There is no such thing as a dignified accidental vampire transformation.
—The Accidental Sire: How to Raise an Unplanned Vampire
I was dead. And then I wasn’t.
I liked dead better.
I catapulted from absolute dark, inky silence to being completely and unfortunately aware. I blinked into the soft light of the cool, windowless room where I’d slept. And while it was perfectly nice, it was not my dorm room. Where was I? Why did my head hurt so bad? Like I could feel every vein in my head, and each one was angry.
I rolled over on the strange bed, with its crisp white sheets and hospital rails. Had I been in an accident? I didn’t recognize the room, but it certainly wasn’t a dorm room. I would know if my dorm housed a medical wing, wouldn’t I?
I bolted upright and immediately regretted it. My head felt like it was being clamped between Tom Hardy’s muscular thighs . . .
“Argh, I should be so lucky,” I mumbled, flopping back onto the bed. I was wearing my favorite purple Adventure Time pajamas. Someone had taken the time to braid my hair into pigtails.
Other than the headache, I felt OK. I wasn’t nauseated. In fact, I was hungry . . . well, no, I was thirsty. My tongue was dry and gritty, begging for something, anything, to drink. I would wrestle Morgan to the ground for one of her disgustingly healthy “green machine” smoothies. Usually I was of the opinion that kale was God’s way of making CrossFitters suffer karmic payback for all those humblebrag selfies.
My gums felt raw, like I’d lost teeth. I smacked my dry lips together and ran my tongue over my teeth. They were all there, which was a relief. It was hard to get dates with meth mouth.
I could see too much. I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses, but I could see every inch of this sterile, cold room. I could see every wrinkle in the thin cotton blanket. I counted every hole in the ceiling tiles. Also, everything smelled like industrial-strength cleaner. I closed my eyes and pressed my head into the blessedly scent-free pillow.
I remembered the party. Ophelia Lambert, a nice vampire girl from my world literature class, had arranged a human-vampire mixer. It was hands down the best party I’d ever been to. Ophelia had spared no expense turning our silly student lounge into a swanky nightclub, complete with fancy mocktails that dutifully complied with the campus’s no-alcohol policy. And I’d been dancing with a sweet guy Ophelia introduced me to . . . Ben. Ben Overby, a boy she knew from her hometown. I remembered dancing with him and his cute little jerks and kicks. I remembered that he kept his hands on my hips but in a respectful, nongropey way.
Ben had been sweet, sincere in a way that I hadn’t seen in ninety-nine percent of the boys I’d met so far this year. I felt like I could trust him when he smiled. I didn’t spend the whole dance trying to look for hidden double entendres when he spoke. He asked for my number as I walked him to the lobby, and I programmed it into his contacts list as “The Most Interesting Girl You Will Ever Meet.”
Now I heard a strange thrumming noise through the hospital-room door. Thump-a-thump-a-thump. I rolled my eyes. Some douchebro must have turned his car’s bass speakers all the way up to get that kind of reverb in here.
In a slightly less head-cringey development, I heard a single set of footsteps making their way closer to me. I heard the click of the door being pushed open. I could smell flowers, waxy and sweet, as a weak top note over a much stronger scent of soap and . . . moss? My eyes opened, but I didn’t move a muscle.
Ben, the boy I’d danced with the night before, was standing beside my bed, setting a pretty little bouquet of yellow gerbera daisies on the nightstand. He was so much cuter than I remembered. It was like I was seeing his face for the first time. Everything was so clear, the smooth tan skin of his oval face, the straight lines of his nose, the hints of gold and auburn in his hair, the distinct wrinkle forming between his—frankly, luminous—jade-green eyes.
“I know you won’t wake up for a while,” he said softly. “But I hated the idea of you being in here in this cold white room with no color. And it will be something nice for you to see when you first rise. I didn’t know what kind of flowers you liked, but Keagan said you liked yellow.”
“They’re perfect, thanks,” I told him.
“What the—!” Ben yelped, head whipping toward me as he stumbled back in alarm. He tripped over his own feet and landed hard on the white tile of the floor. “Ow!”
Ben winced as he cradled his arm against his chest. He’d scraped his knuckles when he landed, and the tiny wounds were weeping little ruby droplets of blood. I could see each of them in sharp detail, like he was bleeding in high definition.
I opened my mouth to speak, but it immediately started to water. The whole room was filling with a scent that was better than fresh coffee or melting caramel or double-chocolate cheesecake brownies. I threw my legs out of the bed and stepped closer to Ben, inhaling that wonderful, beautiful scent as deeply as I could, as if I could drink it. That thump-a-thump-a-thump noise came back, faster now, and the sound was pleasing to some weird instinct deep within my brain.
That same raw sensation had me stretching my jaw as my teeth seemed to shift outward. My lip scraped across something sharp, and the taste of my own blood filled my mouth. I pressed my fingertip against the long, sharp canine poking out over my bottom lip and winced.
Suddenly, memories of what had happened the night before came flooding into my brain.
I’d enjoyed dancing with Ben so much I hadn’t wanted to walk away from him. Something about him made me feel like he saw me, not body parts that happened to have a personality attached or a chance to brag to his friends. But me, as a person. And for a female undergrad at a state college, that was a pretty rare thing.
After the party, I’d walked Ben downstairs to the lobby, and we’d sat on a little bench outside the dorm, far from the smokers, enjoying the cool evening air. To my surprise, some vampires in the courtyard in front of New Dawn were playing Ultimate Frisbee. I kind of thought the undead were beyond Ultimate Frisbee, but I suppose teenage vampire boys are the textbook definition of arrested development.
We talked about our favorite foods. (Be breakfast food, or be nothing.) We talked about our fandoms. (I was a Ravenclaw, and he was a Hufflepuff, which almost ended the conversation right there.) We talked about our favorite obscure gummy candy. (I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as gummy bacon strips. I was thoroughly ashamed.)
It was almost two when he finally had to go home, but he grinned kind of sheepishly and said, “So, I was thinking that we’d skip the whole ‘will he call or won’t he’ drama by my just asking you out now. You know, cut out the middleman. And I’m not going to play around with some silly coffee date, either. I’m going straight to dinner. Maybe even a place with actual metal silverware.”
“A true gentleman draws the line at plastic sporks,” I told him, my lips quirking as I fought a smile. It was a charming, if wordy, way to ask me out, and I could appreciate that. “And just to take the pressure off, if you were to ask me out, there’s a pretty good chance I would say yes.”
The smile that broke over his face was blinding. “That’s good to know.”
I waited, in silence, while he stared at me.
“Oh, you want me to ask now?” he said. I pursed my lips and waggled my hand back and forth as he leaned closer. “Man, you’re pushy.”
I burst out laughing, even as his arms slipped around my waist. This was what girls my age were supposed to do. Flirt with nice boys and stay out late, not worry about bills and my hours getting cut. “I thought Hufflepuffs were supposed to be all forthright. This whole conversation reeks of Slytherin sass.”
“Oh, wow,” he said, his lips barely brushing against my own. “You are a nerd.”
“Still better than being a Hufflepuff,” I murmured against his mouth.
“You’re gonna have to let that go,” he said, his mouth closing over mine. As far as first kisses went, it was . . . pretty amazing. Sweet and slow and warm, with just a hint of tongue. I felt it all the way down to my toes, which were curling in my cute little black boots. We only broke apart when kids leaving the party came filtering out of the lobby and catcalled us.
“It’s not likely,” I said, when he pulled away.
“So . . . dinner,” he said. “In a place without sporks. When would be a good time for you?”
“Saturday would be good.”
“Six?” he asked. When I nodded, he gave me another quick peck on the lips. “Awesome. I will call you. And if I don’t call, you text me, call me a dumbass, and I will send apology cookies.”
“Cookies?” I asked as he backed away.
“Flowers are overdone,” he called back.
I giggled—honest to God giggled—but I managed not to do the awkward little wave my arm ached to give.
Suddenly, I heard a quick bark of warning, but before I could even respond, I felt a crushing blow against my chest. I was knocked off my feet and thrown into the wall behind me. I felt my head collide against the stone with a sick crack before I collapsed to the ground like a broken doll.
Ben screamed my name, but I couldn’t even lift my head. His voice grew closer, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I had never known pain like this in my life. My chest felt hot and wet, on the inside and the outside. I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move enough air through my throat to produce words. People gathered around me, staring down at my twisted body with expressions of horror on their faces.
Ben lifted something off my chest. It appeared to be a forty-five-pound barbell weight. The vampires were playing Ultimate Frisbee with a forty-five-pound weight. And they’d missed.
My brain was going dark, as if I was slipping away into some corner deep inside my head, where it didn’t hurt so much. I could feel the grass under my back getting slick and hot, while I got colder.
Ben was screaming for help, for someone to call 911. I managed to lift my arms enough to feel that my ribs were definitely going in the wrong direction. Tina Messinger, our dorm director, suddenly appeared over me, her frizzy brown hair forming a cloud around her head. Through the haze of pain and blood pounding in my ears, I heard her squeaky voice say, “This is bad. I can see her ribs poking out through her shirt. This is really bad.”
That was exactly what I needed to hear.
I opened my mouth to point out how unhelpful this was, but blood was bubbling up between my lips, making it hard to push air through to make sounds.
Please, help me. Please.
I didn’t want to die. I was too young. I hadn’t seen anything of the world. I’d barely left Kentucky. I’d barely lived.
“You’re going to be OK,” Ben told me, sternly, as if he could command me to get up and shake it off. He cupped my chin in his hand and moved my head gently so I was forced to meet his eyes. “Meagan, just keep breathing. Stay awake.”
I was trying. Couldn’t he see how hard I was trying? The tiny flow of oxygen I was drawing in through my nose seemed like a championship effort.
“Meagan,” Tina said, wiping at my mouth and smearing her hands with bright red. “I’m not a doctor, but you have a lot of injuries, and they are pretty bad. The chances of you surviving this . . . I don’t know if the ambulance will get to you in time. You signed your consent form before you moved in, but I have to ask you again: do you want to be turned?”
I nodded my head, or at least I thought I did. I couldn’t really feel much anymore.
Anything to make the pain go away. Anything to avoid dying. Please.
“Can I get a vampire volunteer?” Tina yelled. “I need a vampire to act as an emergency sire! Get over here, and present your Council card!”
My eyes fluttered shut, and I heard Ben cry for me to stay awake, to keep my eyes open. Everything felt heavy and cold, dragging me down into the darkness. Someone lifted my arms and slashed at my wrists, pain that barely registered against the agony in my chest. I was cold and tired, and I hurt so much. It seemed so much easier to just go to sleep, to let go and drift off, even as something cool and coppery dripped into my mouth.
The last thing I remembered was Ben yelling, “Meagan!”
The memory faded, and here was Ben again, standing in my hospital room, bleeding, and my fangs were out. Because I was a vampire. This was bad. This was so very bad.
“How are you already awake?” Ben asked, pushing to his feet and stumbling toward me as I backed away.
“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head, clamping my lips around my teeth. “But I think you need to get away from me. Ben, you’re bleeding.”
“What?” He glanced down at his hand. “Oh.”
I slapped my hands over my fangs, but he didn’t move away like I expected. In fact, he stepped closer, edging me back until the backs of my legs bumped against the bed. That burning thirst crackled through my throat, making the act of swallowing painful.
“But you’re OK?” he asked, the corners of his mouth lifting into a hopeful smile.
“I’m OK, but I think you’re in danger,” I told him, even as my nose followed that delicious scent and urged me forward. My lips parted, and I could feel my mouth water at the scent of him. I was lucky I wasn’t drooling down my chin.
“You smell nice,” he said, leaning in a bit closer to sniff delicately. “I think it’s your breath. It smells like vanilla and a little mint, maybe?”
I licked my lips. With all of his focus on my mouth, it was almost involuntary.
“You’re so beautiful. I mean, you were gorgeous before, but now? You should see yourself.” He reached his uninjured hand up to my cheek and stroked his thumb down the curve of my face. He leaned close, inhaling deeply through parted lips. My hands slipped around his waist as he pulled my face gently forward.
His lips were warm, so warm, and they tasted like every good thing, strawberries and chocolate and, oddly enough, the steaks my mom used to make on my birthday. I groaned, pulling him close—maybe a little too hard, because he gasped. I slipped my tongue along his open mouth, and he seemed to forget the discomfort quickly enough. He sank against me, and we fell against the wall with a chorused “ooof.”
“Were you saying something before?” he asked, blinking sort of sleepily, like someone who’d just woken from a stupor.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled against his lips, and lost myself in him for a few more moments. He cupped my face in his hands. I leaned into the caress like a cat, nuzzling my nose against his wrist. He smelled so good, and my throat was so dry. And every cell in my body had my neck straining forward, lips curled back from my fangs.
I turned my head away. I couldn’t. I couldn’t hurt Ben.
But I was so thirsty, so thirsty and empty and in need of Ben’s blood. And that speeding heartbeat seemed to be taunting me, ringing in my ears, reminding me of what I desperately needed.
“Ben—” I lunged forward, sinking those sharp teeth into his wrist.
He yelled out in surprise, his arms contracting around me and scrabbling harmlessly at my back.
The most luscious, delectable flavor I’d ever tasted flooded my mouth. It was better than ice cream and brownies combined, warm and sweet and electric. I swallowed, and the ache that had tickled my throat since the moment I woke up faded away in an instant. I swallowed again, whimpering with pleasure, even as Ben’s fingers dug into my back.
I took a few more swallows. Now that the worst of my thirst seemed to have burned away, I loosened my grip on Ben’s arm. He relaxed against me, breathing harshly against my neck, as if he’d just run a marathon.
“Be careful.” He wheezed through gritted teeth. “Don’t take too much.”
Ben. My brain seemed able to focus now on something other than my thirst, and I could pick up Ben’s good, clean, mossy scent beyond the smell of his blood. Ben, the boy who had kissed me and teased me and asked me on an actual date instead of texting me for a hookup.
Thump . . . thump . . .
His heart rate was slowing, ever so slightly. If I kept drinking, his heart wouldn’t have enough blood to pump through his body. His blood pressure would drop. I would kill him.
Groaning, I forced myself to pull my fangs from his skin. It took all of my strength to push him away. He stared at me, eyes wide and pupils blown, as he gulped in greedy lungfuls of air. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I eyed Ben carefully. He seemed fine, out of breath and a little pale but fine. And I could hear his heart rate returning to normal.
“I’m so sorry,” I told him. “I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, cradling his bitten arm against his chest. “It’s just a bite, right?”
“I suck,” I groaned, flopping onto my hospital bed.
“Well, yeah,” he said, with a laugh. “But that’s to be expected.”
I snorted. “That’s not funny, Ben.”
He shrugged. “It’s a little funny. And hey, you stopped, right? That’s crazy advanced for a newborn, stopping yourself mid-feeding without hurting anybody.”
“Yay for me,” I muttered.
Thump . . . Thump . . .
“I’m just glad you stopped. Otherwise, worst first date ever,” Ben intoned.
I sat up, tilting my head. “If this is your idea of a date, I do not want to know the rest of your romantic history.”
“It is a sordid and blood-soaked romp,” he deadpanned.
“No, it’s not,” I told him.
He grinned. “No, it’s not. But it is incredibly weird and a teeny bit sordid.”
“But you’re OK?” I asked him, standing again.
Thump . . . Thump . . .
He blew a raspberry. “Fine. Give me a cookie and juice, and I’ll be at a hundred percent.”
“Really? You’ve got blood-donation jokes right now?”
Thump . . .
Ben snickered and parted his lips to say something else, but suddenly his face went slack. The rosy glow faded from his cheeks, and they went ashen and pale. His eyes rolled up, and he dropped to the floor like a marionette whose strings had been cut. He flopped into a boneless heap, his head smacking dully against the tile.
“Ben!” I launched myself across the room to kneel over him. He wasn’t breathing. His heart rate had slowed to nothing. Why hadn’t I noticed? I hadn’t taken that much blood. Why had he collapsed?
“Help!” I screamed. “Help me! Please!”
I tilted his head back and tried to breathe some life back into him. But his chest rose once, and then nothing. Trying to remember something from the first-aid class I’d taken in high school, I crossed my hands over his heart and pushed down to start CPR. I felt something crack dully under my hands, and I shrieked.
I’d broken his ribs. I’d forgotten about my strength and broken his bones in my panic. “Help!” I screamed, before trying to breathe into his mouth again.
I glanced around the room—there had to be something in here to help me. There was no phone. There were no medical kits. But near the door, next to the light switch, was a bright red button labeled “V11.”
It looked like a nurses’ call button in a hospital room. V11 was the World Council for the Equal Treatment of the Undead’s hotline for humans with vampire problems.
And I was up to my ass in vampire problems.
Scrambling to my knees, I slapped my hand against the call button and crab-walked back to Ben. An alarm roared to life, echoing down the hall. I left a bloody handprint on the wall panel.
He still wasn’t breathing, and his skin was paler and grayer by the minute. I couldn’t hear a heartbeat. His eyes were unfocused, staring off at the ceiling.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, cradling him in my lap. “I don’t know what’s happening.”
Twin drops of water fell onto Ben’s gray cheek, tinged with a hint of pink. Because vampire tears have the tiniest bit of blood in them. And I was a vampire.
This was bullshit.
Before I could release more of those tears, the alarm bell stopped, and the door burst open. I closed my eyes, expecting some sort of vampire SWAT team to come spilling into the room and stake me. Because they were going to kill me. The Council did not tolerate vampires who attacked innocent humans, no matter how newly risen. They were going to come in here and stake me. I could only hope they’d make it quick.
But the expected staking did not come. I cracked one eye open and saw a pretty brunette vampire in a purple Specialty Books T-shirt, standing in the doorway. The ID badge around her neck read “Jane Jameson-Nightengale.” Her jaw was slack, and she was shaking her head as she stared at me.
“Help me,” I whimpered.
She seemed to snap out of her stupor, glanced down at the dead boy in my arms, and yelled, “Holy hell, what did you do to Ben?”