Chapter One

Yelena Solodnikova drove her black Mercedes Benz through the Hollywood Hills thinking of a man other than the one she was coming home to. That man’s name was Marcel and despite Yelena’s best efforts to love again, Marcel was still the only man who had ever been housed deeply within her heart. Back when they lived in Malibu, Marcel went for a run on the beach and never came back. It took Yelena more than a year to accept that Marcel would never return, and when she did, she moved out of their house, left the beach, and retreated to the hills.

An hour before she stepped into her car she had been sitting on a sofa in a corner office on the fourth floor of an architecturally unimaginative office building. Already into the hours of night, the floors of fluorescent lights were turned out, making the building’s glass appear black, with only the amber glow of the street lamps tapping against them. Only in that single office suite on the fourth floor did light shine from within, and even that was dim, its source being two incandescent bulbs, already soft and furthermore shaded.

As usual, Yelena was dressed in all black—a pencil skirt and a blouse that left her pale arms bare. Her youthful platinum blonde hair, which caused most observers to incorrectly conclude she had an excellent colorist, was worn up that night, held in place with two black chopsticks, each studded with a diamond. She wore diamond earrings as well, a diamond bracelet, and a wristwatch encrusted with diamonds. But around her neck she wore a simple silver chain with an asymmetrical heart-shaped pendant with an empty setting that held neither a diamond nor any gemstone at all.

Yelena was a woman who should have known she was exceptionally beautiful, but she never thought about it and certainly didn’t see it. She noticed the stares she would receive from both men and women in public, but they would only force her to look away. She didn’t recognize when she was being admired; rather, she saw the flaws she felt resided within her were visible and being scrutinized.

Though placed at her youthful age of twenty-four, she carried an elegance more commonly seen in an older woman. Her posture and grace suggested the background of a classically trained dancer, which she had once been. She was twenty-three and actually en pointe when she first saw Marcel. He was sitting in the sixth row of a full auditorium, staring directly at her on a stage full of dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet, including the company’s étoile, who Yelena was not.

Yelena’s eyes were dark and serious. Her lashes were long and her eyebrows always appeared as if they had just been meticulously threaded. Her pallid skin was without hue but appeared flawless as though she powdered the entirety of her beautifully lithe body. Her lips were lusciously full and always perfectly lined with a deep red lipstick. I wish I looked like Yelena, but I don’t. Not remotely.

Sitting in a chair opposite Yelena was Dr. Sloane, her psychiatrist. I only met him once while sitting in his waiting room one night during Yelena’s session, but I’ve gotten to know him quite well since. At the time, Dr. Sloane was in his fifties. His socks always matched his ties, which Yelena had noticed, but she didn’t realize her shrink was dressed by his wife until I told her. She got a good laugh out of it. His wife didn’t decorate Dr. Sloane’s office, however. It looked like it hadn’t been decorated in over thirty years. The furniture was comfortable but older and more worn than Yelena would have expected for her three hundred and eighty dollars an hour.

“And today?”

“I had coffee,” Yelena answered softly, as was her nature.

Dr. Sloane jotted something down on his notepad. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“How would you say your energy level has been this week?

“Low. I barely made it here.”

“Yelena, what do you see as the end result when you choose not to eat?”

“I’ll die.”

“Is that what you want?”

Yelena shrugged. Dr. Sloane took more notes and then looked up at his patient until she finally looked back at him.

“When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see?”

“Nobody.”

“Do you believe you’re overweight?”

“No.”

“Then why avoid food?”

“We’ve covered this before. Guilt.”

“Yes. I recall. You feel guilty while you eat.”

“I feel guilty for needing to eat at all.”

Dr. Sloane hit the dead end they’d hit before. He changed the subject.

“Have you given any more thought to going back to ballet?”

“I haven’t thought of it at all.”

“It could be good for you. You said before you missed it.”

“I’m in no shape for it.”

“Physically or emotionally?”

“I haven’t finished grieving.”

“Are you willing to talk about Marcel today?”

Yelena shook her head. Another dead end.

“I see. Alright. Well, in our session last week, you mentioned a man you’ve been seeing recently. Andre, I believe. How are things with him?”

“Horrible.”

“Horrible in what sense?”

“He says he loves me.”

There wasn’t a lot of time left in the session after that. Yelena got up to leave while Dr. Sloane remained in his seat appearing contemplative. She knew she was his last patient of the day but decorum called for him to wait a customary ten minutes for her to leave his office before leaving himself, in order to maintain boundaries and keep their personal lives from mingling.

The parking garage was nearly empty, with spaces occupied only by her car and a Lexus SUV she knew belonged to Dr. Sloane. The lights of her car flashed as she unlocked it remotely before getting in. She started the engine and drove toward the garage exit, and inserted a credit card in the kiosk. The credit card was returned and the mechanical arm blocking her exit rose. Yelena drove out of the parking lot and once she was on the street, she quickly exceeded the speed limit as was her custom. Yelena loved to drive.

Sunset Boulevard was packed with people all done up and beautiful for a night on the town. Yelena hit every red light and watched them through her windshield, gliding through the crosswalks with smiles of anticipation on their faces. So many high heels and short skirts walking beside designer jeans and chiseled chins. Few looked for love; most looked for sex. The beautiful people of Los Angeles left their dreams of stardom for the daytime, while at their day jobs when they realized how little of what they wanted they actually had. At night, they were already the stars they dreamed of. Yelena finally made it through The Strip and headed into the hills.

Yelena’s house was large and well kept. It had many windows but tall Italian cypress trees, planted closely together, shielded the house from view from the street. As she pulled into the curved driveway, the larger of two garage doors opened. She parked inside and the door lowered behind her.

The interior of her house was spotless and filled with minimalist modern furniture that always looked too new and too expensive to be comfortable. Her walls, on the other hand, were maximally decorated with abstract art, which she avidly collected. Yelena was especially partial to the Gesturalists.

Yelena placed her keys in a ceramic bowl that sat on a table where she also deposited her purse. She looked around the empty room wishing she were alone.

“It smells weird in here,” she said, knowing she’d be answered.

“Hey, that’s dinner!” a voice called from the kitchen. It was Andre. Yelena entered the kitchen to greet him.

Andre was in his thirties, tall like Marcel was, and though he was model beautiful, in Yelena’s eyes he was not half as beautiful as Marcel had been. Andre wore an apron Yelena didn’t recognize over his stylish street clothes, and smiled wide when his eyes landed on Yelena. He had already told her he loved her. She sensed he imagined them being wed together forever and, because she had already discovered ways in which she could love him back, a sadness swept over her knowing it wouldn’t be long before she removed him from her life.

Andre kissed her. “I got here later than I wanted. Dinner won’t be ready for a little bit longer. Are you surprised?”

Yelena nodded her head.

“You see? This is why I needed keys.”

Knowing Andre’s tastes, Yelena knew the meal would be exquisite, but she didn’t recognize the aroma. Yelena rarely ate at home unless there were guests, which now included guests who had been given keys. To Yelena, fine dining was like sex: both were pleasurable but deprivation of either wouldn’t kill her.

“Just go and relax,” he said. “Take your shoes off. I’ll set the table.”

Yelena was starving and the food smelled delicious but Yelena knew it wouldn’t be enough. It couldn’t be. That was impossible. She had to get some air and some space. She opened one of the French doors and stepped out onto the terrace and stood in the moonlight. She placed her hands on the broad balustrade. The stone felt cool on her normally cold skin, like marble in a mausoleum. That was comforting and her mind began to clear.

Like the other men she dated, Andre had asked about the heart with the missing gem around Yelena’s neck. The rich ones offered to replace the diamond, but she always declined their offers and refused to tell them more about it or even that she had purchased the piece of jewelry purposefully without a stone, telling the jeweler she planned to set it with an heirloom diamond. In truth, that empty heart that hung between her breasts was Marcel’s and she didn’t need any of these other men knowing how little of her they had while holding her hand, kissing her lips, or even being inside of her. There would never be another Marcel. There could never be a second. Marcel had made her who she was and there was no undoing that. Yelena would never be severed from Marcel, not by love for someone else, nor by the tidal hatred for him that would periodically swell inside her.

Andre removed his apron and stepped out onto the terrace and, from behind her, placed his arms on Yelena’s hips.

“It’s cold out here,” he said, and he wrapped his arms around her warmly. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“Nothing,” Yelena answered.

“I know you’ve been feeling a little worn out lately so I just wanted to do something nice.”

“I know. Thank you.”

“I was hoping we could go to a club later. You say you love to dance, yet we’ve never been.”

“I’m too tired tonight.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be tonight. I just mean when you’re feeling up to it.”

“You’re so nice to me.”

“I love you.”

“Please don’t say that.”

“I know it’s not something you like to hear, Yelena, but it’s true. I love you.”

Yelena paused in thought for a long time and said nothing. Finally, she turned into Andre and embraced him tightly. “Make love to me then.”

“Right now? But dinner.”

“Later. Please, make love to me now.”

Andre nodded and scooped Yelena up and carried her back inside, past the kitchen, and down the hall to her bedroom, which was in the rear of the house. Through the large windows, the room was blanketed in moonlight and a panorama of city lights displayed itself in the distance below.

Andre put Yelena down and they stood before each other. He pulled her blouse over her head and dropped it on the floor. He turned her around and proceeded to unzip her pencil skirt until it also fell to the floor. He turned her back to face him, in her black lace bra and panties, and then went to his knees. She placed her hands on his shoulders as she stepped out of the fallen skirt and allowed him to remove her high heels. He set them aside and unfastened her garters and slid her stockings off and she stepped out of them as well. Andre stood. He was now much taller than she and he began to unbutton his shirt, removed it, revealing his muscular frame. Yelena unfastened her bra as Andre kicked off his shoes, unbuckled his belt, and then unbuttoned his jeans and let them fall to the floor. He lifted Yelena again and laid her back on the bed and then pulled off her panties. He removed his tight fitting boxer briefs and crawled on top of her, moving her smoothly up the bed until her head rested on a pillow.

They kissed. Slowly at first and then more vigorously. Andre’s hands caressed Yelena’s body and he began to kiss her neck, his lips slowly moving to her shoulders, her breasts, and then her stomach.

“No,” Yelena said and Andre looked up at her.

“No?” he asked.

“I just want to feel you inside me,” she said.

Andre pushed himself up and then knelt over her, opened her legs, and then lowered himself on top of her. His entry was painful to Yelena but she didn’t stop him. Instead she wrapped her arms around his back, pulling him closer to her body as he slid deeper inside her. He went slowly at first, and Yelena began to relax and let herself go as she became wet, and soon his rhythm quickened, and they made love like that, her arms still around him as he began to sweat. As Yelena eventually drew close to climax her body began to tense. From his breathing and the rapidity of his thrusts, she knew he was close as well.

Yelena couldn’t endure it any longer. Her thirst had grown to excess and she couldn’t concentrate on her orgasm any longer. “Stop,” she said.

Andre thrust once more and then stopped. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Just hold me,” she answered, and he held her in his arms while still inside her, lightly rocking his hips to maintain his erection and satisfy his unfinished lust.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered in his ear.

“It’s okay,” he sighed. “It’s okay,” he said again and squeezed her tighter, and slipped deeper inside her.

Yelena knew the moment had come. No matter how long it took in coming, it always felt like it arrived too early, and she already despised herself for it. She knew he was about to come and decided to let him finish. His mouth opened and it appeared as if he were struggling to exhale as he came inside her, releasing a deep moan, and then his chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath. She could feel the warmth of his semen inside her. She could tell by his panting that he had let all of himself go, but he continued to thrust with an erection that had not yet gone soft. He was doing this for her.

“Stop,” she whispered again.

“Did you come?” he asked her.

Yelena shook her head and saw the frustration in his face. He liked to please her or liked to think he pleased her. He wanted her to finish.

She put her hands on his chest and pushed back a little. She looked Andre in his bright blue eyes. “You don’t understand. Look at me. Know that I mean it when I say I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” he asked, confused.

“For letting you go.”

“I don’t understand. Letting me go?”

And with a strength Andre had never seen in his girlfriend before, and in one fluid motion, she quickly rolled him so that she was on top for an instant before the continuous roll forced Andre to fall over the edge of the bed, with Yelena still on top of him, landing on his back and hitting his head on the cherry wood floor.

He grunted on impact. His penis, now flaccid, slipped out of her. “What are you …”

But before he could finish his sentence, Yelena effortlessly pinned his shoulders to the floor and opened her mouth, revealing an elongated set of canines to Andre for the first time. She thrust her head forward and plunged her teeth into his jugular.

Andre’s eyes bulged in shock and though he was seven inches taller than she and weighed over two hundred pounds, Yelena’s strength, brought upon by her bloodlust, easily overpowered him.

She continued to feed until her thirst for human blood was satiated and Andre’s struggles were no more. Yelena came up for air with blood streaming down her chin and blood tears slipping from her eyes. But her tears didn’t fall because their relationship was now over. They didn’t even fall because Andre was now dead. They fell because she had finally killed him like she always knew she would.

She slid off of his body, which was still spurting blood from the throat, sat on the floor, pulled his body into her and held him. She ran her long fingers through his movie star hair. “I’m sorry,” Yelena said and felt his semen dripping out of her onto the floor where it was engulfed by his spilt blood.

She sat like that for a while, feeling at once sorrowful and satisfied, then stood and left Andre’s lifeless body leaking blood across the cherry wood and walked into the kitchen, still fully nude and blood smeared, and turned the oven off. She grabbed the notepad and heavy fountain pen she kept on the kitchen counter. She quickly wrote a note, entered the dining room, where the table had been set for two, and placed the note at the head of the table.

Berthold,

Dinner is in the oven. Eat it if you like. Just get it out of here. I’ll be out for the remainder of the night.

Yelena