DARK OF THE MOON
Jim Hewitt earned his living as a vampire hunter his whole adult life – until one fateful night when the hunter became the hunted. Now a fledgling vampire trying to adapt to his new life, he changes his name to Travis Black and moves to Susandale, a small town with a secret.
In an effort to avoid marrying the man her wealthy parents have chosen for her, Sara Winters makes a deal with her father – if she can't provide for herself for one year, she will agree to marry Dilworth Young III. To that end, she moves to Susandale and opens a bath boutique.
Travis and Sara would likely never have met if Travis hadn't chosen her as his prey. Was it mere coincidence that brought the two of them to the same sleepy little town? Or the hand of Fate?
I STARTED THIS YEARS AGO......AND FINALLY FINISHED IT.
Hope you enjoy it.
The dream came every day and it was always the same. And even as it unfolded, never changing, the man who had once been known as Jim Hewitt wished it was just that, nothing but a dream….
He had followed the vampire known as Ronan and the woman, Shannah, home, intent on destroying the one and rescuing the other. And he had come so close. Armed with a bottle of holy water and a sharp wooden stake, he had attacked Ronan as they arrived at his lair. The holy water had done its job, burning the vampire's face, giving Hewitt the window of opportunity he needed to drive the stake into the vampire's back. The scent of fresh hot blood wafted through the night.
He hollered at Shannah to run away while she could.
But Shannah didn't run away. With a scream of rage, she grabbed him by the arm.
Startled, he glanced at her. "What are you doing?"
"Stopping you!" She yanked his hand away from the stake, her fingers curling around his wrist in an iron-like grip.
"Are you crazy?" Hewitt exclaimed. "He's a vampire!"
"Yes!" she hissed, baring her fangs. "And so am I."
Startled, he could only stare at her, and then he lashed out as fear and fury swept through him.
She laughed as he struggled in vain to free himself from her hold. And then she trapped his gaze with hers. "Stop fighting me," she commanded.
Unable to resist the preternatural power in her voice, his arms fell limply to his sides. Helpless to move, he watched her drop to her knees beside Ronan and yanked the stake from his back. A torrent of dark red blood flowed from the nasty wound.
And then the vampire sat up and uttered the most chilling words Jim Hewitt had ever heard.
"Bring him to me."
The nightmare grew worse from that point on. Shannah released him from her spell and dragged him effortlessly toward the wounded vampire. Fear spiraled through Hewitt as he gazed into Ronan's blood-red eyes.
"I warned you," the vampire said. "You should have listened."
Hewitt struggled in vain as Ronan sank his fangs into his throat. For a time, he seemed to be drifting between this world and the next. And then, as from far away, he heard the vampire's voice.
"Listen to me. You have only a few minutes to make up your mind. Do you want to live or die?"
Hewitt stared up into the monster's face. How could he be expected to make such a decision? He was a hunter. How could he choose between death or spending the rest of his existence as a vampire?
"Your time is running out," Ronan said curtly. "Make your choice!"
"Live." Hewitt forced the word from the depths of his soul. "I want…to live."
With a feral cry, the vampire bit into his own wrist. "Then drink," he said, and his voice was like sandpaper over steel.
Hewitt grimaced as dark red blood – vampire blood - dripped from the wound in Ronan's wrist into his mouth. He choked down the first taste, hating what he was doing, hating the creature who had brought him to this.
And then, to his amazement, he latched onto Ronan's arm with both hands, drinking eagerly, afraid the vampire would make him stop. How could something so repulsive taste so good?
"Damn you!" he cried hoarsely, and then he pulled the vampire's wrist to his mouth again and took his first step into another life.
The man who had once been Jim Hewitt jackknifed into a sitting position, the nightmare still vivid in his mind. Not for the first time, he wondered why he had been plagued with the same dream since he'd been turned. He was a vampire now and everyone knew that vampires slept like the dead. Yet the nightmare tormented him night after night.
Jim Hewitt had died that horrible night and the name he'd been born with had died with him. Changing his name had seemed like a wise decision for a number of reasons, but mainly because Jim Hewitt had been a vampire hunter who now preferred to remain incognito. He had considered several alternative names before deciding on Travis Black -- Travis for the man who had fathered him. And Black for the monster who had turned him. It had been one of Ronan's aliases. It seemed only fitting to take his vampire sire's name, as well.
"Travis." He murmured it out loud, wondering how long it would take before he answered to it automatically. Of course, it was a moot point at the moment, since he was the only one who knew he had discarded the name he had been born with.
If he lived to be a hundred, he would never forget the horror of waking that first night and realizing it hadn't been a bad dream. Even now, four months later, he often roused from the dark sleep feeling lost and disoriented. He was supposed to track and destroy vampires, not hide from the hunters.
As he did every night on waking, he cursed the vampire who had turned him although, to be honest, he had no one to blame but himself. If he had left the damned, blood-sucking creature and his woman alone, none of this would have happened.
Exasperated, he plowed his fingers through his hair. He had hunted the undead his whole adult life, would have sworn he knew everything there was to know about them. Just proved how wrong a man could be, he thought bitterly, and once again, he cursed Ronan for turning him and then leaving him to fend for himself. A sire was supposed to stay with his fledgling for at least a year to help him adjust to his new life, teach him how to hunt, how to find shelter, how to defend himself, if need be. A sire wasn't supposed to abandon those he turned.
Travis swore under his breath. Sure, he knew about hunting vampires. He knew how to find them, how to immobilize them, how to destroy them.
What he didn't know was how to be one.
He had lost more than his humanity, he thought bleakly. He had lost his family, too, as well as the few friends he'd had back home in Nevada. There was just no way in hell his old acquaintances, mostly hunters, would accept him as he was now. Being a hunter hadn't allowed him the luxury of staying in one place long enough to really get to close to anyone other than hunters, male or female.
From time to time, he had thought about contacting Carl Overstreet. Not that he and Carl had been friends, exactly, but they had shared some wildly hairy moments together and survived.
He had met the man while shadowing Ronan and Shannah. Overstreet, who had been a free-lance reporter at the time, had written a series of articles titled Vampires Among Us ~ Truth or Legend? for a national magazine. Travis, still known as Hewitt back then, had met Overstreet in a bar late one night where they had struck up an alliance of sorts. They had both been after the same thing, though for vastly different reasons. Travis had wanted to destroy a monster. Overstreet had wanted to interview one. Travis had failed in his quest. The writer had succeeded and then quit the field.
Travis shook his head. If only he had done the same. Hunting sure as hell hadn't paid much, but he hadn't been qualified to do anything else. Still, he had been thinking about looking for a more lucrative line of work when he'd gotten a hot tip from another hunter that Ronan was holed up in a little town in Northern California. He had followed the vampire and the woman from a discreet distance for a time and then one night he had followed his quarry into a bookstore where he'd learned that Shannah was a published author. It wasn't until later that he discovered it was the vampire who was the writer and that the woman merely pretended to be him, though, at the time, he'd had no idea why.
If only he had stayed in Nevada and found some mundane nine-to-five job, he wouldn't be in this predicament now, a fledgling vampire with less than forty dollars in his pocket and not a single soul he could confide in.
On the bright side, he no longer had to buy groceries. He didn't have to worry about getting sick, so there was no longer any need for health insurance. Maybe dental, if he broke a fang, he mused with wry amusement.
On the dark side, he still had to pay rent since he didn't want to take his rest in the ground. He had tried that once, he recalled with a grimace, and he had no desire to do it again. As his old grandmother had been fond of saying -- there was no use in crying over spilt milk. For once he had to agree with her. He was what he was and there was no going back.
Or was there?
Rising, he began to pace the bedroom floor. He had never heard of a vampire returning to mortality, but that didn't mean it had never happened. But if there was a cure, the vampire community was keeping it under wraps.
So, how was he to find out if one existed? The Web, of course.
Padding barefoot into the living room of the cottage, he booted up his laptop and Googled vampire cures. Page after page of links came up. The only problem? They all referred to the role-playing game, "Oblivion."
He spent another forty minutes searching the Internet. He found numerous sites about vampires, how to become a vampire, how to recognize one, how to kill the monsters, not to mention numerous sites dedicated to the old TV shows, Dark Shadows and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and newer ones like Moonlight and The Vampire Diaries, as well as the works of Anne Rice. There were fan sites for notorious individual vampires, as well, both real and fictional – Dracula, Lestat, Rylan Saintcrow, Edward Cullen, Mick St. John, Rhys Costain, and Damon Salvatore. But nothing about a cure for actual vampirism.
Muttering an oath, he signed off, then sat there staring into the distance, until a familiar ache started deep inside of him. His tongue brushed his fangs as his need grew stronger. The hunger had become his master, a cruel tyrant he was helpless to resist, an addiction he craved almost as much as he despised it.
Dressing quickly, he left the small rental house. Blending into the shadows of the night, he went in search of prey -- and rent money.
Sara Winters closed the door behind her, turned the key in the lock, and let out a sigh. If today wasn't the worst day she'd ever had, sales-wise, since she went into business, it was certainly in the top two. Opening a store of her own had seemed like such a good idea when she'd first arrived in Susandale. Gourmet chocolates and premium bath soaps and salts had seemed like the perfect combination. After all, practically every woman on the planet loved chocolate of one kind or another. And everybody had to bathe. And none of the other stores in town carried anything like what she offered.
Maybe there was a reason for that, she thought glumly. Maybe the women in this part of the country didn't like sweets and never bought fancy scented soaps, bubble bath, or lotion. Or maybe they just didn't like her, although that didn't seem likely. She had hardly met any of her neighbors since she moved here three months ago, and those she had met seemed a little, well, eccentric.
Now that she thought about it, the whole town seemed a little odd. Like the fact that she had seen very few children, which might have been understandable in a retirement community, but most of the people she had seen looked to be in their twenties and thirties. She rarely saw anyone on the streets before sunset, except the occasional tourist. Thank goodness for those, few though they might be, because they invariably stopped in to browse. And usually bought a bag of candy, if nothing else.
Strangest of all, most of the other businesses didn't open until after sundown, which made sense, she guessed, since few people were out and about during the day. She supposed that since Susandale was so small, most of the inhabitants worked out of town, or worked nights and slept days. Odder still was the fact that there was no school. Still, it was a small town. The kids were probably bussed to a bigger city nearby.
Brow furrowed, Sara gazed up and down the quiet street. Maybe she would do more business if she kept the same hours as the rest of the town's shops. If she didn't start turning a profit, she was going to have to pack up and go back home. And she really didn't want to do that. This was her one chance to prove she could live on her own, that she could earn her own way. Her father had agreed to give her twelve months to prove she could succeed. If whatever business she started failed within that time, he expected her to return home and marry Dilworth.
It had been the thought of marrying Dilworth Young the Third and settling down into the same Stepford-wife kind of existence that her mother lived that had given Sara the courage to stand up to her over-bearing father in the first place and demand that he give her a chance to strike out on her own. Certain she would fail, he had given her the money needed for the first and last month's rent on her house, as well as the first month's rent on her shop.
She had chosen Susandale because it was a small town, as different from her home in Vermont as night from day.
She was beginning to think coming here had been a major mistake.
Feeling the need for some comfort food, she walked down the street to Verna's Bakery – one of the few places that opened early -- and bought a buttermilk doughnut and a carton of milk; then, thinking it was too nice to stay inside, she sat at one of the little tables in front of the bakery and tried to decide what to do about her future while she watched the sun set. She wasn't desperate enough to go back home, at least not yet. Maybe she should just pack up and move to a bigger city, she thought, nibbling on the doughnut. Maybe Boston or Chicago. Or San Francisco. She had always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean.
She shook her head. In spite of everything, she liked it here. It was a pretty little town. She would give it another month or two. Tomorrow, she would change her working hours. Instead of doing business from ten to five, she would open at three in the afternoon and close at nine. And if that didn't work? Well, she'd worry about that later.
She sat there for several minutes, lost in thought. After drinking the last of the milk, she tossed the carton in the trash can beside the door, then walked back to the shop to get her car, which she had left in the parking lot behind the building.
She was about to unlock the door when she realized she wasn't alone. A sliver of icy fear slithered down her spine as a man dressed in black materialized out of the shadows and stepped into a pool of light cast by the streetlamp on the corner.
Sara took a step back, every instinct she possessed warning her to run, to scream, but all she could do was stand there, as if held by some invisible power.
Travis couldn't stop staring at the woman. She was lovely. A riot of sun-gold curls fell over her shoulders. Hazel eyes, as wide and frightened as those of a doe caught by surprise, stared back at him. He could hear the beat of her heart pounding hard and fast in her chest, smell the sweet nectar flowing through her veins, the fear on her skin.
He hadn't meant to frighten her. "I'm sorry," he said, releasing her from his thrall. "I didn't mean to startle you."
Sara blinked at him. He looked harmless. Had she imagined that odd sense of power that had held her spellbound? He wasn't much taller than she was. His hair, thick and blond, brushed his collar, his eyes were a deep, dark brown. She shook her head. "It's all right."
He smiled at her. "Maybe I could buy you a cup of coffee as a peace offering?"
"I don't think so."
"I hope I see you again." A friendly wave of his hand and he walked away.
She waited until he was out of sight, then quickly unlocked her Chevy and slid behind the wheel. Driving home, she had the weirdest feeling that she would see him again.
Keeping to the shadows, Travis followed the woman. She lived in a small white house with bright yellow shutters only a few blocks away from where she worked. He watched as she pulled into the driveway and hurried into the house.
She really was a pretty thing, but it was more than her appearance that drew him, though he couldn't have said what it was. As a hunter, he'd had little time for women or serious relationships. As a vampire, he'd had even less. Unsure of himself, afraid of inadvertently doing or saying something that would give him away, he had avoided contact with women -- except for those he preyed on. But he didn't want to prey on this one. He just wanted to know her better.
Drawing closer, he opened his senses, nodded when he didn't detect anyone else inside. Since she hadn't worn a wedding ring and there was no lingering scent of a man --or anyone else -- on the premises, he assumed she was single and lived alone.
The thought made him smile because he was determined to see her again. But for now, he needed to hunt.
Shannah rolled onto her side, her fingers tracing random patterns on Ronan's chest. He lay quiet beneath her roving hands, his eyes closed. She loved him with every fiber of her being. He had saved her life, showed her a world she had never dreamed existed. "It's been four months," she remarked. "Do you think he's all right?"
"I really don't give a damn."
"You sired him." Her lips followed the path of her fingertips. "I still think it was terribly cruel to turn him out with no one to guide him."
"He's lucky I didn't kill him."
"The man was a hunter," he said irritably. "He knows enough to survive. He'll learn the rest. And if he doesn't…." He twitched one shoulder.
She couldn't really blame her husband for his uncaring attitude. Jim Hewitt had attacked Ronan without provocation, fully intending to destroy him. Still, she couldn't help feeling sorry for the hunter. He had seemed like a nice guy and she felt partly responsible for what had happened to him. Believing that Ronan was a danger to her, Hewitt had tried to warn her off. Poor man. No doubt he was feeling lost and alone as he tried to adjust to being a vampire. It couldn't be easy, being cut off from family and friends, forced by circumstances to learn how to navigate his new life on his own. She frequently wondered where he was and how he was doing. "Is he still alive?"
Ronan turned onto his side and studied her through fathomless eyes as black as midnight. "Why do you care?"
"I don't know. I just do."
With a huff of impatience, he opened the blood link that bound the fledgling to him, a link that could be broken only by death.
"You can stop worrying," he said curtly. "He's alive."
Travis's head jerked up, the woman in his arms momentarily forgotten as he felt the blood link open between himself and his sire. Why now, he thought, after all this time? But before he could put the question to words, the link was gone.
Frowning, he turned back to his prey. The urge to take it all, to glut himself with his prey's blood, was a constant temptation. Thus far, he had managed to keep his seemingly insatiable lust for blood under control – forcing himself to take only what he needed and not what he wanted. He knew, on some deep, instinctive level, that it would be easier to control his hunger if his sire had stayed with him, to guide him. Not that he could blame the vampire for abandoning him. He had tried to destroy Ronan, after all.
Travis grinned ruefully. He had done what hunters do. He supposed he should be grateful the vampire hadn't killed him. But tonight, with the craving for blood burning hot and strong within him, he didn't feel grateful at all.