Alexander Broderick stood at the top of the curving stairwell in the center of his Kensington residence, surveying his domain. The party had started at eight sharp, with more guests arriving every few minutes.
His Halloween parties were an age old tradition, even if their grandeur and scale had evolved significantly since the early days. A hundred years ago, he’d been content inviting a few friends and acquaintances, all of them vampire like he was. Now, every year, the event had grown bigger and better, featuring new faces from all walks of life.
Eternity was a very long time to spend in isolation. He craved the change in routine, no matter how hard his maker had tried to discourage him from going overboard in the past. Of course, ever since Julius had taken over the Council leadership, he had other things on his mind than to monitor Alexander’s social life.
Alexander thrived on the attention these parties afforded him. On a night such as tonight, he could step out of the shadows and into normality. Even if some guests noticed strange things around the house, they’d accept it as part of the magic of Halloween. It also helped that he kept the alcohol flowing generously throughout the night.
Tonight was the one night per year that the weird and wonderful became acceptable. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. So many people. So many aromas. His parties weren’t an excuse to feed as such; no, he could do that any time. But the sheer variety of humankind at his feet was difficult to ignore.
Every vampire in attendance tonight would feel the same way. Alexander smiled as he imagined the depravity that would occur within these walls.
Sex, blood, and rock ‘n’ roll. Alexander couldn’t suppress a chuckle.
They’d keep things clean enough, of course. Everyone here was keen to stretch the rules but not break them. They wouldn’t take things so far as to attract suspicion. They wouldn’t kill.
Alexander himself would join in the festivities as well. But first and foremost, he enjoyed playing host.
He was especially fond of striking up conversations with first-time guests. First he’d figure out how they’d come by an invitation, then he’d guide the conversation toward other topics that interested him.
He was a connoisseur of sorts; like some immersed themselves in fine wines, politics, or even sports, Alexander collected knowledge on the human psyche. Zeitgeist, as some people called it; he loved to learn about that special set of thoughts and ideas that made society tick. In gathering information about how people lived their fleeting lives, he sought to find meaning for his own.
As he slowly started to walk down the stairs, he focused on acting normal; that meant being a lot more clunky and obvious in his movements than his instincts dictated.
He was socializing, not stalking prey!
That was one of the first lessons he’d learned once he started inviting humans to his get-togethers. If you approached them in too stealthy a fashion, they easily got spooked. Halfway down, his friend Michael nodded a greeting as he passed him by. The much younger vampire wasn’t one to waste time; he’d already found himself two willing females to spend what he liked to call ‘quality time.’ Everyone had certain talents; seduction was his.Alexander was about to continue down the steps when a presence caught him off guard. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly. A quick scan around the room revealed that all the guests were quite busy entertaining themselves; nobody was looking in his direction.
He sprinted back up the stairs, faster than a human eye could see, and gazed back down to figure out what had affected him so.
The front door swung open and two women entered. One was quite ordinary, and he could hardly tell her apart from the two Michael had just led upstairs. The other, though…
A radiant sight of womanhood.
Her floor length gown was very different from the skimpy outfits everyone else had chosen to wear. Blood red—which in itself would have been enough to entice even the most reclusive vampire among his company.
Raven hair halfway down her shoulder, which swayed with every step she took.
A face flawless, like that of a porcelain doll.
And curves. Her body exuded a richness that made every fiber in his body ache for her.As different as they were, the two new guests couldn’t have been a day older than 25, much younger than his usual choice of conversation partner.
He held on to the banister with both hands, then had to force himself to let go when the wood groaned under his tight grip. A lot could be forgiven on All Hallows’ Eve, but destroying the furnishing with his super-human strength would raise a few eyebrows.
Alexander focused his hearing on the two women who still stood indecisively in the hall.
One of his staff immediately approached them with a welcome drink.
“Thank you,” the dark haired beauty said. The voice of an angel.
The blond didn’t speak; instead, she just chugged the champagne and placed her empty glass back onto the waiter’s tray. Alexander recognized her type. She gave the impression of a hunter among humans; she knew what she was after, and was scouting the place for the right mark.
Alexander stood frozen in place, waiting for the woman in the red gown to make a move. The blonde had taken a few steps forward and spotted the dance floor in the reception room.
She waved at her companion to join her, who refused.
“You go ahead. I’ll hang back and get a feel for the place first,” the medieval angel said, then took a small sip of champagne to make her point.
Alexander smiled and closed his eyes. Perhaps his senses were deceiving him tonight, but he could swear that he could catch her scent all the way up here.
A hungry vampire could smell his prey from nearly a mile away. But Alexander wasn’t hungry.
At least not for nourishment.
From the moment she’d entered, the quality of the air seemed to have changed. He knew he had to have her before anyone else. He would get to know this young woman, learn all he could about her. Take her to his chambers and bed her. He would taste her very essence. He had to. His instincts gave him no choice.
Before he opened his eyes, he knew she still stood in the same place; he could sense it. When he looked down at her, he noticed that it wasn’t just him who had noticed her. A half dozen sets of eyes had shifted in her direction.
Could they smell her too?
Alexander rushed down the stairs again, almost forgetting to follow the usual tricks to appear more human. So far so good: the other vampires had spotted her, but stayed back for now. He would reach her first. If her arrival had made this much of an impact, he would have to take it upon himself to ensure her safety here.
This was his house after all. His party.
He’d never been one to lose his tongue in company, but the closer he got to the woman, the more uncertain he grew. She wasn’t just any other human to him; she was a whole lot more special than that.
“I hope you’re enjoying yourself?” he said as he reached her side.
She looked up at him, her eyebrows pulled together in surprise. “Who, me?”
“Uh… my name’s Cat.”
“Short for Catherine?” Alexander asked, mesmerized by her pale green eyes as she continued to look up at him.
She looked so vulnerable. He could hear her heartbeat, and the rush of her blood as it was pumped through her body. Being so near to her tested his patience like nothing ever had. If he’d been starving and faced with a first meal in weeks, he would have found it easier to walk away than he did now. There was something very different about this woman, though he had no idea what it was.
“I suppose, yes. Short for Catherine,” she stammered.
He wasn’t trying to hypnotize her, at least not on purpose. Was she under his control already?
How was that even possible?
“I said I hope you’re enjoying yourself,” he said, repeating his first question.
“Oh, yes.” Catherine raised her glass and smiled briefly. “And what a beautiful house this is. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
That gave Alexander his opening, a chance to get her away from all the hungry stares from every vampire in the room.
“Perhaps you’d like to see more of it?” he asked, smiling subtly to avoid exposing his sharp canines.
Catherine didn’t answer straight away, instead continuing to stare at him. Hopefully, she wasn’t actually hypnotized. Alexander was looking forward to having a natural conversation with this woman. Not a forced interrogation while she was under his influence.“Don’t tell me this is your place?” she asked at last.
Was she just nervous? Could that be?
Alexander winked at her in an attempt to break the tension and gain her trust. “Okay, I won’t tell you that it is.”
“Holy shit.” Catherine immediately covered her mouth with her hand as she looked around the entrance hall again. “I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about. My offer still stands by the way. If you want a tour…” Alexander said.
She looked into his eyes and there it was again, that strange feeling that had overcome him from the moment she’d entered his home. He had to have her, discover all there was to learn about her. Intellectually, physically, even spiritually, if that even made sense. “I’m sorry, I just didn’t expect to end up here chatting with the host of the party straightaway.
Yes. I’d love a tour,” Cat said while straightening her shoulders.
So she had just been nervous.
He wasn’t sure why, but that pleased him. Probably because he’d been a little nervous at first too.It was silly. He’d walked this earth for centuries and seduced plenty of beautiful ladies in his day.
As delicious as this woman smelled, what did he have to be nervous about? He offered her his arm, which she reluctantly accepted. Her touch seemed to burn through his tuxedo right into his skin, almost painfully.
“We’ll start with the downstairs,” he said.
As Alexander led her past some of his immortal guests into the reception room, he felt their eyes on the two of them. There was no emotion as powerful to the senses as jealousy. Perhaps his nerves had been trying to tell him something. This party wasn’t like every previous one. This time, he was playing with fire.