DEEPER THAN THE NIGHT
The townsfolk of Moulton Bay said there was something otherworldly about Alexander Claybourne. Some people whispered that, with his dark arresting features and mesmerizing eyes, the seductive stranger looked every inch a vampire. They never guessed how near the truth they were - or that after more than two hundred years of resisting temptation, Claybourne had found a woman he had to possess.
Never one to be scared off by superstitious lore, Kara Crawford laughed at the local talk of creatures lurking in the dark. What harm could come of befriending the handsome stranger with the haunted look in his midnight eyes? No matter what shadowy secrets Alexander hid, Kara felt drawn to him, compelled to join him beneath the silver light of the moon, where they would share a love DEEPER THAN THE NIGHT.
"I'm looking for the vampire."
Alexander Claybourne stared down at the young girl standing on his front porch. She was a cute little thing, maybe nine years old, with curly blonde hair, brown eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose.
"Excuse me," he said, "but did I hear you right?"
"I need to see the vampire," the girl said impatiently. "The one who lives here."
Alexander fought the urge to laugh. "Who told you a vampire lives here?"
The girl looked up at him as if he were slow-witted. "Everyone knows a vampire lives here."
"I see. And why do you want him?"
"My sister, Kara, is in the hospital. She was in a car accident." The girl sniffed noisily. "Nana says she's going to die."
Alexander frowned as he tried to follow the child's line of reasoning.
The girl stamped her foot. "Vampires live forever," she said, speaking each word slowly and distinctly, as if he were very young, or very stupid. "If the vampire would come to the hospital and bite my sister, she would live forever, too."
"Ah," Alexander exclaimed, comprehending at last.
"So, is he here?"
"You're quite a brave girl, to come here alone, in the dark of night. Aren't you afraid?"
"What's your name, child?"
"How old are you, Gail?"
"Nine and a half."
"And does your Nana know where you are?"
Gail shook her head. "No. She's at the hospital. They won't let me visit Kara, so Nana made me stay with Mrs. Zimmermann. I snuck out the back door when she wasn't looking."
Gail stared up at the man. Was he the vampire? He was very tall, with long black hair. He stood in the deep shadows of the house so that she couldn't see his face clearly, but she thought he had dark eyes. He didn't look like any of the vampires she had seen in the movies. They always wore black suits and frilly white shirts and long capes; this man wore a black sweater and a pair of faded levis. Still, everyone in Moulton Bay knew that a vampire lived in the old Kendall house...
Shivering, Gail wrapped her arms around her waist. She had come up here lots of times with her friends, trying to peek in the windows to catch sight of the vampire's coffin. She'd never really been scared in the daylight; after all, everyone knew vampires were harmless during the day. But now it was night.
Leaning to the side a little, she slid a glance past the man. The interior of the house looked dark and gloomy, just the kind of place where a vampire would live.
Feeling suddenly very much alone and more than a little afraid, she took a step backward. The porch creaked under her weight. It was a creepy sound.
Gail summoned her rapidly waning courage. "Will you come and save my sister?"
"I'm sorry, Gail, but I'm afraid I can't help you."
The girl lifted her shoulders and let them fall in an exaggerated gesture of disappointment.
"I didn't really think you were a vampire," she confessed, "but it was worth a try."
* * *
Alexander watched the girl as she ran down the stairs, headed for the narrow dirt path that meandered through the woods. The path was a short-cut that led to the main road.
Courageous little thing, he mused, to come out here all alone.
Looking for a vampire.
He watched her until she was out of sight, until even his keen hearing could no longer discern the sound of her flight, and then he closed the door and leaned back against it.
So, everyone knew a vampire lived here.
Perhaps it was time to move on. And yet...Pushing away from the door, he walked through the dark house. It was a big place, old and creaky, with vaulted ceilings and wooden floors and leaded window panes. The house sat alone on a small rise surrounded by trees and brambles. His nearest neighbor was almost a mile away. It was, he thought, exactly the sort of place a vampire might choose to live. It was exactly the reason he had chosen it. He had been comfortable here, content here, for the past five years.
But, perhaps it was time to move on. One thing he didn't want to do was draw attention to himself. Until now, he'd had no idea people speculated on who, or what, lived in this house.
Going into the parlor, he rested one hand on the high mantle and gazed into the hearth. There was something primal about standing in front of a roaring fire. It answered an elemental need deep inside him, though he wasn't sure why. Perhaps it had something to do with the smoky scent of the wood and the hiss of the flames, or maybe it was the surging power held at bay by nothing more than a few bricks.
He stared into the hearth, mesmerized, as always, by the life that pulsed within the flames. All the colors of the rainbow danced within the flickering tongues of fire: red and yellow, blue and green and violet, a deep pure white.
Moving away from the fireplace, he wandered through the house, listening to the rising wind as it howled beneath the eaves. The branches of an old oak tree tapped against one of the upstairs windows, sounding for all the world like skeletal fingers scratching at the glass, as if some long-banished spirit were seeking entrance to the house.
He grinned, surprised by his fanciful thoughts, and by the recurring urge to go to the hospital and have a look at Gail Crawford's older sister.
Hospitals. He had never been inside one. In all his life, he had never been sick.
Putting all thoughts of Gail and her sister from his mind, he went into the library, determined to finish his research before the night was through.
It was after four when he admitted he was fighting a losing battle. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't think of anything but the brave little girl who had come to him looking for a miracle.
Scowling, he stalked out into the night, drawn by a force he could no longer deny, his footsteps carrying him swiftly down the narrow path that cut through the woods to the thriving seaside town of Moulton Bay.
The hospital was located on a side street near the far end of the town. It was a tall white building. He thought it looked more like an ancient mausoleum than a modern place of healing.
A myriad of scents assaulted his keen sense of smell the moment he opened the front door: blood, death, urine, the cloying scent of flowers, starch and bleach, the pungent smell of antiseptics and drugs.
At this time of the morning, the corridors were virtually deserted. He found the Intensive Care Unit at the end of a long hallway.
A nurse sat at a large desk, thumbing through a stack of papers. Alex watched her for a moment, then, focusing his mind on one of the emergency buzzers located at the opposite end of the corridor, he willed it to ring.
As soon as the nurse left the station, he walked past the desk and stepped into the Intensive Care Ward.
There was only one patient: Kara Elizabeth Crawford, age 22, blood type A negative. She was swathed in bandages, connected to numerous tubes and monitors.
He quickly perused her chart. She had sustained no broken bones, though she had numerous cuts and contusions; a gash in her right leg had required stitching. She had three bruised ribs, a laceration in her scalp, internal bleeding. Amazingly, her face had escaped injury. She had fine, even features. A wealth of russet-colored hair emphasized her skin's pallor. Indeed, her face was almost as white as the pillow case beneath her head. She had been in a coma for the last four days. Her prognosis was grim.
"Where are you, Kara Crawford?" he murmured. "Is your spirit still trapped within that feeble tabernacle of flesh, or has your soul found redemption in worlds beyond while you wait for your body to perish?" He let the tip of one finger slide down her cheek. "Have you perhaps found the source of eternal rest that has been denied me all these years?"
He stared at the blood dripping from a plastic bag down a tube and into her arm. The sharp metallic scent of it excited a hunger he had long ago suppressed. Blood. The elixir of life.
He glanced down at his arm, at the dark blue vein. He had survived for two hundred years. What would happen if...
Driven by an impulse he could neither understand or deny, he picked up a syringe, removed the protective wrapping, and inserted the needle into the large vein of his left arm, watching with vague interest as the hollow tube filled with dark red blood. In two hundred years, he had gleaned a great deal of medical knowledge.
Withdrawing the needle, he inserted it into the section of latex tubing that was used to add antibiotics and pushed the plunger, mixing his own blood with the liquid dripping into her vein. He repeated the procedure several times, and all the while he thought of the little girl with curly blond hair who had come to him looking for a miracle.
Alexander smiled grimly as he left the girl's room and headed for the emergency exit located at the end of the hall. He glanced down at his arm. A spot of dried blood marred his skin.
Mingling with the girl's.
He wondered what madness had possessed him to mingle his blood with the girl's. Would it kill or cure, he mused as he walked out of the room. Had he been savior or executioner?
Unfortunately, or fortunately, perhaps, he would never know.
It was near dawn when he stepped out of the hospital. He gazed at the brightening sky for a long moment, yearning to stay and watch the sun rise, to feel the blessed heat of a new day, to listen to the world around him come to life. But he dared not linger. He had given Kara Crawford almost a pint of his blood and it had seriously weakened him. In his present condition, the sunlight could prove fatal.
With a strangled cry, he hurried toward h