Bitten Book 1
Natalia’s mouth was dry, and she found it hard to swallow.
“This is so exciting,” her mother said, squirming in her seat.
Her father nodded with a big smile on his face.
Natalia managed a swallow and almost choked.
“I… I wanted to go to college.”
She almost coughed the words.
“Nonsense,” her mother said. “I never went to college and look at what I’ve accomplished.”
“How can you not want this?” her father said with a wave of his hand, indicating the room in which they sat.
“This is just a waiting room,” Natalia muttered, but they misconstrued her statement.
“Fine imported mahogany woodwork. The finest tapestries. Gold. Silver,” her mother said, pointing out the lavish decor of the room. “I almost feel under-dressed.”
Her mother smoothed her skirt and fiddled with her necklace. Natalia knew the dress was an original creation that cost a lot of money. Her mother had accessorized with matching shoes, a hat, and gold jewelry with diamonds and rubies. Natalia thought she was overdressed considering where they were. However, she nodded in agreement with her mother. The richness of the room did seem to make her mother’s outfit, and even her father’s tailored suit, appear shabby.
Natalia smoothed her own dress out of uneasiness. She swore her white dress glowed, making her feel even more self-conscious.
“I meant this room is supposed to look over the top. They’re trying to impress you,” she said, startled to find her voice raspy.
“Of course,” her mother said, as if reprimanding her. “A position in this church is quite an honor. An honor to be proud of.” Her mother looked ready to explode with joy. “This church is at the forefront for helping the poor.”
“A lot of people could be helped with the money in this room,” Natalia murmured.
She felt like reiterating that she wanted to go to college, but decided it would be futile.
“I didn’t know we were coming here.”
“You’ll be taken care of for life,” her father said, looking about the room as if this lavishness would soon be hers.
Natalia grimaced. This was not where she thought they were taking her. This was the last thing she ever wanted for her life.
“Can’t we wait and decide when I’m eighteen?”
If she could make it that far, then she would be free.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” her mother said.
“You need to grab these opportunities when they arise,” her father said.
“What on earth are you going to do when you’re eighteen, when you can be settled here?” her mother said.
“College?” She barely whispered the word.
“Nonsense. Your brother, Beryl, has already been to college. He’s happily married, and we already have a grandbaby.” Her mother scrunched her shoulders and smiled as if she was admiring a baby in her lap. “Such a precious little boy.”
“You have everything you ever wanted,” her father said to her mother.
Natalia thought the smile plastered on his face seemed a little forced.
“Not many get an opportunity like this. To be accepted in the most prestigious church,” her mother said.
“I don’t want to be a nun.”
“Not a worry in the world,” her father said under his breath, sounding almost as if he was envious.
A wave of horror swept over her at the finality of her parents’ decision. She found she could hardly breath as if a huge rock was sitting on her chest.
“Do you think we’ll get tea?” her mother said in a quiet voice, as if afraid to be overheard.
“Not this early in the morning,” her father said in an equally quiet voice.
“Tea?” Natalia was aghast that all her mother could think of was tea. Her parents were destroying her life, and her mother wanted tea?
“We’ll get you some later,” her mother said, reaching over to pat Natalia’s knee as if to comfort her.
Natalia jumped. A door panel, concealed in the wall in front of them, opened to reveal an office. A man, dress in sandals and a rich ornate green robe, stepped out. In silence, he ushered them into the office with a wave of his hand. She felt him staring at her, hardly giving her parents a glance.
Natalia swallowed hard when she rose. The office beyond the door was more lavishly decorated than the waiting room.
The words were a command.
“Your Lordship,” both her parents said whilethey settled into chairs in front of thedesk with Natalia sandwiched between them.
Natalia recognized the man as the Lord Abbot. She had seen him on the news. His business suit was expensive and adorned with gold cuff links and a gold tie pin. She thought he hardly looked the part of a humble servant of God. He looked as if he was a banker and they were a family applying for a loan.
“I’ve received your application,” the Lord Abbot said.
Natalia felt as if they were inconveniencing him by their presence. He never even rose from his desk, denying them any respect. She also noted with distaste that he didn’t even bother to introduce himself. Of all the times she had seen him on the news, the reporters had only called him by his title. She wondered if anyone knew his real name. She set her face to show no emotion, already hating him immensely.
“Excellent to hear,” her father said, rising to place an envelope on the desk.
Natalia swallowed hard again. She knew there was a check in that envelope and hoped her father hadn’t been too generous. The Lord Abbot shifted in his chair, making her think he was going to grab up and open the envelope to see how much, but he didn’t.
“Our board will review the application, and you should know in a week or so.” His eyes fleetingly took in the envelope.
Natalia stiffened when his eyes moved over to her. She had the odd feeling he was staring at her breasts. His look was creepy, but his words gave her a ray of hope. She feared they would take her at once. There was time to plan an escape.
“We are so pleased you are considering our Natalia,” her mother said with a gush of pride that made Natalia embarrassed.
The Lord Abbot smiled and nodded, but his eyes never moved away from her. Natalia almost expected him to lick his lips. She envisioned a forked tongue like a serpent.
“My assistant will provide information on preparing your daughter should she be accepted,” the Lord Abbot said, gesturing with his hand toward the door.
The same robed man that admitted them stood in the open doorway holding a packet. He also gestured with his hand. To Natalia, it was an obvious sign that the meeting was at an end even though it seemed like it had hardly started. She rose with haste. The open door was her escape. She wasn’t going to wait another moment. Her movement spurred her parents into realizing that the meeting was over. She hurried ahead of them out to the corridor toward the front entrance.
“Natalia, don’t walk so fast,” her mother said.
Natalia felt she needed to get outside for air before she suffocated. She rushed out the front entrance and trotted down the steps before she stopped and sucked in huge breaths. Her lungs found the smog of the city refreshing. The heavy traffic that flowed in front of her looked like paradise. She had the brief feeling she was a doomed prisoner who had received a delay in execution.
“Let’s have lunch at the cafe,” her mother said when they caught up with her. “I know it’s a little early, but we can have a cup of tea beforehand.”
“If we must,” her father said.
“Cafe Green or Paula’s?” Natalia said, falling in behind her parents.
She felt a malicious pleasure in knowing that the question would irritate her mother.
“Paula’s, of course,” her mother said, almost sounding snippy.
“Green’s has better food,” Natalia said in a quiet voice.
Her mother didn’t respond. She knew her mother preferred Paula’s. It was the place to be seen, and it was the last place Natalia wanted to go. The cafe had a huge outdoor area with artistic tents over it that allowed people to sit out at tables, rain or shine. There tended to be more rain than shine during the early fall days.
“What a beautiful sunny day,” her father said.
“Yeah,” Natalia breathed, noting big fluffy clouds.
She now felt like a ten-year-old having just completed some program at church, and that her mother now wanted to show her off, dressed in what she could only describe as a white fluffy virginal dress. However, it wasn’t even Sunday. It was a Thursday. Late morning.
“I have to go back to work right after lunch,” her father said.
Her parents strolled arm-in-arm in a leisurely manner as if they had the world at their fingertips.
Natalia swallowed hard again when she spied the packet her mother carried. Her mother held it out in front of herself as if making sure anyone they saw could see. Natalia already knew what was inside. Her friend, Rebecca, had faced the same fate and had shared everything. She felt like crying when she thought of her. Rebecca was now dead.
“You’ll have to read this closely,” her mother said, waving the packet.
“I already know what’s inside,” she said in a gloomy voice.
“Nonsense. Each packet is specific to the person. I’m sure, because of your father’s position, that you will be well placed in the church,” her mother said as if she had already read the information.
Natalia shook her head but knew her mother didn’t see. Nor her father.
“All the same,” she said, knowing the packet spelled out the proper behaviors and rules. Because of Rebecca’s death, she now knew violating the contract carried a death penalty.
“Natalia, I’m not liking your attitude.”
That was her mother’s way of telling her to shut up.
Natalia knew her parents had taken Rebecca to the Church, but believed she also had time to plan an escape. Unfortunately, they took her back to the Church the very next day. She found a way to escape six months later. However, she had only managed to survive a few months among friends before they captured her. During her short freedom, she had informed them about the life of a nun, and it wasn’t pretty. A nun was a slave who washed, cleaned or worked in the gardens. As well, there were the endless prayer sessions and long periods of isolation. And there was the sex. Rebecca informed them that she had been sterilized that same day they received her into the church. After a few days of recovery, they put her into service for any of the male clergy to use at will. A refusal resulted in a gang rape and a beating.
Natalia didn’t know exactly how Rebecca died, but the rumors suggested they entombed her where she starved. Or, as the Church would probably say, they left her to the mercy of God.
Natalia felt her chest tighten in terror at the thought of her own impending death.
“Enough, Natalia,” her mother said in a stern voice.
Natalia knew she couldn’t broach the topic again. Her parents only saw the good and the glory.
“You can’t believe the story of some rogue runaway. She publicly embarrassed her parents.”
Natalia knew differently. She had seen Rebecca’s bruises and the horror in her eyes.
The cafe was busy, but with a bribe from her father, the waiter managed to find them a table. Natalia’s only respite was that the table was off to the side and by a pole that partially blocked them from view of the other tables. She took the chair that allowed her to face the city and not the main area of the cafe. If she couldn’t see the other tables, then she could pretend they didn’t exist.
In front of her, she saw life and hope. A’ppollo was the largest metropolitan area on the entire continent. High rises and raised rails dominated the skyline. Cars and trucks packed the roads. In the central city area, a person could hear the rails running constantly. The city never shut down. The economy was booming, so she heard. Everyone she knew who went looking for employment found it.
Her mother put the packet on the table. The sun seemed to choose that moment to hide behind a cloud.
“Tea,” her mother said, ordering as soon as the waiter arrived.
To Natalia’s dismay, her mother was rubbernecking around to see who else was present. To her relief, the waiter was quick to bring the tea, distracting her mother.
Natalia stared at her cup whileher mother poured them all tea. Her throat was still tight, and she was having a hard time swallowing, especially since the packet lay on the table right by her. It was hard to ignore her death sentence. She tried to take solace in her tea, taking longer than usual to add milk and sugar, and then stirring it a long timeas if it weretoo hot.
Finally, she put the cup to her lips, but the one sip of warm tea sat in her mouth. She couldn’t swallow. Her napkin soaked up the tea before it dribbled from her lips.
“See, now there’s a proper young lady,” her mother said.
She was looking around the cafe again.
Natalia took note of the mother and daughter pair that passed. While her mother had seen a proper young lady, Natalia had seen another downtrodden girl.
“I remember growing up and children ran amok,” her mother said with distaste.
Her father nodded absentmindedly as he sipped his tea. He looked far away in thought.
“You have it made, Natalia. I’ve told you a hundred times. Your father is doing well in his work. We have a very nice house. You have everything you could ever want. Look at the opportunities in front of you.”
Death, Natalia thought while she looked at the few tables in her view. The inhabitants were all adults. The only minor she had seen had been the other girl with her mother. It was illegal for anyone under eighteen to be out without the accompaniment of an adult: preferably a parent. Her parents didn’t allow her to have more than one friend over at a time. Nor was she allowed to go to a friend’s house unless a parent was in attendance. She had no phone. No computer. Her parents dictated everything.
The waiter returned.
“I’ll have the tuna salad on white. No dressings or sides,” her mother said.
“The lunch special,” her father said.
Natalia knew he hadn’t even looked at the menu.
“Chicken salad sandwich,” Natalia said. “No sides.”
The waiter nodded and left.
Natalia thought about what she did have. She had a savings account, but…
No, she thought, that wasn’t something she really had. It wasn’t even in her name.
Yeah, she thought, glancing at her mother, I become a nun, and you get to keep all the money.
However, she doubted that any of the money that she had ever received as gifts ended up in a savings account. Most likely it all ended up in her mother’s pocket. Her mother liked to spend money, specifically on clothing and jewelry. In fact, she liked to spend it so much that Natalia knew her father had set an allowance, restricting her mother’s extravagance.
Her mother frowned and stopped looking around. Natalia hoped no one her mother knew would appear. On the plus side was the fact that it was Thursday and it was still early.
“I wonder if you’ll even need to pack. You’ll be in a habit once you’ve gone through training. She’s going to be a novitiate or a novice?”
Her father shrugged.
Natalia wished her mother would shut up.
“There’s no training,” she said in a hoarse whisper.
“Nonsense, Natalia. You don’t just read this packet and know everything. Goodness, child. You’ll need training just like you would in the job market. You just don’t reach eighteen and someone hires you.”
“College,” Natalia said in a deadpan voice.
“We can’t support you forever,” her father said, piping in.
Nataliasuppressed a strong urge to slap him. They were sending her to her death, and they were worried about money?
“Natalia.” Her mother’s voice was like a slap in the face. “Don’t you dare talk like that.”
Her mother forced a smile when the waiter arrived with their food.
Natalia picked through her sandwich, hiding the fact that she was tossing bits of it to the pigeons. Thankfully, her mother thought it was ladylike to leave ameal half-eaten.
“I have to get back to work,” her father said.
He had only eaten half his own meal.
Natalia could see he was in no mood to linger. He signaled for the bill.
“It’s such a nice day, you should call in,” her mother said.
“I have responsibilities,” he said, handing a credit card to the waiter.
The waiter scanned it at the table, and her father signed the electronic pad. He rose from his seat, forcing her mother to realize they would sit no more. He didn’t stroll arm-in-arm with her mother, forcing her to walk at a faster pace. Natalia felt like running to their car and felt some relief when she was able to hide in the back seat out of public view. She hoped her mother had forgotten the packet at the cafe, but she hadn’t.
The drive home was quick. Her mother babbled about whatever was out the windows. Her father remained silent, just nodding in an agreeable manner at times. Natalia ignored her mother, unless she heard her name, and then she would just smile. Her mind was spinning with options, but by the time her father pulled into the laneway, she knew exactly what she had to do.
Bitten Again Book 2
Natalia felt him lick her shoulder. She felt his fangs pierce her skin. He seemed to be moving in slow motion. She felt the injection of the venom, and how it seeped like a wave of heat through her body. He licked her shoulder again, sealing in the venom.
His hands moved to slowly unbutton her blouse. Whenhe slipped it off her, she noted the time was almost one am. She wished he would speed up his slow dance of taking her clothes off.However, she breathed in his scent and waited, knowing it was only going to get better.
He took her bra off, letting it drop to the floor, and traced her breasts with a finger.
“Do you remember?” Uri said.
“The first time you bit me?”
“Yes. That was a special day. Almost as special as today.”
“That was the day I picked you up.”
“Two months ago to the day. Almost to the time.”
He unzipped her skirt, and it fell to the ground. She helped him take off his own shirt and unbuckle his belt. The musky smell of him intensified. She ran a hand across his chest.
“Why was it almost as special as today?”
“It was my birthday,” he said. “That day I picked you up.”
“I didn’t know.”
“You were a wonderful birthday present,” he said, inhaling deep into her hair.
“Why is today special?”
“I’ll tell you later. You’re not going to remember anything here in a moment.”
Uri seemed to pull a knife out of nowhere and cut off her panties.
“I don’t remember that,” she said.
He smiled and pushed her backward onto the bed.
She edged herself all the way up, wanting him badly. He dropped his pants and crawled on top of her. She raised herself up to him, but he teased her with just a touch. Her breathing was getting fast.
“Don’t waste it,” she said in a breath.
However, he waited another few seconds while he teased her before he slid in to her.
Natalia moved with him, feeling the same passion and excitement as the first time. She wanted it to go on forever, but he brought her to an orgasm. She didn’t remember him finishing while she panted to catch her breath. Then, they were spooned together in a warm embrace.
Natalia opened her eyes. There was sunlight coming around the curtains.
“Are we going in late today?” she said, astonished at how fast the night went.
It was Friday. Of late, Uri had been going to work early on Fridays, instead of late.
“We’re taking today off,” he said.
“It’s a special day.”
“You’ll figure it out,” he said, cuddling up to her.
“What are we doing today?”
“We’ll discuss it at breakfast.”
“How long are we lazing in bed?”
“Until you have to pee,” he said.
She laughed. “That would be right about now.”
He whipped the covers off of her and pulled her out of bed. In the shower, he was extra attentive to her. She now loved how he lathered her up. It was like a gentle body massage.
He rinsed and stepped out, so she could finish. She knew he was shaving while she rinsed and washed her face. He handed her a towel when she was done.
She stepped out to dress, no longer wearing a towel for modesty. Uri was dressing in jeans. He had a pair laid out for her. She started dressing, while he finished. Then, he left the bedroom, going downstairs. That was uncharacteristic of him since he always walked down the stairs with her while holding her hand. She dressed faster wondering what was going on.
She slipped on her shoes before trotting down the stairs to the dining room. Uri was there sipping tea. On her plate, instead of breakfast was a small wrapped present.
“Happy Birthday,” Uri said.
Natalia smiled wide.
She was actually surprised he even knew.
“This is the most important birthday you’ll ever have,” he said.
“Why?” She sat down to unwrap the present.
“You’re officially eighteen and an adult. The police will no longer be looking for you. Your parents will no longer look for you, and they can’t make the police look for you or even get a private agency to look for you. You are independent and on your own.”
Under the wrapping was a plain brown box. She opened it to find a key.
“What’s this for? The house? So, I can come and go?” She shrugged because the house had a code to punch in to open the doors and she already knew it.
Uri smiled. “Also, you are now two months along and doing exceptionally well.”
“Key?” She held it up while raising her eyebrows.
“Cars usually require a key,” he said.
“Bonnie controls the limo. The key to the other car hangs on the hook in the garage. I don’t need my own key.”
“You do for your own car,” he said.
She rose in haste and headed to the garage. There in the first stall was a two-door sports car. She knew it was an expensive one.
“It’s not black,” she said with relief.
“I figured you would like blue,” he said.
She noted it was marked with the red V which meant all Viperians would know it was a Viperian car. The windows were also tinted.
“I asked Bonnie to give you driving lessons, and she threatened to quit.”
“She did not,” shesaid, knowing Bonnie would do anything for her.
“So, instead, I signed you up for lessons. If you go through the course, it’s easier to get your driver’s license. Class starts tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I have so much homework.”
“You’re doing fine,” hesaid. “It’s only half a day tomorrow, then you have an hour of driving all next week, ending with more driving and the driver’s test on Saturday.”
“That’s it, then you will have an official driver’s license which will take the place of your city ID card. They all look the same except it will have a D on it to designate your driver’s license.”
“Can we go for a drive?”
“Let’s have breakfast, then I’ll take you for a ride.”
“I’m too excited now.”
He grabbed her hand, pulling her back into the house. Mag was putting their plates in place. The aroma of bacon surrounded them.
“Happy Birthday,” Mag said with a smile.
“My favorite breakfast,” Natalia said. “Bacon and eggs.”
“We’re not going anywhere until the bacon’s gone,” Uri said, sitting at his plate and snarfing down a piece of bacon.
Natalia sat and grabbed her own piece. She savored the salty fat with sips of sanguine tea. However, she noted she only had half a glass, and Uri had none.
“What’s up with the sanguine tea?” she said. “I usually get a full glass. I don’t need as much any more?”
Uri swallowed his mouthful.
Mag stepped in.
“Why is Nattie only getting half a glass of sanguine tea?”
“There’s a shortage. We only have so much to make it through the next couple of days. They say we’ll get a delivery in three days.”
“I wonder what’s up with that?” hesaid. “Don’t they know we have a pregnancy going on here?”
“They know, but everyone is affected. We only received the last delivery because of Nattie. Some are going without.”
Uri shook his head with some frustration.
Natalia dug into her eggs, alternating with bites of bacon.
“I used to crave sweets when I was at my parents. I ate lots of chocolates. Here, I just want the fat and salt,” she said.
“We don’t eat sweets, other than cookies at night,” he said. “But those really aren’t sweets.”
“So no cake at birthdays?”
He smiled and shrugged.
They were almost done when Uri’s phone rang.
“Grazie,” hesaid, answering with a tap and putting it on speaker.
“I’m at the hospital,” Grazie said. He sounded worried.
“Is Sherri in labor?”
“Yes. This is my first time. It’s horrible. She’s in so much pain. I had to take a break.”
“They all go through that,” Uri said. “I was with Tia when she had Grazon.”
“Wasn’t Paul with her?”
“It wasn’t his kid, besides, she wasn’t with Paul then.”
“Oh. Nothing I do helps her. Sherri, that is.”
“No, labor pains are something we can’t ease. Do you want us to come up?”
“Yeah. Oh, they want me back in. Bye.”
The call ended.
“The baby’s on its way,” Uri said. “We’ll take a drive over.”
“In my car?”
“Yes, in your car.”
She chugged the rest of her tea, then the memory hit her about what Uri said last night.
“Your birthday was two months ago?”
“How old are you?”
“Did you get a party?”
He smiled and shook his head.
“I got you.”
“You’re sweet. Let’s go,” she said, jumping up.
“Wash your hands. No bacon grease in the new car,” hesaid, but shewas already heading toward the half bath under the stairs.
“Way ahead of you.”
Inminutes, shewas sliding into the passenger seat. She expected the new car smell, but it wasn’t what she was expecting. There was a strong smell of polish.
“Where’s the new car smell?” she said.
“This is it from what I know. The car had been sitting in a Viperian auto shop for the last week getting the add-ons.”
He started the car.
“System activation,” the car said. “Check point one point two miles due west. Three police cars with in five blocks.”
“Wow, what’s going on?”
“There has been an increase in incidents in the richer neighborhoods. Once you’re driving, I don’t want you going out without someone knowing.”
“Someone always knows where I am,” she said, fiddling with the bracelet around her left wrist.
It was her tracking device.
“I meant one of the maids or me. I want to know when you leave and when you arrive.”
“You mean I can’t sneak out?”
“Never. Unless you take me with you,” he said with a smile.
He backed the car out of the garage.
Natalia enjoyed being in the front seat. Uri, at first, seemed to be following the recommendations of the car to avoid the check point. But then he made some different turns and seemed to be going a longer way.
“Viperian. You’ve never been there.”
Natalia watched out the window noting the roads and signs. She could tell he wasn’t going direct. When they finally pulled up to the gate of Viperia, he rolled down her window.
“You can do this,” he said.
‘Open,’ she said in Viperian.
She and Uri had been practicing speaking Viperian after everyone went to bed at night. She felt that she was getting pretty good at it.
The gates opened.
Uri drove through. She watched through the side mirror until the gates closed behind them.
“Sometimes I see people man the gates and sometimes I don’t,” she said.
“During slow times, its automatic. You need to know Viperian and be driving a Viperian car. Otherwise, those gates aren’t opening.”
“There’s something on the car?”
She saw the signs for the hospital. He pulled into the lot and parked. There weren’t many cars in the lot.
“Fourth floor is babies,” hesaid, leading the way.
Natalia didn’t know what to expect, but was somewhat curious why she saw few people.
“Not a busy hospital?”
“We tend to be a healthy lot,” he said, pushing the button for the elevator. “We don’t have full-time staff. Most work at other hospitals in A’ppollo.”
There was no elevator music. The ride up should have been quiet, but she could hear the cabling and mechanical workings of the elevator. In the bank, it was masked by elevator music. The doors opened when they reached the fourth floor.
“Sherri’s the second door on the right,” the nurse at the station said.
“Thanks,” Uri said, turning that way.
“You know her?” Natalia said, meaning the nurse.
“No. Sherri’s probably the only baby happening today.”
Just inside the second door, Natalia was surprised to see Tia. Grazie was with her. He was holding the baby.
“Good timing. We just got here. Sherri’s sleeping. She’s exhausted,” Grazie said, stepped out with Tia when he saw them.
The baby looked likeNatalia expected. She had black hair. There were no lineage marks, but sheknew they wouldn’tappear until around sixteen years of age.
“Let me introduce you to Grace Jeanna,” Grazie said.
He looked rather proud.
“She’s beautiful,” Natalia said.
Grace pursed her lips and scrunched her face.
“Oh, a stranger. You’ve never heard her before,” Grazie said. ‘This is Nattie. She’s okay.’
Natalia noted when he switched to Viperian.
“It’s amazing you can talk to her,” Natalia said.
“She knows her daddy. I’ve been talking to her for the last couple of weeks. She’s going to be a feisty girl.”
“Grazon has a little bit of that in him. I wondered where it comes from,” Tia said teasing.
“Never thought I would be holding her,” Grazie said.
He seemed fixated on staring at Grace.
“Don’t expect a chance to hold this baby,” Tia said with a chuckle. “I don’t think he’s letting go.”
“We share a birthday,” Natalia said.
“Oh, that’s right,” Tia said. “Happy Birthday.”
“A special day,” Grazie said without looking up from Grace.
“Tough birth?” Uri said.
Grazie stepped away from the door.
“The doctor inferred that age was a factor,” he said.
“She’s in her late forties,” Tia said. “And had six other children. That wears on a woman.”
“Stress, too,” Grazie said, looking up at Uri.
“I said we would wait,” Uri said.
“Yes, but she knows it’s coming. She never said, but… My presence prevented her from doing some things.”
He glanced back at the room.
“She’s waiting for me to leave the house. She thinks I’m just going to up and go back to my bachelor house and abandon my daughter. With all that I know is going to happen, I’m not leaving Grace there without me.”
“She might move you out while you’re at work,” Uri said.
Grazie shook his head.
“I’m taking full advantage of father maternity leave.”
“She’s not going to like that,” Tia said.
“I’m changing diapers,” Grazie said with a big smile.
Uri chuckled. “Enjoy that.”
They stood in the hall, watching Grazie watch Grace. Finally a nurse came through to check on Sherri. Uri seemed to know that they had stayed long enough.
“Congrats. Call if you need anything,” he said, taking Natalia’s hand.
“Take care,” Natalia said.
She waited until they were in the elevator and it was moving before she spoke again.
“I didn’t expect to see Tia.”
“I think she’s re-evaluating Grazie.”
“For another breeding?”
“Maybe as a new partner. I know she’s not too thrilled with her current one. He takes no interest in her children and wants more of her time than she can give.”
“They’re not his children,” she said.
“When you want to keep a woman, you have to attend to all of her, including her children.”
“How are you so wise?”
“My mother taught me well,” he said.
He drove them back home taking a more direct route. The car made no more mention of a check point.
“Thanks for the ride in my car. I can’t wait to drive it,” she said.
He gave her a hug and a kiss before they stepped into the house. “You now have the rest of the day for school work.”
“Yeah, I need it.”
Natalia focused and worked as fast as she could. With the driving class on Saturday and the time commitment for driving all next week, she didn’t see how she could keep up with the school work. Just when she thought she was making headway, the smell of dinner drifted up to her.
“Dinner,” Uri said from the base of the stairs.
She trotted down to find dinner was steamed vegetables and raw meat.
“I know it’s your favorite now,” he said.
“How do you know?”
“Every time we have it; you eat it as if you’re starving.”
“Stupid baby cravings,” she said, not letting on that he was right.
She noted no bread for dinner. The meal was a little light.
“I’m still hungry,” she said.
“Then, let’s have dessert,” he said.
The kitchen door opened. Mag, Zena, Kate, and Bonnie came out. Zena was holding a cake. It had blue icing.
“Happy Birthday,” the four of them said together.
“A cake. Oh. Thank you.”
Uri took the knife and cut the first piece. It was a white cake. He served it up to her before handing over the knife to Mag. She cut cake and served everyone else.
Natalia waited until everyone was served before she took her first bite. The cake was fluffy and the frosting had a rich buttery taste.
“This is grubby frosting,” she said, referring to the beetle larvae that she knew was used to make cookies.
“Only the best for you,” Mag said with a chuckle.
“It’s so good,” Natalia said.
Zena smiled, looking proud.
Everyone was now seated at the table eating the cake. The only sounds were of forks scraping the plates.
“We might have to have desserts more often,” hesaid.
“Can I get a second piece?” Natalia said.
Zena jumped up to cut a piece for her.
“This is so good, Zena.”
Uri also had a second piece. There were only two pieces left.
“For dinner tomorrow,” Mag said, carrying off the leftovers. The others followed her, leaving Uri and Natalia alone.
“The kitchen isn’t locked is it?” she said to Uri.
Natalia smiled. “Midnight snack run.”
Uri laughed. “Don’t get on Mag’s naughty list.”
Natalia went back to her office for more studying. Uri went to his office to read. It was after ten when hetapped at her door.
“Bed,” he said.
He yawned, prompting her to yawn.
“Yeah, I need to stop. My eyes are going buggy.”
They were soon in bed. Uri snugged up to her. His breathing was even and calm. She knew he had fallen asleep already. Usually the quiet of the house was comforting, but tonight there was a noise. She listened hard because she had never heard it before. It almost sounded like… someone beating on a drum in the distance.
Uri’s arm was around her. Was she hearing his pulse? Her hearing had been getting acute as of late. She slid her hand over to feel. His pulse was much slower than what she was hearing. She felt her own pulse. No, hers was slower than the other beat as well.
She sat up. The beat seemed to be everywhere, filling the room.
“What?” hesaid, sounding groggy.
“I’m hearing a weird vibration,” she said.
He sat up.
“This isn’t some Viperian white noise machine that helps you sleep, is it?”
“I don’t hear anything,” he said.
“I know I’m hearing better. Could this be some noise in the house that you’re used to, but I’m just starting to hear?”
“What’s it sound like?”
“Sort of like… a beating heart.”
Uri looked at her and smiled. He pulled her back down.
“Let me listen,” he said.
Bitten Babe Book 3
Natalia felt him lick her shoulder. Uri seemed to move in slow motion.
“You bite me, and you’ll be sleeping on the sofa for life,” she said.
Her words didn’t stop his hands. He slowly unbuttoned her shirt. While he slipped it off her, she felt irritation flow through her.
“Don’t touch my breasts. Don’t touch me anywhere,” she said, almost hissing the words. “Or I’ll bite you.”
“A little uncomfortable, are we?”
“I weight five hundred pounds. My belly is so huge you can hardly reach me.”
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“The doctor said you only gained forty pounds.”
“I wasn’t weighed until I was three months pregnant. I’ve gained a lot more than that.”
“You gained what you needed,” he said. “Do you want me to massage your feet?”
“Now you’re talking my language.”
“What’s Victoria saying?”
“She’s quiet for now, but she’s been complaining of being cramped.”
“I felt her kicking earlier,” he said while he finished undressing her.
“She’s a hard kicker, but she shifted so she’s not hitting the tender spots anymore.”
“On which side are you laying?”
“Left,” she said as she sat on thebed and edged over. “It’s hard to move these forty pounds that feels like five hundred.”
“Victoria is more comfortable when you’re on your left side. She’ll let you rest.”
Shesighed when she found the right position. Hesat at her feet.
“It won’t be long now,” he said, putting his hands on one of her feet.
“The damn feet hurt more than anything,” she said. “I can hardly walk anywhere without them swelling.”
“I can make them better for now.”
“Tia has been talking to me, telling me what to expect and what I’ll feel and what Victoria may say to me.”
“It’s not fair that Mina already had her baby, and I’m still pregnant. You bred her after me.”
Shefelt like complaining even though hiswarm hands on her foot felt heavenly.
“She had a boy. Boys are only carried for nine and a half months,” he said.
“Times up for this girl.”
She moaned with pleasure when hechanged to her other foot.
“Any day now,” he said in a soft voice.
“Was that Mina downstairs earlier?”
“Yes, she just stopped by to see how things were going.”
“How’s Umi doing?”
“He’s a fat, chunky boy who likes his breast milk.”
“Just like his father.”
Uri laughed. “I’m pleased she’s letting me be part of his life even though she has a new man.”
He moved a hand and was massaging both of her feet at the same time.
“Lafton is a good one. He seems to like having a Uri son around.”
“He’s just dreaming of another dart champion and quid pro quo.”
“He’ll have a run for his money with Grazon. I hear he’s already throwing darts, and he’s what? Four?”
“No one can beat a Uri son,” hesaid.
“What about a Uri daughter?”
“Daughters don’t do dart tournaments.”
“Because it’s not fair to have women compete against men.”
“That’s not fair to the women,” she said.
“No, that’s not fair to the men,” he said. “If I ever had to compete against Mina, I’d lose. Most women are better than the men.”
“Oh. I thought darts were the man’s domain, and you guys were keeping the women out.”
“No, darts are to keep us men occupied and out of trouble.”
She smiled, but felt too comfortable to laugh.
“Are you going to sleep now?” he said.
“I think so.”
“Do you want a window open? It’s a nice evening.”
“Okay. You going to run amok?”
“No. Everyone is home on baby watch. Mag is sleeping on the sofa so if she hears us up, she’ll call Bonnie to get ready to go to the hospital. However, the moon’s going to be full tomorrow. That’s everyone’s bet on when Victoria will come.”
“I hope so.”
Uri pulled a light blanket over her before he opened a window and left. He didn’t shut the door all the way. She knew he had propped it open. A breeze blew in and billowed the curtains. The air felt fresh with hints of moist earth and mowed grass.
‘Time to come out Victoria,’ she said in a murmur. ‘You totally ruined my swimsuit season.’
She felt Victoria shift, then the warm breeze lulled her to sleep.
Pain rippled up her spine, freezing her to the spot. Natalia found she couldn’t breathe for a moment. As soon as she could breathe, she was thinking that this wasn’t what Tia had said would happen.
‘Out.’ Victoria said, kicking hard.
Natalia gasped, opening her eyes wide. Moonlight was coming through the open window. She shifted. Uri was sleeping beside her. He was still fully dressed.
A contraction left her unable to talk or move. She had to wait until the contraction passed, then she had to resort to Viperian.
He woke in an instant.
‘Victoria?’ he said.
She nodded, then gasped for breath.
‘She wants out, now.’
He rose. She could tell he was trying to keep a calm demeanor about him. He helped her to sit up and to slip on a loose, long dress. Then he slid sandals onto her feet.
“Okay,” she said, feeling she was ready to stand up.
He pulled her gently to her feet. They made it halfway down the stairs beforeshe had another contraction. He stopped to hold her up while she panted.
Mag appeared at the bottom of the stairs wearing a robe.
“I alerted Bonnie. The limo is ready.”
“Thanks, Mag,” hesaid.
Hehelped herdown the rest of the stairs and to the limo.
Natalia took a deep breath while Bonnie backed out of the garage. She felt unusually calm.
“No more contractions?” he said after a while.
She paused to take note of how her body was feeling.
“So far it hasn’t been anything like what Tia said.”
“You’re not Viperian,” he said. “It will be different.”
For the entire ride to Viperian, shefelt fine.
“Maybe it was a false alarm,” she said, feeling bad that she had gotten everyone up.
The limo passed through the gates of Viperia.
Natalia stiffened and gasped when pain shot up her spine.
‘Out,’ Victoria said.
Just as soon as that contraction eased, another contraction ripped through her belly.
“The pain goes right up my back,” she said, breathing hard.
‘Easy, Victoria. Out soon,’ Uri said.
“Ouch. She just kicked me on your side,” she said.
“Sassy girl. She doesn’t want to wait.”
“I have to go to the bathroom really bad,” she said.
The limo pulled into the parking lot of the hospital.
“Could be your water broke,” he said.
“I can’t hold it.”
She could feel a warm wet dampness to her dress.
“Your water broke,” hesaid.
His cool demeanor dropped and he now looked anxious.
The limo pulled up to the Emergency entrance.
“Dr. Esper and his nurse, Dilly, are already waiting for you,” he said.
Bonnie ran around and opened the door for them.
“Her water just broke,” Uri said to Dr. Esper.
They helped her out. She was dripping.
“Sorry, Bonnie,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it. You merely anointed the limo,” Bonnie said with a smile.
Natalia sat in the wheelchair and they wheeled her in.
‘Hospital. Come, Victoria,’ she said.
Another contraction hit her as if on command.
They wheeled her down a hall and into a room. There was a small pool. Uri took off her sandals. Dilly helped her take off her dress and put on a short shirt. Natalia knew it was just for modesty. The rest of her was bare. Uri stripped down to shorts. Together, they stepped into the pool.
“I’m giving birth in a pool?”
“It’s warm and soothing,” hesaid. “Tia talked about it.”
He sat on a ledge with her in front.
“Relax and flow with the contractions,” he said.
He put his hands on her belly and rubbed gently. Shefelt Victoria kick his hand.
“She is going to be a feisty girl,” he said. “Did she get that from me or you?”
She smiled, then grimaced when another contraction came.
“I thought contractions were regular.”
“They will be what they will be,” he said.
Shegrunted whenanother hit her. They seemed sporadic, then they started coming more frequently.
She was having a hard time catching her breath.
Now all communication was Viperian.
Natalia could only pant and push.
Then he slid around to her side.
‘Head coming,’ he said.
Shecould hear Dr. Esper and Dillytalking, but couldn’t tell what they were talking about. She was totally absorbed in the contractions, Uri’s voice, and Victoria.
Then she could think of nothing else when the hard contractions came. There was a bar along the side of the pool that she grasped hard with every painful push. Uri was no longer holding her. Then there was a great release of pressure.
Uri moved up beside her.He was holding Victoria. She was wet and ruddy. As soon as helifted her out of the water, she found her voice and screamed that she was cold.
Natalia stared in awe, then Uri placed Victoria in her arms. The umbilical cord was still attached. Victoria screamed and flailed her tiny arms. Natalia thought she was the most delicate and beautiful baby she had ever seen.
‘Where’s her hair?’
Natalia recognized Dr. Esper’s voice. He seemed concerned.
‘It’s thin and fine,” Uri said, drawing a finger along Victoria’s head.
Natalia stared at the tiny fingers and nose.
‘She looks like you,’ Uri said.
‘Her coloring is wrong,’ Dr. Esper said.
‘What’s wrong with her?’ Natalia said.
Uri smiled big. “She’s blonde.”
‘She’s not Viperian,’ Dr. Esper said.
‘Of course, she is. She’s talking to me,’ Natalia said.
‘I can’t hear her,’ Dr. Esper said.
Victoria was screaming.
‘I hear her loud and clear,’ Uri said.
‘No, her Viperian voice,’ she said. ‘She’s cold.’
Natalia stared at her daughter while everyone worked around her. Then Uri gently took Victoria from her and handed her to Dr. Esper. The umbilical cord was cut.
‘Why’s the pool all red and cloudy?’ she said, suddenly noticing now that Victoria wasn’t in her arms.
‘Just all the birthing matter,’ hesaid. ‘Tia’s was the same. There’s also the afterbirth.’
Before she knew it, she was dressed in warm dry undergarments and a robe and sitting in a hospital bed.
‘Eight pounds and two ounces,’ the nurse said, handing her Victoria.
Victoria was dry and bundled in a smooth blanket. Natalia could now see the true color of her daughter’s hair. It was a white blonde. The hairs were fine and refused to stay in one place.
‘Let her try and nurse,’ Uri said, helping her open her robe.
They were now alone in the room.
‘I’m glad you went through this with Tia. I wouldn’t know what to do. I’d just sit here and stare at her.’
Victoria didn’t need much encouragement and latched on immediately.
Uri grinned wide.
‘I’m glad I was there for Tia. She’ll be up later. Mirren is already here, wanting to see her,’ he said. ‘We’ll make him wait a little.’
‘We were up seeing Grace almost as soon as Sherri got to her room after she gave birth. Just minutes after she had nursed. Or at least tried to nurse.’
‘Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten.’
‘I’m sure everyone will come up to visit throughout the day.’
‘What time is it?’
‘Almost four am.’
‘I’m going to be tired. Shoot, I am tired.’
She leaned her head back. Uri kissed her cheek, then rubbed his cheek gently against hers.
‘You can sleep. It’s my job to present Victoria to everyone.’
‘When allowed, the father presents his offspring. My way of showing my claim as father and my responsibility.’
There was a pitcher with water and a couple of glasses nearby. He poured some water for himself. She watched Victoria yawn then resume her suckle.
‘What about me? My responsibility?’
‘Your claim is confirmed by the fact you just birthed her.’
He looked down at Victoria.
‘I think she’s asleep, now.’
He carefully took Victoria from her.
Natalia pulled shut her robe.
‘Rest,’ he said.
‘I want some tea. The good stuff.’
‘I think you’ve drank more of that than you should have,’ he said, pulling out a flash. ‘Just a sip.’
Shetried to chug the whole flask, but hetook it from her.
‘Hey,’ he said. ‘A sip.’
He poured her a glass of water and handed it to her.
She drank the whole thing.
‘I guess I was thirsty.’
‘I can hear Mirren pacing in the hall,’ he said with a grin.
‘Let him see her.’
Uri stepped out with Victoria. It was only a minute later he returned. Mirren followed.
‘How are you doing, Nattie?’ he said.
‘As good as expected,’ she said.
‘She did well,’ Uri said.
‘Victoria has the same coloring as my father,’ Mirren said.
‘Your father?’ she said.
‘He was Undent. Very blonde. Uri must carry a blonde gene that matched up with yours.’
‘First blonde Viperian,’ Uri said with a smile.
‘There will be a few doubters. Such is the case when something new happens.’
‘Dr. Esper didn’t think she was Viperian,’ shesaid.
‘She has a quiet voice. Even I have a hard time hearing her,’ Uri said.
‘I have no problem,’ she said.
‘You have the close mother-daughter bond,’ Mirren said. ‘You’ll seem to hear her even if she’s rooms away from you.’
Uri handed Victoria over to Mirren. Victoria seemed to sniff and fuss for a moment, then fell back asleep.
‘I passed the test. I smell like family.’
Natalia was awed that he knew exactly how to hold her.
Uri checked his phone.
‘Tia will be up in an hour to visit. She said the rest of the Grazie group would be up later.’
She nodded andclosed her eyes.
Mirren and Uri chatted. The flat drone of the Viperian language lulled her to sleep. The next time she opened her eyes, Mirren was gone and Tia was standing just inside the doorway with Uri.
‘Nattie. You’re awake. Victoria is adorable,’ Tia said, coming in the rest of the way to stand by her bed.
‘Sore and tired, I expect?’
‘Yes, but I had a good nap. I do have to get up, though.’
She indicated the bathroom. Uri handed Victoria over to Tia and helped Natalia out of bed and to the bathroom. He shut the door, so she could have some privacy.
She sat on the toilet feeling sore and bloated, hoping she didn’t look like she felt. While she cleaned up, she looked in the mirror. Her hair was so much longer, lush and thick than when she had first met Uri. The strawberry blonde color seemed more intense, with strong blonde highlights blending in with the bioluminescent colors of red, blue, yellow, and green. The blond highlights were natural. She knew women paid lots of money for highlights like these and here she had them naturally. The bioluminescent colors were from eating grubbies. Her face was fuller and her skin was clear. She had to agree it almost glowed. Her mark on her right cheek and down her right arm was a dark red brown at the moment, but she had been told it was due to the hormones of being pregnant. She looked at the henna tattoo on her left wrist. They were now a fad and becoming acceptable.
She heard Victoria fuss.
‘What ‘s my girl doing?’ she said, stepping out.
‘I think another suckle,’ Uri said.
He helped her back into bed. Tia, then, handed Victoria back to him.
‘I have to go. Take care. I didn’t think Uri could make such a cute kid. It all has to be you,’ she said with a mischievous smile.
‘Sisters,’ Uri said with a roll of his eyes, pretending to be miffed.
‘Thanks for coming,’ Natalia said.
‘Bye,’ Tia said.
Dilly stepped in with some juice.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Sore. I was just up to the bathroom.’
‘Good. Keep drinking to stay hydrated and to flush your system.’
Victoria fussed and Uri handed her over to suckle.
Moments after she finished and covered up, Rayna, Uri’s mother arrived.
‘I’ve come to see my namesake,’ she said. ‘So kind of you to give her Rayna as a middle name.’
Uri kissed his mother’s cheek.
Victoria only did one nostril flare and kept sleeping when Rayna held her.
‘Has Mirren been up?’ she said.
‘He was first one,’ Uri said.
‘He was very excited to have his first grandbaby. You, my daring, are my third.’
‘Tia’s already been up, too,’ Uri said.
There were footsteps outside the door, but they passed. However, a snide comment floated through the door.
‘This is a Viperian hospital. Not for Undents.’
Natalia couldn’t seen who had passed.
‘You may get a lot of that,’ Rayna said.
‘Why?’ Natalia said.
‘Victoria doesn’t look like a Viperian. People are going to call her a Specter. The same thing happens with every child that doesn’t have the black hair and green eyes.’
‘Victoria’s eyes are blue,’ Uri said.
‘These colors are coming from both Nattie and your grandfather, Uri,’ she said.
‘That’s what Mirren said.’
‘Don’t fret, Nattie. Just stupid prejudices.’
‘She speaks Viperian,’ Natalia said. ‘How could she not be Viperian?’
‘You speak Viperian. You’ve been speaking that to her for sometime. Doubters will say the language isn’t innate for her, but that she learned it. Like you did.’
‘But… does she have fangs?’
Natalia looked at Victoria.
‘How do you see?’
‘Yawning,’ Uri said.
‘Precisely,’ Rayna said. ‘Children express their fangs when they yawn. That’s why we have Viperian hospitals and schools. It takes awhile before children learn to stop expressing their fangs. We wouldn’t want them targeted if they were in an Undent hospital or school.’
A nagging worry settled in Natalia’s stomach.
‘I’ve seen her yawn. I didn’t see any fangs.’
‘No?’ Uri said.
‘It’s impossible for her not to be Viperian,’ Rayna said.
‘People thought it was impossible for a blonde Viperian,’ Uri said.
‘Has the hospital completed the paternity testing?’ Rayna said.
Bitten Kitten Book 4
“Are you sure, this is what you do?” Natalia said.
“We’re almost late in doing this. She’s escaped her room twice already without us knowing,” Uri said.
Natalia stared at the device Uri was installing.
“I’m glad I already installed the sensors on the windows after Mag and Zena finished remodeling the nursery,” he said.
The nursery no longer had a crib, but a twin sized bed. It was pushed against the wall in a corner. The one long side not against the wall had a railing. The short end not against the other wall was the only side not blocked.
“I don’t even think we need the railing any more. She doesn’t roll off of things. She can sleep on the sofa without falling off,” she said.
He nodded while he worked.
“Where is she at?” she said.
He cocked an ear.
“Last I saw she was hiding behind the sofa. Yeah, I can hear her giggling.”
“So what does this do again?”
“Since she can open the door, these sensors let us know when she has left her room. It gives us an alarm in our bedroom. She’s old enough where she’s not going to want the door closed. Viperians don’t like being alone.”
“We sleep with the door closed.”
He laughed. “We’re sleeping together. We’re not alone.”
“So, what’s the big deal. We can track her by her earrings.”
“This is when we’re sleeping,” he said. “And she decides to go off to do mischief.”
“What sort of mischief can a one year old get into?”
Uri adjust one screw, then stood.
“Done. We have a remote in our room that turns this on and off.”
“Your mother used one of these?”
She noted he hadn’t answered her other question.
“Yeah. It took me until I was three to figure it out,” he said.
“How to get around it?”
“No, that it was there. You can’t get around it. Every five inches there is a beam. It goes all the way up to the top of the door. And they are invisible. She won’t be able to tell when it’s on or off.”
“This seems excessive.”
“Let’s go get dressed.”
“Every time I question Viperian parenting, you try and distract me.”
“Mag is instructing you on what you need to know and do.”
“A lot of it seems...counterintuitive and cruel.”
“It builds discipline which is essential for fitting into our culture and the Undent world.”
She eyed him.
“You don’t want a Gussy. There’s a new meaning to that name.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard. It means someone uncouth and undisciplined. But still… she’s only one.”
“The early impressionable years are the most important.”
Natalia remembered how Victoria had learned to handle being away from her when she was an infant. Mirren, her grandfather, had told her that her mother was away and she had to be good.
“Now that she is ambulatory, she is going to test all of the teachings we’ve already given her,” he said. “We do have to get dressed. The Festival starts at dusk.”
“From what I’ve seen, dressing seems rather simple or lacking.”
He smiled. “You don’t want to be overdressed for the Festival of Sex.”
“I’m almost leery ofgoing.”
“I missed it last year. I want to go this year.”
“What were you doing last year?”
“We were having a baby.”
“Oh. Will everyone be there?”
“Most everyone. Sixteen on up as long as your mark has appeared.”
Natalia turned when she heard Mag’s voice downstairs.
‘Where’s Victoria?’ Her voice was almost singsongy.
Natalia could hear giggling.
‘I hear her. Where is that little girl?’ Mag said.
Natalia eyed Uri.
“And what does this little game do?” she said, referring to Mag pretending not to find Victoria.
‘I can’t find her anywhere.’
There was the sound of Mag retreating to the kitchen.
“Let’s get dressed,” he said, taking her arm and dragging her into the bedroom.
“I can hardly call these clothes,” she said, holding the small piece of fabric.
“Everyone wears the same thing.”
“The men wear a front cloth, and the women weara skirt and a strip across the breasts.”
“This doesn’t even cover the breasts. And why are they all blue?” she said.
“This is the Festival of Sex, sweetheart.”
He started undressing her. She again noted he didn’t answer her last question.
“If you keep undressing me like this, slow with kisses, we’re going to be late.”
“Just getting us in the mood,” he said.
“We are not having sex at the Festival.”
“Why do you think it’s called the Festival of Sex?”
“I prefer sex in the privacy of our bedroom.”
He smiled in her hair. “Get dressed. You can wear one of your loose dresses until we get there in case we get pulled over or have an accident. I’ll wear shorts. Bonnie is going, too, even though she is driving us.”
“Who else is going?”
“Last year everyone missed the Festival. I’m talking about our staff because of Victoria. And because of Victoria, one of them has to miss it again. They drew straws. Mag lost.”
“But just for tonight. Everyone is taking turns. Tomorrow is Kate. The next night is Zena. Then the last night is Bonnie which means we have to drive ourselves. We have to pay everyone a premium to babysit. This is when babysitters strike it rich.”
“We already pay them.”
“To babysit during the Festival requires extra pay.”
“What did you do last year?”
“I had to give everyone extra pay. It is a Viperian law that if you have workers who cannot go to the Festival of Sex because of work, you must pay them a premium.”
“I guess I better see what this is all about.”
“Sex,” he said with a smile.
Victoria cocked an ear. Her parents were using the voice and words that she didn’t know. However, she knew her name when they spoke it. They were talking about her. She wished she knew what the other words meant.
She decided to move behind a chair for a new hiding spot. That was where Mag last looked, so she knew Mag wouldn’t look there again. With care, she tiptoed behind the chair and sat. She giggled that they couldn’t find her. As long as she stayed squatted down, they wouldn’t see. They never looked down.
She peered around the chair. Her nose caught the scent of fresh cookies. She wished cookie time would hurry up. Being alonein the living room wasn’t any fun.
Beside the chair was a table with a lamp. She looked at it. The cord snaked down to a plug in the wall. She grabbed the cord and pulled hard. The lamp crashed to the ground. She knew that would get Mag out here.
Mag came out of the kitchen. The door banged.
‘What are you doing?’ Mag was glaring at her.
‘Hide and seek.’
Victoria made herself as small as she could while making her eyes as big as she could.
‘Did you push that over?’
Victoria shook her head, then glanced up warily. Her mother and father were coming down the stairs. They were talking using those strange words again.
“Mag, that’s the third time she’s knocked that over,” Natalia said.
“That’s why there isn’t a light bulb in it. It’s plugged into the outlet that’s controlled by the switch. It’s off.”
“She’s probably pulling the cord,” Uri said.
“She just wants attention,” Mag said.
‘Only one cookie,’ Natalia said to Victoria using a stern voice.
“I don’t know why you tell me to tell her that. We don’t really mind her stuffy herself with cookies. They’regrubbie cookies. They’regood for her.”
‘Two,’ Victoria said, using sad, pleading eyes.
“That which is forbidden becomes desirable,” Uri said. “Just like when you tried to give her sanguine tea and she refused it. Just tell her she can’t have any and she’ll drink it.”
“We have to get you to understand these things,” Mag said. “Especially before she learns English.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand this,” Natalia said.
“Just think of Uri,” Mag said in a quiet voice. “When you tell him he can’t do something, what does he do?”
“Hey,” Uri said.
“We have to go. Is Bonnie ready?” he said. “Bonnie.”
He grabbed Natalia’s arm to pull her toward the garage door.
‘Victoria. Be good. One cookie,’ he said.
Natalia saw Victoria pout at him.
‘No tea,’ Natalia said. ‘Be a good girl.’
“See that wasn’t hard to do,” Uri said, dragging her out to the garage.
“What is the big hurry? We’ll get there.”
Bonnie was already standing by the limo with the back door open.
“Hurry up,” Bonnie said.
“Nice coat, Bonnie,” Natalia said.
Bonnie was wearing knee-high black boots and a black coat. She waved them into the limo.
“Will there be any Undents there?”
“No,” he said.
The limo pulled out into the street. They hit heavy traffic after only a few blocks.
“Saturday night. Everyone is out,” she said.
“It’s all Moralis’s fault.”
She laughed. “Why is this Moralis’s fault?”
“All the things he’s done as mayor havemade the city safer, which means more people go out. And to make sure we don’t have any issues at the Festival of Sex, he started the Summer Fest for the Undents. It will run the same weekend nights as the Festival of Sex.”
“But, he made sure to put it on the other side of town.”
“Smartest thing he did,” he said.
“I can tell this traffic is going with us. All Viperian cars.”
She could see the red V on the vehicles marking them as Viperian.
“I still think it’s weird to have a four-day festival that starts on Saturday night and only runs from dusk to dawn.”
“You’ll see why,” he said.
“I was only able to take Monday off. I have to work half a day on Tuesday.”
“Not all Viperians can take time off at the same time.”
“So why not start Friday night…”
“Shush. It’s a Viperian tradition.”
He smiled and rubbed his cheek against hers.
“Where is everyone going to park?”
“Questions, questions. All the warehouses will be open for cars. There are quite a few lots there. They’ve all been cleaned up. And then there’s the parking garage.”
“Parking garage? In Hell? I don’t remember seeing that.”
“It’s actually on the backside of the warehouse where Moralis used to store tea. Boy, was that a pain to clean up.”
“Where are we parking?”
“Warehouse. Moralis owns that warehouse, so that’s where friends and family are parking.”
“I can’t image driving cars around those racks in the warehouse.”
“Each section on the ground level is perfect for one car. Then you just fill up the aisles.”
Natalia focused outside the windows when Bonnie pulled onto the street to Hell. All the streetlights on this section of road had been changed out to blue lights. There were blue lights outlining the new gates to Hell. There was an arched sign over the gates.
“A Hell Of A Place,” she said, reading the sign. “Catchy.”
She gave him a look.
“I didn’t name it,” he said. “A group of businessmen meet regarding the rules and regulations of Hell and dictate what goes on. They voted on the name.”
“And you are part of that group, therefore, you named it.”
“It wasn’t my suggestion,” he said. “I suggested A Hell Of APlace To Shop, but they said it was too long and there wouldbe more than just shops here.”
The limo passed the gates. One gate was partially open, and people were streaming through.
“I don’t see any of them in that skimpy outfit.”
“They are still wearing coats and dresses,” he said. “There will be hooks and hangers at all entrances for people to disrobe. You’ll see.”
The limo seemed to be heading toward another entrance.
“I see the wall has been fixed.”
“We’ve added to it as well. This side now extends down for almost a mile.”
“Wow. They’ve added landscaping and decorative tiles to the wall.”
“Not totally finished, but it’s looking better than a plain block wall.”
The limo slowed and turned. The first lot they passed was already full of cars.
“I see the tent city is gone.”
The second lot was also full of cars.
“That took a lot of work. We asked the Sisters of Fayth to help us.”
“Thegroup that took over the Church?”
“Yeah, and they used Church funds to help rehome, rehabilitate, and find work for the people. Some of them just needed a little help.”
“When are they going to run out of Church funds?”
“I’m not sure. Recently, they auctioned off one of the Abbott’s yachts. Ravi actually bought it. I think he paid half a mill for it.”
“A man of God with a yacht. I’m sure there was a lot of gold plating. Makes me wonder how those things can float with all that weight.”
The limo passed the last lot.
“This one is also full.”
“People were encouraged to share rides. There’s another parking garage a few miles away and there is a shuttle running people over.”
“We have this whole limo. Why didn’t we share?”
“I offered. No one took me up on it, except, Zena is up front riding with Bonnie.”
“Oh, I didn’t see.”
“Kate drove to her mother’s. She’s carpooling over with a group. The north gate isonly being usedfor taxis and bus traffic. To park in these lots, you had to put your name in for a lottery. We didn’t have to do that because of Moralis.”
The limo continued along. There were fewer vehicles.
“Oh, my word. He’s naked.”
Moralis stood by a large door. Cars were driving through it. The limo made the turn.
‘Sharp right,’ Moralis said to Bonnie. ‘There are cones where you can park.’
The warehouse had no lights on. There were headlamps from the cars lighting up the area. Natalia saw the cones and the limo parked between them.
As soon as the limo stopped, Uri took off his shorts.
‘Undress. We can leave our stuff here.’
She eyed him warily, but slid the dress off over her head.
The limo door opened. Uri slid out, giving her a hand out.
‘Thanks, Bonnie,’ he said.
Natalia knew the rest of the night they would be using Viperian to communicate. And everyone she saw was practically naked. Bonnie was no longer wearing her boots and coat, but the tiny skirt and strip across her breasts. Zena, dressed the same, nodded a greeting while she passed and was gone.
‘Evening,’ Moralis said, greeting them.
‘Evening,’ Uri said.
Natalia at first thought Moralis was naked, but he was wearing the front piece. She couldn’t even call it a loin cloth because a loin cloth covered more.
Everywhere there were blue lights. Now that she wasn’t looking through the limo window, she could see what the blue lights were doing. The outfit they wore seemed to become invisible in the lights, making everyone look naked. And everyone glowed.
‘Why...why is everyone colored?’
She glanced at her own arm and saw glittering red, green, and orange.
‘Biofluorescence,’ Uri said.
‘Your first festival,’ Moralis said with a laugh.
‘She’s never seen it,’ Uri said.
‘We fluoresce. Under blue light, we will reflect light back. Another grubbie benefit,’ he said.
‘And Undents can’t see a thing,’ Moralis said. ‘If one was here, they’d be in total darkness.’
‘They can’t see the blue light?’
‘No,’ Moralis said with a big smile.
A Viperian man came trotting up to take Bonnie’s hand.
‘Evening, Trevor,’ Uri said.
He merely nodded and dragged Bonnie off. Natalia knew that was Bonnie’s man.
Two more cars pulled into the warehouse.
‘Tia, Grazie, and Tracy. I didn’t catch who else was with them,’ Uri said.
‘I thought I saw Rayna, your mom,’ Natalia said. ‘Tracy? Isn’t she a little young?’
‘She’s sixteen, no seventeen now,and her mark is visible.’
‘The other car was Francie, her mother, and two of her sisters,’ Moralis said.
He waved more cars in.
‘Plus I’m allowing all the Viperian government officials, some police officers, lawyers, and such.’
‘Are you going to have a full house?’
‘We’re off then. Catch you later,’ Uri said.
He grabbed her arm and led her away.
Natalia was speechless with the colors around her.
‘Blue light and we provide the rest,’ she said, meaning the colors.
‘Those are special bulbs that can be switched to do the blue light or normal lighting. More cost effective then changing bulbs every year just for the Festival.’
‘Always the accountant.’
He led her around one lot. They passed racks where people where hanging coats or dresses.
‘This is called Art Way. Sort of a pun on artery. This is the main thoroughfarenow.’
The street was packed with people.
Someone brushed a hand across her ass. She jumped.
‘You’ll get a lot of that,’ Uri said to her. ‘My job is to keep them from going any farther.’
‘Lovely,’ she said, being sarcastic.
‘Once we have all the buildings filled with businesses and tenants, there will be no traffic allowed. Pedestrian only. Only during off hours will delivery trucks be allowed.’
‘That’s nice. I love the benches and planters.’
She noticed the street names as well.
‘He owns that block,’ Uri said.
‘But the other way is Hewie Ave.’
‘He owns that block. The street names indicate a block. They don’t have the map up yet, but at the beginning of Art Way will be a map of the area. There will be one at every entrance.’
‘Don’t you own a couple of buildings here?’
‘I’ll show you.’
She noticed vendors lining the street.
‘Scented body art?’
There were also musicians.
‘Do they get paid a premium for working?’
‘No,’ Uri said. ‘They get tips. I have my cash card. You scan.’
There were poles set up with scanners by every vendor and musician.
‘The amounts are preset to tip performers. Anyone with a skill will be here to show off.’
He paused a moment.
There was an area with dart boards.
‘Do they have a competition?’ she said.
‘People throw and at the end of the evening, winners are announced.’
Uri stepped up.
The attendant shook his head.
‘I’m eligible,’ Uri said.
He scanned his card to get three darts. As soon as he had them in his hand, he threw them.
‘You’ll have to beat me,’ Grazie said, stepping up.
Natalia noted a henna tattoo that filled most of his back and down his left side. Tia had a matching tattoo on her body. The artist seemed to have known where they would fluoresce and the tattoo swirled around these areas.
‘Then you’ll have to beat me,’ said a voice behind them.
Bitten Sisters Book 5
Natalia opened her eyes. Her body felt sweaty. Every breath was a strain,yet she knew she wasn’t in labor. Uri shifted beside her, but didn’t wake. He had been working so hard of late, that when he went to bed, he slept deep.
She mulled over what had woken her. The last time she waspregnant, she suffered from nightmares about her own child biting her. Those had been unfounded.
This nightmare was a memory.
All the Council members had gathered. She, Tia, and Mirren were the only ones not new on the Council. They were all there to witness Sherri’s execution.
Sherri was naked and in the death chamber cell. It was all concrete and piping. She was ranting and raving about how they were making a mistake.
Natalia remembered the end. Water sprayed from above, soaking Sherri. Then they electrocuted her.
In the dream, however, the water continued to flow and drownedthem all.
She rose with difficulty, swinging her legs out of bed.
‘What?’ Uri said in a sleepy voice.
‘Bathroom,’ she said.
He didn’t answer. She knew he was already back to sleep.
She rose with difficulty. By the time she reached the doorway to the bathroom, she could hear six padded feet following her.
‘What are you doing out of bed?’ Natalia said, easing herself onto the toilet.
Two sets of eyes, one blue and one gold, stared at her.
‘I thought I heard Matilda,’ Victoria said.
‘Matilda is sleeping.’
However, the moment she said that, Matilda kicked.
‘Ouch,’ Natalia said, rubbing her side.
Tail, the cat, settled between her legs, curling her tail around Natalia’s ankles.
Victoria smiled and giggled. Her blonde hair was sticking up in a wild hairdo.
‘Tell your sister to be good,’ Natalia said, still rubbing her side.
‘Be good, Matilda,’ Victoria said with a gleeful smile.
Merrup, Tail chirped.
‘Tail said so, too,’ Victoria said.
Natalia felt the baby shift, causing her to groan.
‘Is Matildacoming today?’ Victoria said.
‘No, not today.’
Natalia finished and flushed. She didn’t know if she would ever get used to having an audience when she was in the bathroom. Both Victoria and Tail always seemed to know when to show up if they weren’t following her around.
‘Where’s your nightgown?’
‘The air conditioning is on. Viperians don’t get hot. Go get your nightgown. You don’t need to run around naked.’
‘The big girls run naked.’
Natalia glared at Victoria and lifted a lip to show a tooth. She was getting the hang of Viperian parenting.
‘I’ll go get my nightgown,’ Victoria said, showing a slightly mopey look. ‘It’s almost light. I can get dressed.’
‘What time is it?’ She hadn’t looked when she got out of bed.
‘Almost light time.’
Natalia stepped out of the bathroom to see the clock.
“Almost five am. Go get dressed.’
She knew there was no more sleep for her, not with Victoria awake. Once she woke, she stayed awake. Thankfully, once she dressed, she stayed dressed.
Natalia followed Victoria out of the bedroom. She watched her go to her room while she headed to the kitchen. They were still staying in the apartment in Hell.
It had taken months to get a construction crew to work on their house. However, they found more structural damage than originally thought, increasing the repair time. The last estimate for completion was a few more weeks. It always was just a few more weeks, even after a few more weeks had passed.
She hadn’t seenthe house in months and didn’t know if Uri was making any additions or changes that affected the repair time. He wasn’t telling her, and she found she didn’t want to know.
She poured sanguine tea into two cups.
‘Tea party by the window?’ she said to Victoria when she came into the room.
Victoria wore shorts with a top that didn’t match.
Natalia set one cup on Victoria’s play table by the window, along with two cookies. She returned to her own cup and drained it.
‘I’m going to dress,’ she said to Victoria, so she didn’t follow her.
Tail had situated herself across from Victoria.
‘Okay.’ Victoria sipped her tea, but her focus was out the window.
Natalia went into the bedroom and sat on the bed. A hand reached up to fondle one of her breasts, which felt huge and swollen to her.
‘Don’t ever touch me again,’ she said with a slight hiss.
‘My lovely, cranky wife,’ Uri said in a murmur.
He pulled her down beside him.
‘How’s my girl, Matilda?’ he said.
‘She kicked me earlier.’
‘My feisty girl.’
‘All your girls are feisty.’
‘Are you going to the Council meeting this afternoon?’
‘Yes, required attendance.’
‘Why? What do you know?’
‘I know what is being presented.’
‘How do you know? I don’t even know.’
‘I can’t say.’
She jabbed him with one of her elbows.
‘You’re up to something,’ she said. ‘As usual.’
‘Nope, not me.’
He snuggled against her. His hand moved down to caress her bulging belly.
‘Matilda is quiet,’ he said while he continued to caress her.
‘She likes that, when you massage.’
‘You do too. Roll over onto your side. You will both be more comfortable.’
With grunts, she rolled over.
‘Victoria is up,’ she said. ‘I only want to lie down a few minutes.’
She sighed, and her body relaxed with his gentle massaging. The next time she opened her eyes, Victoria was staring at her.
‘Tea party over?’ she said to her.
‘Lunch,’ Victoria said.
Natalia glanced up to see it was almost eleven.
‘I didn’t want to sleep this late. Is Mag here?’
Natalia knew Uri had left for work. She cursed him for letting her sleep. With a grunt, she heaved herself out of bed to head into the bathroom. Both Victoria and Tail joined her.
‘Are you two going to take a shower with me, too?’
Victoria shook her head.
When Nataliafinished peeing, she turned on the shower and slipped offher nightgown. Victoria and Tail ran out of the bathroom.
Natalia kept her hair dry, washing only what she could reach without bending over. She only needed a good rinsing. Tonight, Uri would give her body his full attention in the shower and lather her up.
She wished he werehere when she stepped out. It was hard to dry herself. She gave up and walked around the bedroom, getting her clothes readywhile she waited for her body to dry. Her strawberry blonde hair was long, reaching past the middle of her back, and she wrapped it up into a messy bun. She was too pregnant to care about makeup, and her only jewelry was her necklace that was also a knife. The blue gems glittered the same color as her eyes. Her fingers had swollen and she couldn’t wear any of her rings, not even the ring that she usually wore on her right hand, the middle finger that indicated that she was part of the Viperian women’s community. Instead, she had looped her necklace through the ring and it dangled beside the knife that almost looked like a cross.
She figured she was dry enough and pulled over a cotton dress. It usually hung past her knees, but her belly caused it to pullup to reveal them and part of her thighs.She didn’t care. It was loose and comfortable.
She slipped her feet into sandals, then headed out of the room.
‘Good morning, Mag.’
‘Morning, Nattie. Do you want some lunch?’
Mag was already pulling out a plate from the fridge. It contained a large sandwich surrounded by pickled vegetables.
‘I already had some sanguine tea this morning,’ Natalia said.
Mag also wore a cotton dress, but was barefoot.
‘How is Bonnie doing? I need someone to drive me to a council meeting,’ Natalia said, sitting down to eat.
‘She’s still stuffing her face,’ Mag said with a frown, but her voice wasn’t disapproving.
‘I know she can’t drive me. If I’m this uncomfortable, I’m sure she’s not comfortable.’
Mag chuckled. ‘I heard them bouncing around her bedroom that night after festival, I should have known he was doing a breeding. Caught her during a weak point. Don’t worry, I’ll drive you.’
‘Becky,’ Victoria said.
‘Yes, I’m sure Harold will bring Becky and you two can go hunting in the park,’ Natalia said.
Victoria clapped her hands with glee and bounced around the room.
‘Someone needs to expend a little energy,’ Mag said.
‘I need to be there at two, but I need to take a walk. Did you check…?’
‘Yeah, I climbed the building to look. There are now four baby goats.’
‘Apparently, goats have more than one.’
‘I’ll have to talk to Yiggy. I’m only allowingtwo goats.’
‘They have to refresh the milk,’ Mag said. ‘That requires baby goats. And don’t complain about the chickens. I like the eggs.’
Natalia sighed with resignation. She knew she shouldn’tcomplain. Yiggy’s building wasn’t the only one with a small farm on the roof.
‘I’ll take someone with mewhen I go for my walk.I take it she’s had her lunch?’
‘And more. I bet she’s going through another growth spurt.’
‘She and Bonnie can have an eating competition.’
Mag broke out laughing.
Natalia finished all of her sandwich and the vegetables.
‘Let me pee again and we’ll go for a walk. Are you coming with me?’ she said to Victoria.
Natalia headed to the bathroom, knowing she had a following. Tail dashed in and jumped into the tub. Victoria was dragging her wand cat toy, but Tail seemed more interested in chasing her tail in the tub because she could slide around.
‘Go get your shoes on,’ Natalia said, rising from the toilet. She had to use the counter to push herself up.
Victoria raced out of the bathroom, closely followed by Tail.
Natalia finished in the bathroom with one quick look in the mirror. She hadn’t gained as much weight with this pregnancy, but her face was full. Uri said she glowed with health. She thought she looked a little tired.
‘Coming?’ Victoria said.
‘Yes, coming. See you later, Mag.’
‘Don’t go too far.’
‘Just the bank and back.’
Victoria raced to the front door. Natalia came up behind her to open it.
‘Walk down the stairs. I don’t want you falling again.’
‘Tail has four feet to keep her balance.’
The stairwell was warm. The window on the landing was open to allow air to flow.
Natalia took her time going down the stairs. Just like her last pregnancy, her feet swelled and became painful. Walking helped, even though she complained it didn’t.
Outside on the sidewalk, it was hot and humid. There were many people out walking since there was a car ban during the day. Hell had become a busy place.
Natalia looked up the block. She felt pretty good because all of their buildings had renters. They didn’t have a single vacancy. In fact, few in the entire area did.
“Afternoon, Nattie. Victoria.”
When they were at home, they tended to speak Viperian. Now that they were outside, they would only speak English. Of course, there were always exceptions.
“Afternoon, Grazie. How’s business?”
“Very good. I’m just out collecting some rents.” Grazie was a tall, slender Viperian man. He was best friends with Uri. He was letting his black hair grow longer than most because he didn’t have an office job, other than to manage their rentals. His dress was khaki shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt. He didn’t look like a building manager.
“We have some freeloaders?”
“Nope, just a community service to pick it up so they don’t have to walk to the bank.”
“The bank is two blocks away,” she said with a slight roll of her eyes.
Grazie shrugged. “Is that where you’re headed?”
“Yes, I need to walk and might as well check to make sure I’m still in business.”
Grazie laughed. “Your savings and loan company is what got all the people moving here.”
She smiled. “We are doing well.”
They walked past the custom clothing shop called a Stitch By Design that she owned. As usual, it looked busy.
“Clothes?” Victoria said. She loved practicing her English.
“On the way back.”
Grazie laughed. “You can’t go into that shop when your clothes don’t match.”
Victoria ignored him by running ahead.
“She’s going to be an influencer in the clothing market,” Natalia said with a laugh.
“Have a nice walk,” Grazie said.
She watched him cross the street toward the furniture store. A golf cart slowed down to let him pass before speeding off.
“We’ll have speed limits for those things soon.”
Victoria waited for her at the end of the block. She danced around a flower container positioned on the edge of the curb. Natalia caught up with her to take her hand and lead her across the street. Even though there was no car traffic, Natalia insisted because of the golf carts and that it was good practice when they were in other neighborhoods.
“Lunch time,” Victoria said.
There was a steady stream of people walking toward the alley behind her businesses. Yiggy, the seamstress who worked at her sewing shop, also ran a restaurant in the back of the shop. People loved the food.
A big white hairy horse, pulling a cart, trotted by. The cart carried a load of produce.
“Horsie,” Victoria said.
“Yes, horse. The grocery store is getting their fresh produce delivered.”
Since they banned truck traffic until after nine pm, an entrepreneur came up with the cart service. The carts added to the ambiance of the area. Visitors loved feeding the horses carrots or apples, which were available for purchase by the same guy who ran the cart service.
Natalie felt surprise that Victoria continued to hold her hand to the next corner and across the street. But once they were on the street with her bank, Victoria let go and ran to the door.
“Wait for me, now.”
The building exterior looked fresh and inviting. They had replaced all the windows and hung curtains so it didn’t look so institutionalized.
Victoria pulled on the door, but it was too heavy for her. Natalia gave it the slightest tug, so Victoria thought she had opened it.
“You’re getting stronger every day.”
She felt refreshed by the blast of cool air from the building.
Ravi was looking casual and professional at the same time. He wore tan dress slacks and a brightly colored collared shirt. His smile was friendly and welcoming. He was a tall, thin man with a head of white hair. He used to be the president at the Bank where Uri worked, but now he was the manager of her savings and loan company while Uri moved up to the president’s position at the Bank. It was Ravi’s retirement plan to step back and relax.
“Afternoon, Ravi. How’s business?”
She could see that the three tellers each had customers, but there was no one waiting.
“Steady,” he said. “Would you like a lollipop today?” He said this to Victoria.
“No, thank you.”
“She’s not a candy girl,” Natalia said. “Glad to see all is well. I needed to get out for a walk, but I’m already feeling it. We’re heading back.”
“You take care, Nattie.”
He opened the door for them.
The heat and humidity hit her like a slap in the face.
“This is hot.”
“Not hot,” Victoria said.
“This isn’t hot, but it’s hot in your bedroom?”
Natalia turned into the alley to check if Yiggy’s kitchen has oozed out into the alley. They were to keep it clear. She only spied three tables with chairs. No one was sitting in them since it was too hot. Before she reached the door, two of Yiggy’s grandsons stepped out to grab a table.
“Too hot out?” she said.
“Yes, Ms. Nattie.”
They held the door open for her.
Nattie stepped through, holding Victoria’s hand.
“Ms. Nattie,” Wang Fang said.
Natalia knew she was the head cook.
Victoria grabbed one before Nattie could respond.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Thank you,” Victoria said.
Natalia munched it down before she stepped out into the clothing shop area. Lisa, her best friend and seamstress, waved at her. She was busy. Natalia knew there was no time for a chat and headed out of the shop.
“I need to sit down before I go to the Council meeting.”
“Hands dirty,” Victoria said.
“We can wash them.”
Natalia walked slowly up the stairs to the apartment, feeling the weight of Matilda.
“You’re getting big girl.”
Mag had the door open, expecting them.
Natalia felt as if she had just sat down when Mag came through.
“Time to go if I’m going to get you there on time.”
“We have to walk to the parking lot unless we can snag a golf cart.”
They were half a block into the walk when Grazie pulled up in his golf cart.
“Get in,” he said. “You’re supposed to call me when you need a lift.”
There was no more conversation. He drove them right to Natalia’s car.
The drive to Vipera was quick because Mag knew to skirt around the city. They drove through one of the gates and to the building where the Council met. Now that they were in Viperia, they would only speak Viperian.
Mag came around to help pull her out of the car.
‘I’m getting way too big.’
“If you think that, then you should go see Bonnie.’
‘It’s a lie. Misery does not like company.’
‘Victoria,’ came a scream.
‘Becky,’ Victoria screamed back.
Victoria ran to wrap her arms around Becky, who, despite being almost seven years old, was hardly as tall as Victoria, who wasn’t yet two.
‘Oh, my word,’ Harold said. ‘Victoria, you are taller than Becky. And Nattie, you look ready to explode.’
‘Thank you. Just what I want to hear.’
Harold laughed. He himself was only a head taller than Becky.
‘Park?’ Victoria said.
‘Yes, off to the park. See you later,’ Mag said. Victoria and Becky had already headed off.
Natalia followed Harold into the building. They were the last to arrive.
Sitting in the waiting area was a Viperian man. He was the most handsome man that Natalia had ever seen. She thought most Viperian men were handsome, but this man was gorgeous.
‘Take your seats,’ Mirren said. ‘Let’s take a quick roll call.’
‘Welcome, everyone. This afternoon, we have Ian, who wants to address the Council. We don’t know the topic yet.’
Creating stories that make you lose time, fall into another place, and leave reality.
SJ WIlke is a prolific wordsmith and imaginative story teller with over 18 books under her belt. She hides out along one of the Great Lakes, weaving her stories. Her career spans Psychology and Information Technology giving her insight into the world and how to create her own.