Laurel, Maryland 1990
Ash walked down the quiet street, noting the absence of people and voices on this mild spring night. Everyone must still be inside, eating dinner before commencing with their evening activities. Really, it was better for him that way.
Shutting out the rest of the neighborhood, he turned each one of his senses on the house on the corner, with its pristine white siding and pretty blue trim. It had only been a few years since the last time he’d been inside. He could almost convince himself no time had passed at all.
Too bad it would just be an illusion.
As he drew nearer, Ash hoped his arrival wouldn’t be too upsetting. The people inside had done a lot to try to forget the past, a past Ash himself had been a very large part of. That stung, but he reminded himself that this visit wasn’t about him. Hell, it wasn’t really even about the people inside. Not entirely anyway. It was more about an old man, who desperately missed his daughter and was too proud to do anything about it himself.
He slowed his pace the closer he got to the house. An all too familiar smell reached him, and fear blossomed in his chest. He moved faster, his mind screaming in silent denial. For once, his nose had to be off. Only Ash’s nose was never off.
His heart pounded furiously as he bolted up the home’s front porch steps. Then halted.
The unmistakable smell of death overwhelmed him as he stared at the slightly ajar door. Hand trembling, he pushed it in and searched the dark living room. His vision quickly adjusted to the lighting, and he could see the ruins of a party that looked more appropriate for Halloween than a birthday. A papier-mâché spider was crushed and spilling its innards of candy all over the floor. Punch slowly stained the beige carpet a brilliant, sweet smelling red. It reminded Ash too much of blood and sent a chill racing down his spine. Posters of vampires, mummies and werewolves covered the walls; something he would have found ironic under any other circumstances.
“Wanda?” he called, stepping across the threshold. He shut the door behind him before moving further into the house. He felt a bit silly for that small bit of propriety, but he needed the false privacy the closed door offered. The silence pressed in on him, doubling the trepidation that throbbed in his chest. “John?”
No one answered, not that he had really expected them to. The further he moved into the house, the stronger the thick, coppery smell became. If he found someone alive, he’d be surprised.
With a sigh of resignation, Ash moved through the living room to the dining room and beyond to the kitchen. It didn’t take him long to find Wanda. She lay amidst the overturned kitchen table, among the broken crockery and strewn about pots. Tears came to his eyes at the grisly sight of her small body sprawled on the floor, her clothes ripped and bloody. Her eyes were closed, giving the illusion of sleep. The vicious punctures on her throat told another story.
“Oh, God.” He knelt next to her and placed a hand on her forehead. He started to speak quietly, praying to the Lord to protect her soul. “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.”
He was thanking the Lord that his heart had stopped nearly a century before when Wanda’s hand closed around his wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. He looked down at her, eyes wide with shock, and found her staring back at him, her own eyes clouded with pain and impending death.
“Ash?” she gasped.
“Yes, Wanda, it’s Ash. Hush now. We need to get you some help.”
“T-too late for that.” Her voice was strained, her breathing labored as fresh blood gushed from the wound in her neck. She shivered, and he could sense the cold fingers of death skating across her spine. “M-mark. Y-you h-h-have to f-f-f-find Mark.” Tears leaked from her eyes and mingled with the splattered blood on her face to streak crimson trails on her skin. “Please.”
“All right, I’ll find him. But please, be quiet now.” The smell of her blood was threatening to choke him, the scent heavy and sweet. He struggled to ignore it, his baser nature screaming at him to take notice.
“P-p-promise me.” Her fingers tightened around his wrist. Her shaking was becoming violent now, and they both knew it wouldn’t be long.
“T-t-t-take h-him to my f-f-father. Tell h-him…” The shudders overtook her, making it impossible to speak.
“T-tell m-my f-f-father I’m s-s-s-sorry.” Almost as soon as the last word was out of her mouth, she stiffened and her hand fell away from Ash’s wrist to land heavily on the floor.
He reached up and shut her eyes, crying openly at the loss of a woman he had watched grow from a child. He’d been there almost from her birth, and now he was here at her death.
“Rest easy, Wanda Elizabeth. Peace be with you.” After a few seconds, he wiped his eyes and rose to his feet, stretching out his senses to the rest of the house. He didn’t hold much hope of finding anyone alive. To his amazement, he caught the faint sound of a heartbeat on the second floor. “Mark!”
He moved quickly up the steps, pausing only once to look into the bathroom to see where John Lynch must have been caught taking his shower. The water still ran over his nude form hunched in the corner of the tub, blood seeping slowly from the deep gashes marring his chest, arms and legs. His eyes were wide and unseeing.
With a small prayer, Ash closed the door and followed the sound of the heartbeat to a room at the end of the hall. “Mark?”
He pushed open the door and peered into the darkness. His sharp vision picked out the trappings of a teenage boy’s room. He stepped inside and walked over to the dresser, immediately seeing the dark-haired boy who huddled between it and the wall. “Mark?”
It took a few seconds, but the boy tilted his head up to look at him. The eyes that settled on Ash were huge and frightened.
“It’s okay,” Ash murmured. “I’m here to help.” He kneeled down to Mark’s level, making sure to keep his movements slow and his voice soft. The broken end of a stick was gripped tightly in the boy’s hand and the fine sheen of dust covered him and the floor.
Good for him, Ash thought. It looked like the boy had taken out the creature that had killed his parents. “I need you to come with me. I’m going to take you somewhere safe. Okay?”
Ash held out a hand, keeping one eye on the stick. He nearly smiled when the boy reached out and took his hand, the small fingers wrapping around his cold ones. He stood and pulled Mark to his feet, then tugged gently to get him out of the house and into the cool night air.
* * * *
“‘S that him?”
Ash looked at the man who’d asked the question. Cyrus Tanner stood inside the doorway of a modest, single story, brick house. Grief painted his features as he looked down at where Mark stood next to Ash. The boy stared blankly at the ground, his slim shoulders slumped.
“Yes. Cy, I’m…” Ash paused to take a breath, fighting the tears that stung his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Cy ran a hand over his military short, gray hair and sighed. “Thanks, Ash. You’d better bring him inside.”
As soon as they were through the door, Cy shut it and turned to study the last link he had to his daughter. The boy was tall for his age, the top of his head coming to Ash’s shoulder, and Ash stood a good six feet. Mark’s dark hair brushed his shoulders, the inky locks dulled by the dust coating it. He was thin, but his face showed the signs of baby fat still to be shed. Mark had yet to look at him, and Cy had a feeling that when his gaze did finally settle on him, he’d be looking into the near black eyes of Wanda.
“I called the police,” Ash said. “They’ll probably be contacting you tomorrow.”
“I don’t know what you want to tell them about how he got here.”
“I’ll figure something out,” Cyrus told him with a wave of his hand. He couldn’t take his eyes off the boy. His old heart squeezed painfully in his chest. Mark was a perfect mix of his father and mother, from the top of his dark head to the bottom of his Chuck Taylor shoes. Cy would have given anything to have seen this child grow from a baby, but his pride and his daughter’s stubbornness had prevented it.
Ash looked at Cy, his heart full of sympathy for the family splintered by time and death. He could see the longing in the old man’s eyes, feel the grief that etched new lines into his face. He suddenly felt like a voyeur to their pain and decided it was time for him to leave.
“I’ll leave you two alone. I’m sure you have a lot of catching up to do.” He felt like an idiot for the lameness of that statement.
Cy’s gaze shot to him for a brief second and he nodded. “Thanks, Ash, for bringing him here.”
“Of course.” Ash turned to go, pausing when Cyrus called his name.
“There’s a nest on 20th, inside the old movie house. I was going to go down there tonight, but…”
Ash gave a tight, sympathetic smile and nodded. “I’ll check it out,” he assured, before quietly opening the door and leaving.
Cyrus stood for a long time, staring at the boy who sat quietly on his beat up old couch. A multitude of emotions writhed around inside of him, not the least of which was regret. Regret that he couldn’t have made things right with Wanda. Regret that he hadn’t been there when she needed him. Most of all, regret for the fight that had driven her out of his life forever.
And now he had this child to take care of. He knew he was the only next of kin. Wanda might have written him off, but he had never stopped watching over her. John Lynch had been an orphan, raised in various foster homes before finally being adopted by a family practitioner and his wife at the age of ten, both of whom were dead. There was no one for the boy but Cyrus, his grandfather. A man that was no better than a stranger to him.
With a sigh, Cyrus walked over to the couch and kneeled down in front of Mark, drinking in the lines of his face like a man dying of thirst. All that was left of his baby girl was wrapped up in this boy and he vowed to finally do right by her. He would take care of her son in a way that he had never taken care of her.
“Mark,” he started in a rough whisper. The boy showed no indication of hearing him outside of the brief flicker of his eyelids. “I don’t suppose you know who I am. I’m your grandfather.” Again, no real sign of the boy hearing him. Cyrus could only imagine what was going through his mind. He didn’t know how much of the carnage Mark had witnessed at his house, or how the violent death of his parents would affect him in the long-term.
According to Ash, there was evidence that the boy had taken out the vampire that had torn his life apart. He hoped that would give the child at least a sliver of peace.
“I need to know if you’re hurt. Can you tell me?”
Mark just sat, his eyes unseeing, his mind completely wiped out. He didn’t want to think. If he didn’t think, he wouldn’t have to admit that all of this was real. That his parents were dead. Tears burned the back of his eyes, and he struggled to keep them at bay. He wanted to curl up and pretend that none of this had ever happened. He couldn’t do that if this man, who said he was his grandfather, kept trying to make him remember.
There was a dull throb in the back of his head, at the place where he had been hit when he’d let the creature into his room. He’d been ignoring the memory of it so far, pushing it away like he had pushed away the image of his mother on the kitchen floor, the blood draining out of her as the thing went after his father. He didn’t understand why he was still alive. Why the man he had known as his father’s partner in business had left him alive to go after Mark’s parents first. He should be dead. It was his fault, so why was he still alive?
“Mark, I’m going to touch you now. I need to check for broken bones.”
There was an apologetic quality to the gruff voice penetrating Mark’s haze of blankness. He blinked when he heard it, and finally brought his attention to the man.
Cyrus met the boy’s gaze, never flinching at the penetrating black orbs trained on him. He could see confusion, pain and grief swirling in their depths and wanted nothing more than to ease the boy’s suffering. But he had been out of practice for a long time at soothing hurts and giving comfort. He’d have to wait for the boy’s lead, and hope that they both came out of this okay.
“If you’re my grandfather, how come I’ve never met you?”
The question surprised Cyrus, since it was so far off what he thought the boy might say. He struggled a moment with what to say, deciding to keep it as basic as possible. “Me and your mama … well, let’s just say we didn’t exactly see eye to eye on things.”
“Why?” Mark’s gaze never wavered.
Cyrus sighed and scrubbed a hand over his head. He didn’t want to hurt the boy further by admitting what had broken him and Wanda apart. But he didn’t want to lie, either. After several seconds, he leveled his own world weary gaze on Mark, allowing his anguish to show.
“You’re grandma … she was killed by a vampire when your mama was a girl. Wanda didn’t think that I should be going out every night hunting the bastards.” She had been afraid, deathly afraid, that she would lose him, too. Instead of waiting for the day that Ash would bring his lifeless body home, she had left, taking Cyrus’ battered heart with her.
“You kill vampires?” The question was barely a whisper
“Yes,” Cyrus answered carefully. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t like the sound of that question. He knew he didn’t like it when the boy’s gaze sharpened, the depths of his eyes glittering with a hatred that a child his age should never know.
“Show me,” he said simply.
In the time it took the vampires to scent the danger in their lair, it was already too late. The only sounds that permeated the old abandoned warehouse were the surprised cries of the night creatures as the hunters became the hunted. All they saw in the split-second before they became just another layer of dust on the floor was the flash of black leather. One by one, they were picked off in their nest, until there was only one left standing. His red, glowing eyes looked around the vast space in confusion.
“Dudes? Where’d you go?” he asked the air. “Augh!” he grunted, looking down at his chest to see the bloody point of a stake protruding from it. “Oh shit,” were the last words he ever said before he exploded into a fine spray of bone and powder.
As the remains settled, Mark Lynch stepped out into the dim light. He was tall, lean and as lethal as those he hunted—a far cry from the boy that had been deposited at his grandfather’s house twelve years ago.
Mark moved soundlessly through the building, collecting crossbow bolts and discarded stakes. He was soundless save for the whisper of his black, leather duster as it swirled around his legs. The fact that it made him look both dangerous and sexy—at least according to the women he occasionally spent time with—was of no matter to him. Its use as a defense mechanism was far more important. The thick material protected his vulnerable flesh from claws and teeth, the length helping to protect his legs. Thick, dark denim encased his legs, furthering the protection the leather afforded. Soft, soled boots adorned his feet, muffling his footsteps. A simple, black T-shirt was worn more for camouflage than anything else. Everything he wore had a use, everything was chosen for exactly that purpose.
In fact, the only thing about his appearance that could be considered in anyway vain was his hair. So black it was almost blue and straight with the slightest of wave to it, the locks cascaded down his back past his shoulders in a midnight waterfall. Cyrus was forever nagging him to get it cut, and it remained the one thing that Mark refused to do for the old man.
Mark couldn’t honestly say why he was so adamant about not cutting his hair. He knew it was frivolous and potentially dangerous. But every time he thought about it, his stomach would clench and a picture of his mother, with her miles of glorious hair, would pass through his mind.
“He told me I could find you here.”
With a precision born of years of practice, Mark whirled around, his crossbow appearing as if from nowhere in his hand. It was aimed, his finger prepared to shoot, even as the tension drained out of him with the recognition of the voice. To his credit, Ash didn’t even flinch. He merely kept his gaze locked on Mark, an amused smile curving his mouth.
“You know, one of these days you’re going to sneak up on me like that, and I’m not going to be able to stop from shooting you. Then your name really will fit you,” Mark told him with a grin. He replaced the crossbow in its hiding place in the lining of his coat and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes.
“Yeah, well, if I gotta go, I would prefer it to be you.”
Mark smoked thoughtfully for a moment before nodding. He took the hand Ash held out and clasped it firmly. “Good to see you,” he told the one vampire he called friend, before letting go to retrieve the rest of his equipment. He could have just said screw it and left the few stakes behind, but the idea of hours spent whittling new ones made him cringe.
“You, too. Is this the nest you’ve been following?”
“Yeah. Elusive bastards. Every time I got close, they moved. But they weren’t quick enough this time.” Mark sifted through a pile of vampire remains to reach the last stake, then ground his cigarette out in the pile of dust.
Ash snorted at the final show of disrespect on Mark’s part.
“So,” Mark asked, “what brings you here? The old man send you out to find me?”
“Uh huh. Told me to tell you to quit playing with those tree hugging vamps and get your ass home.” Ash looked around the warehouse as he spoke, his enhanced vision picking out the junk that littered the building. Disgust roiled through him that a sentient being would willingly live in such squalor. He could hear the rats scurrying around in the dark, could smell their stink. They were vampires, but that didn’t mean they needed to live like vermin. Lord knew that Ash didn’t. Not even when he had first been turned.
Grinning at Cyrus’ assessment of his prey as tree hugging vamps, Mark started towards the entrance of the warehouse. The old man wasn’t that far off. Apparently, the group had taken off to the jungles of South America some thirty years ago. They’d somehow managed to miss the end of the Vietnam war, Nixon’s resignation, Iran Contra, Desert Storm and Monica Lewinsky.
Mark figured their lack of knowledge concerning current events had a lot to do with the haze of villager’s blood and locally grown weed. When the vampires had finally decided to venture out of the jungle and back over to this side of the border, they had been appalled by the surge in industrialization in the States. They’d started to prey on those that they felt were “raping” the Earth and robbing her of her natural resources. After three months of hunting them, Mark had found that they were like any other activist. They just had the benefits of sharp claws and teeth to get their point across.
Whether or not Earth was getting “raped” was not his concern. His job was to make sure that the night creatures didn’t snack on the citizens, and he didn’t care what their cause was, or if they even had one. If they wanted tougher ecological laws, they could March on Washington like everybody else, or lobby the Senate and hope for a night session.
“You would have thought that the toxic cloud hanging over them would have made them easier to track,” Ash observed with a grimace.
Mark’s snort of laughter preceded the sound of the door opening. They both took a deep breath of city air to dispel the smell of the marijuana, filth and blood that had permeated the warehouse. Mark thought it funny that the strong scent of tar, car exhaust and decaying trash was a much better alternative to the strong smell of the nest.
“So, what’s got Cyrus so pressed to get me home?”
The two men turned and started to weave their way along through the maze of deserted warehouses to the main road where Mark had left his car. Hulking buildings surrounded them, the smell of their decay thick in the night air. They were the perfect home for the things Mark hunted, since they were secluded, abandoned and, best of all, rent free.
Most of the owners had moved their businesses into Baltimore, which was right off both the Parkway and I-95, much easier to get to then North Port, which was on the other side of the busy city. The warehouses left behind were just that. Left behind. Most of the owners didn’t care who, or what, took up residence. Mark would wager that most of them were waiting for the day some arsonist got the idea to play with matches and set all of the warehouses on fire. If it weren’t for the College that dominated the center of town and the beer bottling factory on the outskirts, the city of North Port might very well have fallen into extinction.
One enterprising individual actually bought an ancient building off the main road and converted it to a two level den of inequity, ironically called “The Den”. It was the after hours hang out for co-eds and the few businessmen that still lived in town. Mark had never been inside himself, since it was easier to catch the vampires that hunted there on their way out than it was in the club itself. He wondered about the idiot that bought it often enough, however. Everyone who lived here knew better than to frequent the docks. But, apparently, the promise of a good time and cheap drinks made that knowledge easy to forget. Since the club’s inception, disappearances had tripled, causing Mark to shake his head at the stupidity of the club’s patrons.
“A job.” Ash finally answered his question as they emerged from the darkness of the interior warehouses to the bright, garish light of The Den.
Even though they were a block away, the brilliance of the spotlights illuminating the front of the club reached them. A line of people had formed outside waiting to get in. Mark rolled his eyes at the line of easy pickings and turned to follow Ash to his car. The ancient Thunderbird looked sad against the sleeker, sportier models that were parked around it, but that car had saved Mark’s life on more than one occasion and he wouldn’t trade it for the fastest sports car on the market.
“Does this job pay?” Mark asked, unlocking the car. “’Cause, it’s kind of hard to buy smokes with vampire dust and werewolf teeth.”
“I hope so.” Ash slid into the ripped interior of the car. “Flora’s hinting not so subtly that I’m a little late on the rent.”
“How late is a ‘little?’”
“Three months.” They both laughed as Mark put the car in gear and eased out of the parking space. “You know, she’s also been hinting that a certain ungrateful boy that she helped raise has been neglectful in coming by to see her.” Ash looked over and smirked at the grimace that crossed Mark’s face.
“Been busy.” He shrugged a shoulder. A stab of guilt lanced through him belying the move, and he made a promise to himself to get over to her shop the next day.
Flora Clement was like a force of nature, wild and raging on the outside, but calm and serene on the inside. She had been his grandmother’s best friend, and she had turned into his pseudo-mother in the time after he came to live with Cyrus. Cyrus had said on more than one occasion that if it hadn’t been for Flora, he would have gone crazy when his wife died. Of course, he never said it when there was any danger of Flora overhearing.
In fact, whenever the two were in the same room, an argument was almost guaranteed to break out. Mark had been shocked the first time he had ever witnessed the woman with brassy blonde hair and garish, colorful clothes take on the gruff and crusty Cyrus. The fact that his grandfather had backed down in the end had shocked him even more. That shock lessened over the years, as he himself got a taste of what it was like to disagree with her.
A comfortable silence settled over Ash and Mark as they left the noise of the club behind and made their way through the city. Mark’s mind drifted as he drove, taking him back to the night Ash had brought him to the grandfather he had never even heard of. He could still remember Cyrus’ horrified face when he’d calmly told the old man to “show him”. Cy had adamantly and firmly told him no. He flat out refused to do what he thought Wanda wouldn’t want him to do. But, after two months of listening to his young grandson wake up in the middle of the night crying and screaming for his parents, Cyrus finally relented.
Mark would never forget the feeling that had unfurled in his chest the first time he had held a crossbow. It wasn’t until a few years later that he was able to name the warm, intoxicating feeling that had flowed though his veins that day. Power.
And with that feeling of power had come a misguided feeling of invincibility. It had been Ash that had reminded him about humility. To that end, it had been the vampire that had given Mark his first scar—a set of bite marks on his neck, just below his jugular.
It had been the Mark’s own fault. He had just turned fifteen when he had decided that Ash was one of “them” and needed to be destroyed. It didn’t matter that the vampire had been a constant in his life. He had taught Mark how to fight, how to find the weaknesses in an opponent, and how to prey on those weaknesses. And Mark had used all of those lessons to systematically cripple a friendship that had survived his initial realization that Ash was a vampire. He’d had no excuse as to why he did it. And Cyrus had taken him to task after he’d found out about it. Of course, the sight of Mark, bruised and bloody and sporting a bite mark, had only served to feed Cyrus’ anger at him.
The fact that Ash had forgiven him with a barely whispered apology on Mark’s part never ceased to amaze him. It was one of the many things that awed Mark about Ash.
The vampire was a mystery, despite being his best friend. He never spoke of his past, his turning, or who he was before he’d been turned. If he talked about his life as a vampire prior to meeting Cyrus, it was only in a “life lesson” type of way, used to make Mark understand how vampires worked. But it didn’t explain how Ash worked. And why he would spend his life killing his own kind and keeping company with the creatures that were supposed to be his food. Mark still wasn’t sure how the vampire got the blood that he needed to survive. But Ash never looked in danger of combusting into dust, so he figured he had a source at the blood bank or something.
Mark was brought out of his thoughts as he turned into the short driveway in front of the house where he had lived the last twelve years. A car sat on the street, its blue paint shining in the street lamp. “Who’s that?”
“I dunno. They weren’t here earlier,” Ash answered as they climbed out of the car and started up the walk. “Maybe it’s about the job?”
“Maybe. But from the looks of that car, they can’t afford to pay very much. I’m guessing this is another freebie.” Mark’s voice held no malice. It didn’t matter to him whether or not they got paid. It suited him just fine to take care of whatever the problem was and make the world a little safer. But as Cyrus was fond of saying, “good intentions don’t pay the bills”. And the cost of keeping their equipment in tiptop shape, as well as mundane things like food and clothing, were more than Cyrus’ teaching job could afford. “Well, let’s go see what this is all about.”
Ash nodded in agreement and followed Mark into the house.
* * * *
Evelyn Anne Murphy had been called a lot of things in her near thirty years on Earth. Dumb was not one of them. She had spent the last ten years of her life learning how to read people and situations, never liking to be surprised since surprises were rarely good. At least, they weren’t in her experience. So as the two men filled the room, their size and presence formidable, she took in everything about them.
It seemed to Eve that when they walked in the very speed of life slowed down. Their movements took on a slow motion quality that reminded her of an old western movie. The first one was only lacking a hat to complete his gunslinger image and the man right behind him was no less lethal looking, despite his deceptively unassuming exterior. They were both handsome, unbelievably so. Neither could by any means be called “pretty”. Their beauty came from a raw, predatory air that seemed to skate under their skin. They were intimidating, the intensity of their eyes making her heart thump in her chest and her breath quicken, like it would if she had just met a tiger without the benefit of the bars at the zoo. All in all, the men were an impressive duo. Her confidence in what she wanted to hire them for skyrocketed to new heights. Some of the apprehension she had been feeling since this idea had started to form eased away.
The first of the men was tall, towering over the other by a few inches. Eyes as black as pitch burned into her, sizing her up in much the same way she was doing to them. Her gaze moved to the icy blue eyes of the other man, a shiver rolling up her spine at the predatory gleam in them.
Both men were lean and well muscled, their clothing doing nothing to hide either fact. While the taller one looked like some sort of dark avenger, all of his clothing black, the other one was dressed in more casual attire of blue jeans, denim jacket and a plain gray T-shirt. Scuffed work boots adorned his feet, making him look more like a construction worker than a demon hunter.
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as their gazes locked, the feeling not unpleasant but definitely inappropriate. Eve couldn’t stop herself from studying the rich, sable hair that fell across his broad forehead, giving him a boyish quality. Or the sharp lines of his face that seemed etched out of stone. Long, dark lashes surrounded eyes that were so light that if it weren’t for the dark circle around the irises, it would have been impossible to see their color against the white. His jaw was square and strong, his mouth inviting, the bottom lip fuller than the top. His nose, while just a little crooked, didn’t detract from the overall beauty of his face.
“Good, you’re back.”
Eve’s contemplation stopped as Cyrus’ gruff voice broke into her thoughts. He stood in the small archway that separated the living room from the dining/kitchen area. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, and in his hand, he held a stack of papers. He reminded Eve of a typical grandfather type, with faded, stressed blue jeans and an ancient flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The only thing that detracted from the image, was the rather large cross situated in the center of his chest and the long knife strapped to his belt.
“You beckoned, oh wise one?” the taller of the two newcomers asked, a smirk curling his lip.
Cyrus snorted and walked fully into the room. The three men combined seem to fill the small space to overflowing, giving Eve a distinctively claustrophobic feeling.
“Eve,” Cyrus said, “that disrespectful brat is my grandson, Mark. The man behind him is Ash. They’ll be the ones that will go in and do the actual job.”
The old man took a seat next to her on the couch. He threw the papers he held on the table, revealing a few pictures and a couple of pages of notes. Mark flashed his grandfather an unrepentant grin and shrugged out of his duster. He dug out a pack of cigarettes then threw the coat over the back of an easy chair that sat in front of the window before settling his long form into it. Ash disappeared into the dining room, returning a few seconds later with a metal-framed chair. He set it down backwards and straddled it, his legs stretched out on either side. He rested his arms across the top of the chair and settled his gaze on Eve, his every sense focused on her.
“Eve here has a problem. It seems that her sister has gotten herself into something she can’t get out of, and she’s hoping we can help her,” Cyrus said.
“What kind of something?” Mark asked, lighting a cigarette.
Eve sighed and rubbed her hands together, wondering just where to begin.
Ash watched her as she thought. She studied her slim, delicate hands. Pretty hands. Fine boned and slender, the fingers tipped with unpolished nails. Silver glittered from her right thumb and left middle finger, but other than that, she wore no jewelry. She was diminutive, almost seeming childlike next to Cyrus’ barrel-like build. A short cap of sleek, dark auburn hair angled toward a pixie-like face. A slight underbite made her bottom lip have a pouty quality. Her sun-kissed skin was sans makeup, making her appear even more youthful. A simple, black silk tank top accentuated her tanned skin and the red highlights in her hair. It clung seductively to her full breasts, the thinness of the material making it obvious she wasn’t wearing a bra. Linen pants molded to the best pair of legs Ash had seen in quite awhile.
Despite her height, they seemed to go on forever, the sleek muscle under her skin moving fluidly as she shifted. A pair of black, thong sandals adorned her feet, the nails painted a vivid red. The soles of the shoes were about two inches thick, but even with the added height, he didn’t think that the top of her head would brush the bottom of his chin.
She must have felt his gaze, because when she looked up it was directly at him. Ash wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but it felt to him that the air had suddenly gotten thick and he had a little trouble drawing in breath. He figured it was a good thing he didn’t need oxygen to survive.
“Eve? Would you like to explain?” Again, Cyrus’ voice broke through Eve’s haze. She broke eye contact with Ash as heat crept up her neck
“Er, yeah. Sorry.” That was weird, she thought, deciding that looking at Mark might be safer. Once she met his black eyes, however, she felt a shiver run up her spine for a completely different reason. Danger emanated from him, overwhelming her and making her nervous. “M-my sister, Brie, she’s being held by a vampire named Sebastian. I want you to go in and get her out.”
“You realize that the possibility of her still being human, or alive even, is slim.” Mark’s gaze never wavered from hers as he spoke. The smoke from his cigarette floated in the air around him, circling his head in a mock halo.
“Well, the fact that I spoke to her just yesterday, not to mention that there is no way Sebastian would turn her, or kill her, pretty much tells me that she is physically all right,” Eve shot back.
“And why is that?”
Eve hoped that the condescending note she heard in his voice was a product of her over-sensitized emotions. If it wasn’t, she’d really hate to embarrass him by showing him that she might be small, but more than capable of taking care of herself.
“My sister is a very special woman. She is a Siren. And killing her or turning her would destroy all of her usefulness to him.” Silence permeated the room as the men let this sink in.
“A Siren? You can’t be serious,” Ash said, frowning. He didn’t know much about them, but he did know that the woman in front of him didn’t fit the image of a Siren. How was it possible that her sister was a Siren if she was not?
“She’s my half-sister,” Eve said, as if reading his mind. “And I can assure you, it is possible. Now, unless you want Sebastian to use her gift for his own selfish means, which I can tell you will not bode well for humankind, I suggest you listen to what I have to say.” Her eyes shot sparks of anger and fear, challenging the two men to deny her.
Mark watched her thoughtfully. He crushed out his cigarette in a dented, tin ashtray before leaning forward in the chair. “Start at the beginning.”
Eve looked between the three men, took a deep breath and started to speak. Her voice never faltered as she told them of first love gone wrong.
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