Archangel's Prophecy (Page 68)
“Have you been assigned an angel?” Most vampires didn’t know till after the transition, but Hiraz would’ve no doubt found out. And if Dmitri had assigned this gentle creature to Andreas, Elena would cut out his heart.
“Miuxu,” China said. “Hiraz said she’s kind?”
Catching the upward intonation, Elena nodded. “I like her a lot.” At this rate, she really would have to start being nice to Dmitri.
“Oh, I’m so happy to hear that.” China dimpled again. “Anyway, after my probation time, I can come home at the end of my shift, like with a regular job. Hiraz says that some vampires take longer than others to get control, so I shouldn’t worry if I don’t have it at once, but I don’t think it will take me so long. I’m not . . . I don’t wanna get away with anything. I just wanna be strong.”
There it was, the fear that haunted this woman who had seen the horrors and ugliness of the world firsthand and yet contained within her an innocence that was a quiet rebellion.
China had steel in her, though many would never see it.
Just like Beth.
Finishing off the cake, Elena took a sip of the coffee China held out. “It’s difficult being human in a world full of immortals and near-immortals.”
“Not for you.” China’s smile was deep and infused with New Yorker pride. “Even before you got wings. In the Quarter, folks used to talk about some of the vamps you hauled back and I’d wonder how you did it. Most of the ones I met before Hiraz could be real mean—and they weren’t even a tiny bit as powerful as he is.” A sniff. “He could squash them with his little finger.”
Hiraz and China were starting to sound cute enough together that it threatened to puncture Elena’s dark mood. “I have a feeling you’ll make a wonderful vampire.” As long as nothing went wrong in the process, she’d probably come out of it as sweet as she’d gone in. “Is it okay if I ask my questions?”
China nodded though her fingers were crushing her coffee cup. “I don’t like to think about that time.” A soft confession. “I got turned out on the streets at fourteen by my stepbrother. Fresh meat, you know.” She shrugged, dipping her head so that her hair slid forward to hide her expression. “It was bad.”
The simplicity of the description only made the horror of it worse. “You should be proud of coming out on the other side with your personality and your gentleness intact.”
China’s eyes were unbearably vulnerable when she raised her head. “When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went inside my head, so I didn’t have to be in my body.”
Elena thought of a ten-year-old girl surrounded by the mutilated pieces of her sisters’ bodies, of a teenager who dreamed of drowning in blood. “Sometimes, it’s the only way to fight.”
“He’s not mean, my Hiraz,” China whispered. “Tough, but not mean.” A hesitation. “He calls me by my real name. The one my mom gave me.”
Wanting to kick herself, Elena said, “I’m sorry, I should have asked.” Of course China was a working name, one likely chosen by the stepbrother—a moniker to advertise her looks. “I’d like to call you by that name, if you’re happy to share it.”
A trembling smile. “Jenessa. Jeni for short.”
“Nice to meet you, Jeni.”
The other woman laughed softly before taking a big gulp of her coffee and squaring her shoulders. “Okay, ask me.”
When Elena led her back to the incident in question, Jenessa’s eyes widened. “Yes, I remember! Oh, I remember everything!”
Startled, Elena put down her coffee. “Why was it such a memorable night for you?”
“Because that’s when I met him.” Smiles on top of smiles. “I was running and running, and I ran in front of his car and it nearly hit me before he managed to stop. I was so scared I couldn’t run anymore and my heart was pounding and I thought for sure that he was going to smack me around for nearly putting a dent in his car.”
Another gulp of coffee before she continued her rapid-fire story. “But he didn’t. He asked me why I was crying and when I told him, he put me in his car and we drove back to the apartment to check if Lucy was all right. But only Eric was there when we reached it, and he was unconscious. One of the neighbors said the man who’d beaten up Simon had taken Lucy with him.”
Elena’s blood buzzed. “Can you tell me about Lucy?”
Jenessa nodded. “We met on the street. We even shared a small apartment for a while after she first came to the Quarter. But . . . Lucy liked drugs.” Her fingers clenched around the empty mug. “My stepbrother banned me from taking drugs when my skin started to attract customers with money, and after he was gone, I’d seen how bad it could get, and I stayed clean.”
“But Lucy did drugs? Cocaine?”
Jenessa nodded, her hair a glossy shade of purplish black Holly would appreciate. “There was this one vampire who’d give her coke if she’d do stuff with him and his friend.” She shuddered. “Both creeps. Both into sick stuff. I never went with them—my stepbrother got knifed in a fight when I was nineteen, and I had a few regulars who agreed to pay me twenty-five extra a month so I wouldn’t have to work the streets and risk having my skin torn up.”
A hard swallow. “I didn’t know how to do anything else.”
Jenessa had ducked her head through the entire latter part of her statement, shame thick in the words. Elena wanted to reach across and hug her, but after knowing Aodhan, she made no assumptions about touch. “You survived and your piece of s**t stepbrother is dead. Makes you the smarter one I’d say.”
Jenessa raised her head a fraction, looking at Elena through her bangs until she seemed to decide Elena meant it. “You want more coffee?” she asked with a hopeful smile that was a fragile construct.
“Sure.” Elena saw Jenessa pull herself back together again as she poured. “You remember the name of the creeps who gave Lucy coke?”
“Nish and Terry,” Jenessa said with a shudder. “Vamps. They liked to put things inside Lucy’s body and record her being humiliated then put the videos online. It makes me sick that those videos are out there in the world.”
Nishant Kumar and Terence Lee.
Elena’s heartbeat rocketed, a sick feeling in her gut. “Did Nish and Terry pass Lucy on to Simon Blakely?”
“Lucy met him at Nish’s.” Sadness in her voice. “He treated her nicer than Nish and Terry.”
B*****d had been playing games, the good-guy rescuer who got off on girls the other two had fundamentally damaged. “You liked him.”
“Yes, he seemed okay. After hanging with us at a local diner a few times, he invited us to visit his apartment. I was careful not to go too much because I didn’t want him starting to think he was my pimp, but his roommate, Eric, always had free coke for Lucy, so she went all the time.”
Jenessa tightened the belt of her robe compulsively. “I didn’t like her doing that, but I thought at least she was safer than she’d be with those sickos Nish and Terry. After a while, she and Simon hooked up and she moved in with him—he liked to have sex when she was high, but it was all normal, nothing weird, and Lucy liked being high, so . . . She let Eric do honey feeds from her sometimes, too, to thank him for the coke.”