“This is some sort of sick game you’ve cooked up to get back at me.”
“Now why would you think that?”
William shot an annoyed glance across the front of the car just in time to catch the smirk on Vyvyan’s face. The faint sign that his charge was actually in possession of a sense of humor vanished all too quickly for his liking. Even though the female was a royal thorn in his ass, he had to admit she looked damn good with a smile on her face. Not that she had a whole hell of a lot to smile about these days, he reminded himself. That sobering thought snapped his attention back to the street in front of them.
Traffic in Anaheim moved slower than snails could hump. Hell, snails were vigorous compared to the speed at which they crawled down Harbor. Vyvyan must have timed their arrival just right so that he would have to sit through this crap. A dull throb worked its way up William’s calf, letting him know his body was as annoyed as his mind. Any longer in this mess and he’d be forced to maneuver the large SUV with a cramped leg.
“The turn should be coming up.”
“Really, Your Highness? The giant fuckin’ sign didn’t clue me in to that one at all. Thanks.”
Vyvyan turned in her seat. The freshly cleaned leather under her expensive pants squeaked softly, sounding like a rat that’d sensed the ship was sinking. Maybe it was her taxed mind playing games with her, or maybe the seat had reason to protest. Their little trip was already a wreck, mostly because the male behind the wheel had yet to learn his place. Good security guards were so hard to find. Good security guards of their race were even harder to locate. The soldiers who survived the ongoing war came home too damaged to be of any good. Obviously that was the reason she had so many problems with William.
“First, you are to never address me as that again. My family renounced the crown a century ago.” While she took a breath, Vyvyan swore she heard William’s eyes roll back so far they bounced off the inside of his thick skull. “Second, can the attitude. This is a trip designed to be fun.”
“You call sitting in traffic a hop, skip, and jump from our destination fun? I could walk in and jump on a ride before you could pull the car into the parking lot, Princess.”
Her teeth smacked together so hard that Vyvyan thought she’d cracked a molar. The male was beyond all hope. His attitude was sure to ruin their entire evening. It wasn’t like she got to really go out and enjoy herself all that often. The money spent on the tickets was nothing, a penny in comparison to the coffers her family kept. But the idea that for once she could escape the eyes of their kind and be a somewhat normal being, now that was something to fight for. Even if fighting for it meant duct-taping William to a wheel chair and hauling his backside through the park.
“Please, William. Remember this is the happiest place on earth. I would regret bringing you if you ruined this for the others trying to enjoy their evening out.”
Silence filled the cab of the SUV and stretched on for a few minutes. Finally William let out a ragged sigh. He nodded, not sure if Vyvyan was still trying to glare a hole in the side of his head or not. Damn her, but she had a point. This wasn’t about him or even her. There were humans out enjoying the cool night air as well.
“Fine, I will behave. Just don’t expect me to smile. Its against the body guard code to smile.”
“Like you were one to ever follow the rules. I’m not buying your snake oil, William.” Her voice bounced with restrained laughter. God how he wanted to see her unleash that laugh and let it bathe both of them.
He cursed the weakness she brought out in him and shook away the stupid desire to hear her laugh. “You don’t have to buy it. Plenty of others will tonight.”
“We will see.”
The tone in her voice made him steal another glance in her direction. Vyvyan’s eyes were downcast as she seemed to study her fingernails carefully. Her eyebrows came down so far he couldn’t tell where they stopped and her nose began. Behind them a chorus of car horns went off. William’s attention was back on the road again. He managed to park the SUV without being distracted by the tense silence between them. Did she really believe he would go out of his way to screw up what may be her only chance to relax this decade?
Feeling like a heel, William slid out of his seat and went around to open the passenger door. Despite protocol Vyvyan was already out and marching off in the direction of the transport busses. A sickening sense of déjà vu kicked his ass into a jog to catch up with her. He kept jogging until he passed her by a couple of feet then turned to block her path. Remembering how stubborn and strong the female is, he planted his feet and braced himself on the off chance she decided she wasn’t going to stop.
“Did you forget what happened last time you walked off without me?”
Vyvyan looked up and narrowed her eyes at the male. “Of course I remember. How could I not? By the end of it all I was covered in your blood.”
Flashes of the ordeal played out on the video screen inside her head. Once again Vyvyan wished she didn’t have such a great memory. She really did not need to relive William’s first day as her personal guard. Neither did she need to remember the way her heart almost stopped at the thought that she’d cost the male his life.
“Then why the hell are you running off again, Princess?” He hissed as he fell into step on her right side. Like the good guard he was at heart, his eyes never stopped moving. The male was constantly checking for threats to her person. If he wasn’t paid for what he did the concern might make her like him a little bit. Vyvyan cursed inwardly and continued walking. That train of thought was not one to encourage.
“Because I am tired of being treated like a fragile egg. There have been no threats since… well you know.”
With a soft curse William checked to make sure there was no one near and pulled Vyvyan to a stop in the slim space between two minivans. A faded Garfield clung to one of the windows he was facing. Normally the lasagna-munching cat would make him crack a smile, but not this time around. Not while ghosts chased through the eyes of the female he’d come to care for in some little way.
“We didn’t catch all of them and you know it. I don’t get my rocks off by making your life hell, believe it or not. This is my duty and I am honor bound to carry it out to the best of my abilities. If you get popped in the parking lot at fuckin’ Disneyland, I’ll never hear the end of it.” He wanted to shake that haunted look out of her eyes.
His arms had other ideas though. As he reached up, ready to give her just the slightest of shakes his arms snaked around her and pulled her in for a gentle hug. William stared down at the traitors over her shoulder and wanted to curse again. She was his charge. You didn’t get all touchy-feely with charges. That sort of thing always ended badly. The first time he thought he had feelings for the female it landed him in the medical wing of her father’s estate house. That was not going to happen again.
William’s reassuring warmth retreated far too quickly for her liking. Vyvyan kept her eyes locked on the tips of her shoes, unsure of what exactly her face showed. On some level she knew there were feelings rising for the male. On another level she knew those feelings were completely inappropriate. For heaven’s sake, he was paid to be with her, she reminded herself harshly. He wasn’t here because he was her friend. That statement had become her mantra as of late. Not that it was working at all.
“The bus is here.” She stepped out from the intimate space and waited for him to take the lead again.
There was a brief hesitation before William slid past her and resumed his post just a step ahead of her and to the right. During the few moments he wasn’t glued to her side, Vyvyan caught herself staring at that exact spot and wondering what he was doing. It was ridiculous to care for the male, it really was. He was completely wrong for her. Professional soldiers, professional vampire soldiers especially, made horrible lovers. They’d seen too much of the bad that vampirekind unleashed on each other daily. Dealing with that much blood and anger left indelible scars on a male’s psyche. Her father was a perfect example.
No, she refused to think of him. He could not ruin the happy moment she was trying to carve for herself despite the hell raining down on her head. The few hours Vyvyan had managed to set aside for herself were utterly precious. No one, not even her father would screw her out of it.
Grinning cartoon characters greeted them from the side of the bright green bus that would take them to the front gates of the park. William frowned up at the looming faces and tried to figure out why a cowboy was hanging all over an astronaut and a piggy bank. They weren’t even in the damn place and already he was at a loss for words. Did these oddities really excite humans?
“Stare harder, they may speak to you.” Vyvyan whispered. Her breath caressed the side of his cheek, causing his breath to catch before he could try and control the reaction.
“Are you sure you want to do this? There’s got to be something more appropriate for… you know, someone in your position.”
“This place was created from one man’s dream and continues to thrive because other like-minded people have picked up where he left off and began to share their dreams with the world.” Vyvyan spoke softly as they climbed into the bus and snagged a pair of seats next to each other. “In our world I’m not allowed to dream. My lab, my dreams of helping our race were blown to smithereens. Father thinks he can control me now without the lab in the way.”
William smirked and twisted in the narrow seat. There were ghosts in her eyes again, only he had a feeling these weren’t the same ones from before. He had to give it to Vyvyan; lesser females would be in tears after what she’d endured. The backbone keeping her together had to be made of solid steel.
“No one can control you unless you give them power to.”
“The laws my father has written gives him that power. I am nothing to fight against them.” Her voice faded to absolutely nothing. Defeat sat on her shoulders as he watched the ball-busting bitch melt into just another pretty female.
An ache set into the middle of his chest. To see such a strong vampire crushed to nothing because she happened to be blessed with the ability to reproduce hurt something inside of him. That something wanted to gather Vyvyan into his seat and promise anything to see her acting herself again. Even if returning to her old ways meant she hated his guts.
William’s hand slid up the armrest to grasp hers. The soft flesh covering her hand felt cooler than it should have. They’d both fed and fed well before leaving the estate house just after sunset. It was as though whatever life she’d ingested flooded right out of her system at the realization that her gender would keep her dreams from touching as many as the human who created the theme park now pulling fully into view through the windows of the bus.
“Bullshit.” His grip tightened as a wave of anger pulsed through him.
“That is total fuckin’ bullshit and you know it, Vyvyan. Dreams cannot die. Don’t let that old coot try and tell you otherwise. You’re better than that, stronger than that.”
Fury snapped Vyvyan away from that cold place inside herself where she went when her father’s will pressed her to nothing but an asset for his dealings. Centuries of breeding created a race where the males were everything and females became naught but decorations. Females serviced the males in their needs and desires. It took a strong spirit to break free of those bonds and reach for the stars. She’d tried, spent centuries fighting her father or sneaking around behind his back to do as she wished.
“That bastard will not ruin me.” She said aloud to no one in particular.
“That’s my girl.”
“I am your nothing. Its best you remember that.”
The moment the bus halted Vyvyan nudged William out into the aisle and off the vehicle. A breeze whipped her hair across her eyes, blocking out the peak of an artificial mountain that rose above the tall walls that kept the dreams of so many safely locked away. She ran a hand through her hair, yanking it free of her eyes. Even outside of the gates, the place reeked of magic. Not the magic some of her kind wielded, but a simpler magic, one that guaranteed happiness.
“Can you open your purse for me, Miss?” An older man smiled at her and pointed to the small purse hanging from her shoulder.
“What’s going on?” William whispered so quietly the human couldn’t possibly hear it.
“Let security do their job. It does not impede yours in any way.” Vyvyan replied as she opened the top of her purse to let the man look inside. Regrettably, she was forced to cloud his mind just enough that he did not question the extra weight of the small club she kept in the bottom of her purse. Usually there was a gun stowed in the compartment, but William confiscated it until he was certain she knew what she was doing with it.
“Why does a theme park need security? Are they afraid someone will mug the giant mouse and his girl friend?”
“Are you going to be this bothersome the entire night? If so you can return to the car.” She continued on towards the line of gates, blatantly ignoring William.
“Stop doing that!”
“Then remember your place and try not to ruin this for me.”
Vyvyan stopped in front of the nearest gate and whirled around to pin William with a glare. Her finger poked into his chest as she tried to think of a way to convey to the male just how much she needed this. He didn’t know what it was like to have no real freedom. Even now, even miles away from her overbearing father and his spies, she was not free.
She didn’t have to say another word. William simply nodded and carefully removed her finger from his chest. He turned her around and led the way through the gate. The lack of control threatened to swarm him like the hoards of humans milling around them, but he stamped the feeling down into a box and sealed it up tight. All he could do was try his best to keep her safe.
“Lets go on Space Mountain. That looks thrilling.” Vyvyan beamed up at him over the map she was studying.
“Whatever the lady wishes. Which direction is it in?”
“This way.” She grabbed his hand and led them through an archway that quite literally dumped them in another era. If it had not been for the clothing of those around them staying the same, William swore they were magicked back to a time when he was younger and still fighting the good fight against the vampire’s mortal enemies.
“Holy crap. This is…”
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Vyvyan chimed in.
“Yes, amazing. You say one man thought this up?” His eyes tried to look everywhere all at once. The effect of this first section of the park was dizzying. What else was in store for them?
“He had some help along the way.”
She pulled them towards the right. Suddenly they were no longer in the past, but barreling head first into an idealized future. Space ships whirled above their heads, climbing higher and higher until finally the ride ended and the miniature astronauts were returned to terra firma. On the left more children were lining up to defeat a giant robot. To the right a group laughed and entered a spaceport promising non-stop trips to Endor. Where the hell was Endor?
“Hurry up, will you?” Vyvyan huffed and jerked on William’s arm, pulling him past a handful of souvenir shops.
Remembering himself finally, William stepped ahead of her and led the way up to the waiting line of humans. They all trembled with excitement. A few seemed downright terrified, though. Unease wormed its way back into his mind after one girl shrieked and ran back down the ramp.
He leaned down to whispered in Vyvyan’s ear. “What kind of ride is this?”
“I haven’t a clue. It was close and looked fun.” She smiled and nudged him in the ribs. “Don’t tell me that my big, bad body guard is afraid of a simple ride.”
William straightened his shoulders and resumed looking around them for signs of danger. “I am afraid of nothing.”
His resolve wilted just a little as another human started to cry and left to go back down the ramp towards the entrance.
The line wound like a giant snake around and down into a large, towering structure. Even Vyvyan was beginning to rethink her choice of rides by the time the narrow hallway opened up and led them into a cavernous space. Hanging from the ceiling was a space ship of some sort. Either that or it was the world’s largest laser and Mr. Disney had been planning intergalactic warfare instead of family entertainment.
Small cars designed to look like space shuttles rode in at a decent clip. They parked just long enough to let one set of riders out and allow the others to get situated in their seats. A thick metal bar came down across their laps. Vyvyan frowned at the device.
“They expect that to hold us in place?” William asked before she could.
“Exactly what I was thinking.”
They edged closer to the railing. The trail of riders wound around the large room and down to the loading area. Once there almost everyone seemed to steel themselves and eagerly jumped into the waiting shuttle. Even the humans with tears drying on their cheeks climbed aboard. It was as though the employees worked some sort of spell to compel them in. Vyvyan saw nothing but friendly smiles. No magic, malice or intent to harm. The power of Disneyland was no more evident than right there.
“How many riders in your group?” A young woman smiled despite seeing how far off the ground Vyvyan jumped.
“Just two.” William answered and shot Vyvyan a concerned look.
“Row one, please.” The girl’s smile followed them until she was sure they were in the right spot then she turned it to the family that’d been behind them.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
“The cars aren’t even moving that fast. It’s perfectly harmless.” Vyvyan gave his arm a pat just as the gate swung open and gave them access to the shuttle.
“You call that perfectly harmless?” William shouted over the blood rushing in his ears. “I think I left my stomach back on that last turn!”
“How was I supposed to know it went that fast? This is my first time here as well.” She looked paler than usual. An impressive feat for a vampire that’d fed only two hours ago.
Not even their enhanced vision dulled the experience of being tossed, turned, bounced, and all but flung against a brick wall in the darkness. Being able to see the tracks and where they were going probably made things worse. Once he saw the jumbled mess of steel shoved in the tight space, William’s mind refused to understand how the shuttle could possibly ride over all of it while keeping them safe. The little lap bar felt useless on that first bump. He was certain they were both going to fly out and splat against the floor that was so far down below them.
“Where to next?” Vyvyan asked while fishing the map out of her purse, taking extra care to make sure her hands weren’t shaking.
“Something nice and soothing. The slower the better. I feel as though I’ve been pitched off the top of the Empire State building.” He ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to straighten it.
Vyvyan studied the map. Submarines were out of the question; she didn’t do well in enclosed spaces. Any of the other rides in the futuristic section were sure to be just as bad if not worse than Space Mountain. Her finger traced the white paths drawn on the map looking for the closest ride.
“This one seems about our speed.” She pointed to the snow-capped mountain on the map. “Its just on the other side of that restaurant.”
“Promise me this one is safe.” William’s voice wavered just a little. He coughed and tried to act like he just had something in his throat.
“How bad can it be?” Vyvyan smiled and took his hand.
He looked down at their joined hands and returned her smile. Despite having a century or two scared out of him, he was happy. Better yet, Vyvyan seemed at peace. For her he’d ride the space ride all over again. Not that he was willing to tell her as much. Not yet. Not ever. His feelings for her would follow him to the grave.
“Lead the way, princess.”