Nov 13

Dark Forces

By Avin | Uncategorized

Dark  Forces  (Preview)

…a series of killings are about to unveil an ancient evil at work…

Chapter One

 

Caitlyn looked at the variety of cereals on the shelf, blinking. There were so many. She didn’t know how she was going to decide which one to get. She hadn’t asked any of her roomies – her “sister witches” – back at the trailer if they wanted anything. She didn’t even know who preferred what.

She moved her brown eyes across the selections, feeling like she should know what to buy after traveling with her friends for so many years. There were snack cereals, sugary cereals, healthy cereals.

A grin crossed her slender face and she slumped her shoulders a bit, running one hand through her long, straight hair. She waited just another moment before reaching up and randomly grabbing two boxes from the shelves.

Caitlyn made her way around the store to the registers and checked herself out at a solo station. She took the bags to the jeep and put them in the back. The jeep had a vinyl divider that came out from the seats in the back. She leaned forward to grasp the handle, murmuring, “Refrigero.”

The back of the jeep was suddenly cool, like a refrigerator. She pulled the divider and locked it in place. A mist developed underneath it, cooling down the food in the bags.

She stepped back and closed the hatch. She had used the spell so many times, she didn’t even look to see if people were watching anymore. She probably should. There weren’t many of her kind in the little town. One of these days, she was going to get caught. Someone was going to see it or hear it or something. And then what would she say?

She was getting too comfortable. Her knowledge of Quiet Waters, the little town in which she lived, had made her more at ease with her status as a witch. She was blessed to live in a town that was filled with vampires that did not feed on humans. And her coven had signed a peace treaty with them. As a result, it was the safest city to live in on the East Coast. It ran almost like an old western town, with one sheriff and a few deputies who rarely had anything to do but rescue cats from trees.

.

So many of the residents of Quiet Waters were vampires, she knew it wouldn’t matter if they saw her. They wouldn’t say anything. So she was getting lax in her casting, not looking around for humans or their children. Children were the worst. They looked at everyone and everything around them. When they saw something a little strange, they always said something.

She went to the driver’s side door and slipped into the seat, trying to act as casual as possible. If she looked around too much, she would give herself away. As soon as she was seated, she remembered she wanted to go to the library and check her email. She’d already stopped at the post office but there was nothing there for her.

The leaders of her coven, the Ductus, had not sent them any news through their networks. She and some of her sisters were waiting for orders, where their next mission would be. They  had spent the last four years traveling the United States, Egypt, Romania, Ireland and different parts of Europe for artifacts and relics. Some of them were enchanted items, some were not. She enjoyed the job.

She got out of the jeep and went back to the sidewalk, turning to the right to go to the library down the street. If someone looked at her as they passed, she smiled and nodded. Quiet Waters had about ten thousand residents, a city with the feel of Mayberry in the air. The sheriff might as well be Andy Griffith.

She smiled to herself, pushing open the door to the library. Cool air washed over her and she closed her eyes, pulling in a deep breath. The late summer heat made the air wet with humidity. It was hot from the break of dawn to the setting of dusk. Even after, it was warm all through the night.

It would only be like this for the month of August. Once September hit, it would cool off and the winter season would set in. The holiday season was one of Caitlyn’s favorites.

She went up the stairs to the row of computers on the second floor. She signed in to one of them, settling herself in the chair. She brought up the browser and signed in to her email as quickly as she could. She wanted to get home soon. She didn’t have anything in particular to do. She just wanted to be at home.

A list popped up in front of her and she scanned it from top to bottom. The top five emails were new. She deleted the first one, which was an advertisement for car insurance. She ran the mouse over the next three. The fourth one caught her eye and she drew her eyebrows together, tilting her head. It was from a familiar email address but she couldn’t remember who it belonged to.

She clicked on it, curious to know who had emailed her. The subject said, “Urgent”. Usually when the subject line said that, it was some kind of scam. But the email… there was something about that return address. It seemed familiar to her somehow.

The letter popped up on the screen. She got chills as she read it. Tears filled her eyes and she lowered her head to her hands, covering her face. She tried to cry as quietly as possible but it drew the attention of several people near her.

One of them, a young woman named Astrid Van Tuijl, got up from her seat and left her computer behind to tend to Caitlyn. She bent over and put her arm around the young witch’s shoulders. “Little miss,” she said. “Are you all right?”

Caitlyn tried to stop crying but it was washing over her like a tidal wave. “My… my mother… is dead.”

She didn’t have to continue. AAstrid wrapped both arms around Caitlyn and pulled her close. Caitlyn rested her head on the woman’s shoulder, unable to stay up in the seat with her own strength.

“I’m so sorry, miss,” Astrid consoled her as gently as she could, holding Caitlyn’s head against her shoulder with one hand. “Oh, I am so very sorry.”

 

Caitlyn could barely see as she was driving home. She had insisted on driving, though the nice people at the library wanted her to call someone to drive her car home. Her mind was a fog. Driving was probably not the best thing to do in her mental state. But she had to do something. Sitting around doing nothing was not an option.

Her mother hadn’t just died. She had been murdered.

According to her aunt and uncle, who had gone to check on Andrea, her mother, it could have been nothing other than a vampire attack. They saw all the signs. Caitlyn had learned to trust vampires in the time she’d been in Quiet Waters. To hear that her mother had been killed by them confused her brain. She couldn’t hold it against the peaceful vampires. Outside of Quiet Waters, there were no peaceful vampires. Not that she knew of anyway. Most of them were monstrous killers.

She pulled the car over, adrenaline making her shake violently. Memories of her mother were flashing through her mind. She leaned over and rested her head on the steering wheel, gripping it tight in her hands.

If only she had known. Maybe she could have done something. Caitlyn’s heart began to race as rage built up inside her. Her mother was gone. There was nothing she could do about it.

She let the fury rise until she couldn’t hold it back anymore. She shook the steering wheel violently, screaming in agony.

She was going to hunt those vampires down.

She lived with one of the most infamous vampire hunters in the Ductus Coven. Ashley Jean, one of her sister witches, had slain more vampires and had the most fun doing it of anyone in the history of the Ductus Coven. Since coming to Quiet Waters and discovering peaceful vampires, Ashley had become involved with one of them and abandoned her vampire-hating ways. Caitlyn was going to hunt them down. She wouldn’t need Ashley’s help. She had enough anger and hatred for her mother’s killers to do what she had to do. She’d killed them before. She would kill them again.

She would call on her sisters if she needed them.

She had to tell them what happened. But she wouldn’t let them tell her how to handle the situation.

Normally, Caitlyn would send a telepathic message to Anna, their leader. But she was with Ethan in the mansion and didn’t stay at the trailer very often. She didn’t have the capability to send thoughts to her other sisters, Ashley, Mandy, and Bella.

She tried not to drive too fast. She was anxious but her brown eyes had swollen with her tears and they were still blurred with water. She thought about her mother, the way she had reacted when Caitlyn’s abilities as a witch came to light. She had taken everything in stride.

She’d known it was a possibility, which helped. She’d helped Caitlyn nurture her power and found her the coven to guide her on her journey. She’d sacrificed a lot, giving her only child, her daughter, to the coven when Caitlyn was only fifteen.

She’d never felt anything but love from her mother. They had gone through a short rebellious stage when she turned twelve that lasted about a year, until she discovered what she could do.

She choked back a new flood of tears, wishing she was already at the park. Their trailer was invisible to everyone else but the witches. The inside was expanded by a spell that made the trailer seem like a two story, five-bedroom home.

It seemed like an eternity before she turned into the parking lot of the park. She pulled into a spot and got out quickly, forgetting her groceries in the back. They would stay good until she took the refrigeration spell off anyway.

She ran through the park toward the line of trees that split the park into two areas, the west side and the east side. She was almost to the trees when the trailer appeared in front of her. She ran to the door and went inside, calling for her sisters.

“Girls!” she cried out. “Bella! Bella!”

Bella was the mother of the bunch, the one with the softest heart. Caitlyn ran through the foyer to the kitchen, not seeing Mandy and Anna emerge from the den on the other side of the room.

“Caitlyn!” Anna called out. Caitlyn spun around and ran back to her. She threw herself into Anna’s waiting arms.

“You’re here! Oh, Anna!”

“Cait! Oh no, what’s happened?” Anna held on to her friend, giving Mandy an agonized look over Caitlyn’s shoulder. Mandy was wearing a similar look and put both arms around Caitlyn’s back, sandwiching their friend.

“My… my mother… was… killed…”

Anna’s eyes widened and then squeezed shut. “Oh no. Oh, Cait. I am so sorry. How did it happen? Do you know?”

“She was murdered. By… by vampires.”

Caitlyn felt Anna stiffen. The woman pulled back and looked Caitlyn in the eyes. “What? Vampires?”

Caitlyn had both hands up, covering her mouth. Her shoulders were hunched and shaking as she tried to hold in her tears. She nodded, leaning forward when a sob took hold of her.

“Oh dear. Oh no.” Anna pulled her into a hug again and patted the back of her head. “Mandy, get her some hot tea and some cookies. I’m taking her into the den. She needs to be sitting. Come on, Cait. Let’s go sit down.”

“Anna… I can’t… I can’t believe I’m never going to see her again. I… I just talked to her a few days ago. I called from… I talked to her for…” Whatever she was saying was garbled as she choked on her words, trying to speak through her tears.

Anna just nodded. “I understand, my dear. I know. It’s painful. I’m sorry.”

She kept her arms around Caitlyn’s shoulders as she ushered her to the couch in the middle of the large room. They sat down together and Anna took both of Caitlyn’s hands in hers. She turned to the table behind her and grabbed a tissue from the box by the lamp. Thinking twice about it, she grabbed the whole box and brought it around her, handing it to Caitlyn.

Caitlyn took the box and the tissue, pressing the softness against her red eyes. She wiped the tears away but new ones came out to replace them. She knew Anna didn’t know what to say and even if she was going to say something, she would wait till the rest of the girls were there. Mandy was sure to fetch Ashley and Bella.

Sure enough, just a few minutes later, Mandy came back through the door with the other girls behind her. She went straight to Caitlyn, carrying a small tray with a plate of cookies and a cup of hot tea, steam swirling from the liquid. Anna had spent those minutes in between holding on to Caitlyn, whispering gentle encouraging words.

The girls gathered around their friend. Ashley, who was the tallest, knelt down in front of Caitlyn and held on to her knees. They all gave Caitlyn hugs one at a time and expressed their sympathies.

“What are you going to do, Cait?” Ashley asked. “I know you aren’t going to let this slide. You have to go find the vampires that did this and destroy them. You have to. For all you know, they will be coming for the rest of your family, too.”

“I don’t think this had anything to do with me being a witch, Ash,” Caitlyn said. “I really don’t believe that. But yes, I have to go… I have to go find the vampires that did this to my mother. I knew you would bring that up and I want to tell you right now that I am going alone. But I want all of you to be ready for a call from the Ductus and be ready to come help me at a moment’s notice. I want to make sure what they are saying is true before I go on a rampage. And I know how much you enjoy killing vampires, Ash. I don’t want that quite yet.”

Ashley nodded, patting Caitlyn’s knees. “It’s whatever you want, Cait. Whatever you want. We’ll be there with you in spirit until you want us there in person.”

Chapter Two

 

Vincent Pentecost looked at himself in the mirror behind the bartender. He had to admit he was looking good that night. But then, what night didn’t he look good? He grinned at himself.

He was finally satisfied with the length of his wavy brown hair. The shoulder-length style he sported was finally accepted again and he was happy about it. He moved his hazel eyes over the bottles of liquor than ran along the back of the bar with interest.

He’d been in The Front Row, a bar on the edge of town where all the country music people liked to go, for only five minutes and he’d already caught the gaze of a half a dozen ladies. The little town he and his partner, Scott, lived in was filled with good-looking country girls. They wore jeans and boots and had big buckles keeping their belts on. A lot of them wore cowboy hats and had bandanas tied around their necks, amplifying the beauty already created by their halfway unbuttoned shirts, exposing plump, pushed-together breasts that were just waiting for his hands.

He had plenty of success with them, in more than one way. It wasn’t the sex he was after – not completely. That was the fun of it. Sometimes, he’d have his way and let them go. But if his lust wasn’t satisfied by the sex, he would sink his fangs into their jugular and heighten his senses until he was soaring in ecstasy.

Tonight, he wanted to feed. He wanted to have fun with the girl first, so he was looking for a curvy blond. They always seemed to be a lot of fun. He spotted one in the mirror and turned his head to look at her. She was looking at him, too. The tiny smile on her face told him all he needed to know.

He picked up his drink and went over to her table. She was sitting with another woman, who looked a little younger. But he didn’t mind age. That didn’t matter in the least when he was on the hunt. The blood would taste the same no matter how old they were.

He smiled at them.

“Hey. I saw you looking at me. Thought that might be an invitation to come over and introduce myself. Feel free to tell me to get lost, if you didn’t mean to send those subliminal messages my way.”

Both the women smiled at him. The blond looked at her friend with a sly grin, since it was she Vincent was addressing.

The girl waved her hand at the empty chair to her right. “You didn’t mistake the look. Please sit, if you like.”

“Would you like a round of drinks? I’ll buy.”

“Now that sounds really great,” the friend spoke up. He looked at them both.

“My name’s Trevor Donovan. And you?” He held out his hand to the blond. She took it and they shook a few times before letting go. He planned to take these girls back home. He wasn’t going to let anyone within hearing distance hear his real name.

“My name’s Caroline Saunders. This is my friend, Brittany. We’d love a couple Hurricanes. That’s what we’ve been drinking tonight.”

“Ah, the refreshing taste of rum mixed with grenadine and fruit juice. I think I’ll have one, too. I’ve been drinking rum tonight, so I don’t see why it would do me any harm.”

“Have you been drinking Hurricanes, too?” Caroline sounded surprised and a little doubtful. He grinned at her.

“No, I’ve had two Blue Hawaii’s. No Hurricanes yet. Should I try one?.”

“I think you should. They’re good. I’ve been wanting to try one of those Blue Hawaii’s though,” Caroline said, turning to Brittany. “How about you?”

Brittany nodded, giving her friend a narrow, knowing look. Vincent pretended not to notice. He was having fun watching them flirt. “Yep. Maybe we should get a couple of those next.”

Vincent grinned wide. “I’ll get two Blue Hawaii’s and a Hurricane then.”

They all laughed. Vincent scanned them both. They would be good meat for him and Scott. Scott would be beside himself if Vincent brought home two women. One for each of them to play with. The thought made his smile wider.

He lifted his hand and the young woman clad in the tiniest tank top he’d ever seen trying to restrain two of the largest breasts he’d ever seen came over to take his order.

“What can I get ya?” she asked, smacking the gum in her mouth and placing one hand firmly on her hip.

“We’ll have two Blue Hawaii’s and one Hurricane, please.”

The girl looked at the three of them with half a grin. “Switchin’ it up, huh? I’ll tell Brett. He’ll make ya the best drinks ya’ve ever had.”

“I have no doubt of that. I’m always satisfied here.” Vincent grinned, thinking that he was always satisfied in one way or another, whether it be the drinks, the girls, the sex, or the blood. It was always something that satisfied him. And he liked it that way. He hadn’t asked to be a vampire. He wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his good time. He didn’t care who they were. .

It helped that he didn’t care about anyone but himself. He didn’t even care about Scott. Sometimes he laughed, thinking that Scott probably thought of himself as his brother. The two of them had been roaming the planet together for nearly two hundred years, since they were made vampires during the early 1800s. He resented the fact that he was still here. He planned to take it out on as many humans as he could.

He enjoyed the sound of their screams. He enjoyed listening to them plead for mercy. He lived his life for that satisfaction, that power he held in his hands each time they begged for their lives. He’d let some go because of that. And he’d never been bothered by them again. Each one had left town immediately after his encounter with them.

He was confident he wasn’t going to be caught. No matter who confronted him, whether it be a cop, a judge, a lawyer or a librarian, they were taking their lives in their hands. He had no qualms with moving to another city. It didn’t matter to him in the least. It didn’t matter to Scott either.

But he liked Big Creek and wanted to stay there as long as he could. He enjoyed the house he and Scott had bought. It had four floors, counting the finished basement and finished attic. The attic was reserved for the business they took care of. It held all the tools necessary to bring pain to a human being. He and Scott had researched, invented their own tools, they’d even started a comic book series about sadistic vampires that sold well on the dark web.

Each little story was filled with real events, things they had actually done. They weren’t shocked by the reception. There were plenty of humans who wanted to walk on the dark, wild side and Vincent was happy to provide just what they asked for.

By the time their drinks came, Vincent had found out Caroline and Brittany were two first-year medical students going to the large community college that brought in most of the revenue for the town. Brittany was accepted into a prestigious top-dollar college that she had been dying to get into. They were celebrating her future.

They had been best friends since grade school and both had on/off boyfriends who never really treated them with the respect they deserved. That was something Vincent heard a lot. If it wasn’t for those terrible boyfriends, he might not get what he wanted as often as he did. He didn’t know what was wrong with human men in this century. They didn’t value their women at all. There were plenty of times he could remember since the year 1811 when he was changed from human to vampire that men devalued their women. And there were other times when women were glorified, loved, revered. It also depended on what area of the world he was in.

He enjoyed the United States the most. Humans in the United States could be stubborn but they were always a lot of fun. He’d found that the most miserable people to be around were usually the Brits and anyone in Africa. In Africa, the disparity of incomes between the wealthy and the poor was so vast, he could go into the countryside and have his pick of hundreds and hundreds of victims.

But it just wasn’t fun. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Where was the fun in wiping out hundreds of villages of people who weren’t enjoying life anyway? Besides, Africa was too hot.

He hoped to stay in Big Creek as long as he could. He tried to be careful about what clubs or bars he went to. The Front Row didn’t have working cameras. He still took precautions and didn’t go to the Front Row more than once or twice a month, though it was one of his favorites and if he needed to change his appearance to go there more often, he had all the necessities to do it. Clothes he himself never wore, a wig, a pair of glasses, colored contacts, whatever he required, he had.

Tonight, he hadn’t put on a disguise. It was just him. Since he was on the hunt and intended to take these girls back with him to the house, he probably should have worn one.

But it was too late to turn back now. He was here, he was primed and ready, he was going for it.

He leaned forward and gave them both a sly look. “Would you like to know something about me?”

Caroline and Brittany looked at each other before turning their eyes to him and nodding. Their faces were lit up with anticipation. He absorbed the looks they were giving him, feeding his ego with the energy they put into their flirting. Maybe he would keep the two of them for himself.

Depended on Scott’s attitude.

“I’m a cop.” He sat back and grinned at them both. Their faces turned to wonderment and they looked like they might be guilty of something. He leaned forward again. “You two are guilty of being the two sexiest, sweetest ladies in the building. I’d love to take you to my place and introduce Brittany to my friend, Scott. If you are interested, Caroline, I’d love to get to know you better. Promise I won’t hurt you. I swear it.”

Caroline giggled and covered her mouth with her hand before circling the straw of her glass with her fingers and pushing the straw into her mouth. She sucked on it, looking at Vincent with a seductive gaze. “Brittany and I need to talk about it,” she said once she was done with her drink. She licked her lips and smiled.

He nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll just go to the bathroom and be right back then.”

“You don’t run away now,” Caroline giggled behind her hand right before taking a long sip of her Blue Hawaii, which she was loving and made sure he knew it. He nodded.

“Oh, I will be back, don’t worry. I just know Scott would love to meet you, Brittany.”

“Does he look anything like you?”

Vincent smiled. He’d been turned when he was in his late twenties, at the prime of his life appearance-wise. Scott was a few years younger when he became a vampire and just as handsome in the eyes of the ladies. “Well, I wouldn’t say he looks like me, since we’re not related. But if you’re asking if he’s a dog or not, no, he’s not. He’s a good-looking guy. You won’t be disappointed.”

Brittany just grinned.

 

Vincent entered the house first, calling out to Scott. “Scott! You here, dude? I know you’re here. Where are ya?” The small hallway they entered had a solid wall on one side and an arch on the other that allowed the visitor to look directly into the living room. The arches ran all the way around the living room, creating two long hallways around it. The open kitchen was directly in front of them, a wide, long room that had every type of cooking equipment that could ever be needed.

Most of them had never been touched.

Vincent looked at the girls, who came in after him. He let them in and then closed the door. “Would you ladies like a drink?”

“I think we’ve had enough to drink, Trevor,” Caroline smiled. “But I wouldn’t mind a cigarette, if you don’t mind.”

Vincent did mind. He wanted to kiss this girl and he hated the taste of cigarettes. His first reaction was to tell her so in no uncertain terms. But he hesitated and said, “We don’t smoke in the house, I’m sorry. Scott is allergic to the smell.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Caroline said. “I… I didn’t really want a cigarette anyway. Yeah, I suppose we could have one more drink, right, Brittany?”

Vincent held out his hand, indicating they could go into the large living room. “Please. Sit anywhere. I’ll be right back. I’m sure Scott is around here somewhere.”

The girls sat down while he went to find Scott. It was going to be a fun night.

Scott was in one of the back rooms on the computer. He turned when Vincent came in the room.

“Hey, Scott. I’ve got two girls out here. You wanna have some fun?”

A slow smile crept across Scott’s face. He plunged one hand through the short crop of blond hair on his head. He ran his tongue over his teeth and reached out to turn off the computer. “Yeah,” he said in a low voice. “I’d love to have some fun.”

“Well, come on. We gotta make them some drinks.”

Scott stood up and crossed the room quickly. He followed Vincent out into the living room.

“This is Scott,” Vincent said, holding up his hand in Scott’s direction. “Scott, this is Caroline and Brittany.”

Scott lifted his hands and rubbed them together, his blue eyes flashing. “Good evening, ladies. You don’t know how good it is to meet you.”

 

Chapter Three

 

Caitlyn looked through the airplane window, watching the clouds as they passed by. They were so close it was like she could roll down the window and touch them. They went through several of them, creating a fog unlike any Caitlyn had ever seen before. She certainly hadn’t driven through anything as thick as that.

But when the fog cleared, she could see the ground far below and marveled at the beauty of the earth. She’d gone to Colorado Springs to take the flight. It was the closest to where she needed to go.

It was a five-hour flight, with a layover in Denver. She didn’t know why she had to go to Denver first. It wasn’t a straight shot from Quiet Waters to Big Creek. If they’d gone across to Aspen, it would have saved her a lot of time. As it was, she seemed to be making a large L or V formation. ,.

But she didn’t have the time or inclination to tell the airlines how to run their flights. She just wanted to get to Big Creek and see her aunt and uncle. She wanted to see her mother’s house, the house she had grown up in and loved during the youngest years of her life. She wanted to see her old bedroom. She’d wondered for years what her mother had done with it.

Did it still look the same as when she was fifteen?

The memories were still flooding her mind but they had quieted some. She hoped the house looked the same and then again, she didn’t. The pain she felt from losing the one woman who knew her best was like a hole in her chest that wouldn’t heal.

How long would it take her to let go of the grief she was feeling? Was it going to affect her so that she couldn’t think straight to find these killers? When she found them, she wouldn’t hesitate to exact revenge. Her mother hadn’t done anything to deserve her fate.

She leaned over and pushed open the flaps of her carry-on bag. She sifted through the contents until she found the book she was looking for. It was old folklore but had some excellent stories about vampires, witches, werewolves, and other supernatural beings. She enjoyed stories like that. She liked to compare them with what she had experienced over the years.

If she read, maybe it would calm her heart. It would help her focus on something other than wanting to cry for her mother. She didn’t want to think about how long it had been since they’d talked. Their last conversation hadn’t been a bad one. It had been normal.

She felt her heart ache.

A normal conversation she would never have with her mother again.

She pushed her finger down where the bookmark was and opened it to the last page she’d read. She’d finished the story and was about to start another one about a cursed witch who had to find a specific gem that would remove the curse. She’d read the book before but was so entertained by it, she liked to read it again and again.

“Wow, a book,” she heard a female voice saying from the aisle. She looked up and gazed at the woman speaking. She appeared to be about Caitlyn’s age and looked vaguely familiar. Caitlyn instinctively narrowed her eyes, searching her brain for the woman’s name. “Aww, you don’t remember me.” The woman sat down in the empty chair next to Caitlyn, clutching her bag on her lap. “Caitlyn, right? You’re Caitlyn Montgomery.”

Caitlyn raised her eyebrows. She was sure now that the woman was from her past but she couldn’t find the name to save her life. She shook her head. “I am so very sorry. I don’t remember your name.”

The woman shook her head, putting one hand on Caitlyn’s. “Don’t worry, it’s okay. It’s been a long time. I went to grade school with you. Remember, Roberts Elementary? On Pine Avenue?”

Caitlyn was instantly whisked back to her grade school years. She frowned. “You recognized me from grade school?”

The woman laughed. “I sure did! You don’t look a whole lot different, you know. I’m Melissa. Melissa Stover! We sat next to each other in the third grade and we were in the same classes all through till they split us up into different classes every hour in the seventh grade. Then I think I remember we had, like, English together a few times or maybe math? We were in choir together! Remember?”

A rush of memory swept through Caitlyn’s brain and she remembered Melissa. The woman had changed, gained some weight and dyed her hair a deep red from its natural mousy brown. Her eyes were still that vibrant color of honey. She suddenly remembered a conversation she’d had with Melissa in choir one day.

“I remember you,” she said, setting her book down and leaning forward excitedly. “Do you remember when we were in choir that day and I told you that you had eyes the color of honey?”

The smile that spread across Melissa’s face was brilliant. “Yes! I do remember that! I took it as a compliment and it really made my day! Thank you for that!”

Caitlyn laughed. “That was such a long time ago. I can’t believe we both remember that conversation.”

“How can I forget? I’ve described my eyes as honey ever since then. No more browny red or something lame like that. It was honey from then on.”

“Are you going back to Big Creek?” Inside, Caitlyn was dearly hoping her old friend was. She hadn’t spoken to anyone from her childhood in so long. That added to the fact that she’d left school after the sophomore year to live with the women and men in the coven had created a complete break from all her friends. “Please tell me you are. It’s so good to see your face. It really is.”

Melissa put her hand on Caitlyn’s again. “Oh, Caitlyn, it’s good to see you, too. And yes, I am going back! Are you?”

“Yes. I am.”

“I have to see about the sale of my grandmother’s estate. She left me the executor of her will because I’m a legal assistant and she seems to think that will make me wiser about the whole thing. Why she didn’t just have her lawyer do it, I don’t know.”

“Did your grandmother die recently?” Caitlyn hoped she didn’t sound too blunt. But two deaths in Big Creek very near to each other… that had to be more than a coincidence. When Caitlyn lived there, the death rate was about two a year. She was sure the city had grown in the years she’d been gone. But to have a death rate go from two a year to two in a short period of time? It sounded suspicious to Caitlyn.

“Yes, she died about three weeks ago.” Melissa tilted her head to the side. “Have you had a death in the family, too?” Her voice sounded somewhat alarmed.

Caitlyn nodded soberly.

“Oh no. Who was it?”

“My mother.” Caitlyn felt strange saying the words. She still couldn’t believe her mother was gone. They had corresponded through email and snail mail over the years, never losing touch with one another. When she had a chance, she would call her mother, just to say hello. And she’d never missed the holidays. She’d managed to come back a few times but her position in the coven and her job searching for artifacts put her in the spotlight for their enemies. It made her a target. Each time she went back to visit her mother, she put the woman she cared about the most in jeopardy.

She wouldn’t be able to live if she knew the vampires had followed her on her last visit, bided their time, and then attacked. There was a good possibility this had happened to lure her from her hidden place so they could kill her.

But if they were planning to do that, why didn’t they take out Anna and the rest of the coven? She was less important than they were. She was a good witch but some witches were better than others. Anna was one of them. If the vampires wanted to hurt the coven, they would go after all of them, not just Caitlyn, who wasn’t high up on the totem pole.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Caitlyn. I really am.”

Caitlyn nodded. “It was somewhat of a shock. I am very hurt and disturbed by it.”

Melissa kept her eyes focused on Caitlyn. “Can I ask you something, Cait? I don’t want you to be offended.”

Caitlyn stared at her. “You have peaked my curiosity. What is it? I won’t be offended. It takes a lot to do that.”

“What happened to you? Where did you go? Between our sophomore and junior year, you disappeared. Were you sick? If you don’t want to tell me, I understand. I’m not trying to pry into your business. I’m just curious.”

Caitlyn nodded. “No, I understand your confusion. Yeah, I did leave. I had to go live with some relatives out on the East Coast.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. My mother was having some pretty bad health problems.”

“Aww. I’m sorry. And now she’s gone. I hope you were able to keep in touch with her.”

“I was.”

“She lasted a long time.”

Caitlyn looked down at the book in her lap. “She was sick for most of the remaining years of her life. It didn’t get any better, I can tell you that much.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Did your grandmother die because of her age?” Caitlyn tried to put it as delicately as she could. What were the chances Melissa knew anything at all about vampires? Caitlyn wasn’t aware there were any in Big Creek when she was growing up. They were there now but not when she was young.

Melissa tilted her head. “You know, that’s one of the strange things. I don’t know how she died. I was never told.”

“Didn’t you ask?” Caitlyn asked in a stunned voice.

Melissa nodded. “I did. But they told me it was a freak accident. Like some kind of…” She blinked a few times, her voice dropping off. Caitlyn waited for her to continue. She seemed to be thinking of the right words. “I mean, it was just weird. We couldn’t give her an open casket, that’s for sure. Her ashes are waiting for me.”

“Oh my.”

“Are you going to bury your mother?”

Caitlyn didn’t want to tell Melissa she had no idea what shape her mother was in. It might not be feasible to bury her, just as it wasn’t for Melissa’s grandmother. From her vague description, Caitlyn got the impression it had been a messy situation.

She decided to drop the subject and move on to something friendlier. “Who else do you remember from school? Maybe we can get a little reunion together while we’re in town.” Even as she said the words, Caitlyn knew she didn’t want to meet with a lot of her old high school friends. She was content with Melissa. And maybe a few others. Just a handful. Surely there were a handful of pleasant high school friends that would like to have a drink with her somewhere.

They’d know the best places to go, since they still lived in Big Creek and she’d been gone for almost fifteen years and wouldn’t know where the local hangouts were anymore.

“I don’t know who is still there,” Melissa admitted. “But I’m pretty sure Caroline is still there. Do you remember her? Caroline Saunders?”

“I do remember her, yes. A pretty blond. I wonder how she’s doing.”

“Last I heard she was in medical school at the uni. She’s always been interested in that kind of thing but right after high school, she went into child care. And I think she was a grade school teacher for a few years.”

“She’s switched careers a lot then.”

“Not really, just went from childcare to teaching them instead.” Melissa smiled. “She always did love those children. Did you hear about what happened to her though? She can’t have children of her own. Did you know that?”

“Oh no,” Caitlyn said, sympathetically. “How tragic! What happened?”

“She was riding a horse and she fell off somehow and it trampled her right over her stomach and you know, all those intestines and organs in there where your stomach is.”

“Her torso. The horse ran over her torso.” Caitlyn shook her head. “Oh my god, that is so terrible. I feel so horrible for her.”

“Well, it happened when she was nineteen, so that kind of set her career choices in motion, I think. If she couldn’t have her own, she was going to enjoy other people’s.”

“I’m not sure a preschool or kindergarten teacher should be a person without children of their own. How will they draw on experience? They won’t understand what the parents are going through at all.”

Melissa looked straight ahead with a blank stare, engrossed in her own thoughts. “I’ve never thought of it like that. But you should see her today. The last time I was in town to visit my grandmother for the weekend, I met up with her at Spike’s, that little deli next to the old Grandin theater. You remember that place?”

Caitlyn nodded. As Melissa spoke, she remembered more and more about her hometown.

“She was looking fine. She was smiling and telling me about her newest venture into medicine. Of course, you’ll never guess which specialty she’s going into.”

“I bet I can,” Caitlyn grinned. “Pediatrics.”

Melissa laughed. “You nailed it! Good for you! Yeah, of course, pediatrics. But I do think it’s kind of funny, now that I think about it, she’s going to be dealing with sick children. She’s going to see them in pain and suffering. I wouldn’t want to have a childless woman working on my sick child. They wouldn’t understand the urgency.”

“Now you’re thinking like me.”

“I suppose we’re on the same page. Anyway, I’ll give her a call when we get into town and we can have lunch with her or something. I know she’d like that. She’s a great girl. So smart and funny. And she’s got a great body, let me tell you, Caitlyn, oh I am so jeeaaalooouss.” Melissa drew out the last word for effect, rolling her eyes wildly. Caitlyn laughed. “But you’ll see. Oh, now I’m really excited to get there! I’m so glad I saw you sitting here!” She reached out and put her arm around Caitlyn’s shoulders, which took Caitlyn by surprise. She grinned and patted Melissa’s hand.

She was excited now, too. She wanted to see Caroline and have lunch at a nice deli or diner or something. It would be fun to see old faces again. She really hadn’t thought she’d feel that way but now that she’d reunited with Melissa, she found that she most definitely did.

Could it be that the one who is supposed to protect her is the person most likely to end her life? She will have to tread carefully if she is to prevent more deaths or become the next victim herself. …

…the stakes are high for Cait as she prepares to face the ultimate evil…

“Dark Forces” is a paranormal romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

Aug 09

Dark Secret

By Avin | Uncategorized

 

Dark Secret (Preview)

Chapter One

Anna Stone looked up at the stars through the window as she pulled a cape around her shoulders. She was dressed in all black – leggings, a spandex shirt and slippers – so she wouldn’t be seen. Her cape was not black, but it was a dark grey and that was enough to keep the public from spotting her while she was out.

“Where are you going, Anna?” Her roommate, Bella, watched from the doorway as her friend dressed.

“You know I have to go get those berries, Bella,” Anna responded. “We can’t make the potion without the blueberries.”

“Why don’t you just go get some at the store?” Bella asked.

Anna shook her head, snapping the cape around her neck, lifting up her chin to do so. “That’s not good enough. They have to be hand-picked by a witch who ranks high up in the coven.”

“You are next in line for a place in Ductus,” Bella noted.

Anna tried not to give her brainless friend a sarcastic look. Bella was a good woman. She tried very hard to be the best witch she could be. But she rarely remembered spells, had broken three wands, and was hopelessly optimistic about everything in her life. Anna would have attributed it to age but the woman was already in her late twenties and would soon turn thirty. She was six years younger than Anna.

Anna, on the other hand, had quickly risen to a high rank in the coven. She had a sharp mind and a quick wit. She had found many objects needed by the coven, which was why she was in charge of this particular section. She lived in the trailer with Bella, Mandy, Caitlyn, and Ashley. They were sent by the Ductus, the leaders who ranked at the top of the coven.

Bella turned and let Anna pass in front of her, following her down the long hallway. She went past the door to Caitlyn’s room, which was open, and glanced in. “Do you need anything while I’m out, Caitlyn?”

Caitlyn was sitting at her desk in the corner by the window. She looked up at the night sky before looking back at Anna. Realization crossed her face. “Oh, you’re going for the berries. No, I don’t need anything, thanks for asking. Be careful. This place is rife with werewolves and vampires and all kinds of humans. You never know what could happen. You got your wand?”

Anna grinned. “Always. I never leave home without it.”

“That’s a good thing. You never know what’s going to happen.” Caitlyn looked very serious, making Anna grin wider. She was the sober one of Anna’s “girls”, the one would took everything literally and never wavered from her opinions unless she was soundly proven wrong. She would fight to the death for her coven and knew more spells than anyone in the trailer.

“All right, Caitlyn. If you think of anything you need, call me.”

“You know I will.” The girl turned back to the book she was studying, running her finger down the page as she read. When Anna told her to “call” her, she didn’t mean on a cell phone. Cell phones were easily traceable and the reason they were there prevented them from being free to use cell phones.

Anna continued down the hallway to the stairs at the corner. She went down with Bella on her heels, chattering about something she’d seen on the television. Anna wasn’t really listening, though every now and then she would say, “Uh huh” or “right”.

In the living room beyond the stairs, Mandy and Ashley were cutting through fabric. Anna had no idea what they were making but both looked very serious about their work. They looked up as she passed by the door to go out. She stopped again, feeling like she was dropping Bella off with them.

“You two need anything while I’m out?” she asked.

They shook their heads. Mandy set aside the fabric and stood up. “You’re going to gather berries for the potion?”

“Yeah, that was my plan.”

“All right, use this.” She reached around the back of the couch she was sitting on to a table that held various objects they had gathered so far for the Ductus. They didn’t need to be careful in the trailer. No one could see it from the outside except them anyway. The chances of anyone – supernatural or otherwise – breaking in to steal any of the artifacts was zero to none. She picked up what looked like a small dark blue bag some people might use for groceries.

Mandy scooted past the coffee table and walked to Anna, holding the bag out in front of her. “This thing can hold way more berries than your bag or a basket or anything like that. And it won’t weigh more than five pounds no matter how many berries you put in it. It has a weightlessness charm on it. After five pounds, everything is weightless.”

“That’s a great spell,” Anna said with appreciation, scanning the bag. It looked ordinary. No one would know the difference.

Not that anyone was going to see her anyway.

“Well, I’m off,” she said.

“Before you go, let’s sit and talk for a minute,” Mandy said. Anna looked at her, resisting the urge to lift one eyebrow. Anna was the highest-ranking witch in the trailer and it was usually her who gave the instruction to have a meeting. She was curious, though, so she went to the couch and sat down beside Mandy, who had returned to her seat.

“What did you want to talk about, Mandy?” she asked.

“I just want to go over stuff, that’s all,” Mandy replied. Anna could understand that. She probably wanted to make sure she and Anna were on the same page. She was a little aggressive when it came to authority. She herself had a leader personality and could be a challenge to Anna, if they weren’t friends and Anna wasn’t so good at what she did. She respected those in authority but had a strong personality that would someday make her a member of the Ductus, probably right alongside Anna. The future of the coven would someday be in their hands when the older generation retired to an island somewhere in the Pacific.

If that’s where they chose to go and lived long enough to get there.

“Are you questioning anything?”

Mandy shook her head. “No, not at all. I just want to make sure we all know what we’re doing here.”

“Well, we’re searching for the Amulets of Life,” Bella supplied. “I know that. And the Divining Clan has them.”

“All five of them,” Anna confirmed, nodding.

“We have to get them from them. They can be killed, can’t they? Even though they have the amulets?”

Anna nodded. “They can be killed. But if they are injured, the amulet will heal them and they won’t die as long as they wear them.”

“But there are only five. How can there be more than five we have to battle?” Ashley spoke up for the first time. She was the protector witch of the five of them. She held the protection spell over the trailer, as well as the expansion spell that made the inside of the small trailer seem to be the size of a two-story house. She was also excellent with a blade, a spear, a gun, and most other weapons conventionally used in battle. Anna figured you could ask her to drive a tank and she’d be all for it.

“Because as long as they are all in the same area, the amulets will protect any supernatural being around it. The one who wears it is the leader. Of that pack. You see?”

Ashley nodded. “I think you told me that before and I just forgot. Okay, so we need to get those amulets and that’s it?”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Anna said, shaking her head. “Don’t forget that these vampires are as mean as they come. They will kill you just as soon as look at you.”

“I have a question,” Mandy said. “Which is why I wanted to talk to you about this in the first place.”

Anna looked at her quizzically. “Go ahead,” she said.

“I know there are only five amulets and we have to go after them all. You say there is an entire clan right here in this little city.”

“A city of 200,000 people isn’t little, Mandy,” Ashley said in a gruff voice. Mandy ignored her.

“So if there’s a clan that big here, why don’t we hear of any humans dying?”

Anna thought about it for a moment. “Well, you know that they don’t always feed on humans. Or they may have a storage of blood somewhere. I don’t know.”

“Do we even know where their lair is?” Ashley asked, the gruff sound gone when she spoke to Anna.

“Not yet. But we will. Look, girls, we haven’t been here long enough to establish anything. We have to be patient. You know how it is,” she looked at Mandy and Caitlyn, who had been with her on the previous assignment. “You remember. We have to wait sometimes, assimilate into society, let ourselves be seen, not as witches but as people, before we can infiltrate and get the objects we need.”

“Well, I’m ready whenever you are,” Ashley said, cracking her knuckles on the palm of her opposite hand. “I need some vampire butt to kick.”

Anna grinned. “You’ll have your chance, Ash. Just give it time, like the rest of us. We want it just as much as you do.”

“This is the last one for you before you are promoted to Ductus, isn’t it, Anna?” Bella asked, her soft voice making her sound like a small girl.

“It might be,” Anna responded. “I think they are going to leave that up to me.”

“Well, I hope you make it,” Bella replied. “As long as that’s what you want. But I’ll miss you.”

It was Bella’s first trip out. She didn’t know Anna well. Anna suspected Bella would miss anyone that was kind to her for more than a week.

“I’ll miss you, too. If I decide to go. I rather enjoy spending time with my witch-girls and traveling the way we do. It’s fun.”

“I think it’s fun, too,” Mandy said. “As long as we aren’t in battle. Not too fond of the battles. People get killed.”

“Yeah, that’s true. Humans, too.”

Ashley’s remark made the rest of them chuckle.

“All right, I’m heading out unless you have any more questions. Let me know if you need anything. Just have Caitlyn call me.”

“Will do.”

Anna stood up, looking at Mandy. “Did I answer your question?”

“Yes, that’s fine, thank you.”

“Okay.”

Anna went to the door, glancing over her shoulder at Bella, who was still standing in the doorway to the living room. She had a pleasant smile on her face.

Anna liked her witch-girls. She had gotten very close to Mandy, Ashley, and Caitlyn, who had been with her for several years now. She’d learned from them probably just as much as they’d learned from her.

Now, with Bella in the mix, she had to keep herself from worrying about their safety, especially in battle. She had their back and they knew it. She knew they felt the same way.

She stepped out of the trailer into the cool night air, lifting her chin when a light breeze lifted up her blond hair. It waved and curled down her back and over her shoulders. When she pulled it straight, it almost reached her waist. She usually kept it in a braid so it wouldn’t get in her way if she had to run or fight.

She turned to look at the trailer behind her before it faded into transparency. She wouldn’t be able to see it once she stepped ten feet from the door. Then she would see what everyone else saw. Nothing but green grass in the middle of a park in the middle of a town. No one could see it. No one would know the difference.

Half of the park was a wooded area with a stream running through the middle. She went directly to the tree line and glanced back to make sure the trailer was, indeed, invisible. Satisfied that no one could see it, she moved through the trees and headed toward the stream where the blueberries were ripe and ready to pull. With each one, she would whisper a short incantation that would cast a spell on the individual berry, ensuring it would work properly in the potion they were making.

The potion might have been one of poison to vampires, but Anna personally thought it was one of the most delicious drinks she’d ever made. She might make some just to snack on and stick it in the refrigerator for her girls to enjoy, too.

Chapter Two

Ethan Graham walked through the park, his hands behind his back. He’d left his companions behind so that he could take a walk. It had been three months since his last visit to this park. It was one of his favorite places to go when he needed to think.

He walked along the tree line, looking up, mostly. He liked to see the stars beyond the huge trees he was surrounded by, watching them twinkle, disappearing when a high-up leaf blew in front of them and reappearing when the leaf blew in the other direction.

He liked to listen to the sound of the creatures in the woods, the frogs in the stream, the squirrels running through the trees. In all his 400-plus years, he still enjoyed the little things. In fact, he probably enjoyed the little things more than ever before. He was old now and had lived through much. He was happy to be where he was and felt safe from harm.

Ethan liked to walk at night, even when he had more important things to do. There was too much drama in his life on a general basis, as the leader of his Divining Clan of vampires, and sometimes he just had to let his old brain have a rest. Looking at the stars and admiring the pretty human women was usually how he relaxed.

Movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Someone was coming through the woods.

This was one of the parks in the better part of the city so there usually was no movement at this time of night. He ducked behind a tree and looked around to see what he could see.

Lights from around the park lit it up well enough to see but not like daytime. He was grateful for the artificial light, since he was still unable to go out after sunrise and if he did, he had to be covered from head to toe. That usually looked strange to humans, even the ones who often saw a person with a head covering or a long cloak on. He couldn’t even let an inch of his skin be hit by the sun or it would burn him to his very core. It had happened just a few times in his years. He’d quickly learned the sun was not his friend.

He remembered what it was like to feel the sun on his skin. He’d been turned at the young age of 33. So he’d had plenty of years to live as a human. He’d enjoyed the time he had, though things were much different in the year 1635, the year of his birth. As the earth became more populated, it had become more technological and now, it seemed humans could go nowhere without their cellphones, their laptops, their computers and smart cars. He liked things the way they had been but couldn’t complain. He saw just as much good in technology as everyone else.

He just knew what it was like to live without it.

Those were quiet times,he thought and had a laugh.

He saw the movement again and focused on it. It was a woman. A woman in a black cape. He tilted his head in confusion, narrowing his eyes. She was picking berries and putting them in a bag. It was a strange time of day for such a thing. He wondered how she could see the little blueberries she was picking. The lights beyond the tree line were stronger and lit up the park like a football field. But back here in the woods, the trees blocked off much of that light. She had to have pretty good eyes to see what she was doing.

She turned in his direction and his breath caught in his throat. His heart thumped hard a few times. She was a beautiful woman. He liked the way her hair fell down over her shoulders across her chest, spilling out of the cape over her head like a blond fountain. She had a slender body, what he could see of it, in all black like she was.

He wanted to talk to her. Ethan was not the kind of man to shy away from a beautiful woman. He had the charm that every vampire had and he intended to use it to his fullest advantage every chance he got. This looked like the perfect opportunity to him.

He took a few steps toward where she was picking the berries and stopped. He didn’t want to scare her. If she was picking berries at night, there was probably a good reason for it. She didn’t want to be disturbed.

He hesitated, wondering if he should say something, clear his throat, kick a rock… something to get her attention.

Finally, he decided to stroll past her, humming under his breath and acting nonchalant, like he didn’t even see her there. He clasped his hands behind his back once again, lifted his head and moved closer, humming a tune that had no song. He looked up at the trees and the stars. He didn’t even see her. Not at all.

When she spun around and stared at him, he gave her the same reaction, acting as surprised as she was.

“Oh! I’m sorry!” he said quickly. “I didn’t even see you there. You’re in disguise.”

Anna stared at him, unsmiling. He tried again.

“Well, all black and all… I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Anna shook her head, keeping her eyes on him. “You didn’t scare me. I was not expecting you. But you didn’t scare me. I am not easily scared.”

“I’m so glad to hear that.” He smiled as wide as he could. He held out his hand for her to shake. “Ethan. Ethan Graham.”

The name sounded familiar to Anna. She tried to remember where she’d heard it before. She looked down at his hand, trying to decide if he was friend or foe.

Finally, she took his hand and shook it. “Anna,” she replied, not willing to give her last name.

“It’s nice to meet you, Anna,” Ethan said. “Do you live around here?”

“You might say so,” she responded. “I travel a lot.”

He nodded. “I used to travel all the time. Now I just stay right here in Quiet Waters. It’s a great place to raise…” He stopped himself, lifting both hands in the air. “I was going to say ‘children’ but I don’t want you to think I’m proposing marriage or anything… unless you want to get married. In which case, I would have to say, hold on, lady, I just met you.”

This brought the smile to Anna’s face that Ethan was waiting for. Just as he suspected, the smile made her even more beautiful and almost melted his vampire heart. He scanned her quickly, bringing his eyes back up to hers in a hurry so she would not think he was being lewd.

“I don’t think I will be getting married anytime soon, sir,” Anna said.

“Oh, please don’t call me sir. It makes me feel old.” He said it with all the irony he could muster. There was no way for her to know he was a 400-plus-year-old vampire. He intended to keep it that way. At least for now.

“I won’t call you that, then.”

“Call me Ethan. All my friends do.”

She lifted her eyebrows, bringing the bag around to the front and holding it with both hands. “Are we friends?”

“I would like to be. If you would.”

Anna scanned him, trying to decide if she could trust this man or not. He was a human and humans could be unpredictable. Especially when they saw a beautiful woman in the middle of the night, scurrying through the park finding berries. Not that she had done it before. Only a few hundred times. Natural elements were constantly added to the potions they made. Over the years, the types of ingredients had changed. Obviously, they no longer used the “eye of newt” or a “drip of dragon’s blood”. But they did still use “legs of a frog”, which she absolutely hated getting. Frog hunting was not her sport.

He was taller than her, almost six feet, with short blond hair and a soft smile that made her want to look at his mouth more than anything else.

“I will walk with you, if you’d like. But I need to get home before my… my roommates wonder where I’m at. You don’t want them coming down on you. You wouldn’t like that at all, I can promise you that.”

“I bet. A woman as beautiful as you? I’m surprised you are out here on your own to begin with. It’s not safe, you know.”

“Don’t worry,” Anna winked at him. “I’m packing.” She knew he would think first of a gun. Humans always thought of a gun. They never once considered a wand, which was so much lighter and easier to use than a gun, not to mention it didn’t shoot one bullet or twenty bullets but could send out as many bullets through spellcasting as Anna wanted.

“Uh oh, I better be careful then.” Ethan didn’t sound worried.

His lack of concern comforted Anna. If he thought for a moment he was going to do something that might get him shot, he would have backed off right at that moment.

“I can assure you I am a gentleman, Anna. I’m older than I look and I have enough experience to know how to act around a lady. I’m not a teenager, not a serial killer, not a rapist. Not at all. I won’t harm you.”

I won’t harmyou, Anna thought. “That’s good. I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me. That’s the way everyone should be in this world.”

“I agree. Unfortunately, the only reason we have to go through this little dance is because most people can’t be trusted to tell the truth anymore.”

They both thought about what they themselves were doing, not exactly lying but not telling the exact truth, either. He, an ancient vampire, her, a witch. Both hoping the other didn’t find out the truth while still spouting out phrases about “trust”.

“While I agree with you, sometimes the truth should be left where it lies. In the past.”

They walked for a few minutes in comfortable silence. Anna was a little surprised by how easy it was to walk and talk with Ethan. He had the softest blue eyes she’d seen in a long time. His physique was slender and strong. She could see the muscles of his chest and arms bulging through the white shirt he was wearing. It was an old style but one that Anna had always liked on a man. The buttons in the front twinkled in the moonlight when they emerged into a clearing just beside the streaming water.

“Would you like to sit?”

Anna bit her lips together, thinking. “I really should return to my roommates.”

“Have you finished your berry picking for the day? Or the night, shall I say?”

“I have. I believe I have enough.”

He eyed the small bag in her hand. “It doesn’t look like you needed many. I wouldn’t have wasted my time. You could get that many at the grocery store for cheap.”

She shook her head. “Nothing is cheaper than free and these are the natural beauties I needed. I have to have them completely fresh and uncontaminated.”

Ethan nodded. “That makes sense. They probably taste better, too.”

“They do! I make a delicious berry drink out of them, like a smoothie, you know. It’s…” She stopped this time, remembering who she was talking to. She couldn’t possibly tell this human that it was vampire poison. “It’s really quite delicious.”

Nice save, she thought to herself. She gave herself a high-five in her mind.

“I’ll walk you home if you like,” Ethan offered, hoping she would say yes. He wanted to know where she lived. He had no intention of stalking her but if she said no, he would know why. Most women in today’s world were much smarter than ever before. They didn’t like to be played and they made it known to every guy they went out with.

“I can’t… I can make it on my own, I promise.”

Ethan figured she must be ashamed of her home. “I am sure you can, if only because you were brave enough to come out here on your own at night. Besides, like you said, you’re packing. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Exactly.”

They smiled at each other.

“Well, it’s been nice getting to know you. Can I ask you out on a date sometime?”

Anna didn’t lose her smile. She looked to the side. She knew she was blushing. She wondered if he could tell in the dim light. “I… I’d like to but I don’t know if I’ll have the time.”

“Please, Anna…” The tone of his voice made her pay closer attention. He reached out and took both her hands in his. “Make the time. I’d really like to get to know you. I think we could be… good friends.”

She giggled and raised her eyebrows, allowing him to hold her hands for a few moments, despite the fact that his hands seemed cold to her. “Friends?”

He chuckled. “More if it ever comes to that. I would have no objection. I’m willing. But only on your terms and in your time.”

“Thank you, Ethan. That means a lot to me.”

Chapter Three

Ethan returned to his mansion home just before sunrise. He usually didn’t spend the entire night out but this time, after leaving Anna in the woods, he’d gone to a diner he enjoyed and had coffee for the rest of the night.

They knew him in the diner and he felt comfortable there.

He was tired and needed to sleep. But when he went inside, he noticed several of his brethren sitting at the dining table in the vast hall he used to feed his clan. They looked like they were talking about something very serious.

He stepped into the room, glancing at each of them with a curious look. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

His closest brother, Jeremy, responded by shaking his head back and forth.

“We’ve heard some disturbing news, Ethan,” he said. “It looks like we might need to pick up camp and move somewhere else.”

Ethan frowned. “Does this look like a campsite to you?” he asked sarcastically. “What am I supposed to do? Sell this place and buy one somewhere else?”

Jeremy raised his eyebrows. “If need be.”

Ethan was confused. Jeremy never spoke back to him. No one in his clan questioned him. This had to be something very serious for this to take place.

“I think you better tell me what’s going on,” he said, approaching the group and sitting at the head of the table, which was his designated seat.

Jeremy and the other three vampires sat forward, resting their elbows on the table. Other than Jeremy, there was Joshua, Cameron, and Tyler. Cameron, or Cammie, as she was known by the rest of the clan, was the only female of the five top vampires in their clan. She had risen to her spot by showing some fairly ruthless traits that even he, as the clan leader, didn’t have. Sometimes, he suspected she didn’t have a heart at all. And if she did, it was frozen beyond repair. She’d changed her name over the years to make it more modern, since she looked like a 28-year-old woman but was almost as old as Jeremy.

It was Jeremy who continued to speak, as Ethan’s right-hand man and second in command. “We’ve heard that a coven of witches is searching for us. It won’t take them long to find us. We don’t exactly live in hiding as we should.”

“What do you mean?” Ethan said. “I think we do an awesome job keeping anyone from knowing where we are, what we are or what we do.”

“For the most part, that’s true,” Jeremy continued. “But these witches, they have been searching the globe for different objects and items for their coven leaders that will help them defeat other supernaturals, like us.”

“Why do they even want to fight?” Joshua asked. He was the most sensitive of the group. He hadn’t asked or wanted to become a vampire and had whined about it ever since. But he’d risen to his position because he was one of the smartest men to ever walk the earth, in addition to being nearly 300 years old, much older than most others in the clan. “Why can’t we all just get along?”

“That’s an old phrase that should never be repeated again,” Jeremy said, snidely. He looked back at Ethan. “They want the amulets, Ethan. We can’t let them have them.”

Ethan’s frown deepened. “Of coursewe can’t let them have them,” he said quickly, looking at Jeremy as if he’d said something more obvious than the nose on his face. “And yes, that means we have to fight. But they will have to bring the fight to us. We can’t do anything that might reveal to them where we are too soon.”

“I don’t want them to know where we are at all,” Joshua moaned.

“For a smart guy, you aren’t very brave,” Jeremy said, glancing at Joshua with disdain. The two of them had never gotten along well. Ethan typically acted as a middleman between them.

“And for a brave guy, you aren’t very smart,” Joshua retorted.

“All right, that’s enough.” Ethan shook his head. “We’ve all got to work together on this. Think.” He looked at Jeremy. “Where are you getting this information from?”

“From the best of sources,” Jeremy replied. By that, Ethan knew he meant the spy they had within the coven. The Divining Clan had spies in every ring they could find. It helped keep them safe and underground, even though they were out in the open almost all the time.

“Human?” Cameron asked. Jeremy looked at her, shaking his head.

“Not this time. We actually have someone within the coven who is willing to work with us.”

“That’s surprising, considering how they’ve treated us in the past. I’ve lost a lot of friends to those witches. The Ductus?”

Jeremy nodded.

“So it’s the Ductusthat is after the amulets,” Ethan said, propping his elbows up on the table and lacing his fingers together over his mouth. He pulled in a deep breath. “They are an old coven. It’s not surprising they know about us.”

“What I want to know is how they knew we were here in the first place,” Joshua said. “Do they have a spy within our clan, too?”

Ethan narrowed his eyes. “No. I can’t think of a single person in this clan who would betray us.”

“I can’t either,” Cammie shook her head. “I think we are all loyal. I know we are all loyal. If we had anyone who betrayed us in the clan, surely we’d know about it. Surely.”

“I hope so,” Ethan said. “I can’t think of anyone either. But it’s probably best we do a little internal questioning to make sure. Either way, they know we are here or they wouldn’t be here.” He looked squarely at Jeremy. “You know they are here?”

“I know they are in Quiet Waters,” Jeremy responded. “I don’t know where they are or if they know exactly where we are, either.”

Ethan bit the inside of his cheek and looked thoughtful. “All right. Our best bet is to make sure the amulets stay with us. We will need protection, the five of us, because we are wearing them.”

“We can’t let them take the amulets,” Joshua said. “If they do, we’ll have to start feeding again. I don’t want to feed, Ethan. I don’t want to kill humans.”

“I know you don’t. I don’t either.”

“I don’t like the taste of animal blood. And I feel bad killing them, too. This amulet was my saving grace. I don’t want to have to go back to all that.”

Ethan nodded. “I understand that. I do. We all have our reasons for why we want to keep going the way we have been. I’m sure just like the rest of you, I will fight to the death to keep this amulet around my neck.”

“Of course, Ethan. We would never allow anyone to take them from us.”

“I’m tired,” Ethan said. “What can we do right now to resolve this situation?”

Jeremy looked at him, slightly confused. “I can’t think of a thing we can do right now.”

“Exactly,” Ethan nodded. “I’m going to get some rest. You are all going to bed soon, too?”

“I don’t even know if I can sleep,” Joshua replied despondently.

“You’ll sleep fine, Josh. Just go on down to your chambers and rest. You’ll be all right.”

“Not if those witches come busting in and take my amulet, I won’t,” Joshua replied, pushing himself back from the table and standing up. “I wish I knew where they were. I’d make sure they don’t get their hands on anything of mine.”

Ethan watched him stomp from the room. He knew his frustration. It was all too real. Joshua hadn’t asked to be turned and now here he was 200 years later, still fighting for his existence. He hated it. Ethan hated it. They all hated it. With the exception of Cammie, who seemed to enjoy the battles more than the peace.

He stood up, too, looking at his three remaining companions. “You’ve been awfully quiet, Tyler. Are you feeling all right?”

Tyler looked up at him, raising one eyebrow and reminding Ethan of Mr. Spock from Star Trek. He was long and thin, just like the character, and had dark hair that swept back from his sculpted face. “I am feeling fine. I have nothing to contribute to this conversation. I am prepared to fight for the amulet like the rest of you are. But I don’t know anything about the Ductus or their practices.”

“We’ve fought with them before, haven’t we?” Cammie asked.

Ethan shook his head. “No, they have never bothered us. I must say in all these years, it has been the humans that hunt us down the most.”

“What really sucks,” Jeremy said, standing up, prompting Tyler and Cammie to stand up as well, “is that they think they’re doing the right thing. And maybe they are, for their species. But if they got to know us, they would know that our clan is different. We try not to harm any humans. When we have to fight, it’s the other side that does the human killing.”

“That’s true,” Tyler nodded. “I always try to avoid killing them. I was one. I don’t know how the witches or the werewolves can do it. They must have been human too, right?”

“I’m sure they were. Maybe they don’t remember.”

“Maybe they don’t care.” Tyler shook his head. “Sad. Pathetic.”

“I agree.” Ethan yawned and stretched his arms over his head. “I am exhausted. I will see the rest of you tonight. We will have another meeting, call everyone together this time, instead of just the four of us. They need to know what’s going on so they don’t leave the premises unless they are with one of us.”

“I’ll spread the word about the meeting tonight,” Tyler said. “I probably won’t be getting to bed until later today. I have some work to do.”

“You have work to do?” Ethan questioned. He couldn’t imagine what kind of work Tyler had to do.

“Yes, I’ve started doing some artwork. I’m working on a piece right now and I want to finish it.”

“And you consider that work?” Cammie asked, smiling at him. Ethan noticed when she smiled, she didn’t look so angry. Typically, she had a steady frown on her face. She used it, he knew, as a repellent to the human men who flirted with her. She turned to them with that frown on her face and they backed away nine times out of ten. When they didn’t, her rough tone and angry words were the second repellent to them. She wasn’t the seducing type, though she knew other women in the clan who were.

Ethan left his companions behind to go to his chambers. They were the biggest in the mansion. All the sleeping chambers were below the first floor, where it was dark and cool. They each had their own “bed”. They didn’t sleep in coffins, though he had to admit, they were quite comfortable. It was amusing to watch the tv shows and movies where vampires were always depicted as coming out of coffins or hanging from the ceiling like a bat. He didn’t change into a bat. No one in his clan did.

Before he went down, he went to the kitchen and made himself a cup of hot chocolate. He sipped on it as he went down the steps, gripping the coffee mug in one hand. Chocolate always made him sleepy, the opposite effect that it had on most people. Most humans anyway.

As soon as he spotted his bed, which was actually a box made out of the hardest, finest wood he could find, with a mattress inside that conformed to his body, he knew he was done for. There was no way he was going to finish his hot chocolate before falling asleep.

He quickly changed into pajamas, setting the mug down on the side table. He climbed into the bed after gulping down about half the hot chocolate, enjoying the way the heat slid down his throat.

As he lay back in the bed and closed his eyes, he thought about the beautiful woman he’d met tonight. Anna would be a wonderful addition to the clan if she chose to come. But how would he tell her what he really was without scaring her? He would have to reveal so much about himself, something he hadn’t done with anyone outside the clan in hundreds of years.

He couldn’t tell her he was a vampire outright or she would surely run from him. He wouldn’t even get to the part where he could tell her he didn’t have to feed on her and that she didn’t have to be a vampire to be with him. After all, if she didn’t mind aging and dying before him, it was certainly something he could live with. Over the years, he’d had many wives and lived with them until they died of natural causes. He knew what to expect and they never worried about him being left behind. They would never experience his death and that was how he reassured them.

He thought about her until he drifted off to sleep, which was not long after his head hit the soft pillow under it.

A common secret between a powerful coven and a vampire clan that unites them beyond their knowledge.For how long a secret can remain hidden?

“Dark Secret” is a paranormal romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

 

Jun 30

The Sword Keeper

By Avin | Uncategorized

The Sword Keeper (Preview)

 

Chapter 1 

“This is what you’ve always wanted,” Carrie reminded herself as she approached the book once again. Her breathing was labored and her hand was shaking as it got closer to the page. Carrie pulled her hand back and sat down on the loose, rotting planks that covered the cottage floor.

The book looked innocent enough on the outside. It was loose leaf bound in brown leather. The pages were cut uneven, but other than that it appeared to be a very average book. Just like everything else in the cottage, including the kitschy, needle point sign that read, “The cottage is where the heart is.” At first glance it was all ordinary.

The only thing that was in any way unusual was the heat. Even with all of the windows open, the cottage was always 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The outside temperature was only getting up as high as 50 at midday, and yet the cottage never cooled off. Carrie assumed it was one of Greta’s spells. “The old woman must’ve liked the heat,” Carrie moaned as she wiped more sweat off her forehead.

Carrie looked at the book again and stretched her hand out to it. A spark shot out to her finger before she even touched the leather. “Ahhh!” Carrie yelled as she pulled her hand back. The book flipped open, and Carrie recoiled; she knew what was about to happen.

It started with her finger. The skin became a beige smoke that slowly enveloped her body, and then the smoke flowed into the open pages of the book. The world around her disappeared and the next thing she saw was the black room, and Greta standing in the middle. “Welcome,” Greta smiled. The eyes weren’t focused on Carrie, they just looked straight ahead.

“You will now have the power to use the book,” Greta’s words seemed to float right past Carrie. She had been waiting so long to hear them. The lessons left for her by Greta had helped the young witch a lot, but Carrie had yet to see any of the spells. Carrie smiled as she realized what the avatar meant by her words. She felt ready.

“You are not ready, but we have run out of time.”

“I am ready!” Carrie protested, but the image in the middle of the room was not really Greta. The powerful sorceress had died over a hundred years earlier. It had made the lessons very frustrating. “How can you say that?”

“Solomon is approaching the cottage,” Greta’s image stated the fact bluntly. “You need to get away, and this is the spell that will take you back to your coven.”

The words hit Carrie hard, making her feel a bit sick to her stomach. She hadn’t seen the members of her coven in weeks, months maybe. Carrie wasn’t sure how long she had been in the cottage for. Her phone had died a long time ago.

“What language is this?” Carrie groaned as she looked at the spell that had appeared in red letters on the large black wall behind Greta. It wasn’t even a language she recognized. “Is this Greek?” Carrie pulled out her wand. She knew a translation spell, but it wasn’t always accurate.

Carrie was nervous as she put the wand out in front of her. She preferred spells that were written out in English. Speaking a language that you didn’t understand, especially where magic is concerned, created all sorts of unnecessary problems. Carrie had turned herself into an alley cat a few years back with the help of a yeast spell that was written in Yiddish.

“You have to leave the cottage now,” Greta’s voice delivered the message with the same cold detachment that had been haunting Carrie since the first time she touched the book. “This is not a test, or a trick. You are now charged with protecting this book, and the secrets contained within. It must never fall into the wrong hands. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my teachings, and I wish you a long and healthy life.”

“It doesn’t feel like you mean that,” Carrie mumbled as she started the translation spell. She was surprised and pleased that the book provided a phonetic spelling of the words so she could say the spell without changing the meanings of the words she didn’t understand. The pronunciations were appearing under the words in green. It was taking almost 30 seconds per word, and there were seven words in the spell.

“Anybody home?” It was Solomon. Carrie could see him, but he was on the other side of the back wall. It was like he was towering over the room she was in. He smiled right at Carrie and she knew he saw her. “There you are.” She saw him come closer and lean over the top of her. She watched him lift up the room she was in and remembered she was still inside the book. He’d picked it up off the floor. Now he was holding it. But did he see her? Or only the book?

Her heart beat rapidly as she focused on the translation spell. She needed to get away as soon as possible.

His eyes were scanning the page in front of them. I guess this is what it feels like to be a word, Carrie thought as she watched the eyes moving all around the page if a word could feel. From her vantage point, it looked like Solomon couldn’t make anything out. He seemed confused and upset. She wished he would put the book down. If he saw her, there would be a lot of trouble. She looked down again, trying to figure out the words as quickly as she could.

“Blank pages, eh?” Solomon chuckled to himself. Carrie was somewhat relieved to hear him say that until he made his next move. “I guess this isn’t the book.”

He closed the book. Carrie felt the floor rise up, and she ducked down and then laid flat on her back as her face planted into the ceiling.

“Oh my God!” Carrie groaned. She maneuvered her hand so she could rub her forehead. The ceiling had a lot of give to it. It still felt like paper against her forehead, but it was the speed he used to close the book that had hurt. Carrie moved her hand down and realized that she did have a bit of room to move.

There was no light in the room now and she was fighting to read the spell. Her eyes could make out a bit of the red, but the green was too light to see in the closed book. Carrie waved her wand with a flick at the end and the tip glowed white. “Arrttey Fuggney semper fi tiggey bel fourt!”

The white of the wand was absorbed into the white that swallowed the darkness of the closed book. Carrie was wet before she could make out where she was. The room was gone. She was still holding the book in her left hand and her wand in the right but she appeared to be floating in water. And yet she could still breathe.

Where am I?

Carrie tried to swim for the surface, but her ankle felt like it was caught on something . She looked down to see a hand grasping her leg. Solomon was below her. Fear split through her for only a moment before she flicked her wand at the thousand-year-old vampire. The bolt of power sent the blood sucker back a bit, tumbling over just enough for something in the deep, something dark and rising up from the bottom to encircle him and take him away from her.

Carrie spun in the water, struggling to swim as fast as she could to the surface. She hadn’t seen what it was, but the tentacle that touched Solomon was bigger than an anaconda, bigger than a giant squid. At least that’s what she assumed, since she’d never seen one other than in the movies. Carrie didn’t want to see the rest of the animal. She needed to get to the surface and figure out what the spell was supposed to say. That was her only priority at this point. This was not the escape that Greta had planned for her. She just knew it.

She had more problems than figuring out the spell but didn’t want to overload her brain thinking about it. There was the vampire, the sea monster, the fact that the surface was nowhere in sight… Carrie could feel her air supply running out. She didn’t have gills. She didn’t know how she’d lasted this long. She knew it could only be about another minute or so before her lungs would fill with water and she would drown. She couldn’t even see the surface, there was no way she was going to make it.

She could feel the book heating up in her hands. She opened the book and a spell appeared on the blank page in front of her. She tried to say the words, but she was underwater. Carrie had no idea if it would work until she could breathe once again. She was breathing in the water as if it was air. Carrie took a big breath and then exhaled.

Carrie screamed when a tentacle rose up and grabbed her leg. She had been so focused on breathing that the sea monster had completely slipped her mind. Solomon had likely been too fast for it to catch. Vampires were capable of great speeds in the water too. Before the tentacle could take her to the murky depths below, she managed to pull air all the way into her lungs. She could hold on for almost five minutes. She’d trained herself to do that since she didn’t know the spell for underwater breathing. The tentacle was pulling her down into the cold water. She calmed her heart and opened the book.

The spell from the wall faced her again, red and green, only now the last word was different. Carrie said the words again, and as they bubbled out of her throat the water started to get colder and colder.

Suddenly she was trapped inside an ice swan. The body of the swan was cold against her bare arms. Carrie was in jeans and a t-shirt. It was an inappropriate outfit for deep sea diving, but the cold water was a relieving change of pace from the heat of Greta’s cottage. The cold water was fine, but the ice against her bare arms was extremely uncomfortable.

Gone from the watery depths, the first crack broke through the silence of her surroundings and she suddenly saw the room outside the sculpture. She was finally in a place she recognized. It was the last place she had stayed before heading off to the cottage. Carrie was about to burst out into the throne room of Peles Castle, and it looked like Ali and Anatolie were having a party.

The second crack sent the neck of the swan falling to the ground. It was amazing to see from the inside. The swan was huge, and Carrie really appreciated the craftsmanship. She couldn’t tell exactly what it looked like, but there was a lot of detail on this swan.

Carrie could hear something else as the cracks started to come faster, and sharper. The kraken was coming through, as well. In fact the kraken was starting to push her through the ice. The swan body shattered and Carrie rolled free onto the ornate floor of the castle’s largest room. The guests were already scattering as they saw her tumble from what seemed to be a watery, icy depth.

The members of Carrie’s coven were standing at the back of the room, and they rushed forward to help her. Together they managed to fight the kraken back long enough to close the portal, much to Carrie’s relief. The last thing Carrie wanted was for any more unexpected visitors to arrive. “That was a kraken,” Carrie muttered as she heard the others debating the details of the attack. “We must be very careful about using portals to get in here. I wouldn’t have done what I did, if I had not been in such dire straits. Solomon was after me. That beast went after him first but I guess he got away because it came after me.”

They all needed some time to let the attack settle in, and Carrie needed to find a room to get some rest.

“I really need to get some rest. I’m going to find a spare room.”

She was sure that they would have a lot of questions for her but they really didn’t seem very upset. They were more waiting for the next thing to happen, it seemed.

Ali was more worried about her ball getting ruined. “The people need to believe that they can come here and have a good time,” Ali whined. “It’ll be a generation before they trust this castle for another ball.”

Carrie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She told the others about what she had learned. They were less than impressed. “You have an old book, and it wants you to save it?” Raven was trying to understand why she should help.

“It’s Greta. She is the one who wants it to be saved,” Carried explained. “That’s why she put a spell on the book. A spell that told me when Solomon was approaching and a spell that gave me what I needed to escape.”

“A spell that tried to feed you to a kraken,” Ali sneered.

“That is my grandmother’s spell book,” Anatolie reminded his fiancé in a deep, scolding voice. “If she wants us to protect the book then we must.” Ali rolled her eyes. She was in a foul mood and no one could escape her wrath.

Carrie tried to keep her voice even as she spoke to Ali. “It sent me there so the kraken could scare off Solomon, and it worked.” She tried to make it as clear as she could so they could understand the severity of the situation. But they stared at her with blank, uncaring expressions. They had no interest in hearing about the ordeal that Carrie had been through over the last few months.

“Six months,” Ali sighed as she repeated the number to a bewildered Carrie. “It’s been six months since you bothered to let us know what was going on. We’d about given up.” She reached up to violently take her hair out of the tight bun that she normally kept it in. It felt like her brain needed more space to handle all of this information. “You haven’t sent us any messages, or even let us know that you were okay…”

“How could I?” Carrie shook her head. “I wasn’t exactly next to a post box, was I?” She looked at Anatolie for support. He shook his head in return but said nothing. To her, that meant she needn’t bother fussing with Ali. It would do her no good. When Ali was in a foul mood, she stayed that way.

Carrie was glad that she had found the book. She had learned a lot. She could tell that her friends had felt a little abandoned. But it was necessary for her to continue her quest and learn as much as she could in order to protect the book.

“I was alone up there. I know. I chose to do that. I had to. But I do know…” She lowered her eyes. “I realized I need you guys. I need your support, your strength and your help.”

“You had to travel into the mountains for six months to realize that?” Raven shook her head.

Carrie looked around the room at her friends. She really had missed them. And yes, she needed them, too. She knew they would help her. That was all that mattered. Carrie sighed to herself and tried to push her weary body up to standing. Suddenly, she could no longer keep her eyes open. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a decent sleep. Knowing she was home with her friends gave her the sleepiness she needed to be out like a rock in no time. “I need to sleep. Can we please talk about this in the morning?”

The others continued to argue amongst themselves, especially Anatolie and Ali. He was on Carrie’s side and Ali didn’t like that he was defending her.

Carrie left the room. She headed to a quiet space in the castle. The chamber was cold, in contrast to Greta’s warm room. She closed her eyes, holding the book to her chest. They would help her get the book safely stored away. She was sure of it.

The castle was filled with empty rooms. The last time that Carrie was in the castle there hadn’t been much in the way of creature comforts, but with Ali and Anatolie living there now, Carrie had no trouble finding a place to lay down.

Carrie set the book down on a table beside the single bed. There was a blanket and a pillow in the room. Neither was very comfortable, but they would do. Carrie had been sleeping on the floor of the cottage for a long time, and any bed was a welcome change.

Carrie took one last look at the book in front of her, and then closed her eyes. Her eyes opened again quickly; she had to check to make sure that the book hadn’t moved. “How am I going to fall asleep with this thing around?” Carrie asked as her eyes shut again. She was so worried that someone would take the book, she took it from the bedside table and wrapped one arm around it. Sleep took hold of her.

Chapter 2 

It was a recurring dream. Radu had the dream every few months, every year for too many years. He wasn’t sure about time anymore. He spent most of what he had locked away. It was so hard to know what time it was as he lay for years in the dark. His body felt more like the rock ledge that he lay on than the body of a living being. The dream meant that the long sleep was coming to an end. He would need to feed again soon.

She was still young and beautiful in the dream. “Radu,” Nevasta teased as she moved away from him. The moon was high in the sky, and the streets of the small village were empty. Nevasta had a sparkle in her eye, and it was guiding Radu’s way as he ran after her. She was dodging in and out of alleys, staying just ahead of him.

Radu remembered this night well. They had been living in Jgheaburi for fifty years. The people there knew who Radu was, and they helped him to keep his secret. They were the reason that he and Nevasta could build a life together. The couple had spent their first 350 years on the run. Moving from place to place, trying to avoid other vampires, and being discovered by humans.

Nevasta was the reason that Radu had given up the crown. He would’ve had to eventually anyway, but as soon as he met her, Radu knew that he didn’t want to waste another moment as king. Even if they had an eternity together, he knew that it wouldn’t be long enough.

“Do you regret not being king?” Nevasta would ask sometimes. She was always worried that Radu would grow to resent her for what he’d done. She didn’t want to be the reason that he gave up the throne.

“If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing,” was always his answer. That was the answer that he gave one night when she asked the question once again.

“Are you sure?” Nevasta asked. Radu had lost sight of her, but he knew she was close. He had watched her walk down this alley.

“You’re the only one for me,” Radu said. Nevasta launched herself at him and took him right to the ground. He smiled as he looked up at her. They kissed, but her lips pulled back suddenly, and Radu’s eyes opened to see a vampire standing over them. He was holding Nevasta’s head in his hands. Radu sprang to his feet and attacked the dark one.

Radu’s enemy hadn’t come alone. Radu found himself drastically outnumbered. He knew that he couldn’t let himself be taken. The evil vampire wanted a very powerful weapon that he could use to wake his dark master.

The dream ended as Radu ran away. It hurt him to leave the body of his beloved behind. He could still feel the pain now, hundreds of years later. He woke sobbing, and rolled up into a sitting position. A cloud of dust rose up as he did; Radu could still feel it settling all over his skin. He could already hear the monks shuffling through the tunnel to his cell.

The monks pushed the heavy rock away from the door, and led the sacrifice into the room. It was a tribute for the service his master had provided them with thousands of years ago. Their brown robes were dusty from the walk through the crumbling walls of the footpath that led back to Radu’s chamber. The chamber was very deep in the mountain.

The room was sealed from the outside. The monastery was built into the side of a cliff. Carved out of the stone, Radu knew that if he tried to get out he might cause a crack that dropped the room down on top of him. He wouldn’t die, but he would suffer for millennia waiting for something to happen to the cliff. Only the monks knew that the vampire was in there.

“Radu the dark,” the high senior member of the monks, Brother Vladimir, said as he gave the vampire the chain. “This is Katrina, she has agreed to be your sacrifice.”

“Right, agreed, that’s why I’m on a chain,” Katrina sneered as she shot an angry look at the monks. Radu smiled warmly to the sacrifice, and gave a tug on the chain. He patted the ledge beside him. Katrina could feel the pressure on the other end of the chain. She didn’t want to upset the powerful beast. “Okay, don’t hurt me.”

Radu waved the monks away, and they all went and stood outside the door. The slam of the rock sealing off the room sent Katrina into a panic. “What are you going to do to me?” She thought for a second about grabbing the big wooden torch that the monks had left in a holder by the entrance.

“What do they call you?” His voice was deep and soothing. Katrina looked from the old man to the torch, but then she turned back to Radu.

“Me?” Katrina asked, and Radu looked on either side of her, and then scanned the room. “All right, I get it. I’m the only one in here. Ah, Trin…I guess. I like Kat, but no one calls me that.”

“Kat,” Radu said as he stood up and shook some of the dirt off himself.

“How long have you been in here?” Kat asked as she wiped the dusty air away from her face. She could see the specks landing on the bright white robes that the monks had dressed her in.

“What year is it?” Radu asked. He laughed to himself when he heard the year. “1998, then I have been in this chamber for the last 215 years. I locked myself away from the world. We don’t need any more monsters running around.”

“What are you?” Kat asked. She had been staring intently at the shaggy hair, and the flaking, stony skin of the ancient creature. Radu beckoned with two fingers for her to walk with him. She hesitated for a moment and then went to the wall he was standing in front of. He held the torch up so that Kat could see a dusty tapestry that hung on the wall.

“Have you heard the legend of Unul Vechy?” Radu asked. Kat shook her head. It wasn’t a story that many were familiar with anymore. “Balaur the Dread had been destroying villages and castles all across Europe and the people prayed for a savior. An angel to save them. Unul Vechy was an angel of sorts, and he did slay the dragon. Balaur fell from the skies and Europe was saved.”

“That was you?” Kat breathed the words as she looked up at the woven image of the dragon. She recognized the shape of the fallen dragon. She didn’t know where, but she had seen that shape before.

“That was my master,” Radu shrugged as if he needed to apologize for not being the dragon slayer. “Unul was not of this world, and he needed to drink human blood to live on this plane. He couldn’t stand to continually feed off of humans.”

“Didn’t the monks bring him sacrifices?” Kat scowled.

“Yes, but catching people wasn’t the problem,” Radu grunted. He quickly moved from Kat’s side to the door, and he put back the torch. “My master didn’t want to hurt anyone. He was an angel after all.”

“So, where do you come into all of this?” Kat moved over to look at the other tapestries that hung high on the walls of the chamber. Her eyesight was adjusting the longer she stayed in the dark cavern cell.

“Balaur was not of this world either,” Radu sighed. “There needed to be a person to take on the job of ensuring that the dragon was not brought back to life.”

“Who would want to do that?”

“His name was Solomon,” Radu felt a pang as he said the name out loud. He hadn’t mentioned the name in hundreds of years. He burned with rage for Solomon, he had seen his face in dreams, and there was something about saying the name that stung Radu deep down in his soul. “He was the first human to become a vampire.”

“Your master turned him,” Kat guessed. She was looking at a tapestry that she had seen in a textbook somewhere. It was about the formation of Wallachia. Kat couldn’t understand how any of these tapestries fit into the story that she was being told. The one with the dragon made sense.

“No, he impaled himself on the fang of the dragon,” Radu said as he followed Kat around the room. She was young, and he could feel her heart beating through her skin. The smell of her blood was driving Radu wild. He could feel his fangs twitching.

“That sounds gruesome.”

“Every story about the dark one is gruesome,” Radu murmured. “I was created by my master to keep the secrets of reanimating Balaur safe.”

“What’s wrong?” Kat said as she turned to see Radu’s eyes. She could see the pain behind them. She reached for his hand and he led her back to the ledge. “What happened that you sealed yourself away?”

“My life ended suddenly one night,” Radu groaned. “I have to be here on Earth, but there is no joy left for me.”

Kat looked up at a painting that hung over the ledge. It was a picture of a young woman with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She was dressed in a deep purple gown. The crown on her head looked like something out of a Disney movie. Kat knew that she was the reason that the flaky-skinned monster was locked away. “Solomon did this?”

“Yes,” Radu nodded as he pulled himself together.

“Is that a map of central Europe?” Kat asked as she looked at the map. She could see the Carpathian Mountains zigzagging through all the different countries before they ended with a thin strip headed out to the Black Sea. She grabbed the torch, and went back to the tapestry with the slain dragon on it.

“It’s him,” Radu said as he watched Kat’s mind whirring. She didn’t say anything for a long time, and then she sat back down on the ledge. “Balaur was larger than any foe man had ever faced, but killing him unleashed a plague upon this planet that has been more destructive than Balaur would’ve ever been.”

“Do you mean Solomon?”

“Vampires, witches, werewolves,” Radu was scanning the ancient tapestries as he spoke. It had been a while since he had looked at them. “Magic wasn’t present on this plane until Balaur landed, and the fight to stop him only invited more magic, and it was magic that ruined so many lives.”

“Wow,” Katrina gasped as she let the story wash over her. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt so wrapped up in the mystical power of the cave and the tapestries. She could now see past the flaky crumbling skin, and see the handsome face that hid behind it.

Radu moved closer to Kat and he put an arm around her. Kat tried to close her eyes tight, and just get it over with but she hesitated and pulled away from him. He let her move away from him, watching the nervousness in her face. “I just need to know,” Kat tried to get her breathing under control. “I just need to know if you’re going to kill me?”

“I will not hurt you any more than is necessary to sustain my life,” Radu promised as he moved closer to Kat. He didn’t like hurting women. He always tried his best to make sure they were comfortable before drawing their blood. “You will walk out of here under your own power, and you will remember nothing of your time here.”

“But I want to,” Kat said as she pulled away again, looking at him. “I’m glad that you’re going to let me live, but I want to remember this as well.”

“I have already promised this to the brothers,” Radu said, shaking his head. “I have to wipe the memories of the girls they bring here. I have no choice.”

“But what about all of the stuff that you just told me?” Kat frowned. “I want to remember this story, and these pictures. I want to remember all of this. I was kidnapped by freaky monks, and trapped in a cavern with a vampire, and it’s still the best date I’ve had in months. You can’t take this from me.”

“Unfortunately, I can my dear. I have to.” Radu smiled as he took her hand. Kat let herself be led over to the ledge. Radu pulled her back against his body, and Kat let herself sink back into his arms. The teeth sank into her neck and Kat gasped.

***

“Was she good, my lord?” Brother Vladimir asked as the rock rolled away. Two monks always stood by the door during the last hour to wait for his knock.

“She was excellent,” Radu said as he let the brothers into the room. He knew that they would be eager to get Kat out of the room. The monks had a great distaste for the work. Radu didn’t take offense to this, he didn’t like drinking the blood of their sacrifices either. Radu much preferred the taste of a willing donor. That is why he took his time with each girl.

“Of course heesh shays jat, the auld c-shamer,” Kat slurred her words, delirious as the junior monks led her down the rocky corridor that led to the outer chambers.

“She seems a little more animated than normal,” Vladimir remarked as he watched the girl amble off.

“She took to things a little differently,” Radu admitted. “I wouldn’t think too much of it. Make sure the next time to test them for alcohol. Did you find her at a tavern?” Radu didn’t wait for an answer from the monk. “Because alcohol in the system can have this effect.”

“We’ll check next time. Sorry about that.

Radu nodded and moved back into his room. He laid back down on his ledge, as they slid the rock back into place with a slam. This time a bar was placed around the boulder to lodge it into the structure of the monastery. For the next few years Radu would fight the urge to leave his cell. His hunger for blood was harder to ignore when he had just been fed. He could feel the heartbeats of the monks as they left the cavern. Radu closed his eyes to the sound. He needed rest.

Chapter 3 

“It’s 2018 for God’s sake, why am I still struggling to find a signal?” Ali’s shrill cries were coming through the walls. Carrie tried to cover her face, shutting her eyes tight. It was over quickly, thank God. Unfortunately, though, Carrie wasn’t the kind of person who rolled over and went back to bed. As soon as her sleep was broken, it was time to get up.

Carrie’s eyes opened again to see the sun had started to break over the mountains. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Where is it?” Carrie shouted as she ran out of the room. “Where is the book?”

“I have it,” Anatolie was standing just in the hallway, running one finger over the outside of the book. He looked to be admiring it. He handed it back to Carrie.

Carrie accepted the book with trembling hands. “Please…” her voice was shaky. “Don’t do that to me.”

“You dropped it on the floor and I just wanted to make sure that no one took it,” Anatolie grinned at her. “You’re obsessed, Carrie. And that might be a good thing. At least you’ll watch over the book 24/7. I don’t know many humans that devoted to anything.”

“I’m not a human,” Carrie said, recognizing his humor. “I’m a witch.”

He nodded. “That you are, my dear. I am headed to bed now.”

The fright of the book being gone had nearly given her a heart attack. It wasn’t until she had gotten back to the bed and sat down to take a moment to feel the leather of the cover, that Carrie started to calm down.

Carrie got back out of bed and then headed down to the main dining room where Raven was having an early breakfast. The castle didn’t have a staff. They had the guards, a group of vampires loyal to Anatolie, but they didn’t have cooks, chefs, or butlers. Everything was still set up for the party that Carrie had ruined with her ice spell.

She knew that it was going to be a while before Ali forgave her for that. To Carrie, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Ali was overreacting.

“She’ll get over it,” Raven said as she watched Carrie’s eyes looking over the decorations.

“Are you sure?”

“Well, no,” Raven teased. “I forgave you already, but she may hate you forever.”

The girls laughed as Carrie sat down and pulled a pear out of the fruit bowl on the large oak table. She sat in the high-backed chair and let herself melt into it. She could feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. She didn’t really have a plan, but she knew she wasn’t leaving the castle until they came up with one. “We should ask Helga for help,” Carrie sighed between bites of pear.

Shortly afterwards Raven excused herself and went to bed. Ali was already sleeping, Carrie assumed, because the yelling had stopped coming through the walls. The others were now on vampire schedules. They had both decided to spend their lives with vampires, and so their new sleep schedules made sense. It just made for a very lonely day for Carrie. The castle was a very quiet place, and Carrie wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to go outside the castle’s walls. Solomon had found the book once. There was always a chance he would find it again.

“So, what do I do with you?” Carrie said to the book as she flipped it open to a random page. For the first time since finding the book, she could see the words written in the pages of the book. “Oh!” She threw the book down, recoiling for a second.

“What are you trying to do to me?” Carrie asked the book as she took a deep breath and summoned the strength to lean down and pick it up again. She pulled all her courage together and began reading through it. The power of the book pulsed through her fingers, adding to her discomfort. “The Protection Spell, the Invisible Hand, the Touch of Death?” Carrie read the names in a hushed whisper. She read through a few of the spells, and decided to try one out. She hurried back to the fruit bowl.

 

 

 

“Luați acea pere!” Carrie said, holding her hand out and curling her fingers. She was staring intently at the pear left on top of the fruit bowl. She raised her hand and the pear moved up. She moved her hand all over the place and the pear followed her hand. Carrie opened her hand and let the pear go.

She read through the book for the rest of the day. She took the time to protect the walls of the castle, even though it seemed unnecessary considering the power already contained in the castle. “Sigiliți aceste ziduri!” She shouted the words. Carrie wasn’t sure if it helped, but she did it anyway. Carrie knew that most magic was about the feeling, and the atmosphere that you created around you.

The others eventually woke up and started moving around the castle. The sun had gone down and they were ready to help Carrie find a solution to her problem. “We need to head into the woods,” Raven said. “We can’t hide the book in here. It’s too obvious.” Ali agreed with Raven but Carrie wasn’t convinced it was the right move. The two women fought with her until she finally relented under one condition.

“I’ll go if Anatolie comes with us,” she said. She was a bit disappointed that she was having to leave the walls that she had just taken the time to protect. It felt so much safer on the right side of the protection charm. “I just feel like I need someone indestructible near me.”

Anatolie grinned at her. He had been rendered indestructible by the book, and the actions of his grandmother Greta, the creator of the book. There was no guarantee that he could protect the others, but Carrie thought it couldn’t hurt to have him along beside them.

The witches left the castle quietly, moving down the front stairs on silent feet, moving toward the woods with stealth-like precision. Deep inside, they stumbled onto a clearing in the woods that was nearly a perfect circle. Normally they would’ve sat down right then, but Carrie decided they needed an extra layer of protection. She had brought a box of salt from the castle. “Anatolie, I need you to build a ring of logs on the outside of this ring.” Carrie started to pour a ring of salt around a stump. The circle was just wide enough for the witches to sit around the stump.

The girls each gave thanks to the spirits of the woods as they sat down inside the circle. The circle was when the coven was at its strongest. They could feel their powers moving through the roots and the plants that surrounded them. Anatolie stood outside of the rings of salt and wood. Carrie felt better knowing that he was watching over them.

“What are we doing?” Ali said after a moment of silence. “I thought I knew, but I need to know what to focus on.”

“We need to ask the universe for a solution to our problem,” Carrie suggested, but her voice gave away her low level of confidence in her plan. The others looked at her, and then each other. They all shrugged and then Carrie had a thought. “What if we ask Helga?”

Helga was the leader of their coven. She was the one who had planned their spring break trip to Romania. A trip that had turned into months of vampire and werewolf laden mysteries. A trip that had nearly ended all three of their lives at one point or another. Helga had pulled back from the coven and been less than helpful since the girls left home.

“She hasn’t been very forthcoming with information,” Raven said as she looked at the stump. Helga was Raven’s grandmother, and though the others didn’t blame their friend for her grandmother’s actions, she was having trouble processing the betrayal.

“We can ask her,” Ali said. “We don’t have to take her advice and she can always say no, but if she is willing to help, we’ve won that battle.” Carrie and Raven nodded and they all closed their eyes and called out to Helga. They could feel her presence, but she wasn’t answering their question. They could tell that she heard them, but she wasn’t saying anything.

“I can feel her using the energy,” Carrie said as she tried to break the hold Helga was using to suck in the power. “I can’t stop her.” The others weren’t responding and Carrie opened her eyes to see that the others seemed to be screaming at her as well. They were all moving their mouths, but there was no sound. Their hair was moving around, and blowing in a breeze that Carrie couldn’t feel. Her hair seemed to be moving as well.

Carrie turned to see Anatolie fighting to get through the protective barriers, but he was stuck on the other side of the logs and unable to help the witches as they seemed to be locked in a spell. Carrie could see the protective walls of the ring as Anatolie struck at the air. Out of the corner of her eye, Carrie saw a blast of pink and orange rise out of the stump.

“My girls,” Helga said as she broke the spell’s hold on her students. The energy stopped flowing, their hair stopped flapping in the unfelt breeze, and Anatolie fell over the logs he had been trying to charge past.

“What the hell was that?” Anatolie yelled as he brushed the leaves off of himself and got back to his feet.

“How did you do that?” Raven asked as she got up to hug her grandmother. She wasn’t sure how she would feel about seeing Helga again, but she couldn’t stop herself from loving her grandmother. The last time they had talked, Helga had been a magical projection. Seeing her in the flesh was a different feeling altogether.

“I need you to help me,” Carrie said as she watched the heartfelt scene unfold. She had tried to wait to ask, but she just couldn’t hold off her curiosity. “What am I supposed to do with Greta’s book?” Helga’s shoulders dropped and she got down off the stump. Helga was at least a thousand years old, and yet she had the appearance of a sixty or seventy-year-old.

“We need to get to work,” Helga said as she threw her grey hair up in a messy bun. “There is a lot to do if we’re going to get this book to the guardian and seal it away.” Helga walked out of the circle and the girls looked at each other. Helga wasn’t stopping, and they all ran to catch up with her.

“We need to get to the Monastery of Corbii de Piatră,” Helga said, “but it’s not going to be easy. Solomon knows that we’re going to find the guardian.” Helga led them out of the woods and back inside the castle. “The monastery was cut out of the side of a cliff, and deep in the heart sleeps the weapon we need.”

“The weapon sleeps?” Raven asked, but everyone else just kept walking. “Am I the only one who has a problem with this?” No one responded and Raven sighed heavily, trudging along behind them.

They walked into the huge throne room, which had rows and rows of golden bleachers on either side for the lords and ladies who once sat there. “I guess that’s a yes.” Raven grumbled, eyeing the back of her grandmother’s head.

“What are we supposed to be doing?” Ali asked as Helga pulled out several maps and held her hands over the sheets of old paper. Helga stayed silent and closed her eyes. Her hands were shaking, but the maps were also shaking, and there were marks appearing on the paper.

“This is the path that we have to take,” Helga said as she traced a line with her finger across the map. The path was the lone blue line in a sea of red marks leading through the mountains to a small village. It was the only mark from the original map that had survived Helga’s spell.

“Tell us why,” Ali snarled the words. Carrie knew that Ali was still upset about the misinformation she had received when they first came to Peles Castle, and the village of Sinaia. She and her beloved Anatolie had nearly died, and Anatolie had been cut into little pieces at one point. Everything had worked out in the end, but everyone had agreed that Helga had known more than she was sharing.

“We need to get the book into Poenari Fortress,” Helga sighed as she looked around the room at all of the angry faces. The old witch had been around long enough to know when she had lost the favor of the room. “It was built by Radu Negru, when he created the independent principality of Wallachia. It was the first step to Romanian independence.”

“Thanks for the history lesson, but what does that have to do with this book?” Carrie knew that she had to be missing something. “I get that Romanian independence was important from a historical perspective, but how does it apply to our current situation?”

“It is also where he locked away the most powerful weapon the world has ever seen,” Helga said. A smile slipped slowly onto her face as she watched the younger witches lean in closer. “The sword that knocked Balaur from the skies and the sword that is said to still hold his soul.”

“I’m lost, to be honest,” Raven said.”But it sounds like the place we probably should hide the book. When do we leave?”

“Tonight,” Helga said as she looked at her watch. “There isn’t much time. This path is one of the few places not being monitored by Solomon. As soon as he has all of his people in place, we won’t have a chance to get through to Radu.”

“We have to wait for Matthias,” Raven said, glancing through the window to the night sky beyond. There were so many stars. It amazed her. She was hoping to see Matthias coming in through the large windows at the south end of the throne room.

“I have told him to stay in Corvinus Castle,” Helga said as she put her arm around her granddaughter. “Vampires cannot be trusted around this book, at least not the vampires turned by Solomon.”

“Anatolie has broken Solomon’s hold,” Ali reminded her.

“But he is still susceptible to the lure of the book,” Helga said as she pointed at the throne. “This is his seat of power, and it needs to be filled while we are on this mission. We will be facing Solomon alone this time.”

Helga looked back at her maps. With a somber face, Ali rushed into Anatolie’s arms and he wrapped them around her, lowering his head to rest it against hers. Carrie looked away. She didn’t want to see Ali cry. She berated herself. This was all her fault. She should have been more careful. She was the one who had gone after the book. She was the one who wanted to learn more, and now her friends were suffering.

Carrie’s heart softened for Raven. She walked over and pulled her into a warm hug.

“I’m sorry he can’t come with us,” Carrie said, but her friend only nodded and stood rigid as a stone.

Can Radu and Carrie stop before it’s too late?

“The Sword Keeper” is a paranormal romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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