I got my first glimpse of Belle Morte as the limousine crested an upwards sloping road. The vampire mansion was the far end of Winchester city, where historic timber-framed buildings gave way to the green sprawl of the South Downs National Park.
As always, the gated wall that ringed the mansion was mostly blocked from view by an eager crowd of paparazzi, all clamouring for a glimpse of the creatures that had become the world's most dazzling celebrities – and anyone associated with them. As of two weeks ago, since completing my application to become a blood donor, that included me.
The limo bumped over a pothole, and my stomach jolted with it. Quickly I put down my glass of champagne. Everything inside me was already a hard knot of nerves, and the alcohol wasn't helping.
"I can't wait!" exclaimed a girl on my left. "Phillip and Gideon and Etienne – oh, and Edmond." She rattled off the names of Belle Morte vampires like they were old friends rather than people she'd probably stalked across the internet.
But that was how it worked these days. Vampires were the ultimate celebrities - mysterious, beautiful immortals that had come out of the metaphorical coffin ten years ago and proved to the world that they really did exist. And the world couldn't get enough of them. A-list celebs had been shoved down to D-list, and anyone lower had pretty much dropped off the map. Tabloids, gossip columns, photo shoots, and talk-shows – they all belonged to the vampires now.
Most people liked it that way.
"What about that Rosaria chick?" said the boy opposite me, his lips curling into a smile. "I can't wait for her to get her fangs into me."
Another boy shook his head. "Yeah, Rosaria's hot, but if anyone's taking a bite out of me, I want it to be the ice-queen herself. Ysanne Moreau." A dreamy look crossed his face.
The girl next to me scoffed. "You don't get to choose who bites you. That's up to the vampires."
"Yeah, but a guy can dream."
I sank back in my seat, mentally shaking my head as I listened. Didn't they realise we were heading into the belly of the beast? Belle Morte was one of only five vampire Houses in all of the UKand Republic of Ireland, and everyone in this limo was heading into that House as a blood donor. In the modern world, vampires didn't hunt their prey from the shadows, but paid people like us to allow them to drink our blood – though none of us would see a penny of that money until our stint as a blood donor was up.
On the outside it seemed like a good set-up – apply to be a donor, get accepted, move to one of the vampire Houses, allow the vampires to drink from you every now and then, and eventually leave the House with a very full bank account.
But too many people seemed to forget that these were vampires we were dealing with. The world treated them like celebrities, but I couldn't forget the legends that followed in their wake, the tales of blood and bodies.
After revealing themselves to the world, vampires had set up the blood donor system so humans didn't become prey on the streets. But I didn't trust them. And I had good reason not to.
The flash of cameras grew brighter and more frenzied as we approached the mansion, and I fisted my hands in my lap to keep them still. Maybe I'd made a huge mistake in coming here. Donor contracts didn't stipulate exactly how long a donor had to remain in the vampire House. We were there until they got bored of us – that could be weeks, months, even years. Once I went inside Belle Morte, I had no idea when I'd be allowed out again. That wouldn't be a problem if I was in it for the money or the glamour like everyone else who signed up.
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Belle Morte (Book 1, the Belle Morte Series)Vampire
Renie Mayfield volunteers as a blood donor for the Vampire House where her sister disappeared, when she's drawn to the smouldering vampire Edmond Dantès. ***** It's been ten years...