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    Chapter Six: Lotus Blossom


    Sinajfae

     

    Chapter Six
    Lotus Blossom

     

    As Madeline got ready for the Halloween party, she had no delusions of a relaxing and enjoyable evening ahead. The uncharted atmosphere would make for her biggest challenge yet. To begin with, she’d be mesmerized by Levi again, but she wasn’t going to let that affect her the same way it did last time. As she applied her lipstick, she remembered when she had embarrassedly told him that someday he’d be begging to be with her. That hastily made claim was going to act as her armor tonight, reinforcing her stubbornness enough to resist his wiles. But the more daunting aspect of the evening was that she was going to be surrounded by unusual guests. With no idea what to expect, she created in her the most outlandish creatures she could dream up and assumed they would be there. Next to her mythical concoctions, animal ears and Hollywood-style vampires would pale in comparison. 

    Looking at her glamorous reflection in the bathroom mirror, her self-pride surged. She knew she was going to turn heads tonight. The dress was hers, not borrowed, and the well thought out image she created tonight was her own as well. She was going to show Levi she was worth all his time and trouble, and that she was a good fit for this world. After slipping into her peep-toe black platform pumps, Madeline checked herself in the bathroom mirror once more. Shimmering bronze eyeshadow with cats-eye liner brought out the gray-blue of her eyes dramatically. The slight gloss of her mauve lipstick complemented her complexion, and her hair, up in curls with a few well-placed loose strands, framed the canvas. She smiled at her reflection, genuinely pleased with her appearance.  She had taken time with the makeup; studying pictures of models, watching videos, and researching color palettes, unlike before when she had stopped at good enough. She put in the maximum effort tonight.

    Madeline looked at her bedroom clock. It was just about time to go. In the distance, she could hear Levi closing the door to his room. Clutching her black opal necklace momentarily for luck, she grabbed her velvet wrap and left her room.

    As expected, Levi looked absolutely striking in a tailored three-piece suit. Instead of what would traditionally match a black jacket, his vest was pewter gray and added just the right amount of contrast to his white dress shirt and black tie. His jet hair was done in a sort of shag style, drastically different to the sleek look he had worn to the club a week or so ago.

    “So I have to ask,” Madeline began curiously, appreciating his perfect coiffure, “Do you style your own hair, or does someone else do it?”

    “I do, I wouldn’t trust anyone else with it.”

    “Of course,” Madeline smiled in satisfaction, expectant of his answer. 

    “Now turn around please,” Levi requested politely. “I need to put this on you.”

    It was the silver medallion Maseo had given him, only now it had a symbol drawn on it. It was a black, brush-stroked circle that didn’t meet all the way around, with the end tapering off to a thin point in contrast to the much thicker beginning. In the center of the partial circle, at a slight angle, were four lines that looked like claw marks. Madeline noticed it matched the gate key charm Levi wore around his neck. She turned around so he could fasten the ebony ribbon that held the medal around her neck, feeling the weight of the cool metal lay against her skin. For a moment, Madeline detected the intriguing smell of the peculiar cologne he wore. Inhaling deeply, she made a distinct effort to enjoy it before he stepped away.  

    Seeing that the medallion rested comfortably right below her mother’s opal, Levi began to give instructions as she turned back around to face him. 

    “This party is invitation only, and it’s going to have prominent members of our community in attendance. If you see other medallions with different crests on them, they mean the same thing yours does - they’re being sponsored to be there. They will be on their best behavior, just like I expect you to be. You’ll likely be the only human there, so be prepared for some curious and disapproving stares, but that doesn’t give you the excuse to be rude in return. There are going to be lots of visual distractions, so be prepared for that, and just so we get this out of the way now...”

    The hair on the top of his head began to distort and rise in only two areas as if affected by static electricity. As the change became more pronounced, Madeline’s eyes grew wide and star-struck, causing Levi to give his typical amused smirk. In a matter of seconds, a pair of pointed animal ears covered in short black fur rose up out of the silky black hair at the top of this head. 

    Madeline clasped her hands together tightly, biting her lower lip to stifle her sheer joy. 

    “May I please, please touch them?” her inner otaku begged. 

    “As long as it calms you down,” Levi disciplined. “You can’t act like this at the party. At all.”

    Muffling a giddy squeal, she tentatively reached up with both hands and brushed her fingertips lightly along his velvety ears. They were so soft and warm that she could have happily kept stroking them for hours. After a few moments of revealing in the heavenly sensation, she regretfully pulled her hands away. 

    “Thank you,” she whispered gratefully, albeit a bit wistful.

    “You’re welcome. I didn’t know you’d get that excited. Maybe after this is all over, I’ll take you to my room, and you can play with them all you want,” Levi chuckled, giving her a flirtatious wink.

    “N… no thank you,” Madeline responded, banishing the thought from her mind. She didn’t want to play his game, and she needed him to see her as something other than a plaything he had around the house. As it was, she was pretty sure he’d stopped taking her seriously shortly after she started living here. She wanted to change that and tonight gave her an excellent opportunity.

    “Suit yourself,” he shrugged as his once prominently displayed pointy ears dispersed.

    “I take it no tail?” Madeline asked as she looked around to his backside, not being able to stop herself.

    Levi snickered, her words instantly triggering his dirty mind.

    “You know what I mean!”

    “I would’ve had to cut holes in my expensive clothes for that to even begin to be comfortable, so no,” Levi responded.

    A sudden thought occurred to Madeline as she tried to visualize what a complete “Levi cat” would look like.

    “Wait a minute,” she said, eyes narrowing suspiciously. “When I first woke up here… that black cat in my bed, that was you?”

    “Yes, that was me. And before you start getting twisted in a knot about it, I thought it would be better for you to wake up next to a cuddly animal than a strange man. Don’t you agree?” he said as he opened the door for her, and the two headed downstairs to the taxi that awaited below.

    He had a point. It still didn’t make sense how she heard the shower running. He couldn’t have been in two places at once. Unless he ran into the shower after passing her by in the kitchen. Tricky.

    Despite all her mental preparation, Madeline was still terribly nervous on the drive to the club, mainly because she was actually aware of what she would be facing this time. She was going to do her best to prevent herself from staring, but at the same time looking like you’re not trying to stare is often worse than just staring to begin with. 

    Levi suddenly squeezed her hand.

    “Remember what you’ve learned so far, mind your manners, and remember our little question and answer game,” he advised. “Think of this as just another test, except you get free food and drinks.”

    Taking his words seriously, she nodded her head while continuing to psych herself up as the taxi pulled up behind a few others in front of the club. Patiently they waited their turn, and as the doorman opened the back door, Levi slid out fluidly, adjusted his tie, and held his hand out for Madeline like a complete gentleman. The same bouncer from last time greeted them and waved them through, and after passing the podium at the end of the long hall, Madeline was astonished by how enchanting The Golden Lotus had been decorated for the party. 

    Each of the black clam-shell style booths sported large green bows on the backsides, matching the jade of the wall tiles. There were gorgeous, white pillar candles in the center of every table, and down from the high ceiling hung hundreds of sparkling crystal lights making it look like a swirl of bright stars. 

    “Wow,” Madeline expressed in an awed whisper. “It’s breathtaking.”

    “Yeah,” Levi agreed, taking a look around appreciatively. “Better than last year.”

    A section of the booths on the right side had been removed, and in their place was a couple of low, rectangular coffee tables which matched the smaller ones found all over the rest of the club. There were about a dozen or so lounge chairs casually surrounding them, already half occupied with guests. Levi politely led Madeline by the arm in their direction.

    “This area is reserved for those sponsored,” he said, leaning in to whisper into her ear. “What that basically means is that this is where you go if we happen to get separated.”

    “Got it.”

    “And feel free to mingle with the other sponsors,” he added. “In most cases, they will be just as nervous and new to this as you.”

    “Perfect,” Madeline replied, actually a bit excited at that prospect. “Mind if I have a seat with them now?”

    As she turned to await Levi’s answer, she noticed his adorable ears were back. Swallowing her glee, she only allowed herself a bright smile instead.

    “Sure, if you want,” he said, taking notice of her reaction and grinning back, “I’ll go see who else is here, and get us some drinks. Impress me.”

    Slipping her arm out of his, she walked with confidence toward the small group that was already seated, taking the closest available chair which happened to be next to a slightly pale gentleman about the same age as herself. He wore a silvery-gray suit that was tailored in such a way that it was more fitting for a Vegas nightclub than a formal ball. Only certain personality types would wear something like that, so Madeline noted him as being extremely self-confident. Around his neck hung a medallion similar to hers, except with a different mark, one that looked like a triangle with what appeared to be a plus sign in the middle of it.

    “Well, hello there,” he said, turning to welcome her with a wide smile and offering his hand in a casual greeting. “I’m Scott. Scott Pearson”

    As she took his hand, she noticed it was tepid and the skin felt a bit stiff. Keeping a friendly expression, she studied him. His silvery-white hair was cut short and undoubtedly dyed, controlled with product that made it wavy and accentuated his squared-off jaw line. His waxen lips were full, turned up at one end in a self-assured smile. From the way he sat leisurely cross-legged to the way his arm hung lazily off the edge of the armrest, Madeline could tell he was either very arrogant or had mastered coming across that way.  

    “Madeline,” she said, introducing herself as she watched his brown eyes sparkle. 

    “Can you believe this place?” he continued to grin as he momentarily glanced around the club. “I was just talking to Kane and Keith over here about how crazy this is. Who would have thought, huh?”

    Madeline nodded politely to the twins named Kane and Keith who were seated on the opposite side of Scott. They appeared to be high school age, wore dark brown suits that resembled school uniforms, and sat close together quietly. Cute caramel colored ears poked up out of their short hair and their golden eyes were cat-like, so it was pretty obvious what they were. However, Madeline was making no final assumptions just yet. 

    Surprisingly, they wore no medallions. If they weren’t sponsored, perhaps they had family here, and being underage, this is where they were told to hang out.

    “Yep, it’s amazing,” Madeline agreed before turning her attention to the twins. “Is this your first time here? It’s only my second, but the atmosphere is so different from before that it might as well be my first time.”

    The twins nodded in unison, eyes darting from her’s to various distractions around the club’s large ballroom. 

    “Are you here with family or friends?” she continued, asking both the twins and Scott.

    “Family,” the twins answered. “Our mom and dad are around here somewhere.”

    “And I am here with my sire,” Scott interjected, clearly not wanting to be upstaged by the young twins. “What about you? It’s rare to see a human at one of these events.”

    “Oh, I’m here with my mentor,” Madeline answered quickly. It was the only word she could come up with that made sense. 

    Scott and the twins looked at her oddly. Of course they did. She was human, and that was a strange association.

    “I’m paying off a life debt,” she elaborated, thinking quickly. 

    “Oh, I see,” the twins said in unison, their body language indicating something like that was commonplace.

    “A life debt?” Scott asked. “Is that a nice way of saying you’re a slave?”

    “Pretty much,” one of the twins answered for Madeline. 

    “That’s harsh,” Scott said, surprised. “What put you in that position?”

    Madeline knew she had to turn this around fast. It wasn’t her plan to be the center of attention here. 

    “You make it sound a lot worse than it is,” she replied. “But I’d be dead otherwise.”

    “He’s a well-known felinae,” the other twin told Scott, speaking of her mentor. “I can tell by her medallion. Most of us felinae treat our pets nicely, so she’s fine as long as she does what she’s told and doesn’t try to run away.”

    Madeline smiled in agreement. A pet? Sure. Why the fuck not, it sounded legit.

    “I still don’t think keeping someone like that against their will is nice, but then again, I’m still new to all this. Still learning,” Scott admitted.

    Staring past Madeline, he watched someone on the other end of the ballroom, closer to the dancefloor.

    “Your sire?” Madeline asked. That word again. She’d bet money he was a vampire.

    “Yeah, just watching him dance with the grown-ups,” he replied. “Oh shit. I just realized this area is the equivalent of the kids’ table at Thanksgiving dinner.”

    Madeline laughed out loud. 

    The twins didn’t get it. 

    “Is that Madeline?” questioned a cheerfully familiar voice from behind her.

    Madeline turned around to find a rather dashing looking Caslon accompanied by a beautiful woman who shared many of his modelesque features. Tall and carrying herself proudly, her long brown hair curled softly at the ends, and her skin was tanned and flawless. Her eyes, the same color as her brother’s, were wary and wise, and her make-up appeared to have been professionally done. However, Madeline was a bit surprised by their matching ears. Unlike the twins, whose ears were of a single color, Caslon and his sister’s ears were multi-colored. The hair inside the front of the ears was dark ivory, but the backs were black with a thick, horizontal ivory stripe. 

    So much for her horny rabbit theory.

    The twins suddenly sat up straight. They knew Caslon and his sibling.

    “I’m so glad you came!” he beamed, clearly elated Madeline was attending. “Let me introduce my lovely sister, Tiff.”

    Madeline stood immediately and offered Tiff her hand. For a moment, Tiff assessed her with disdain, to the point where Madeline assumed her greeting was going to be refused. 

    “Tiff...” Caslon scolded, looking down at her disapprovingly.

    Reluctantly, Tiff shook Madeline’s hand.

    “You’ll have to forgive her. She doesn’t trust you. She thinks you aren’t worth Levi’s time,” Caslon explained regretfully. 

    Tiff glared as she released her hand, leaving Madeline to wonder why. Caslon mentioned weeks ago that Tiff wouldn’t like her. Was she an ex-girlfriend of Levi’s? Even if that were true, Madeline was not involved with Levi. And she was human, which in her own mind would have made her even less of a threat. She knew little of Tiff, but she didn’t seem the type who’d feel challenged by someone like Madeline.

    “But she just doesn’t know you yet,” Caslon continued, trying to patch up the uncomfortable atmosphere. “Oh! What do you think of my ears!” 

    Caslon grinned widely and lowered his head down for Madeline to see. He was so excited to show them to her. 

    “Go ahead, you know you want to,” he whispered temptingly as he wiggled them at her.

    Madeline stopped herself. As much as she would love to touch them, she didn’t even move her hand an inch. It felt like it would be extremely ill-manner to do that in public. 

    “Maybe some other time,” she forced a smile. 

    “Ooo,” Caslon purred suggestively. “That sounds like something I can take you up on later.”

    Tiff smacked her brother bluntly on the head and then dragged him away toward the dance floor.

    “You seem to know a lot more people than the rest of us,” Scott said as Caslon and Tiff walked away. The twins nodded in agreement.

    “A few,” Madeline smiled innocently as she sat back down.

    “Can I get you a drink?” Scott offered.

    “Yes, thank you.”

    At the bar that stretched along the right side of the room, Maseo and Levi stood observing. 

    “Looks like she’s enjoying herself,” Maseo said to Levi while sipping a martini glass half full of a thick crimson liquid. “A proper lady.”
     
    “She hasn’t started drinking yet,” Levi gave a throaty chuckle, recalling her past misbehavior as the bartender set down two napkins behind him, placing a white russian on one, and a glass of sake on the other. As Levi turned around to grab the drinks, his friend’s words stopped him.

    “You might as well leave that white russian right here,” Maseo snickered, pointing out Levi’s bad timing. “Looks like her friend has beat you to it.”

    From a distance, Levi watched Madeline’s delightful expression as she spoke with the trying-too-hard-to-be-fashionable young vampire. The smug guest had ordered her favorite drink and was flirting up. He could tell Scott was attracted to her because even vampires put out desire, as unappetizing as it was. 

    “Who is that kid?” Levi asked Maseo.

    “Not really sure,” Maseo answered with a shrug. “His sire is a European business mogul but isn’t allied or at odds with my clan. I can find out more if you’re interested.”

    “Don’t bother,” Levi said firmly. “All I needed to know was that he’s not important.”

    Taking his drink from the bar but leaving the white russian, Levi headed toward the sponsor area. Sitting in the open seat on the other side of Madeline, he propped his polished black dress shoes up on the cocktail table and took a sip of his sake.

    Madeline took note of the twins’ response. They had shown proper respect to Caslon and his sister but were clearly terrified of Levi. It was evident they weren’t expecting him to slum it with the sponsors.

    “Good evening Mr. Leviticus, sir,” Kane greeted, his voice shaking.

    “It is an honor to meet you,” Keith added equally startled.

    Levi raised his glass as if to toast them. 

    “Boys,” he acknowledged.

    “Scott, this is Leviticus,” Madeline introduced, still taken aback by the reactions of the twins. “My mentor.”

    “I sort of gathered that,” Scott replied to her while studying Levi, unimpressed. “Nice to meet you.”

    “Having fun?” Levi asked Madeline.

    “Yes, thank you,” she replied politely. “Did you see Caslon? He’s here with his sister.”

    “Yep, although I haven’t talked to him yet. I’ve been hanging out with Maseo at the bar.”

    Madeline remembered her disastrous night. She definitely owed Maseo an apology. One of her goals this evening was also to show Maseo she was more mature and in control than she had previously led on.

    “You know Maseo?” Scott asked, his interest suddenly peaked.

    “Yeah, why?” Levi asked casually, taking another sip of sake. He was interested in how Scott knew about Maseo when Maseo himself had no idea who Scott was.

    “No reason, just that I’ve been told he’s a model example of what my kind should strive to be. Having a good rotation of donors, knowing when to blend in and when to move on. Stuff like that.”

    “The most important thing you could learn from him, I would think, would be control,” Levi corrected. 

    “Sure,” Scott agreed as if he was just appeasing Levi, much how a cocky adolescent would agree with an adult just to get them to stop talking. “Hey, Madeline? Do you want to leave the kiddie table with me and go dance? I promise you’ll have a good time.”

    “Okay,” Madeline smiled enthusiastically as she set her glass down on the table and stood up. “Be back in a bit, Levi.”

    As they walked away hand in hand, Levi’s left ear twitched. He glanced towards the bar, locking eyes with Maseo who was now approaching. The Asian vampire grinned as he joined Levi, sitting in the seat once occupied by Madeline. The way Levi’s eyes were tracking the couple, no doubt listening in on every word with his excellent hearing, Maseo could tell he was fuming underneath his perfect exterior. 

    “Either that kid has some gigantic balls,” Maseo commented, observing the pair as they got into position on the dance floor. “Or he has no idea who you are.”

    “For Madeline’s sake, I’m assuming the latter,” Levi deadpanned. “Because if I assume the former, the rest of his night is going to be very uncomfortable for him.”

    On the dance floor, the atmosphere was poppy and upbeat with bright and colorful lighting, a sharp contrast to last time she was here. Madeline was also surprised to see everyone on the dance floor actually smiling too, no seductive or haughty looks. If she ignored the various ears and occasional tails she saw every once and awhile, it had all the makings of what she would consider a fantastic night out. As Madeline danced, she stole glances at the other guests partaking of the music. Tiff and Caslon danced across from each other as they talked, clearing catching up. She wasn’t sure how long Tiff had been away, but Caslon treated her like he hadn’t seen her in a while, meaning her primary residence wasn’t here. Off to their left, a girl with the most beautiful golden-blond, glitter-covered curls caught Madeline’s eye. Her perfect ringlets dazzled with every bounce of movement she made, painted in shimmering pastels by the lights swirling overhead. Enchantingly beautiful, her ruby red lips smiled incurably at her dance partner, which Madeline recognized as the DJ she saw the last time she was here. Ditching the street clothes, he looked just as perfectly comfortable in a classic tuxedo, which complemented the girl’s long sleeved, body-hugging, red velvet dress. They reminded her of an iconic prom couple, all glow and joy, with eyes only for each other. Their affection for one another was permeable, and Madeline couldn’t help but smile as she watched them enjoy themselves.

    “So are you from here?” Scott asked above the music, trying to draw Madeline’s blue eyes back on him. 

    “In a roundabout way, yes,” Madeline answered. “I’m from the Northwest. And you? You don’t look like you’re a local.”

    “How can you tell?” Scott smile inquisitively. 

    “Well for one, that suit is pretty flashy for around here,” she began, her comment coming across kindly, rather than degradingly. “And your hair is too trendy. You don’t have an East coast accent, so I am guessing you are from somewhere down South. California perhaps?”

    “What a little detective you are,” Scott complimented. “You are correct. Rolling Hills, to be exact.”

    “Is that where your sire is from as well?”

    “Oh no, no, no,” Scott laughed, shaking his head as if the very idea was preposterous. “He is from overseas. Europe to be more specific. You’re probably wondering how that happened. Well, we first met at a party much like this...”

    Suddenly, an arm slipped gently around her waist, pulling her swiftly away from her dancing partner. She spun quickly, fists clenched tightly at her sides and ready to give whoever touched her an earful.

    It was Levi.

    “Pardon me,” he blushed dramatically, “But I need to introduce you to a few people. Do you mind?”

    Her anger now completely defused, Madeline took a deep breath and smiled.

    “Sure,” she agreed, but not without first excusing herself from Scott. “Save me a dance for later?”

    He crossed his arms and nodded, openly displeased with what just happened.

    Levi offered his arm and pulled her in close, making sure Scott noticed the lack of personal space between them.

    “Nice reflexes, by the way,” he praised in a whisper. “Much better than letting yourself be taken advantage off when someone invades your space like that.”

    “Thanks?”

    He led her back over to the bar, where Maseo stood chatting with a tall gentleman who was dressed more like a bartender than a guest. His long red hair was a bit lighter than her own, gathered at the nape of his neck in a black satin bow. Both men turned to greet Madeline and Levi as they approached.

    “Ah, my dear Madeline,” Maseo smiled warmly, putting her at ease despite the fact she had been tense all evening about apologizing to him regarding her past foolishness. “You look absolutely stunning.”

    “Thank you,” she smiled shyly. There was something in his tone that made her feel that he really meant what he said and that it wasn’t an empty compliment. “About the other night, I really…”

    “Shhh, don’t be silly. It’s not the first time, nor I hope the last, that a lovely young woman was tipsy in my presence. Think nothing of it.” He then extended his hand out to introduce the man on his right. “This, my dear, is my venerable  and trusted friend, Terrant Delacroix.”

    The pillar of a man placed one hand on his chest as if making a pledge, extending the other one out to Madeline in a greeting. As she set her hand in his, he brought it up to his tepid lips, bowing politely. Considering how he was introduced by Maseo, the firmness and lukewarm temperature of his skin, Madeline concluded he was probably another vampire. He looked much older than Maseo, likely in his mid-thirties, and his bronze eyes exemplified tenacious wisdom.

    “It is a pleasure,” he smiled earnestly as he released her hand and straightened his posture. “Are you enjoying the party?” 

    “It’s definitely different than most I’ve been to,” Madeline replied honestly. 

    “A wise choice of words. Most here are good people, so do feel safe enough to enjoy yourself. There are eyes on you, yes, curious because you are human. But there are also protective eyes on you,” Terrant winked, implicating himself and the others around him.

    “Except for those eyes,” Levi pointed out the approaching couple that Madeline was admiring earlier. “They only watch out for each other.”

    “What did I tell you about your half-truths, Levi?” the young girl with the doll-like complexion and perfect blond curls scolded. 

    “That they make me sexy?”

    The girl’s date was obviously not amused by Levi’s toying words.

    “No, I said that they can sometimes be confusing to people.”

    “But isn’t that the whole point?”

    The girl and her date glared at Levi in unison.

    “And this is Gwen and Michael,” Terrant interjected, introducing them. 

    “I saw you DJing last time I was here,” Madeline said to Michael taking his outstretched hand and shaking it. “I liked your selections.”

    Michael pressed his lips together firmly, beamed a smile of gratitude, but said not a word. 

    “We are the current house band,” Gwen enlightened. “Maseo, Terrant, Michael, and myself. Maybe later when things loosen up, we’ll perform.”

    Michael’s eyes brightened, and he looked at Maseo and Terrant expectantly.

    Maseo tilted his head to the side and scanned the crowd as if taking a head count.

    “There are a few guests that would need to leave first,” he answered Michael’s unvoiced plea. “But after that, I’m up for some mischief.”

    “Yes!” Gwen smiled, clapping her hands together in excitement, her sparkling curls bouncing with joy.

    Madeline turned to look at Levi, lost in the event unfolding before her, and watched as a slow and devilish grin spread from one corner of his mouth to the other. Even his eyes twinkled with wicked delight. He was undoubtedly excited about the promise of mischief.

    “Well then, you know the drill,” Terrant said, shooing both Gwen and Michael back in the direction of the dance floor. He noticed Madeline was still confused and nodded for Levi to take her away.

    Laying his arm on her shoulder, Levi directed her away from the bar and over to where the food was being served. 

    “So what just happened there?” she asked in a low voice as Levi handed her a plate. “I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t get any of that last bit.”

    “You weren’t supposed to,” Levi responded as he sniffed at the hors-d'oeuvres table, looking for something to eat that satisfied his disconcerting palette. “As fun as this party is, it is stuffy. In a couple of hours, that will change.”

    “As in spiking-the-punch?” Madeline asked, slowing starting to realize what they were talking about.

    “Spiking the what?” Levi asked. 

    “It’s a human term. At boring social functions, someone would pour alcohol in a communal…”

    “Haha, I was only joking” Levi interrupted. “I know what that means.”

    “Anything I need to worry about?” she questioned him seriously. “Any sly vampires or shapeshifters going to get too drunk and attack me?”

    “Only if you want them to,” Levi flirted, piling an over-abundance of sashimi on his plate. “But in all honesty, no, there is nothing that is going to hurt you. Turn you on maybe, but not hurt you.”

    Silently, she began to place a few carefully chosen hors-d'oeuvres on her plate as she followed Levi around the long tables. She had Michael pegged as another vampire, but not Gwen. Madeline didn’t know what Gwen was. She just looked a like a super cute human.

    “I can tell you have questions, so let’s save them for home, okay?” Levi suddenly whispered in her ear. 

    He was so close for that instance that she could smell his unique cologne again. She was really growing fond of it. “Okay,” she agreed.

    Out of the corner of his eye, Levi could see Scott approaching them.

    “So do you plan on monopolizing this beauty all evening?” he asked Levi, a brash expression on his face.

    Levi stilled for a few seconds, then turned to Scott, still holding his plate in his hand.

    “Oh, did it look that way to you? She just feels more comfortable in my company than with anyone else here. It’s nothing personal.”

    And with that, Levi popped a piece of sashimi in his mouth and directed a smart-ass smile at the silver-haired young vampire standing before him.

    Scott opened his mouth to speak, likely something rude, but then thought better of it. Instead, he glared at Levi and then turned and walked away. Levi just kept smiling in response, eating another piece of sashimi.

    “He seems to like you, or he’s trying to lord over you because you’re the only human here. Vampires tend to do that,” Levi said, confirming Madeline’s suspicion that Scott was a vampire.

    “Gotcha,” she responded. “Sooo after some food, do you want to dance?”

    “Are you hitting on me?” Levi gasped, simulating complete surprise.

    “Don’t be ridiculous,” Madeline grimaced purposefully. “I just like to dance, and you are easy to dance with.”

    “Now you’re calling me easy? Wow, you are so mean.”

    Although she struggled against it, she couldn’t help but laugh at Levi’s theatrics. He chuckled with her, glad to see her smile for real for the first time tonight.

    “But yes,” he spoke seriously, “I would love to dance later.”

    Madeline’s heart starting to beat a bit faster. Swallowing, she concentrated on calming down. That was just a bit too real right there. 

    Suddenly Levi’s ears twitched in the direction of the bar. Madeline glanced over and saw Terrant standing, his left arm up in the air with his index finger up as if signaling ‘number one.’ His eyes were fixed on the dance floor.

    “Ah, the sign,” Levi announced in a low voice. “That was Terrant letting us all know we’re down to the last obstacle. You see, some of the guests are here to make an appearance for a few hours and then leave, and those guests are the ones notorious for upholding the formal part of this formal event.”

    Checking out the dance floor, it had thinned out by about half since they’d first arrived. She located Caslon and his sister, only now they were dancing with other guests and not each other. Gwen and Michael were nowhere to be seen, and neither was Maseo.

    “They are probably getting their equipment set up,” Levi answered her unasked question. 

    “Then they are going to perform?” 

    “Yes, only it won’t be their normal set. They usually entertain a mixed audience, so they mute their natural talents. Tonight will be different, you could even say magical.”

    It seemed like forever before the last obstruction left The Golden Lotus. While waiting, Madeline and Levi ate their fill of hors-d'oeuvres and had a couple of drinks. Terrant, a bottle in his hand that was much too dark to be beer, approached them with a smile on his face and guided them to the edge of the stage that was still dark. 

    “Not playing?” Levi asked quizzically. 

    “Nah,” Terrant replied. “I’m letting Michael take care of percussion tonight. I could tell he was itching to be up there.”

    “Well that ought to be interesting,” Levi admitted. 

    “You haven’t seen us play anything but rock, have you?” Terrant asked, taking a sip from his bottle.

    “Nope. I didn’t even know you guys played anything but rock,” Levi replied.

    “Well with Michael being a natural at electronic music, we decided to branch out a bit so we can expand into venues we wouldn’t normally be a good fit for. It’s been working out rather well actually. Nice to have more choices, not to mention I get some nights off.”

    As Levi and Terrant talked, Madeline leaned her elbows on the stage and watched three pairs of feet shuffle around behind a dark curtain. Oddly, she couldn’t make out anything that looked like a drum set, just a podium of some sort they had moved into place. Then they set what appeared to be two microphone stands in the front.

    The house pop music was still going when the curtains were drawn back.

    Michael was behind the podium, a set of large black headphones around his neck. He had ditched the jacket and vest and was wearing only a half-unbuttoned white dress shirt now. Raising the left headphone to his ear, he adjusted the knobs on his soundboard. Slowly, the piped in overhead music faded while the beats Michael was layering grew louder. 

    Gwen was on stage as well, watching her lover dive into his sounds with a bright smile on her crimson lips as her petite and beautiful hand rested on one of the mic stands. Michael’s electronic beats grew more and more intense until they started to settle into Eurodance patterns. Gwen nodded her head to the rhythm as if she picked up on exactly the mood Michael was creating as if it was a secret between of them. 

    To her left, Maseo finally came into view. His dress shirt was completely unbuttoned, and his long black hair was loose. He glanced over at Gwen, waiting for her cue.

    Raising her hand at the crescendo of Michael’s mix, she looked out into the crowd that had now gathered at the foot of the stage and gave a whimsical smile. Fanning her fingers out slowly, lights appeared on the ceiling above the guests. They were spheres in shades of blue, green, and purple, hovering far above their heads streaming beams of color throughout the ballroom. 

    Madeline tilted her head all the way back to watch how they rotated to the speed of the music. They were beautiful. As they pulsed brightly with the beat, the crowd of guests let out a cheer. Looking briefly around, she found Caslon standing right behind her looking expectantly at the trio on the stage. With one hand on the railing which marked the edge of the performance area, Caslon was nearly right up against her, but not is a lecherous manner. It almost felt as if he was being protective of her. As if sensing her gaze, he glanced down at her and gave a playful wink. 

    Madeline looked back up to the stage, right about the time Gwen began to sing.

    It was the kind of voice you would expect an angel to possess, clear as a bell and perfectly annunciating every word. And her range was incredible. She was also able to hold a note much longer than she should have been able to. There was no way it was even possible without taking a breath, yet Gwen was doing it. What was she?

    After the first couple of lines, Maseo joined in. His voice was rich and warm, dropping into seductive, throaty accents and then slipping back to a pure and powerful resonance effortlessly. Both voices complimented each other so well it was as if they were liquid, engulfing and supporting each other, and the song was dreamy and electric with a heavy bass that had everyone moving. 

    At the song’s climax, guests gave another wild cheer as confetti began to drift down in an even and moderate pattern. It seemed a bit too perfect to be coming from a machine, so Madeline looked back up at the lights. Were they releasing the shimmering paper too?

    Lips slightly parted as she looked up in wonder, a piece of metallic confetti managed to land on her lower lip. Instinctively, she licked at it to rid herself of the intrusion and was suddenly tasting what strongly resembled sour watermelon.

    “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” she gasped, fascinated. 

    Tossing her head back, she opened her mouth wide to catch some more. Yep, sour watermelon. Quickly, she turned to Levi who'd been standing next to her, already smiling in her direction as if waiting for her to make another comment. 

    “The confetti is fucking amazing!”

    “What does it taste like to you?” he asked her, shouting above the music.

    “Sour watermelon,” she replied.

    “Interesting, it tastes like konpeito to me,” Levi revealed. 

    Konpeito?

    “Um, sugar stars? Rock candy?” Levi said, trying to describe to Madeline what konpeito candy tasted like.

    “You mean it tastes different to everybody?” she realized, eyes wide.

    “Yeah, and if you concentrate, you can change its flavor,” he added.

    Closing her eyes, she imaged the grape pixie sticks she used to love as a child, and then opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue. 

    “Oh my God!” she shouted to Levi, amazed. “What IS this??!!”

    “I’ll tell you later. For now, just enjoy it.”

    All around her, people were catching the glittering paper on their tongues like a group of kids catching snowflakes. The sea of bodies around her moved to the live dance music with much more passion than before. She’d never been to a rave, but it was the only atmosphere she could compare to what was happening. Bodies were close together, some dancing with others, some facing the stage and dancing alone. Levi reached out and took her hand, pulling her close so their bodies were right up against each other. For once, he wasn’t trying to be sexual. With all the dancing and jumping going on around them, he didn’t want her getting lost. Pulling her close, their bodies rocked along together to the tempo of the music. Levi smiled down at her genuinely, which caught her off guard just as Gwen and Maseo’s voice transitioned into lyrics familiar to her. It was a ramped-up version of the song, but it was definitely a song she recognized and was able to sing along to. As she sang along, Levi chuckled. 

    Suddenly someone placed their hand on her shoulder gently. 

    It was Scott.

    He didn’t say anything, just matched his tempo to hers and began to dance next to her. She looked up at Levi as if to silently ask if it was okay for her to dance with him. In response, Levi backed up a bit, and Madeline’s place was immediately taken by another girl. Turning, she saw Caslon now to her left in a passionate lip lock with the felinae he was dancing with. His partner was much smaller in stature, with dainty white ears and a fluffy cat tail curled up from beneath her skirt. They kissed and moved their bodies, resembling a lion ravaging a kitten. For a brief moment, Madeline lost herself thinking about their passion, and felt her cheeks getting warm. Her eyes flashed to Scott’s, who picked up on her voyeurism and took it as an invitation to move in closer. Forcing her gaze away, her eyes landed on Levi who was grinding with his new partner so lustfully that Madeline couldn’t pull her eyes away. The way his fingertips pulled through the girl’s long blond hair, and how he licked his lower lip hungrily before leaning his head back to partake of more confetti mesmerized her. She wanted to be that girl right now.

    Maybe she would be the one who ended up begging after all…

    No. 

    She closed her eyes and told herself no.

    Scott could tell she was being bothered by something and took her hand, leading her away. She followed without resistance, thinking it was probably for the best, they were kids at this party after all. Not too far from the dance floor, they slipped into a high-backed booth and were approached immediately by a waitress. After ordering a drink for himself and water for Madeline, Scott leaned back against the plush seating.

    “Exhausting,” he said, exhaling and looking out at the dancing crowd before gulping down his sticky concoction. “Most of them are shapechangers, so they are very intuned with their primal sides. Damn, I just can’t keep up.”

    “It is very intense out there,” Madeline agreed, watching Levi.

    “So, do you have a thing going on with him, or what?”

    “Me?!” Madeline’s voice rose as she quickly turned her attention to Scott. “No! Nothing of the sort.”

    “Because you seem really distracted by him.”

    “In a way, he owns me,” Madeline explained, quickly excusing her behavior, “And disciplines me. It’s like the twins said earlier. If I displease him, I’ll have to answer for it later, and if you haven’t already guessed, he’s not easy to read. He has a lot of whims, so I’ve gotten used to watching him to pick up on clues to what he’s thinking so I can be a step ahead of what he wants.”

    “Well, if you ever want out, come see me. We could take you in and protect you,” Scott offered. “I could rescue you from this situation, and he’d never be able to find you. You are his pet, and he’s just going to control you and victimize you until he doesn’t need you anymore, and then he’ll toss you aside. Felinae do that, it’s their way, and your mentor is one of the most dangerous and manipulative felinae in history. You saw how those other two were so afraid of him. That should be all the proof you need. I’m not offering you sanctuary because I’m a vampire. My offer doesn’t have anything to do with blood, I just think you deserve better than to live this way.”

    His words took her by surprise. One of the most dangerous in history? Manipulative? How so? She wanted to ask but reminded herself she knew Scott less than she knew Levi. If what he said was true, she needed to be more guarded, but at the same time, the perception of what was dangerous could have been a reflection of how vampires see him. Against his enemies, he would be very dangerous. But the way the twins reacted to his presence… There was definitely fear in their eyes.

    “Let me give you my number,” Scott continued. “I’m not saying you need to call it, but if you ever need anything…”

    He flagged down a waitress to borrow a pen and scribbled his number down on a cocktail napkin. Folding it, he slid it across the table to Madeline.

    “It’s long distance to London, but I can be here as quick as a plane can get me.”

    “You do realize you’ve only just met me, right?” Madeline clarified, surprised. “You don’t even know me, so why the invite?”

    “I was a victim before I was this,” Scott revealed. “I was a slave. I let myself be a victim because I didn’t know there was any other life. I felt trapped. Then someone gave me a number, told me I could control my own life and live without fear. And they were right. I moved forward and never looked back. I just wanted to give you the same chance. Consider it my way of paying it forward.”

    Placing her fingertips on the napkin, she slid it closer and folded it up in her palm. Just what was this guy thinking?

    “Well, that’s it for me, I have to head out,” Scott said, standing. “I do hope to see you again sometime. And remember, I was human not too long ago. Your mentor never was.”

    Madeline watched curiously as Scott walked away, meeting up with an older gentleman that she assumed was his sire. Without looking back, the pair walked calmly past the podium at the far end of the ballroom and then turned to exit down the long hallway.

    Rolling the linen-like paper in her loose fist, she thought about the meaning behind his words. He was right, to a degree. She wasn’t free by any means, but she was safe. Or at least she felt she was safe. The more she contemplated it, the more she realized being safe was a relative state of mind. She’d gone from being more-or-less a typical girl, to being kidnapped by monsters, to living with a guy who fed off her less than pure thoughts. Comparing where she started from to her current state made her realize that safe wasn’t really safe. 

    “Hey, everything okay?” Levi asked as he approached the table looking concerned. “You look troubled.”

    “I’m fine, just getting a bit tired I suppose,” she said as she clutched the cocktail napkin tighter. “Putting on airs under this environment is a bit much.”

    “Well, I was just coming over to collect you so we could leave,” he said looking her over. “Not to mention I am sure there are a lot of questions bouncing around in that head of yours.”

    “Are you sure?” she asked. “I know how much of a big deal this event is for you, and I wouldn’t want to make you cut it short.”

    “I normally don’t close it out,” he admitted. “Fashionably late, and exiting fashionably early makes it look like I have somewhere else to go.”

    Madeline nodded at his perfectly logical explanation.

    Extending his hand, Levi helped her slip out of the booth and up to her feet. Offering her his arm, the two exited The Golden Lotus leaving the rhythmic rumble fading behind them. She wrapped her warm shawl tightly around her shoulders as they stepped outside into the cold, late October air. Sliding into the back of an awaiting taxi, Madeline leaned against Levi for warmth, which he was happy to provide.

    “I am not doing this for any sort of gratification, okay,” she said, making her intentions perfectly clear. “I am chilly. You are warm. End of story.”

    Levi was amused by her declaration. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

    He could hear her grumble at him. 

     


    --------------------------------------------------------

     


    In another taxi on the other side of town, Scott rode with his sire, Cole. 

    “So how did I do?” Scott asked, trying to judge the evening.

    “You’ve accomplished your task well,” Cole responded. “Master Gideon wanted you to make contact with Ms. Madeline, express your concern over her well being, and give her your number. You’ve also sown the seeds of mistrust in her mind, which is probably the most important objective. She needs to realize how deadly that felinae is so she will come to us. Right now, as with most of his victims, she’s so attracted to him she can’t help but stumble on her path.”

    “So what now?”

    “Stay in town. Watch her. Be there for her,” Cole instructed. “When he breaks her heart, be her knight in shining armor and spirit her away.” 

     

     

    --------------------------------------------------------

     


    It was challenging for Madeline to hold all her questions until they arrived home. She fidgeted in the taxi, through the lobby, and all the way up the elevator. When they finally entered the foyer and Levi locked the door behind them, it was like a verbal damn broke.

    “Caslon and Tiff, felinae. Keith and Kane, felinae. Maseo, Terrant, and Michael, vampires. And Scott is a vampire because he straight up told me, even though I guessed it already. So how many did I get right?”

    “All correct, except for Caslon and Tiff,” Levi confirmed. 

    “Wait, what?” Madeline placed her hands on her hips in disbelief. “They had cat-like ears just like the others.”

    “Cat-like, yes. Felinae, no,” Levi corrected. 

    Kicking off her heels, Madeline thought carefully back on their ears, and how they were a different color pattern than the others she’d seen tonight, and she remembered one more important thing she had overlooked. Unlike domestic cat ears, theirs were not as pointy.

    “Ah, so they are pantherinae then, not felinae,” she concluded as she reached to pick her shoes off the floor.

    “Correct.”

    “Gwen is the only one I can’t figure out,” she admitted. “I didn’t get the feeling that she was a shapeshifter or a vampire.”

    “You are correct on both counts.”

    “She had to have created those lights because I swear I would have noticed them before. And that confetti. That was amazing,” Madeline thought out loud.

    She paused for a moment as a thought occurred to her.

    “Was she fae?” she asked Levi hesitantly. 

    “Yes, she is fae,” Levi confirmed. “I’m proud of you. You did really well.”

    “So tell me about the glitter!”

    “That’s a fae trick,” Levi revealed. “Remember how I told you fae can affect people’s minds? Their sanity?”

    Madeline nodded.

    “The confetti is an illusion. It tastes like whatever the person experiencing it wants it to taste like. That’s why if you concentrate, you can change the flavor.”

    “So then it was just plain paper?” Madeline asked, trying to understand.

    “No, there was no confetti at all. It was just Gwen messing with everyone’s senses.”

    “Then what about the lights? The ones I didn’t notice until they took the stage?”

    “She created those too. They were fairy lights, not anything mechanical. From what I know of the fae, fairy lights are pretty easy to create, Gwen just dressed them up a bit and spun them in sync with Michael’s music,” Levi explained.

    “It was so amazing,” Madeline smiled, remembering. “So do all non-humans tend to mingle together in groups like that?”

    “What do you mean?” Levi asked, confused by her wording.

    “Well, Gwen’s not a vampire, but she appeared to be in a relationship with one, and is in a band with them too. Is that normal? To have different ‘groups’ hanging out together?”

    Levi fell silent for a moment, trying to come up with the best way to word his answer.

    “In a word, no, it’s not normal,” Levi confessed. “Certain circumstances placed Gwen in Maseo’s care. And it’s definitely not customary for shapeshifters to befriend undead, or vice-versa. As harsh as this may sound, especially coming from me, it’s best to assume the different factions hate each other because that’s usually the case.”

    “I see,” Madeline acknowledged solemnly, staring down at her feet.

    There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Madeline found herself unable to stifle a yawn. 

    “Well, I’m going to get some sleep,” she stretched, turning towards her bedroom.

    “What are you going to do with his number?”

    “Excuse me?” she paused, turning back around.

    “His phone number. What are you going to do with it?”

    Madeline froze. How did he know? She’d thought she was clever, hiding it in her palm and acting casual about it, but he knew the whole time. The idea was a bit frightening.

    “I… I don’t know,” she stuttered. “He seemed nice and all, but I am not sure if I ever plan on calling him if that’s what you’re worried about.”

    “Worried?” Levi repeated, almost as if he was slightly insulted. “I’m not worried. If anything it should be you that’s worried. It’s not a wise idea to get into a relationship with a vampire. You never know when they’ll get the urge to kill you in the middle of the night.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied, feeling rather awkward. She was about to once again head to her room but felt an apology was in order. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… I wasn’t trying to deceive you. I just didn’t want to seem rude to Scott, and I wasn’t sure if his number would come in handy later.”

    “You don’t have to explain yourself. I’m not going to tell you who you can and can’t see, but I am going to tell you who’s dangerous. Now go get some sleep. You did well tonight.”

    “Thank you,” Madeline said sincerely before she finally went to her room and closed the door behind her.

    Setting the crumpled cocktail napkin on top of the dresser, she unzipped her black dress and hung it carefully on a hook fastened to the back of her door. It took her only a few minutes to wash up, slip into her pajamas and crawl into bed. Before she fell asleep, she thought back to what Scott had said about Levi being dangerous and manipulative. He definitely had it in him, but something deep down inside told her that wasn’t true. Growing up, she had many instances where her intuition protected her from potentially dangerous situations by throwing up red flags in her head. Neither Levi nor any of his friends raised any of those red flags. Not even Tiff, who she was positive hated her. 

    Out of nowhere, her grandma’s words echoed in her mind.

    Let your instinct be your guide.

    She wasn’t sure what had triggered that memory, but they were wise words to follow, especially at a time like this. Wrapping her fingertips around her opal, she decided she would continue to give Levi her trust and ignore Scott’s accusations unless some solid proof demanded otherwise.
     

    Edited by Sinajfae

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