Anyway, eventually the concept for Always Me occurred and I found I already had the molds ready for Nicky and Xander and where their story took place. I stole it from Falling. I think it speaks volumes how easily Nicky was transformed from a vampire and Xander from an angel. Since I doubt I'll ever revisit this one, unless I can somehow come up with a way of completely revamping (ha! vamp!) it without losing my original intent for the plot, I've decided to share the first two chapters here. It's a bit long, so sit back, grab a cup of coffee or tea, snuggle up with a blanket and see if you can point out the similarities.
The rain beat mercilessly against the window as Archbishop Father Saltarelli stood staring out its blurry panes at the soaked city streets outside, turned green and gray in a mixture of asphalt and drooping trees. His bright red robes were the only shot of color in the otherwise dark and dreary room of the refectory on loan from a very nervous priest of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in a small suburb just outside Philadelphia.
The rain had been relentless all week, delaying the Archbishop’s flight here from the Vatican City and darkening his mood everyday since. Being in the angel’s presence was supposed to help, but instead it only made him anxious. He did his best to keep his anxieties to himself and portray an image of calm command. Still, the angel sitting in the dark green armchair in front of him, dressed in faded brown suede pants and a fitted brown leather jacket zipped up to the hollow of his neck, looking more like a biker of hell than a messenger of God, did little to quell his fears. Especially considering who the angel was, the sword he kept rested across his knees, and most importantly, the reason for the meeting.
“So this is the plan...,” the angel said. His voice was deep, but soft, almost as if he spoke to a child; not what you would expect from the Messenger of God. “Do you concur?”
Saltarelli nodded, turned from the window and said, “Sì. Yes.” He then walked to the desk and picked up the phone, pressed one button and waited. “Please send him in,” he said to the voice on the other line.
After returning the phone to its cradle, he nervously flattened the folds of his robe and contemplated whether he should remain standing or if he should sit down at the desk. As he began to lower himself in the chair, the door opened. The nervous priest in charge of the church held the handle with a shaky hand while remaining in the doorway, his back pressed against the door jam. His eyes were cast down or sideways, always averted away from the handsome young man entering the room behind him who shot him a look of smug amusement with one eyebrow raised as he passed.
What vexed the antsy priest was that the young man was not a man.
Though the presence of angels was normally something of a calming peace to humans, the presence of this angel was not, and certainly not the presence of the Archangel sitting in the armchair.
Saltarelli dismissed the priest with the wave of his hand as he appraised the angel who entered with a swagger and stood before the desk with his hands in fists at his side.
He looked to be in his early twenties, though he was much, much older. He was there when Rome fell and a new world was discovered, when Germany dropped their bombs on England, and man landed on the moon. His eternally preserved youthful appearance successfully belied his age, but his heavenly beauty did little to deny what he was. His wavy, messy blonde hair shined in the overhead light, creating a halo of its own. It hung down to his jaw line and fell into the angel’s eyes without him caring enough to push it away. He wore confidence and arrogance as easily as he wore his lightweight armor—a breastplate and arm shields made of a thin, onyx-looking material that was not anything earth-made. The armor was strapped over clothes similar to the Archangel’s though instead of brown suede and leather, his was all black leather, worn down soft and dull.
“Daniel,” Saltarelli greeted him with a nod, gesturing to the unoccupied armchair. “Please have a seat. Thank you so much for coming.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Daniel said in a deep voice peppered like a minefield with bitter rebellion as he glanced down at the Archangel in the chair beside him. “It’s not exactly like I had a choice.”
“You design your own path, Daniel,” the Archangel said, his dark brown eyes looking up at Daniel beneath a shading of thick black eyelashes. Behind his eyes there was infinite kindness. “I didn’t want to choose this for you.”
Daniel lowered himself into the chair and stretched his long legs out as far as the desk before him would allow. “Ah, Gabe,” he sighed. “You almost sound like you’re saying ‘This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you’.”
“It will. This is a dangerous task we ask of you, but it may also be good for you. It may give you the dose of humility you so desperately need.”
Daniel sat up and clenched the arms of the chair with both hands, his knuckles instantly turning white and the veins in his hands protruding through the golden brown skin. “What happened in Greece—,” he began to say through clenched teeth, his blue eyes lighting up with fierce excitement as he glared at the other angel.
“An angel with an attitude is a poor reflection of the Order,” Gabriel interrupted, his patience diminishing with each word.
“And the Angel of the Horn is known for his mercy?” Daniel retorted, snorting and slumping back in the chair.
Gabriel was the most patient and controlled of all the Archangels. You had to be when dealing with the Creator personally. And yet Daniel had a way of trying his patience daily. He was famous for it, in fact.
Gabriel opened his mouth to continue arguing but stopped himself, glancing sideways to the Archbishop before sighing and restraining his voice. “We can discuss this some other time. Your orders come directly from the Dominions.”
This affected Daniel and he stiffened slightly, his voice more alert. “Why are they involved?”
“Because of the nature of your mission. And who it involves,” Gabriel said. “The Dominions and the Powers have agreed that the duty of demon slaying needs to be concentrated on one area. The vampire has gained in popularity among the humans. For…,” Gabriel sighed while rolling his eyes, “whatever reason…the humans have romanticized their image and have even begun to accept them into their culture and society. I think mostly because so few have ever actually encountered a vampire and lived to tell of it, and so they know not what it is they admire. If they knew the gruesome and vile lifestyles of these demon pests, if they could see the beast that hides behind the cold beauty, they would rethink their support. However, that is a discussion for another time. For this matter, the Second Sphere wants us to begin eradicating the vampires and the best way for us to do that is to start at the top.”
Gabriel paused a moment, giving Daniel time to ask any questions, and looked at the Archbishop. The man’s face paled more and more through the course of the conversation as he sat silent. Gabriel wasn’t sure if it was out of fear of the topic or the fact that the Vatican had yet to accept the vampires’ existence at all.
When Daniel remained silent, the Archangel continued with a sigh. “The daughter of the Dragon has been sent away from her coven. A semi-voluntary exile, if you will. Her inheritance of the mantel is a threat to the rest of the vampires—how so, we do not yet know. The Dragon is ten years into his fifty year hibernation period. I supposed the elders are taking advantage of his absence. Our informants tell us she was encouraged to go to college while the elders decide what to do with her. They felt it was the best place to keep her safe. At least that’s the story we’re getting. As you know with vampires, the truth seldom plays a part.”
“Daughter?” Daniel asked, finally finding something of interest in the discussion. “Is that what Vlad is calling his turned now?”
“No,” Gabriel answered, his face giving the slightest hint of expression with a flicker of his eyebrow. “She is actually of his flesh and blood, so to speak.”
“I didn’t think the bats could reproduce,” Daniel said with unmasked disgust.
“The males can with humans, though the hybrids rarely survive past infancy. The half breeds are considered an abomination and the vampires typically kill off the newborns immediately if not while still in the mother’s womb. This is the first we’ve heard of Vlad himself impregnating anyone which is probably why she’s survived. This makes her special.”
“She is an abomination!” the Archbishop interrupted with sudden passion and pestilence in his voice, his face reddening.
Gabriel shot him a look that instantly hushed him and the Archangel continued. “We know very little about the offspring that are half human, half vampire, those that have been allowed to live. We do not know how much of the vampiric abilities or powers they retain, or how much of their humanity exists, if any at all. So in this, we are blind and at an immediate disadvantage.”
“Wow,” Daniel said. He leaned back in this chair and rubbed his neck. “Can’t wait to hear what I get to do.”
“You will go undercover,” Gabriel said, ignoring his sarcasm and nodding to the Archbishop who produced a black folder from his briefcase and handed it to Gabriel.
Gabriel opened the folder on the desk before him, spreading out documents and black and white photographs, and leaned in, as did Daniel. “Her name is Adrianna. She is going by Adrianna Tepes while at school. She is now a freshman at Morgan Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.”
“Morgan Baptist University?” Daniel repeated, his eyebrows raised.
“Yes.” Gabriel smiled. “It would seem she is not without irony.”
“Or a sense of humor,” Daniel murmured. “But…how?”
“It is of no harm to her. The Baptists are not like the Catholics. There are no crosses other than on top of the chapel and they don’t use Holy Water. It’s a school, so it’s not hallowed ground but for the chapel and as long as she stays out of there, she should be fine.”
“Serves the heretics right,” the Archbishop seethed. “If they had never broken from the true faith, they would not have demons among them now.”
“Father,” Gabriel said, his hands resting on top of the paperwork on the desk. “We don’t have time for your dogma right now. As you know, we serve all faiths. Whether they believe in us or not.”
Once again, this silenced the Archbishop, but for how long, Gabriel and Daniel did not know. Daniel pulled out the only colored photo—a young woman with long, light brown hair and big blue eyes—and frowned. “She’s…pretty, but not what you’d expect a vampire to look like,” he said.
“That’s her mother,” Gabriel replied after glancing quickly at the photo, pushing his black curls away from his pale forehead.
“Oh. Where is her mother in all of this?” Daniel asked.
“She’s dead. Adrianna bit her and drained her as soon as she ripped herself free of the womb.”
“Sweet kid,” Daniel smirked. He studied the picture with a somber expression. The photo looked like it had been taken in the early 80’s and the woman smiled wide and brightly at the camera, completely unaware of the dark fate that awaited her. Daniel shrugged and dropped the photo, leafing through the rest of the paperwork. “Why do you have a photo of her mother?”
“Because we don’t know what Adrianna looks like. She’s been kept well hidden. Even from humans. This will hopefully give us something, if she resembles her mother at all. You should be able to sense her, but with her being half human, we are taking every precaution.”
“She’s not feeding while she’s there?”
“So far, we have no reports,” said Gabriel. “She might have brought her own supply. Then again, she could be going elsewhere, outside the town, outside the state. Shreveport is just a three-hour drive away, she could feed easily and undetected there.”
“So I’m to just go to this school and…what, kill her?” Daniel asked. “I assume killing her is why you asked me to do the job, but why her? Why not just take out Vlad himself?”
“That’s part of the plan. We don’t want you to just go in and kill her, though that will be part of your ultimate goal. We want you to befriend her. Gain her trust. Find out where her coven is. Where her father is kept while he sleeps. She may be easily influenced right now. We’re not really sure why she’s been sent away. Adrianna has immediate right to take over as head of the coven. As you know, that position is currently held by Nicolae, who rules in Vlad’s stead, and we don’t believe he is eager to give that up to an eighteen year-old half breed. We don’t think Vlad has had an active role in his daughter’s life prior to his hibernation. Nicolae wouldn’t dare kill the Dragon’s daughter but he could postpone her ambitions for a while. Again, this is all assumption. Your job is to find out the truth. Once you get a lockdown on their location, Michael will bring the Army in. You will take out Adrianna, I will handle Nicolae, and Michael gets Vlad.”
Daniel straightened up at the mention of the other Archangel’s name. Michael was like a father to him, if angels could have such a thing. He had trained Daniel personally to become an Avenging Angel and he was the reason Daniel was so angry with the Order.
“I don’t understand,” said Archbishop Saltarelli. “Why do you need all this strategy? You are the Light of God. You are the Army of His Holy Father. He is the All-Knowing. Why can’t He just smite them at once and do away with the whole lot?”
“That would be too easy, wouldn’t it?” Gabriel asked, his words biting but not bitter. “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes,” the Archangel said, quoting Ecclesiastes.
“So that’s it then?” Daniel asked, ignoring the man behind the desk who looked flabbergasted for being reprimanded in theology. “I just go to college, befriend this girl, get her to trust me and then totally betray her and kill her family?”
“You’re humanizing them,” Gabriel said. “I’m proud of you. It’s something you should do with the humans, though, and not the vampires.” He grinned and the light of Heaven shined through his smile. “No, that’s not all,” Gabriel continued. “But I will give you the rest later. There will be a nun accompanying you. Her name is Sister Mary Stephena. She will be your contact with the Vatican. Now,” he rose from his seat, towering over the man in his full height, intimidating despite his slender build, and sheathed his sword, the blade glowing blue at his touch before placing the papers back into the black folder and holding it under his arm. Daniel rose as well, almost just as tall, with a broader chest and squared shoulders, putting his own sword away. “We bid you farewell, Archbishop Saltarelli. Please inform the Vatican that it has begun and we will contact them routinely with updates. Peace be with you.”
Then he bent down and picked up a black backpack Daniel had not noticed sitting beside his chair until then and turned around. Daniel looked down at the Archbishop, grinned and winked, before turning on his heel and following after.
“And to you,” Archbishop Saltarelli whispered as the two angels left the room, which became suddenly darker and colder without their presence.
Once Daniel and Gabriel were alone, walking side by side down the middle aisle of the nave of the church, Gabriel handed the backpack to Daniel. The stained-glass windows cast rainbow colors across the dark wood of the pews, empty on this Friday morning.
“The Vatican would have you turn Adrianna to ashes and be done with her,” Gabriel said, his voice low. “But with her being part human, we’re not willing to be so cavalier. We want you to read her the Rites when you kill her.”
“Wait,” Daniel said, stopping. “You don’t think she could have a soul, do you?”
“We don’t know. The church, its followers,” he said, sweeping his hand out in front of him, “they see everything in black and white. We know it’s not that way. If she has a beating heart, she may have a soul. And if there’s a chance for a soul, we will save it.”
“Alright,” Daniel said. Gabriel began walking again with Daniel following.
“Everything you need is in that backpack,” Gabriel said, nodding to it. “Wallet, ID’s, plane ticket, a credit card with no limit—but don’t go crazy. There’s a cell phone—”
“Cell phone?” Daniel asked. Angels didn’t need cell phones. They could just appear to one another, or Gabriel could contact him by simply thinking it and Daniel would hear his words as if they were his own thoughts.
“To appear more authentic,” Gabriel grinned. “Sister Mary Stephena is already in Arkadelphia, getting settled. That phone…it’s something called a Black Berry…it’s like an organizer and holds addresses and appointments and such.”
Daniel grinned at Gabriel’s assumption that all angels shared his limited knowledge of technology.
“Her address is in there,” Gabriel continued. “She’ll have weapons, should you need any. Which brings me to the last order of our business…” Gabriel hesitated as they stood outside on the top of the church’s stairs, under the overhang with the rain still coming down in sheets. A yellow taxi cab waited idling at the curb of the street. “To avoid any recurrence of Greece, you are to be stripped of some of your powers.”
“What?” Daniel cried, clutching the backpack in one suddenly trembling fist.
“I am sorry, but the Dominions feel its best this way. They also don’t want to risk your exposure with any involuntary acts of the divine.”
“Some? Which ones?”
Daniel looked down where his sword should be hanging, but it had disappeared and his body suddenly felt off balance for it.
“You’ll still have your wings, but you can’t fly and you can’t materialize.”
Daniel made his wings appear and stretched them out to their full glory, wanting them to feel like they were more than just accessories now.
“You also won’t have the power of fire or ice or wind, or the gift of song.”
“You wanna take all the box cutters away from me too?” Daniel asked, shrugging the backpack on.
“I know you feel like you’re being punished, but you wouldn’t have been chosen for this task if we all didn’t think you could do it.”
“Uh-huh,” Daniel grumbled.
“You still have the blood of the Divine coursing through your body,” Gabriel continued patiently, ignoring Daniel’s pouts. “You’re still fast and strong and you have your influence and your connection to man. But Daniel, please remember. You are an Elim, but you can still be killed. Please be careful.”
It was very difficult to kill an angel, but not impossible. You could keep them in darkness until they withered away to nothing. You could remove their wings, making them mortal. Daniel knew what happened to those angels who died. Some became Cherubim, depending on how or why they died. Others became part of the Fallen, again, depending on how or why they died.
“Then make me an Archangel,” Daniel said through clenched teeth. Archangels couldn’t be killed. “You know I’m more than capable.”
“Michael has told you time and again, that decision is not ours to make. Only He can decide.”
“Then say something to Him!” Daniel pled. “You talk to Him on a daily basis. You’re probably talking to Him right now!”
“Honestly,” Gabriel said, letting his impatience place an edge on his words. “Michael doesn’t feel you’re ready, and I would have to agree.”
“You’re too impetuous. You allow your emotions to guide your actions. That would remind Him of someone else and once He made the decision to not make you an Archangel, He wouldn’t undo it. So until you can control yourself, until you can do exactly what you are told and not stray from orders, then neither Michael nor I will recommend you. And Greece is a perfect example of why you are not ready.”
“They were in league with the demons!” Daniel protested, though knowing his efforts were pointless. This was also one of his weaknesses—he never gave up.
“They were still humans!” Gabriel hit his breaking point. His wings extended full and brilliant, gleaming bright gold with red flames licking around the edges. His hair blew in the rush of wind that suddenly kicked up and his eyes turned completely black. Daniel cringed slightly, but still stood his ground. “Those who you are sworn to protect. Those who you were created to protect. It is not your place to judge!”
And then just as suddenly as he had whipped up into full angel glory, Gabriel became his calm self again, his wings disappearing and his eyes brown once more. He handed Daniel the black folder.
“Your class schedule and dorm assignment are in here.”
“Dorm assignment?!” Daniel exclaimed, forgetting how angry he had just made the Archangel who could blow once on his Horn and send all of mankind to Judgment. Gabriel actually winced with remorse.
Daniel sighed. “Anything else?”
“Uh, yeah. You’ll be a junior. Stephena should have already picked up your text books—yes, you do have to go class. No protests, it’ll be good for you. One of your classes is New Testament, you should excel at that—you better excel at that. That cab will take you to the airport. There will be another one waiting for you there. It’s an hour drive from Little Rock to Arkadelphia. There’s cash in the wallet for the taxi and other incidentals. Um....another thing." The Archangel actually looked uncomfortable. "With your lack of powers, you’ll find yourself more tempted by the flesh and material of the humans. Try not to do anything that’s forbidden.”
“How will I know what’s forbidden?”
“If it’s something you think you’ll enjoy, it’s most likely forbidden.”
“Great,” Daniel mumbled.
“Alright, so I think that’s about everything. Oh, uh…you’ll also have a job—work study at the library. Your roommate’s name is Mark. He’s a Theology major and a preacher’s son. Should be great! Well, good luck and peace be with you.”
Gabriel disappeared before Daniel could voice any more protests, leaving him alone on the church steps with only his backpack, a waiting cab, and a mission from a heavenly Order that could either make him an Archangel if he succeeded, or toss him wingless and headlong down into hell should he fail.
Adrianna tapped her pen and checked her wristwatch for the fifteenth time in the last fifty-two minutes. She had also counted the beats of twenty-four hearts, the breaths of twenty-four sets of lungs, the steps of seventy-six sets of feet passing by outside in the hall and the uses of the word “Okay” by her Western Thought and Culture professor—which was one hundred and sixty-four.
None of this made the sound of the blood rushing through the human veins any less tempting. It was like the gush of a roaring river to a man who spent a week walking through a desiccated desert and she tried to swallow against her dry throat, sighing as her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.
She might be acting a little overdramatic. She was known for the occasional grand reaction. But she had only been away from home for two months and had already blown through her bagged blood stash. Distracted from not feeding from a live person, she was ill prepared for the shortage. She placed the order the day she finished off the last bag. It would only take three days for the next shipment to arrive but that was yesterday and she was hungry today.
She reached down into her book bag without taking her eyes off the professor and pulled out her compact. She opened it and looked at herself in the mirror. The image was a misty, transparent reflection, more like a ghost than a girl, but she could still see the circles under her eyes darkening and her lips turning purple. The irises of her eyes were also fading to a pale green instead of their normal hazel. She was becoming the demon.
Not that she minded. She quite relished it really—the feeling of letting go, of letting the animal inside her take over. She craved the adrenaline rush from running down a prey, the smell of fear on its skin, her fangs breaking the flesh and then the warmth of its blood flooding into her mouth. Just thinking of it made her fangs descend suddenly, cutting into the inside of her bottom lip.
She sucked down the blood and put away her compact, forcing her thoughts elsewhere.
She was only eighteen years-old; a neophyte, a baby. She was still learning control. How much longer could she be expected to live among the humans and not feed on any of them?
Nicolae had told her that her father wanted her in school. Had demanded it, setting strict instructions for her future before he Slumbered, and there were to be no transgressions or indiscretions. And there was no arguing with or displeasing her father. The forty years left of his Slumber would pass by in a blink and his rage, should she disobey him, would be acute. The little time she was able to spend with him before he entered his hibernation, he never gave the impression he was a vampire of compassion. He certainly didn’t understand the meaning of forgiveness. He had more wives then she had shoes—and she had a lot of shoes—all dying at his hand when he tired of them. If she disobeyed a direct order, it would be a stake through her heart for sure.
She would just have to control her hunger.
The professor finally released the class and Adrianna gathered up her books and bag, deliberately slow, to not stand out. It was constant work to look human.
Yet she did stand out. Her hair was long and thick and shined in the light, always
looking like she had just stepped out of the salon. Her eyelashes were long and she knew how to use them combined with her eyes to lure and seduce. Her pale skin was flawless. She was graceful and confident and strong. And unlike the rest of her kind, she could stand out in the sun and not turn to burning ash.
Somehow here, though, she wasn’t feared and avoided like she was around any other gathering of humans, the few times she was allowed to be around humans for something other than feeding. These humans were naïve. They didn’t believe in vampires and therefore completely denied their existence. What she was wasn’t even a possibility to them. And as long as she kept her fangs hidden, she was safe.
That night, she sat in front of her computer monitor in her dorm room in the Mary Mason building. It was the nicest girls’ dorm on campus with two students to a small apartment, each with their own room, personal bathroom, and a shared living room and kitchen.
In this school, the girls did not share dorm buildings with the boys. They weren’t even allowed past the lobby of each other’s dorms. Coming from her underworld of bloodbath orgies and encouraged sexcapades, this place was a veritable nunnery.
Adrianna chuckled at the thought of her being in a nunnery. She couldn’t even step foot on the lawn of any holy place. She couldn’t even speak the word holy, or God, or heaven. Think it yes, but speak it no. Any attempt was like choking. Which was going to make taking the required New and Old Testament courses difficult, but those classes were also held in the college’s chapel, which made her attendance out of the question anyway. She would have to hold off and hope her father allowed her to come back home or she would end up a professional college student.
Adrianna looked down from her computer screen and pressed her palms into her eyes. The light from the screen was too bright and burned. Too much light took its toll on her eyes and being outside all day, combined with the artificial digital light before her now, was too much to take. Her roommate was also talking very loudly, planted on the sofa in their living room; her thick Arkansan accent penetrating through Adrianna’s closed door and raking her nerves. She had to get out of there. She could do her research just as easily from the library and that way she wouldn’t be tempted to use her roommate to quench her thirst.
It was a short walk to the large brick building, even at human speed. She climbed the stone steps and pulled open the glass doors, the warm air inside hitting her hard after being outside in the cool night.
She wandered up and down the aisles, up and down the different floors, searching for the book on Mayans she needed for her paper. She found where it should be, but it wasn’t there. Sighing, she walked back down to the main floor, toward the help desk tucked in between several shelves of books on the left and stopped a few feet from it.
The guy sitting behind the counter had no business being there.
He leaned back in his chair with his legs propped up on the desk. His wavy blonde hair shimmered in the light, messy and falling in his face. His gray t-shirt strained and stretched against his broad chest and shoulder muscles and he had it raised up on his torso, mindlessly scratching his toned, golden abs, while he held up a piece of paper, studying it with a frown.
He should be sculpted in marble by an Italian artist, Adrianna thought, or tied up in my playroom, feeding me bottles of blood. Again she felt her fangs pierce her lip, bringing her back from her deviating thoughts.
Control, she told herself. Don’t get involved with any of them—it will only lead to complications.
She took in a deep breath and held it. She could hold it for the rest of the day, if it was necessary and judging by how good he smelled when she inhaled, she may have to.
Daniel was frustrated. He had been in school for two weeks and still couldn’t find Adrianna. He had studied her mother’s picture everyday, just as he studied it now. No one fit the bill. He couldn’t track her down and he grew more impatient every day. To make the situation worse, the daily diatribes of his fake human life were driving him insane.
Mark, his roommate, was annoying. He felt the need to Witness to him every chance he got and on more than one occasion, he tried to “save” him. He also snored very loudly, ate cereal just before bed, and his friends were disturbing at best.
Stephena lived up to her reputation as a nun, requiring Daniel to attend Mass on Wednesday and Sunday at the only Catholic church in town and eat dinner with her every Sunday night.
Not for the last time did he think on his last conversation with Gabriel. About his need for control. About his mistake in Greece.
He had lost his temper then. He was to take out the demons and leave the humans, allow the Creator to judge them when death came for them in due time. But these humans had long lost their humanity. They did the bidding of the demons. They had free will and they chose the darkness. He had compassion for humans. He cared deeply for mankind. That was why he had spent centuries protecting them. One little slip in judgment should not keep him from his rightful place.
“Hello,” a soft, female voice purred. “I need help.”
Daniel lowered the photo and looked up, stopping instantly with his mouth falling open.
He couldn’t decide which feature he loved more—her big, bright green eyes with flecks of reddish-brown around the irises, her Mona Lisa smile, or the little crease in her milky white brow as she looked at him with confused amusement.
“You’re beautiful,” Daniel whispered, unthinking and unblinking.
Her smile turned to a grin.
She had a dimple, too! Daniel suppressed a groan.
“Uh, thanks,” she said. “I need to find a book, though. Do you know where The Mayan Code is? It’s not where it should be.”
“Hmm,” he said, standing up and placing the paper he had been studying on the desk. He looked down at her with a bright smile and she thought he might be what Heaven looked like.
He’s tall, too, Adrianna thought. Definitely a plus.
“Let’s see what I can do to you—I mean, for you,” he said, blushing as he walked around the counter. Adrianna fought a smile. She was used to come-ons. She attracted both human genders, and normally this would have no affect on her, but coming from him, she actually felt her stomach tighten.
Daniel placed a hand on Adrianna’s back, leading her upstairs. “Sometimes people put books back based on a phonetic alphabet, rather than by the actual letter. Or they file based on the word ‘the’.”
He walked to the second row and looked on one of the shelves, pulling out a book. “And here it is.”
He looked at the cover and grinned. “I’m surprised this hasn’t been tossed on a burning pile of unacceptable books. These Baptists don’t seem to be fans of anything that contradicts their spiritual accounts of religious history.”
“You’re not a Baptist?” Adrianna asked and then noticed the crucifix he wore on a thin, silver chain around his neck. She inched away from him slightly.
“No,” he said, seemingly unaware of her shrinking from him. “You?”
Her smile spread like carefully drawn curtains and she shook her head slowly.
“We’re a minority then,” he whispered, leaning in. She could smell him again: a liberating scent of the woods and flying, mixed with the musk of sandalwood and honey and her head began to swim.
“They haven’t tried saving you with that around your neck?” she asked, nodding at his necklace but watching it as though it was a coiled snake.
“Every day, actually,” Daniel chuckled and put an arm out, leaning against the shelf and folding the book in his elbow with the other arm. “If they’re not trying to save me, they’re telling me I’m going to hell.”
“Hell may not be so bad,” she smiled. “Compared to an eternity with Baptists. Though I hear it’s pretty hot there.”
They stood a moment in silence, held in each other’s gaze, both sensing something different about the other. Daniel felt the mortal urges calling to him and decided it best to break the silence.
“Well, here you go.” He reached out with the book.
Adrianna looked at his veins protruding from his arm muscles, the blood pulsing strongly within. She wondered how easy it would be to drink him here. Would anyone notice with them removed from the most trafficked parts of the library?
But then an odd feeling stirred within her. Nothing she had ever felt before and the thought of drinking from him made her nervous, scared. She didn’t fear frightening him, she feared…disappointing him.
“Thank you,” she said, taking the book.
“You’re welcome. I’m Daniel,” he said, stretching his hand out.
She hesitated a moment, surreptitiously rubbing her hand on her thigh in an attempt to make if feel less cold before taking his hand. “I’m Adrianna. Adrianna Tepes.”
She saw the faintest flinch in his eyes. Yes, her hand is cold, she thought. If not a tell-tale sign, then definitely a red flag. But he recovered quickly and smiled again.
Green eyes, not blue, Daniel thought. Dark brown hair, not light brown. No real resemblance to the mother, she must take after her father…Vlad Tepes.
This was the daughter of the Dragon? She had the face of an angel. Her smile was like the sunrise. Her eyes as deep as the most magical forest. But her hand was cold. Deathly cold. She was not just a child of the night; she was the child of the night.
“Daniel,” she said repeating his name and he felt his heart flutter at the sound. “Your name is Hebrew for judged by…,” she stopped with her mouth still open, blinking and unable to continue, as if someone stole the word from her tongue.
“God,” Daniel said, finishing for her.
She can’t say the word, he thought. She can’t say the Creator’s name. She is a demon. There is no soul to save. The thought made him sad, which also made him confused.
He noticed the dark circles under her eyes and he wanted to reach out and brush the thin, pale skin with his fingertips. She hasn’t been feeding, he thought. He wondered why.
All Adrianna could hear now was the pounding of his heart and the rush of his blood. She wondered if he would taste as good as he smelled; if she would be able to control herself from draining him. For the third time today, her fangs descended and she threw up a hand to cover her mouth.
“I have to go,” she mumbled behind her hand, turning around. “Thanks for the help.”
And at almost too fast of a speed, she rushed out of the library, ditching her books and bags in the bushes and transforming, taking a new shape. Not in the form of a bat—that’s too clichéd—but as a hawk.
Beating her wings and rising high into the night sky, she circled and soared south, in search of release for the rush of emotions making her head swim and her heart pound, in search of prey. The wind picked up with a gust and she smelled it—life. Human life. Human blood.
She shrieked once before diving into the shadows below.