Adrian watched as the beautiful woman sashayed toward him, shedding her clothes one item at a time on the floor of his studio.
“Duke,” she purred.
He never bothered with introductions, but somehow the women always knew his full name, down to his lofty, noble titles. Adrianus Valerius Alberti, Duke of Rome, Count of Marsala, and Marquis of Venice.
“Adrian will suffice,” he said, preferring the shortened, more modern version of his name nowadays.
Tilting her head and letting her long, straight hair fall to the side to uncover the creamy expanse of her throat, the blonde gave him a smoldering look. “What do you want tonight?” she asked.
“You.” He made a come-hither gesture, anticipation building up straight from his groin to his fangs that were growing inside his mouth. Moving slightly, he made himself more comfortable in the armchair.
The blonde’s eyes remained locked with his, a chemical reaction to his charm women tended to experience in his presence, and not because he used glamour on his feeding partners. He would never influence someone else’s behavior using his vampiric power unless it was a matter of life and death. The woman had been more than willing without him having to influence her behavior. When it came to finding a partner for the night, Adrian had never needed to work too hard. Truth be told, he had been exceedingly good-looking before he died at the age of thirty-one and resurrected as an undead and had never wanted for company.
After a long night spent fixing his associates’ long list of mishaps, he deserved a good meal and some fun by the side. The blonde promised to be both, and she was aware of the rules, which was always a boon when dealing with mortals. He didn’t have any patience with simpering, virginial types who thought they liked to walk the wild side only to crumble and cry as soon as the fangs came out and the reality of what was about to happen became crystal clear.
“Where do you prefer to feed?” Removing her white lace thongs, she took the last step on her stiletto heels and stood bare in front of him.
Adrian reached out, his finger tracing the contour of her thigh, dipping inside and finally resting at the apex of her long legs. He inched his finger toward her soft center. “I drink from here,” he said, gently pressing against her skin, making her shiver.
He waited for her shaky nod before leaning closer to her body and inhaling her essence. She had been ready for him since he met her at Tulipano Rosso, one of his nightclubs. They had exchanged looks, and she had followed him outside to his Ferrari. During the ride to the hotel he owned in the historical center of Rome, her hands had wandered all over his thigh, and he had let her. Her desire soon filled the inside of his sportscar, and had he been a greener vampire, she would have never seen the end of the ride. But Adrian’s ancient age came with several perks, one of them the ability to keep his nature in check for long periods of time. His strength of will was legendary among his peers, and it was a source of pride for him.
The woman moaned, making Adrian smile. He hadn’t even touched her yet. His finger brushed her petals, parting them to find her very center. As he entered her, he kissed the point where her leg and apex met, causing her to shake and utter a few incoherent nonsenses. Again, he couldn’t help but smile. He drew immense pleasure in giving pleasure to the women he fed on. He hadn’t experienced true physical release in a long time, but feeling those soft bodies writhing and squirming in ecstasy under his hands was the closest he would ever come to, well, to come again.
His fangs gently pierced her silky skin, and blood coated his tongue, a trickle at first. Pumping his finger into her, he started sucking in earnest, filling his mouth with her warm, wine scented blood. He took from her until she reached her release, then retracted his fangs and passed his tongue over the prickles to heal the small wounds. Before raising his head, he kissed her softly, savoring the aftermath of her orgasm and the quivering of her flesh. He hugged her legs when they threatened to give away from under her, keeping her standing.
“That was amazing,” she whispered a few seconds later, her fingers laced through his hair.
He leaned away, releasing his hold on her. She wobbled on her high heels at first but immediately regained balance and made to kneel in front of him.
“That won’t be necessary.” Adrian helped her up again. “You were great.” He stood too and led her toward the door. “Thank you.” When she started to complain, he said, “I enjoyed our time together, but it’s now time for you to go back home.”
The woman blinked and gave him an apologetic smile. “It’s just that it was so good and—”
“It was good for me as well.” He kissed the back of her hand. “Goodbye.”
Later, when he was in his studio overlooking Campo de’ Fiori, he opened a vintage Brunello di Montalcino and poured a good measure of the dark-red nectar in a long flute. He let the wine oxygenate, rolling the stem of the crystal between his fingers as he looked at the square below. Rome never slept, especially during the summer, and a crowd of tourists, neighbors, and students from the nearby university had gathered to look at the shooting stars. Couples kissed, parents held their children close as laughter and cries of wonder resonated throughout the square.
Adrian felt the usual pang of loneliness squeezing his heart in a cold grab. Almost two-thousand years old and nobody to call his own.
Another day passed, exactly in the same way thousands of them had passed before, and Adrian woke at the sound of the vespero bells. That too never changed.
He appreciated that in the Eternal City something as old as the bells announcing the time for the afternoon prayers was still a respected tradition. Civilization would crumble the moment people forgot about their origins.
The downing sun colored the landscape with an orange tinge that enhanced the yellows and reds of the flowers hanging from the balconies. Another perk of being an ancient vampire, maybe the greatest of them all, Adrian was a day-walker; one of the elected few who could withstand the power of the sun without being reduced to dust. He still preferred to sleep the day away because he favored the company of his undead brethren over the mortals, but kept early hours to walk that invisible line between the two worlds.
As he did every afternoon, he climbed the narrow stairs to the terrace that crowned his Roman’s house. He headed straight to the veranda and sat on his favorite wicker rocking chair. From his vantage point, he could see the sun lowering slowly over the sea of gray and yellow roofs and terraces. Birds flew in large formations overhead, filling the sky with dark clouds that constantly mixed and parted ways, creating aerial choreographies that had no equals.
The sun finally set. Adrian closed his eyes, savoring those last rays bathing his cold skin. The night swiftly came, and soon the pinks and the oranges were replaced by a darkening patina that swallowed all the color, leaving behind a momentary silence.
He remained on his wicker chair longer than usual tonight, and the stars were already shining in the night sky when, five floors below, the doorbell rang, announcing visitors. Adrian flew down the stairs and reached the foyer before the guest raised his finger. A familiar face smiled at him when he opened the door.
“Mark,” Adrian moved to let his old friend inside. “I didn’t know you were in town.”
Mark Lane was a British vampire who worked for Clarence Collins, the Directive’s lead investigator. Adrian and Mark had met in London when the city was still called Londinium, soon after the tall vampire was changed and left without a sire all on the same night. Adrian had become a father figure for the young vampling and guided Mark’s first steps into the undead society, helping him survive his first decade.
“I’ve just arrived,” Mark said, following Adrian into the large sitting room on the third floor.
Adrian’s house had been built on top of a small ridge and towered over the rest of the neighborhood, giving him an unobstructed view of Campo de’ Fiori. Presently, streetlamps and the illumination coming from the restaurants brightened the square in soft colors. A soft drizzle covered the striped umbrellas and the cobblestones, giving the landscape an ethereal look.
“What brings you to Rome?” Adrian asked, motioning for Mark to sit in one of the armchairs facing the large window.
“Unfortunately, work,” his friend said, opening the last two buttons on his gray suit jacket before taking his seat.
They had exchanged a few phone calls during the last month, and Adrian knew about the case his friend was working on. All over Europe, young women were turning up in alleys, tortured to death. The Directive had been contacted right away from the Interpol, requesting help in finding the serial killer before the murders became public knowledge. Supernaturals had come out a long time ago, but they still needed to keep a low profile not to scare mortals into organizing against the undead, the shifters, and the other immortal races. A special force of supers, the Directive, maintained the status quo with a steel glove and no mercy for offenders.
“There’s been another homicide. It happened here, in Rome, and it might be a vampire job” Mark said, drumming his long fingers against his leg. “A young woman was found stuffed like garbage inside a pub’s trash bin.”
“Which pub?” Adrian had a bad omen.
“Leone Rampante,” Mark answered.
The Rampant Lion. One of Adrian’s high-end pubs in Piazza Navona. “Why wasn’t I informed right away?” His hand went to his cell phone in his pants pocket to call the pub’s manager and give him a piece of his mind. His hand grasped at thin air, and he remembered that he had left it on his nightstand earlier. He only used the cell phone to deal with his numerous businesses but had never warmed up to the social media fever. Adrian couldn’t understand what the deal about this frenzy to be always connected was. In fact, he was a recluse among his species and spent the majority of his time by himself. He had virtual assistants he spoke to through either emails or calls, and hired only a skeleton staff for his houses. No bodyguards either were necessary for Adrian. As a day-walker, he was on top of the food chain and feared nobody.
“The girl was found this morning, by one of the cops in our payroll, and the Directive sent a squad to clean the place right away.” Mark sighed heavily. “Officially, I’m here to take your statement.”
Adrian raised an eyebrow.
Mark opened his hands to the side. “I asked Collins to be the one to talk to you. They were going to send someone else, and I wouldn’t let them disrespect you.” He shook his head. “I know you didn’t do it, but there’s an ongoing investigation, and I’ve asked and obtained to take this case.”
“I know you’re only doing your job.” Adrian bowed his head slightly in a silent thank you. “It was just taken aback for a moment, that’s all.” He stood and went to the liquor cabinet where he stocked his most rare vintages. After pouring some Masseto for the two of them, he handed Mark one of the flutes. “So, what do you want to know?”
“The usual spiel.” Mark swirled the crystal, inhaling the rich bouquet of the red. “Where were you between last night and today? Do you have an alibi?”
“Last night, I had dinner with a lady guest. We spent most of the night at my hotel. Afterwards, I came home where I slept until sunset.” Adrian sipped from his flute, letting the wine coat his tongue before it slid down his throat. “People saw me at Tulipano Rosso. And I’m sure the lady can be found if necessary.”
“No, I don’t think it will come to that.” Mark stood and sighed. “I wish I could stay longer and chat with you, but I have to make a house call before the night ends.”