Lailah (Excerpt)

The girl knows she’s different. She doesn’t age. She has no family. She has visions of a past life, but no clear clues as to what she is, or where she comes from. But there is a face in her dreams – a light that breaks through the darkness. She knows his name is Gabriel.

On her way home from work, the girl encounters an injured stranger whose name is Jonah. Soon, she will understand that Jonah belongs to a generation of Vampires that serve darker forces. Jonah and the few like him are fighting with help from an unlikely ally, a rogue Angel named Gabriel.

In the crossfire between good and evil, love and hate, and life and death, the girl learns her name: Lailah. But when the lines between black and white begin to blur, where in the spectrum will she find her place? And with whom?

Gideon Smith amazon buy linkNikki Kelly’s Lailah, the first book in the Styclar Saga, is available October 7th from Feiwel & Friends.

 

 

PROLOGUE
Lucan, Ireland
1823

Lightning streaked and forked into three, the thunder pounded in waves of two, and the silence fell at once.

In the stained-glass window, the lightning forks illuminated an image of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus in her arms. In the vestry, the devoted clergyman desperately scrawled his panicked thoughts, pausing only to add more coal to the fire behind him. Another clap of thunder exploded and, startled, he hesitated, scraping his hand through his graying hair.

He couldn’t leave, even though his wife and children would be waiting for his return.

He thought he would surely be safe here in the church until daybreak.

He scolded himself for coming here, for bringing his family. He must warn his wife and children, tell them that the Devil’s brood walked among them. Though he hardly knew his congregation, he prayed that, should the evil prevail on this darkest of nights, his letter would be found and they would take heed.

As the rain lashed down, he scribbled a final apocalyptic message, signing Reverend O’Sileabhin. He folded and tucked the pages into his Bible.

All the sounds of the storm suddenly ceased. Silence engulfed him.

The burning candles flickered and, one by one, died out. The fire seemed to explode before it too blew out, and in an instant he was thrown into darkness.

He knew then that he had run out of time. It had come for him.

The curate felt his way to the door and cautiously passed through to the chancel, tightly clutching the cross around his neck.

On the west wall of the church, the newly installed coffered panel doors flew from their hinges, creating a crashing sound that echoed down the aisle.

Reverend O’Sileabhin stepped into the nave and froze, dumbfounded. Before him, lumps of battered wood lay strewn across the entrance, and in the doorway stood an immense figure swathed in a black cloak.

“You cannot enter the church, Demon! This is a house of God!” the curate shouted, though his words trembled as they met the air.

The figure was thirty feet away, and the clergyman considered turning and running, but he was fixed to the spot, unable to take his eyes off the shadowed silhouette.

Then, as quickly as the storm had ended, streaks of lightning cracked and the curate stumbled backwards. As he looked up at the figure, which was lit up briefly by the forks riding the night sky, it seemed to move, shifting in and out of focus.

Without warning, it was no longer outside of the church.

The creature was towering over, lifting him high above the floor while squeezing his neck, slowly suffocating him.

Reverend O’Sileabhin dared to reach inside the dark orbs of his murderer. He thought himself in a state of petrifaction, as though the creature were turning him to stone, for when his eyes locked with the Devil’s, he froze.

The creature tilted its head and hissed through shiny fangs. Then it shrieked—a shrill cry that bounced off the pillars, earpiercingly deafening. The curate almost begged for the end to come quickly. The creature’s outstretched arm bulged; something seemed to be moving under its skin.

The creature snapped the curate’s neck in one clean movement and dropped his body to the cold, hard floor with a thud.

Cracking its own neck from left to right, it trampled over the lifeless body, the curate’s bones crunching underfoot. The creature strode through the chancel and crept inside the doorway of the vestry, where it waited.

Silence wrapped itself around the pews, and the air hung low. All became still once more. The creature drooled in anticipation. It would not be long now.

A bright white light descended through the stained-glass windows, filtering through the entrance, finally reaching and then surrounding the lifeless body.

The creature squinted and was forced to look away as the brightness filled the vast space, stepping back so the light would not spill over and touch him.

She appeared.

The creature snarled, excited that its plan had come to fruition.

She sang, and the creature shriveled at the sound as she guided the reverend’s soul toward her. The Angel paused for a moment, gently closing her eyes, concentrating on the energy. The light hovered in the air and she directed it up into the glow that cascaded all around. She pushed her blond locks from across her forehead before she moved her palm over the crystal gem that beamed, set in the nape of her neck.

With her touch, the glow parted and the entrance to the first dimension opened. It sparkled in waves of silver and gold. She took a deep breath and smiled as the clergyman’s energy passed across— disappearing into a blur, transferred into her world, to Styclar-Plena.

The light began to disperse and she prepared to follow, but she hesitated. The gold cross around the neck of his hollow human form caught her gaze. She edged toward it and cupped it softly. She blew on it gently and a twinkling white light swirled all around it, before finally being absorbed into the metal. Now whoever held it would experience an undeniable sense of peace.

She stared down sadly at the curate’s expression and moved her fingertips to close his eyelids. She thanked him for his gift and readied herself to return.

As she floated down the long church aisle, the Angel felt once more for her gem so that she too could move across. Before she even had a chance to will it to life, she felt a searing pain as the creature’s fangs tore through her chalk-white skin. She screamed in surprise and began to glow, trying to mask herself so that he couldn’t see her. But it was too late. This was a Pureblood Vampire and he had already begun to fill her with his poison.

She was paralyzed. Her gifts stalled and dulled; helpless, she dropped to the floor. As he twisted over her body, his fangs bore deeper into her neck, his poison spreading through her with such speed that her veins became swollen. He moved down her, running his clawed hand over her belly, searching.

The Angel’s eyes widened in horror as his fangs pierced through her skin once again, this time reaching her child. His venom was agonizing. She could already feel the darkness changing the Angel Descendant that she was carrying. Her porcelain skin was bruised and marked with crimson.

When he had finished, he dragged her across the ground by her hair and glared at her with contempt. Finally, his eyes fixed on the crystal gem. The Pureblood snorted and his uneven lips quivered as he salivated.

The Angel, still paralyzed from the Vampire’s poison, could do nothing to hide the crystal from his glare. He extended his free hand. Jagged talons protruded out of his knuckles; he gouged them into the back of her neck. Effortlessly he extracted the crystal, detaching it from its rightful guardian. Satisfied with his work, he contemplated the gem, balancing it between his sharp claws.

The Angel lay with her cheek on the cold ground. From the corner of her eye she saw Azrael.

He appeared suddenly and propelled himself behind the Pureblood Vampire, swinging him into the church pillar, which fractured with the force.

The crystal, now void of any light, dropped from the creature’s grasp, landing perfectly on its point.

Leaving the Pureblood dazed, Azrael turned his attention to his Pair, Aingeal. Knowing he only had moments, he scooped her limp body in his arms and parted her cold, blue lips. He blew lightly into her mouth and white light danced through her. Aingeal’s eyes blinked frantically as she felt his gifts evaporate the poison that ran through her veins, but there was nothing he could do to remove the venom that now flowed through the Angel Descendant’s blood.

As the Pureblood catapulted back to his feet, Azrael spun around; it was then that he saw it. The raised cicatrix between the Pureblood’s orbs formed the distinguishing mark of the beast—Zherneboh.

Azrael threw up a sheet of light, keeping the evil pinned to the other side.

Turning to his Pair, their eyes met. She didn’t have to explain; they both knew what the Pureblood had done.

You must leave and you must hide. I will consult with the Arch Angels and I will find you, he told her without any words being spoken. They were connected.

Keeping one hand raised in the air balancing the sheet of light, struggling, he helped lift her up. Sadness unfolded across his expression as he placed the crystal in her palm. Squeezing her skin against his, he closed her fingers tightly over the gem.

Aingeal nodded as she shined brightly, and then quickly faded—invisible now, a part of the darkness. She turned on her heel and fled the church; she knew what she must do and that it would mean never being able to return home.

But she desperately hoped Azrael would find a way to return to her.

A few months later, a baby with skin as white as porcelain was placed on the doorstep of a couple’s home in the South East of England. It was covered in nothing more than cotton wrappings, but buried within the sheets a crystal gleamed and sparkled.

 

ONE
Creigiau, Wales
Present Day

The evening was deeply bitter. The night was drawing in and the sound of silence was deafening. The most perfect setting for a liaison with a Vampire.

I pushed back the blond wisps of hair crowding my eyes and remade my long ponytail, while eyeing the garbage bag that I had attempted to balance at the top of the pile, out in the backyard of the pub. I would have welcomed a moment’s peace, but not out here. The darkness frightened me.

“Francesca!” Haydon’s thick Welsh accent reached me, piercing through the surrounding sheet of ice, as if he were a red-hot poker.

I sighed, bolted the back door, and hurried back into the bar. I was dead on my feet. Thank goodness it was closing time. We were short-staffed, as always. Haydon’s wife hadn’t returned from her shopping trip in Cardiff, so I’d had to play kraken and pretend I had many hands to pull an inordinate amount of pints this evening.

Sometimes I wished I could just be normal and have a pleasant little office job and not have to deal with drunken locals. But then, with no legitimate identification, cash-paid bar work was the best I could hope for. I was grateful for employers like Haydon who sought out a willing workhorse in exchange for a little money.

“Just one more p-p-pint my love, come on, fill her up!” The middle-aged man waved his empty glass at me, and I smiled politely.

I hadn’t worked here long, but it was long enough to learn that he was always the last to leave.

“Come on now, Mr. Broderick, it’s closing time, you need to get back to your lovely wife.” I pried the glass from his tight clutch.

“Ah, pull the other one! We both know she’s anything but l-llovely.… She u-u-used to be a whore, that’s why I m-m-arried her! Of course she chose to change once sh-sh-e had the r-r-ing on her finger!” He stumbled over his sentence.

“All right, Glyn, that’s enough, on your way!” Haydon shouted over.

Darting my eyes in a concerned expression to Haydon, I nodded my head toward our last customer. He shrugged, so I made my way around the bar and placed my arms out, enticing a hug from Mr. Broderick.

“Ah, that’s n-n-ice. Elen doesn’t hold me anymore… or anything else for that m-m-atter.…”

I slipped my hand into his coat pocket and felt the smooth coldness of his car keys. Holding my breath, I retreated, placing them into my jeans’ pocket. I could definitely have made a better living as a thief, but sadly that wasn’t me. I had to do things the good oldfashioned hard way.

I called Mr. Broderick a taxi and began wiping down the tables, slyly sneaking him a packet of honey-roasted nuts in a bid to help sober him up a little.

Twenty minutes later, I thought the driver would likely be nearing so I signaled to Haydon, who barely noticed my gesture for help, instead flicking through channels on the television on the wall in search of sports highlights.

Sighing, I said, “Come on, you.” Locking my arm into Mr. Broderick’s, I balanced his weight against my petite frame.

“You’re a good girl,” he bumbled, patting my head as if I were a well-behaved dog who’d just brought back a stick.

Propping him against the exposed brick wall, I struggled with the locked doors. It was even harder given that I hadn’t taken a fresh breath in over three minutes. “Thank you, Mr. Broderick.” I exhaled.

As we reached the bottom of the slope, I halted at the curb, still maintaining Mr. Broderick’s two-hundred-pound weight. Standing still was clearly too much to ask for, as he stumbled forward, taking me with him into the middle of the road. He dropped to the ground and I tried to ease his fall.

Suddenly, bright lights appeared from nowhere and the screech of tires skidding across the iced road took me by surprise. Defensively, I threw my hand up in the air. For a moment, the world seemed to stop moving. My arm outstretched, my open palm prevented the yellow headlights from blinding me. In between my fingers the glare of the vibrant yellow light flickered into a dull neon. The square shape of the old Volvo station wagon changed into a curved yellow-and-green cab, and nighttime in Creigiau gave way to dusk in New York.

As though I were staring into a crystal ball, I was presented with a memory of the end of one of my lives.

Hand raised, the yellow-and-green Checker cab hurtled into me and I slammed into the windshield, causing it to crack before rolling off its hood and lying still on the road. Onlookers rushed over, and panic ensued. A young man pushed past the crowd of bodies that had gathered, now gawking over my broken body. He was wearing a cardigan sweater, narrow suit trousers, and suede shoes; I realized that this had happened sometime in the 1950s.

He seemed to check me over before taking my hand in his own, and I noted that my knuckles had turned skeleton white as I squeezed it back. He bowed his head, his derby hat casting shadow over his expression, as I took a final breath and my arm fell limp.

Static phased in and out, and I jolted back to reality, back to the smell of burning rubber. The taxi driver skidded to a halt only several inches away from Mr. Broderick and me.

“Are you all right?” the taxi driver shouted as he rushed out of the car.

It took me a minute to acclimatize. Mr. Broderick drunkenly laughed as he hauled himself off the ground with the driver’s help.

“Erm. Yes. Fine…” I trailed off.

“He’s trouble, this one,” the taxi driver nervously rambled, bundling Mr. Broderick into the backseat. “You sure you’re okay?” he continued as I wobbled back to the curb.

I merely nodded.

Once they were gone, I slumped myself against the wall of the pub and took some time to gather myself before going back in to finish my shift.

I continued on with my work diligently and in silence, trying to forget the vision I had just seen—it wasn’t one I cared to remember.

Eventually Haydon’s TV show came to a close. “Okay, Francesca, you done with those tables?” he asked, leaning against the bar, swishing the whiskey at the bottom of his tumbler, his attention now focused on me.

“Yes, anything else you need before I go?” I asked, pulling up my V-neck top and eyeing my jacket on the coat stand.

“Nope. Go home.” He paused and then, turning to my chest, his eyebrows arching slightly, he asked, “Say, you got anyone waiting for you? You could stay, have a drink with me?”

I forced a polite grin and shook my head, making my way over to my navy jacket. Sadly, I didn’t have anyone waiting for me. I was alone; all alone. I wasn’t able to stay anywhere long enough to make any friends, and if I did stay for some time, I found it difficult to get close to anyone. The only character I had built a meaningful relationship with, in this lifetime at least, had stripped me of any trust I might have had a few years back. And while he was now gone, the damage he had inflicted on my skin was a permanent reminder, scarring down my back.

With the thought of him inevitably came my recollection of her. The girl in shadow; yet another enigma in my life that I didn’t know whether to welcome or fear. A girl who magically appeared in my times of crisis, yet I had no idea who she was.

“Francesca?” Haydon broke my train of thought with an irritated tone.

“Sorry, no, must be going, see you tomorrow.”

Zipping up my down jacket—a key piece of winter wear in Creigiau, I had learned—I hurried to the door. I put my hands inside the lined pockets and made my way down to the country lane, back to the house.

The thick forest that hugged the roadside entwined itself into the black backdrop. The branches of the bare trees twisted and married themselves together, as if they were protecting some lost castle with a city of people sleeping, placed under a spell. In the forest, time seemed to stand still, like me.

A damp smell wafted over me as I paced quickly up the steep roadside. I tended to dwell in these quiet communities; it was easier to find abandoned properties in which to take up residence than in a major town or city. Here, I had stumbled across an old, derelict shell of a building that I liked to think once provided a home for a happy family. I had imagined, on many a cold night, the children playing and laughter filling the rooms. I could picture them running through the surrounding woodland and messing around in the stream that ran alongside it.

Now the house was bare, broken, and boarded; but it was a roof over my head, until I moved on to the next place. I had to keep moving; my appearance was frozen at seventeen. With fake ID, I passed for twenty-one, but I knew I was far older than I looked. I didn’t know how or why; I just knew that when I slept, I dreamed of lives gone by. And even when awake, sometimes an old memory would resurface, as it had done just a while ago. I had instincts I couldn’t name almost etched into me, but the world was still a confusing, jumbled place. I had no idea who I was, or where I had come from.

Holding my head down to the concrete, I considered that, much like the road, I was far from living; I merely existed. At least the road led somewhere, it had a purpose. I certainly didn’t know what mine was.

My dreams told of dark experiences, but also light: one light to be exact. It was a light so bright that it seemed to will me on, pushing me forward. One image, one face, consumed my daily thoughts. He was glorious. His smile tantalized and played with me, but he existed only in my mind. As far back as I could remember, as far back as my visions and dreams went, he was always there. And even in the present, I felt a pull toward him. Crazy as it seemed, I somehow knew he held the key to my Pandora’s box.

I had to find him, his name always balancing on the tip of my memory, echoing all around me, whispered by the breeze that rushed through the trees, skimming my pale skin: Gabriel.

And as I began to fall into thoughts of him, there was a sharp movement to my left; then I heard the whine. It sounded almost like a fox, but one that was in agony.

I stopped dead still.

I turned my head slowly toward the woods, and I made out a figure in the darkness. The wailing became louder and more pained. I mustered my bravery and tiptoed into the thickness of my makeshift fairy-tale forest until I could see a shape. I moved in closer. The figure threw his head up and his eyes penetrated mine. Glaring at me, his face was completely cold and his skin looked as fragile as porcelain. He looked around my age, perhaps a few years older. His dark hair was ruffled and messy, but did nothing to detract from his perfect features.

I knew then that he wasn’t human.

He was hunched over in a heap on the ground. My first instinct was to turn and run away as fast as I could, but he was hurt and in pain. I stopped myself from bolting, but kept my distance. Perhaps he could smell my fear.

“What do you need?” I asked. His eyes were still locked with mine.

“I need to get outta here, they’re coming for me,” he whimpered in response. His voice was soft, but quivering, and his accent was American—at a best guess, East Coast. He was a long way from home.

I nodded, even though I had no clue what he could be afraid of or how it was that he had come to be in a ball beside my feet.

“I won’t hurt you,” he said. I couldn’t help but sense he was lying.

“I’m staying in a place not far from here. Can you walk if I help you?”

He snarled at me as if I had said the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. Searching around, I considered the possibilities. “Stay here,” I said, realizing immediately he had no choice.

I raced down to the bottom of the road, looking for any cars parked by the pub.

Finally, my eyes settled on a small truck just off the main road, sitting at the corner. It was Mr. Broderick’s. I tapped my jeans’ pocket—I still had his keys. Making a beeline for the truck, I approached the driver’s door. He hadn’t even bothered to lock it. Squeezing the handle, I threw myself into the driver’s seat, quickly turning the key in the ignition. It started, making a loud, angry noise as I dipped the clutch and moved away from the curb.

I ground to a halt alongside the woods and jumped out, leaving the door ajar in the rush. Dashing back to where I’d left the shadowed figure, I saw him now slumped against a tree. I could see he had barely any energy, and he seemed uncomfortable as he shifted his weight where he sat.

“Come on,” I whispered as I approached.

Hesitating before I placed his arm around my shoulder, I tried to lift him. His eyes rolled toward me, a look of desire bouncing between them. A shiver ran up my spine. I instinctively pushed back.

“W-w-why are you helping me?” he stuttered as I helped him to his feet.

I thought about that for a moment as I struggled toward the vehicle. “Because sometimes we all need help, no matter what we are.”

I thought for a second he hesitated, wondering perhaps if I knew that he was a Vampire. Little did he know that this was not my first encounter with one of his kind. I had been tricked by one of them before; I’d paid for it with my scarred skin.

We reached the truck and I eased him into the passenger seat and slammed the door, and as fast as I could I jumped back in. Dipping the stiff clutch into first, I sped off up the country road.

“You got a name?” he asked.

“Francesca. Do you?”

He sniggered. “Yeah. Jonah.”

“What can I do to help you?” I asked. He didn’t answer.

It didn’t take long to get back to the house. I could see from his face that he wouldn’t have the strength to attack me. This gave me some reassurance that I wasn’t about to be drained dry, but I was starting to reconsider my decision. I didn’t know how I could offer any help, not really.

The engine grumbled as it came to a stop and I flipped the headlights off. In front of us was the oversized shell of what was once someone’s home. In summer it would be an incredible spot, but here, in the blackness of night, it was an eerie place full of dark secrets.

I paused and collected myself. I reconsidered my actions for a moment. Perhaps this was a ruse—there’s no way someone so strong could be so powerless, could they? But, if he was genuinely in need of help, I had to try.

“Right. Let’s get you inside,” I said.

“We’re not nearly far enough away!”

“From what?” I asked, fidgeting in the driver’s seat. Silence, again. Not a talker apparently. “How far would be far enough?”

“Just drive!” The look on his face suggested this was not a debate.

Reluctantly I turned the key in the ignition once more, and as it struggled to start, my eye was drawn to the red light on the dashboard. Huffing, I rotated the key a final time.

“What are you doing?” he shouted. “I said drive!”

“No can do, it’s nearly out of gas,” I answered. I was beginning to feel a little less sorry for him. Who did he think he was anyway?

With some effort, I managed to get him up to the doorframe and through into the living room, where I placed him down onto my sleeping bag. His whole body was shaking and his forehead was covered in beads of sweat. He looked as though he was burning from the inside out. He wrapped the insulation loosely around himself.

“I’ll just be a minute,” I promised.

Gathering some wood from the kitchen, I produced a pack of matches and a fire starter from my bag. The same as every other night, I set a fire in the ancient fireplace, but for the first time since I had taken up residence in this house, I had someone to share the warmth with. Strange how suddenly, even in the most bizarre of situations, a house can feel like a home.

As the room lit up I was finally able to fully see Jonah, his figure illuminated against the flicker of flame. His dark jeans and chocolate brown half-zip sweater were torn and disheveled. His collarbone protruded prominently in the V-gap of his shirt, and I could see he was strong. His dark hair was tousled and scruffy but still looked attractively thick and shiny. My gaze traveled down to his wrists, which were bloodied. The damage continued across his hands and knuckles and I grimaced, as his fingers appeared burnt and blackened.

“What happened to you?” I asked as I tended to the small blaze.

He looked at me blankly and replied without answering my question. “You know what I am?”

“Yes. I’ve known your kind. You’re not too difficult to spot now.”

His eyes ran over my body, from the tip of my toes all the way up to my face, where his pupils rested on my own. He took some time to gather his thoughts, fixating on me as he did. I instantly felt self-conscious, though I had no idea why. I pulled my jacket down and straightened myself up.

“If you’ve known my kind, you really shouldn’t be around to tell the tale.…”

“The acquaintanceship didn’t end well, but here I am. I’d rather not talk about it.” I shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t argue.

“You got a cell?” he asked.

“Yes, it hasn’t got many minutes left but enough to make a quick call I think,” I answered, shuffling around in my pockets for the cheap Nokia I carried with me. “Why, who are you going to call?”

“I’m not traveling alone.” He gestured for the phone. I handed it to him.

Just moving his arm seemed a real effort; he was in an unusually vulnerable position. I could tell he wasn’t used to it. I couldn’t help but admire him; even in this state, he was truly remarkable to look at. His cheeks were so perfectly smooth; I wished I could touch him. I shuddered, agitated by my thoughts. Of course his skin was flawless and of course his eyes were glazed with a watery sparkle. He was resplendent. But when it came down to it, he was evil. I knew evil came in the most wonderful forms. It was easier to corrupt someone that way.

Everything about him looked as though he had been carefully carved by an expert craftsman and then breathed into life. I was sure this was how they survived. Jonah’s extreme beauty had given him away instantly. Thanks to the Vampire I had once ignorantly befriended, I now knew what hid beneath features like that. I was angry for allowing myself to be sucked in by his looks; they were merely a mask, disguising what he truly was—a killer.

Jonah dialed a number and spoke so rapidly I could barely catch the conversation. He hung up just as swiftly. “My friends are coming, they’ll be here soon,” he said.

“These friends of yours, are they like you?”

“Yeah… for the most part.” He paused. “Thank you for your help,” he said begrudgingly.

I snapped back a look that read a sarcastic “you’re welcome.” I was surprised he had even attempted any form of thanks. Something about the way he looked at me was chilling; I didn’t dare ask any more questions.

I got up and started puttering about nervously. I could hear how difficult it was for him to breathe. Despite his arrogance, I found myself softening toward him once more. But then I’d soften even for a raging killer pit bull if it were in pain.

Reaching for my bottled water, I offered it to him. He simply snorted. I’d forgotten for a moment. Putting it down, I reached over to the sleeping bag; it had fallen away from around Jonah’s body. Instinctively, I yanked it nearer to his shoulders.

Without warning, he grabbed my wrist, flinching as his injuries met my skin, and taking me by surprise. I flashed my eyes to meet his. He held me so tightly I couldn’t break free. The Vampire tilted his head and pulled me in. My heart began to thud, and I froze, filling with fear.

Crap, maybe this hadn’t been a smart idea after all.

Running his lips close to my neck, his breath tickling my skin, I found my insides doing strange somersaults, and suddenly I wasn’t afraid anymore. His bottom lip skimmed my earlobe, sending little shock waves through me. He lingered and then whispered, “I meant… thank you.” His words were sincere and soft—I felt my heart flutter.

He released my wrist and I hovered over him, searching his eyes. They bore into mine. I indulged myself, feeling both confused and elated, but after a few minutes, I broke the connection and slid away. I didn’t want or need the distraction of Jonah, a Vampire no less, derailing my thoughts away from Gabriel. Even if sometimes it felt as though I was hopelessly searching for a ghost.

I made my way into the bare kitchen to retrieve some more logs for the fire. I was glad I’d gathered them this morning, before I went in for my shift at the pub.

Sitting on the floor, I absorbed the situation and took a few minutes to myself. I would help him however I could because if I knew anything about myself, it was that I was a good person. And perhaps in exchange he might share some insights into his world; he might have some clues about what I was, and where I belonged. It was an extremely dangerous game, but what choice did I have? I returned to the living room and added the wood to the fire. We sat for what felt like hours in silence. Eventually he broke it.

“Is this where you live?” He raised his eyebrows as he strained to take in the hollow shell around him.

“For now.”

“You’re not from here,” he guessed. “This place isn’t your home.”

“Home is wherever I hang my hat. I don’t exactly belong. Time just goes by, the people change, scenery changes. I don’t change.” I teased a little, testing his reaction.

He tilted his head to the right at my response; he was trying to figure me out. “Your eyes… they’re older than your smile, but you’re not like me,” he mused aloud. “But you’re not, well, human either.”

“What would make you think I’m not human?” I rebutted, a little too high-pitched, feeling slightly offended. I had never considered myself unhuman.

“You have no scent. I didn’t know you were coming until you were in front of me.”

I considered that for a moment. As far as I was concerned, I was human, even if I apparently couldn’t die—well, not in the conventional manner. “So what? Given your condition, perhaps your senses are somewhat impaired,” I reasoned. I didn’t want to give too much away, not yet.

“What are you exactly?” he said, dismissing my vague reply.

I pondered for a moment. “I suppose that’s the million-dollar question,” I said. “Oh, and by the way, I don’t remember smiling at you.”

That made him laugh a little and I flushed, unable to stop a grin spreading over my face.

“See? You do like me after all.” He choked, shuddering, and shifted uncomfortably, seemingly trying to subdue the overwhelming agony that flowed through him.

I sat for a while, calmly weighing my next move. “You can call me Cessie, by the way.”

He raised his eyebrows a little, encouraging an explanation.

“My friends called me Cessie.”

“Past tense?” he asked.

“I haven’t seen them for a while, but that’s what they called me. I guess you can, too.”

With the faintest curve of his lip he said, “Honored, I’m sure.”

Hoping the olive branch had softened him to me, I tried again. “You didn’t answer my question before—how can I help you? You’re in a lot of pain. I can see.”

He looked at me emptily. Finally, through gritted teeth, he said, “My friends will take care of that.”

“Who are these friends of yours? What happened to you?”

He contemplated his reply and then offered it, albeit reluctantly. “My friends are the ones I travel with now. We came here, hoping to rescue another, well, another Vampire like me.” He paused. “It didn’t exactly go to plan, and the Pureblood’s clan took me captive.” He snarled angrily, revealing his fangs.

The sight of them caught me off guard and I took a second to collect myself. “The Pureblood’s clan? I don’t understand.”

“Purebloods were the first Vampires to inhabit the Earth. I was human—once. But I was bitten, changed, turned—whatever term you’d prefer to coin. That makes me a Second Generation Vampire. Vampires serve the Pureblood who changed them, as part of their clan, or army, if you’d rather.” He struggled on, shaking.

“If you serve one of these Purebloods, then how is it you have your freedom?”

“Vampires are evil, infected with venom; their souls become submerged in darkness from the change. Free will is not something they seek. But, sometimes, just sometimes, we might see light. Long enough to remember who we were before. My companions are Vampires like me, freed from our Pureblood Master, with some help.… We don’t want to be slaves to them anymore.”

“But you are still a Vampire,” I stated.

“Yes, and I still drink blood to survive. We all do. But we’re selective over our meals.” Pausing before he continued, he said, “I don’t want to have to kill, you know. I wasn’t exactly given a choice.”

I raised my eyebrows at his statement. I felt compassion for him, but I didn’t believe anyone should play God when it came to who deserved to die. “What did they do when they… captured you?” I pushed, wanting to know more.

“I was not turned by the Pureblood of that clan. It was not the right of the Gualtiero—Eligio—to end me.” He saw my confusion and answered it. “Gualtiero means the Leader, the Master. Eligio is the Pureblood’s name.” He inhaled sharply. “They locked me away with no…” He stopped, searching carefully for his next word. “Food.”

He looked at me blankly as I flinched.

“Withholding my ability to feed is torture. I don’t know how long I’ve been kept in the darkness. They had me bound in silver.” He nodded to his wrists. “I managed to escape, but I’ve got nothing left inside me to be able to fight them if my companions don’t find me first.”

“Would the Pureblood have eventually ended you?” I asked.

“No. My Gualtiero was coming to end me himself,” he replied.

“Is that what Eligio told you?”

“No. My Gualtiero—Emery—and I are still connected, though not so much now that I’ve been parted from him and the clan for some time. But I can still sense him to a degree.”

I was trying to comprehend what he was telling me. It was an existence I knew nothing about.

“Eligio will know I have gone by now. It won’t take him and his clan long to track me down.”

A sense of alarm rang through me—would they come here? Could they track him to this house? Just as I was contemplating the notion of a Vampire ambush, the ground beneath me started to vibrate and shake. Panic began to run through me and I sprinted to the window, checking that the boards were in place, as if that would somehow help.

I turned back to Jonah, terrified.

“That’s them, they’re coming…” His eyes flashed and he snarled a deep, low growl that made the hairs on my arm stand up.

“What do we do? Where are your friends?” I said hurriedly, checking that the wooden boards covering the windows were still sturdy.

“They’ll come, but they may be too late. You need to leave, take the truck and drive as far away as you can get,” he ordered. “Then run and don’t come back!”

Now he was trying to save me.

“I can’t leave you here, they’ll kill you. I won’t let you die like that!” There was something about Jonah I was oddly drawn to. Somehow he had spared me and that was an almost impossible thing for a creature such as himself. I couldn’t let him be destroyed by them. I couldn’t!

He almost sniggered when he said, “I am already dead.”

“You didn’t answer my question: How will your friends heal you?” I demanded.

He looked at me, puzzled. “They will bring me someone to drink from.” His reply was flat.

I thought about it for a few seconds. If he drank from me, just enough to make him regain his strength, he could fight them off and we could escape. Both of us in one piece, I hoped. If I didn’t, his existence would be painfully ended. And they would likely kill me, too. “Drink from me.”

This time I was the one giving the orders.

I frantically searched through my bag and drew out a Swiss Army knife. I rolled up the sleeve of my jacket hastily, my hand quivering as I brought it to my wrist.

“No! I won’t be able to…” He trailed off.

“It doesn’t matter!” Even if he couldn’t stop, I knew he wouldn’t end my existence. It was a hunch. I tried to remain calm.

Suffering death didn’t have the same meaning for me as it did for a mortal; if anything I think I dreaded it more. Unlike them, it wasn’t the fear of the unknown once death had taken hold, because I knew I would wake up again.

It was the waking up part that petrified me.

I could only hope that Jonah would overcome his desire in time to pull me back from death’s white-knuckled grip.

Clenching my legs around him, I sat with my thighs touching either side of his waist. Taking the knife, I sliced a deep cut a few inches below my wrist, instantly drawing blood. For the briefest moment, Jonah’s orbs flashed incarnadine, startling me; the blade slipped from my grasp, clanking as it hit the floor.

“No!” He moaned as loud shrieks came from the distance.

“Drink!”

Jonah shook his head violently. His bone-chilling glare told me that if he had the strength, I probably would have been thrown across the room by now.

I held my wrist slightly above his lips and, squeezing the skin together, encouraged a steady flow of blood to seep, trickling down to meet him.

I watched him struggle to resist. Luckily it didn’t take long for his hunger to take over. He tasted me. Within a second, his mouth was latched around the gash and I felt the sudden sharpness of his fangs cracking into position, stabbing me.

Slowly at first, as if he were sampling a glass of wine, he swirled his tongue, nuzzling at my flesh. It was a strange sensation, and I began to realize quickly that I was the striking surface to his match. I held his stare with my own. I watched as the hazel color of his eyes changed and was replaced by red flames that burned fiercely.

It was exhilarating.

He moved his eyelids downward and began guzzling harder and quicker. It was in the loss of his sparks that it occurred to me that I was now becoming a meal to a starving Vampire.

Only a few minutes had passed and I started to feel faint. Jonah showed no sign that he was ready or able to let go. “Jonah, stop,” I whimpered, feeling hazy.

I was losing all strength in my body, and my legs gave way.

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