For Emily Waters, a nature-loving, small-town girl with an overprotective father, heading off to Boston University to study conservation biology is a dream come true—until a chance encounter catapults her into a mythical world she’d do anything to escape.
The latest victim in a rash of abductions near campus, Emily is brutally attacked before being rescued by a powerful new friend. She survives the ordeal, only to find herself held captive and presented with an impossible choice. While preparing for the unimaginable life she must now embrace clues soon emerge that Emily may not be entirely human, and her physical transformation awakens goddess-like powers that her new family cannot begin to explain. Dealing with her human first love, the not-so-platonic relationship with her coven “sister,” and her new vampire sort-of-boyfriend further complicates matters, not to mention being secretly hunted by the psychopaths who attacked her. And as the only known offspring of a once all-powerful race, the climactic battle is only the beginning of her journey.
The ornately carved golden doors of the global court swung open, and the raucous crowd settled into their seats. Soldiers outfitted in full battle gear streamed in, marching down the long marble aisle to the raised gallery that formed a half circle behind the five vampire containment chairs. They each carried a debilitating knockout stick and a shoulder-fired laser rifle. The electromagnetic waves generated by the RF frequency systems in their helmets shielded their thoughts and ensured that not even the strongest of their enemy could hijack their minds.
Once they were positioned, the bailiff typed a code into the touch pad on the wall, and a steel panel slid open. Four hooded figures emerged, surrounded by several more guards who forcefully escorted them to their chairs. Their shackled ankles and wrists were smeared with conductive jelly and attached to electrical leads. As soon as they were seated, thick metal bands extended around their shins, thighs, chests, biceps and forearms, firmly securing them in place.
None of the prisoners made a sound, knowing that even a whimper would be met with another punishing jolt of current from the collars fastened around their necks, but that did little to lessen the deafening noise in the room. Every seat of the three-story grand hall was occupied for this momentous event, with another 750,000 people crammed into Central Park outside. Reporters from around the globe scrambled to get their last pretrial clips recorded before the court was called to order.
“Some are questioning the tactics of the global court this morning,” an Austrian reporter stated in her native German, “using vampires and humans as bait in an effort to lure what most people consider to be the Vampire Queen out of hiding. So far their plan doesn’t seem to have worked, as there have been no sensor reports of vampire activity in or around New York, but with the executions moving forward today, things are expected to intensify.”
“All rise!” the bailiff bellowed out through the hall. “This court is now in session. The honorable global court inquisitor O’Callaghan presiding.”
An imposing figure with short, golden locks entered from behind the bailiff, motioning for people to take their seats. He gathered his floor-length white and purple robes in his left hand, made his way over to the furthest prisoner and yanked the hood from her head.
“So this is the all-powerful Sienna,” the inquisitor mocked, squeezing the bound woman’s cheeks with his hand. “How disappointing.”
Her once beautiful face was disfigured by several charred-black electrical burns. Blood and pus oozed out of the open wounds. The pungent salve packed into her broken nose made her eyes tear up and prevented her from smelling anything.
“Do you have anything you wish to say in your defense before I render my verdict?” the inquisitor asked, deactivating the device around her throat so she could speak.
“This will never work—she knows her life is far more important than mine.”
“It’s possible she’d let you die,” he acknowledged. “But both of her parents, her mate and her best friend? No, I think that’s far too much to expect her to endure. Sooner or later she’ll come, and the world will celebrate her execution.”
Sienna snapped to attention, her green eyes widening in horror at the news of who else had been captured. “You have no idea what you’ve done—everyone in this building’s going to die.”
The crowd erupted at her outburst, and the inquisitor held up his hand to silence them. “And how exactly is your precious queen going to manage that? She’ll be welcomed to our fair city by twenty thousand volts from the first alarm she trips. Not enough to kill your kind, but plenty to leave her unconscious until—”
“Sir, a perimeter alarm’s been triggered just outside the north gate,” a soldier interrupted from the gallery.
He wheeled on the man in a fit of anger. “Interrupt me again, and I’ll disembowel you! People have been jumping the fence all day—contact the guards at the gate and have them check it out.”
“We tried sir. Calls have been placed to the guard desk, the three closest perimeter sweep teams and the north tactical unit—they’re not responding.”
“Who’s not responding, you imbecile!”
“Any of them.”
“It’s too late,” Sienna said, gazing at his panic-stricken face. “She’s here.”
“Clear the courtroom and take the prisoners back into custody!” he commanded.
Before anyone could move, a massive explosion rocked the third-floor balcony, raining debris and body parts down on the crowd below. The auditorium filled with a choking white smoke. The crowd flooded for the exits, which were soon hopelessly jammed. They started to push and trample each other in a desperate attempt to escape.
The lone set of stairs to the balcony was located outside the courtroom, so the soldiers had no choice but to yield the high ground to their unseen enemy. Several of them panicked and fired blindly into the smoke, only adding to the chaos. The commanding officer who’d been talking with the inquisitor raised his rifle—his body no longer under his control—and sent a chest high laser beam though the entire gallery, cutting several of his fellow soldiers in half. The ones who survived were turned to dust by an energy burst that blew out the entire back of the building.
Moments later, a woman dressed in skin-tight black leather swooped down onto the marble floor, drawing two broadswords from the sheaths on her back. Her vengeful glare bore into the inquisitor, who took three running steps and dove for a knockout stick that had come to rest a few feet in front of him. His body was suspended mid leap. The inquisitor glanced down in total disbelief at the marble tile he was now hovering over before being catapulted sideways into the solid steel outer wall of the holding cells.
The vampire advanced but had to break off her attack when a laser tore through the floor inches in front of her black leather boots. In a move too fast to be seen, she coiled and launched herself across the courtroom, landing amongst the small group of soldiers who had fought their way through the crowd. A bright red mist filled the air as she executed her elegant dance of death, moving with the grace and agility of a jungle cat.
By the time she returned to the inquisitor, he’d managed to pull his body up into a sitting position and was taking short, labored breaths. She raised his chin with the tip of her blood-covered blade, wanting him to see who was delivering him to hell.
He let out something between a choking sound and a chuckle, spitting blood from his mouth. “Releasing the locks requires an order from me, and the code can only be entered remotely by central command. They’re all going to burn.”
“Don’t flatter yourself—there’s nothing I need from you.” She fixed her gaze on the restraints binding Sienna to the chair. Within seconds they started to rattle, shaking more and more violently until they broke free and dropped to the floor.
His lower lip trembled in fear. “Wh—what are you?”
“The last thing your wife and three kids are ever going to see.” She flicked her wrist, and his severed head fell into his lap.
Fire was rapidly engulfing the courtroom, and waves of torrid heat washed over her face. She scanned the hall in search of any additional threats. Most of the remaining people had succumbed to the noxious gas that was making her gag. Those who were left were sprawled out on the floor, clinging to the last threads of life. Assured that they weren’t in any imminent danger, she sheathed her weapons and turned toward Sienna. “Hi Mom.”
“I told you not to come.”
She laughed, wiping some of the blood from her face. “You can ground me when we get home. Can you walk?”
Sienna took a tentative step forward before gripping her side and doubling over in pain. “Not far. Your father’s in worse shape, though. Brooke, his heart—”
“I know—I can hear it.” Brooke reached behind her back, pulled a sports bottle out of the top of her pants and tossed it to Sienna. “You’ll need your strength.”
“Thanks.” Using both hands, she reset the bones in her nose, and then popped the top, poured about a quarter of the bottle over her face and chugged down the rest. Within a few seconds the wounds healed over. They both jumped when one of the rafters crashed to the floor behind them. “I think that’s our cue. Let’s get out of here.”
Brooke concentrated on her father’s restraints. As soon as they broke free, his hunched-over body pitched forward into Sienna’s waiting arms, and she eased him onto his back. “Hang in there, David,” she whispered, removing his hood. “We’ll get you to a hospital soon.”
The whirling noise from dozens of approaching helicopters sent them scrambling to free the others. Countless soldiers—an entire brigade at least—charged into the mouth of the blown-out opening just as the last of the restraints fell.
“My God,” Sienna gasped. “There’s too many, sweetheart, even for you.”
“I’m what they want,” Brooke said with a resigned nod. “Take my father and head north. Stick to the rooftops until you get outside the city so you don’t trip any alarms.”
Sienna was appalled. “We’re not leaving you here to die.”
“No fucking way!” Her quirky, endlessly compassionate soul mate grabbed her by the shoulders, glaring at her. “You’re my wife—I’m not going anywhere without you.”
Stepping forward to flank her mate, her goddess of a best friend—still looking runway ready in spite of her ordeal—flashed a warm but determined smile. “Neither am I. Like it or not, we’re in this together.”
Tears pricked the corners of her eyes. Part of her wanted to say yes, to have them all fight together to the end, but she knew how selfish that was. Three vampires with too weak of a trance ability to penetrate the RF jamming would be all but useless against an army this size, and if she fled with them, any chance they had of escaping vanished. She’d resisted the stupid “Queen” title from the moment it’d been forced upon her—the first and only order she’d ever given her family was that they never bow to her—but invoking that authority was the only way she’d get them to leave. Using her telekinetic ability, Brooke pushed them away, knocking her mate to the floor. “As your queen I command it! Move!”
They all shot her stunned looks laced with an edge of betrayal. Without another word, Sienna hoisted David into her arms and disappeared into what remained of the third floor balcony, the other two vampires close behind.
The exchange had cost her precious seconds she could have used to move to a far more defensible position. As it was, she was now surrounded, with the only gap coming from the roaring wall of flames at her back. All of the soldiers had their knockout sticks in hand. Apparently they were intent on taking her alive. Brooke arched her hands out in front of her, and a glimmering light began to radiate between them. Once it had fully materialized, she thrust her arms forward, hurling a ball of plasma into the advancing troops that obliterated the entire first wave. The hundreds behind them closed in, driving her back toward the flames. There was no escape. She defiantly drew her swords before the first blow from a knockout stick sent her tumbling to her knees. The second incapacitated her completely.
When she came to, she was in the cargo hold of a Blackhawk helicopter, and a soldier was fitting a voice restraint collar around her neck. Her boots had been removed, and her wrists and ankles were bound together with the latest alloy composite, stronger than even she could break with sheer force alone.
“Sir? We’ve got her,” the commanding officer called over his satellite phone. He listened for a few moments, and then handed the phone back to his first lieutenant. “Bring me the laser shears.”
“Yes, Colonel.” The first lieutenant relayed the order and soon had them in his hand. “Here you go, sir.”
“Prop her up.”
Two soldiers stepped forward and raised Brooke into a sitting position. The Colonel flipped on the shears, took hold of her chin and shaved off all of her milk-chocolate colored hair.
“This cap is packed with lorazepam,” he said, sliding a black swim cap onto her now bald head. “It’s a potent tranquilizer that’s absorbed through your skin. In a couple minutes you won’t be able to remember your name, let alone trance anyone.”
He started to walk away, and then stopped and turned back toward her. “And this is a gift from me, for killing over three hundred of my men.” The Colonel removed the guard from the shears and stuck the tip of his combat knife into the beam, heating it to a molten red. The other soldiers moved aside as he bent down over her and burned a large V deep into her forehead. Brooke screamed in agony, and five thousand volts fired into her throat. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her jaw fell slack.
As I continued sweeping the crowd, I saw the waitress who had served us drinks earlier handing beers to three guys a few tables down. The guy closest to the waitress was hitting on her, and she was clearly enjoying it. He seemed pretty full of himself, which instantly turned me off. The friend to his right was acting like the typical side kick, laughing at his innuendos with the waitress and slapping hands as they talked about girls walking by. Then I noticed the guy sitting with them. He wasn’t chiming in with any of their crude jokes and looked like he couldn’t wait to get out of here.
What can you tell me about the guy sitting on the end of the table over there? To my horror everyone turned toward him at once, catching the waitress’s attention. She took a seat in macho man’s lap to stake her claim. Real subtle, people. Jesus! You’re killing me here!
After a quick round of muffled giggles Ruby spoke up. “He’s a virgin—as far as I can tell, he’s never had a girlfriend.”
“He’s a junior and lives off campus with his family,” Sandy added. “He’s majoring in chemical engineering. The one flirting with the waitress is his older cousin.”
“And your thoughts were right, sis,” Raven said. “He dreads going out with them. He’s wishing he would’ve taken his younger brother’s offer to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy tonight.”
Do his friends give him as much shit as I think they do about being a virgin and not having a girlfriend?
“Yes,” Sienna replied flatly. “His cousin thinks he’s gay. They only invited him along so they could make fun of him.”
Are you picking up anything I should be worried about?
They all concentrated on him for a couple minutes. Finally Ruby spoke. “Only that he’s really lonely. If you choose him, you should make sure he doesn’t expect a relationship with you.”
I can do that. Do you think he’d sleep with me tonight?
“He’s not thinking about taking anyone home right now,” Raven said. “Once you introduce yourself, we’ll be able to tell.”
What’s his name?
“Daniel. And he actually goes by Daniel, not Dan.”
Good enough for me. If tonight can’t be special for me, it can sure as hell be special for someone. Wish me luck.
Everyone cheered me on as I stood up and walked toward his table. When I got within a few feet, the jackass cousin started staring at my breasts with a disgusting smirk on his face. I turned and walked behind the sidekick, and then leaned in toward Daniel. “You’re Daniel right? I’ve seen you around campus. Would you like to dance?”
Only his friends looked more shocked than he did. I smiled and waited for him to recover.
“What’s your name?” he finally managed.
“Brooke,” I replied, dancing a little in front of him. After an awkward silence, it became apparent that I was going to have to force the issue if I wanted this to go anywhere. I grabbed his hand and pulled him out of his chair. “Let’s go!”
As soon as we started to dance I could tell he’d never done this before in his life. All he did was step from side to side, his arms glued at his waist the entire time. I glared at his friends, who were now bent over the table in laughter, and then slid in behind him and leaned up to his ear. “Do you mind if I show you a few things?”
“Sure,” he mumbled, flinching slightly from the close proximity of my voice.
Man this was going to be hard. I seriously thought about searching for someone who wasn’t such an introvert, but I couldn’t give his friends the satisfaction of seeing him get rejected. Placing my hands on his waist, I cradled my body up against his. “Let yourself feel the rhythm of the music, and then move your hips with it—like this.”
I started to swing my hips to the beat and used my hands to keep him with me, relaxing my grip only after he began to move on his own. His timing was off, since he was waiting for me to move rather than going off the music, but at least he was trying. “Much better. Now, instead of waiting to feel my hips move, listen to the music and see if you can pick up on the rhythm I’m following. Even though this stuff sounds fast, it still follows a regular beat.”
Before the end of the song his entire face lit up with a childlike smile. “I think I got it!”
“Only one way to find out.” Removing my hands from his hips, I backed off a couple of steps and watched—he was right. “Perfect! Now let’s get your arms moving. There are no hard and fast rules for what to do, just keep your arms up and let them bounce with the music. Turn around and watch me for a minute.”
I closed my eyes and let myself fall into the music. Once I was moving to the tempo with my usual ease, I peeked at him. He was trying to mimic my arm movements, and looked kinda awkward, but not embarrassingly dorky like he had before. “Look at you!” I called out with a smile.
Daniel laughed and shook his head. “Like it’s not obvious that I’m copying you.”
“You just need to work on changing it up a bit.” I motioned toward two girls dancing nearby. “Their movements seem random, don’t they? But if you watch long enough, you’ll notice that they’re repeating the same moves over and over again. They’re just disguising it well.”
We continued to dance as we watched. He finally turned back toward me. “The blonde does four different sets of moves and changes the order. The brunette is a lot simpler—she only has seven moves.”
For someone who’d never danced before, I was amazed at how rapidly he caught on. “Damn. You nailed it! Now see if you can pick up what I do.” I settled back into the music and drowned out the fact that he was watching me. About half way through the next song, I heard him speak.
“God, you’re tough. I’ve seen you repeat a couple sets of moves, but I’m seeing new moves all the time. What are you doing?”
“I don’t know ahead of time,” I yelled over the music. “I have a lot of individual moves that I use, but I let them come out in whatever order feels right with the music. The less you think, the better you’ll dance. Just let the beat take over your body. Enough teaching—let’s just have fun!”
I quit watching him and let myself enjoy the feeling that dancing always gave me. A couple of songs had passed before we were close together again. I couldn’t believe he was the same guy. Daniel blended in perfectly with everyone else on the floor and looked like he’d been club dancing for years. When the song ended we made our way over to an empty table.
“I can’t believe how much fun that was!” he shouted.
“I’ve never seen someone pick it up so fast. You’re a natural!”
“Yeah, right—more like you’re a hell of a teacher.”
“Thanks, Daniel.” The affectionate, almost star struck look in his eyes reminded me of what Ruby had said. If I didn’t want to hurt him, I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. But like the true blue coward I was, rather than taking the plunge, I chose to study a particularly interesting piece of lint on the floor.
“I need to ask you something that is going to sound really bizarre.”
“Okay…” Fear of where this might be headed had him gathering his legs underneath him like a coiled up house cat preparing to leap out of danger.
After a long pause I met his gaze. “You can sleep with me tonight if you want to.”
“Jesus, Brooke, we—”
“Please let me finish,” I interrupted. “I’m a virgin, which I can’t exactly fake, so I’ve obviously never done anything like this before. If you say yes, I’ll expect you to make love to me, and all I can offer you is tonight—it’s your choice.”
“Why only tonight?” The disappointment and sadness in his words was palpable.
“I wish I could explain, but I’m afraid it’s extremely complicated. Part of saying yes is agreeing not to ask questions I can’t answer.”
We sat in silence for a few uncomfortable seconds before he reached out and took my hand, gripping it like he could make my question disappear if he only squeezed hard enough. “I’m a virgin too. I get my ass ridden constantly for it but I’m not ashamed—I sure as hell didn’t come here expecting to go home with someone tonight. I get the feeling that you did, and I just happened to be the guy you picked.”
Daniel pressed his forehead against the palm of his free hand and closed his eyes. “Damn it! I really like you, Brooke, but I gotta know why you’re so desperate to lose your virginity tonight, and why you can’t have a relationship with the person you give it to. If you can’t or won’t answer those questions, then I’ll have to say no.”
The stinging pain of rejection filled my chest as I pulled my hand away. How could it hurt this bad to be turned down by someone I just met? Did I really like him that much already? Trying to salvage what little pride I had left, I stood up and turned to leave, tears streaming down my cheeks.
Before I’d even taken a step, Raven sat down next to Daniel and glared at him with an anger I’d never seen in her. “You horse’s ass. My beautiful, innocent, loving sister offers you a chance to share a wonderful moment together, one that you’d remember for the rest of your life, and you say no! You want answers to your fucking questions! Fine! I’m taking her to the Mayo clinic tomorrow to start chemotherapy. The doctors only give her a five percent chance of seeing her nineteenth birthday, and she didn’t want to die a virgin. That’s why it has to be tonight, and why she isn’t looking to get involved with anyone.”
She paused. Her intense, fuming stare made Daniel lean away and glance down at the table. “She teaches you to dance and you make her cry—you worthless piece of shit!”
In one quick motion Raven had her arm around my shoulders and was rushing me off to the bathroom. I almost had to break into a jog to keep up with her.
“You were awesome Raven!” I said once we were safely inside. “You should totally be an actress! You had me believing I had cancer, for God sakes. I think Daniel might have wet himself though…easy on the death stare, sis.”
She acknowledged my compliment with a smile. “Now, when we go back out there, we’ll head to our table, and you’ll look all sad while we console you. Daniel feels terrible. It won’t be long at all before he comes to our table to apologize. He seems like a pretty good guy. I was really impressed that he didn’t jump on your offer, in spite of how badly he wants to sleep with you.”
Seeing my expression, Raven cupped my chin with her hand. “I can tell that you’re into him too. It’s nice that your first time can be with someone you like, but be careful not to get too attached—this really does have to be a one-time thing.”
“I know,” I whispered. “I thought I was going to have to block out memories of sleeping with some disgusting pig tonight. I wasn’t ready for this.”
* * * *
When we got back to our table, everyone sprung to their feet and smothered me in their arms, really laying it on thick. In order to keep from laughing, I thought about how twisted it was that I’d meet such a great guy, tonight of all nights. Someone who might have been the love of my life was being reduced to a one-night stand. I wasn’t that into Greek mythology, but if there was a goddess of love, I must have really pissed her off somehow. My family’s expressions changed from mock sympathy to real concern when they noticed that I was crying.
As Raven predicted, Daniel quickly approached our table. I pulled out a wad of Kleenex and wiped my cheeks, and then turned to face him. Raven and Sienna took my hands in theirs, making it clear that I wasn’t going anywhere—he’d have to speak in front of them.
Daniel bravely put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry that you have cancer, Brooke, and that I forced your sister to tell me. I wanted to know because I really like you, and I wish there could be more to our relationship than just one night. Of course I’m attracted to you. I mean, look at you—you’re like a supermodel. If you can forgive me, I’d be honored to take you home with me tonight.”
“Thanks Daniel… I really like you too.” I wanted to introduce him to everyone, but I wasn’t sure if they’d want him to know their names.
Sienna gave me a subtle nod.
“You’ve met my sister Raven. These are our friends—Sienna, Sandy and Ruby.” They all gave him a warm greeting.
“I’m sorry about before,” Raven said. “I’m pretty protective of my little sister. I hope you can understand.”
“Absolutely,” he assured her. “I have three younger brothers myself. If anyone messed with them, they’d have me to deal with. My family means a lot to me too.”
Daniel paused, blood rushing to his face. “Brooke, this is going to sound really bad, but I rode with my friends, so I don’t have a car to take you in. And um…I live with my family, so I can’t exactly take you to my house. I’d offer to take you to a hotel in a cab, but to be honest, I don’t have that much money on me.”
I could only imagine how hard it must have been for him to admit that in front of everyone. I felt terrible.
Before I could think of what to say Raven stood up and wrapped her arms around him. “Your honesty is admirable. We already have rooms reserved at the Sheraton, and we’ll give you a ride to the hotel, along with money for a cab to take you wherever you’d like to go in the morning. Since you live at home, you may want to ask your friends if they’ll cover for you, then call and let your parents know before it gets too late.”
Daniel seemed taken aback by Raven’s affection and thorough planning. “Um…yeah—good idea.” He flashed me a passionate smile. “Be right back.”
We all burst out laughing when he ignored his jackass cousin’s attempt at a high five. After a brief conversation with them, he stepped away and pulled out his cell phone. My heart began to race. In a few minutes I was going to be having sex for the first time in my life, with a guy I had never even kissed.
“Would you stop already?” Teresa grumbled, glaring at her ever-pacing brother. “No one’s following us. Relax.”
Travis finished scanning Beacon Street and ducked back into the alleyway. “God damn it! Do you ever listen? I told you we had to cool it for a while. What the hell were you thinking?”
“The bitch spilled her drink on me.”
He sighed and tiredly rubbed his eyes. Arguing with her was like trying to reason with a bratty three-year-old grabbing candy in a grocery checkout line. “So we’re homeless because someone accidentally got diet coke on your shirt?”
“Quit being such a queen,” Teresa said with a huff. “You know Stefan thinks of us as his kids, which is totally weird by the way. All he’ll do is make us listen to his rules again. If you wouldn’t have talked me into running, we’d probably be watching TV by now.”
“If Stefan and Alexander just wanted to talk, they would’ve waited until we got back, not raided our feeding room like a two-man S.W.A.T. team. This is serious, Terr. If they find us, they’re going to kill us.”
For the first time in as long as he could remember, his snarky, narcissistic sister looked vulnerable. She crossed her arms to conceal her jittery hands and looked into his eyes. “So what do we do? I’m not living on the street again, or in the skuzzy-ass hotels we used to stay in.”
Travis placed a comforting hand on his baby sister’s shoulder. “Things aren’t like they used to be, sis. Even you have to admit that Stefan taught us a hell of a lot. Once we get out of town, we can trance a bank manager and get all the money we need. I thought we’d head south—you always wanted to see Orlando.”
Acting as if he hadn’t even spoken, Teresa shrugged off his hand and headed further down the dimly lit alley, veering around overflowing dumpsters and piles of loose garbage before slumping back against the brick wall behind her. “And what about the skank who started all this? We just leave her to her fairy-tale life, sipping wine in her mansion? No fucking way.”
Anger coursed through his veins at his sister’s jealousy and unfounded arrogance. “Wake up!” Travis screamed, shaking her shoulders so violently that her teeth rattled. “You think you can take her? You don’t know jack shit. Raven’s been training for almost two hundred years, Einstein. She’d tear your ass apart like a piñata.”
Teresa rolled her eyes and pushed his hands away. “Not Raven, you douche. I’m talking about Emily.”
“Emily? What the hell did she do?”
“If she wouldn’t have wandered up to us like a lost puppy, we would never have fed with Alexander there, and Stefan would still be clueless. The bitch led Raven right to our door.”
“Oh come on. That’s a reach, even for you. Raven lied to her about our scent. You’re really going to blame her for that?”
She shot her brother a disgusted look. “I knew making her strip was a bad idea. All it takes is a flash of boobs and you turn to mush. Are you ever going to grow a pair? You’d still be Keri’s lapdog if it wasn’t for me.”
“Oooh, don’t talk about my precious Keri,” Teresa mocked. “God you’re a pussy. She was never going to turn you, and you know it.”
Travis looked away to conceal the pain on his face. Sometimes he questioned whether there was anything decent left in his sister at all. Every year she became darker and even more detached. “That doesn’t mean I wanted her to die. I loved her. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Love shmove. You wanted to become immortal. I did you a favor when I torched her.”
“A favor? Are you serious? I asked her to marry me that night!” He caught just a hint of a smile on Teresa’s lips and froze. “You knew—that’s why you did it, isn’t it?”
Like a stroke of lightning Travis smashed his fist into the brick wall just to the right of her head, opening up a gaping hole into the vacant building behind her. “Don’t you fucking lie to me! I swear to God I’ll kill you!”
Teresa calmly ducked out from under his arm and dusted the debris off her shirt. “So what if I did know about your pathetic little proposal? Did you forget your promise to our parents, dear brother? Ten years is a long time. Remember the ambulance ride? Mom coughing up blood, and dad, well, dad wasn’t doing much of anything come to think of it. Hard to blame the guy, since he had a piece of metal stuck in his head. You promised them that you’d always look out for me—swore on your life actually. Where did I fit in your little family? You really think Keri would’ve let me keep living with you? She hated me.”
Travis collapsed to the ground and clutched his knees to his chest, tears stinging at his eyes. Hearing his sister’s twisted rationale for taking away the woman who’d turned his life around was unbearable. “How can you say that? She paid for you to go back to school. She even decked out your room with all the shit on your insane ‘must-have’ list. She was going to ask you to be her maid of honor.”
“And when was she going to make me her sister? That’s right. Never. All she had to do was say yes.”
“Yes? Yes to what?” He stared at her in total confusion until it suddenly dawned on him. “Our walk in the park—you followed us.”
“Of course. I’d only been pushing you to ask her for, like, three years.”
“So when she said she’d marry me, but she would never change me—”
“I knew I had to take matters into my own hands,” Teresa finished. “I figured she’d never be more distracted than that night. Boy was I right. She didn’t even wake up until the gas splashed her face. Once I lit the match, all she could do is run around screaming. I’m glad you were at class. It was kinda gross watching her face melt away.”
Memories of that horrible night flooded his mind. The rancid stench of burnt flesh and hair when he walked through the door had made him gag. He’d raced upstairs, terrified that his sister had fallen asleep with her bong and died in the resulting fire, only to find her calmly watching TV with his fiancé’s charred corpse lying at her feet. “You are seriously messed up,” he muttered without meeting her ice cold eyes. “You know that, right?”
Teresa wrapped a strand of her curly blonde hair around her finger. “Whatever. We’re immortal now—that’s all that matters.”
They both slipped back into the shadows when two figures emerged at the end of the alley, continuing on without even a glance in their direction. He found it hard to even look at Teresa now that he understood what had truly happened that night, and how easily he’d been manipulated into playing his part, but in the end it changed nothing. He’d never go back on his vow to their parents. Protecting her was his penance. “It’s too dangerous for us to stay here,” Travis said. “Will you at least come with me to Florida?”
“Once I choke the last breath out of that little whore, you can take me wherever you want.”
Travis slicked back his long, brown hair. “Fine. But if we’re doing this, we do it my way. Agreed?”
She raised her shoulders in an indifferent shrug. “As long as she dies, I’m good with whatever.”
“Their house is only a few miles from here. It’s surrounded by woods, so there are plenty of spots where we’ll be able to hear what’s going on inside without risking being seen. As soon as she’s left alone, you can have your fun, but we’re waiting as long as it takes for that to happen. Even Sandy has had decades of training, and I’m not dying for your stupid vendetta.”
“Hi ho, hi ho, off to kill a bitch we go,” Teresa sang out, dancing down the alley ahead of him like a schoolgirl.