Authors: Mallory Crowe
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Copyright © 2015 by Mallory Crowe
Mallory Crowe (2015-12-01). Finding Fire (Bad Boys Of The Underworld Book 1)
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Though badly named, the Stakes was the most serious vampire club Anna had found. When she had first moved to New York City, she’d continued with her research into the supernatural. In that time, she’d met some of the strangest people.
People thought they were vampires, werewolves, nymphs, succubi, and just about any other non-human entity a person could imagine. If they didn’t think they were one of these creatures, then they were on a mission to become one.
It seemed bizarre that the fear was really gone. Instead of trying to find a way to become the undead, shouldn’t everyone be pulling out the pitchforks?
This particular vampire hunting meeting was held at a generic coffeehouse near the campus Anna worked at. The owner of the shop catered to its mainly student clientele, so there were a few private study rooms where the Stakes could meet without customers overhearing their strange conversations.
The Stakes consisted of five members, including Anna. The oldest was Dennis. He was a businessman in his fifties. He was a bit heavyset with balding black hair he tried to hide with a comb-over. His suits were always a bit wrinkled, and he was consistently late for all of their meetings.
One of the other men in the group was Brad. Though he and Dennis were both businessmen, that was the end of their similarities.
Brad was tall and striking. His suits were always tailored to perfection and complemented his features. His blonde hair was always impeccably styled, and Anna strongly suspected his hands saw a manicurist on a regular basis. His age was hard to determine. Anna figured he could be anywhere between thirty and fifty.
The third man in the group was more blue-collar. Terrence worked as a janitor for one of the office buildings not too far from the campus.
He was in his late forties but still had a nice build. He was about the same height as Anna’s own five seven, though he had a lot more muscle behind his height. He mentioned a military background once or twice in past meetings, but he didn’t elaborate on what branch he’d been involved in.
Laura, the last member of the group, and Anna would sometimes bet between themselves what Terrence had done in the military. At this point, they were torn between Marines and Navy SEALs.
Laura was older than Anna by around ten years. Her husband owned a small restaurant right off campus. He did all the cooking while Laura managed all finances. Her hair was a short sandy brown, and her eyes were such a bright green that Anna suspected contacts.
As the only two women in the group, Laura and Anna had connected, but because of the rules of the group, they never got too close.
Vampire hunting is risky business. On one hand, if the vampires ever learned of their group, they could very well try to put an end to it. On the other, if coworkers or family found out about this hobby, there would be a lot of issues for the individual members to deal with.
The academic career was a particular one. If any of the faculty discovered Anna searched for the undead in her spare time, there would be consequences to pay. Namely, she would have a hell of a time gaining her doctorate or getting a job at any respectable university.
Everyone had arrived on time at the coffeehouse except for Dennis, who was his usual ten minutes late. After everyone finished with pleasantries, they got down to business.
No one had any interesting finds from internet and newspaper searches though Dennis had some news. “Someone contacted me last week,” he said.
“What about?” asked Brad.
“He requested to join the group.” Dennis’s tone was calm, but his face betrayed his concern.
Anna asked, “When you say contacted you, you mean…?”
“He called my cell phone.” Everyone in the room went still. No one had given out their cell phone numbers to one another. It was against the rules. No real names required and no contact information besides email. No one knew her full name was Annabelle, and Roberts was a common enough last name. She knew if someone really wanted to know who she was, no fake name would keep them from that.
The rule they all had the most respect for was the rule stating that no one could know why they wanted to find vampires. Some wanted to kill them while others wanted to become them. They were connected by a common goal of finding the undead. After that, it was each member for themselves.
As for vampires finding out about their little group, that didn’t concern Anna much either. To date, they'd found exactly zero vampires.
“Did he say how he got your number?” Laura asked.
“Unfortunately, no. It was a rather short conversation.” Dennis took off his glasses and cleaned them as he talked. Anna suspected he was uncomfortable with the four of them staring so intently at him.
He continued, “He said only that his name was Mr. X.”
Anna snorted at that. “A bit melodramatic,” she murmured.
“He said he would love to contribute to our monthly meetings. That he felt with his help we could see a world we had only dreamed of previously. Then he said he would be in contact and hung up.”
No one said anything. What if he did have all of the answers they were seeking? “I don’t like this,” said Anna. “If he really had only good intentions, why not give you contact information? Why didn’t he email you?”
Brad shook his head. “We've been meeting in this shitty little room for almost a year now. We find someone who might actually know something and you’re worried about his intentions? We’re looking for vampires, not kittens. There are bound to be some unsavory characters.”
Anna narrowed her eyes at him but said nothing.
Laura grabbed Anna’s hand under the table. “Even if we do meet with him, how could we keep ourselves safe?”
Terrence said, “Even if this seems suspicious, why would some guy want to join us just to kill us? We aren’t actually getting anywhere on our own.”
Brad jumped on the support. “Exactly. He has no motive to hurt us. He wants to help.”
Anna looked to Dennis. “What do you think?” He was the leader and was obviously disturbed by this man as much as she was. Hopefully he would see reason.
“I think both of you have valid points,” he said while Brad shot daggers with his eyes at Dennis. “H-however,” he continued after he saw the intimidating look from Brad, “I don’t think there's much harm in at least hearing what he has to say.”
Anna rolled her eyes while Brad smiled at his victory. “The next time this Mr. X contacts you, tell him we all want to meet him. Don’t arrange it to be here, though. We’ll have to find someplace with lots of windows and is very public to meet.” He stopped for a second and appeared to be thinking of more orders to give Dennis. “Make sure the meeting is during the day.”
Laura laughed at that obvious statement. A shrill noise sounded behind her laughter. Dennis pulled out his cell phone.
Brad leaned close to him and looked at the phone. “Is that him?”
Dennis, a bit distracted by the phone, muttered, “Huh? Oh, him. No. This is my wife.”
Laura and Anna exchanged a look at each other. They had assumed Dennis was single considering he didn’t wear a ring. Anna would have suspected him of hiding the fact he was married, but if he were, why would he so freely admit who was calling him?
The phone stopped ringing. Dennis broke the silence. “Well, I really need to head home. This has been a very informative meeting, everyone.”
There were collective good-byes all around, though they sounded more hopeful than normal. Now they had Mr. X. They might actually make progress with this stranger, albeit a melodramatic stranger.
No matter his intentions, this was something to move the group forward. They had caught someone’s attention. That meant they were getting somewhere.
As Anna stepped into the chilly evening air, she headed toward the nearest subway station. She glanced at the sun that was just beginning to lower itself behind a skyscraper and thought of that last sunset she and Evie had seen together.
Maybe by next year, she might actually have an idea of what happened to her best friend. At that thought, she felt the familiar unease take over her body. She looked over her shoulder.
There was no Charles looking back at her. She laughed a bit at her own nerves. She smiled as something else occurred to her. By next year, she might not have to look over her shoulder in fear.
When Anna got back to her apartment around six thirty, she couldn’t stop thinking about her meeting with the Stakes. She thought of the few murders they'd gone over, trying to determine if the deaths were supernatural in any way.
One in particular stood out. The daughter of a congressman. Her father was probably the only reason the poor thing had gotten any space in the newspaper at all. There'd been no photo of her in the article. Just one life, full of potential, wiped out way too soon. Just like Evie...
It made Anna sick. The image of empty, black eyes came back to her mind. She shook her head to get rid of the vision and then looked out the window to clear her mind. The sun still gave light to the city, though most of the streets were now in shadow.
She quickly changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt, tossing her cell phone and identification into a light shoulder bag. From the nightstand drawer, she pulled out a .45 caliber pistol. She didn’t have anything fancy like silver bullets, though she hoped anything that came at her from the shadows would at least pause when shot with normal bullets.
With everything securely in her bag, she put on her running shoes and grabbed her MP3 player. She set it on a soundtrack from an older action sci-fi movie. Fast songs to keep her pumped up.
She started to run in the cool air, swerving between people while she moved her feet to the pounding song in her ears. Her lungs started to work for oxygen while her heart pounded faster. As she ran, she imagined a pair of black eyes following her every move. Thought of Mr. X sitting somewhere with Dennis’s personal information in front of him.
What kind of intel did he have on her? Did he have the file from the Westpoint Police Department? The one mentioning the crazy child who had seen monsters? She ran faster to try to clear her head, trying to focus on the book assignment her students were working on now. Trying to think about what she could do to make the students falling behind do better in class.
She turned a city corner about two miles from her apartment. She’d been on such a grueling pace she thought she could feel her body vibrating. Suddenly she realized it was her cell phone that caused the vibrations and not her body.
She shook her head at herself and stopped next to a bus stop. She pulled off her headphones and twisted her bag from her back to her front. By the time she had her phone, it had stopped ringing.
She flipped open the older model cell phone to see whose call she’d missed. Before she could see the missed call, her phone rang in her hand. The unexpectedness of it caused Anna to jump. She looked at the screen. All it said was
Usually she wouldn’t take calls while running, but on this particular night, she could use a distraction from her dark thoughts. Hoping it was a student asking for help, she pressed on the green Answer button.
“Anna Roberts speaking,” she said in her professional teaching voice while she made sure her heavier breathing couldn’t be heard on the other end of the line.
“Hello, Ms. Roberts. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.” The caller was male but didn’t have much of an accent. A deep voice that resonated of upper class. It irked Anna that he didn’t announce his identity immediately.
“Your timing is fine. May I ask who is calling?” Anna tried to sound as pleasant as possible.
“I apologize. I believe you may have heard of me. You may call me Mr. X.”
Anna stood up straighter at the ridiculous, yet ominous name.
“What do you want?” All pleasantness had left her tone.
“I didn’t mean to upset you, Ms. Roberts. I only called to offer you a gift.”
Anna didn’t want any gifts from this stranger. “I think Dennis would prefer your gifts. You should call him.”
She should have hung up the phone, but he spoke again. “This is specifically for you.”
“I’m not meeting you anywhere. Now I really have to—”
“You don’t have to go anywhere,” he interrupted her. “Your gift is right behind you.”
Anna immediately turned around, while her free hand went to the butt of her pistol in her bag. There was no one behind her. Just the empty bench next to the bus stop. She turned in a full circle to search for a man on a cell phone looking at her.
No one. There were men on phones, but they all walked past, paying no attention to the resting jogger.
“There's no one here,” she said into her phone, still looking to see whether anyone’s mouth moved when he started to talk again.
“Look all you want, Ms. Roberts. You will not see me.”
Anger boiled up inside her. “You have three seconds until I hang up the phone.” She didn't bother to hide the annoyance.
“Look under the bench. Your gift is there.” Though he just told her she wouldn’t see him, she couldn’t help but look around again. There were so many buildings around, and he could be in any of the windows.
She cautiously approached the bench. She didn’t want to get on her hands and knees in the middle of a public street, but she sure as hell wasn’t sticking her hand under that bench without looking first.
She got onto her knees and set her phone down on the ground, leaving one hand still firmly planted on her gun. She leaned down and looked at the underside of the bench.
Sure enough, a business-sized envelope was taped to the bottom. She grabbed it and pulled it free before she picked up her phone and sat on the bench. “What's in the envelope?”
“No. You have to open it first.”
“Jackass,” she whispered under her breath as she put her phone down. Unfortunately, she needed two hands to open a sealed envelope. She let go of the comforting metal of the gun in her bag and made quick work of the envelope.
There was a single scrap of paper inside. She pulled it out and stared at it. In elegant scrolled handwriting, there was an address and a name. “Nicolas Zolkin,” she read out loud. She looked at the address. She realized the street listed was the same one she currently stood on.
Looking up, she also realized the building number right across the street from her was the same as the one that stared up from the paper at her. She picked up the phone again. “What the hell is this?” she demanded.
“This is what you have been looking for, Ms. Roberts.”
“Why don’t you tell me what exactly you think I’m looking for?” Anna debated hanging up the phone right then and there. Damn it, she was curious though.
“You’re looking for a vampire. I’m giving you one.” He sounded haughty, and Anna wished again he would give her this attitude to her face.
“Giving me one? So is this Nicolas Zolkin supposed to be a vam—” Anna broke off before she said the word in the middle of a crowded street. “Is he supposed to be one of them?” she asked instead.
Instead of answering her question, he continued. “His schedule is not exact, but he tends to leave his apartment most nights around eleven.” There was a pause. “At night, of course.” He chuckled at his own joke.
“What is this supposed to mean to me?” she asked.
“I really must go, Ms. Roberts. I wish you good luck on your search.”
“Wait!” she shouted, but he’d already disconnected. “Son of a bitch,” she said to no one in particular.
She hung up the phone and looked up at the building across the street. A vampire lived there, apparently. Two miles away from her. Anna had been looking for one for years. However, she’d never given much thought to what she would do when she found one.
How was she supposed to know whether he really was one of the damned? She couldn’t walk up and ask him. She couldn’t run up to him with a crucifix to see whether it burned his skin. If he was a vampire, he would kill her right then and there.
She could go back to her apartment and let the Stakes know about her latest contact with Mr. X. That wasn’t the best idea because she still didn’t know what any of their motives were.
If they tried to kill this Nicolas or tried to convince him to convert one of them before Anna could question him, he might leave town. It could take years to get another opportunity like this.
Whatever she did, it would have to be on her own. She put her headphones back on and headed back to her apartment to formulate a plan of action.
Later that night, Anna had the beginnings of a plan. She needed to know what this man was before she could decide what to do about him. All she knew was his name, his address, and the time he usually left his apartment. And there was only one way to find out more about him without arousing his suspicions. She was going to try to get into his apartment after he left.
Anna wasn’t what anyone would call experienced at breaking and entering, but she knew a bit. Thanks to her rather unhealthy paranoia, she’d made sure she knew how locks were cracked before she purchased the five different types that currently adorned her own door. That had been years ago, but she hoped she could still manage one lock. It was a vampire. He might not even have great locks due to the lack of people willing to break into a monster’s apartment.
The fact that his apartment was on the fourth story of the building was also in her favor. Most burglars were smart enough to not go after the apartment farthest from an exit.
Anna thought about wearing all black, but that wouldn’t work. She had to get into the building somehow, and that would mean blending in with the other tenants. She chose blue jeans and a navy sweater.
Her hair was back in its normal ponytail. She couldn’t wear sunglasses because, at this time of night, it would cause more attention than she needed. She did put on her everyday glasses though. They had black rims and added to the non-threatening air she was going for.
Apparently a lot of thought goes into the outfit worn for breaking into someone’s home
, thought Anna.
She had to dig through her closet for a while in order to find her old lock picking tools. After kicking up a lot of dust and making a mess of her bedroom, she pulled them out of an old storage container.
She took the same small bag she’d taken jogging. She added an older faculty ID badge she’d found while digging through her closet. If she needed to ask someone to let her in, she could hold it up while her thumb covered up the name portion. All it would show was her picture and that she was a teacher at the university.
No one would find a college professor going to meet one of her students that threatening.
She didn’t have any gloves that would work well for her purposes, but she had never been fingerprinted, so she would take the risk of getting her prints lifted.
She grabbed a flashlight from her junk drawer in the kitchen area of the living space. She stopped before she left the apartment to do one more mental check of what she might need.
Satisfied with what she had, she left the house in order to commit a major felony.
Anna started to think that this Nicolas guy would never leave his apartment. She had gotten back to the bus stop bench around ten thirty in case he left earlier than usual, and no one had left the building in over an hour. There were only two apartments per floor. On the fourth, one was dark while one had lights on and shadows moved behind the curtains. Anna assumed if Nicolas was a vampire, his was probably the one with movement.
She hadn’t seen anybody leave the apartment, so she needed to solve her problem of getting in the building. She hoped she could convince someone to let her in as they were entering.
That would raise suspicions if the tenant she recruited to help her was later notified of a break-in, but Anna wasn’t planning on taking anything, so Nicolas should have no idea she’d even been there, let alone notify the police.
She was going to have to think of some other way for her to gain access to the apartment. Luckily for her, this street wasn’t busy at night. Anna blended into the shadows of the building on the side of the bus stop, so the few people who did walk by didn’t notice her.
As she started to think of different ways she could get into the building, the lights on the fourth story went out.
Now or never
, she thought.
She started across the street with a falsely confident stride. When she got to the building, she glanced through the glass of the doors at the empty staircase.
There was still no man approaching. She made a show of fiddling in her bag for the keys to her own apartment. As she heard footsteps approach, she acted as if she dropped them.
“Darn it,” she said in a voice a bit louder than an honest person might have, hoping the man approaching might hear her. She reached down and picked them up.
When she straightened, a figure came down the last flight of stairs, toward her. She took the key to one of the smaller locks on the main door to her apartment and made it look as though she was about to unlock the door.
As she hoped, he opened the door before she could put the ill-fitting key into the lock. It was only when the door opened that she finally looked up at him.
Her breath left her. He was magnificent. Not model beautiful, but powerful. The sharp planes of his face, along with his massive height, would intimidate even Brad. He towered over Anna, marking his height as well over six feet.
His black hair only caused his eyes to look darker in his pale face. Anna immediately noticed his eyes were not black, but a dark brown. These were not the soulless eyes she’d seen fifteen years prior.
This assessment of him took only a fraction of a second. She immediately looked down and shuffled past him, trying to not be noticed, even though she stood right in front of him.
Apparently he wasn’t that suspicious of her, because he was out the door without a word and walked down the street and away from Anna. Even though she knew she should rush upstairs, she paused to watch him go.
He didn’t have the black eyes of the monster from her memory, but that didn’t mean anything. Maybe they only were black while they were feeding, or the monster Anna saw could be something other than a vampire. These uncertainties were exactly why she had to question Nicolas if Mr. X was indeed right about him.
Once the man was out of sight, she let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She turned and continued up the stairs to apartment 4A.
When she reached the door, she confirmed her suspicions that 4A was the apartment that light had been coming from earlier. To prove it was empty, she knocked loudly a couple of times. After a few moments, no one had answered.
As quick as she could, she sank to her knees to inspect the lock. She was in luck. It was an older model, and she was confident she could get it open.
She grabbed her tools out of her bag and got to work. It took longer than she’d remembered. Anna wasn’t sure whether that was due to the fact that she hadn’t done this in years, or because she knew what she was doing was wrong. Each second she spent working on the lock stretched and felt like an hour.
She moved her right hand a certain way and heard the telltale click that informed her she was successful. She smiled at the small victory.
This plan might actually work…
There were some scratches on the knob where her tools had been, but they wouldn’t be noticeable unless someone looked for proof of a break-in.
Anna stood up and put her tools in her bag. She set her hand on the doorknob and turned. The door swung in. Her heartbeat, which had already been echoing loudly in her ears, seemed to go even faster.
Before anyone noticed her lingering in the hallway, she stepped inside and shut the door behind her. Immediately, she was surrounded by darkness. She dug in her bag for the flashlight so she could see again.
The apartment, like most city apartments, wasn’t large. This layout appeared to be thin and long. The main door opened into a living area that spread out to her right. The rest of the apartment sprawled out from the hallway at her left.
It was an older building, and the hardwood floors had seen better days, but the high ceilings and peeling paint on the walls gave Anna shivers down her spine. She turned toward the living room.
There wasn’t much by way of furnishings. Only an old couch across from an outdated television that sat on top of what she assumed to be a coffee table. The only other furnishings were the bookshelves that lined the walls of the room.
They were six feet tall and shoved into every inch of available wall space. Anna approached the shelf closest to her and shined the light on some of the titles.
The styles ranged from classic literature to modern day fantasy. There were biographies and old textbooks, and they were all arranged in no order at all. The shelves were so full that even the top of the shelves were covered with books.
She took another look at the room with the light. Books were in stacks on the floor and lying about the couch. Nicolas didn’t just have full bookshelves to show off to friends, like some professors and students Anna had met in her time at the university. He actually read all of these books.
It amazed her. She didn’t know whether she’d ever met someone with such eclectic tastes. She wondered why a bloodsucking monster would be so interested in reading. But it kind of made sense. Of course someone who lived forever would have a lot of time on their hands.
She wandered around the room for a bit longer but soon realized she would find no proof of Nicolas being a vampire among all the books. She crossed toward the hallway.
There wasn’t anything on the walls. No pictures or posters showing personality, nothing to give the space a more homey feel.
Two doors lined the hall. She went into the first one. A small but efficient bathroom greeted her. The older style bathroom was in desperate need of a remodel, but the room itself wasn’t horrible considering a bachelor lived there.
The sink had soap, razors, and shaving cream all along the border. She’d never thought of vampires having to shave before. Of course, she’d never considered what the bathroom of a vampire would look like.
She opened the medicine cabinet. It was empty, save a few hygiene products. In this day and age, almost everyone at least had pain-killers somewhere in their home. However, they didn’t necessarily store it in their bathrooms.
Anna moved onto the second doorway. This one contained the bedroom. The space was mostly taken up by a huge bed. She guessed it was a king. There was hardly room to move around the massive thing.
A few books lay atop rumpled covers. One was written by a former aide to the president. The other was a horror novel by an author currently on the bestsellers lists.
There was no room for any other furniture. The shades in this room were much heavier than the ones in the living room. Although, anyone who goes out at night, or works the night shift, would want to have heavy curtains in a bedroom. So would a vampire.
She looked in the closet. Luckily, it had sliding doors, so the bed wouldn’t get in the way. Not too many clothes or shoes. Nothing caught Anna’s attention, so she shut the doors.
She left the bedroom and continued her search. The hallway emptied out into a kitchen area. The windows in this room were the ones she saw from the street.
She waved her light around until her beam caught on something shiny that made her stop dead. The refrigerator door had a shiny black padlock and massive chain to keep the door shut.
Her heart kicked up a notch. She sank down on her knees and dug frantically for her lock picking tools.
She’d never worked with a padlock before, but she had to see what was so important it needed to be locked away. A shaking hand finally pulled the tools out of her bag. She had to put down the flashlight to continue the task, but a little light still reached the lock from the floor.
She tried to still her shaking hands and focus on opening the lock. After ten minutes of continued fumbling, the lock finally popped open. The sounds the chains made in the quiet darkness seemed loud and out of place in the silence.
She placed the loud metal on the ground as gently as possible and opened the door. Light from the fridge filled the room. There was normal food inside. A gallon of milk, along with other meats, fruits, and vegetables sat on the top big shelves. But what caught Anna’s attention was on the bottom shelf.
About eight jars full of a dark substance were lined up in a neat row. One was a bit farther forward from the others. That one was the only one that wasn’t filled to the top. She grabbed it and held it up to the light.
Where the liquid slid along the inside of the jar, it left a coating on the inside of the glass. A coating that glowed a bright red under the light. Anna opened the jar and sniffed the interior.
When the metallic, coppery scent hit her nose, she felt bile on the back of her throat.
Her breath came out in pants. She was inside a vampire’s home. What was she doing? She needed to leave. He could be home any second, staring at her with those black eyes.
She put the lid back on the jar with still trembling hands. She tried to get the chains and padlock on the fridge door to look exactly like they had before she’d ever disturbed them.
She grabbed the bag and positioned it at the front of her body. She inserted one hand into the bag and rested her hand on the butt of the gun.
After she took a few deep breaths, Anna headed straight for the door, convinced she hadn’t disturbed anything enough for Nicolas to ever even realize she’d been there. She reached the door and practically ran out of the dark apartment without ever looking back.
She was out of the building in a matter of seconds and her feet pounded the pavement in her rush to get home. It wasn’t until she was a good block away from his building that she finally risked a glance around her to look for those eyes looking back at her. No one was around. Even so, she couldn’t shake the feeling he was just waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Nicolas was weary when he returned home in the early morning hours. His head pounded from the offending smells that had surrounded him in the clubs, but he didn’t regret it.
That bottled shit they called food couldn’t sustain him. Some nights he needed more. He needed the hunt.
He headed up the stairs to his resting place. He climbed the stairs at a normal speed, since he was in no hurry tonight. Sure, he had the headache, but his whole body rejoiced in the thrill of the fresh blood that rushed through his veins. If it weren’t for the rising sun, he would be out in the city running circles around Manhattan just for the joy of feeling.
He walked inside his sanctuary and immediately froze.
Someone had been here. He took a deep breath in and studied the various scents. A woman… He followed the trail to his books, walking up to one the woman had paid particular attention to.
He then followed the scent trail through the bathroom and bedroom. When he got to the kitchen, he looked at the padlock, which was right where it was when he’d left the previous evening.
He knelt beside the steel chain and held the lock to his face. He inhaled. The scent was strong here. She’d struggled with the lock. With a vicious tug, Nicolas ripped the chain off the door. The refrigerator handle came off with it and smacked into the opposite wall. A small dusting of drywall rained down on the kitchen floor.
He was oblivious to the mess as he opened the door. He immediately knew the jar she touched. He grabbed it and held it in his hand.
As he stood up, he felt the sun rise up above the horizon. He was trapped in this place while this woman who had violated his space was out on the streets, running around. She could come back at any time. She and her friends would come with stakes and silver.
His anger caused tremors through his muscles. His hand clenched and the jar exploded in his palm. The contents mixed with his own blood and fell to the floor. He threw the remaining shards in his bloodied hand at the wall and growled his frustrations.
If he was still alive when the sun went down again, someone would pay for this violation.
Anna canceled all of her classes for the next day. She hadn’t slept at all. Visions of blood and monsters haunted her sleep.
She went running to clear her head but made sure to go in the opposite direction of the building that housed the mysterious Nicolas. Even though the sun was out, she couldn’t bring herself to take any chances he would find her.
When she finished her jog, her worries still waited for her at the apartment. She desperately wished she had Laura’s phone number and could confide in her, but that wasn’t an option. Even if she had the phone number, there was no way Anna could trust her.
She needed this vampire alive no matter how much he terrified her. She needed to know whether he could help her find Evie. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out how she could ask these questions.
She knew nothing about him. There was no casual way she could knock on his door and tell him she knew what he was. The only way she had of contacting him would be to “accidentally” run into him as he left one night. Running into a vampire in the middle of the night didn’t seem like the safest option.
She would have to find some other way to approach him. Anna could always find out what his hobbies were. He left his apartment around the same time every night. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find out where he went to.
If there was one thing Anna was good at, it was blending into the background.
Satisfied with her plan, she hopped into the shower to wash the sweat of her workout off of her skin.
The rest of the day seemed endless. She had to respond to student e-mails and remind all the students that even though class was canceled, they still had to do the assigned reading.
As the sun finally started to set, Anna contemplated which outfit could help her tail Nicolas while not being noticed. She decided on her jeans and a black tank. She threw her sweatshirt on over the tank and put her glasses on.
Once her long hair was pulled back, there was absolutely nothing about her that would stand out. The brown hair was nondescript enough that it wouldn't draw attention and she put on some foundation and mascara to mask her sleepless night and the bags under her eyes. Happy with her “disguise”—which was strangely close to how she normally dressed—she grabbed her bag.
She packed light: a bit of money, cell phone, identification, and her gun. The most important item was stored in her closet.
She opened up the storage closet and pulled out the slim folder. Inside was the most important sketch she’d ever drawn. It contained the face of the monster she was looking for.
Not long after that terrible night fifteen years ago, she’d been afraid that time would erase her memories of the monster’s face. To make sure she always would recognize the creature, she’d drawn countless sketches of it. Some of the faces were covered with blood, while she tried to make some appear like a normal human face.
She grabbed one of the normal-looking drawings from the folder. She folded it into a square and put it into the back pocket of her jeans. She also grabbed one of the few pictures she had left of Evie and the obituary photo of Charles. She kept no other pictures of him. The only reason she kept the obituary was to prove to herself he was actually dead.
Her nerves kicked up as she prepared to leave. She took a deep breath and ran out the door before she could change her mind.
She got to the bus stop at the same time she had the night before, but she didn’t have to wait as long. At quarter to eleven, the lights went out on the fourth-story apartment. Anna stayed back in the shadows and stared intently at the door.
It wasn’t long before his massive frame filled the doorway. As he walked onto the street, he turned north, and she discreetly followed, staying a safe distance back.
He crossed the street after a couple of blocks, so they were now both on the same side. Tonight he wore a rather ratty long coat that hung to his knees. She made sure she kept her eyes on that coat.
A wind kicked up behind her and blew her hair into her face. Some tendrils whipped out of the ponytail. She impatiently pushed them out of her eyes as she tried to keep her gaze locked on her target.
Nicolas almost stopped as the now familiar scent wafted from behind him. The woman was following him. She was watching him even now. He wanted to turn around and face his enemy, but he knew better.
He’d lain awake all day, surrounded by her scent. Memorizing it for the time he would smell it again. He didn’t realize that again would come so soon. He smiled at the thought of confronting her.
But he knew she probably wasn’t alone. If he led her into a deserted street, her partners would rush in. He would have to cut her off from all help and get her alone.
There was a place nearby Nicolas had fed at a few times. Young people went there and pretended to be vampires. There was nothing better than a willing food source, even if they wouldn’t remember it the next day.
The club was always crowded and busy. Her friends couldn’t attack him in plain sight. He, however, had no such qualms.