Friday, June 13, 2:15a.m
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
From a dark corner table, Mel studied the crowd of humans while they drank and partied. Their shouts and laughter mingled with AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, pulsating throughout the dim interior of The Green Tree, a seedy nightclub set in the heart of downtown Surrey. Sweat and strong perfumes mixed together to form a nauseating bouquet.
Humans were clueless. Completely unaware vampires lived amongst them. Unaware one was amidst them at this moment, watching their every move. If they knew, they'd trample each other as they stormed to the nearest exit. A dark part of him wanted to jump up, bare his fangs and shout, “I vant to suck your blood.” He smiled, picturing the scene. Yeah, too bad he left his Dracula cape at home.
Taking a sip of whiskey, Mel leaned back in his seat and continued his scrutiny of the inebriated crowd. Hard to imagine there’d been a time when both species had stood together against the evils in the world. That ended centuries ago, after humans turned their backs on vampires and listened to the lies spouted by the demons. Yet vampires had kept their end of the bargain. They continued to fight, keeping humans from being wiped off the planet.
Mel fingered the remnants of a scar hidden along his hairline, a trophy received the night before from a demon’s blade. A battle he and his fellow slayer, Kal, almost lost. Four against two was a tough fight, but they emerged the victors.
A shapely waitress caught his attention as she retrieved her drink orders at the bar. She held a loaded tray above her head with one hand. The movement forced her full breasts higher. He was positive they’d spill out of her low cut top any second. Round hips swayed as she wove through the crowded tables, delivering drinks to the rowdy patrons. His groin hardened and pushed against his pants. And buried underneath his sexual need, a deeper, more primitive hunger swam to the surface—a thirst no amount of alcohol could quench.
His fangs descended. He glanced away from her lush figure and willed them back.
Shit. Blood lust mixed with sexual desire was a hard combo to ignore. Too bad his mind wasn’t as eager as his body. His canines tried to slip past his lips again and he sighed. Ah hell, couldn’t fight vampire biology. And judging from the erection that bulged in his jeans, he couldn’t fight male biology either.
Against his better judgment, Mel's eyes darted back to the waitress. He groaned when he caught another eyeful of her ample cleavage. His fangs dropped further. He swore, forcing them to retract. Two against one. Looked like his baser urges were winning this war.
Mel curled his fingers around the glass and downed the last of his whiskey, ice and all. Maybe he should just split. He glanced at his wristwatch. 2:20 a.m. Dawn wasn’t far off. He scanned the crowd looking for Kal. What the hell was taking him so long? One more drink and he’d have to hunt him down.
As Mel crunched the ice, he checked on the waitress’s progress. Three tables away, she moved with the grace of a dancer, all the while avoiding groping hands. She drew closer and peeked at him from under her thick false lashes. An unmistakable invitation shone in her blue eyes. Her scent, a tangy citrus aroma, cranked up his desire. She smiled, revealing even white teeth. Mel returned the gesture, careful not to flash his own.
Maybe he would line-up a little pleasure. And as always, when it was over, he’d wipe himself from her memory. Same drill, different night.
Yet he couldn’t muster any enthusiasm. He was sick of the anonymity of it. He wanted more. Wanted to wake up next to someone, wanted someone to share his life with. Hell, at the very least he wanted someone to remember him.
Years ago, he had known the contentment of joining his life with another. He and his wife had shared a strong emotional tie—one that can only be achieved through love. But his father had made damn sure their love and happiness ended in tragedy.
Sweat beaded his forehead. Memories of his ol’ man bubbled up out of the dark pit in his soul, where he desperately tried to keep them buried.
Something brushed against his hand. Mel jerked back, muscles tensed as fear sped up his heart. He felt like a jackass when he realized it was only his cell phone vibrating.
The phone bounced again and skittered across the polished tabletop. With a shaky hand, he snatched it before it fell. It buzzed against his palm and he pushed the side button to check caller ID.
He flipped it open and shoved a finger in one ear in an attempt to block the throbbing music. “What’s up?”
A faint muffle was all he heard. Mel pressed his finger in tighter. “What was that?” This time he made out Roarik’s deep voice but no distinct words. “I can’t hear ya. Hold on a sec, I’m going to find some place quieter.” He stood and moved through the tight press of bodies toward the restrooms. A quick check made sure it was empty. Satisfied, he brought the phone back to his ear. “Okay, what’s up?”
“Is Kal with you?” Roarik asked in his gruff voice.
“He was hunting demons with me earlier, but he's not with me now.”
Roarik's barked curse blasted in his ear. “Where is he?”
“I think he’s in his truck out back of the club, feeding and screwing. Why?”
“Typical. Find him and get your asses back to the base. I’m calling an emergency meeting.”
Mel’s heart slowed to a crawl as unease filtered through his brain. “All right, but can you at least tell me what’s going on?
Silence filled the line, and then a heavy sigh. “The prophecy has been found.”
The prophecy? Then it hit him with the intensity of a lightning bolt. The Vampire Prophecy. Mel cleared his suddenly dry throat. “How? When?”
“I’ll fill you in when you get here.”
The door banged open. Startled, Mel spun around.
Kal sauntered in with a big cocky grin. “Hey, I was lookin' everywhere for ya. Thought maybe you were finally gettin' some action. Guess not.”
“Kal's here now. We’re on our way.” Mel flipped his phone closed. “Let’s go.” In three strides, he was across the room.
“Yo, where’s the fire, dude?” Kal asked.
Mel wrenched the door open and the steady beat of the music rushed in. He turned and stared at Kal. “The prophecy’s been discovered.”
All pretense of teasing vanished from Kal’s face. His dark brows dropped low over blue eyes, which were the same color as the highlights streaked throughout his black hair. “Are you shittin' me? When did this happen?”
“Don’t know. Let’s go.” Mel shot through the door with Kal right behind him.
As they drove through the city, it seemed to Mel they hit every damn red light, plus the heavy Friday night traffic slowed them up. When they finally reached the highway, traffic thinned and Kal stomped on the accelerator.
With the lights of the city well behind, they turned onto a quiet country road. After a few miles surrounded by nothing but trees, the pavement came to a sudden end and the road forked. The headlights illuminated two large signs. One read Water Shed with an arrow pointing left to a washed-out logging road, the other marked private property pointed to a narrow gravel lane dwarfed on either side by dense fir and cedar trees. Kal turned right.
Fifteen minutes later, Kal parked in front of a three-story white house with a wide veranda running the length of the lower level. They hopped out, sprinted up the stairs, through the wooden double doors, and up a winding staircase to the top floor.
“Sorry we’re late,” Mel said as he stepped into Roarik’s office. He glanced at the other warriors seated throughout the room. All were present. Soren, Black, Sin, even Ace.
The rectangular room was spacious, but with all seven warriors present, it felt like the red walls shrunk.
Roarik rose from behind his oak desk. Topping out at six-foot-seven, he was the tallest and broadest of the demon slayers in this squad. His regal carriage demanded respect. Not only was he a direct descendant of the first king of the first vampire clan sent to Earth thousands of years ago, he was the captain of this unit of slayers.
Before Mel and Kal sat, Roarik thrust a sheet of paper in each of their hands. Mel studied it. Written across the top were the words vampire prophecy followed by fourteen short sentences in English. Decorating the bottom was a small symbol shaped like a crooked dagger. He glanced up. “This makes no sense. It reads like a goddamn riddle.”
Roarik nodded. He headed back to the black swivel chair behind his desk. Once seated, he picked a pen from a jar on his desk and twirled it between his fingers. “Behold the prophecy, boys.”
Silence filled the room.
Dropping his pen, Roarik sat forward and leaned his thick forearms along the desktop. “Those lazy pricks in the Sacred Order are riding me and every squad leader’s ass around the globe—hard—demanding answers to this riddle. Their orders are for one warrior from each squadron to research it.” A short pause followed. “I choose you, Mel.”
Mel’s eyes jerked from the page to Roarik’s grim face. “Why me?”
“Because, out of the seven of us here, you’re the only one who's studied our species’ history extensively.”
“Studied sure, but a scholar I’m not. Sorry, can’t help you. You’ll have to get someone else.”
“Well, I suggest you get on your computer and search the great world-wide web and get reacquainted with history text books.” Roarik’s eyes narrowed. “That’s an order.”
Annoyance rolled up from Mel’s gut. Well, I suggest you shove it. He clamped his teeth to trap the words. He had no desire to spend one second of his time researching a bogus prophecy made up by the gods. As far as he was concerned, the gods could go straight to hell with their buddy, Lucifer. They were all useless bastards who cared nothing for the miseries vampires suffered. Miseries he'd suffered. They proved that when they’d ignored his prayers and allowed his father to destroy everyone he loved.
“I want you on it this weekend,” Roarik stated. “I expect a report on Monday.”
Mel swore under his breath and shoved the prophecy into a pocket of his black leather jacket. “I’ll do what I can.”
Beside him, Kal laughed and nudged his arm. “That’s what ya get for being a book-worm. That’s why I stick to the simple things in life: women, video games, and loud music. This way no one expects anything.”
Mel tried to hide his smile. Leave it to Kal to find humor in an otherwise serious situation.
Chuckles from the other warrior’s filled the room, but Roarik's thunderous expression stopped the laughter. “Now is not the time for your bullshit comedy, Kal.”
Kal's face turn red and his gaze shifted to the carpeted floor. “Sorry."
Roarik stood and strolled over to the enormous stone fireplace, which covered most of one wall. “I’ll fill you in on what little the Sacred Order knows about the prophecy. They believe it refers to some mystical warriors who will help bring an end to this war.”
Soren pulled a pack of smokes from his jacket pocket. His dark blond brows lowered over cunning green eyes. “What do the historians have to say about it?”
“Where do you think the Order is getting their information?” Roarik shoved his hands through his blond hair. “Oh, and another thing, the symbol on the bottom of the page is believed to be how we will identify these warriors. So they want every slayer on the lookout for this mark.”
“Yeah? And what do they suggest we do? Go around stripping every warrior we meet?” Ace laughed and shook his head. “What a bunch of no-mind ass clowns.”
“I agree,” Roarik said with a smirk on his face.
Black leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. “How was the prophecy found?”
“Rats found the prophecy?” Kal laughed.
“In a manner of speaking.” Roarik crossed his arms and widened his stance. “Recently the Council house was hit with a rat infestation. A member of the Sacred Order went down to the unused section of the underground tunnels armed with rat poison. He shone a light into a crumbled segment of wall when he noticed a rat jump out, and hidden inside was a metal box. Imagine their surprise when they opened it to find the prophecy. God knows how long it had been sealed up in the wall.”
“Holy shit,” Black murmured. “The prophecy had been under the Sacred Order’s noses all this time.”
Roarik nodded. “I know you all have tons of questions, but I don’t have answers, so save them. Now, on to other business. Celeene and I are leaving tonight for Kelowna to meet their new squad leader. We’ll be back Sunday night. While I’m away, Soren will be in charge. This concludes our meeting. If anything unforeseen happens, call my cell. As usual, boys, be careful.”
Ten minutes later, Mel entered the small two-bedroom suite he and Kal shared beneath the main house. There were seven suites in all, including theirs. He paused in the entrance to their living room and glared at his computer. Instant anger over his new position as researcher gripped his gut in a tight fist. Shaking his head, he walked down the short hallway to his room. “I’m hitting the sack. Catch ya later.”
“Yo, Mel? Do you think there’s any truth to the prophecy?”
Mel halted outside his bedroom, but didn’t turn around. He hated the glimmer of hope in Kal’s voice. “No. I don’t believe the gods will finally get off their lazy asses and send help.”
“But you don’t know that for sure, man.”
Mel heaved a weary sigh. “The gods don’t give a shit what happens to us. Hell, they don’t even care what happens to their precious humans. Look around, Kal. Look at all the misery. All of us—humans and vampires—are just puppets dangling from strings for the god’s amusement, and we vampires are their disposable soldiers. Tools to be used and tossed aside when we're no longer needed.” He opened the door and stepped inside.
She rested with her back against the red cushioned swing chair in a garden of blooming flowers. Moonlight illuminated everything it touched while flowers danced in the light breeze, swaying to a song only they could hear. The swing rocked back and forth, powered by her small bare foot. In her arms lay a smiling baby. Long dark hair shielded her face from view. Mel tried to call to her, but to no gain; his tongue wouldn't take direction from his brain. He wanted, no, needed to see her.
Abruptly, as if someone flicked a light switch, the woman and baby disappeared and the sound of thunder filled the blackness.
Blood curdling screams poured into his ears as he ran, clawing his way up a steep hill, stumbling and sliding in his panic. When he finally reached the top, he stood unmoving on the edge of the cliff and stared with horror at the scene. The houses and barns in the little valley were all ablaze. Flames lit the night while smoke filled the sky, trying to choke out the stars.
Men on horseback raced through the village, cutting down screaming females and young on the run for their lives. He tried to move, but his feet had grown roots and were stuck fast, deep in the earth.
He glimpsed his wife Bethany, as she ran out from behind a burning barn. Her long red braid bounced and swayed as she raced toward the dark forest. He tried to scream a warning, but no sound escaped. He was paralyzed and mute. Helpless. A large masked human male riding an immense black horse, galloped up behind her, closing the distance with lightening speed. As she headed for the cover of the trees, the rider, with a mighty swing of a sword, cut her down as he bolted past. Her body crumpled to the dirt. The male jerked his snorting steed to a sliding stop, and wheeling around, he charged back. With a triumphant yell, the masked warrior pulled his helm from his head, and shook out his long black hair.
The scene changed again. No longer merely an observer, Mel was thrust into the action. He leaped off the prancing stallion and turned over his dead wife for inspection. Instead of his wife's lovely face, his father's evil black eyes stared back. He tried to jump away, but his father's hand snaked out and curled around his ankle.
“Oh, son,” he sneered, laughing maniacally up at him. “You will never be free of me. I am inside you, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to come out.”
The scenario abruptly transformed once more. Mel now lay bleeding on the cold, hard ground. He looked up at his father as he leered down. Pure hatred swirled in his sire’s eyes, freezing his soul. With a foot planted on Mel's chest, his father plunged the tip of a sword straight for his heart.
Mel violently shook his head, mouthing the word no, over and over.
Then just before the blade hit its mark, a beautiful white light shone into his eyes, momentarily blinding him. Mel swung his terrified gaze from his father's enraged expression and stared at a hooded and cloaked figure. He sensed she was a woman, but he didn't know for sure, he couldn't see her face. She reached down to him with one small glowing hand. Without hesitation, he grasped it like a lifeline and she pulled him out of the nightmare.
Mel bolted awake. His arms flailed as he fought the blankets tangled around his body.
Sucking in a lungful of air, his heart slammed against his ribs. With a vicious curse, he shoved his sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes. Frantic, he searched the room, afraid his father's ghost still lingered in the shadows.
He hung his head from tense shoulders and willed his pounding heart and erratic breathing to settle.
A few moments later, he laid back and recalled the dream of the woman and baby. A dream that haunted him on and off for the past fifty years. Nothing ever changed, not even the simplest detail. After all these years he had no clue who she was. He hadn’t even seen her face. But oddly enough, she didn't seem like a stranger. This dream always filled him with love, contentment, and overwhelming happiness.
He frowned as his thoughts changed to the nightmare that followed. A nightmare which plagued him since his wife's murder. But the cloaked woman in the end was new.
Closing his eyes, Mel hoped for sleep with no dreams, only forgetfulness.
Friday, June 13, 9:10p.m
Dr. Breeana Spencer pulled her gray Ford truck into a parking space behind The Green Tree. She shut it off and glanced out her rear window at the two-story concrete building.
Great, another dump. If Carol saw this hole-in-the-wall, she'd laugh her ass off.
A small door beside the back stairs opened and out walked John, the bass guitarist in their band; a thirty-five year old accountant by day, slash rocker on the weekends. He smiled and waved when he saw her.
Breeana waved back. “Hey, John.”
“I was going to call you. Thought maybe you got lost.” He stopped beside her truck and leaned in through the open window and kissed her cheek.
She shoved an old gas receipt with his scrawled directions written on the back, under his nose. “How could I possibly get lost following your awesome directions?”
He chuckled, folded his long arms along the truck’s window ledge and eyed her up and down, his pale green eyes sparkled with male appreciation behind his glasses. “Hey, like the get-up. Very Lee Aaronish.”
She glanced down at her black jeans, high heeled boots, and long leather coat. “Thanks.”
John straightened, drumming his hands against the truck. “Well, I’m heading in. The guys and I are having a beer before we go on. Come join us.”
“Yeah, I will.”
He turned and walked toward the door. When he was half way, she leaned out the window. “John?”
He stopped and faced her. “Yeah?”
She glanced at the building, arching an eyebrow. “The Green Tree?”
John spread his arms wide. “Hey, it was either this dump or a strip club in Seattle. Thought you’d like this place better.”
Breeana chuckled. “Is there at least some place where I can put on my face?”
“Yep. Through this door and down the hall is a dressing room.”
“A dressing room?”
“Okay.” A wide grin stretched his lips. “More like a small closet with a chair and a mirror.”
“That’s more like it. I wouldn’t want to get used to any luxuries.”
Using his thumbs and index fingers, John flashed her the double gun signal before he disappeared inside.
As she opened the truck door, the hinges squealed in protest. She leaned over the passenger seat, clasped the handle of her guitar case and the strap of her purse, then lugged them out. As she walked across the parking lot, her cell-phone rang. She reached into the pocket of her leather coat. No need to check caller ID. Only one person would be calling.
“Hey, Carol. What’s going on?”
“Not much. Just making sure you made it,” Carol said with a teasing lilt to her voice.
“Of course. Did you think otherwise?” Breeana laughed to herself, knowing she did.
“I know your shitty sense of direction. Plus I was worried because I kept you up all night and half the day.”
“I’m fine. Honest. I’m used to functioning on no sleep, fueled by caffeine.” And she was. Being a veterinarian, she was accustomed to hard days and late nights attending to some animal related emergency.
“Well, I feel bad,” Carol said.
“Will you stop that? You’ve been around horses your whole life. You know they give birth whenever they feel like it. Star decided last night was her time.”
Carol sighed. “So anyway, what’s this place you’re singing at tonight called? Thugs-R-Us? ”
“Har, har. Actually it’s a dive called The Green Tree.”
“Sounds…nice. But aren’t you tired of playing in dives? Why don’t you quit? You’re so busy with your job and you don't need the money.”
Breeana trapped her cell phone between her shoulder and ear. She walked over to the door, set her guitar down, and leaned against the building. “I like singing. It feeds the wild-child in me.”
“If you say so,” Carol said, her tone heavy with mockery. “Did you book a hotel room yet?”
“I did before I left.”
A pause followed which prickled Breeana’s instincts.
“So,” Carol said. “Have you given anymore thought about dinner tomorrow evening with Dave and me?”
Breeana barked out a laugh. “Why? So you can set me up with another one of your husband’s friends? Don’t think so.”
“Come on. James is great. You’ll really like him. I promise.”
Not this again. She hated that out of all her friends she was the only single one left, and for some reason, they all felt compelled to fix her up with their husband’s friends. She could find her own dates, thank you very much, and she resented the hell out them for thinking otherwise. “Forget it, Carol. I’m not interested.”
“Look, I’m just trying to help. I know you’re lonely and . . .”
“Then I'll buy a vibrator. Besides, I'm too busy for a relationship.” Breeana kicked at a small pebble with the toe of her boot and glanced out at the darkening lot. “Listen, Carol. I have to get ready. We’re due on stage at ten.”
“All right. What time will you be home tomorrow?”
“I'm not sure. I’ll call you in the morning after I wake up. But maybe if I meet someone I won’t come home for days.”
“I hope you do,” Carol replied seriously. “Though knowing you, you’ll find some lame reason for why he’s not right for you. Look Breeana, Tom was a dick. Not all guys are like him.”
At the mention of her ex-boyfriend, her stomach dropped. “No argument there, but I really don't want to—”
“Talk about him, yeah, yeah, I know. There are good men out there, but you won't find one hidden in the pages of a romance novel. News flash, girl. They're fictional characters.”
Okay, time to get off the phone. “Carol, I’m not having this conversation with you again.”
“Yeah, because you know I’m right. You're so scared of being hurt again that you’re playing it safe, looking for someone who doesn’t exist, and one of these days you’re going to realize I’m right.”
Gritting her teeth, she swore under her breath. “I'm not scared; I just don't have time to invest in a relationship.”
“Want to hear some of the excuses you’ve used?”
“Not really, but I’m sure you'll tell me anyway.” Breeana sighed and silently counted to five, trying to control her temper.
“Too arrogant, allergic to animals, swears too much, and oh yes, stinky feet. Need I go on?”
Breeana burst out laughing, remembering Steve from college. “Steve’s feet did stink when he took off his shoes.”
Carol laughed back, the tension instantly evaporating. “Yeah, they did.”
“Listen, I gotta go. I'll call you tomorrow.”
“Okay, sweetie. I’ll talk to you later. I love you.”
“Love you too. Bye.”
Breeana closed her phone and dropped it into her purse before hurrying through the door. The music, which had only been a muffled throb outside, became louder as she jogged down the narrow hallway. She opened a door at the end and stepped into a dimly lit cramped room, bare except for a small chair sitting in front of a mirror. She leaned her guitar against the wall, then rummaged through her purse. As she extracted her make-up bag, something fell, hitting the floor with a thud. The latest romance novel she was reading. She picked it up, looking at the cover. A large muscular man leaned over a beautiful woman, kissing her neck. The woman was tipped back in a pose that defied the laws of physics. Her breasts almost overflowed from the top of her dress while her hip-length blonde hair swirled around them.
She traced the hero's face with a finger. She loved reading romance novels, especially paranormals. Vampires made her heart race. Carol thought she was nuts, believing it was one of the reasons she didn’t have a boyfriend. Which was bullshit. Imaginary men couldn't hurt her. Not like real men.
She flinched as painful memories of her last serious relationship flooded her. Clear as if it happened only yesterday, she recalled Tom's startled face when she walked in on him and his ex-girlfriend. Hard as that was, his explanation was what stung the most. “You don't have what it takes to keep me satisfied. Your job always comes first. I need a woman who's willing to put me first.”
Breeana dropped the book in her purse and busied herself applying make-up. Everything always worked out in books—not like real life. She ached for love—companionship—but all she ended up with was heartache and pain. She was happy sticking with her fictional vampires, werewolves, and shape shifters. They were safe. Perfect.