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The Gift of Blood (Crimson Tears: Book One)

The Gift of Blood Book Cover by Lexa @rocket_bird

Author’s Note

CW: This book contains gore, brief mentions of self-harm, and brief mentions of homophobia.

Chapter 4 CONT


Her cheeks felt flushed. Ryann grumbled and rubbed her face, trying to fight down the embarrassment and not let anybody see her blushing super hard. Not that there was anyone around, as she had fled the ice cream shop and had taken off in the direction of Victor’s address.

Still… “What the hell just happened?” She usually had herself better under control. I blame fucking vampire bullshit. Smelling her blood, staring at her pretty little neck… No, fuck, stop it!

She couldn’t really blame herself, really. Rachel had been so cute, and she’d smelled so good… The scent was still on her, and just a whiff of it made Ryann’s spine tingle. It sent a flutter of excitement through her gut. Yeah, definitely vampire bullshit.

She sighed deeply and rubbed her face again. Sure, the little interaction had raised her spirits, but now she felt a little bad about it. She really wasn’t looking for a relationship, not even a hook-up. It was just about blood.

Thank fuck I remembered to make that clear, she thought amidst her embarrassment. At least she distinctly remembered asking Rachel if she could drink her blood. Her flirtiness, that must have been the smell. That warm, tasty scent wafting off of Rachel. And maybe Rachel being adorable hadn’t helped.

“My fucking thirst running away with my brain,” Ryann grumbled to herself. “Stupid.” She could control it if she just focused. Of course she could, but she had to pay attention, not get enamoured by a little girl with puppy eyes the colour of jade and honey.

Ryann sighed at the memory of them. They were really beautiful. She should have told her that…

Wait, fuck, no. Not the time! She shook her head to clear her thoughts.

She pulled her mask on, remembering that she still had that (God fucking dammit!), and hid her still-red face. She was getting close to the address. Time to put some vampires in the ground. Or into urns, as the case may be.

Ryann stopped dead in her tracks when a man walked past the mouth of the alley she was approaching. Even across the distance, she recognized the bony, tribal-tattooed mug of Victor Vaughn. He didn’t even glance over at her as he trudged past with his back slouched.

She ran up to the end of the alley, trying to be as quiet as she could in the process. When she peered around the corner, Victor stumbled over a pile of trash and yelled at a cat that dashed past him across the wide, empty street.

I don’t fucking believe this. It wasn’t meant to be that easy. Vampires were supposed to have sharp senses, be able to see in the dark, and blend into the shadows quietly. Victor fucking Vaughn displayed none of that. He never even slowed or turned his head as Ryann began to stalk him. The smoke from his cigarette probably clogged up his nose, and his slack tank top and ripped, loose pants gave more of an impression of someone severely down on their luck, rather than a terrifying creature of the night.

Ryann tied back her hair, ready for a fight, and pulled up her hood as she followed him at a safe distance. She constantly checked the air for any Blood smells. But there was nothing but Victor, along with the smoke from his cigarette. He did smell of fresh blood and cheap alcohol, though. Ryann growled quietly at the implications.

Victor kept trudging along in front of her, completely oblivious to her presence. After a bit, she felt silly for staying close to the walls or stepping behind corners to hide herself. Even when they approached his address, Victor didn’t turn around even once. And the address, Ryann was now certain, was his actual home, which he, an actual vampire, kept on his official fucking ID. It just seemed… so stupid.

The place they were headed was situated on a barely travelled, dark street. The house itself was an old and crooked apartment building. The white walls were dirty, same with the windows. Not just the usual daily accumulated dirt, but the kind of grime that collected over months or years. The glass of the narrow windows looked permanently misted over. The flimsy, wooden shutters had seen better days as well, but the house wasn’t on a main road, so if nobody had complained or done anything about it now, then nobody would in the near future.

Ryann hid behind another corner and watched Victor as he crossed the street. He really didn’t seem to have any worries at all, even with her barely fifteen metres behind him. They also never met anyone else on the road until they passed a girl with a black baseball cap, a mask, and straight, black hair that fell to her back. She was leaning against the wall next to a building, and was busy tapping away on her cellphone. Ryann could see her blue-grey eyes in the light of the screen.

Victor hesitated as he walked past. He barely turned his head and took the cigarette out of his mouth, and Ryann could see him sniff the air. She growled and quickened her steps, but slowed when the Blood continued on his way. If he had tried something, she would have tackled him right there.

He walked up to the white house. Ryann could hear him fiddling with a key, rattling it, then he unlocked the door and went inside, tossing his cigarette stump onto the sidewalk. She quickly followed him across the cracked and potholed asphalt. She almost bumped into an electrician who’d been fiddling with the nearby power box. His grey overalls were stained, his face reddened and shaved patchy. The smell of alcohol wafting off him as he pushed past her towards a dirty white van nearly made Ryann gag.

He gave her a glare out of bloodshot eyes that made her wonder if she’d done something to offend him personally.

Ryann noticed the lights turning on in a second story window as she walked up to the door. She did another quick check around, and when she found herself alone, the electrician gone and his van far enough that he couldn’t see, she crouched down to inspect the lock.

It was old. Very old. Not-break-in-proof old.

She hummed softly as she stood back up. I can probably pick this. No normal fucking person actually carried lockpicks with them. Most people also didn’t carry hairpins that could double as lockpicks.

Most people weren’t Ryann and had never lived on the streets or locked themselves out of their new apartment with little cash, leaving them the option to break a window, break down the door, or call a locksmith.

Ryann looked side to side once more, lips pursed, pulled out her lockpicks from her wallet, and got to work. She always carried a set with her. She’d started practising on the street, when she’d realized that most people liked to lock up their homes even when they stood empty for months or years. And just in case, she also carried the hairpin, clipped onto her sweater.

“Lonnie used to call me crazy for this,” Ryann muttered as she inserted the tools and felt around inside the lock. “Well, look who’s crazy now!” She smirked gleefully and pushed away every thought of her ex. Finally, the precautions were paying off!

It turned out to be way easier than she had expected. The lock stuck a bit when she tried to get it to snap open, but when it did, Ryann was a little baffled.

I could have picked this with a bent nail, she thought, shaking her head. She let the door fall shut behind her.

Inside, the house was rustically charming. A stairway led up and around the room to Ryann’s right, made of bright beige, uneven wood, same as the floorboards. It all creaked a little as Ryann walked, but she was a smart girl. She knew how to sneak around.

She stayed close to the wall, where the floorboards were least likely to creak, and followed the scent of cigarette smoke up. She sniffed the doors when she found all the name plates marked and scratched beyond recognition. The scent headed further up. Second story. Most of the house smelled like nobody had been here in a long time. Nobody except Victor. But maybe these people just rarely left their homes.

The scent trail ended at the very last door, right in front of a window facing the street. Ryann quietly crept up close. She put her ear to the door. There was shuffling and muttering inside.

She waited for another few minutes. It seemed to be just the one voice. Maybe Victor was on a call, or maybe he was talking to himself. Either way, seems like a good time to interrupt. Ryann stood up straight and knocked.

There wasn’t a peephole to look through. She heard the scuff of a chair and steps approaching the door. Then, after a moment, it opened a little.


Ryann slammed her heel into the wood, peeling off more of the paint, and threw it open. Victor stumbled back, taken completely by surprise. Thanks to his dirty white tank top, she knew she had him beat in both size and muscle mass. He hissed, baring his fangs.

Ryann punched him in the face.

He didn’t even try to block or dodge. One moment he was hissing and hunching, ready to lunge, the next her fist shot out and cracked against his nose. It was just a light jab. She still felt the sharp sting of hitting bone, but she was used to that. She had been in enough brawls and done enough bare-knuckle fights. Victor’s nose crunched and gave way under her strike, and her hand came away bloody. With her free hand, Ryann slammed the door behind her, making sure the lock clicked shut fully.

“Ow! My fucking nose!” Victor groaned. He stumbled back from the kitchen counter next to the door and any potential weapons. Instead, he swayed back against a table with a plate of food and a single, sad lamp hanging above it, shedding grimy light under a woven wood shade.

Victor fell against this sad little table, grabbing on to it for support as he felt his nose with his free hand. He winced at the touch. “I think you broke my nose!” he whined. She had already closed the distance.

“Shut up!” Ryann snarled and slammed his head into the table. Victor fell to his knees, and her claws grew long and wickedly sharp. “Try anything funny and I’ll end you and your entire flock of filthy, unwashed vampires!”

Victor stayed on his knees and groaned, sounding much less intimidating with his broken nose. More like he had a cold than like a terrifying Blood. “Why?” he whined.

Ryann snarled louder. “Because I know you, Victor Vaughn, kidnapped me from the hospital!”

“… No?” He looked up at her in genuine confusion. “That’s not me?”

Ryann blinked, hesitating a little. “You didn’t kidnap someone from a hospital last week?” she asked, pulling him up a bit by the collar. He looked like Victor, but… did he have a twin? Or was he just an exceptionally good liar? Maybe a shapeshifter? Vampires could be shapeshifters, right?

“Oh, no, that was me,” Vaughn said. “But my name’s Hugo, not Victor.” He groaned and set his broken nose with a crunch. A shudder went through him and he made a sound of discomfort. At least his voice sounded a little less stuffy now, but he was still bleeding from his nose.

“What?” Ryann dropped him back on his knees and pulled out the ID. She held it up into the light of the grimy lamp. It read ‘Hugo Vaughn.’ “Oh. Guess you’re right,” she said. She tossed the ID and slammed his head back onto the table again.

“Ow, fuck!” Hugo complained. “Why you gotta be like that??”

“Why did you kidnap me?” she snarled, eyes narrowed.

Hugo kept his head down and whimpered a little. “It wasn’t my idea, honest!” he said, pleading. “It was Lucas’ idea!”

“Oh, that’s your shitty fucking boss, right?” Ryann growled at his ear, snapping her teeth together. She could smell the fear sweat on Hugo and it would have been a lie to say she didn’t find immense satisfaction in that. “You better tell me everything you know about him!”

Hugo whimpered louder and winced away from her a bit. “He’s the leader of our Hunger!”

“Hunger?” Ryann frowned. Her voice remained an angry growl.

“It’s like… you know, a flock of birds, a murder of crows, a Hunger of Bloods…”

Ryann’s claws scratched over the skin at Hugo’s head a bit more, tearing open wounds across the tattoo. “And he wanted me to be part of your shitty little family, is that it?”

The trapped vampire nodded eagerly, still pressed against the table. “Yeah! I mean… It was his idea to induct you into the Hunger. He said you were strong and needed our blood to be able to ever get back to your old self again! He said you’d thank us!”

“And you fucking believed him?”

“Of course!” Hugo said, turning his head ever so slightly to look up at her with a fearful look. “I mean… should I not have? Are you not happy?”

Why the fuck would I be happy?? Ryann rubbed her face, groaning. This guy was shaping up to be a right fucking tool. “Where’s your leader now?” she asked. Chances were he was dust, but just in case…

Hugo squirmed. “You uh… You went a bit wild and sort of ate his throat.”

“You mean I tore it out?” Ryann asked, knitting her eyebrows in a frown. Satisfied that Hugo probably knew better than to try anything, she let him go. He stunk of fear now and held his head, which had to be in a lot of pain, what with the slamming and cutting…

Ryann walked around the table, pushing aside the plate of half-eaten salad before sitting down in a chair that granted her a good view of Hugo and the door. That left her back to a large living room, but she didn’t worry. So far, nobody had come to help this scum, and they had made quite some noise. And it smelled like Hugo was living alone. Unless his stench overshadowed that of anyone else.

Hugo got into his own seat slowly and wiped at the blood running down his forehead. “No, I mean… You punched his face into a gravestone three times before biting into and chewing on his throat. And then you swallowed, I think” he said in an explanation of events that were a bit hazy for Ryann. He still remained hunched and submissive, as he should. Though his eyes went to the plate and the fork there, and then to the window in the wall to his left.

Right. Cannibalism. Am I glad I threw up on the way home, Ryann thought. She had had contact with Hugo’s fucked up family for a sum total of less than an hour that she could remember, and everything about them made her sick. And yes, she blamed the throat-eating on Lucas Merlowe.

“What about the other girl you tried to Turn?” she asked.

Hugo shrugged. “She wasn’t supposed to get free. Lucas wanted her to be your first.”

“First what?” Ryann raised an eyebrow.

“Your first kill. And, uh… dinner, I guess.”

Ryann pursed her lips, staying quiet for a moment. She slowly leaned up and took the lamp, turning it to shine it into Hugo’s face like during an interrogation in a shitty movie, which was kinda what her life felt like right now. He squinted and leaned away. “You kidnapped me,” Ryann said calmly. Her voice was so level she wasn’t entirely sure what she was feeling.


“Then you faked my death.”

“Heart failure.” He sounded kind of proud and apologetic.

Ryann perked up. “Are you… Are you fucking proud of that?” she asked, now more angry than neutral. “Don’t be fucking proud! I was admitted for a head injury! There’s like a million things to do with head trauma that could have caused my death! And you went with fucking heart failure?”

Hugo looked down again. “Sorry…” he muttered, all apologetic.

“Apology not accepted! Yeah! Yeah, you damn well should look ashamed!” Ryann said, agitation clear in her tone. She pushed the lamp more into his face and watched him squint. “Moving on, you then kidnapped another person and Turned us both, yes?”


“So that I would then… what, drink them too?”

“I mean… yeah?”

Ryann blinked, feeling almost a little stunned. “Do you not hear how fucking insane that sounds?” she asked, putting a lot of emphasis onto the sentence.

Hugo shrugged. “I mean we are filthy unwashed vampires. Your words.”

Ryann dropped the lamp. She slumped back in her seat as it swayed overhead. “I was gonna kill you,” she muttered.

“Uh… please don’t?” It sounded like a suggestion. A very hopeful suggestion.

Ryann ignored it. “Shut up, I… Wow. Just wow.” She rubbed her face. Then she dropped her arms, groaning loudly before sitting back up with a harsh snap of movement. She glared at Hugo. “I came here to take vengeance for someone taking my life away, some malicious monster. Now you’re telling me that you’re not evil but just mindbogglingly fucking stupid?”

Hugo looked at her. “Um… Sorry, I guess?” he said.

“… HEART FAILURE,” Ryann said, again.

Hugo shrugged a little.

Ryann slumped back again. “Jesus fucking Christ, Victor, just shut up.”

He opened his mouth. He closed it again, looking down.

Ryann stared at the ceiling. “How many more?” she asked in an exasperated mutter. “How many more are there in your shitty little coven?”

“It’s called a Hunger…”

She slammed her hand on the table. “Do I look,” she said slowly, “like I fucking care?” She turned her gaze to him very slowly. It was ice cold.

Hugo opened his mouth again. At the very pointed look, he shut it once more. “There’s just me,” he muttered. “You and Jack kinda killed everyone else from my Hunger.”

“Jack being the other girl.”


“The one you Turned and wanted me to eat.”


Ryann shook her head. “What the fuck are you doing with your life?”

“Well, technically I am a plumber,” Hugo muttered.

Ryann looked at the nighttime plumber with doubt clearly written all over her face.

He shrugged and averted his gaze again. “I guess I haven’t had any customers for a few years.”

Ryann kicked back and put her feet up on the table. “You,” she said slowly, “are so pathetic. I’m not even gonna enjoy killing you. For real. It would just be a mercy at this point.”

Hugo fidgeted his hands.

“Vampires. Bloods, or whatever…”

He looked up. Ryann didn’t meet his gaze. There was a smear on the ceiling that looked much less pathetic and didn’t hurt to look at.

Oh, who am I fucking kidding, he lives in a dump, this is so sad… She looked back at Hugo. “Bloods,” she said again. “What do you know about them?”

“Um… they exist,” he muttered.

Ryann placed a claw on the table and turned it slowly, watching the tip dig in and carve up little wood shavings. She pointedly looked from it to Hugo.

“Garlic’s good,” he said quickly. “Doesn’t hurt. Actually tastes really nice, I think.”

“Why does sunlight burn me?” Ryann asked. “I was told that was a bullshit myth, and then I was told that that’s like regular capital punishment. So which fucking is it?”

Hugo shrugged. “Well, the stronger your bloodline, the more powerful the vampire is. And vampire is really just a convenient term for creatures subsisting on blood. There’s about seventy separate species of vampire as catalogued by the leading occultists in the field. Some burn in the sun, others… don’t.” He cocked his head at Ryann’s stare. “What? I read books.”

“So,” Ryann said slowly, “the strength of the bloodline decides whether you get to live in the sun or be burned by it? And then also there’s some that just don’t fucking burn?”

“For our purposes… yeah, pretty much.”

“And our blood is weak because…?”

“Well, the more powerful Hungers won the fights for dominance and killed the strongest members of our line,” Hugo said. “That’s why Lucas wanted you to drink Jack. He said that right after Turning, you could add her power to yours. Didn’t seem to have worked, though. He was the last of our Hunger who could withstand the sun for a few hours. That’s why there were other vampires there, watching. They wanted to see if his plan worked. Well, and then there was the Scarlet Song guy… Fountain, I think?”

“Fuck’s sake, Victor!” Ryann sighed. She was just so done. She’d have to get the names of those other vampires, too…

Hugo shrugged, folding his hands in his lap while Ryann spent a few minutes silently fuming. “I mean… it didn’t work, right? Even though you… ate Lucas. You had an unpleasant run-in with Mr. Sunshine?” he inquired.