Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Turning by Dawn Kirby


Near Death

“How ‘bout that?” Ben sneered. He stepped through Nicholas’s front door, dropping the lifeless body of one of the Weres who had been watching the house on the floor. He frowned at Alana; then smiled slyly. “To think, you’ve been hiding out here all this time.”

“Not hiding,” Nicholas said coolly. He pushed her behind him trying his best to keep her out of Ben’s line of sight. “Surviving. There is a difference.”

“No, she was hiding,” he shot back. “But no worries. I’ve got you and nobody, not even your lover can keep you from me now.”

“You’re not taking her anywhere, Benjamin.”

“Says you.” Ben snapped his fingers. Two men suddenly appeared beside him, fangs exposed. Nicholas’s body tensed. “Seems you’re outnumbered.”

“Depends,” Nicholas said, his mind reaching out to Carly’s. “Did you find the second wolf? Or did you foolishly assume there was only one?” Ben’s stunned face answered the question. “Ah, that’s what I thought.” Carly’s mind touched his. Help was on the way. “In that case, I suggest you and your associates leave while you still can. The pack will not like finding one of their own dead.”

“I doubt they’ll care much,” Ben said waving the warning away with a careless flick of his wrist. “They strike me as more of the survival-of-the-fittest kind of people, if you know what I mean.”

“Think what you want. If memory serves, that boy there is the pack leader’s nephew.”

Alana heard the back door open. Two cool hands encircled her waist, pulling backward. Nicholas turned to grab her, but he was too late. Ben’s entrance had merely been a distraction. He knew at once the vampire holding Alana was a young one. Probably no more than a week had passed since he’d been turned. His guess…Ben had turned this boy specifically for this moment.

Taking note of the hungry look in the young man’s eyes, Nicholas slowly stepped closer. “Let her go.”

“Help me,” Alana cried. Being in Ben’s presence was nothing compared to being in the grasp of an obviously hungry vampire. “Nicholas, please.”
  
“Make me.” The vampire smiled, showing off his fangs. Alana’s fear was at a fever pitch. Nicholas could see the vein on her neck pulsing rapidly, enticing the man holding her.

“Don’t,” Nicholas warned. “Just let her go. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to be this way.”

“That’s enough! Bring her here,” Ben demanded. The young vampire did as he was told, reluctantly releasing her to his maker’s custody. “Good. Now go find the other Were.”

The vampire disappeared into the darkness. Ben smiled, apparently pleased by what he saw as a major victory. He pulled Alana to him. She tried to pull away, but he held her so tightly she couldn’t budge. Nicholas rushed to help her only to find his path abruptly blocked by Ben’s henchmen.

“What shall we do first?” Ben whispered, his lips gently grazing her neck. Her breath quickened. Nicholas felt her fear and tried once again in vain to get to her. Ben cut his eyes to look at his adversary. “Shall I kiss you?” Nicholas held his feelings in check. “Shall I touch you?” Still the man held steady. “I know.” His fangs suddenly appeared, as did a huge smile. “I’ll feed.”

Nicholas reacted with a speed not even Ben could have expected. Within seconds the two men holding him back were dead, their hearts lay barely beating on the floor beside them. Ben threw Alana in front of him, using her body like a shield, hoping any blow Nicholas sent his way would be absorbed by her. Then again…

Alana screamed, feeling a sharp pain shoot through her neck. Nicholas froze, his ears fixed on the rhythm of his lover’s heart. It was fading fast. Ben wasn’t feeding. He was draining. Even more distressing; he was doing it at a rate unheard of.

When a mournful howl pierced the silence around them, Nicholas made his move. He jerked Alana from Ben’s grasp and pulled her into his arms. Within seconds two huge gray wolves were tearing Ben’s body apart. A third gently lifted the body of the man he’d dumped on the floor and carried it outside. Another man entered the house, but Nicholas didn’t wait to see who it was. He transported himself and Alana to the only safe place he had left. Nobody would ever think to look in Alaska.

He laid her body on the bed. She was fighting to stay alive, but he knew the struggle was pointless. Ben had managed to relieve her of over half her necessary blood volume in a matter a seconds. She’d be dead soon and there was nothing he could do to stop it. She’d made her wishes to remain human perfectly clear.

Nicholas lay on the bed beside her, cradling her cool body against his. Tears ran down his cheeks as a totally helpless feeling overtook him. Never before had he felt so useless.

Alana could feel her life slipping away. Tears sprang to her eyes, but refused to fall. She realized then, she didn’t want to die. Life, even one confined to night was worth living. Gathering every ounce of strength she had left, she squeezed his thigh. His head shot up. He turned her to face him, his eyes searching hers. All he needed to save her was a sign.

“Please,” she whispered weakly. “Please.”  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the Turning Series

After a year of writing a weekly series for My Friends Call Me Kate, Dawn Kirby has finally written the end to the Turning series. We'll be featuring the final story tomorrow, and we want to invite all of you that have been following along to take some time to reread the story and prepare for the final installment tomorrow. And... please join me in saying Thank YOU! for writing and sharing Nicholas and Alana with us, Dawn. This year has been lots of fun and extremely entertaining thanks to you. I'm forever thankful that we've met, and wish you nothing but the greatest success in the future. *smooch* 

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I started this serial. To say it’s been a blast would be an understatement. Thank you, Sabrina for allowing me to write this story exclusively for your blog. I sincerely hope y’all have enjoyed reading Nicholas and Alana’s story as much as I have had creating it.

I’m happy to say TURNING is well on its way to becoming a novel. My goal is to expand the story a little, polish it, publish it and donate a portion of the proceeds to a Lupus Foundation of Sabrina’s choice. Funding research to help those who have to live with this disease daily has become very important to me.  

This has been one of a handful of wonderful things to have happen over the course of this year. I’m excited to say the first book in my paranormal romance series, SECRETS will be released on July 29th, 2012 by Dark Dragon Publishing Company. I can only hope to have the second book picked up by DDP as well. Working with them has been truly amazing.

Being involved in the SEVENDEADLY SINS collaboration was nothing short of awesome. Writing alongside six other authors, being able to sin our tale in our own genre, throwing in little twists to our chosen sin was a blast. I can’t thank Michelle Anderson-Picarella for asking me to be apart of a project as fun as this has turned out to be. My supernatural vision of LUST, along with my fellow sinners are available on kindle and paperback now.

When I look back, all I can do is smile and thank God I’ve been as fortunate as I have been. I hope every day that this new year turns out to be as amazing as the last one was.

Thank y’all so much for being a part of such an unforgettable time in my life.  

You can read all of the previous stories in the Turning series HERE!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Old School by Dan O'Shea

After reading Old School by Dan O’Shea, I found myself returning to the beginning… back to the very first story in the collection. It reminded me of my youth when I was around eight or nine years old, about the time my stepmother finally let me wander with my friends across the road at the end of our street, down the stairs passed the tennis courts, and into the children’s park that was full of big green trees and a stream that we would cross into the "wilderness” on the other side. The "wilderness" was the place where we would hide from all the other kids and share our secret crushes on the boys in school.  The city had even tied together old tires on a section of the stream that was nestled in the back corner of the park shaded by some trees with big green leaves and branches that reached towards the heavens. It was back in the day when kids were allowed to be kids, and we could play in the park from sun up to sun down… freely… uninterrupted… with the only worries being whether or not we were going to stop for lunch or just eat the wild blackberries growing in the “wilderness” over yonder. Most days we would continue to play until the street lamp at the top of the hill illuminated it’s message letting us know it was dinner time and that we needed to head home… or face the wrath of our parents.

It also reminded me of one summer day so very, very long ago when we went to the park early only to find that our secret space in the “wilderness” was being used by some older kids… the ones that would make fun of us and tease us if we bothered them. So, we headed over to the tires to hang out in the shade only to have the older kids come over and push us out, causing Molly to fall into the stream and scrape her knee. Feeling defeated, but unwilling to go home, we crawled to the top of the big, metal alien spaceship thingy in the center of the park and we looked out the peep holes and plotted against the invasion of the bullies.  Finally, after what seemed like hours, the bullies started moving, and after taking one last drag on their cigarettes and tossing the used butts into the stream… they left. 

We waited inside our spaceship for a few extra minutes before finally making our way down the ladder and over to the tires. I think we were only there a couple of minutes when one of us found a brand new pack of cigarettes stuck inside the tire wall. A couple minutes later we were dunking the things in the stream, getting them good and wet, and then putting them back where we found them. A couple minutes after that we realized that the cigarettes secretly stashed away probably meant the older kids were coming back, and that it was in our best interest to get as far away from the tires as possible.

But kids are curious creatures. And when we saw the older kids returning to the park we followed them over to the tires and stood around the wooden posts staring at them, just waiting for them to find their ruined cigarettes. I think I was more towards the front, looking a little more excited then I should have been. I even remember a giggle escaping my lips when the oldest boy in the group reached into the tire wall to grab his pack of cancer sticks. It probably wasn't the best thing to do, ‘cause the next thing I remember is my ass being planted on the ground, and a couple of the older girls in their group standing around me picking tobacco chunks out of my hair.  Then the guy was in my face screaming words that I knew, but I wasn't supposed to say, and I was crying and wiping away tears while trying to figure out why had he singled me out. Why me? Well, now, at 42... the answer is so obvious.

And that memory is one of things I love most about reading stories by Dan O’Shea. His stories have never been full of fluff and filler, no rambling nonsense just to fill up a page or two. Dan’s writing invokes images… that inspire memories… that cause you step inside the story and live in that moment with the characters. No filler just… solid writing.  I remember being impressed once with how Anne Rice could describe the desert for three pages without me getting bored. Seriously, three entire pages all about sand, sun, sand, sun, sand, sun, and Lestat being saved by Marius.  And now… well, now that just seems like a lot of wasted words.

In Old School by Dan O'Shea you can be reminded of past memories, laugh, contemplate the serious side of life, and be punched in the gut when you  read about the lesson one boy learns spending the day with his little brother in  Gone Fishing; a bad medical diagnosis and a side of the blues in Shackleton’s Hootch; remote starters and carbon monoxide poisoning in Pink Cadillac; cookies and Girl Scouts with shotguns in Thin Mints; money, revenge, and organ theft in Hilary’s Scars;  lost love and remorse in The Bard’s Confession on the Matter of the Despoilment of the Fishmonger’s Daughter (say that one three times…); employment woes and sword swinging in Exit Interview;  a grandfather’s final warning to his grandson in Absalom; a retired cop working one last case, and a hot little nurse named Sabrina in Sheepshank; the brutal assault of an elderly woman who knows the art of fighting back in Purl Two; a hit-man, roaches, and final thoughts in Circle of Life; old paintings and past memories in Vera Luce Alla Sua Fonta; the unintentional sacrifice one man brings to a family in The Blood of the Lamb; and the magnetic pull of a woman to a philosophical vampire in What Love Is.  

Honestly, Old School by Dan O’Shea is so worthy of your time… even the forward by Chuck Wendig is deserving of a second read. And, as an added bonus, if you buy Old School and read it to the very end you’ll find a very special offer from Dan. It’s more like a gift. A gift that you'll treasure for years to come.

Old School by Dan O'Shea is published by Snubnose Press and is available through Amazon.

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago-area crime writer represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His novel Unto Caesar is currently being circulated to all the usual suspects. His short fiction has appeared inCrimefactory, the Discount Noir anthology, and Needle. You can find out more about Dan at his blog, Going Ballistic.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Turning by Dawn Kirby

Agreements

Matt paced the floor trying to think of some way to get Alana out of Nicholas’s house and keep her out of Ben’s reach at the same time. Carly had managed to make a deal with the Weres. As long as Alana was with Nicholas they’d agreed not to do anything that could possibly put her in harm’s way. That didn’t mean they weren’t staking out his place though.

In fact, since they’d been in contact with Chris, a couple of them had taken up temporary residence in the woods behind his house. As far as they knew Ben hadn’t figured out where they were yet. “Yet” wasn’t going to last forever. She knew it was only a matter of time before he fumbled his way into one of the pack mate’s minds. Once that happened, Alana’s safe haven would turn into a hellhole.

“There’s gotta be something,” Matt said, slamming his fist on the table. “She can’t possibly be that head over heels in love with this guy.”

“We could use his fangs against him,” Chris suggested.

Carly whipped around to face them. “And make her feel like a fool on top of everything else?” she asked. She walked to the table and sat down between them. “She loves him. He loves her. If you tell her he was feeding off her all you’re gonna do is hurt her.”

“If it gets her away from him,” Matt snorted.

“And then what? Ben catches her when she runs from the house hurt and humiliated? She gets caught in the crossfire when the Weres decide to go in?”

“Then what?” Chris asked. “She looked half dead the last time I went out there and that was a week ago. He’s gonna force the change on her if we don’t step in and you know it.”

“No he’s not,” she smiled. Chris frowned, confused by her confidence. “He’s opened himself back up to me. Alana’s fine. She’s weak, but she’s fine.”

“Weak?” Matt asked, concerned. “I thought you said-”

“Blood loss, Matt. She lost quite a bit there for a while,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “She’s getting better though. Nicholas has opened his eyes. He sees having her on her terms is far better than not having her at all.”

“You’re sure?” Chris asked skeptically.

Carly nodded. She didn’t see a point in telling either one about the arrangement the couple had come to. What they did was their business. “I’m positive.”

*****

“You’re sure this isn’t going to turn me?” Alana asked, staring down at the glass Nicholas had set down on the table in front of her. Wine was fine. Blood mixed with wine was another entirely.

“Trust me,” Nicholas chuckled. “It would take far more than the few drops I put in there to manage that. It will however make you stronger. I sense you’ll need all that you can get soon. Ben is growing restless. He wants you and he wants you yesterday.”

“And this will help me fight him?”

“Not in the way you’re thinking, no.” He nudged the glass closer, urging her to drink it. “But it will help.”

“Tell me something.” Alana took a sip, pleasantly surprised to find the wine was all she could taste.

“You want to know if it will make you live longer?” He slid his hand under her hair to massage her shoulders. She took another drink. “If you drink enough, yes. You will experience some benefit. It can’t stop aging completely, but it will slow its progression. It will also keep you healthy. No more flu. No more colds.”

“Can you live with that?”   

“I can. Can you? Can you give yourself to me? Mind, body, soul and blood?”

She smiled and put her hand on his. As long as they were together and she was human, she knew she could live with anything. With peace and understanding as a foundation she was actually looking forward to sharing every part of herself with him.

“You know something, Nicholas? I think I can.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

Turning by Dawn Kirby

Letting Go

Nicholas laid beside Alana, rehashing his earlier conversation with Chris. The officer was right. He couldn’t keep this up. Draining her blood, her energy to make her ask to be turned was wrong. He’d gone into this wanting her to make her own choice. What had changed? Why was it so important to him that she leave her human side behind just to be with him?

Didn’t he love feeling the warmth her body so generously provided? Didn’t the steady beat of her heart lull him to sleep every morning? Didn’t he enjoy the tangle of pure human emotion she dealt with every day of her life? Not that he liked the turmoil she was going through. Far from it. In fact he hated it. But peering in on her thoughts reminded him what it was like to be human.

Why change that? Even he had to admit he’d miss it.

“Alana?” he asked. “Are you awake?”

“Barely,” she mumbled. She turned over in the bed to face him. “You wore me out tonight. All I can think about now is sleep.”

“Sleep will come. First I need to tell something.”

Alana raised up on her elbow and frowned. “Has something happened? Did Chris have bad news?”

“No, nothing like that. This is about us.” Alana fell back on the pillow and sighed. “It’s not what you think,” he said, caressing her face with the back of his hand. She looked up at him, tears already in her eyes. “Don’t cry, love. I’m not going to ask you to turn your life over to me anymore. I realize now that I have been selfish. I have been heartless as well. I should have respected your feelings and left it.”

The tears rolled down her cheeks. Relief washed over her like a warm blanket. The weight was finally lifted from her shoulders. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling his body to hers. “Thank you, Nicholas.” She looked into his eyes. Could he really accept her as human? “Are you sure about this?”

“I have never been more sure of anything.”

“You can accept me this way? You can deal with me growing older?”

“I can,” he said firmly. Then he decided to do something he never thought he would. “I will grow old with you.”

Alana’s voice left her. She’d heard what he said, but surely she hadn’t heard it right. “How? What in the world?” she stuttered. “Is that even possible?”

“Of course it is,” he chuckled. “Not even we stop aging.”

“But how? You’re immortal. You can’t age.”

“No, I’m not,” he said. He kissed her forehead and laid back down beside her. “Immortal is one who cannot be killed. I can be killed. Not by a great many things, but I can die.”

“And the aging?” Nicholas looked no older than her, though she knew he was at least 100 or more years her senior.

“A simple change in diet, love. That’s all.”

“Meaning what? You stop drinking blood?”

“Not at all. I just don’t drink as much.”

“Won’t that be bad for you?”

“No. It’s not like I’ll age overnight. It will happen gradually. I’ll remain strong. I’ll remain powerful, but my body will begin to age.” He laughed at the confusion he saw on her gorgeous face. “Make me a promise. I will grow old with you, but in return I ask that you share your blood with me from time to time.” Her upper lip curled. “Not every night, Alana. Just every now and then.”

“Why mine? Don’t you have places to go for that?”

“There are, but I’m giving you my word now, I’ll never take blood from a warm body other than yours again. From this point on I will survive on donor blood only.”

“Will it hurt?” As much as she wanted to say no, she realized he wasn’t asking much at all.

“Of course. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t. But overtime the pain dulls. Over time the pleasure grows. I simply want to share a part of my life with you.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guest Post and Poetry Reading by Dan O'Shea

I thought I'd bug Dan O'Shea for a guest post to go along with my review of his short story collection Old School tomorrow, and assuming he'd be too busy to bother with a post for a blog that's been called... "girly" ... I just expected my favorite twitter flirt to say, no. So, I told him that if he passed on the post he was expected to supply me with an audio of a poem of his choosing, and a song. I'm soooo demanding! And... thankfully so. Dan was kind enough to write this engaging piece regarding My Last Duchess by Robert Browning. He was also nice enough to throw in an audio of his seductive voice reading this beautiful piece of poetry. Watch out ladies... Dan's got some pretty special pipes, and your ears will never be the same again! And, Dan, my darling... from the bottom of my heart, I praise thy kindness.

Some cheery thoughts on the real nature
of evil to mark this august anniversary of Sabrina’s birth

Being asked to do a guest blog post is one thing – and thing enough for me, exhibitionist narcissist that I am. Just another chance to pimp my wares (Old School is now available) and foist my opinions on any public, willing or otherwise.

But a birthday guest blog post, well, that’s another thing entirely. Because then it becomes, in form, a present and must be crafted in mind of the recipient’s tastes. Fortunately, the Divine Ms. Ogden, goddess of the interwebs and, as those who have followed my long adoring on Twitter are well aware, nymph in my, if not thy, orisons, was most forthcoming concerning her desires – a post, a poem and a song. Knowing well the effect my voice has on the pink grace of her shell-like ears, the poem first, then, as it shall inform what follows.

For the occasion, I have chosen My Last Duchess by Robert Browning.

video


My Last Duchess

That's my last Duchess' painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Why this poem? So far as writing goes, my work tends toward crime or otherwise to those darker recesses of the human heart, and My Last Duchess gives voice to the twin impulses of pride and avarice that kindle the black fires that drive the light from those crevices. In this poem there is no overt crime, though one does wonder how the Duchess, never named but only identified as the narrator’s possession, came to be his last, how it was that “all smiles stopped together,” how it is that he can now be in the market for a new bride (and a market it is, for it is his dowry that will secure the “fair daughter” and not the allegiance of any heart).

A miasma of sinister oppression informs every line. We are left with a wrenching portrait of a woman whose primary impulses are toward joy and gratitude married to a man who transmutes those virtues to vices because he cannot own those impulses entire. A man so prideful, even though he himself has done nothing to earn that pride, but instead has inherited it as baggage of his “nine hundred years old name,” that he can, in service to that undeserved pride, twist any offering of gratitude to anyone but him, any joy derived from a source outside himself, into an insult, into cause for disgust.   

It is solipsism writ large, writ to the point of sociopathy.  It is the furnace in which we see formed the worst kind of greed – a covetousness that will not be satisfied with only his neighbor’s ass or handmaiden or wife, but an avarice so consuming that it demands that every thought, every emotion, every reaction be to him and him alone. A worldview of hunger so consuming that any rare or animate beauty must be seized, must be owned whole, must be cast in bronze for him and reduced from the ethereal grace of happy human congress to an object that he can hang on a wall or set on a shelf.

In crime fiction, we can readily find examples of banal desperation, and we see attempt after attempt to raise the petty actions of shallow thugs to high drama by decorating their crimes in a baroque of violence, as if plastering these smaller evils with a garish enough varnish of gore can make them worthy of serious consideration. We focus on the filigree of blood with which their actions paint the walls without plumbing the depths of the twisted and unholy hungers that drive those maddened hands.
 
But in My Last Duchess, we see the serpent in the tree plain and naked, not a drop of blood spilt, but we are left shivering at the face of true evil instead of just gasping at the patina of its handiwork. 

There is a lesson there.

I chose that poem for one other reason, too. Sabrina reminds me of that anonymous duchess – she has a heart too soon made glad and lightens any number of lives daily with her ready delight. So happy birthday, Sabrina. Oh, you wanted a song, too. Well, you can’t always get what you want. That’s a song. I’ll send further inappropriate thoughts on birthday suits and spankings in private.

Or, more likely, on Twitter.

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago-area crime writer represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His novel Unto Caesar is currently being circulated to all the usual suspects. His short fiction has appeared in Crimefactory, the Discount Noir anthology, and Needle. You can find out more about Dan at his blog, Going Ballistic.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Turning by Dawn Kirby

Understanding


“Lana, you really need to walk away from this guy,” Chris said, noticing the dark bags under her blue eyes. “You look like you haven’t slept in a month.”

“Thanks, Chris,” Alana said, rubbing the back of her neck. “That’s just what every woman wants to hear.”

“Sorry, but I call it like I see it and you’re exhausted.” He shut the door behind him and followed her into the kitchen; taking note of the three energy drinks on the table and shook his head. “How many are you up to a day?”

“Enough,” she shrugged. She opened another can and sat down, motioning Chris to the chair directly across from her. “You know you can’t be here when Nicholas wakes up. He doesn’t know I’ve been in contact with you and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“You really believe that?”

“Why shouldn’t I? I haven’t told him a thing.”

“Good grief. Are you really that dense? Do you really not see what’s going on here?” She stared back at him, but said nothing. “He’s breaking you down. He knows everything. From me helping to Carly threatening to stop helping the Weres unless they help Matt.”

“Did they?” she asked, her eyes suddenly coming to life. “Did they get him?”

“He’s safe. Carly’s taking care of him now. As long as she does her job, they’ll stay safe.”

“Thank God,” she whispered, clutching her hand to her chest. “I thought for sure-”

“Ben would kill him?” Chris asked, cutting her off. She nodded. “He damn near did from what I understand. He’s been beating Matt every night since they took Carly off.”

Tears streamed down Alana’s face. She didn’t even want to think about what his nights had been like since he’d been taken. Forgiving this would be next to impossible. Matt has always been an easy-going man, but even he has his limits. She wasn’t even sure she could forgive herself.

Chris saw the grief in her eyes and winched. He hadn’t meant to sound so calloused. “I’m sorry, Lana. This is the last thing you need.” He went to her and put her hand in his. Before he knew it, he was holding her. “Go ahead and cry. Get it all out.”

To his utter surprise, she did. She laid her head against his chest and cried so hard her body shook. He stroked her hair, rubbed her back, anything he could think of to help make her feel better. Then he felt something. Scabs.

Taking advantage of the breakdown, he brushed her hair over her shoulder to get a better look. In a way he didn’t want to see them. It would just confirm what he’d already come to suspect. As he looked down, his suspicions were indeed confirmed.

“No wonder you’re so tired,” he whispered, squeezing her tighter.

“Do share,” a deep irritated voice said. They turned around, shocked to see Nicholas standing in the doorway. Alana’s glance shot towards the window. “Yes, it is night.”

She hurried away from Chris and back into her chair. Nicholas walked to her and put his hand on her shoulder. Chris watched as her eyes went dim. He looked up at Nicholas, not really expecting an explanation.

“So this is what it comes down to?” Nicholas asked. “You or me?”

“No, what it comes down to is you or her,” Chris shot back. “You’re killing her! I saw the marks. Does she even know you’re feeding off her?”

Nicholas looked down at his exhausted companion and smiled. Once she made her decision she’d be healthy again. “This is a temporary condition,” he answered. “And no, she doesn’t know.”

“Maybe it’s time she did.” Chris stood up and started towards her. Nicholas held up his hand, mentally stopping any advance.

“So that’s it. You just keep draining her till she’s too weak to even hold her head up and turn her?”

“No, I’m simply living off the love we share. Her blood feeds me. I give her all the love and protection she needs in return.”

“Look at her! She’s not living! She’s just surviving.”

Nicholas looked at her again. Of course he saw the same things Chris did. Her exhaustion, her failing health, her lack of enjoyment regarding anything. “What am I to do? I cannot lose her. I’ve waited too long to find her.”

“Then let her go,” Chris said. “Give her the choice. If she wants your lifestyle, fine. If she doesn’t, that’s just something you’re gonna have to accept. We don’t fall for somebody because of what they can be. We fall for them because of what they already are.”