His hands slipped down her back sending chills down to her toes. Warmth spread throughout her body. Strong fingers bit into her sides. Her breath caught when she felt skin tear. Nicholas pulled her closer, nibbling on her ear. Alana closed her eyes and let her head roll back as his lips travelled to her neck. Despite the cool hand wrapped firmly around her throat, she let her body go limp in his arms. Safe and exhilarated was the only way she could describe how she felt.
He buried his fingers into her long brown hair, amused at how easy he’d won her over. Here he was, his finger resting on her lifeline, his fangs ready to drain it, his mind telling him not to, and her so willing; so trusting. She was his for the taking and he wanted her. The only question in his mind now was how to keep her.
Hours ago he’d gone out in search of easy prey. Instead of finding a mere meal he’d found her. A raving beauty with a brain. The fact that she also had a heart bigger than any country he’d ever visited didn’t hurt either. Nicholas needed love. What he needed more was a companion. In her, he saw both.
“Nick,” she whispered, covering his hand with hers.
“Nicholas,” he corrected, “My name is Nicholas.”
He covered her lips with hers before she could say another word. She wrapped her arms around his neck, absently twirling locks of long black hair around her fingers as they kissed. In one quick motion he broke away from her embrace and swept her into his arms. He kept his icy blue eyes locked on hers all the way up the stairs. In those few seconds his earlier question was answered.
Neither would get the thing they wanted tonight. If he wanted to keep her with him, he had to do it the right way. That meant keeping her at a distance, at least for now. He’d seen the scars a recent break up left on her soul when he first approached her. Now, after looking into her mind, he could see they were much deeper than he’d first thought. Vampire or not, he didn’t want to be the rebound guy.
That said he didn’t want anybody else to be either. As he laid her perfect body down on the white satin comforter Nicholas came up with a plan. One that would give him the ability to physically feel her no matter how far apart they may be.
“I’ll not take you tonight, love,” he said leaning over her. Alana started to protest, but found his finger on her lips instead. “Listen to me. You’ll not remember me come morning. Though I’ll feel you every night of my life, I will not to seek you out until you are ready.”
“Isn’t that for me to decide?” she asked him. “Don’t I know what’s right for me?”
In a flash he was on her. He pinned her hands over her head as his fangs sliced through her shoulder. Tears sprang from her eyes as a blinding flash of pain spread throughout her body. She struggled to get away, but he was so strong he merely had to wrap one leg around hers to keep her still. Worse, she could literally feel the blood leaving her body. Within seconds she began to feel lightheaded.
As quickly as it had begun the attack stopped. The room went dark. Her head was swimming. Alana thought she felt her body being carried, but she didn’t feel any hands holding her. She glanced around the room trying to focus on something, anything to help bring her around.
Frantically she searched her shoulders for the wound the monster in her dream had inflicted, but found nothing. Another quick glance around the room left her both confused and relieved. This was her room. She was lying in her bed. She was wearing her pj’s. Relief washed over her. That horrible experience had been nothing more than a nightmare.
Alana stretched her arms over her head letting the morning sun warm her body. It was early springtime here now and she was looking forward to waking up like this more often. The comfort the heat brought had a way of shaking off all the bad feelings her nights left her with.
Night time hadn’t always left her uneasy. In fact she used to love standing in the darkness, admiring the moon, counting stars, feeling a cool breeze play across her face. At one point in her life nights were her haven. The one place where peace and serenity ruled.
That was shattered the night her ex, Ben had showed his true colors. They’d been apart for weeks, but he still felt like he had a valid presence in her daily life. He made it known to everybody he had every intention of winning her back no matter what he had to do to do it. Losing a possession wasn’t an option for him.
She had known he was a jealous man, but she never thought spending an evening with an old high school friend would send him into a murderous rage. Especially since the guy had been a mutual friend of theirs since grade school. They never knew he was watching them until he jumped out from behind some bushes in front of her friend, Paul’s house and stuck a hunting knife in his neck.
After Paul hit the ground, gasping for air, blood pooling around him, Ben had jumped on her and started punching her mercilessly. When she couldn’t stand anymore, he resorted to kicking her. He hurled every awful name he could think of at her, each one punctuated by a kick to the gut of the head. She had no idea how long the beating lasted. She couldn’t even recall when Paul had thrown his body over hers, but he had. He’d died protecting her as best he could with what strength he had left.
The attack had happened over a year ago. Paul was arrested that same night and after pleading guilty to all charges sometime later, he was sent to prison for life. For months horrible dreams plagued her sleep. She relived the beating every time she closed her eyes. Paul’s lifeless blue eyes haunted her even now. In her mind it was her fault he was dead. Had it not been for her he would still be here. His wife wouldn’t be a widow and his son would know who his father was.
As time went on the nightmares began to fade. The visions lingered, never letting her forget her role. Day by day waking up grew easier. For the most part she thought things were starting to get better. That is until last night. What she’d dreamed of she couldn’t place, but whatever it was had scared the hell out of her. She woke up the same way she had so many times before; grasping her neck and frightened beyond belief.
"Damn you, Ben!” she mumbled. Even from behind the walls of a cell he had control over her. Tears stung her eyes as she pictured Paul’s body, the knife still lodged in his neck, blanketing hers. The memory as vivid now as it had been that night. “You won, didn’t you?”
Miles away Nicholas lay in his bed helpless to do anything to make the pain she felt stop. He’d seen the possible effects his actions would have had on her. Having survived such a brutal experience some regression was to be expected. That didn’t mean he had to like it. Truth be told he hated it. She was reliving the worst night of her life because of him. Because of his need, his desire to have a worthy companion. His consolation? One day he’d be able to take the offending memories away forever if she asked him to.
That thought and that thought alone urged him to sleep. Once she wore herself out working, cleaning running errands trying to forget, she’d need him. Alana’s nights were his now. He’d opened up a wound and it was his responsibility to help heal it. Whether she knew he was there with her or not he planned to stay by her side until she could finally let go of the past and embrace the future; their future.
“Well, how’d it go last night?” Jennifer asked as she slid into the passenger’s seat of Alana’s Jeep. “Did you finally get to have some fun?”
“I don’t know if I call it fun,” Alana answered, waiting for the door to slam shut, “but it did get me out of the house for a while.”
“According to Matt you had a wonderful time. He said you left with a good looking stranger.” She flashed a smile at her friend and put her seatbelt on. “Come on. I want details.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, “I didn’t leave with anybody. If he saw a man with me, it was probably one of the men on staff. They do offer that there, you know. Most women don’t like walking out to their car alone at night.”
“Hun, I’ve been to that club plenty of times and I don’t ever remember seeing anybody, employee or otherwise who even remotely looks like the one Matt described.”
“Do tell.” Alana put the Jeep in drive and pulled away from the curb with a smile on her face. Matt was her older brother and Jennifer’s roommate. “I’m dying to know what this mystery man supposedly looks like.”
Jennifer looked over at Alana dumbfounded. Was she serious? Had Matt just been pulling her leg? No, he wouldn’t joke about something like this. Not after what had happened to her and Paul. If he said she left with a man, she left with man. He was so terrified Ben would find a way out of prison and hunt her down; he’d taken to following her whenever she strayed off her normal work-home routine. He knew more about his little sister than she knew about herself.
“You’re serious? You really don’t remember the guy?” Alana shook her head. “According to your brother the guy was about six feet tall. He said he had, what was it again? Oh yeah, shoulder length raven black hair and iceberg blue eyes. I’d say he was pretty unforgettable”
“Raven black? Iceberg blue?” she giggled. He’s always had a habit of describing women’s features in relation to cars. It was only a matter of time before he started doing it with men as well. “I think he’s been huffing the paint way too long.”
“Maybe so, but he saw you walk out with the man,” Jennifer said adamantly. “Matt left right after y’all did, but he said your car was gone by the time he got to the parking lot.”
“No doubt he went straight to my apartment after that,” she said under her breath. He tailed her religiously and it was really starting to get old.
“You bet your sweet ass he did! He’s not about to let anything like that ever happen to you again.”
“And what’d he find when he got there, pray tell?”
“Your car in the parking lot and a locked front door,” she answered smugly. “All your lights were off, too.”
“And that’s unusual why? It was late. I lock my door AND turn out my lights before I go to bed.”
Alana sighed. “Look, if I left with somebody don’t you think I’d remember it?”
“You wouldn’t if you were drugged,” Jennifer said quickly.
“Did Matt say anything about me acting like I had been? Was I stumbling out the door? Did he think I looked sick in any way?”
“Well no. He said you hadn’t had anything to drink either.”
“See, how can I be drugged if I didn’t drink anything? I’m not saying Matt didn’t see me talking to somebody, but that was all I did.” She vaguely remembered talking with a man, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember what he looked like or even what they’d talked about. Couldn’t have been a very stimulating conversation, she thought. “Besides, you know as well as I do the last thing I’m looking for is another relationship.”
“You don’t have to be in a relationship to get an itch scratched,” Jennifer pointed out. “We all do it at least once in our lives.” Alana started to say something, but Jennifer was too quick. “Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s too soon. You’re gonna have to let some of the fear go. I know that’s probably easier said than done, but if you’re ever gonna have a healthy relationship again something’s got to give.”
“I already gave up my peace of mind,” Alana said quietly. “I can’t afford to let anything else go.”
“Have you heard a single word I’ve said,” Lanie asked impatiently. She waved her hand in front of Nicholas’ eyes, trying to bring him out of whatever trance he was in. “Hello? Anybody home?”
“Leave him be,” a deep voice commanded. Thomas walked into the room, a cool smile on his face. “He’s obviously got something on his mind.” His brown eyes narrowed as he concentrated on the thoughts spinning through Nicholas’ head. “Ah, I was wrong. It seems he has found a woman.”
“Nick finds lots of women,” Lanie snorted.
“Nicholas,” Nicholas said, turning glassy eyes on her. He had finally been able to tune into the conversation Alana was having with her brother and now this imp was determined to gain his undivided attention. “My name is Nicholas.”
“Why would I?” Alana was saying. Nicholas closed his eyes and concentrated fully on her words. “Bringing a child into a world as mean as this one would be cruel.” Music to his ears!
“Come on, sis,” Matt said, his voice dripped sympathy for his scarred sister. “Don’t be that way. You just gotta find the right guy. Get those good time vibes flowing again.”
“Matt, those vibes are gone for good.”
“Wonder of wonders,” Thomas said sarcastically. He poured himself a glass of wine and cocked his brow at his pretty little plaything. He’d turned her for her body, not her brain. Putting an intelligent sentence together was not something Lanie excelled at. “Well, what’s the question?”
“I was just wondering,” she started, her focus on Nicholas, who still sat distracted. “What do you look for in a girl?”
“In a girl?” Nicholas asked. His thoughts moved between the beauty out there and the bother sitting before him. Lanie nodded, hopeful for an answer. She’d need to know how to approach him when she finally got the nerve to ask Thomas to let her take other lovers. “Nothing.”
Thomas couldn’t keep the snort of amusement to himself. “My dear, you ask the wrong question. Nicholas doesn’t hunt for girls. Women, real women are more his style.”
“Whatever, I mean what is it you look for in the ones you want to keep?"
“I assume you’re asking about the ones I want to make my equal.” Again Lanie nodded. His mind reluctantly left Alana’s. “That’s simple. I look for intelligence.”
“Beauty helps,” he conceded. Alana’s beauty was unrivaled in his mind. “Why do you want to know?”
“Just curious,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “I know what woofs Tom’s tweeters, but you’re a complete mystery.” Thomas lost his composure. His jovial laugh filled the room. Lanie rolled her eyes and did her best too tune him out. “Well? What gets you going?”
“Lanie, I’ve already answered your question. I want a woman, a partner I can talk to.” Nicholas said. He couldn’t stand ignorance and Lanie was ripe with it. “I want somebody who can think on their feet, give me her opinion. I want a lady in every sense of the word.”
“Oh, so you want a gal who reads, wears clothes that cover everything and is a total bore.” she said, giggling. “Wow, you’re really missing out on some really great times. You should give some of the party girls a chance once in a while. We just might surprise you.”
Thomas stopped laughing and put his hand gently on Lanie’s shoulder. “The last surprise he had was being turned.”
“You didn’t ask for it?” she asked stunned. She practically threw a party the night Thomas had decided to bring her over.
“No, I didn’t even know vampires existed until I was one.” He felt a surge of pain course through his veins. Alana’s mind was once again on the attack. “Damn,” he thought. He stood up to go to her, but Thomas quickly blocked his path out the door. “Excuse me. I have somewhere I need to be.”
“I’ll let you go,” Thomas told him. “But first tell me what you have in mind. The little woman in your head looks delicious.” His eyes twinkled when he saw a rage flash across Nicholas’ face. “Ah, you’ve already claimed her.”
“I warn you now, Thomas. This one is not one to be toyed with. Alana’s mental state is fragile at best.”
“Irreparable at worst,” he pointed out. “Breaking her wouldn’t take much. You’d have a slave for life if you took her now.”
“I’ve no desire to make her a slave.” Just the thought of treating her the way he’d seen Thomas treat some of his girls made him feel ill. “I’ll wait until she’s stronger and then I’ll give her the choice. I won’t force such a change on her.”
“Suit yourself,” Thomas said. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge, but the pursuit would be a wonderful change of pace. In fact he’d already made a promise to himself to try and get to her first. Nick’s mind had already led him right to her. Thanks to his lack of discretion, Thomas now knew her fears as well as her passions. “May the best Vamp win.”
Thomas waited until the sound of Nicholas’ footsteps died away before his attention fell on Lanie. “You help me do this and I’ll let you go,” he said easing back into the couch. “You help me win that woman and you can have any man you want.”
“I want him,” Lanie blurted out. “I want Nick.”
“What? You think I don’t know that,” he snorted. “You’ve been hot for him since you met him. Not that I don’t blame you.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “There was a time I would have done anything to be with him.”
Lanie’s jaw dropped. Shock and then confusion flashed through her eyes. “You? But you-”
“Yes, a shock I know.” He finished off his glass of wine and leaned in closer to Lanie. A twinge of jealousy inched up his spine. This was going to be a lesson he fully intended to enjoy teaching his old friend. “You bring me one of your friends and I will guarantee he will turn to you when all is said and done.”
“A friend?” she asked skeptically. Couldn’t he just use his mind and hypnotize her into being his?
“I can,” he answered, reading her thoughts as clearly as if she’d spoken them. “But I want her to fall for me honestly. No tricks…well, not many anyway. Are you in?”
“Tell me what your planning first.” She already had the friend picked out, but she was dying to know what he wanted her for. “Let’s see if your idea’s even worth my time.”
“You doubt me?” he asked, the corner of his lip curling into a half smile.
“You? No. The likelihood of Nick letting anything happen between me and him? Definitely.”
“My dear, that’s where you and your charm come in. Turn it on, your mouth off and dig your claws in deep.”
“Meanwhile you do what?”
“I use your friend to gain the woman’s trust. I need a way in so to speak. One Nicholas won’t see coming.”
“You pretty much told him you were gonna go after her. Why not do it right there in front of him?”
“I want this to hurt him. I want him to feel the pain of real rejection.” Lanie watched as his soft brown eyes turned black. Now she understood. This was revenge.
“You still want him,” she giggled. “You’re actually jealous of that girl!”
He had his hands wrapped around her neck before she could even register his movement. She was pinned to the couch with a very angry vampire hovering over her. She could feel her throat closing up. Never before had she been this scared of him.
Thomas bit her ear with his fang, eventually slicing a thin cut on her earlobe. She felt his body shiver and braced for the pain she knew would come. The temptation to suck her dry right there was overpowering. She‘d touched on an emotion he’d managed to keep hidden for years. Not only that but she’d had the audacity to laugh at him.
“You forget how much I like to kill,” he whispered. “You mean less to me than the dirt on the bottom of my shoe. If I were you, I would remember my place. I would remember my master.” He let her go and brushed his hair out of his face. The fear he saw in her eyes put his mind at ease once again. “No, I don’t want him. I just want him to feel the pain I did when he rejected me all those years ago. Now, go get your friend. I have a beating to inflict before I can put my plan into action.”
“A beating?” Chocking her wasn’t enough?
“Not you,” he said gently. “Your friend. You see this girl; woman has a soft spot for victims. I’ll simply make it look as though your little friend has an abusive boyfriend and use whatever time I might gain to find a way in without Nicholas suspecting a thing. The damn fool won’t even know what hit him.”
“I still don’t understand,” Lanie said quietly. “How is knocking her around gonna get you anything?”
Thomas took a deep breath, fighting another overwhelming urge to suck her dry. “I’ll simplify. I beat your friend. I dump said friend, hurt and disoriented on the lovely lady’s doorstep. With another body there, Nicholas won’t be able to move in and out of the house the way he intends to. That fact alone buys me time.”
Time to rid himself of the friend, the woman and Lanie.
Nicholas slipped quietly through Alana’s back door. Having cleverly gained entry the night before; he had the freedom to roam the house anytime he liked. Not that he planned to alert either occupant to his presence. For now, he would simply hide in the shadows and wait. He wanted her whole; healed.
Judging by the conversation he heard drifting from the living room “healed” was a long way off. As he eased down the hallway one of the voices, Matt’s he assumed, grew louder yet his tone was gentle. Nicholas smiled. Poor guy was fighting a lost cause and he didn’t even seem to care.
“I’m telling you, sis,” Matt was saying, “if you’d just stop thinking about that asshole you’d be able to move on a lot faster. It’s not good for you to hide out here night after night.”
“Let’s see how quickly you move on after having one of your best friends killed right in front of you,” Alana snapped balling her hands into fists. “You’ll see then how hard “moving on” actually is.”
Dear Lord, why couldn’t people just get off her back? Why did they feel this need to tell her to forget? Didn’t they think she would if she possibly could? Did they think she got some perverse kick out of reliving Paul’s death and her attack every time she closed her eyes?
“Lana, you gotta stop thinking like that. It’s like I said before, get out there. Find you a good guy and have yourself a couple of chubby babies. That’s been your dream since you were little. You shouldn’t let it die just because some psycho showed up.”
“And it’s like I told you. Kids are not an option. I won’t bring one into a world as cruel as this one.” She laid her head on the arm of the leather couch and sighed. Mere feet from her Nicholas felt like jumping for joy. He had heard that right after all. Knowing she didn’t want a family would make turning her so much easier. “You want kids so all fired bad, you go make a few. I’m pretty sure there’s a few girls out there that would just love to help make that happen.”
“No, no, no,” Matt said shaking his head vigorously. “I think I’d enjoy being an uncle a lot more than being a dad. Least that way I can spoil the little boogers and then give ‘em back to you.”
“You’re not helping your case any. You realize that, don’t you?”
“Maybe not,” he shrugged. “Really, all I want is for you to be happy again. I don’t think I’ve seen you smile since you met Ben. Certainly not since Paul passed a-”
“Dammit Matt! Paul didn’t just pass away. He was murdered. Killed right in front of me, because of me! If I hadn’t been so blind he might still be alive.”
Nicholas felt the sudden surge of anger flow through him like a shot. It took everything he had not to rush to her side. He’d never felt the need to protect anybody before, but with her it was different. He didn’t want her to feel pain of any kind. Anger, in his mind anyway, was the worst kind of pain. The kind that breeds misery.
“Yes, blind. I knew Ben was unstable, but did that stop me?”
Matt slid off his recliner to look at her eye to eye. He hated seeing her this way. All he really wanted was to have his sister back the way she used to be. Alana used to be so confident so outgoing. People would literally light up when she walked into a room. She’d had such a bright future ahead of her. If Ben had just let her go she still would.
“Tell me this,” he said keeping his voice low. “You told Paul about the problems you’d be having with him, yes?” she nodded. “He said and I’m using his words here, that he could care less, correct?” Another nod. “Then how is what happened to him your fault?”
“I should have said no, Matt,” she said. She got off the couch and started towards the steps. “No would’ve saved his life.”
“I give up,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t help you if you won’t open your mind.”
“I don’t want to open my mind. I want y’all to let me live my life the way I want too. Why is that so hard for everybody to understand?”
“Because none of us want this for you.”
“And that’s why you can’t see what’s best for me.”
She turned away from him and trudged to her room. Tonight would be another night of fitful dreams and sweat soaked sheets. Ben had been on her mind too much today to avoid it.
Little did she know there would be someone there from now on to make sure bad dreams never bothered her again. Her waking thoughts however, he would do nothing to stop. If there was to be a good relationship between him and Alana one day, she had to face each one head on.
Nicholas followed Alana up the stairs and into her bedroom. He stopped abruptly at the door, inhaling the scent deeply. The room smelled like her; a warm mixture of newly bloomed roses and vanilla. Never again would he see a rose quite the same way again.
As he stepped over the threshold, Alana disappeared into the bathroom leaving a trail of clothes behind her. Instead of using the power of invisibility to slip inside the bathroom and watch every graceful move she made, he chose to sit in the chase lounge and wait for her. There would be plenty of nights they would share the shower together.
A rare smile appeared thanks to that thought. After caressing her soft skin last night, tasting her sweet lips; being with her again had been all he could think about. He wanted to explore every inch of her body with his lips. He wanted to run his fingers through her hair as her body writhed against his. Dear God how he wanted her.
His thoughts were cut short when he heard the shower cut off. Within minutes he was treated to the beautiful sight of his future companion, wrapped in nothing more than a plush towel, fall into bed. She pulled the pillow close and closed her eyes. A harsh knock outside her door startled them both. Nicholas stood up ready to defend her. Thomas’s challenge to win Alana’s affections first had never really left his mind.
“Sis? You awake?” Matt asked from the doorway.
“If I was, I’m not now,” she mumbled. She rolled over to look at him. “If you’re here to lecture me again you can forget it. It’s late and I’m tired.”
“I’m not,” he assured her. Thanks to his long legs, it took him all of five strides to be at her bedside. “I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry. I shouldn’t push you like that.”
“You shouldn’t, but I know why you do.” She sat up, securing her towel tightly. “One day maybe I will find somebody. Maybe even have a family. Right now though. Right now I just can’t think of things like that. Ben did a number on me, Matt. I can’t just forgive, forget and move on just like that. I need time.”
“The nightmares are back, aren’t they?” His eyes begged her to tell him different, but he already knew she couldn’t.
“I had one last night.”
Matt’s green eyes shot to a scar just visible above the fold of the towel. Nicholas looked closer. Anger rose when he realized it was in the shape of the heel of a boot. The son of a bitch had stomped on her chest so hard he’d left an imprint. How could he have missed that the night before?
“Does it still hurt? Your chest I mean.” For months after the attack she’d told him it felt like needles were constantly being shoved through her chest. Even after x-rays and MRI’s none of the doctors could say why. “They did say it wo-”
“Not as much anymore,” she said covering the spot quickly. “I’m really tired, Matt. Can we have this talk some other time?”
“Nah, we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I was sorry. As much as I hate seeing you this way, its time I learned to accept that this is the way things are for you.”
“Thank you.” She wanted to say more, but tears of relief had choked off the words.
“None necessary,” he said. “I should’ve accepted things a long time ago.”
Alana laid back and stared up at the ceiling. Leave it to him to knock the relaxed feeling right out of her. Her brother always means well, but he never will understand exactly how much his questions hurt. Physical pain is all he sees. The emotional scars are the ones that run the deepest for her. The scar on her chest was nothing compared to the scar she now wore on her soul.
Suddenly a feeling of security settled over her. It covered her with the warmth of a freshly dried blanket. Nicholas had crawled into bed unseen beside her. His power of persuasion tricking her mind. She couldn’t remember what she’d been thinking. It was unpleasant; that she could recall, but as to what the thought was specifically she had not a clue.
Nicholas placed his cool hand on her cheek slowly taking her memories and etching them into his. She would never forget the pain of her brutal attack, but he could make them harder to remember.
Ben stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling, lost in his thoughts. Flashes of his life over the past three years raced through his head. Infatuation, love, lies and finally revenge. All of it had been Alana’s fault. All she had to do was understand.
The “cheating” as she referred to it had been a simple one night stand. He couldn’t help it if he’d gotten a little drunk while she was away. Who knew some hot chick was gonna come up to him at the bar and bang him in the bathroom? Certainly not him. But who was he to say no? Last time he checked it was okay to be lonely.
Furious he kicked the wall. The pain shooting through his naked foot reminded him of exactly where his anger had led.
“Damn you, Alana,” he whispered, sitting up to rub his toes. “You put me here.”
“No, you put you here,” a cool voice said. Ben strained his eyes to see the speaker with no luck. A cold chill ran up his spine. Had he fallen asleep and missed them tossing this guy in with him? “We are alone, yes?”
“Who are you?” he asked desperately. Ben hadn’t had a roommate in months. Though he did miss the company, he wasn’t real sure he wanted to be anywhere near this haunting voice. “How did you get in here?”
“How I got here is not important,” the man said. Ben jumped realizing the voice was now standing right in front of him. “The reason I’m here however is.”
“An-n-nd what would that be?” he asked reaching for the shank he kept stuffed inside his thin pillow.
“You’ve committed a horrible crime.”
“That wasn’t my fault.” One second the weapon was in his hand and the next it was gone.
“Not your fault?” Nicholas let invisibility fall to the wayside. He wanted to look this bastard in the eye. Ben jumped back, slamming his head against the wall behind him. “Coward.”
“Dude, you try watching some guy just pop in here sometime. See how you react.” He rubbed his head trying to ease the pain. “You’re lucky I didn’t crack it open. I’d had your head for that.”
“Doubtful,” Nicholas said flatly. He turned the shank over on his hand and looked curiously at Ben. “You expected to defend yourself with this?”
“I did,” Ben said trying to steel his nerves.
“You would have failed.” No longer interested, he tossed it back to Ben. He knew the idiot would try to use it, but turned his back on him anyway.
“Would I?” Ben launched himself off the bed and plunged the knife deep into Nicholas’ side. “Looks like I did just fine. Now what?”
Nicholas turned around to face him and yanked the knife from his side. A slight trickle of blood oozed from the wound. A calm smile appeared as he watched the color drain from Ben’s face. This was going to be fun.
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Nicholas,” he said, bowing his curtly. “I am a friend of Alana’s. That makes you my enemy.”
“Whoa, bud.” A sudden need to be as far away from this guy as possible overtook him. He slipped past Nicholas and into a corner. “I love that woman. I only did what I did because she makes me crazy. Seeing her with that guy-”
“Her friend,” Nicholas reminded him. “That young man was her friend. Nothing more.”
“Whatever dude,” Ben said looking around the room for an escape. “She never shoulda been with him. I warned her.”
“Benjamin, I cannot begin to tell you how much I loathe being called a dude,” Nicholas sighed. “I gave you my name for a reason. Please use it.”
“Do you see where you are?” Ben snorted. “This is my house. I’ll call you whatever I want to.”
In less than a second he closed the distance between them. He simply couldn’t stomach the attitude anymore. Ben’s eyes grew to the size of saucers when he saw the pristine white glint of fangs peek out from underneath Nicholas’ upper lip. Shock gave way to paralyzing fear. Nicholas seized his opportunity and sank his teeth deep into Ben’s shoulder.
Nicholas projected the memory of his hands on Alana’s body, exploring her, touching her into his victim’s mind. Ben’s anger, even in this state, boiled over. Nicholas fed off it. His hunger grew tenfold. Ben’s blood pumped harder; faster as he devoured every drop. Only when the flow slowed did he break his hold.
“Alana belongs to me,” Nicholas told him. Blood trickled down his chin. Ben’s pulse slowed to a crawl. “You’ve terrorized her. You’ve hurt her. For that I send you straight to hell.”
Thomas eyed the girl Lanie had brought over carefully. Pretty, slender, blond. He should have known she’d pick a friend with all the qualities she hated. Had Lanie looked a little harder she would have seen this young lady may not have been the best candidate. Her mind was strong. Not so strong that he couldn’t get in, but it would take a lot more time than he’d originally planned.
Reprogramming the human was a fairly simple procedure. In fact it was his specialty. But even Thomas had to admit Lanie’s friend would be a challenge. With this girl he’d have to make a physical as well as a mental connection to Nicholas. Mere pictures wouldn’t work here. To do that he needed to catch his friend off guard. If his plan was to be successful, Nicholas couldn’t remember seeing her at all. At least not in his presence.
At that moment a plan hit him. He spied Lanie’s phone on the patio table and smiled. A simple text from a simple girl would do the trick quite nicely. Nicholas already knew how scatterbrained Lanie could be at times. Her not remembering one teensy text message out of who knows how many she sent out a night would be no surprise.
As soon as he picked through her brain for the pass code, he found “Nicky’s” number. The message he sent was short and sweet…“Some 1 u shld meet! C U soon!”
He tossed the phone back on the table and stepped back into the house. The girls were so busy enjoying the hot tub they hadn’t even noticed he’d been there. Lanie would be surprised to see Nicholas, sure. Most likely confused when he asked about the text. Though he was sure she’d play it off nicely. She always did. Irregardless, the bait girl would have him on her mind when the time came for Thomas to beat her to a bloody pulp.
A cold laugh rang through the house when he thought of the image he could conjure up. Oh yes, she would get the beating of her life. Even though it would be him doing it, the only man she would see would be Nicholas. Ah, he could see her reaction now. The fear he’ll instill in her will be more than enough to convince Alana.
Once he decided to reveal himself to Alana this girl would be such an important part of her life there would be no way she would ever let him in. Not when she sees how much her new friend fears him. Nicholas would object to her claims, but against the word, the horrific memory he’d place inside her mind, he’d fail miserably.
Thomas rounded the corner and descended down into the cool basement thoroughly pleased with himself. Two days ago he’d had little more than a vague idea about how to win Alana’s favor. Now he held not only one trump card, but two.
“Stupid, stupid man,” he chuckled as he flipped the light on. He made his way to the canopy bed at the back of the room. A nasty smile plastered on his face. “It’s truly a shame this thing has turned out to be so simple. Really Nicholas, I would have expected so much more from you.”
Pulling the sheer curtain back, he sat down on the bed to check his new protégé’s progress. One night was unfortunately not enough. He’d need at least two more before the transformation was complete. If Thomas was stern he could acclimate the man to the change quickly and Plan B could proceed. “Plan B” meaning Plan Ben.
Another laugh filled the air. This one as chilling as the room itself. The news was already reporting the miraculous escape of a very dangerous, very disturbed criminal. Police were combing the nearby towns for him. Staking out Alana’s house. Scouring his relatives homes and businesses looking for him. Little did they know he’d been the fortunate victim of a half ass assassination attempt.
“Stupid man,” he repeated. “You let your anger control the kill. How many times have I told you to focus on the heart? The brain? You left him too soon, dear friend.” He sighed deeply, closing his eyes, remembering the magnificent feeling of giving his life to another. “How fortunate for me.”
He looked down at the lifeless man, curious to see what kind of vampire a man like him would make. A nasty one for sure. A heartless one? Definitely. Poor Alana. She’ll have many, many sleepless nights ahead of her. And if all goes well Thomas will be the one she turns to for comfort. Once he has his fun, and oh yes it will be fun, he’ll release the dog lying before him now and she’ll sleep forever. Of course he’ll make Ben wait to kill her until he knows Nicholas has been completely and utterly destroyed. This whole plan would be a waste otherwise.
Nicholas would no doubt take the blame for Ben being turned. After all, he’d been the one to put the pieces in place. He’ll probably even confess as much to her in her dreams. Thomas planned to make sure that would be the only way he’d be able to get to her. But by then it would be too late. She’ll feel nothing but contempt for him thanks to the future “victim” currently sitting in his hot tub. Dear, sweet, sincere Nicholas will be turned into a monster by one brilliantly placed memory. Albeit a false one…
Little Girl Lost
Matt tossed his bag on the couch and stretched his arms up over head. A loud crack filled the room. If this kept up much longer his little sister may need to give in and invest in a bed for the guest room. He didn’t mind staying with her, but the springs in the couch were really doing a number on his back.
He called out to Alana, but got no answer. Matt eased up the steps and opened the door to Alana’s room. Thankfully she was already asleep. He saw the little bottle of pills sitting on top of her nightstand and was instantly glad for them. If that’s what it took for her to rest, then so be it. Ever since that son of a bitch Ben had escaped from prison she hadn’t been able to step out the front door. She was terrified he’d jump out from behind a bush somewhere and attack. Only this time he’d kill her.
Both he and Jennifer had tried to put her mind at ease by pointing out the constant police presence outside and the new surveillance system Matt had installed the day they got the news. He wasn’t taking chances this time. Thank God his boss was as worried about her as he was. Thanks to him, Matt had been able to install a top of the line video alarm system in her house along with a live feed that he could view from anywhere he happened to be. All he needed was a signal.
Speaking of. He hurried downstairs and flipped on the monitor. Before he could sit down to review the video a strange noise from the back yard caught his undivided attention. He would have thought it was a wounded animal only Alana didn’t have any. None of her neighbors did either. He grabbed the hand gun he’d stuffed in the desk drawer and cautiously walked towards the back door.
As he stepped out the back door he noticed a bare foot poking out from underneath one of the bushes. “Time to come out,” he said aiming the gun at the hedge in front of him. No movement. “I said it’s time to come out. This is the wrong time and place to play games.”
“What if he’s here?” a terrified voice asked. “I’m not ready to die.”
“Lady, I can guarantee there is nobody here except me, you and the cop out front.” He stepped back, giving the girl room. “Come on out.”
The girl crawled out of the bushes and curled up into a ball beside the porch. She looked hurt. Matt flipped on the light and jumped the rail to check whatever injuries she may have. One look was all it took to know why she’d hidden there in the first place. One eye was swollen shut. There was a two inch long cut on her cheek. Dried blood was caked in her hair and clothes. As his eyes moved further down her body he saw huge black bruises covering her arms and legs.
“What the hell happened to you?” He tried to brush a bloody clump of hair out of her face, but she jerked away. Remembering back to Alana’s experience, he backed off and sat down on the ground beside her. Keep it as normal as possible, he thought. “You know you can’t stay out here forever, don’t you? Whoever did this to you might come looking for you. Why not come on inside? You can get cleaned up while I go talk to the cops out front. No offense, but I’d like to know how you got past them.”
“Why are they even here?” she said softly. Talking to the police was the last thing she wanted to do. She knew who did this to her. She also knew they would never believe her.
“They’re trying to keep my sister safe,” he told her.
“From what?” she asked scooting closer to him. A picture flashed through his mind. The man in Laney’s room. He had something to do with this. But who would she know? She’d never seen him before last night.
“Let’s just say she may have a stalker and leave it at that,” Matt said coolly. This girl wasn’t acting the way Alana had. She seemed scared, but not terrified. “What’s up with you? You look like you’ve been through hell, but you don’t act it.”
“I’m not supposed to be scared of you,” she admitted. And she wasn’t. The man she feared was Nicholas. Not Nick. Not Nicky…Nicholas.
Nicholas watched as Alana paced from one side of the room to the other, her eyes never leaving the window. Her long brown hair disheveled, nails bitten to the quick. Her beautiful light blue eyes had heavy black bags underneath them. Every noise drove her further to the edge. For two weeks it’d been this way. And until the prison decided to tell the truth about Ben’s fate he knew it would stay this way.
"Why lie?” he thought. Drained or not, Ben was still dead. Why they felt the need to cover up his death was beyond him. “His death was well deserved.”
“Lie?” Thomas’s voice asked. It’d been so long since he talked to another vampire telepathically; it took him a minute to realize what he’d heard.
“Yes lie,” he said.
“Ah…Did you do something you shouldn't have done?” Thomas teased. “Who am I kidding? Of course you did. You love this girl.”
“That I’m not sure of yet,” Nicholas said quickly. “I do know I care about her.”
“That’s what blinds you.”
“Blinds me? What are you talking about?”
“Go to the back door and I’ll show you,” Thomas said. “Careful though. The young man has a visitor. We wouldn't want to blow your cover of invisibility.”
Nicholas reluctantly stepped into the hallway. With a sad glance back at Alana he walked down the stairs and towards the back door. He could hear Matt’s voice coming from the living room as well as the voice of a female, but he had plenty of time to investigate her when he finished with Thomas. Besides, Matt hadn't pushed Alana earlier when he thought she was sleeping. He’d simply closed the door and left. Some privacy of his own was warranted.
Thomas smiled as he watched Nicholas step through the door. A few more seconds and he’d make him regret ever making a meal out of Ben. He walked across the yard and embraced his friend. Behind him Ben stayed hidden behind the trunk of a huge Willow tree. Inside he was dying to get inside the house. Now that he had the power of a vampire, nobody could stop him.
“What is it you want to show me?” Nicholas asked.
“Why in such a hurry?” Thomas asked, smiling coyly. “Afraid your little treasure’s gonna disappear on you?”
“She’s not in any state to be left alone,” Nicholas told him shortly.
“That’s not my fault,” Thomas said, the smile still plastered on his face. “You brought this on her.” He waved to Ben, who gladly stepped into view. Nicholas froze. “If I've told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Make sure they’re dead before you leave them.”
“You did this?” Ben asked. Thomas nodded his head, clapping his hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. Ben grinned. “I wanna shake your hand mister. Had you not tried to kill me-”
“Easy boy,” Thomas warned. Nicholas’s fangs had suddenly made an appearance. “Let’s remember why he tried to kill you.”
“Yeah, well, when do I get her?” Ben asked craning his neck to look past Nicholas.
Nicholas stepped back, blocking any path Ben might try to take inside the house. “You don’t.”
“Stay!” Thomas commanded when they took a step towards one another. “Nicholas, he is my protégé. I forbid you to hurt him in any way.”
“You can do that?” Ben asked, frowning at Nicholas.
“I made him,” Thomas said. “I may have let him go, but I still hold some power over him.”
“And this is how you use it?” Nicholas asked incredulously. “By bringing a killer into your life?”
Matt passed the girl a towel and sat heavily down on the couch. “Are you sure you don’t wanna go to the cops?” he asked her. “There’s one right outside I can grab if you want.”
“I’m positive,” she hollered through the closed door.
“Look, I get that you’re scared, but I really think you should. Any man that can beat a person the way he did you should be in jail.” He looked up at the ceiling thinking about Alana. What would she do if she came downstairs in the morning and saw the shape this girl was in?
“Jail won’t hold this guy,” she said opening the door. She stepped into the room drying the ends of her blond hair with a hand towel. “He’d slip out before they could take the first head count.”
“A shelter then? At least let me take you there. I hear they’re pretty good at protecting victims.”
She sighed, tossing the hand towel on the bathroom counter. “Would you trust you sister in one?”
“Okay. You got me there.”
“What happened to her anyway?”
Matt rubbed his neck, debating whether or not he should tell this girl anything. He didn’t know squat about her. Or the people she hung out with. She didn’t seem too terribly upset about what had happened to her. For all he knew this happened on a regular basis. There’s all kinds of people out there.
“Maybe we should start with your name first,” he suggested. “You don’t know me from Adam and I sure as hell don’t know you.”
“Protective,” she said moving closer to him. “I like that.”
“Cautious,” he corrected. “Your name?”
“Carly,” she said. “My name’s Carly.”
“I’m Matt.” He grabbed his bag and dug out one of his t-shirts. “Put this one on for now. I think there’s a pair of Lana’s shorts in the dryer she won’t miss.” He gestured toward the kitchen. “Just go back the way we came in and hang a left.”
“You sure you want me roaming around all by myself? I might end up going the wrong way. This whole situation with your sister and the cop outside has me intrigued.”
“You even think about walking up those stairs and I’ll haul you out to the cop myself.”
“Easy there,” she giggled. “I was just joking.” She slipped the shirt over her head and tossed the towel she had around her slender body at him. “You are far too serious.”
“How can you not be? You just got the crap beat out of you and you act like it’s nothing.”
“Because I realized something while I was in the shower.”
“What’s that?” Matt asked, practically jumping off the couch. “That you’re crazy?”
“You wanna listen or yell?” Carly asked. Her fuzzy memory had cleared considerably in the few minutes she’d stood under the water and one of those things involved his sister.
“I’m listening,” he said coolly.
She motioned him to follow her so she could get the shorts he’d promised her. That and she’d be further out of earshot of any ears that could be listening. If she was right one of them had taken up nightly residence here. Most likely upstairs, locked away with her.
While she dug through the dryer, Matt took a couple of cokes out of the fridge and sat down at the kitchen table. Never before had he wished for a beer more in his life than at this moment. The more they talked the more convinced he became that inviting Carly inside had been a royal screw up.
“What I have to say is gonna sound crazy,” she said, scooting her chair in. “Thanks for the shorts, by the way. Anyway, I promise you though every word of it is true.”
So spit it out.”
“I’m just a ploy,” she said, lowering her voice to a mere whisper. “Your sister is in danger, but it’s not cause of some stalker. There are two men. One who I really think has honest to God feelings for her and another who’s using whatever means possible to play some game to win her over.”
“What does that have to do with you and how the hell do you know all this?”
“I’m sensitive,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “The guy who did this never counted on me being able to read his thoughts. Most like him never really do.”
“What do you mean read his thoughts?”
“I can’t do it all the time. But this guy, the one that beat me tried to get into my head; change my memories. Make me believe I’d been brutalized by the second man so I’d freak when he showed up here looking for your sister.” She could see he was trying to wrap his head around what she’d just told him, but unfortunately she had a lot more to say. “Only he didn’t know what I was. The false memories only lasted a short time. I’ve seen his plan and it’s not good.”
“How did he? Like *who* never do?”
“They’re vampires, Matt and they’re playing with your sister’s life.”
Alana sat down at the kitchen table, staring hopelessly out into the moonless night. She knew Ben was out there. She didn’t need to see him; she could feel him. She’d felt his presence outside her door for weeks now. The officer camped outside wouldn’t phase him. With Ben getting to her would simply be a matter of time.
“Eat,” Jennifer said, sitting a hot bowl of soup in front of Alana. “I can’t believe Matt’s let you get as skinny as you have. He and I are gonna have a serious talk next time I see him.”
“Don’t bother,” Alana said. She pushed the bowl aside and laid her head on the table. “He’s tried to force food on me, but frankly I’m not hungry. Fear kinda does that to you.”
“I’ll be glad when they finally catch that son of a bitch. It’s already been too long. Surely they’ve got a fix on him by now.”
“Not according to the detective Matt’s been talking to. It’s like Ben just vanished into thin air.”
“Maybe he decided to high tail it outta here,” Jennifer suggested. “I’m sure getting a little taste of prison life has changed his perceptive on things considerably.”
“You think so, huh?” Alana asked. She stood up and walked to the doorway. “No, he’s out there. I know he is.”
“Hun, do you think maybe you’re being paranoid?” Alana turned around to look at her, stunned. “I’m not saying you don’t have every right to be. I’m just saying maybe he’s changed his way of thinking a little bit. Prison does change people.”
“Yeah,” Matt mumbled, stomping in through the living room. “It changes people for the worst.”
“When did you get here?” Jennifer asked him. “I thought you had a date tonight.”
“I do,” he shrugged. “She’s waiting in the living room.” He glanced at the un-eaten bowl of soup on the table and shook his head. “I see you didn’t have much luck either.”
“Not even a bite,” Jennifer said. “Carly again?”
“Yeah, she’s a pretty cool gal once you get to know her.”
Alana tuned out the conversation and turned her attention outside. It was so quiet out there tonight. The crickets had all but disappeared. She hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the barn owl that usually nested in the big oak tree beside her back porch. The normal sounds of cats chasing mice have been non-existent for days now. Why?
Then she saw him. In the bushes across the courtyard she could see a pair of glowing eyes peering out of the bushes. Though he hadn’t revealed himself, she’d know that cold stare anywhere. Ben was indeed waiting for her. Her body began to shake uncontrollably. Her breathing irregular.
“Lana?” Matt said. “Lana!!” He rushed to her side as she collapsed to the floor. Nicholas, who until now had been listening from the bedroom upstairs, flew to Alana’s side. He’d been worried about her health lately too, but was helpless to much more than slip her a little blood now and then while she slept. “Dammit, I knew all this was gonna catch up with you sooner or later. You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself!”
“Yeah, yell at her,” Jennifer shot at him. “See how well that works.” She wet a hand towel and held against Alana’s head. “What in the hell just happened?”
“He’s here,” Carly said, from the kitchen doorway. Placing herself between the door and Alana, she looked into the dark court yard and finally saw the same pair of eyes she had. “Right there,” she said pointing at the row of hedges across the way. “I’m guessing that’s where he stays every night.”
Jennifer jumped up and looked in the direction the girl was pointing to. By now Ben was standing just feet away from them. Matt pulled Alana closer to him. Carly stepped forward to further block Ben’s view. Jennifer’s eyes moved from one to the other, stunned to see Matt hadn’t already gone out there and taken Ben’s head off.
“Well if you’re not gonna go out there and rip him a new one, I will.” She got as far as placing her hand on the latch before her body was thrown to the floor. When she looked up she saw the back of a man she’d never seen before walking straight towards Ben. She stood up and started for the door again. This time Matt caught her by the ankle. “What is up with you? I thought you wanted him to pay for what he did to her. Yet you sit there?”
“Look at him,” Carly whispered. “Does it look like any of us could hurt him? It’s best to stay where we are for now.”
Ben did look different. Both Alana and Jennifer had to agree with that. Somehow he looked crazier; stronger. There was also an air of superiority emanating off him. That was something he’d never had before. Alana has long thought his insecurity is what prompted him to attack in the first place, but now that it was gone she wasn’t so sure. He looked even more dangerous now.
“What do we do?” Matt asked Carly. “We can’t let him stay here. You already said he’s part of this.”
“He may be her best defense,” Carly said gravely. She’d been right about Nicholas. All his nights were spent here. “He’s obviously claimed her.”
“But he’s the reason Ben’s back. And,” he stopped and looked at the two men outside. “And like that.”
“Like what?” Jennifer asked. Apparently she was missing a huge chunk of the puzzle.
Alana watched them closer. The man with his back to them seemed familiar. There was something about his voice that calmed her. Even now, while he stands outside threatening to kill a man his voice was soothing.
She let it fill her, consume her. She liked the warmth his low, soft tone brought to her. It was as soothing as a lullaby…Contentment washed over. That’s until she heard someone say those words.
Alana ran upstairs trying to forget the words she’d just heard; the scene she’d just watched unfold. No matter how many times he said it she couldn’t believe it. She didn’t want to believe it.
“It’s a dream,” she told herself. She slammed her door shut and locked it. “You’re gonna wake up in a few minutes and see it’s just a dream.”
“It’s no dream,” Nicholas whispered suddenly appearing by her side. “This is reality. Your reality.”
“Thanks to you!” she screamed. He reached out to touch her face. She jerked away. The hate burning in her eyes threatened to bring Nicholas to his knees. “It’s your fault he’s here. Thanks to you I get to live the rest of my life like this.”
“Alana that was not my intension.” He tried to make eye contact, but she flatly refused to meet his gaze.
“Intensions are a lot like assumptions,” she spat. “They’re worthless and they always cause more harm than good.” Her eyes finally met his. “What gave you the right to decide what was in my best interests? I was fine with Ben being behind bars. At least there he couldn’t hurt me. Now…”
“He will not hurt you,” Nicholas said firmly. “I will not let him. My mistake was not making sure he was dead.”
“Your mistake was going there in the first place!” God, he had some nerve. “I don’t know you from Adam yet you attach yourself to me. You know nothing about me yet you take it upon yourself to-” She stopped, unable to say the word.
“Kill the man who hurt you so bad.” He reached out to her again. This time she jumped off the bed and huddled into the corner. “You have nothing to fear from me. I’m here FOR you. I’ll make sure no one, not Ben, not Thomas, nobody will ever hurt you again.”
“There’s another one?” she asked.
Her knees buckled. One vampire in her life had been enough. Two was pushing it. Now that he’d mentioned another, it was simply too much. She’s been perfectly happy living her life ignorant to the creatures of the dark. Now, thanks to him everything has changed.
“There are many more,” Nicholas told her. “But Thomas is the one who turned Benjamin. He followed me, waited for me to leave and gave him the blood he needed to survive.”
“Why?” she asked weakly.
“Because he knows I want you,” he answered. Nicholas knelt down beside her and stroked her hair. “He saw what you mean to me the night after I met you. He wanted to make winning you over a game.”
“A game?!” She knocked his hand away and stood up. Ben yanked on the window trying to get in. Nicholas jumped in front of her. “My life is not a game!”
“I never said it was,” Nicholas said through clenched teeth. Ben had stopped pulling at the window, but he hadn’t gone away. “Thomas has a twisted sense of humor. Everything is a game to him. He simply wants what everybody else has and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”
“I’m not yours,” she told him. She rolled over the bed and hurried to the door. “I’m not Ben’s. I don’t belong to anybody and I never will.” Alana threw the door open to see Matt standing on the other side. “Tell me something. How in the hell could you keep this from me? How can I trust any of you?”
“Lana, I swear I wanted to tell you.” She pushed past him. He grabbed her arm and forced her to look at him. “Look, when Carly told me I didn’t want to believe it. She took me over to Thomas’s house. Made me see everything for myself.” He looked at Matt finally realizing where he’d seen him before. “You came home with her that night, didn’t you?”
Nicholas sighed. He knew it was time to come clean, but this was not how their relationship was supposed to play out. His plan had been to let her heal. Introduce himself and slowly begin a meaningful life together. Human or vampire he had planned to love her the rest of his life.
“I did,” he finally said. “I brought her home. She invited me in. Though we shared an attraction nothing happened.”
“I think I’d remember if I let a man in my house,” Alana said breaking Matt’s grip on her arm. She bolted down the stairs and back into the kitchen. She wanted to run away. Leave them all here to plan her life, but she couldn’t. She was a prisoner in her own home.
“Not if I erased your memory,” Nicholas said sadly.
Alana spun around to face him. Her eyes full of hate. The anger inside her had come to a boiling point and she wasn’t going to hold it in anymore.
“Get out! Get out and never come back again!” she yelled. “You have no place in my life. I could never be with a man like you. I don’t want to be with a man like you! You’re cold, heartless. You never thought about what I might want. I was an easy mark for you, wasn’t I?” Nicholas knew the words were coming, but he wasn’t prepared for the pain they caused. “Poor, scarred girl. Let’s see what kind of fun we can have with her. Hell, let’s bring in friends. Let’s bring in her worst nightmare and see what happens.” He stepped closer to her. “Don’t. I said leave. I mean it. If I never see your face again it will be too soon.” Matt stepped into the room and motioned the vampire to the door. “No Matt. I meant all of you. You’ve all kept things from me. Important things.”
“But Lana, I-”
“No! I want you all to go,” she said. “Obviously I can’t trust anybody.”
Thomas sat on the edge of the bed glaring at Lanie. Thanks to her all his plans had been dashed. That thing she’d chosen to be his ticket through Alana’s front door had turned out to be a huge disappointment. Not only had she divulged his plans, she had also told them who and what he and Nicholas were.
“You should have looked inside before you brought her here,” he said to Lanie.
“Maybe you should have looked inside before you did what you did,” she spat back. “You did say her mind was strong.”
“Careful girl,” he warned leaning back on his elbows. “Your time with me is limited.”
“Good,” she said pulling the satin sheet up to her neck. “I’d love to be free of you. You never wanted me anyway.”
“Ah, you are right about that.” Thomas flipped over on his stomach and pulled the sheet slowly toward him. As mad as he was, he couldn’t help wanting to look at her. Her long black hair felt like silk. Her pale skin as fine as the best china. Even her eyes called out to him. “I did turn you with only one thought in mind, but who on earth could blame me for that?”
“Pig!” she shouted. He tugged at the covers again. The sheet fell to her waist. He smiled. “You know, there is more to me than boobs.”
“Yes, there’s long limber legs. Delicate fingers.” He ran his hand down her throat. “That lovely neck. Lips that beg to be kissed.”
She smiled. If all else fails, let a man see you naked. “See? You really don’t want to get rid of me, do you?”
“It’s not a question of want my dear.”
Thomas stood up and took his pants off, tossing them into the chair beside the bed. This wouldn’t take long and he needed to regroup. He still wanted Alana. Maybe more so now than before. But with them knowing his plans and Ben stalking her like some rabid wolverine getting her would be hard. His rivals would see to that.
Lanie turned back the covers and grinned wider. Thomas crawled in beside her. Her arms circled his waist, pulling his body close. He wrapped her hair around his hand and yanked her head back. She moaned, rubbing her hips against his. Even she had to admit he was the only man who could make pain feel like something wonderful.
His hands slid down her body. She closed her eyes, enjoying the deep tingling sensations coursing through her body. “How do you prefer to go, love?” he asked nipping at her neck. “Daylight? A stake? Shall I drain you?”
Not taking his question seriously, she wrapped her leg around his waist and rolled his body on top of hers. He looked down at her, fangs out, eyes glazed over. She giggled. She loved it when he fed off her. It may leave her weak physically, but there was something powerful about the way he handled her.
“You’re the boss,” she whispered. He knew she wouldn’t take his question seriously. In fact he’d counted on it. “I am yours to do with what you will.”
Thomas licked his lips and looked down on her one last time. The ride has been fun, he thought, but she’d worn out her welcome the second her friend walked through his door. He shrugged and sank his fangs deep into her neck. She arched her back and tilted her head so he could feed better. Little did she know he planned to take it all.
She brought a leg up trying to remind him of why he lay between them. Her hands groped at his chest; his back trying to get some response from him. No matter what she tried nothing worked. Several minutes passed before she finally realized something was wrong. Her head started to go fuzzy. Her eyes went blurry. She lost feeling in the lower half of her body.
“Thomas,” she gasped. “You’ve gotta stop!” She pushed hard against his chest. He didn’t move. “Thomas!!”
“Yes, love,” he said softly. He licked away the thin line of blood trickling from the puncture wounds.
“If you’re gonna get that involved we might need to think about getting a donor,” she suggested. She tried to play off the fear that had gripped her, but he’d left her rattled. “I can’t feel my legs.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry that about too much,” he said stroking her hair. “Close your eyes love. I have a gift for you.”
He rolled off the bed and stuck his hand in between the mattress. He smiled wickedly when he pulled the stake from its hiding place. He crawled back on the bed, straddling Lanie. Her eyes were still closed. That trusting smile he’d come to know graced her perfect lips.
With a final sigh he plunged the stake straight into her chest. Her eyes shot open. Her face contorted in pain. Too late, she’d realized her life had been in danger all this time.
“I told you your days were numbered,” he whispered.
“Why’d you make him leave?” Matt asked dumfounded. “As much as I hate to admit it, he may be your only line of defense.”
“I don’t care what he is!” Alana screamed. Her face flushed with anger. “You’re lucky I don’t throw your ass out, too.” She put her palms to her temples, pressing hard. She took a few deep breaths and looked back up at Matt. “The only reason I haven’t is because I’m hoping you have a good explanation for hiding this from me.”
He gestured towards the door and grunted. “That! That right there is why I didn’t say anything.”
“I threw a liar out.”
“How’s he a lair? You never gave him a chance to fully explain his position.”
She put her hands on her hips. Her eyes narrowed into slits. “Are you actually taking up for that…THING?”
“No,” Carly answered. She slid her hand into his. “Matt’s just saying Nicholas is in this for you. He wants you.”
“Wants, huh?” she snorted. “When did I ever say he could have me? I’ve never seen the man till tonight. Now he wants to offer me his undying devotion and protect me from a mess he created. How does that translate into a freakin’ relationship?”
“Only in part,” Carly said gently. “Nicholas meant to kill that guy. If Thomas hadn’t followed him, he would have.”
“But he did,” Alana pressed. Tears started to well up in her eyes. “And now Ben’s out there; waiting.”
Carly walked over to her and lead her to the bed, urging her to sit. Alana did. Her legs couldn’t support even her minute weight anymore. While Alana sat there, Carly put her gift to work. Thanks to her subject’s fragile emotional state and weakening health it was easy to get inside her head. After little more than a minute she found the memory Alana needed to see. But finding it and extracting it were two different things.
“You said tonight was the first time you’ve seen him, yes?” Carly asked Alana.
“Yes,” she answered.
“But he’s the guy-” Matt’s voice was silenced with a wave of Carly’s hand.
“I wanna show you something, but in order to see it I need you to relax. Let go of everything. Can you do that?”
“Why?” she jerked her hand from Carly’s.
“Do you trust Matt?” Alana frowned. “Okay, apart from all this, do you trust him?” She nodded, though reluctantly. “Good. Then you know you can trust me. Now relax.”
Carly took her hand and closed her eyes. Alana sighed and closed her own. May as well try, she thought. After a few seconds she let her body relax. Emptying her mind was a little more difficult. Thoughts rushed in at her from every direction. All she could do at the moment is think.
Suddenly Nickolas’s smooth voice made her forget everything. She focused on the man sitting with her at the club she’d gone to a few weeks ago. She saw herself, happy to have him there. They were having a wonderful time. He’d actually managed to make her smile. As she did him. She looked closer at the drinks. No, it’s just water.
She watched as she; SHE ran her foot up his leg. She was the one to caress his cheek, slide her thumb across his lips. Heart nearly dropped when she saw herself lean across the little table to kiss him. Not some peck on the cheek either. To anyone looking on they would have thought she’d apparently been alone for far too long or she was a total slut. Dear God, what was I thinking?!
She nearly stood up and screamed at herself when she heard her voice suggest they leave and go to her place.
“Stop,” she said opening her eyes. “Please stop. I can’t.”
“You haven’t seen the most important part,” Carly whispered. Her eyes were still closed, her hand still in Alana’s watching the night play out.
“Sleeping with him was a stupid mistake,” she said flatly. “I don’t need to relive it again.”
“Sleeping? Yes,” Carly said, opening her eyes. “Sleeping with him? No. He refused to let it go that far.”
“No, Nicholas saw your pain. He looked inside you and saw what you’d been through. That’s what stopped him. That’s part of what kept you alive.”
“Part?” Matt asked, kneeling down between them.
“Let him come back in,” Carly pleaded. “Let me read him. I can tell what his intentions are. I can tell you if his feelings for you are what I think they are. If they are he’s no danger. If they are he’s quite possibly your only chance.”
“Babe, after listening to Lana’s rant I’m sure he’s long gone.”
“You’re wrong,” Carly smiled. She glanced out the window. They’re gaze followed hers. Nicholas stood right outside her bedroom doors. “He won’t leave until morning."
As much as she didn’t want to let him come back in, she could see Matt wanted him back. Alana looked at the vampire’s back and softened a bit. She’d been the one to lead him on in the first place. What’s to say some of this wasn’t in some way her fault? What if vampires reacted first; asked questions later if at all? Finally she nodded.
Matt ran to the door. Nicholas turned to his head look, surprised to see a smile. “Lana says you can come back in.”
“Conditions?” he asked.
“I get to read you,” Carly said. “I’ve showed her the night y’all met. Now I need to prove to her that you are the best person to watch over her.”
“You should have left the memory buried,” he told her. Alana waved him inside, but didn’t move. “I could let her read me,” he said his blue eyes never left Alana’s. “Or I could tell you myself.”
“How do I know you aren’t lying?” Alana asked.
You don’t,” He was standing before her in a flash. Alana, surprised by his speed jumped back against the headboard. Nicholas caught her eye and held it. “Yes, I went out in search of blood that night. But that was before I found you. Beautiful, charming, smart, sensual. All these things in one woman. I knew then I couldn’t let you slip away. But you have scars. Not the physical ones,” he said when he saw her hand move to her chest. “The mental ones. I couldn’t, wouldn’t take advantage of you while you were in that state. In my own way I have claimed you. I do want you. I may even go as far as to say I have fallen in love with you.” Her mouth opened. He held up his hand to silence her. “Those are my feelings. Whether you share them or not is up to you. I will not force anything on you.”
She thought about his words. Listened to his voice. The same voice she now knew had been there to calm her every night since Ben escaped. If he had wanted to hurt her, wouldn’t he have done it already? What if Matt’s right? What if he is the only thing standing between her and Ben?
“If I let you stay, you stay,” she told him. “I realize you have to sleep during the day. I’ll accommodate you there. But don’t think even for a minute me letting you stay here is in any way saying I have any feelings for you at all.”
“Understood,” Nicholas said, bowing his head curtly
“You said I could have her!” Ben screamed. “You said she’d have no choice but to come to me.”
“No, what I said was she would be helpless against you,” Thomas corrected. “The trick is getting her out of the house so we can bring her here. Next to impossible considering she and the others know everything. ” Not to mention her deep seeded fear of his young companion. He poured his new house mate a drink and leaned against the wall, watching the crazed thoughts reel through Ben’s head. Some fools. “You know, staying so close to her all these nights may be why she still feels the way she does. What is it they say? Ah, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“In this case my absence may cost me,” Ben groaned. He’d picked up on a couple of things during the past few days. One, Thomas was in this for Thomas. Two, that rat Nick wanted to get Alana into bed. “You two had a plan way before you turned me. She’s nothing but a game to y’all.”
“Oh, make no mistake.” Thomas smiled. “Nicholas wants her. Mind, body and soul wants her. He usually gets what he wants. Not this time though. I’ll make sure of that. I want to see his desires crumble before him. Once I get that she’s all yours. She’ll be easier to break then anyway.”
“Who says I wanna break her?” Ben asked.
“After the things you did to her, breaking her down is the only way you’ll ever get her to come to you.”
Seeing his point Ben shrugged and looked down at the glass he’d been handed. A deep frown furrowed into his forehead. “What the hell? This isn’t blood.”
“It’s better,” Thomas chuckled. “Trust me.”
“Why’d you do it?” Alana asked Nicholas. He turned to look at her, stunned. A week had passed without as much as a glance his way. “Ben. Why did you go there? What made you think you had the right to do what you did?”
“His sentence wasn’t enough,” Nicholas answered. “There’s no hope of rehabilitation for a man like that.” He turned back towards the window and sighed. “I did it because I thought you and the world in general would be better off without him.”
“How noble of you,” she said sarcastically.
“I never said it was noble,” Nicholas said, keeping his eyes on the grounds. “Doing what I did makes me no better than him.”
Alana propped up on her elbow. “Then why do it?”
“My nature perhaps?”
“I see.” She rolled over and pulled the covers back up over her shoulders. “Let’s not take responsibility for our own actions. Play the vampire card.” Nicholas turned and in a flash was kneeling on the floor beside her. She jumped out of bed; scared and angry. “Don’t do that!”
“Understand this. I never use the vampire as an excuse for anything I do. When I suggested my nature, I meant me as a man. I’ve never been able to stomach men like Ben. They are cowards. They use people to make themselves feel better. They have a hole inside themselves they think only meanness can fill. Cruelty is easy. Kindness takes work.” He stood up and walked to the end of her bed. She eased back under the covers. “Forgive me if I scared you, but I won’t have you thinking I’m something I’m not. You, like everyone else are entirely too quick to judge.”
“Can you blame me? You said yourself you’ve seen what I’ve been through. You were even ready to kill him for putting me through it.”
“Now who’s using excuses?” He almost smiled when he saw the fire light up her blue eyes. Almost.
“It’s not the same thing!” she fumed. Her face flushed bright red. “He killed my friend. He tried to kill me. I think I have a right.”
“To judge him. Not others.” He returned to his post knowing what he was about to say would hurt her. But the words needed to be said to help her heal and nobody was willing to say them. “The attack was committed by one person. Yet you hold everybody at arm’s length. You deny yourself love, companionship. You stay locked inside this house away from the wonderful world you’ve been given. You allow the pain, the hurt to rule you. You have in a sense let him win.”
Nicholas stood in front of the balcony doors looking down at the court yard below, listening for any signs of life both in and outside the apartment. Matt had decided to stay with Alana until he knew for sure he could trust a supposedly friendly vampire with his little sister’s life. Carly had tried to reassure him, but a human trusting a creature he knows nothing about has proven to be next to impossible.
Hearing nothing but the sounds of steady breathing he moved towards the bed. Even with her knowing Ben couldn’t come in she still didn’t have her appetite back. Nicholas assumed with his presence and that of her brother along with Carly would take some of the worry off Alana, but it hadn’t. In fact she seemed to be more on edge. As tempting as it was to get inside her head and fix it, he couldn’t; wouldn’t. Some things she has to face on her own.
He sat down beside her and tucked her hair behind her ear. He’d never felt hair so soft. It was like running his fingers over a sheet of the finest silk. He leaned in to take in her scent again. Roses and vanilla filled his nostrils. Could anything smell more enticing? As he sat up his hand brushed her arm. Her skin was softer than a baby’s, but far too cool. Whether it be lack of food or some other reason, he didn’t know.
Nicholas pulled a flask out of his jacket pocket and drank until it was empty. His body instantly began to warm. His heart started to beat a little faster. His senses sharpened. An overwhelming feeling of dread settled into the pit of his stomach. Damn woman, he thought. He pushed past the emotions swirling through his mind and let his own body take the lead. Alana needed him.
He punctured the vein in his wrist with a fang and laid down beside her. He parted her lips just enough and let the blood drip slowly into her mouth. He’d never used his flask before, but it seemed necessary tonight. Weight was dropping off her at an alarming rate and nothing Matt could say was going to change that. His blood coupled with the unique blood in his flask should be more than enough to bring her back.
As his free hand swept across Alana’s face, her eyes fluttered open and closed again. The split second flash of blue struck him. The warmth he’d felt mere minutes ago turned into a heat so intense he was actually sweating. A vampire; sweating! He took his wrist away and smiled, kissing her lips gently. His hand slipped from her cheek, down to her chest. He stopped, feeling her heartbeat. Was it wrong to want to still that a little? Have her be his for eternity?
Shaking the questions from his mind he let his hands glide over her breasts, moving slowly down to her bellybutton. Stopping to kiss her exposed stomach he pulled her hips toward him, easing his body between her perfectly shaped legs. She stirred, but didn’t wake. His fingers bit into her thighs, leaving small red lines in their wake as he worked his way down to her ankles, his fingers kneading the firm muscles in her calves. He looked back up at her gorgeous face. It would be easy to turn her. With her vastly depleted strength he could do it before she knew what hit her. And she would be his. Nobody could take her away from him then.
“You do it now and she’ll never forgive you,” Carly whispered. His eyes shot to the door. “I’m not there, don’t worry. I just happen to know what you’re thinking.”
“I forget,” he mumbled. He pushed off the bed and stood up to regain his composure.
“I know you want her. I know it’s more for you than just chasing someone you can’t have. But you have to let her make the choice. If you don’t all your good intentions mean nothing.”
Of course she was right. What in the hell had he been thinking? He’d let himself get lost in his own selfish feelings and –
And it didn’t matter. Alana didn’t want him. She could barely look at him without fear or disgust buried in her eyes. How could he build a relationship on that? Hadn’t he already gone over this? Hadn’t he promised himself and her that he would do nothing more than guard her against Ben and Thomas? He wanted to stay here with her, but if she never leaves the safety of her apartment what did she need him for? As long as she stays here she’s safe? Why was he still here? Why was he torturing himself like this?
Jennifer stepped out of her car and walked towards her front door. She sighed when she saw the lights were off and noticed Matt’s truck was still gone. She didn’t mind him staying with Alana, but she hated taking his money when he clearly wasn’t living here. She honestly felt like she was stealing when he’d given her a check for his half of the rent and utilities this time.
As she slid the key into the lock a cold hand slipped around her neck. She froze, realizing whoever it was was far from friendly. Jennifer looked around, searching for help. She knew better than to expect to see somebody out this late, but there’s always that slim chance. Unfortunately tonight wasn’t her night.
“I’ve got you now,” Ben said. He spun her around to face him and smiled. The smell of fear infiltrated his nostrils. “Good to see ya again, Jen. Bet you never thought you’d be here.”
“I’m here every day you jack ass,” she snapped. “I live here.”
“You forget what am,” he growled. His hand tightened around her throat. “I could snap your neck like a twig.”
“Do it then,” she spat. “Make Alana hate you even more than she does right now. Maybe it’ll even give her the push she needs to let Nicholas in.” She smiled up at him, knowing she was playing with fire. “I think they’d make a lovely couple, don’t you?”
“She’s mine,” he told her. “MINE!!!”
Before he could stop himself his fangs ripped into her neck. Blood filled his mouth. She could feel it dripping down her neck unto her clothes. She tried to fight him off, but the blood tasted so good he held on as if his life depended on it. Maybe it did. His heart beat fell into a rhythm matching hers. Her memories flooded his mind. Her feelings transfer to him. Her strength filled him. He was, in a sense becoming one with her.
Jennifer scratched at his face desperately trying to break free. All she could think of was getting loose and driving straight to Alana’s house. She planned on showing her friend once and for all that she could trust the vampire staying with her.
Ben laughed as her thought crossed his mind. He wiped the blood from his chin with the back of his hand and smiled. “That’s not gonna happen. She knows I won’t let it.”
“She also knows what a monster you are.” The last thing she saw the glint of madness that flashed through his eyes. The last thing she felt was the numbness and odd sense of peace that accompanied death.
He yanked her head back and sank his fangs deep into her jugular vein, taking pleasure in the sound of her slowing heartbeat. Her body went rigid. She could feel the life leaving her body. As hard as she tried to hold on, his will to kill was stronger. Her heart pounded in her ears. The slower the beat got the harder he sucked. He wanted to drain her dry. She’d been such a thorn in his side she deserved to die this way, he thought.
When her heart stopped he tossed her limp body to ground in front of her door. Who would find her? He didn’t care. Who would mourn her? He didn’t care about that either. Would Alana hate him more? Probably, but she’d get over it. He’d make her. One thing was clear, dear Jennifer was out of the picture for good and now only Matt stood in his way.
“You should have been there with her,” Alana sobbed. Matt cradled her, stroking her hair gently. “You should have been there, not here.”
“I never thought he’d go there,” Matt admitted chocking back the tears. He and Jennifer had been roommates for years; friends for longer. He felt her loss just as deeply. “There was just no reason for him to go after her like that. None.”
Alana pushed off his chest and glared at him. “No reason?” she asked. Her throat was raw from a day’s worth of crying. Her eyes red and puffy. “How about to get my attention? He knows what y’all mean to me. I’m sure he’d kill you if he gets the chance. There’s no stopping him now.” Her angry gaze fell on Nicholas. “He’s a damn monster that can’t be stopped thanks to him.”
“That’s not-” Matt stuttered. Nicholas held his hand up and approached the couch.
“Fair?” Nicholas finished. Matt nodded. “No, it is fair. Benjamin is a monster. I did, in a way help create him. I may not have given him blood, but I did give Thomas an opportunity he obviously could not pass up. I only hope it backfires on them both.”
“Backfires?” she snorted. “How does anything backfire on y’all? You have the world at your fingertips. You can bend anyone to your will. Live through things humans can’t.” Her eyes filled with tears again. “Kill whoever you want and get away with it.”
“Know this; I have never killed at will. There have been times when my hunger gets the best of me and accidents have happened, but I have never killed just to kill.”
“Killing in any way is enough,” she said. Nicholas nodded curtly knowing there were no words that could comfort her.
“Lana,” Matt said, forcing her to look at him. “You gotta stop blaming everything on him. It’s not his fault Ben’s a crazed psychopath. It sure as hell isn’t his fault some other vamp decided to make him his dog.” Her lips moved but he quickly covered them with his finger. “The pity party we’ve been wallowing in all this time? Sis, it’s time you grew up. I know he did some pretty bad things to you, but staying locked up inside this house all the time. Being scared of your own shadow. Girl, it ain’t good.”
“So what? You want me to just walk out there and challenge him?” This was too much! He’d been there. He saw what Ben was capable of.
“No, I want you to live again. I want my sister back.”
Alana sunk to the floor, her hands in her hair, tears running down her face. She wanted to be normal. She wanted to get up every morning and go to work like everybody else does. She even wanted to go to a nightclub now and again. Meeting a man was out of the question, but a little contact with someone other than her brother would be nice. The only thing stopping her was the paralyzing fear that her past would become her future.
Thanks to the blood he’d been feeding her, Nicholas felt the fear running through her mind. A peek inside let him know how much Matt’s words had affected her. He knew then there was hope. Maybe, just maybe he could give her the life she wanted.
He knelt down beside her. Matt mouthed good luck and left the room. Something told him he didn’t want to know what the vamp had to say. Carly had already warned him Lana could possibly be killed or worse; turned during all this. In fact she was sure Ben had every intention of turning her himself.
Nicholas took a deep breath and sighed. His future with her hinged on her reaction. “I can’t make all this go away. I can however make it easier.”
She looked up at him. For the first time there was no hate in her eyes. Only exhaustion, grief and curiosity lived there now.
“How? I’m only human. I’m no match against any of you.”
“As a human, no. As a vampire you’d be a strong as any of us. You’d have abilities you don’t have now. If I turned you, you’d belong to me. No one, not even Ben could touch you unless I said so.”
Stunned didn’t even begin to describe her feelings. Had she heard him right? Had he just proposed a fate worse than death? Did he seriously think she’d fall at his feet and beg to be drained? The anger rose out of the confusion, but then she saw his face. The sincerity there touched her. Suddenly she realized he was only doing what he thought was right. Suddenly she knew she could trust him.
As far as Ben knew Thomas was still planning on handing Alana over on a silver platter. As far as Thomas was concerned that wasn’t going to happen. In fact his plan to use Ben to eliminate every person in her life has had a marvelous start. Dear friend was gone. Now on to whoever happened to walk out the door next. Elimination, alienation and solitude were all he needed to win this game.
Nicholas held all the cards for now, but he wouldn’t for long. Once her brother kicks the bucket she’ll reject him and blame him for not doing enough to protect the people she loved. Carly’s death won’t hurt her much, but it will be one less body to contend with. Right now the only body he’s interested in is Alana’s.
“You realize it won’t be that easy, don’t you?” Nicholas asked. He stepped out of the shadows, nodding his head curtly.
“Nicholas!” Thomas chuckled. He nodded back and smiled coyly. “My friend this has turned out to be a most enjoyable game. Who knew the pieces would land so perfectly?”
“Perfectly?” he asked, his voice bordering on rage. “Alana is devastated by the senseless loss of her friend and you see it as a game?”
“Come now. You can’t be serious. We have years, decades, centuries to look forward to together. Why let a woman ruin that? She’s worthy of you, but you and I both know she’ll never go for the kind of life you’d like to offer her.”
“You know nothing,” he spat. Alana had turned down his offer, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t have something between them. “This is not a game to me. It’s not a game to her. I’ve come here to ask you to call off your dog. The death of her brother will only finish her. One more emotional blow is something she cannot live through.”
“My ‘dog’ as you so cleverly refer to him is not under my control,” Thomas said coolly. He strode across the room and looked out onto the sprawling grounds below. Truthfully he wasn’t sure he ever was. “He has his own mind. He does as he pleases. There is nothing I can do to stop him.”
“He’s your responsibility,” Nicholas reminded. His hand balled into fists. “You call the shots. Reign him in or I will.”
Thomas spun around on his heel, glaring at his long time friend. “Have you seen that boy kill? Have you seen the rage in his eyes? I’d be a fool to try to stand in his way.”
“Yet you think you can keep Alana from him?” Nicholas’s eyes narrowed. What was his plan?
“She’s but one decapitation away,” he said smoothly. “I’m not an idiot. I will use what tools I have at my disposal to win this woman, but when said tool gets in my way he will be killed on the spot."
“He’ll be killed sooner if he shows up on Alana’s doorstep again.”
Nicholas kept his eyes on Thomas as his body started to fade out of sight. He’d left Alana alone for long enough, but there was one more stop he needed to make. He mentally reached out to check on her as he sought out Ben. The steady sound of sleep met his ears. He could feel the presence of another in her room and relaxed. Bless Carly.
The connection between the two broke the second he found Ben. He kept his presence to himself as he stepped up behind him. Minutes passed until he was finally able to penetrate the killer’s thoughts. Not one was happy. Alana was simply a conquest. He wanted to break her; use her. But unlike most he didn’t want to leave her. She was a possession to him. A trophy wife so to speak.
Nicholas thrust the conversation he’d just had with Thomas into Ben’s head. His goal, like Thomas’s was elimination. Easier to deal with one determined man than two. The young vampire’s body stiffened. His heart, though slow sounded like a drum. Rage burned in his eyes. His tongue swept over his protruding fangs. Anger, possibly even hate was fueling him now.
“Two live for now,” Nicolas thought. “But one will not survive the night.”
“You could leave,” Matt said to Alana. “Take the money Mom and Dad left us and leave. Go somewhere far away. Change your name. Do whatever you need to.”
“Matt, that’s not gonna work,” Carly said. “He’ll find her no matter where she goes. She could run around the world and he’d still find her.”
Thomas may be dead, but now they were facing a young vampire without a maker there to reel him in. The fact that Ben had been able to kill him despite his age spoke volumes. This guy was more dangerous than five vampires put together.
“There’s gotta be somewhere,” he said, pacing the floor. His eyes fell on Nicholas. Anger welled up inside him. “You just couldn’t leave it alone. You had to go and stir the pot that much more, didn’t you?” He stepped up, his face mere inches away. “You know what I think? I think you want her trapped in here every night. I think you want her scared."
“Matt don’t,” Alana said, pulling him away.
“Don’t what? He said himself he wants you. What if this is just some sorry attempt to get you?”
“He doesn’t need to make an attempt,” Carly told him. Her hand was on Alana’s.
Alana yanked her hand from Carly’s grasp and stepped in between them. “I know why he did what he did. I don’t like it, but I do understand it.”
“What’s to understand? And what the hell is she talking about? Are you falling for this guy?” Alana’s eyes found the floor. She couldn’t look at him. “Lana, have you lost your damn mind? He’s a vampire. A vampire!”
“I know exactly what he is,” she said. She turned to look at Nicholas. He gave her a reassuring nod, but didn’t say anything. “And no, I don’t know exactly what I feel for him. What I do know is he is the only one who knows how to help right now.”
“Brilliant since he’s the one who started this whole thing,” Matt mumbled. “How do we know this wasn’t the plan all along?”
“Do you honestly think, knowing my initial intentions that I would sacrifice whatever feelings she may have by killing or having ordered the killing of her dear friend?” Nicholas walked to the window, Alana trailing behind him and looked out into the courtyard. Sure enough Ben was there. “That man is the man you should be afraid of. He feels no remorse. Has no sense of right and wrong. He will kill us all if we don’t put our heads together and think.”
“Bullshit! All we need is a sharp stake and a diversion.” A sudden movement knocked him off kilter. Before he fell, Nicholas grabbed his shoulder. “What the hell, man?”
“You’ll need more than a diversion,” Nicholas said.
“Okay,” Matt said throwing up his hands. “You made your point. Now tell me how you plan on getting my sister out of this.”
“Bait,” Alana said softly. All heads turned to look at her. “It’s the only way. If I can keep his attention long enough Nicholas can do whatever he needs to do to take him out."
“Not a chance, sis. I’m not letting you anywhere near that guy.”
“It’s not your decision,” she told him.
Nicholas looked at Carly and made a motion towards the window. She closed her eyes and forced her way into Ben’s subconscious while Nicholas prodded his mind. Before he said a word he needed to know Alana would be safe.
“Lana, he’s not the same as he used to be. Christ! This time he has fangs…Fangs!! Does that not scare you?”
“More than you know, but you and I both know nobody else can do this.”
Carly’s eyes flew open. She nodded her head vigorously and smiled. Nicholas thanked her with a quick bow of his head and turned to face Alana. If she was gonna do this it would have to be his way. And it would have to be far away from here.
“Thoughts of you distract him. We can use that to our advantage.” Matt tried to speak, but Carly’s hand over his mouth quickly shut him up. “There will be rules. Rules I expect you to follow.”
“The first is this. Do not let him in your head. If he does the plan will come unraveled before it begins. The second. Do not let him close to you. I fear the mere smell of your skin will incite him. The third. Never take your eyes off his. The longer you hold his attention the better our chances.”
“Anymore?” she asked.
“Just one.” His lips played gently against hers as he took her soft hands in his. “I cannot live life wandering anymore. I beg of you please, end my misery.”
Changing of the Guard
“Ma’am, they say our resources are being wasted here,” the lieutenant said regretfully. He believed the son of a bitch was coming for her, but without so much as a sighting it was getting harder and harder to convince his superiors. “I’d rather not leave until he’s found believe me.”
“Its fine,” Alana said smiling nervously. “I didn’t expect y’all to hang out here forever. I’m sure if Ben had any intention of coming back here, he would’ve done it already. Please don’t worry about me. Y’all have a whole city to protect.”
“Your friend’s death doesn’t scare you?” another officer asked.
“Dude! Really?” Matt shouted. He got up from the couch and went to stand beside his sister. Only recently had she stopped openly blaming herself for Jennifer’s murder. “Damn man. Have you lost your mind or something?”
“Not at all,” he said. “It just strikes me a little odd that her best friend is laid out in the cold, hard ground yet she’s not concerned about how she got there.”
“Who says she’s not?” Matt seethed.
“Do you see tears?”
Matt never wanted to hit a man so bad in his life. “I’ve seen ‘em more than I care to. Most nights they’re non-stop.”
“Are they shed for the friend or for herself?”
“For Jennifer,” Alana said softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Always for Jennifer.”
“Pardon me if I don’t believe that.” He looked Matt up and down. She could see the wheels turning in his head. “What about you, Bubba? Weren’t you her roommate?”
“Going on four years now,” Matt answered through gritted teeth. “What of it?”
“Maybe you got jealous? Maybe you made some kind of advance at some point and she pushed you away. This whole thing with Ben gives you both a window to take out just about anybody you want to.”
“You think I’d kill one of my closest friends?” Matt asked incredulously. Oh this was too much.
“That’s enough, Chris,” the lieutenant said.
“Maybe for you,” Chris snorted. “There’s something going on here. More than they’re saying and I’m gonna find out what it is.”
“I said that’s enough. You’ll have to excuse him,” the lieutenant said shaking his head. “He obviously has no couth.” He turned to the man and gestured towards the car parked across the street. “Why don’t you go wait in the car before you say something that borders on harassment.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “He’s only doing his job.”
“Like hell,” Matt mumbled.
“He should have read Ben’s file a little more closely,” the officer said. “If he had a problem with his detail, he should have spoken up.”
“Why would he need to do that?” Matt asked. “He’s already made up his mind. He’s just gotta try to figure out which one of us gets the blame.”
“Again, I apologize. He’s younger. Not as experienced as the rest of us. The fact that he needs to prove himself is a lot of what drives him,” the officers said. “Still he shouldn’t throw accusations like that around without some kind of evidence. We’ll be going now. If you need anything don’t hesitate to call.”
As he turned to leave he breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe now Nicholas could take care of Ben in his own way. It was becoming clear to her that human means of protection weren’t gonna cut it…Ever.
Lieutenant Carter got in the car and gripped the wheel. It took everything he had not to turn around and ring Chris’s neck. He’d just made himself look like an ass. Not to mention accused an innocent woman of a crime she in no way could have committed. To suggest Matt had something to do with her friend’s death was absurd. Had killer been in his nature Ben would have never made it to trial.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Carter asked. He tossed the keys on the dashboard, waiting for an answer.
“I’m doing my job,” Chris said coolly. “Something we should have done a long time ago.”
“The only job we had here was to make sure that girl didn’t get attacked again. If you had a problem with that you should’ve asked to be reassigned.”
“Do you not see it?”
“What? That she’s scared? That she’s lost her best friend?”
“Is she?” Chris asked staring through one of the windows in Alana’s house. He’d just seen a shadow move across her window. Who it was he didn’t know. She and that jack ass brother of hers were still standing in the door way. “You treat her like she’ll break. You never even bothered to ask where her brother was the night that girl was killed. For all we know they found the con and killed him.”
“Hate to say it, but that’s one case of justifiable homicide.” He grabbed the keys and started up the car. He could tell Chris had rattled them. They didn’t usually perch at the screen door they way they were now. The best thing he could do was drive away now. “Maybe you need to read that file again. Refresh your memory a little bit.” He pulled out onto the street leading away from the complex. “She was the victim. Not the suspect.”
“Carter, for all we know she took out that kid for some stupid little something and blamed him for it.”
“You’re kidding right?” Carter asked, hopeful he was. “You saw the pictures of her. Hell you saw the autopsy report. There’s no way that scrawny little thing could’ve killed that boy.”
“When passion’s involved ‘scrawny’ can do almost anything.”
“He confessed! Did you forget that part?”
“No, but what’s to say he wasn’t covering for her?”
“How?” Good God, this kid was out for blood. “He beat her senseless. That poor girl was in the hospital for days recovering.”
“When you’re desperate.”
Nicholas pulled Alana away from the door. Danger lurked and here she stood like a lamb put up for sacrifice. “Please. Stay away from the door. Benjamin is stronger than most new vampires. I do not know yet how advanced his abilities actually are.”
“But if I’m inside my house-”
“It takes only one toe outside the boundary,” Nicholas said, cutting her off quickly. “The young officer will be a problem. You do know this?”
“Carter’ll straighten him out,” Matt said. He shut and locked the door then collapsed on the couch. “Nothing to worry about.”
“The lieutenant will try,” Nicholas said leading Alana toward the kitchen. “But he will fail. His partner is a very strong willed man. By nature he is suspicious. He will dig until he gets to what he thinks is the truth.”
“Which is?” Matt asked.
“That you had something to do with Jennifer’s death. I am almost positive he has decided Alana committed a crime of passion and left Benjamin holding the bag, so to speak.”
Matt snorted. That was ridiculous. The only thing his little sister could kill without feeling some guilt for was flies. “That guy needs to have his head examined.”
“If he comes back here I’m sure he’ll get that and more.” He glanced outside, looking for any sign of his rival. “Benjamin will likely be less forgiving.”
Matt was running late. He had promised Carly he’d meet her at his apartment thirty minutes ago. On the downside he was still a few miles away. On the upside she was a very patient woman. Whatever he’d done to have a gal like her just drop in his lap he didn’t know, but that was one of the things he should probably be thanking Nicholas for. After all, had he not decided he liked Alana the two of them never would have met.
Carly stood by the window patiently waiting for Matt to drive up. She’d already called Alana to let her know they’d be late. Not surprisingly she didn’t mind. Since the cops had been forced to give up their post Alana and Nicholas had become close. He never left her side at night. She never left his during the day. A smile crossed her lips when she thought of how Matt would react if he ever did figure out what she already suspected.
“Too bad you don’t have a say in it, babe,” she said to the picture hanging on the wall beside her. “No matter how hard you try you can’t protect her from this one.”
“He may not, but I can,” a man’s voice whispered. The sound wasn’t spoken, but thought.
She closed her eyes, focusing on the direction of the voice. “You say that like you believe it,” she thought back. “You’re young. You can’t possibly think you can ever best Nick.”
“I did Thomas.” He stepped up to the window. Carly opened her eyes; avoiding his gaze.
“Thomas was different,” she reminded him. “Nick set him up. You had an advantage.” She stepped closer to the window and smiled. “Besides he didn’t really have anything to lose, did he? All this was just a game to him.”
“True,” he conceded. “But I do. Alana was, is and always will be mine. Nothing that guy can do to stop that.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“The power of persuasion is pretty strong motivator.” He looked towards the street and smiled. Fear shot through Carly like a bullet. “Look, here comes my motivator.”
She yanked her phone out of her pocket and dialed Matt’s number. No answer. She tried again. Still nothing. She texted Alana. If Nicholas could get here, Matt might stand a chance.
Headlights suddenly came into view. It was only a matter of seconds before Matt’s truck pulled into the parking lot. Carly ran to the door, throwing it open. Ben stood right in front of her just out of Matt’s line of sight.
“Hey beautiful,” Matt said as he shut the driver’s side door.
“Matt, get back in truck,” she yelled. Air brushed her face. Ben was on the move. “Hurry!”
“I just got here. Lana’ll understand me wanting to take a shower. Trust me.”
“To hell with your sister! Get in the damn truck!” She ran into the parking lot just in time to see Ben pick Matt up by the neck and throw him onto the hood of his truck. Terrified she froze.
“Now we wait,” Ben said. He smiled wickedly exposing his razor sharp fangs. Matt struggled to no avail. “Oh save it. If I wanted you dead I would’ve done it already.”
“She’s not gonna fall for it,” Matt said. He scratched at his throat trying to loosen Ben’s hold. “Lana knows you. She knows damn well what you’re capable of.”
“That’s right, she does.”
“Let him go, Benjamin,” Nicholas said, fading in beside Carly. Alana faded in next to him. He pushed both women towards the house. “Get inside. Both of you.”
“No! I want her to see this.” Ben looked Alana dead in the eye and started to squeeze Matt’s neck. His fingers dug into his skin. Matt’s face turned deep red. Alana took a step forward. His hold let up. Blood trickled through small cuts. “That’s it. You know how to play this game.”
“Leave him alone,” Alana said. She was scared to death, but she didn’t let it show.
“Now why would I want to do that?” He threw Matt on the ground and stomped on his stomach. Matt rolled into a fetal position, exposing his head. “Hm. I do that, too,” he sighed as he kicked repeatedly.
Nicholas put himself between them. Matt rolled away, but couldn’t stand. His head was swimming. Blood dripped into his eyes, blinding him. He could hear them talking, Carly crying, but he had no sense of direction left.
“Leave now,” Nicholas demanded. “I do not want more innocent blood on my hands.”
“It’s a little late for that, wouldn’t you say?” He sidestepped. Nicholas tried to grab him, but he was too quick. Matt’s body sailed across the parking lot, slamming hard into a tree. Ben turned to smile, fangs glinting in the moonlight. “Come to think of it, I haven’t had dinner yet.”
He winked at Alana and jerked Matt’s body off the ground by his hair. No matter how hard he tried, Matt couldn’t get it together. He knew he needed to fight. But he physically couldn’t. When he felt something sharp cut into his shoulder everything shut down.
“NO!!” Alana ran across the parking lot and tried to pull Ben off her brother. “Take me! I’m right here! Let him go!” Nicholas ran to her side. She pushed him away. “Stay away. I can’t let him take him from me.”
She looked up at him, her blue eyes blazing. Nicholas dove into her head, seeing the makings of a plan and backed off. She knew exactly what she was doing.
Chris settled in behind the wheel with a hot cup of coffee and a cold burrito. Not the best food to keep a guy going for long, but if he were lucky the wait would be worth it. There was something off about this whole situation and he was determined to find out what it was. Since the girl had been killed here, Matt’s house seemed like the best place to start.
Best case scenario he’d catch them trying to dispose of evidence. Worst case, he’d wake up with a massive neck cramp and nothing to show for it. Either way he’d get a little closer to the truth. Carter may have excused the girl, but he didn't. Playing the victim only works when you've got nothing to hide
Crouching low in his seat he watched as Matt’s truck pulled into the driveway. No sooner than he stepped out of the truck than he was on top of it. Chris shook his trying to figure out how he’d not seen him before. How could he miss the one guy they’d been looking for for weeks? He put his hand on the door handle prepared to intervene. He pulled once, nothing. Twice. Still nothing.
“Stay,” a voice said. He jerked his head to look in the back seat. Nobody. The disembodied voice came again. “I can only protect so many.
Lost, he turned his attention outside. He pulled the handle again. Still it stuck. Seconds later a man appeared out of thin air. Alana arrived shortly thereafter. The man pushed her toward Matt’s girlfriend, urging them inside. She froze; watching as her former lover began to squeeze the life out of her brother. Even from where he’d parked he could see the blood trickling through Ben’s fingers.
Chris drew his side arm and tried again to get out. “Stay,” the voice growled. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.” Not about to give up he pointed the gun at the window. Somebody had to put a stop to this craziness now. “You do this and they’re all dead. This I promise you.”
The man stepped in front of Matt, blocking any further blows and shot a contemptuous glance Chris’s way. He lowered the gun. Somehow that guy had managed to get inside his head. As much as he didn't want to believe it, he knew it was true. What the hell was he dealing with?
Stunned he tried his door again. Gun drawn he hurried out of the car and ran to Matt’s side. Though his neck was a bloody mess and his body was broken he was still conscious. Barely, but there.
“We need an ambulance,” he said reaching for his phone.
“No,” Carly said. She glanced up at Nicholas. “We've got him.”
“Hun, this guy needs a doctor.”
Nicholas took the phone from the detective’s hand and turned to Carly. “Do I have permission? I’d rather not do this out here. It’s not safe.”
“You bet your sweet ass you do,” she answered. “I assume you have a plan?”
“She does,” Nicholas said. As dire as the situation was he couldn't hide the smile. This was Alana’s way of not being a victim? “Had she not, she would still be here.”
"Do you mind?” Chris said impatiently. “I’d like to get this guy some help.”
Chris reluctantly helped them get Matt inside and on the couch. Blood was everywhere. Once the kid was settled he went for the phone. Carly tossed her shoe at him stopping him in his tracks.
“What is it with you people?!” He turned around to see Nicholas dropping blood from his wrist into Matt’s mouth. “What the hell?”
“Ben’s not the only vampire,” Carly said stroking Matt’s hair. Chris sank into a chair, shaking his head in denial. “Nicholas will give him what he needs to heal and then we can go get Alana back.”
“No!” Nicholas yelled. A couple of drops more and Matt was out. “He will be useless for hours. She won’t have that long.”
“Then what do you suggest?” Carly asked. “You know he’s gonna wanna help when he wakes up.”
“With any luck she will be home safe by then.”
Ben tightened the handcuff around Alana’s wrist, securing the empty cuff to the headboard. She jerked at the cuffs testing the strength of the wood. Not surprisingly the bed didn’t budge. Well, this wasn’t what she had in mind.
“You really think you won, don’t you?” she asked. As she looked around the room she began to realize where they were. But this house was never this quiet before. Fear for his family’s safety ripped through her. “Where are they?”
Ben looked at her and grinned. His eyes glazed over. “They didn’t care about me,” he said, sauntering to the bay window overlooking the woods. “I showed them just how much I cared about them.”
“You killed them?” She was stunned. Tears rolled down her cheeks. His parents were so kind and his younger sister had only graduated from high school this past year. “When?”
“They were my first kills,” he answered proudly. “Mom and Dad never knew what hit ‘em thanks to this mind control thing. But Allie? Allie, I wanted her to know what was happening. I wanted her to regret the day she disowned me.”
“You didn’t think simply killing her did that?”
“No!” he yelled. Even in the dark room she could see his fangs peeking out from under his upper lip.
“That bitch sided with you. With the cops. With everybody but me. Her own flesh and blood! She deserved to suffer.”
“Allie was a kid!” she screamed back at him. “She knew you were wrong. She had every right to do what she did.”
“No, no,” he said shaking his head vigorously. Within seconds he was standing in front of her. His nose mere centimeters from hers. “She was family. You don’t turn your back on family.”
“She was disgusted by what you did. You killed a man, Ben. Killed him!” He turned his gaze back toward the window, but didn’t back off. “Even if you hadn’t beaten me to a bloody pulp I’d still have a hard time forgiving you.”
“You I get,” he snorted. “You’ll forgive soon enough. But her? She should have stuck by me through everything. The trial, prison.”
“Do you think it was easy for her?” Alana asked. “Do you think there was one minute when she didn’t look past what you’ve become and see the man she looked up to all her life?”
“What I’ve become?”
“I’m no different than I was before,” he snapped.
“You’re right,” she agreed. “You were a monster long before I broke up with you. I just didn’t see it.”
He struck fast and hard, knocking the breath out of her. She felt the warmth of the blood running down her neck before the felt the pain of his fangs. She tried to push him away, but with one hand cuffed to the bed it was useless. He’d pinned her legs between his so tightly she’d lost feeling in them. Now she was starting to feel faint. In a last ditch effort to stay conscious she jabbed her nail on his eye. Seconds later her body fell to the floor as he leapt off her and into the bathroom.
“You’re damn lucky you didn’t take out my eye,” he fumed.
“Tell me Ben,” she said forcing herself off the floor and onto the bed. The dizzy feeling was still there, but it felt as though the danger of passing out had passed. “What could you possibly do to me that you haven’t done before?”
Nicholas stepped closer to the house, careful not to let the leaves crunch beneath his feet. Alana had painted such a clear picture in her mind for him; he had been able to find Ben’s hideout before Matt had been able to recover from his wounds. A fact that suited him just fine. The less people he had to worry with at this point, the better.
Ben was under the delusion that being a vampire made him untouchable. No human was safe around a creature with that mindset. At times neither was another vampire. Thomas’s death had proven that.
Nicholas tucked a stray strand of Alana’s hair behind her ear and smiled. She grabbed his hand and kissed the tips of his fingers one by one. Chills ran down his spine. It’d been so long since he felt anything real. She felt him shutter and smiled.
“Don’t even think about it,” Alana warned. “I’m fighting hard enough to stay awake as it is.”
“You misunderstand,” Nicholas said. “It’s your soul that’s done this to me. Not your body.” He ran his free hand down her side and smiled wider. “Not that it was at all unpleasant. In fact I found it very enjoyable.”
“Good to know,” she giggled. “I think I can safely say the same.” The truth was she’d never felt this exhilarated with anybody. “You made me forget.”
“When you’re happy and safe forgetting isn’t hard. It’s just been a long time since you’ve been either.”
He crawled under the sheet and let her curl up beside him. The scent of her washed over him like a warm blanket. “Now that you have it I don’t want you to lose it.”
“I don’t either,” she admitted. She turned her face to look up at him. “But until Ben’s gone I’ll never really be safe. He may not know where this place is, but he knows where Matt is.”
“Yes, and he won’t hesitate to use that to draw you out again.” He pulled her closer, soaking up the warmth of her body.
“I can’t stay here forever, Nicholas. He will kill my brother and anybody else he thinks is in his way.”
“There’s no doubt in mind that he will.” Nicholas swallowed hard. She was already close to sleep. He had a solution, but it was one that would lead to a drastic lifestyle change for her. “Alana?”
“What?” she whispered running her fingertips across his chest.
“What if I could save you from him?"
“It always has been,” he conceded. “But what if I could offer a solution that would keep him from you forever?”
“Death pretty much guarantees that, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, from him. But what if another wants you. Vampire or not.”
“Somehow I doubt there are any more men out there as dangerous as Ben is right now. Besides, once this is over. Once he’s dead, we’ll still have one another. I’m certainly not going anywhere. Not now.”
A warm feeling spread through him. Those were the words he’d longed to hear. “And later? When you age and don’t?”
Alana raised up on her elbow and looked at him. She finally realized. “You want to turn me?
“I have since the night we met.” Now was the time for honesty. He wanted her, but he knew she’d likely put up a fight.
“Nicholas, I don’t want to be a vampire. I don’t want to live off blood.” She wasn’t mad at him.
Honestly she wasn’t even that shocked. It would be normal for a vampire to want to turn the object of his desire, wouldn’t it? Don’t women want to turn men into something else once they snag them? In a way, wasn’t this the same? “I want to be with you. I know that now. Can’t we just enjoy that for now?”
“We can,” he said solemnly. “But I want to protect you. Turning you would make you less vulnerable."
“It might, but then again even you aren’t immortal,” she reminded him. “For now be my knight in shining armor. Slay my dragon and let’s get on with our lives.”
Nicholas gently tucked her head back onto his chest. As he stroked her long, beautiful hair he thought hard about what she’d said. She had good points; he had to give her that. But could a relationship between them work as it stood right then? As long as she was human he’d never not worry about her safety. That was a given. Then again he had a secret…
“Let me get this straight,” the older man said leaning back in his chair. He drank the remainder of his beer and sat the empty bottle on the table beside him. “You want us to kidnap a guy to get to his sister?”
“That’s it,” Ben said. He handed the man a piece of paper with Matthew’s address written on it. “Get him, bring him to me and park your asses outside the door.”
“We’ll bring him, but I’m not doing anymore than that. You’ve already said the gal you’re after is with a vamp. I’m guessing he’s a lot older and stronger than you are.” Ben didn’t answer. The Were cocked his eyebrow and chuckled. “Lord knows I don’t wanna be around to see if I’m right.”
“I’ll pay you more.”
“Benny boy, you could offer me a million bucks and I still wouldn’t hang around here. Screwing with a vamp the way you are is worse than dangling a fresh piece of meat in front of a wolf.”
Ben shook his head and sighed. He’d wanted the Weres here to control the human element. He knew he could handle them alone, but Nicholas, whether he wanted to admit it or not, scared him. Lance, the Were sitting in front of him was right. Nicholas was older. And he had a feeling he was ten times stronger. Not that it mattered. He’d deal with anything to get back what was rightfully his. Still…
“What if I could promise you something special?” Ben asked.
“Depends on what it is,” Lance said frankly. “Gettin’ killed doesn’t rank real high on my list of things I gotta try.”
“What would you say if I told you I could guarantee your pack a mind reader?”
A coy smile spread across his lips. The pack leader had been looking for one of those for a very long time. Why he didn’t know, but if he could be the one to bring one to him he really didn’t care.
“The girl?” he asked.
“No,” Ben said quickly. Lance’s smile disappeared. “The girlfriend. I’m sure she’ll be there with him. All you have to do is pick her up.”
“You’re sure she’s a telepath?”
“She’s got something going on,” Ben told him. The truth was he wasn’t sure. He knew she knew things, but how she knew was a mystery to him. To get some insurance he’d say anything.
Lance wasn’t convinced this kid knew what he was talking about at this point. Mind readers were rare and highly sought after. With a battle brewing between his pack and the one in the next county she could come in very useful. But being wrong about her would be a mistake that could cost him dearly. Being right…well, that could be
“I’ll play,” he told Ben. “We’ll go grab your guy. If the girl’s there we’ll take her, too.” He stood up and stretched his arms over his head. Ben heard his back crack and flinched. That sound had always made him uneasy. Lance noticed and laughed again. Some vamp. “If she’s what you say. We’ll take her as payment. If she’s not we take your girl.”
“Alana’s not part of the deal,” Ben said flatly.
“She is if you’re wrong.” Lance’s eyes grew hard and cold. For the first time since he’d been turned he felt like his life could be in danger. “Speculating in this little corner of the world is a bad thing. You’ll soon figure that out.”
Carter glanced across his desk to see Chris pouring over yet another file. He’d been at it for hours and judging by the determination he saw in his young partner’s eyes there wasn’t an end in sight. He shook his head and picked up an old manila folder from the pile on Chris’s desk.
“What are you looking through all these old things for?” he asked, flipping through the folder. There was nothing there but deeds and title transfers. “They put you on a case I don’t know about?”
“Remember I told you there was something going on with those two?” Chris asked, never looking up from the file in his hand. He’d finally found the name he was looking for.
“Good God, Chris.” Carter tossed the folder aside and shook his head. “I thought I told you to let that go. That family has been through more than enough. Leave ‘em be.”
“You don’t understand,” he argued. “I figured it out. Well some of it anyway.” He turned a few pages and saw a picture of the man, the vampire he’d seen at Matt’s place. He pushed it in front of Carter. “See this guy?”
Carter looked, but didn’t see a connection. The picture was dated circa 1845.
“Yeah,” he said shrugging his shoulders. “What of him?”
“He’s part of it.”
Carter took another look at the photo and then his partner. Obviously he was suffering from a lack of something. “You realized this guy died over seventy years ago.”
“You’d think,” Chris said. “But I swear that’s the same guy I saw at Matt’s place.”
“Hold up,” Carter said calmly. Not a week before they’d both been told to stay away from the family altogether. An unidentified caller had called their superiors at home to complain about Chris’s accusations and asked that they be removed from Ben’s case altogether. “You keep digging and you’re gonna find yourself out on your ass.”
“I doubt that,” Chris snorted. “Now that I know what I know, they can’t keep me away.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Carter was beginning to think the kid had snapped.
“I’m saying if I can find this guy, I can find Ben. The sooner that happens the better.” Somehow finding Alana, getting her away from them both seemed more important than anything else. “I get the feeling if he gets a hold of her again she’s in for a fate worse than death.”
“A week ago you were sure he was covering for her. Now you want to save her? What gives?”
“I saw something the other night, Carter. Something I never in a million years thought I’d ever see. Everything makes sense now. I see why she was so calm about Jennifer’s death. She already knew.”
“Knew what? That Ben did it?” Carter closed the file and got up for a cup of coffee. “I told you that the night they called off the patrol.”
“I’m not sorry I asked questions.”
“Of course not. So what did you see? Why this sudden change of heart?”
“I saw Ben nearly kill a man.”
“And you didn’t call it in?!” Carter was exasperated. Even though they’d been called off the case they had a duty. “What were you thinking?”
“They didn’t need help,” Chris said, lowering his voice. He looked around the room for prying ears. What he was about to say didn’t need to be overheard. “They had that guy.” He gestured toward the closed file. “They had a vampire.”
Time for Change?
Alana stood, her back to the blacked out window, watching Nicholas sleep. As she ran a fingertip across her bottom lip she thought about his proposal. It wasn’t a simple will you marry me type of question. Being turned was so much more than that.
The more she thought about it, the more she wished she didn’t care about him as much as she did. Saying no would be easier if that were the case. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him and she knew refusing the life he wanted to give her would.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t thought long and hard about it. In fact she’d almost said yes on more than one occasion. But when she thought about living as long as Nicholas had her resolve to go through with it vanished. The fact that her diet would consist of blood didn’t help any either.
She lay down next to him and propped herself up on her elbow. As her fingers gently played through his long black hair she started to cry. Never before had she had to deal with such an emotional struggle. Getting past Paul’s death had been hard, but his death hadn’t been a decision she had had to make. Neither was Jennifer’s. Ben made those decisions. She simply had to learn to live with events she couldn’t control.
This was different. This one would be solely on her shoulders. The blood of the people she drank from should she allow him to turn her would be on her hands. Even with as little as she knew about vampires she knew the possibility of accidentally killing someone was always there. Who’s to say she wouldn’t come to enjoy feeling life slip away? Who’s to say she could do it at all?
Time would creep by so slowly a month would likely feel like a year. Could she live from one night to the next knowing she had untold amounts of time in front of her? Could she give up the sun? Would night visits to Matt be enough? Probably not. A couple of hours would be all she would get. He’d need rest for work.
Then family entered her mind. Since Ben’s attack she’d been adamant about not having kids. Bringing a child into the world with all the violence and hatred had been unfathomable to her. Now things were different. She finally saw the good. As long as she could surround her children with that they would have good lives. But, becoming a vampire would put an end to that idea instantly.
She put her head on his chest and wrapped her arm around his waist. As she listened to his heart slowly beat she wondered if when the time came she could tell him no. He was everything she’s ever wanted and more. With him she could have a happy future. All she had to do was embrace his lifestyle.
Grabbing Matt hadn’t been a problem. Lance and his crew of four had simply waited for the poor, unsuspecting guy to fall asleep. After he’d been tied up and secured in the trunk of the car they went inside to wait for Carly. As a reader she’d be harder to catch and knew it. She’d sense trouble the second she walked through the door.
He posted one of his men by the front window and another behind the bushes outside. The other three hid in separate rooms just in case she managed to make it past Lance. Not likely, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
As they waited Carly cautiously made her way up the street, doing her best to reach out to Nicholas. She’d picked up on the unwelcome presence from three blocks away and wanted to make damn sure he knew Ben had decided to make his move. If she was going to allow herself to be taken she wanted assurance somebody would be coming to get them both. After seeing what they had planned for her, she was determined to spend as little time in their presence as possible.
“Who?” Nicholas demanded.
“I don’t know yet,” Carly thought back. “I haven’t got to the house yet. All I know is they are Weres and I’m payment.”
“Trouble between packs?” he queried.
“Big trouble. I don’t see many surviving this one.”
“Wonderful.” Nicholas had heard there were two packs fighting over territory. The last thing he expected was to be thrown in the thick of it. Then again, this little twist could work out to be a good thing. “Go with them. Do not fight. Let them think you are meek.”
“Nicholas, I can’t just roll over like that. They’d suspect trouble in a heartbeat.”
After contemplating her statement a moment he decided she may very well be right. “Very well. Be yourself, but don’t do it so well you end up getting hurt in the process. I do not want your blood on my hands.”
He sensed her agreement and let his mind disconnect from hers. She’d seek him out later to clue them in on who was holding them. Until then, there was simply nothing he could do. That included making Alana worry about something she couldn’t change.
“Hey, everything okay?” Alana asked wrapping her arms around his waist. “You look like something’s wrong.”
Nicholas kissed the top of her head and smiled. “Everything’s fine, love. I was just thinking.”
“You. Me. Our future.” He turned her chin up and looked her dead in the eye. “Why do you resist so? I could give you so much.”
“Give it to me now,” she told him. “I don’t have to change what I am to enjoy my life with you.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
She dropped her arms to her side and sighed. “Nicholas, let’s not do this, Not now. Ben is still out there. Matt’s still in danger-”
“Ben’s already made his move,” he said cutting her off. Her eyes grew wide. Her shoulders dropped.
“When? How?” She was so shocked she didn’t really know which question she wanted answered first.
“It’s happening as we speak. Ben has enlisted the help of the Weres. Getting them back won’t be easy.”
“The weres? Them? Wait.” Tears stung her eyes. Anger started to bubble to the surface. How long had he known? “When were you gonna tell me?”
He looked down at her, hurt by the trace of anger he saw in her eyes. “Werewolves, Alana. They have taken Matt as bait and Carly as payment. There is a feud between packs brewing. Her unique ability would serve them well. I did not tell you because there is nothing I can do to stop it. I am one man. A vampire I may be; invincible I am not. Not alone anyway.” His hand cupped her cheek gently. “I could be if I have you by my side.”
“Me you have,” she said through clenched teeth. “My trust is another story.”
Carly leaned against the heavy door, listening to the voices on the other side. So far they’d kept her and Matt locked up, but she knew sooner or later they’d be separated. That’s when the real danger comes into play.
“Anything new?” Matt asked, whispering as softly as he possibly could.
Carly shook her head and collapsed on the bed beside him. She looked at him and smiled weakly. He’d taken the news of werewolves being real so easily, she really hated to tell him why they’d both been brought here. Ben’s involvement was a given. The weres motives however would make no sense to him at all. They barely made sense to her.
“I hope Nicholas has a solid plan,” he said lacing his fingers through hers. “I don’t know about you, but bait is the last thing I wanna be.”
“No, it’s not a good position to be in,” she said. “I just hope Nicholas handles this whole situation as tactfully as possible. These guys aren’t in the mood for dramatics.”
“Seems to me violence is the only thing they’re in the mood for.” He rubbed the knot on the back of his head. One of them had kicked him while he was out. Another had planted a fist in Carly’s gut.
“They’re desperate.” He raised an eyebrow and snorted. She sighed and turned to face him. Better to get it out now than wait. “Listen to me, Matt. They never wanted you. The only reason they agreed to take you was so they could have me.”
“I don’t follow.”
Obviously Ben wants you to get to Alana. But why take me, too?”
“To sweeten the pot?”
"Hardly,” she mumbled. “Alana may like me, but not enough to fight for me. Not yet.”
“You’re wrong, but for argument’s sake we’ll say you’re not. Why’d they bring you here with me?”
“Payment?” Matt glanced at the door and back at her. “Last I checked people aren’t currency.”
“They are when they can see the future,” she clarified. “I may not be able to read the people they need to know about right now, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that I can is enough.”
“Why would you need to? Do they even have any natural enemies?”
“Of course they do. They have all kinds just like any other creature. In this case, it’s a rival pack. They don’t want to lose. I’m the only one who can tell them whether they will or not.”
“Tell them their great,” he said, standing up abruptly. He began to pace the floor furiously. “It’s not like they’ll know the difference anyway.”
“It doesn’t work that way.” Carly rubbed her temples, preparing to try to explain her gift. “I don’t read that way. I see what’s in the immediate future. Actions, circumstances, anything can change what I see at any time. What may be predicted one day may not be possible the next. Whether they know this or not, I don’t know. But I’m not willing to knowingly tangle with edgy werewolves. It’s neither safe nor smart.”
“What about Nicholas? Can’t he just whisk us out of here the way he did Alana?”
“He could,” she said lowering her head. He wasn’t going to like the rest of her answer. “But why would he? He has who he wants. She’s right there with him; safe. All he has to do is make her believe we are too.”
“Wait. No way he’d do that.” Matt shook his head and dropped to his knees to look at Carly. The truth was always in her eyes.
She looked back at him. “He would, Matt. They don’t get this old by sticking their necks out for people.”
“Then we have to do something,” he growled. Carly’s eyes said more than just that. There was more he couldn’t read yet. “What else aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing you don’t already know.”
“He’s gonna try to turn her now, isn’t he?” He stood up and hit the wall; hard. his knuckles started to bleed. “Dammit!!”
“Alana won’t let him,” she assured him. “Nicholas will try to persuade her, but she wants life. Real life.”
“You can’t stay mad at me forever. You love me and you know it,” Ben said to Alana. She adjusted the phone, careful not to let him hear her exhausted sigh. Her only goal here was to get Matt and hopefully Carly back safely. Now that she’d managed to talk Nicholas into leaving the house for a few groceries she had her chance. “The only reason you’re even with that son of a bitch is because he’s got hold of your mind.”
“If he had that he’d have already made me forget all this,” she said coolly.
“Or he’s just trying to make you think that.” He looked down at his latest victim and smiled. She’d been particularly easy to talk into coming back to his place. Amazing what a wad of cash can do for a guy. “We can be pretty manipulative you know.”
“No, Ben, Nicholas truly cares. He doesn’t want to own me the way you do. He wants a companion, not a slave.”
“He wants a donor,” he snorted. He tossed the sheet over the dead girl’s naked body and rolled off the bed. “If you think he wants more you’re crazy.”
“Look, I’m not talking to you to debate the foundation of my relationship with him.” She didn’t see a point in reminding him what Nicholas’s ultimate intentions were. The decision on whether or not she’d let him turn her had become a thorn in both their sides. “I want you to let Matt go. And Carly.” Alana waited for an objection but it didn’t come. “They don’t have anything to do with this. You shouldn’t have involved either one.”
“I can’t do anything about the Reader,” he said calmly. In fact, Carly was already long gone. She had a war to predict. “But Matt. He’s a free man if I get what I want."
“Which is me.”
“Very good,” he said sarcastically. “I want your lover, too. He needs to pay for taking you from me.”
“He didn’t take me from you. I was never yours to begin with.”
“Alana, you’ve been mine all your life, you just can’t see it. I’m your man. Always have been. Always will be. Why fight it?”
“Because I don’t love you,” she answered. “I don’t even like you, Ben.” Even after finding the strength she needed to fight him, she was still terrified of him.
“You can learn to,” he said. “I have everything you could ever want now, Alana. Money. A huge house. Nice cars. Anything you want, it’s yours. Just let me make up the bad.”
“There is nothing on this earth you could do to make up for that,” she said flatly. “If Paul’s death hadn’t ended that, Jennifer’s definitely would have.”
Anger filled him. How dare she throw them in his face! “That was your fault,” he growled. “If you hadn’t been playing hard to get I wouldn’t have had to kill them. Their blood is on your hands.”
“My hands?” She was stunned. She hadn’t done a thing but try to move on with her life. “You’re the one who couldn’t let go, not me.”
“You had no right to move on.” Ben was so angry his hands were shaking. “None!”
Suddenly the phone was ripped from Alana’s hand. Nicholas looked at the number on the screen and shook his head. He calmly hung up the phone and tossed it on the couch. Still stunned, Alana looked from her open hand to him.
Nicholas brushed past her and into the kitchen to put away the things she’d asked for. He knew before he left what she’d had planned. He knew when he got back she’d still be trying to bargain for Matt’s safe return. He also knew she would fail. The fact is he didn’t care about any of it. Matt would live. Alana was his and nothing Ben could do would change that. Things may be strained between them, but he could still see inside her mind. Every day her resolve to stay human lessened a little more.
Carter, Chris’s partner had left for the afternoon, but he hadn’t given up. Chris was determined to find Alana, and now Matt. As far as Chris knew nobody had seen or heard from her since the night that vampire took her away from her crazy ex-boyfriend. Matt hadn’t been seen for a week now. His friends and co-workers were afraid he’d met up with Ben and come out on the losing side. They were sure the police would find his body in a ditch somewhere either beat to a bloody pulp or shot to death.
As for Alana, they were also sure he already had her. The problem was nobody knew where he’d go if he did. It was up to Chris and Carter to get them both back, hopefully alive and well.
“And human,” Chris mumbled. He scanned over Ben’s old case file looking for some clue as to where he would go, but came up empty. He spotted the picture of Alana after Ben’s beating and shook his head. Finding her had become so important to him; he’d spent the night on the sofa in the break room more times than he cared to count. “Where the hell are you?”
Tossing the photo aside, he picked up the file he’d managed to piece together for Nicholas. Only he and Carter knew about it. They both knew better than to try and sell their superiors on one of their witnesses, as well as their main suspect, being vampires. They’d laugh them right out of the station and into a padded room at the mental hospital across town.
As he flipped through the pages he found a phone number. Even though the paper was dated some thirty years before he hoped it would be the break he needed. Not likely, but he picked up the phone anyway. After a deep breath, he tapped in the number and waited.
Alana’s resolve was breaking by the day. The longer she stayed hidden here with Nicholas, the less she cared about what happened outside their little world. She still didn’t know where she was. Anytime she asked him, he’d simply say “safe, love”and whisk her off to bed. She tried to resist him, but in the end he always won her over. Tonight would be no different.
Torn“Just know I won’t do it, Alana,” Nicholas said firmly. “I can’t fully invest my heart and soul in you if I know you will leave this life one day. Thirty years seems like a long time, but it’s not. It’s merely a drop in a sea of time.”
“Why does it have to be all or nothing?” Alana asked him. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. Why did this have to be so difficult? “You know I love you. I’ve proven that time and time again. Even after you kept Ben’s plan from me, I stayed. You still haven’t made a move to get Matt back, yet here I sit.” She sat up and stormed to the window. “Should I go? Should I walk away now? Or wait for you to do it when I can’t be what you need me to be?”
Despite the rising sun, Nicholas tossed the covers aside and crossed the room to stand behind her. As his hands slipped down her arms, he felt her pulse quicken. “Your body betrays you,” he whispered. His hand pressed gently against her chest. “You can’t leave me. You can’t fight the feelings stirring inside your own heart anymore than I can fight mine.”
“Maybe not,” she said leaning her head back against his chest. “But I’m not asking you to change.”
“I’m only asking because I love you so much.” He kissed her cheek and turned back toward the bed. Any minute the pull of daytime sleep would overtake him. “I need you, Alana. I need you to consider the gift I want to give you.”
“I don’t think that’s a possibility, Chris,” Alana told him. Even as she said it, she wasn’t sure she even believed it. Just last night she’d opened her eyes to find him running his finger up and down her neck. Had he not been so concentrated on her pulse she’d have thought nothing of it.
“He says he wants me to decide.”
“And when you actually believe that, I’ve a lake in the middle of the desert I wanna sale you.”
“Don’t be sarcastic,” she snapped. “At least he’s trying.”
“To seduce you into his lifestyle.”
Alana sighed and pushed her pancakes away. Food, drinks, nothing held any importance to her anymore. All she did want was to know Matt was somewhere safe, far away from Ben, and Nicholas to accept her humanity. At the moment Ben leaving her alone was more likely than Nicholas accepting her fully for what she was.
Nicholas loved her. Loved her dearly, but he’d made it clear to her over the last few days he didn’t plan on spending a few short years loving and losing a woman he’d grown to care so much about. Not that he could guarantee they’d work out in the long run. In his words, no one could predict that.
“Have you found anything on Matt yet?” she asked, determined to change the subject.
“Maybe,” he shrugged. “Since we’re not officially on the case, Carter and I are having to look when we can. Things have been fairly busy lately. Odd really. We’ve never had gang activity like this before.”
“I doubt it’s gangs, “she mumbled. Chris’s eyebrow cocked.
Alana sighed and shook her head. May as well tell. “I’m guessing it’s the werewolves. Ben paid them off with Matt’s girlfriend to grab him. They want her so she can tell them which pack’s gonna win whatever turf war they’ve got going on.”
“Turf war. Territorial dispute. Clan fight. Whatever you want to call it…it’s probably why things have been so busy.”
As much as he wanted to push her for more information, he decided he needed more time to wrap his head around the idea of werewolves being as real as vampires. Shaking off his surprise, he put his hand on hers and looked her right in the eye. She wanted to pull away, but lack of energy made it impossible. Between Chris and Nicholas, she was physically and emotionally drained.
“We think we know where he is. No one besides women ever leave the house, so we really don’t know if Ben’s even there or not. Give us a few more days and we’ll know for sure.”
“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.”
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
“I have never been more sure of anything.”
“You can accept me this way? You
can deal with me growing older?”
“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
“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?”
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.”
“Of course it is,” he chuckled. “Not even we stop aging.”
“But how? You’re immortal. You
“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
“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.
“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.
“A simple change in diet, love. That’s all.”
“Meaning what? You stop drinking
“Meaning what? You stop drinking blood?”
“Not at all. I just don’t drink
“Not at all. I just don’t drink as much.”
“Won’t that be bad for you?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“Will it hurt?” As much as she wanted to say no, she realized he wasn’t asking much at all.
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.”