SEASONS OF THE NIGHT
The Vampire in the Attic
October. It was his favorite time of the year. The nights were longer, the weather cooler. So much easier to pretend you were a part of society when every house and shop window featured your kind. No one looked at him twice when he strolled through the malls. Hunting was a breeze. It didn’t take any effort at all to infiltrate the numerous costume parties that were held all month long at homes and schools and work places. Little effort was required to mesmerize some lovely miss high on bubbly, coax her into a dark corner, and satisfy his thirst.
Sadly, hunters didn’t have any trouble distinguishing the genuine from the fake. Like the two who had been tracking him for the last year. Raiden swore under his breath. He had been careless. The hunters had taken him by surprise and damn near taken his head. He had incapacitated one of them. But the other one was hot on his heels.
The wounds they had inflicted on him had yet to heal, rendering him weak, stealing his power. Though he wasn’t completely defenseless, he didn’t have the strength to make himself vanish from sight or transport himself to another part of town by merely thinking about it.
Walking as fast as he could, he turned away from the town’s main drag onto the nearest residential street. The houses were all decorated for Halloween, front yards, roofs and windows cluttered with signs and decorations that ranged from cute to creepy to the bizarre.
But he had more important things on his mind than fake skeletons. He needed a place to spend the ay. He slowed when he came to the red brick house on the corner. Whoever lived there went whole hog for the holiday - lights, music, scary witches, ghosts, goblins and even a zombie that looked like it had escaped from the set of the Walking Dead. There was even what looked to be a genuine casket. The top half of the lid was open. A life-like dummy was propped in the opening, fake hair blowing in the faint breeze.
Just what he was looking for.
After checking to make sure that no one was watching, he climbed into the casket, slid under the life-like dummy, closed the lid, and succumbed to the darkness.
Raegan York stood on the balcony of her grandmother’s beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He was there again, the same man she had seen every night for the last five weeks. She didn’t know who he was, had never seen his face up close, knew only that he was tall and broad-shouldered and that his hair was long and dark. He always came to the beach alone, and always at the same time, just after midnight. Hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans, he stood there, staring out at the moon-dappled water while the waves lapped at his bare feet. Sometimes, he stripped off his shirt and went swimming in his jeans. The first few times he had done that, she had been worried that he was suicidal because he was gone for so long. But he always came back.
She had been tempted, on more than one occasion, to go down and ask if he was all right, but she could never quite summon the nerve. There was something about him, something…well, something. She didn’t know what it was, but it warned her to stay away.
Raegan was about to go to bed when he turned and stared up at the balcony. With a start, she stumbled backward, then chided herself for her foolishness. There was no way he could see her clearly, any more than she could see him. And even if he could see her, he had no way of knowing she was watching him. And yet…for an instant, she would have sworn that his gaze met hers. How else to explain the shiver of awareness that had skittered down her spine, the oddly intrusive feeling that his mind had somehow brushed hers?
It was all too freaky. Hurrying inside, she closed the balcony doors. She rarely locked them, but she did so now. And even then, she felt vulnerable. Exposed, somehow.
For the first time since she had been a child, she left the lights on when she went to bed.
Tor stared up at the balcony long after the woman had disappeared into the house. He had felt her watching him every night, knew, from eavesdropping on a few of her telephone conversations with a girlfriend, that her name was Raegan and she was house sitting for her grandmother’s while her grandmother was visiting family in London. Of all the things he had overheard, the most intriguing was the knowledge that Raegan was intensely curious about him, and that she was afraid he was going to commit suicide. He had to laugh at that. He could swim from here to Hawaii with little effort.
It was having a price on his head that was hard.
Picking up a rock, he threw it into the ocean, watched it skip across the water until it disappeared. If only he could do the same. Muttering an oath, he jogged down the beach, gradually running faster and faster, as if by doing so he could outrun his thoughts, or the hunger than plagued him with every breath. As if he could turn back time and take up the life that had been stolen from him over three centuries ago.
A Thankful Heart
Rylee North stared at the dozens of decorations in the window of the Hallmark store. Cute little pilgrims, fat ceramic turkeys, Indian salt-and-pepper shakes, colorful cornucopias. Thanksgiving. Bah! Humbug! What did she have to be thankful for? She’d lost a job she loved. She was behind in her rent. Her landlord was threatening to have her evicted if she didn’t pay up. She hadn’t had a date in eight months. Her parents had called a week ago to let her know they were getting a divorce. And her best friend had just gone off to Iceland to study the mating habits of puffins.
Yeah, she had a lot to be grateful for.
Lost in a bog of self-pity, she turned away from the window. It was Friday night and everywhere she looked, she saw happy people strolling down the street. Couples, hand-in-hand. Teenagers laughing as they hurried along. Young lovers gazing into each other’s eyes, oblivious to everyone else.
Unable to take endure minute, she turned down the alley behind the drug store. She usually avoided taking this shortcut to her apartment building at night because the alley was pitch black and had been the scene of a rather grisly murder a month ago, but tonight she just didn’t care. She had no one to turn to for help. If she couldn’t come up with her over-due rent, she might be living in this alley next week.
At the halfway point, she came to a sudden stop, her gaze searching the darkness.
There was someone lurking there, in the shadows just ahead.
With her heart thundering in her ears, she turned on her heel and ran back the way she’d come only to let out a shriek when she slammed into something hard and unyielding.
A second scream was trapped in her throat when a hand covered her mouth. She fought against her attacker, her nails raking her attacker’s arm as she kicked and twisted in a vain effort to escape.
But it was impossible.
He let her struggle until she was breathless, her legs weak, and then he gently brushed the hair away from her neck.
Rylee froze as his tongue laved the tender skin beneath her ear and then....oh, Lord, was he biting her?
It was her last thought before she pitched headlong into oblivion.
Bethany Frasier stared at the Cupid painted on the restaurant window. As a dyed-in-the wool romantic, she had always loved Valentine’s Day. The bright red hearts and flowers, the sappy movies, the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, the sheer fairy-tale feeling of it all. It didn’t even bother her that Valentine’s Day decorations went up almost before the Christmas ones came down.
But that had been before Vinny Salazar swept her off her feet, made her fall head-over-heels in love with him, and then left town on Valentine’s Day without so much as a word of farewell.
“Beth? Hey, Beth, where are you?”
“What? Oh, sorry. It’s just....” Beth stopped mid-sentence.
Nicki heaved a sigh of disgust. “Are we back to Vinny Salazar again? Honestly, Beth, it’s been three years. How long are you going to mope over that guy? it’s time you moved on.”
“I know.” Three long years and her heart still skipped a beat every time her cell phone rang. But it was never him. “I still can’t believe he left me.” They had been playmates in grade school, best friends in middle school, sweethearts all through high school and practically engaged their sophomore year in college. And then he was gone, just like that. In their small town, everyone knew Vinny had dumped her. Speculation had been rampant. No one knew where he’d gone -- not his best friend, Scott, not his sister, Martina, or his parents. “People don’t just disappear.”
“Of course they do,” Nicki said. “You read about missing persons in the paper all the time.”
Beth shook her head. “But Vinny didn’t take anything with him. Not his Harley or his guitar or anything else. It’s like he just vanished from the face of the earth. Even his mother doesn’t believe he left of his own free will.”
The police had searched Vinny’s house, questioned everyone he knew -- friends, teachers, the people he worked with. But there had been no clues, no signs of foul play. He was just gone.
“There were a lot of rumors after he left,” Nicki remarked.
Beth glanced at the clock. Her lunch break was almost over. “You think I don’t know that?” She’d heard the gossip. Everyone thought she was pregnant and that Vinny had left town to avoid the consequences. For the first three months after he left, everyone she’d met sent pointed glances at her stomach. Thankfully, it had remained blessedly flat. Since then, she had graduated college, found a good-paying job as a junior accountant at Simpson, Clark and Simpson, which was where she’d met Nicki. A few months later, Beth had moved into a place of her own.
Beth reached for the check. “We’d better go. Lunch is on me today.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“Well, I feel guilty for boring you with, you know.”
“It’s okay.” Sighing dramatically, Nicki pressed one hand over her heart. “That’s what friends are for. “But, like I said, it’s seriously time to move on.”
Nicki was right, Beth thought as she left the restaurant. She needed to put the past behind her. She told herself she’d tried. She had dated some nice guys since Vinny left town, but her heart was never in it. Because, for better or worse, she was still deeply in love with Vincent Salazar.
Still held onto to the hope, faint as it was, that some day he would come back to her.