Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Kaitlin’s Tale Sneak Peek

KaitlinsTale_med

Kaitlin’s Tale

Christine Amsden

Chapter 1

To: Cassie.Scot@gmail.com

From: Kaitlin.Meyer12@gmail.com

Re: Jason is Dead

Jason is dead.

Go ahead. Say “I told you so.” You never do, but just this once could you stoop down to the level of us mere mortals long enough to sneer like a ten-year-old? Put a little hip wiggle into it and wrinkle your nose. Roll your eyes at me like I’m the biggest moron on the planet.

After all you did, in fact, tell me so.

And when you’re finished, I need you to do me the biggest favor I’ve ever asked in my life. In all likelihood, the last favor I’ll ever ask. I need you to take Jay. I need you to keep him safe, because you and Evan are probably the only two people who can. I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to love him like you love your own daughter.

Your Friend,

Kaitlin

Kaitlin closed her eyes as she hit send, praying that Cassie still was her friend. Praying that nothing went wrong over the next two days. And just… praying.

* * *

“It’s time, Kaitlin.”

Kaitlin rocked her one-year-old son back and forth, trying to convince him to go down for a nap, but Jay wasn’t having it. He was teething, and it seemed to hurt him worse when he lay in a horizontal position. He was so tired that Kaitlin swore she’d hold him upright for eight hours if he’d just fall asleep, but he seemed, paradoxically, too tired to sleep.

Jason’s intrusion wasn’t helping. Jay turned his head and reached his arms out for his father – or the vampire who had once been his father – instinctively begging for the love that should have been his by right. But Jason had never taken an interest in his son; he could barely stand to look at him. In fact, if anything had finally convinced Kaitlin that Jason was dead, it was the fact that the real Jason had died for his son. This thing now inhabiting his body didn’t even seem to care.

“Did you hear me?” Jason asked, his voice unusually sharp.

Jay cried harder. Kaitlin shushed him and rocked more furiously, pretending she hadn’t heard. Pretending she could delay the inevitable a few more days. But she’d known this day was coming for a while now. Had sensed it would be soon. It was why she had e-mailed her best friend in the world two days ago, begging for help, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of her son. But Cassie had not responded, and Sara, the nanny who had agreed to transport Jay, had disappeared.

“Answer me, Kaitlin,” Jason said in a voice that at one time would have compelled obedience. It no longer did, even though Jason continued to feed from her daily, simultaneously injecting her body with a venom that should have kept her in thrall. She wasn’t sure why the thrall had gradually dissipated over the past few months, but her new clarity of mind had bigger problems to work out – like the fact that Jason wanted to make her just like him.

Jason took another step into the nursery, his form now illuminated by the soft glow of the night light. He looked the same as he had in life – tall, broad, muscular and very, very large. He rarely ventured inside these hallowed walls, but Kaitlin had spent more and more time there of late, requiring him to come inside if he wanted her.

“Can’t you make him shut up?” Jason asked.

“I’m trying! Can’t we talk about this later?”

“Can we? You never leave this room.”

And he never came in. Would Kaitlin come in after she turned? Or would she forget Jay’s existence, the way Jason had? Her nightmare was that of Jay screaming for his mother, but she never came. Eventually, he would stop crying. Then after a few days, when no one came to feed him, he would stop doing everything else.

“Please, just let me get Jay down for his nap. Then we can talk.”

“There’s no need to wait.” Another man came to stand just inside the doorway, a man who made Kaitlin’s blood turn to ice whenever she saw him. Xavier looked so deceptively ordinary; it was part of his power. Brown hair, brown eyes, medium build, medium height… But she had seen him rip the throat out of men and face an entire heptade of vampire hunters without breaking a sweat.

He wasn’t superhuman,; he was inhuman. She couldn’t fathom his purpose, but she suspected his goal was to create an entire new race of vampires under his control. At least, that’s what she assumed happened to the dozens of people who came into their lives for varying lengths of time, most of them nearly catatonic from the vampire’s thrall. She was not permitted to speak to them, and when they left, she never saw them again.

Xavier was over two hundred years old, but he didn’t look at Kaitlin as though she were a child. He looked at her as though she were food. Kaitlin had long sensed that he was no longer human, that he was somehow alien. She had sensed it in him before the thrall had worn off, though she hadn’t cared. The realization had taken much longer with Jason. Perhaps that sense of other increased over time.

Even Jay could sense the evil in Xavier. The boy started bucking and twisting, his tiny face turning red. He might have had his supernatural strength bound so he didn’t accidentally hurt someone, but even without it he was a marvel of physical strength. He had crawled at about two weeks old. Now, at a year old, he could run like a ten-year-old. According to stories Jason’s mom had told her, Jason had grown up the same way. Jason the vampire never talked about his childhood.

“Please, leave us alone!” Kaitlin cried, trying with all her might to cling to the wriggling child.

“Sara can take him,” Xavier said.

He stepped to the side and Kaitlin’s heart leaped. Oh thank God! Not that she wanted to give up her son. It was the hardest thing she would ever do in her life, but she had gone over it and over it in her mind. She had no choice. Jason would not take no for an answer any longer. He would turn her into a vampire tonight and when he did, Jay would need protection. Even from her.

The thirty-something woman who had helped Kaitlin with Jay over the past year strode into the room as if she hadn’t just disappeared without a word for two days. Kaitlin didn’t need a nanny; as she’d told both Jason and Xavier a hundred times, she could handle Jay on her own. But Sara had provided some companionship and comfort to her, especially in the months since the thrall had worn off. Sara always had a friendly smile on her face, was infinitely patient with Jay (something Kaitlin definitely wasn’t), and despite their age difference, they had a lot in common. They read the same books, liked the same movies, and both feared the men who haunted this house alongside them.

Kaitlin smiled at Sara despite the churning of butterflies in her stomach. Sara knew what to do. She’d pretend to take Jay for a quick drive to the store, but she wouldn’t stop for diapers. She’d keep going, leaving their two-story house in Virginia and not stopping until she reached Eagle Rock, Missouri.

“Let me try getting him to sleep,” Sara said, striding over.

“It’s no good,” Kaitlin said. “Maybe you could take him for a drive.”

When Sara reached the rocking chair, Kaitlin kissed Jay on the head, surreptitiously saying good-bye. Then she handed Jay to the nanny.

The baby cried harder still, his wails threatening to shake the house down. What was the matter with him? Jay was often quiet for Sara when he refused to settle for Kaitlin.

That’s when Kaitlin recalled the coldness of the woman’s arms as she’d passed Jay into them. The pallor of her skin. The slight yellow tinge to her eyes.

“No!” Kaitlin screamed, trying to get Jay back.

Jason got between the two women, using his superior strength to stop Kaitlin from moving at all. He had her arms pinned to her sides and then, inexorably, he pushed her out the door.

“I’m sorry,” Sara said, her voice flat, maybe even lifeless.

“No!” Kaitlin tried to dig her heels into the thick blue carpeting, knowing it was useless. Knowing Jason and Xavier had the strength to make her do anything. Knowing she was as dead as Jason. Knowing, but not yet accepting. “No! Not now! It can’t happen now!”
Jason picked her up easily with one arm and clamped his other hand over her mouth. She fought. She kicked and strained with all her might, but to an outside observer she probably looked as docile as a kitten.

Xavier followed in their wake as Jason made his way down the elegant, hardwood stairs to the sparsely furnished living room. Xavier was rich. Filthy rich after centuries of whatever he did. But he kept few creature comforts. When it came to houses he preferred quantity to quality – he had safe houses all over the world. In the past year, Kaitlin had lived in four of them.

Jason set Kaitlin down on the beige couch then sat beside her, pinning her there with his size and weight. She had already stopped struggling, however; it did her no good. She would have to think of something else, but what? She had been prepared to die to get her son to safety, but now it seemed that she was the only one who could save him.

With that thought steeling her resolve, Kaitlin calmed down. She might be the biggest moron on the planet for agreeing to run away with a vampire in the first place, but she was smart enough to know that if she had any hope of getting out of this, it was through words and cunning. She had no physical strength to pit against a vampire, one of the strongest creatures on the planet. Also, one of the fastest.

Jason placed a heavy hand on her pajama-clad thigh, squeezing slightly through the silky material. Kaitlin felt nothing but cold dead fingers, but she pushed away her revulsion the way she’d been pushing it away for the past few months. Closing her eyes, she melted against him, emitting a soft sigh of surrender.

“There, that’s better,” Jason said as he continued running his cold hand up and down her thigh. “Xavier, I don’t think you need to be here for this.”

“You’ve never watched anyone turn,” Xavier said smoothly. “And you’ve always been a bit of an idiot where that girl was concerned.”

Jason growled and Kaitlin tensed once again, not sure which of the two vampires she feared more.

“She’s mine.” Jason tightened the possessive hand squeezing her thigh; she struggled to keep from crying out in pain. “That’s what we agreed before you ever turned me.”

“She doesn’t want to turn and she’s immune to thrall.”

Immune? Did he know why? She dared to look at him; Xavier smiled, fangs bared, eyes yellow with bloodlust. He had looked at her just that way so many times she had lost count, but still she shivered.

“I can handle her,” Jason said. “But not with you here. She doesn’t trust you.”

“Have it your way.” Xavier supplied a mock bow to Jason, shot Kaitlin another malicious look, then backed out of the living room by way of the kitchen. Since vampires didn’t eat food, she was sure he meant to go through it to the garage and indeed, a few seconds later, she heard the garage door open.

“Sorry about him,” Jason said. “Now where were we?”

Kaitlin drew in a deep, shaky breath and forced herself to relax as he moved his hand away from her thigh, running it up her hips, around her waist, and then with an almighty tug, he pulled her forward so she sat atop his lap.

“We can’t do this now,” Kaitlin said, keeping her voice gentle and sweet. “I’m weak. You forgot to give me that blood replenishment potion yesterday.”

“I didn’t forget,” Jason said. “It’s time, Kaitlin. Time for you to join me for real, the way you promised you would when you left Eagle Rock last year.”

“I will. Of course I will! But you know how important it was for me to nurse Jay. I want only the best for our son, like you do.” She held her breath, wondering if the lie would continue to hold one last time. She hadn’t actually nursed Jay in at least six months. Apparently, exsanguination wasn’t good for a woman’s milk supply, even with regular blood replenishment potions.

Jason frowned, but she forced herself to remain outwardly calm. He might not have seen through the lie; he often got that look on his face when they discussed the baby. If he’d paid any attention to Jay at all he would have noticed the feeding change months ago.

“How stupid do I look?” Jason asked, finally. Then he shook his head. “Why don’t you want to turn?”

“Don’t be silly.” Kaitlin ran a finger across his smooth, pale jaw, remembering how it had sported a five o’clock shadow the first time she’d seen him. The first time they’d made love. The night they’d unintentionally made Jay – not that she’d change that part now. Only what came later. “Of course I want to live forever. You know me. I live for ‘happily ever after.'”

“I had to drag you down the stairs,” Jason said. “You’ve been distant since the thrall wore off. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Kaitlin’s mind raced. What were the right words? What would put off the inevitable? She had no idea, so she ended up blurting, “Why did the thrall wear off?”

“Something Xavier did,” Jason said dismissively. “He says it will make you a stronger vampire.”

Will it make me stronger now, when I really need it? Kaitlin wondered, but did not ask.

“Now answer my question” Jason continued. “Why don’t you want to turn? You weren’t in thrall when you first ran away with me.”

“I’m nervous. Weren’t you nervous before you turned? Xavier said it took months to convince you.”

“I was a hunter, brought up within my order to believe vampires are soulless monsters.”

Are you? Kaitlin wanted to ask. Even now, she wasn’t sure “soulless” was the right word. Something lurked behind Jason’s eyes – and even Xavier’s. She just wasn’t sure it was anything she wanted to be a part of.

“Well, I may know better,” Kaitlin began, “but I’m still not sure… I mean…” She cast about wildly for an idea. Something to delay the inevitable. Anything. And finally, she settled on the truth. Or part of it. “You’ve changed. I don’t pretend to understand how. I didn’t know you well before I ran off with you; we only had the one night together. Mostly, I knew you from stories your cousin Cassie told.”

“You know me now,” Jason said, sliding a finger down her slender throat. “You’ve known me for a year. Haven’t I treated you well?”

“Of course you have,” Kaitlin said. “You know I love you.” She leaned forward, letting the top of her button-down silk shirt part slightly, though Jason didn’t seem as taken with cleavage as normal men. His favorite parts of her were the throat, wrists, and inner thighs.

“I haven’t cheated on you,” Jason said. “I haven’t hit you. I haven’t even asked you to get a job. I take care of you.”

“And Jay?” Kaitlin asked, because what he said was sort of true. It wasn’t a high standard, but she’d chosen some real losers in her time who had done all those things – cheated on her, hit her, and sponged off her hard work.

Perhaps if she’d known Jason better in life she could be more certain now that he wasn’t the same man. After all, aside from the bloodsucking thing there wasn’t anything she could specifically put her finger on that was any different from regular imperfect mortals. Some men ignored their children. Some men were up at all hours of the night and slept all day. Some men only seemed to notice her when they needed something from her – blood or sex, it was all the same.

But it all came down to the one thing she knew for sure about Jason: He had loved his son. He had cared so much that he had died to protect the baby from his own father, who had planned to body-hop into Jason, then again into Jay when he was old enough. Jason even turned into a vampire – a being he’d been trained to hate – so he would still be able to guard his son in death. And maybe the vampire Jason would protect Jay if ever put to the test, but Kaitlin wasn’t sure how he would even know the baby was in danger.

The vampire almost didn’t seem wholly connected to this world. He didn’t see it the same way humans saw it. There was something alien in his eyes and cold in his touch – and it wasn’t just the fact that no blood ran through his veins. Maybe the vampire hunters had it wrong, maybe he wasn’t entirely evil (though she wouldn’t say the same about Xavier), but she didn’t trust the vampire sitting beneath her. He wanted to seduce her into turning for reasons she could not possibly fathom, like trying to understand the will of God.

“Who will take care of Jay after I turn?” Kaitlin asked.

“You will.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Sara will. Or we’ll hire someone else. What does it matter?”

Indeed. “Just give me a few days. I told you I need to wean the baby. I can do it quickly. We’ll drop one feeding per day so that will be…” Kaitlin tried to think. How many times per day did a one-year-old nurse? Well, she’d go with the number of bottles she gave him a day and figure it was close enough. Jason wouldn’t know the difference. “… four days.”

Jason snorted. “And in four days you’re going to want to turn?” He gave her a piercing look, and she suddenly knew – just knew – that he didn’t believe her. “I want you to want this, Kaitlin. Xavier says it goes better when they want it.”

“I do want it. Of course I want it.” She placed soft kisses on his cheeks, his forehead, his ear. He lifted his face to give her better access, making her think she had convinced him. Lulling him into a false sense of security.

“Liar!” He shoved her off his lap, not onto the couch, but onto the ground. Kaitlin, not expecting the movement, fell heavily to the hardwood floor and yelped when her bottom connected with the unyielding surface.

“Jason?”

He stood, towering over her, and she scooted backwards on hands and knees, getting tangled in her long blonde hair.

“Xavier intercepted that e-mail you sent to Cassie the other day,” Jason said, stalking her as she scuttled across the floor.

“What?” Oh no. But that did explain Sara. And why Cassie hadn’t replied.

“You were going to give away the baby.”

“Why not?” Kaitlin asked. “You don’t want him! You said it didn’t matter who raised him.”

“This host wants him, and so do I.”

Kaitlin’s eyes widened. This was the first time Jason had ever let slip a hint that he was not the same person he had been before he’d turned.

“You can’t run from this fate,” Jason said.

Kaitlin’s scrambling hands had found the edge of the stone fireplace and she stopped, able to move no further. Jason knelt to loom over her, cupping her face in his hands. From anyone else, it might have been a caress.

“Cassie and Evan can’t protect you or the boy, you know,” Jason said. “Evan’s strong, but he’s never been much use against a vampire. I should know. I saved his life once.”

“You did? Or your host?”

Jason scowled. “There’s no place you can run. No one to protect you. Give up. Give in. Come gracefully.”

He still wanted her to agree to this, Kaitlin realized. He still wanted her willing cooperation. She had no idea why, but she’d take any opening she could get. “Three days. Give me three days.”

“We have your blood,” Jason said.

“So?”

“Didn’t you learn anything about magic from Cassie? I haven’t just eaten from you. I have your blood, and I’m a sorcerer as well as a vampire. I can use it to find you anywhere on this planet, so unless you can get to Mars, you can’t hide from me.”

“Oh.” Kaitlin was shaking now. She wished she’d thought to start a fire in the fireplace behind her, though she doubted the warmth would have penetrated.

“Tomorrow night,” Jason said. “That’s as much time as I’ll give you to prepare.”

A reprieve. She had no idea how, but she had a reprieve. Twenty-four hours wasn’t much, but it was more than she’d had a few minutes ago.

“Tell me you understand,” Jason said. “Tell me you’ll come to me tomorrow. Tell me like you mean it.”

“I understand,” Kaitlin said.

And then she wound her arms around Jason, kissing him for all she was worth. She explored his mouth with teeth and tongue, tracing the outline of his fangs. He bit her lip, stinging her for a moment before the pain-numbing property of the vampire venom set in. After a minute, he drew his head back, traced the column of her neck with his index finger, and sank his teeth in with such force that for a moment she thought he’d snapped her neck.

“Oh!” she cried, trying to make it sound like a moan. It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t feel as good as it once had, especially now that she worried Jason wasn’t planning to wait another night after all. What if he took every last drop? What if he drained her dry? He had never pulled from her so hard or drunk so long.

“Jason!” Kaitlin finally cried. “Please. You said tomorrow.”

He pulled back, fangs and lips stained red with her blood. The venom coagulated the wound so she wouldn’t bleed out, but she felt so lightheaded she wondered if she’d lost too much blood anyway.

Jason ran his thumb across his lips. “Yes, tomorrow night.”

“Blood replenishment potion?”

“No.” Jason rose to his feet, taking several deliberate steps away from her. “I don’t think I want you strong enough to escape.”

“You said there was no escape.”

Jason didn’t answer, he just turned and walked away, leaving Kaitlin on the floor, her head spinning, her breath coming in shallow gasps, her pulse weak and thready. But she wasn’t dead yet, and as long as she wasn’t dead, there remained hope.

Chapter 2

New York City was the loudest place Matthew Blair had ever visited. He didn’t care for cities. They were too crowded. Closed in. Oppressive. But since his telepathic range was only twenty feet or so, he rarely had trouble navigating even sprawling metropolises. He would catch snippets of thought as he passed a person on the street, or from the car in the next lane. It was constant and kept him from finding real peace, but it had never been quite like this.

Matthew had spent his entire life in the Midwest. Actually, he had grown up in a small town, which suited him perfectly, but even when he’d visited Midwestern cities, they just didn’t movelike New York. There were people everywhere. Pedestrians crowded the streets like swarms of insects, barging into intersections en masse with no fear that the cars might hit them. It almost seemed as if the drivers were warier of the pedestrians than of the other cars.

In New York, twenty feet felt like twenty yards. It was like attending a party, but one without a convenient restroom he could slip into for a few minutes (as he had done during countless political functions). He could slip inside a store, but they were hardly free of the endless buzzing of mental impressions. They came at him like snippets of partially overheard conversations, making little sense on their own, particularly if he couldn’t attach thought to face.

Hurry…

My feet! Never should have bought…

Damn Frank…

Get the money for…

Two more streets…

Dance…

Too much…

That last thought had been his own, Matthew realized. But it still didn’t stop. If only telepathy worked the way he often saw it portrayed in science fiction movies. Picture a wall, he often heard people say in movies. Build it in your mind, brick by brick. He could do that. He could think about a wall. He’d still hear everyone shouting their private thoughts at him. Or worse, glean an echo of their perceptions, such as sights, sounds, or tastes. There were too many hot dog vendors in New York, and he hated mustard, even as a ghostly impression.

“Are you okay?” asked Evan Blackwood, his ally on this mission. “Maybe we should get another cab.”

They had taken a cab part of the way, but traffic had been so bad they realized they could walk faster. No wonder so many people walked these streets! But the cab ride hadn’t been much better. The driver’s mind had been filled with dark, suicidal thoughts, and far from wanting to help the man (as he usually did when confronted with suicidal thought patterns), Matthew found himself thinking maybe the man should end it. If the cab driver didn’t kill himself, Matthew feared, he might kill someone else instead. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, every few feet a new car and a new set of thoughts pulled up alongside them.

“We’re almost there,” Matthew said. “I’m fine.”

“If you say so.” Evan’s mind was a mystery to Matthew, since the powerful sorcerer knew how to block him. At the moment he found it helpful that at least one mind in his near vicinity was not shouting at him, although he would love to know Evan’s thoughts.

They weren’t friends. They could probably never trust one another enough to be friends, but they were allied against Alexander DuPris, self-appointed leader of the magical world.

Stain on my…

Forgot to…

Stink…

That last thought didn’t come to him so much in words as in sensation, and with a slight wrinkling of his nose Matthew realized that he agreed with the assessment. All of New York stank to him, largely of car exhaust, but in some areas of the city it smelled more or less like a sewer. In this part of the city, it was a bit more. And they were nearly to their destination. At the next corner they hung a right and found themselves on a more residential street, which wasn’t much less crowded than the street they had just left.

“Why would any self-respecting sorcerer want to live here?” Evan asked. “There’s no node for miles, and nothing natural for that matter. It’s nothing but concrete and steel.”

“You’re a naturalist,” Matthew said. So was he, but he didn’t mention that part. Not everyone was. “New York is the heart of commerce in this country; sorcerers looking to use their gifts to get rich might think this is a good place.”

“Okay, but then why does Devon live in this neighborhood?”

Evan had a point. Matthew stared up at the towering apartment buildings lining either side of the street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but it felt like evening for all the sun that penetrated to street level. This wasn’t a nice neighborhood. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood either, from what he’d been told, but looking around now he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what a truly bad neighborhood looked like.

Matthew was also starting to detect a new tone to the thoughts of those he passed. It took him a minute to realize what it was, but then it struck him that he and Evan were just about the only two white men on this street – certainly the only two wearing designer clothes – and the people passing them had noticed. Matthew glanced down at his own clothing of choice – slacks, a polo shirt, and loafers. They were what he wore when he didn’t wear a suit; he liked the comfort of slacks and had always found that jeans chafed him. Maybe he should have dug out a pair for this trip, although Evan was getting plenty of dirty thoughts for his designer-label jeans.

The trick to a situation like this, Matthew had learned from long practice, was to hold his head high and look as if he belonged. He didn’t smile or make eye contact – no one in New York would think he belonged were he to do that – he just put one foot in front of the other and exuded a sense of purpose.

It didn’t work. They continued to stare at him and, most especially, at Evan. It suddenly struck Matthew how strange it was that a man who could exude such an aura of danger in their hometown – who was, in fact, a very dangerous man – could look so much like a gawking tourist in a big city. Evan’s eyes darted this way and that, never making eye contact – he rarely did that in Eagle Rock – but taking in the buildings, the people, the sky, the street, the cars, and the sidewalk as if trying to keep an eye on all of it at once. His posture and body language drew attention, and undermined Matthew’s efforts at looking as though they belonged.

Sighing, Matthew worked a simple magical compulsion around the pair of them. He was a minimalist when it came to mind magic, always feeling that the less he did, the less likely anyone would be to notice what was happening. People who did not realize they were being manipulated were not likely to fight against the manipulation. That was how one laid the foundation for the most powerful mental whammies. Sometimes he avoided the use of magic entirely; psychological tricks could work wonders, particularly coupled with his gift of telepathy.

Tricks and telepathy were just not going to work today. So he focused his will on a simple imperative: There is nothing of interest here. With more force, this spell was his version of an invisibility charm, but he didn’t need to go that far. He didn’t care if they saw him; he just didn’t want them to pay attention. And, after a few seconds, they stopped looking. They stopped seeing. Their thoughts reverted to their own troubles and he once again found himself immersed in the constant babble of the thoughts of passersby.

“We’re here,” Evan said, stopping before a building indistinguishable from its neighbors. If Evan had noticed the undercurrent going on around him, he didn’t shown it. He didn’t even pause as he walked up a flight of concrete steps to a front door that stood slightly ajar. A row of buzzers would ring the various apartments, but Evan didn’t bother with them, he simply pushed his way into the building and walked swiftly up two flights of stairs, emerging into a short, dingy hallway lined by doors with peeling green paint. They strode to the last of four doors on the right, paused for a heartbeat, then Evan knocked.

Matthew let Evan take the lead. His head was only starting to clear now that there was more space between himself and the nearest human being. Line of sight did not impact his gift, only distance, so he could hear the thoughts of the people inside their apartments to the left, right, up, and down. But by the time they got to Devon’s door he could only “hear” four minds, one of them Devon’s.

Devon’s mind was racing. He kept thinking about making a run for it, going to hide in the woods or something, but he had never lived outside the city. Some of the images going through his mind were confusing – a beautiful mocha-skinned young woman who looked to be in agony, an old white man hurting her, a flash of something and then she was gone, the room she had occupied now empty.

Evan knocked heavily on the door. Devon’s thoughts jumped, for lack of a better word. He saw the old white man outside the door. Seemed to expect him there. Then he remembered a phone call. Matthew’s voice.

Waste of time…

Devon opened the door. He was a thirty-something black man with closely-shaved hair and a thin mustache. He looked between the two of them nervously, then glanced over their shoulders, leaning out of the door to peer both ways down the hall.

“Were you followed?” Devon asked.

“No,” Evan said.

Matthew did not reply. He couldn’t be nearly so sure. He had been too preoccupied by the minds of the city to have paid attention, and now he could almost feel Devon’s fear. He didn’t feel others’ emotions the way a true empath like his mom or brother did (a fact for which he was grateful), but emotions constituted a basic undercurrent to the thoughts he sensed.

“Get in,” Devon said, reaching out as if to grab and pull Evan inside. But the instant his hand approached Evan’s arm, Devon flew backwards, landing hard on the threadbare carpet in his sparsely furnished living room. “Hey!”

“Never touch me,” Evan said.

“No kidding! You Matthew?” Devon asked.

“I’m Matthew Blair.” Matthew stepped inside the apartment, past Evan, who stood slightly aside to allow him to enter first. It wasn’t that Evan was anyone’s flunky, but Evan wasn’t a strong leader. He preferred to go his own way, using power as a shield around himself and his loved ones. Matthew, on the other hand, wanted to rule. To control. He asserted that control now by making it clear who was in charge.

“Yeah, you sound like the guy on the phone,” Devon said as he picked himself up off the floor, wincing.

“You told me you know something about Alexander DuPris that we would find useful.” Matthew focused and fine-tuned his gift of telepathy now. At times he wished he could turn it off, such as while walking down the street, but now it gave him power. He scarcely noticed the three other minds babbling in the background – two now, actually. He concentrated only on Devon, on what the man’s thoughts would tell him that words would not.

“I want something from you first.” Again Devon thought of the mocha-skinned woman and thought, Where is she? “A promise.”

Matthew thought he knew what the man wanted, but he asked anyway. He did not like too many people to know about his gift. “What promise?”

“Find my daughter for me.” He saw the mocha-skinned woman again, but in a different light. She looked younger now. She was a child. He was remembering her as a baby, and a little girl. Then his mind flashed to the old white man. “They drained her magic and sold her – I have no idea where.”

“Who did?” Matthew asked. “Alexander’s men?” Strangely enough, though Matthew wouldn’t put much past his nemesis, he would be surprised to find out Alexander had stooped to this level of hypocrisy. Alexander was outspoken against magic theft and slavery.

“No,” Devon said. Again he thought of the old white man, a slaver. She’d made a bad decision, she’d disobeyed her father, gotten involved with the wrong crowd. But she hadn’t deserved what happened to her. “Look, they’re coming for me. To arrest me.”

“For what?” Matthew was still trying to make sense of the jumble of thoughts inside Devon’s mind, but he lacked the proper context. There were the images, the fear, the concern, but no story to piece it all together.

“For stealing her magic and selling her,” Devon said.

“You sold your own daughter?” Evan asked, tensing.

“No! It’s a frame.” Devon paced back and forth across the worn hardwood floor. Matthew saw the image of the old white man hovering over the young woman – Janelle – again. Then flickering images of Devon looking for someone who knew someone who could help him. Finally, he stumbled upon the Magical Underground in New York City.

“They sent me to a sort of compound in Pennsylvania for help getting her back,” Devon said. Matthew could clearly see the lush green Pennsylvania countryside and the white-walled interior of a windowless underground structure. “They said sure. Were very friendly. Said they’d do it if I’d help their cause. I say sure, anything for her, even if I’d have to leave my job. I like my job, I like teaching. The kids, they respond to me, part of the magic I suppose. Always have. Except my own daughter, of course, cuz she’s resistant to mind magic. Not as resistant as I am, but she’s never had trouble throwing me off.”

Matthew showed no outward sign of alarm at that revelation, but inwardly he knew he would have to be more careful than usual around this man. There would be no going back and modifying memories if what the man claimed was true – and Devon, at least, felt certain of it.

“They say an influential talent like mine – that’s what they called it – would be useful to them. So they ‘inducted’ me, which meant I had to learn a few things, swear some kind of oath they claimed was unbreakable, but I don’t think it was on account of mind magic doesn’t work well on me, and then they strapped me down to take my blood.”

“What?” Matthew and Evan said at the exact same time.

“Yeah, exactly. I didn’t go quiet, but they overpowered me. Told me it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t remember a thing.” And he hadn’t, at least for a day or so. His resistance was strong, though, and a few things hadn’t added up. He’d felt the hole in his memory almost immediately, at which point it had been a matter of time before he’d figured out what was missing.

“It took me a few hours,” was all Devon said, “but I remembered.”

Wow. Matthew hadn’t suspected anything like this. Why would Alexander take blood from this man? Devon didn’t seem to know. The man didn’t even know all the things that blood could be used for. He mostly feared some kind of voodoo magic, thaumaturgy, and that could happen. But it was only the tip of the iceberg. Blood could be used to find a person anywhere, and to control him so completely that few could resist. The fact that Devon could resist even blood-laced mind magic said a lot about him.

“Yeah, I remembered. I left and went back home but I had to run for it. I’m hiding out with one of my students here. Then some friends of mine told me maybe you could help.”

“We’ll get you safely out of the city,” Evan promised. “We can hide you.”

But Matthew didn’t say anything. He detected something akin to resignation in Devon. He had accepted his fate; he wasn’t here to bargain for his own life, only for his daughter’s. Yet Devon’s information was useless without Devon himself.

No… Matthew finally understood some of the rapidly flickering images in Devon’s head. Devon was a wanted man now. Alexander had convinced everyone that he had stolen his own daughter’s magic and sold her. No one would believe Devon now.

Matthew closed his eyes and tried to focus on his own thoughts. He wanted to help Devon, and not just because he could use the man. There was a good reason he had chosen to leave the world of mundane politics in order to challenge Alexander DuPris in the arena of magical politics: Alexander had done much worse than take a man’s blood. Rumors linked him to murders, torture, and brainwashing, among other things.

Matthew himself had first run into Alexander’s evil doings when the man had come to Eagle Rock, Missouri to push his brand of politics on the locals. Around the same time a group of ordinary citizens had been stirred into a frenzy of witch hunting, ultimately killing one woman and attempting to kill others. Matthew and his family had always managed to have a calming effect on the locals, but they had been blocked by a powerful force – Alexander. Again, Matthew had no proof, but he knew it. He was absolutely certain.

“I won’t leave you to Alexander,” Matthew said. “We’ll take you with us.”

It won’t work, Devon thought. Alexander’s men had him convinced they could find him anywhere. And if they had his blood, Matthew realized, they could. They could be here any minute. Devon started thinking of all the places he had been in the past two days. Of running from one place to the next, never stopping for long. I’ve stopped here too long, he thought. But I had to do it for Janelle.

“Let’s go,” Matthew said.

But it was too late. The door slammed open so hard it cracked against the living room wall and bounced off, reverberating angrily. Two men entered wearing NYPD uniforms, guns drawn.

“Damn,” said the younger uniform, a light-skinned black man barely out of school. “He ain’t alone.”

They’d come for the sonofabitch who’d sold his own daughter. Which made them Alexander’s security, not NYPD.

Drop your weapons. Matthew sent the mental command, along with a surge of magic, at the two men, but the move backfired. One of them, apparently resistant to mind magic, tightened his finger around the trigger.

“Shooter!” Matthew called to Evan.

At that point, everything happened at once. Evan flung up an arm. Several gunshots rang out. The two men flew backwards into the hallway, crashing through the wall on the opposite side.

Who’s been hit? Matthew looked from Devon, wondering the same thing, to Evan, who held the two pistols. They seemed okay. The wall – less so. A scream from downstairs told him the shots had been noticed; he’d usually stay behind to erase memories, but today he’d have to leave them to draw their own conclusions.

“Let’s go!” Matthew called.

Evan grabbed Devon’s arm and together they passed the prone police officers, ran down the stairs, and the three of them lost themselves in the crowded New York City streets.

“They’ll find me anywhere,” Devon said. “You might be strong, but they’re stronger. They’ll find me anywhere.”

“Hotel first,” Matthew said to Evan, ignoring Devon completely. “We need to try to block their scrying spells before we travel. Then we’ll head for the airport.” Matthew’s own private plane awaited them, fully fueled and ready to go when they were. He had always loved flying, but now he appreciated its practical uses as well.

Matthew said nothing else as they navigated the city streets back along Central Park, up through Times Square, and down a few more blocks to their hotel. The men with him kept scanning the streets, looking for trouble, but Matthew just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other in an attempt to avoid a splitting headache.

As soon as they reached the hotel room, Evan made space for casting a spell. New York City hotels weren’t exactly big, and to make enough space, Evan used telekinesis to push both double beds against the wall on their sides. They wobbled for a moment after Evan let go, but he muttered something under his breath that made them stay put. Then he got out his satchel and started drawing a casting circle.

“What’s he doing?” Devon whispered to Matthew. “Is that a casting circle? I never used one before.”

Matthew had learned a lot about different approaches to magic over the past year-and-a-half, so he wasn’t surprised by Devon’s ignorance of the casting circle. Urban magic users, in particular, were more likely to focus their magic through a totem than through a circle. But now wasn’t the time to exchange magical recipes.

“Do you have everything you need?” Matthew asked Evan.

“I made sure my supplies were well-stocked before I came,” Evan replied. “I just need-” But he stopped talking abruptly, and his face went blank.

“Evan?” Matthew asked. “Evan, are you okay?”

“Oh no,” Devon said, backing up several paces. “Oh no! They’ve found me.”

Devon’s thoughts were racing again, tumbling over themselves in a mad circular dash. And before Matthew could stop him, Devon had sped from the room, leaving Matthew torn between going after him and staying to find out what was wrong with his ally.

He hesitated only a moment before sinking down in front of Evan. The man might never be his friend, but Matthew needed him more than he needed Devon, and he had never seen anything affect Evan like this. The man was a fortress.

“Evan?” Matthew ran his hand up and down in front of Evan’s face. Nothing. He tapped him on the shoulder, bracing himself to be thrown violently away. Again, nothing.

Matthew stood and crossed to the hotel room door. He looked down the hallway, but Devon had already gone. Maybe Matthew should try to head him off at the lobby. Or maybe… Matthew went back to the window, which overlooked the street two floors below. He saw a police car parked in front, its lights flashing, though it emitted no sounds. It being there didn’t feel right; indeed, the next moment, Matthew saw Devon being pushed into the backseat by the same two men who had attacked them at the apartment.

Matthew spared one last look at Evan before racing for the stairs, but by the time he reached the lobby it was too late. The car had pulled away, leaving him with nothing but the hollow feeling of regret. Could he have done something else?

There was something he could do, he realized. He could find Janelle. He would find her. But first…

Matthew returned to his rented room. Evan was blinking rapidly, staring around in confusion.

“What happened?” Evan asked.

“You blanked,” Matthew said. “You were going to cast the spell on Devon, but you blanked.”

“Devon?” Evan said. “But he wasn’t at the apartment. The whole trip was a waste of time, remember?”

Matthew stared at his ally, whose mind had just been wiped while Matthew stood uselessly by, unable to help. There was only one way someone could have done that, and the knowledge chilled him to the bone.

They had Evan’s blood, too.

Chapter 3

Kaitlin felt dizzy, but she pushed the feeling aside as she clambered upstairs on hands and knees. Jay. Have to get to Jay. When she reached the nursery she managed to get to her feet and snatch a still-upset Jay from Sara, who didn’t resist. He had quieted into little hiccuping gasps, but had not yet fallen asleep.

Sara gave Kaitlin an odd look, almost like pity, before she turned silently away. The real Sara had never been short on words before. She had changed; it wasn’t as difficult to see those changes in Sara as it had been in Jason. Why? Because Kaitlin wasn’t in thrall? Because she had known Sara better? Or did it just vary?

Academic questions for another time, she decided. Right now, she needed a plan. She needed to escape.

Jason loomed large in the doorway to the nursery, but he didn’t look at Kaitlin or his son. Instead, he focused his attention on Sara. “You need to eat. Xavier should have taken you with him.”

“I’ll manage,” Sara said.

“Not here you won’t. Come.” He turned and left, clearly expecting Sara to follow. She did so a scant second later without glancing back at mother or child.

Kaitlin waited, listening. The garage door opened. A car engine sounded. Then a car backed out of the garage and the door whirred closed once again.

That was it. She was trapped here ten miles from town with no transportation. Xavier had driven away in his car, Jason in his. Kaitlin wasn’t allowed a car.

But wait, didn’t Sara have one too? Kaitlin clutched Jay to her chest and hurried downstairs as fast as her weakened body would allow, trying to think. She peered out into the nearly black evening, using the porch light as her only source of illumination. There, at the curb, was another car. She couldn’t make out what kind but she didn’t care. All she needed were the keys.

Had Sara taken her purse with her? Kaitlin couldn’t recall seeing one when the woman had come up to the nursery, so she checked the kitchen first. Sara had often left her purse on the kitchen counter in life and apparently that much of her personality remained in her new form. There was a purse on the counter and inside… come on, come on… there! Her hand closed around a set of keys which included a remote locking device for the car. She hit the button to make sure she had the right set and heard the reassuring chirp from outside.

Kaitlin’s heart slammed against her chest, and not entirely out of nerves. Her pulse was erratic, thready she thought she’d heard it called. She really had lost a lot of blood. How was she going to drive away, when Jason and Xavier could simply follow? Where could she hide?

Kaitlin grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator as she considered her options. She thought longingly of her best friend, Cassie, who had not replied to her e-mail. Who had, apparently, not received it at all. There was no phone here, no landline, and Kaitlin had never been allowed a cell phone. All she had was her computer, which had already proven unreliable.

So where could she go? Who could protect her from two powerful vampires?

And then it hit her – hunters could protect her. Well, maybe not any one alone. Xavier had dispatched many hunters over the last year, but the vampire hunters were based out of Pennsylvania, in the same compound where Alexander DuPris led his magical unification effort. She could go there.

Kaitlin didn’t care about politics, magical or otherwise, but she had spent many nights over the past year listening to Xavier and Jason rattle on about DuPris, especially when it came to vampire politics. She could practically hear Xavier’s voice even now.

The man is going to destroy the world. He’s going against the wrong vampires, thinking he can destabilize us by taking out the most powerful of us. And it’s working. The younger vampires are out of control, making new vampires left and right. There are ten times as many vampires as there were when he started this idiotic campaign. But what I can’t believe is how the hunters have fallen for it so completely. They’ve even moved their headquarters in with his.

Kaitlin didn’t care who was right and who was wrong; she only knew she needed protection, and so did her son. She also knew her son would be a powerful hunter one day, and that the hunters couldn’t afford to turn him away, especially not to be raised by the most notorious vampire in the United States.

Leaning heavily against the kitchen counter while she rested her chin atop Jay’s fuzzy head, Kaitlin checked her plan for flaws. There were dozens of them. The second she left this house with Jay, Jason and Xavier would probably know. The vampires could run faster than a car could travel, but not over long distances. If she could get a hundred miles ahead of them, they would have to drive too. But that first hundred miles… and if she stopped or slowed down… What if the police pulled her over for speeding? What if she fell asleep at the wheel, or fainted from blood loss?

She had no answers to any of those questions, only one last question: What other plan do you have?

She didn’t stop to pack. She grabbed Jay’s diaper bag, threw in some spare diapers and the toddler formula she’d been giving him since he’d turned one. She also included some little snacks he could feed himself and, almost as an afterthought, grabbed some Oreos and apple juice for herself. Then she buckled him into his car seat, tossed the diaper bag over her shoulder, picked up the again-screaming Jay in his carrier, and headed for the door.

She didn’t take anything of her own save a purse with a driver’s license and a credit card that might or might not work (if Xavier decided to cancel it). The way she felt, she wasn’t sure if she would have been able to carry anything else out of the house anyway. It was all she could do not to drop her son as she exited the front door and crossed the lawn to the dark sedan waiting at the curb. Opening the back door, she heaved the infant carrier onto the seat and strapped it in. It was too small for Jay, but it was better than nothing. Her other car seat was in Jason’s car.

Jay didn’t stop crying. Kaitlin’s nerves were shot. She took several deep, thirsty lungsful of air before ducking behind the steering wheel, inserting a key, and sending a quick prayer to a God she wasn’t entirely on speaking terms with: Just get Jay through this. I don’t care what happens to me, but let him be okay.

Then she revved up the engine and floored the accelerator.

* * *

Jay fell asleep within fifteen minutes, which should have helped but instead made it harder for Kaitlin to stay awake. She turned on the radio, steadily increasing the volume until her eardrums felt like they would bleed. She searched for annoying, grating music – heavy metal but nothing with a techno beat. She didn’t want anything too hypnotic. She had to stay awake. Pennsylvania was over six hours away and she couldn’t stop for anything. Luckily, the gas tank was full – the only thing that had gone her way tonight. She’d take it.

She looked over her shoulder constantly, expecting to see Jason running up the highway behind her, never mind that she was going ninety miles per hour. That was nothing to a vampire. He could run circles around her at that speed, toy with her, take his time reeling her in. He could make her think she had almost escaped and then pounce.

Actually, that didn’t sound like Jason, not even now that he’d turned, but it did sound like Xavier. The ancient vampire had a cruel, ruthless streak in him.

She’d gone twenty miles. Not enough. Forty miles. Still not enough. She pressed the accelerator down even harder, darting in and out of the light, late night traffic on the interstate. The speedometer reached to over a hundred miles per hour. They could catch her easily. One hundred and twenty… She had never gone this fast before in her life.

Car horns blasted at her from all directions, telling her what she already knew – that she was driving recklessly. And with a baby in the back, no less. A lot of good this escape would do if she wrecked the car and killed Jay. But if they didn’t escape…

Jay started to fuss. Kaitlin slowed down a little bit so she could keep a better eye on the road, but she didn’t stop as she reached into the diaper bag she’d flung into the passenger seat and grabbed one of the prepared bottles. She passed it back to Jay, who took it and started gulping down the fluid greedily. As soon as he’d taken the bottle, she sped up again.

The car horns started their angry chastisement once again. Each one seemed to say you’re a terrible mother. They were right. She was a terrible mother. What kind of mother took her newborn child and ran off with a vampire? Even if he had been the baby’s father before he’d turned? Now look at her. On the run from those same vampires, looking over her shoulder every few seconds, expecting to see them in the rearview mirror.

Eighty miles. Still not enough…

The road in front of her blurred slightly as a wave of dizziness washed over her. She clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles, struggling to see the dashed lines in front of her. A semi roared past, blaring angry insults at her. She turned up the volume on the music to drown it out. To drown everything out.

She was twenty-three years old and this was what she had to show for her life. It felt like she’d been making one bad decision after another, especially where men were concerned. She kept looking for her knight in shining armor, but she only found toads – and they didn’t turn into princes after she kissed them. Maybe that only worked for princesses.

Jay stopped fussing. Kaitlin didn’t dare reach back and take the bottle away, not at these speeds, and she didn’t dare slow down. Jay was over a year old now; he shouldn’t even be using a bottle anymore, said the experts on babies. She should have switched him to a sippy cup and maybe started training him to drink from an open cup. Of course, she should have kept nursing him past six months. She’d failed at that too.

Her best friend, Cassie, would never have failed at any of it. Kaitlin hadn’t seen Cassie since she’d run away with Jason, and there had been scant few e-mails exchanged between them. Enough that she’d thought she could contact her friend about taking Jay, but not enough that she really knew what was going on in Cassie’s life, or vice versa. But Cassie had given birth back in December, so her baby would be almost five months old by now. At five months of age, Kaitlin had been zombie mom, victim of a hypnotic thrall resulting from a vampire taking her blood and leaving behind venom. The whole time period was a bit of a blur, actually.

What was Cassie doing now? Cassie had found her prince, as Kaitlin had always known she would. It was strange, but Kaitlin both loved and resented her best friend at the exact same time. Cassie had never been anything but a true friend to her, but Cassie, for all her complaints about not having magic powers, lived a charmed life in a magical world. Kaitlin thought at first that Cassie had made a mistake when she’d gone for Evan instead of Braden, but even that had worked out.

It wouldn’t have worked out for me, Kaitlin thought bitterly. Sometimes I think I turn the men into frogs.

The steering wheel began to shake and Kaitlin realized she’d just accidentally driven onto the shoulder. She steered back onto the road, breathing heavily, again checking her rearview mirror. She wished she could see Jay to make sure he was okay, but he was facing the back in his infant carrier. She settled for turning off the radio for a moment so she could hear the sound of his breathing. There it was, soft and steady. He’d finally fallen asleep.

Hours more to go to reach Pennsylvania, and then what? Kaitlin didn’t know exactly where Alexander’s compound was. She’d have to stop to make a phone call, but not yet, not until she crossed the state line.

It began to rain. Not a hard driving rain but a soft drizzle so light that it almost wasn’t worth turning the windshield wipers on. She had to find the wipers in the unfamiliar car after a few minutes, though, and then she had to adjust them manually every few minutes.

The drops of rain on the window weren’t helping her focus. She felt dizzy, and the world blurred in front of her.

One hundred twenty miles. They couldn’t get her on foot now… probably. They would have to drive. But they still had the blood. And there were still hundreds of miles to go.

* * *

Kaitlin was barely conscious when she stopped at a gas station just past the Pennsylvania border. It was one in the morning; she’d made good time, but it was a miracle she hadn’t gotten into a wreck. She felt a numb, tingling sensation all over, her stomach ached with nausea, and she could barely see through her blurred vision.

The lateness of the hour and the relative emptiness of the roads was probably her saving grace. She prayed that her destination wasn’t much further. Once she arrived, once she placed Jay into the hands of people who would watch out for him, she could collapse and sleep for a week. She hoped not forever.

Fumbling with the old-fashioned pay phone on the corner, blinking against the cool drizzle, Kaitlin got an operator on the line and made a collect call to the one person she’d wanted to speak to for months. Cassie didn’t answer until the fourth ring, long enough that Kaitlin worried she wouldn’t answer at all. But she didn’t hesitate to accept the charges.

“Kaitlin?” Cassie asked. “My God, I haven’t heard anything from you since you left. I thought you were dead.”

“What are you talking about? I e-mailed you. You e-mailed me.”

There was dead silence on the other end of the line.

“But you wrote back.” Kaitlin felt an icy sensation run down her spine.

Someone wrote back,” Cassie said slowly. “It wasn’t me. Kaitlin, where are you? Are you okay?”

“No.”

“Come back to Eagle Rock. I’ll help you.”

“No.” She wished she could. “No, it’s not safe there. Jason said he has my blood. He can find me anywhere. And Evan can’t fight vampires.” She paused, hoping that Cassie would deny the charge, but the line stayed silent. “The only safe place for me is with the hunters. I think they’ll take us in because of Jay, but I don’t know where they are.”

“With Alexander.”

“Yes, but where?”

“Kaitlin, Alexander has been doing some shady things. I don’t think-“

“I don’t care about politics!” Kaitlin took a deep breath, the world swam in front of her and she leaned heavily against the wall. “Please, Cassie. I’m a few quarts low on blood right now. I just… I have to get Jay safe. I’m in Pennsylvania now. Where is Alexander?”

“There aren’t GPS coordinates for the place,” Cassie said. “But I can tell you how to get there.” She described a route that would take Kaitlin off the highway and down several rural roads. “There are heavy illusions on the place so no one can find it. Most people passing by will only see a rundown gas station. If you turn into the gas station, you’ll see what looks like a sprawling one-story office building and the entrance to an underground parking garage. The office building is actually the top floor of the underground fortress. The parking garage is actually a parking garage. Once you turn in there, the wards will keep the vampires out.”

“All right,” Kaitlin said, hoping she would be able to remember all that. She hadn’t brought anything like a piece of paper.

“I’ll tell Alexander you’re coming. Call me when you get there.” It wasn’t a request.

“Yes. Of course.” Kaitlin hung up.

She nearly fell twice on the way back to the car. She fumbled it open, slid inside, and spent a minute resting her head against the steering wheel. She could not give up now. Not now. She was so close!

Yet she could feel herself slipping away. She was running on empty – literally. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there with her head pressed against the wheel, but the next thing she knew she was being startled awake by a cry from the backseat.

Kaitlin jumped. She reached around, patted Jay, then turned the key in the ignition. When the dashboard lit up she saw the digital clock, which read 3:34.

She’d fallen asleep! Kaitlin spun her head left and right, expecting Jason to pounce on her. Knowing he would. How could he not? Pushing her foot into the accelerator she peeled rubber out of the twenty-four hour gas station and swerved back onto the highway, coming inches from hitting another car.

The race was on. She felt it. She pushed the accelerator down as far as it would go, only slowing when she had to leave the interstate. She looked in the rearview mirror almost as much as she looked through the front windshield. There was a car behind her. Had she seen it before? Was it following her?
She found the two-lane rural highway but did not slow down. Jay was screaming in the seat behind her now, and from the smell of it he had reason to complain. But she didn’t stop. Diaper rash would heal. But each shrill cry from his little lungs beat against her conscience. Are you going to just leave me sitting in filth?

The second highway marker came into view faster than she expected. She passed it slightly and ended up doing a sort of 270-degree turn to get onto it, nearly taking off the bumper of the car that had been following her.

Not far now. It was only three miles down this road, according to Cassie.

Check the rearview mirror… the car she’d nearly run into was now doing its own version of the 270-degree turn. Her stomach twisted. Bile rose in her throat, stinging as she fought to gulp it down.

Shit. Not now. Not now. Please God, not now!

There was no one else on the road except her and whoever was behind her. She floored it, turned off the radio so she could concentrate, then instantly regretted that decision. Jay’s cries weren’t exactly soothing.

She searched the right-hand side of the road for that abandoned gas station. If it didn’t come soon, this was all over. Trees. Trees. Barn. Fence. A sprawling one-story office building…

Wait, wasn’t that what she was supposed to see after she turned into the abandoned gas station? Maybe she’d misheard. At any rate, if this wasn’t it, she didn’t think she’d make it another half mile. The car behind her kissed her bumper and it was Kaitlin’s turn to scream.

She didn’t slow down. She just veered across the manicured grass lawn to get to the driveway leading to the front door and then, just past it, to the underground garage. The moment she breached the threshold the car behind her fell away. Then, with a squeal of brakes, it rolled to a stop.

Kaitlin hit the brakes too. She couldn’t race into a parking garage going over a hundred miles per hour. And anyway she was here. She was through whatever magic kept the vampires out. She hoped.

Looking behind her one last time, she spotted three figures getting out of the car that had now stopped so that it blocked the entrance to the building. Two were male, one female. All had glowing yellow eyes.

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