“Budapest” is the most contemporary story in the collection; I envision it happening pretty much right now. In every vampire story I’ve done before, the vampires have either been isolated predators or, as in the case of the Bound in Darkness series, all connected to one another through a single quest or event. In “Budapest,” I’ve played with the idea of a vampire society that isn’t exactly open but isn’t isolated, either, a system of connection between vamps and how that would affect their relationships with one another and the mortal world. It’s one thing to say “I’ll love you forever” to someone whose body at least is going to eventually die; it’s something else when you and your beloved one are literally, physically immortal. It’s not a new idea, obviously – I may be the only vampire writer on the planet who hasn’t gone here yet. But this is my take.
Cat climbed out of her lead-lined coffin, stumbled, and nearly fell flat on her face. It was barely sunset; she was still mostly asleep. The pounding on the door started again, louder this time. “Who is it?” she demanded, her eyes darting around the barely-familiar hotel room. Where the hell had she put her sword? She grabbed the gun with blessed bullets from the nightstand instead—less reliable, particularly against atheist vampires, but hopefully in Budapest, that wouldn’t be an issue.
“Richard,” the door replied. “Catriona, let me in.”
“Oh for pity’s sake . . .” She fumbled the deadbolt open and reached for the handle. “What are you doing here?”
“You’re not an easy girl to find,” he muttered, pushing past her.
“That was rather the idea,” she retorted.
Richard was the oldest friend of her momentarily estranged lover, Indo. In fact, rumor had it Richard was the oldest friend any vampire had, that he was the oldest vampire left roaming the earth. She had never thought he looked the part. Tall, thin, and blond with a patrician nose and the perpetual squint of a perpetual scholar, he always looked like an unmade bed. Tonight he was even more rumpled than usual, his wrinkled coat far too thin for the chill winds of Eastern Europe in November. Her nostrils flared, picking up the smell of blood, faded faint but still distinct, the smell of a powerful death – vampire blood, not human. His black coat was covered with it. This was not normal. She had known Richard for three hundred years, and she had never once seen him take a living victim. He had been the first vampire of her acquaintance to attempt to live on cow’s blood, and he was rumored to be one of the so-called “Blessed Nine” scientists and alchemists who had been working for decades on creating a synthetic. If he were stained with vampire blood, something bad had happened. “Richard, where is Indo?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.” Indo had left her six months before, swearing once again she was too wicked, too savage for bearing. She had accidentally taken too much from a perfectly willing thrall and put the stupid girl in the hospital where she had recovered completely in the space of a day. But Indo, Enforcer that he was, had completely overreacted, as he always did, and had taken off in a huff. He always went to Richard when they had these fights. Richard was his sanctuary, his monastery, his ashram, his calm. But now Richard was covered in vampire blood, and he looked anything but calm. He was prowling the room like a cat, peering into the bathroom, the closet. “I suppose he could have gone back home to Tokyo.” He yanked back the drapes, exposing her impressive view of the city. “I honestly don’t know.”
“But he is alive.” She put her hand on his shoulder. “Richard?”
“Of course Indo is alive,” he said bitterly, his eyes searching the dark as if for predators or prey. “If anyone ever truly threatened to kill Indo, I have no doubt some sort of samurai angel with a golden katana and a thousand tongues of fire would rush immediately to his defense.”
Cat suppressed an unbecoming snort. “Did the two of you have a tiff?”
He gave her a look that could have wilted a cactus. “You could say that.”
“Oh dear . . . . So what do you want me to do about it?” She started to move away, but he caught hold of her robe, silk clenched in a dirty fist. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, worried all over again.
“I’m very tired, Catriona.” He was looking at her in a way he’d never looked at her before. Other men had, of course – humans who thought they were predators before they realized they were prey; vampires who mistook her delicacy for weakness. It was a hungry look, a conqueror’s look. It looked strange on Richard . . . strange because in the dim light of the hotel room, it fit his face so well.
She reached down and disengaged his hand from her robe. “Maybe you should tell me all about it.”
He clamped his hand around her wrist like he was grabbing a sword hilt, hard and sure and painfully tight–none of the adjectives she would ever have associated with being held by Richard. She had never realized how big he was before, how powerful. He had always seemed hunched, a spider, a scholar. Now he was standing up quite straight, and she realized how broad he was at the shoulders, how big his hands were. “No.” For once he wasn’t squinting in the slightest. She had never noticed how blue his eyes were, how intense his gaze could be. “I don’t want to tell you anything about it.” He dragged her closer, his free hand going to the draped closure of her robe. “I don’t want to talk.”