. The tallest man I'd ever seen -- I'm six-even but he had to have at least eight inches on me -- was working the door. I took him for a vampire with his white skin and dark eyes. He was respectful but wary as he said, "Can I help you?" I translated that to mean, What are you doing here, human? "I'm Wyatt Shelton." I reached into my back pocket for my wallet in case he needed my ID. I was twenty-six and still looked young enough that I got carded every now and then. "The lady at the ASC told me to come here." "You're a donor?" Door guy's eyes went wide. "Trying to be," I said. "This is my first time." Immediately, my hand was engulfed in his warm grip. "Welcome. I. welcome, Wyatt Shelton. Please, come inside. And put your wallet away. Your money is no good here." Not sure what to make of that, I did as I was told. Door Guy hollered, "Jason, watch the door," and then he ushered me into the club. "I am Carson," he said as we walked. I had no trouble understanding him because the music at Sable wasn't loud like at most other clubs. When I said as much to Carson, he smiled and tapped his ear. "Our hearing is better than yours." He led me to the bar where a hairy-faced guy with a mullet gone haywire was drying glasses with a bar towel. "Martin, this is Wyatt. Give him anything he wants. He's a donor." He'd said it with a tone of reverence, like we were in church or something. Before I could ask him about it, a fight broke out between what looked like a big dog and a coyote on the other side of the dance floor. "Excuse me," Carson said, "but I must take care of this." He touched my arm. "Be well, Wyatt Shelton." "So what'll it be?" Martin's grin was wide and toothy. "You want a beer or something stronger?" "A Coke would be good. Maybe some answers." I took the canned Coke he gave me in one hand and the glass of ice in the other. "Why did Carson start acting like I was the next best thing to shrink-wrapped cheese the minute he found out I was a donor?" A Torquere Press Sip - 4 .
"You mean they didn't tell you?" Martin went back to drying glasses. "Man, those ASC reps need to get their acts together. See, us weres, we got no problems finding a good meal. What we can't get at the grocery store, we can just go out into the woods and run down." I was proud of myself for not shuddering at that image. "For vampires, it ain't so easy. Some of them can live off the bagged stuff but some can't. The ones who can't have two choices." He lowered his voice and leaned in. "Either get a willing donor to offer up a vein, or feed from some poor sucker without his permission and wipe his memory once it's over." I was starting to get it. Feeding from an unwilling host was illegal these days. Any vamp found guilty could not only be jailed, but could also be sued by the injured party for big-time bucks. "No wonder the ASC is looking for donors." "Yeah, well, not so many of your kind are lining up for the job." He pointed to my unopened can. "You gonna drink that or hold it all night?" I popped the top and poured the Coke over the ice. I'd only taken a sip before I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. I turned to find a slender woman in a white blouse and pencil skirt standing behind me with a clipboard and a pen. "Mr. Shelton? Wyatt Shelton?" I wondered if this was how Alice felt after she fell down the rabbit hole. "Yes, that's me." "I'm Angela Ashmore, Donor/Client liaison for the ASC. Welcome, and thank you so much for coming." She shook my hand. Hers was warm, just like Carson's had been. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you upstairs to one of the private meeting suites." I left my Coke on the bar and trailed after her. She led me up the club's central staircase to a hallway flanked by a wall of doors. Opening the third door on the right, she said, "If you'll wait inside, your potential recipient will be here in a moment." She smiled, flashing just a hint of fang. "I'm sure you must have a lot of questions. He'll be able to explain them all." He? I swallowed. This could be awkward. "Ms. Ashmore--" "Angela, please." "Okay, Angela then. See, here's the thing." I'd been out since I was nineteen -- much to my mother's horror and my dad's shame. Having lived through that whole process, I wasn't usually shy about my sexuality. Then again, I'd never had to out myself in a supe bar before. I had no idea if supes had as many hang-ups about orientation as humans did. I wet my lips. "I'm, uh, I sort of thought I was going to be feeding a woman." She cocked her head to the side. "You have an objection to feeding another man?" A Torquere Press Sip - 5 .
"No, but he might." Sharing your blood with somebody sounded pretty intimate to me. "I'm gay." "Oh." She broke out in a smile that was thick with relief. "Oh. No, that won't be a problem. In our community, that's not an issue like it is for humans." She patted my arm. "This will be fine. You'll see." Damn, but I hopped she was right. The room was nice. It had a TV, a comfortably shabby couch with a couple of matching chairs, and a coffee table thick with magazines that were actually current. A mini-fridge sat in the corner and there was a console against the far wall loaded with sugary snacks, the kind the volunteers at blood drives always push on you after you've made a donation. I settled onto the couch with a copy of GQ. My wait wasn't long. A couple of minutes after I sat down, a soft knock rapped on the door. I was proud of how calm I sounded when I called out, "Come in." Based on the other vamps I'd seen since walking into Sable, I had a half-formed picture in my mind of what my recipient would look like. I figured he'd be at least as tall as me, have black hair -- maybe the same shade as mine, even -- and dark eyes like Carson's. I expected he'd come in, we'd chat politely for a second, and then we'd get down to business. All those ideas were shot straight to hell when the door opened wide and in walked Luke Bates, my ex-boyfriend. The same son of a bitch who'd used up a year of my life and damned-near crushed my heart. *** I'd often thought about what I'd say if I ever saw Luke again. I can't believe you cared more about your next fix than me. We'd met in college, had carried on a hard and heavy affair before he'd gone from popping pills and smoking pot to mainlining heroin. Why hadn't I been enough for you, Luke? Both his folks and I had done all we could to get him help, but in the end Luke had disappeared, left school -- and me -- and gone to God only knew where to be one with his habit. I hadn't seen or heard from him since. I've thought about you every day since you left me, you bastard. I'd had other relationships, of course, but he'd been my first love, and I don't think anybody ever gets over the first. None of those other guys was you. Luke seemed as startled to see me as I was him. His jaw worked like he wanted to open his mouth but couldn't find any words worth speaking. After a long, tense silence, he said, "This is a surprise." "Which part, you seeing the guy you decimated seven years ago waiting to become your dinner, or me finding out my ex is now a member of the undead?" Did I mention I tend to get snarky when I'm stressed? Luke blinked. I was surprised to realize his eyes were still blue. In fact, other than his skin being a bit more pale, he didn't look all that different. Same blond hair, same movie-perfect face. A Torquere Press Sip - 6 .
Really, he looked better now than the last time I'd seen him, but that could be because tonight he wasn't strung out and going through my sock drawer looking for cash. "We're not really dead, you know." Luke closed the door behind him with a soft click, probably so the rest of the club's occupants with their sensitive ears wouldn't have such an easy time hearing us. "That whole undead thing's a myth." "Sorry." I folded in on myself the way I always did when I was feeling set upon. "I'm new to this. I'm still kind of freaked out by it all." "I can only imagine." He smiled, a real smile that -- with the exception of the unnatural length of his incisors -- made him look like the guy I remembered, the one I'd lost my heart to. "It was nice of you to offer yourself as a donor." "I'm B positive." I have the tendency to blurt out random bits of information when I'm nervous. "Wow, that's, um." I could tell he was trying not to laugh, "great." Luke sat down in one of the empty chairs. He chose the one furthest away from my position on the couch, probably to make me more comfortable. "Under the circumstances, I'll understand if you want me to call the ASC and ask them to send over another recipient." "You don't want my blood?" Okay, that one pissed me off. I was the one who'd had his heart smashed into a thousand tiny lumps of goo. If anybody was going to grind this evening to halt, it was going to be me, Mr. Injured Party. "No! I mean, yes, of course I want." Luke held up his hands in surrender. "Shit. I wish vampires had a handbook or something." He dropped his hands and put his head down. "God, how you must hate me." I'd wanted to. Even convinced myself I did a time or three. In the end, I'd never been quite able to pull it off. I scooted a little closer to his end of the couch. "How did this happen?" He lifted his head. "My becoming a vampire, you mean?" I nodded. "Are you allowed to tell me or is it against the rules?" "I can tell you, but are you sure you want to hear it?" No. "Yes." "About a year after I. after we broke up, my mom finally convinced me to give rehab a try." Luke rubbed the bend of his right elbow. It used to be his favorite place to shoot up. "Took me eighteen months, but I got clean. I've been sober ever since." "That's. congratulations." Why didn't you come back for me, Luke? A Torquere Press Sip - 7 .
"I didn’t think you'd ever want to see me again," he whispered. My eyes flew to his. "Can you read my mind?" "No." His eyebrows disappeared into his shaggy bangs. "Some vampires have that talent but I don't--" He got it, then. "Is that what you were thinking, that I didn't want you back?" I looked away. "Finish the story." "Right." I thought I heard him sigh. "So the rehab was a success. I went back to school, finished my degree, and got a job as a social worker." I had to look at him, then. "You?" "I know, right?" His smile this time was self deprecating and sexy as all get out. "I was pretty darned good at it if I do say so myself. Maybe all my years as a junkie gave me the ability to empathize with my clients. The state of Alabama hired me, put me with DHR. My main job was helping families whose lives have been torn apart by meth." The smile disappeared. "Six months ago, our office got a call from the local PD. They'd busted a suspected meth lab being run out of a house just north of Huntsville. Two kids under the age of four were inside, living in squalor. I was the case worker DHR sent out." If it was possible for a vampire to lose even more color, Luke did. "The officers thought they'd secured the scene. They hadn't counted on the meth-head hiding in back of the house with a handgun." There was no mistaking his sigh this time. "I took two shots to the chest, either of which would've been fatal. Lucky for me, one of the cops on the scene was a good friend of mine." I got the message. "Who also happens to be a vampire." "HPD is one of the first forces in Alabama to use vamps. So far, the program's going well," Luke said. "Anyway, my friend turned me and I've been adjusting to my new life ever since." "I'm sure your friend's been helping with that." An unpleasant curl of something that couldn't possibly be jealousy burned low in my gut. "So, this cop who turned you." "Chris." "Right, Chris." I've always hated that name. "Are the two of you an item?" It was a casual question. Nothing wrong with me asking it. Luke and I, we were just two old friends playing catch-up. "No," Luke said. "Chris isn't my type." "Too much of a jock?" Most of the cops I knew were big into sports. Luke had always hated that type. A Torquere Press Sip - 8 .
"Too female. Chris is short for Christine." Luke folded his hands together and laid them in his lap. "She saved me, but my system hasn't been able to tolerate the bagged blood. The platelets separate slightly once the blood is refrigerated and my body can't assimilate it. It's a problem many of us have." "Explaining the need for donors," I said. "Yes." A moment of strained silence passed. "Yes, I need a donor, but I would never ask that of you, not after the hell I made of your life. For what it's worth, I'm sorry." "I don't hate you." I got up off the couch, unable to sit still any longer. I paced a little, but the room was too small for me to do much of it. "You said that before, but I don't. I was mad at you for a long time, but I don't think I can even say I'm angry anymore." "I'm glad." Luke's voice was soft, a little husky. "I wanted to call you a thousand times, tell you how sorry I was. It's part of the twelve steps, to make amends. I was too afraid you'd slam the phone down in my ear. Too much of a coward to try." "You're saying it now." I stopped pacing and looked at him. "I think I forgave you a long time ago. That doesn't mean I'm ready to be your best friend, but I think I can be civil long enough to help you out." "You need to think about it, Wyatt." Hearing him say my name sent warm shivers rolling over my skin. "Feeding can be pretty. intense." "What does it involve?" I shouldn't even ask. The minute he said 'intense,' I should've walked away. I'd done intense with Luke before and it hadn't been pretty. "I can drink from any vein. Your wrist, your neck, other places." Was it my imagination or did his eyes flicker to my crotch? Before I could worry about it he was looking me in the face again. "I don't need more than a few sips and then I'm done. The problem is when I feed, my emotions and your emotions are liable to get tangled together, especially since we have a history together. And since the two of us used to have--" He waved his hand back and forth between us to get his point across. "Are you talking about sex?" "Yeah, that." Luke's face went nuclear. I didn't know vampires could blush. "Since we used to have sex, it's likely those feelings could come back." I sat back down on the couch. "You said feeding can be intense. Does that mean the same thing could happen with any vampire I donate to?" "Yes." Luke looked sick at the thought. His answer is what made up my mind. "I'll do it," I said. A Torquere Press Sip - 9 .
"I. Why would you risk that with me?" "I've already decided to donate. I want to help any way I can. If giving my blood to a vampire is going to turn me into a horn dog, I'd rather it be with you, someone I--" I almost said trust before I caught myself. I'd stopped trusting Luke the day he stole my ATM card and withdrew two hundred bucks so he could shoot up. "I'd rather do this with someone I know." "Makes sense." He came to sit beside me on the couch. "Are you ready to get started or do you need some more time?" I wasn't about to put it off for fear I'd lose my nerve. "Now's fine." I stuck my left arm up to his face. I'd decided the vein in my wrist would have to do. Luke's mouth quirked. "Not that I don't appreciate this, but could you try to relax a little bit?" He circled my wrist with his smooth fingers. "Your muscles are so tense, biting into you is going to be like gnawing on a brick." His other hand stroked the back of my forearm, willing me to relax whether I wanted to or not. I forced myself to be as calm as I could, but watching Luke lower his head to my wrist made it difficult to breathe. I wasn't sure where the myth about vampires being cold came from because his breath on my skin was hot, as was the first tingling touch of his lips. I was spellbound as his fangs lengthened and then sank into my flesh. It hurt in the same way a zap of static electricity hurts. You try to jerk away, but before you can, the shock is over with. In this case, after the shock came a deluge of sensations: memories, feelings, thoughts, none of them substantial enough to hold on to, all of them enough to take my cock from zero to sixty in two-point-six seconds. I could still feel Luke gently nursing at my wrist, but my main focus was the agony between my legs. I felt like I'd had about two hours of foreplay with no release. I'd never been so hard I actually hurt before, and it wasn't pretty. Luke realized what had happened the minute he finished feeding. As soon as he let go of my wrist, I doubled over on the couch with a moan. I heard Luke say, "Shit," and then I was in his arms and he was easing in behind me on the couch, leaning me against him so I was semi- upright. "Easy, love." He kissed the side of my neck. "I'll help you if you'll let me. Wyatt, can I do that?" "Yeah." It came out more groan than answer, but the minute it left my mouth, Luke had me flat on my back and was whipping my pants and boxers off. As soon as I was naked from the waist down, he took my cock in his mouth and started to suck. The pressure of his mouth felt good, but like he'd predicted, I was all tangled inside. I needed to come, but I couldn't. The term blue balls was starting to have real meaning for me. I was beginning to have awful images of being taken to the emergency room (like those guys they A Torquere Press Sip - 10 .