Worlds Apart (Worlds Apart Vampire Romance, Book One) by Emily Knight

Night lay over the large, sleepy university town. Stars twinkled in the sky above a large park. Acres of thick patches of trees surrounded the dirt paths that wound their way beneath the thick canopy of branches. Lamps illuminated the path and cast shadows into the trees. A thick row of bushes marked the border between the dirt path and the woods. All was still and silent except for the far-off sounds of university students making merry.
Worlds Apart (Worlds Apart Vampire Romance, Book One)
Worlds Apart (Worlds Apart Vampire Romance, Book One) by Emily Knight
The quiet was broken by the soft tread of feet on one of the dirt paths, and a young man of twenty shuffled into view. His wide eyes flitted from one side of the path and his hands fumbled with each other. "Come on, Basil, get a hold of yourself. It's only the dark. You can handle the dark, you can overcome the dark," the young man whispered to himself. He stopped walking and breathing when a noise caught his attention. It was the soft flutter of thin wings. His head turned this way and that trying to find the source of the sound. He saw nothing and walked on, but his steps were quicker. "It was only an owl, Basil. Nothing to be afraid of. Just an-ah!" Something swooped down and caught his hair that stood on end. Basil shook his head and flailed his hands above his head. His fingers touched the soft body of something small and round. He screamed and the creature squeaked. One of his hands knocked it loose form his hair and he broke from its grasp. His feet pounded down the dirt path. Behind him a small, dark form flew through the narrow light of the lamps after him. Its wings flapped and the distance between them shortened. Basil turned around and screamed as the thing latched onto his neck. He tumbled backwards into the bushes. All that could be seen was his foot, and that twitched for a few moments until it stilled. Everything was quiet again. A three-floor, peak-roofed frat house stood not far from the same park. All the lights were on downstairs, and several of the lights in the upper floor rooms were off. Music blared onto the otherwise quiet street. The battered curb in front of the house was filled with a wide assortment of used vehicles that a seller with the name of Honest Dick would be glad to sell to the highest bidders. The inside of the house was filled with small rooms currently crammed with furniture and partiers. There was wall-to-wall coverage that would put a twenty-four hour news channel to shame, and the worst spot in the lower floor was around the long tables in the living room. The tables were laden with the nectar of the college gods: alcohol. There were bottles, cans, a pony keg, a full keg, and something that resembled a large oil drum that lay on its side with a make-shift spout out one end. In that mass of people stood a young man of twenty-five. He was of average height and slim build. His short brown hair was damp from the sweat in the room and his brown eyes glanced over the crowd searching for a way out of the mess. He was smashed against the wall behind the beer table with a cup in each hand. The surface of the water pulsed to the beat of the music. His objectives were two people on the far side of the room. One was a pretty young woman with shoulder-length blond hair and blue eyes that glared at her male companion. Said male leaned against the wall behind her and had a wide, stupid grin on his face. His face was flushed and his unruly black hair stood on end as he slid down the wall. His female companion rolled her eyes and propped him back up against the wall. The young man with the cups squeezed his way through the crowds and arrived at his friends with only half the contents spilled on him and half a dozen other people. They hadn't noticed. They were too drunk to notice that they'd spilled beer on themselves. "Here!" he yelled at his female friend as he handed her a cup. She took it and glanced past him at the party. "I think we should go!" she screamed back. He frowned. "I wasn't that slow!" She sighed, rolled her eyes, and raised her voice. "I said I think we should go!" "Oh!" He nodded his head. "Yeah, it is a little loud in here!" Each of them took an arm of their inebriated friend and slung it over their shoulders. The movement awoke their friend from his stupor. "Where we going?" he slurred. "To the North Pole. Santa wants to see you because you've been a naughty boy," the young woman commented. He grinned and wagged his eyebrows. "If I've been a bad boy then I need to go to your room." She rolled her eyes and glanced past him at her sober male companion. "We need to go before I commit murder." "Yep," the young man agreed. With their powers combined they pushed, shoved, squished, squirmed, and pulled their way through the crowds and into the kitchen. There was enough space to let in and out a breath without their guts bumping into someone. The round kitchen table was surrounded by watchers as a quieter poker game was played. The young woman glanced at her friend. "Pete, if Rich ever invites us to come to another one of his Business Major Asset Liquidation parties again remind me to say no." Peter smiled and shrugged. "It isn't that bad." His eyes swept over the pile of beer boxes in one corner of the kitchen. "And he wasn't lying about the asset liquidation." "Fuck!" The intelligent prose came from someone in the crowd at the table. A young man jumped to his feet, slammed his cards on the table, and pointed an accusing finger at another man across the table from him.. The accuser wore camo gear and was six-foot three. The accused wore spectacles and a grin. "How the hell are you being so lucky?" "It's just skill," he argued. "Like hell it is! You're counting the cards, you damn business major cheat!" The camo-wearing young man jumped over the table and tried to wrap his hands around his scrawnier foe. His hefty frame broke the table and sent people, cards, and booze scattering. "You were saying?" the young woman asked Peter. Peter winced. "I was saying that Rich was getting heavy. Let's prop him up near the door so he can get some fresh air." The pair dragged their friend over to a wall near the kitchen door, but there wasn't any place to set him except on the top of the plastic garbage can, and beside that was a half dozen empty pizza boxes. In the background the ruckus at the table had escalated into card slinging. Some of the combatants could have given Gambit a run for his money. The young woman sighed. "Let's just put him on the floor." "I can-hiccup-stand!" Rich argued. "Wait a sec. I've got an idea," Peter offered. He grabbed one of the boxes and plopped it over the hole in the garbage. They set their friend on the top and his head lolled back. Rich's eyes were open, but the lights weren't on. The young woman knocked her finger against one of his knees, but he didn't respond. "Idiot. He's really out this time. . ." she muttered. Peter placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled down at her five-foot nothing self. "If anybody can bring him back from dead-drunk, it's you, Val." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "I don't-Rich!" The pizza box couldn't hold Rich's weight. It broke in half and Rich slid into the trash. Peter and Val grabbed a hold of Rich's arms. His butt was jammed in the trash lid, but with a big pull they managed to yank him out. Rich slumped over Peter, and they both crashed onto the hard linoleum floor with Peter pinned beneath his drunken friend. "Rich, you need to go on a diet," Peter huffed as he tried to push his friend off him. Their fun adventure in inebriation took a turn for the worse when police sirens down the street signaled the last-call for closing time. None of the friends were underage, but nobody had checked ID at the door. There was a frat member in a chair near the front door checking out people, but mostly the women in their skimpy clothes on the cool autumn night. The card slinging paused and everyone's eyes widened. From upstairs came the mad hopping of feet as sexy-times finished and people hopped into their jeans and shoes. Peter looked to Val, who looked to him, and then they both looked to Rich. He jabbed his finger at the rear entrance. "Out the kitchen door!" Those at the table took their advice and stampeded toward the kitchen door. They jumped over the pair of friends and bumped into Val on their way out, but the guy in the camo suit glanced at them and skidded to a stop. "Pete, what the hell are you doing here?" he asked the young man. Peter smiled and shrugged. "You know me, Marcus, always up for a good time in the city jail." Marcus furrowed his brow and shook his head. "I've been there. It isn't that comfy. You need some help?" Peter nodded. "As much as I can get." Marcus grabbed the collar on Rich's shirt and easily pulled the young man off Peter. The hefty university student tossed Rich over his shoulder and offered his hand to Peter, who he pulled to his feet. Val glanced out the kitchen windows. She frowned as she glimpsed flashing red lights out front. "We can't get to Rich's car, but maybe we can get home through the park." Marcus's face lost its color. "That place? At night? What about the White Lady?" Val spun around and narrowed her eyes at him. "Do you have a better idea?" He jumped to attention. "No, ma'am!" "Good, then follow me." CHAPTER 2 Val led them out the kitchen door. The exit came out the rear of the house and before them was the large expanse of lawn. The frat house had been built a hundred yards ago on the edge of the old woods, and its lawn connected to the thick brush beneath the ancient trees. Between them and the twinkling lamp lights was twenty yards of wilderness. Behind them was chaos as people spilled out of windows and doors eager to give the cops some much-needed exercise. People shouted, the music continued to blare, and from somewhere inside the house a goat bleated. "Come on!" Val shouted at her lost and frightened sheep. The three raced across the lawn with Rich bouncing atop Marcus' shoulder. They hit the brush running and crashed into the thick brambles and unforgiving wild roses. Their arms were scratched and their clothes torn, but the noise of the police sirens at their backs urged them on better than any coach. They pushed through the mess of undergrowth and were pushed apart by the uncaring branches of the trees. A few minutes later Peter broke free from the clingy vines and stumbled onto the park path. The gravel trail was empty and the noises behind him quieted. He gasped for air and looked for his friends. His eyes fell on a figure who was half hidden behind a tree ten yards from where he stood. The figure was too thin to be Marcus. He moved closer to them and squinted his eyes. "Val?" he called out. The person stepped from behind the tree and he saw it was of a young woman about his age. Her raven-colored hair hung down to her waist, and her pale skin shone in the faint light of the lamps. She wore a thin white blouse and blue jeans, not exactly the usual attire for roaming spirits. Even in the dim light he could clearly make out her thin face and those dazzling blue eyes that sparkled in the dark. Her lips were curled back in a shy smile and she walked with the agility of a gymnast. Her feet didn't make a sound on the crunchy fallen fall leaves. "Hello," she spoke up. He swallowed and nodded. "Hey. You from the party, too?" The young woman tilted her head to one side and blinked at him. "Party?" He nodded in the direction of the house. "Yeah, the party at the business frat house." Her hands still grasped the rough trunk of the tree and she bit her lower lip. "Um, no, I'm not from the party." Peter looked over her clothes. Her blouse was nearly transparent, and the autumn night air was cool on his face. He could see her own face was pale from the cold. "Aren't you a little cold?" he asked her. She smiled and shook her head. "No, not at all." Peter slipped off his heavy sweatshirt and stepped up to her. "You have to be cold in that shirt. You're as pale as death. Here, take mine." He slipped it over her head before she could argue and her face popped out from the top. The way Peter leaned in their noses nearly touched, and when he looked into her dazzling blue eyes a thrill swept through him. The young woman blushed and Peter shook his head to shake loose from his staring. He hurriedly helped her into the arms of the sweater and stepped back. "There, that's better." A chill breeze swept past them, and he shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. The young woman's smile slipped from her lips. "Now you're cold. Let me give you back your sweater." She proceeded to remove the sweater, but he caught her wrist. "N-no, it's fine, really. Besides, I don't live too far away." He glanced around the empty park path. "I just need to find my friends and we can go. Where do you live, anyway?" The young woman opened her mouth, but her voice was drowned out by others. "Pete! Pete!" came Marcus's deep call. "Pete, where are you?" Val's voice rang unison. Peter's hand slipped off her wrist and he glanced behind him in the direction of their voices. "We're over here!" he called back. His friends appeared around a bend in the path. They were covered in leaves and brambles, but otherwise unhurt. Rich still lay across Marcus's shoulder. Marcus's eyes flitted from the darkness between the lamplight to Peter and back again. "Man, this place is scary," he whispered. Val reached him and looked him over. "How did you get this far?" Peter shrugged. "It's just where the brush took me." Val glanced over her shoulder. "Well, let's get going before the police find our trail. Marcus here tore apart half the forest trying to get through it." "Sure, but first let me introduce you to-um-" he realized he didn't know the young woman's name. He turned to her, but the spot where she'd stood was empty. His eyes widened. He whipped his head to and fro searching for her lithe form. She was nowhere in sight. He cupped his hands over his mouth. "Hey! Hey, where'd you go?" There was no reply but the soft echo of his voice. Val leapt at him and slapped her hand over his mouth. "Do you want the police to find us?" she hissed. He yanked her hand off his mouth and pointed at the tree she'd come from. "But she was right here!" Marcus's eyes widened to saucer-size. "W-who was right here?" "A girl. She came out of the woods and I gave her my sweater," he explained. Val glanced around and shook her head. "Well, she's not here now and we need to leave before Marcus here starts having a heart attack and I have to give him CPR." Marcus's breathing came out in quick gasps and he clung onto Rich's legs. She swung around, crossed her arms and glared at the hefty man. "What is your problem with this place, anyway?" He pursed his lips and glared back at her. "Haven't you heard of the White Lady?" he snapped back. Val rolled her eyes. "The ghost? Seriously? You're scared of a woman ghost?" "Emphasis on the 'ghost' part," Marcus countered. Peter stepped between them and pushed them apart. "Listen, guys, she wasn't a ghost and I don't think she was going to scare me to death. I even put my sweatshirt on her." Val brushed aside his hand and half-turned away from the boys. "I don't care if she's the Beige Lady, I'm not afraid of some stupid ghost story. I deal with facts. Period." "What about the fact that she's been seen by so many people over the last hundred years?" Marcus pointed out. "Superstitions can survive a long time in the minds of idiots," she retorted. Peter sighed. "Come on, we have to focus. Remember, police and missing girl?" Val frowned at him. "Nobody's missing except a girl who took off with your sweater. Besides, we need to worry-" A sound from the far side of the brush caught their attention. Flashlights shone into the woods, and the three of them ducked. Val glanced at Marcus and frantically pointed at his back. "Rich!" she whispered. Marcus glanced over his shoulder at the prostrate body. "What? Oh, right." Rich's body peeked over the edge of the bushes. Marcus hunkered lower, but the movement caught the light of the flashlights. "Who's there? Come out!" yelled an officer. "Run!" Peter yelled. The three of them jumped to their feet and beat a hasty retreat down the path. "Stop!" they heard behind them, along with a crash of brush as the officers tried to force their way through the twenty yards of survival camp. Peter was in the lead of their small, panicked group when his eyes caught something white in the forest on his right. He stopped so fast that Val collided into him, and Marcus into her. They all three toppled to the ground with Rich at the very top. They flailed for a few moments before separating and hunkering down near the wild edge of the path. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Val hissed at him. "I saw the girl again. We have to go help her," Peter insisted. "No, we need to help ourselves get home and hope Rich's car isn't impounded," Val hissed. Peter stood, took a step in the direction the woman had gone, or he thought she had gone, and glanced over his shoulder at his friends. "You guys go on ahead. I want to see if I can find that girl." Marcus's eyes flickered over the area. "Come on, Pete, that's stupid. What if she's that ghost girl and she kills you?" Peter smiled and winked at them. "Then I'll be sure to come back and haunt you guys. Just make sure you're not here when the cops find you." He turned and sprinted into the trees. "Pete! Pete, get back here!" he heard Val yell at him, but he didn't look back. Peter pushed, ducked, hopped, and pulled his way through the wildness of the forest, his eyes ever forward looking for the young woman. He left the safety of the path and the lamps far behind him. His only light was from the twinkling stars overhead, and his only clue to the direction she'd gone was his intuition. He just couldn't leave her out here all alone. Not with his sweater. It was his favorite one. CHAPTER 3 A half hour later Peter felt as though he'd broken trail for miles. He had a creeping doubt in his mind that his intuition had suicidal tendencies. There was no sign of the girl, not even a broken branch, and it didn't help that he was traveling nearly blind in the dark forest. Peter was on the verge of turning back and trying to retrace his steps of broken bushes and low branches when his eyes spotted an opening in the woods. He pushed on, and in a few yards he pulled free from the last of the brambles and stumbled into an open meadow. The diameter of the circular field was sixty yards, and the border was surrounded by the thick growth of ancient trees and brush. The meadow itself was filled with wild grass and flowers that swayed in the chill autumn breeze that swished past him. Peter's eyes widened when he beheld a large house in the very center of the meadow. It was an imposing Victorian house with two floors and a full attic, and was at an angle from where he stood where the front faced toward his left. He could just make out an old-fashioned earth-level basement door on the far side of the front porch. A few short steps led onto the covered porch with the railing all around its sides. On the side of the home closest to him he beheld two large chimneys, one near the front and another in the far back of the long, deep house. The windows were rounded on the tops and stared at him with a menacing gaze. The original white paint on the shingles was faded and peeled, and bricks from the chimneys lay on the ground around their source like worshipers at a crumbling temple. A few of the windows gave off the soft glow of a weak light. That was enough of a welcome for him, and Peter hurried to the porch. He tested the rickety wood and winced when they groaned beneath his weight. His shoes clomped along the boards and he came to stand before the large, wooden front door. It was made of some dark wood, stained and aged with countless years of weather. There were no windows or peepholes, but a tall, fogged glass on the side with a faint glow behind it showed he wasn't mistaken about the lights. Peter knocked on the door. The call echoed throughout the house. His pulse quickened and he rocked on his heels waiting for a reply to the knock. He got his reply. It was a slow thump of wood against wood. Thump. Thump. The sound grew louder the closer it came. Peter's instincts told him to dash away, to dive into the bushes around the edge of the raised porch. Thump. He half turned, but froze when the noise stopped. The knob rattled. The door creaked open. Peter looked over his shoulder and froze. A single eye that looked through the small crack between the door and the frame. "What do you want?" came the gruff, old voice of a man. Peter swallowed and turned with a shaky smile. "I, um, I was wondering if you wanted to buy a subscription to Playboy." The door swung open and revealed the whole of the person. The man was about his height, but only because he was slightly stooped. His age was hard to guess from the long, speckled-gray hair that was tied behind him, but Peter guessed it was about sixty. The man's face was wrinkled, but unscarred and very pale. He wore a black vest with a white shirt beneath it, and black slacks. His shoes shone with countless polishes and were pointed at the ends. In his right hand was a black hickory cane with a rounded metal top that shone with a color not unlike solid gold. The stranger scrutinized Peter with the same careful eye. "If that's all you've come for then-" "You!" The old man swung around and Peter glimpsed a long hallway that led to the rear of the house. Along the left wall of the hall was a staircase with a door on the side, and on the first landing on the stairs stood the girl from the woods. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was agape. The old man glanced between the girl and Peter. "Do you know him?" The young woman hurried down the stairs and rushed past the old man to wrap her arm around Peter's waist. "I met him in the park and-um-" "Peter," he spoke up. "Peter was just-" "Looking to sell some magazines," Peter added. She nodded. "Looking to sell some magazines, and I told him if he wanted a job he could clean up our messy library." The old man's bushy eyebrows crashed down over his bright blue eyes. "You told a human about us without my permission?" She bit her lip and her eyes swung back and forth in desperate thought. "It's not like that, Dad. He's-um, he's one of us. You know, a vampire." Peter glanced at her and blinked. "I'm a-" She slapped her hand over his mouth so fast he didn't even see the action until he felt her soft, bone-chillingly cold flesh across his lips. The young woman nervously laughed. "He was just flying through looking for work and I thought maybe he could stay with us." The old man's eyebrows crashed down and he jerked his head back over his shoulder. "Go upstairs. You're grounded for a decade." Her mouth dropped open and she dropped her hand from Peter's lips. "What? But why?" "Because you led him to the meadow," he explained. Peter pulled her hand off his mouth and frowned. "Come on, it isn't that bad. She didn't even lead me this place. I just sort of found it." The old man turned toward him and glared at Peter. "You will forget about what you have seen here and never return." He swept his eyes over the entrance hall. "But this place is so cool. It's like Halloween every day of the year. Just the sort of place a-um, a vampire would love to live in." "Leave now before I loose the dogs on you," he warned him. The old man grabbed his daughter and pulled her inside the house. Peter leaned to the side as the door shut. His last view of her was her smiling face and beautiful eyes. "Wait a-" The door shut, missing his nose by a fraction of an inch. "-sec." He stepped back and glared at the imposing front door. The light in the side window vanished and the thump of the cane faded into the distance. Peter shoved his hands into his pocket and tromped off the porch. He paused ten yards from the front of the house and looked back at the home. Just when he thought he'd found the girl of his dreams, and his sweater, the father butts in and ruins everything. He admitted to himself that she was a little weird with her lies, but she didn't lack originality. He studied the home and the few remaining lights that glistened through the windows. They must have been candles because he couldn't see any source of electricity. One of the upper front rooms had a light on and thin white curtains. The glass was shut, but he couldn't mistake the slim silhouette that appeared at the window. His strange dream girl. He glanced at the front door, saw nothing of the dad, and scurried up to the bottom of the chimney. The chimney stack climbed past the window on its right. He opened his mouth, and it was then he realized he didn't know her name. "Psst! Psst!" he whispered, but his timing was bad. The silhouette stepped away from the window, but the light was still on. That gave him hope. He glanced along the wall and noticed vines grew from a large, old bush and climbed the wall and chimney up to the window of his aspiring girlfriend's room. Their small purple flowered were like a trail to destiny. Peter walked over and tested the vines. Tough as any other rope, and it barely moved under his pull. He jumped up and climbed the fifteen feet to the window sill. Peter let go of one of his hands and slipped. He quickly knocked on the glass and hugged himself to the vine. The curtains parted and the beautiful girl peered into the night. He was disappointed she was still dressed in her street clothes. Her eyes widened. She pulled the window up and leaned out. "What are you doing here? Dad said if you didn't leave he'd loose the dogs on you!" He sheepishly smiled. "I just thought I'd climb in and see how you were doing and apologize. I didn't mean to get you in trouble with your dad." The climb up the vines was worth the effort when she smiled at him. "You're very sweet, but you really do have to leave. The dogs aren't what you think they are." He shrugged. "It's cool. I'm one of the fastest sprinters at the university. It comes from always being late to class." She shook her head. "No, these aren't normal dogs. They're-" Peter heard a hiss near his hands and he glanced down at the flowers. The heads of the purple flowers were like large buttercups, but for the first time he noticed there were rows of sharp teeth inside the petals. The flowers stretched their stems away from the vine and pointed the openings of their petals toward him. His eyes widened when they hissed at him. Several snapped at him like vipers. "Whoa! Whoa!" he yelled, but they continued snapping at his hands and face. Peter writhed and dodged their snapping pedals. Every victory was a small defeat as his fingers lost their grip on the vines. He fell backwards and landed on his back with a hard plop. The young woman leaned out the window and looked down at him. "Are you okay?" she whispered. He sat up and rubbed the back of his head. "Yeah," he coughed out. The air was slowly returning to his lungs when he heard a baleful howl in the distance. The young woman whipped her face toward the rear of the house, and then back to Peter. "Run, Peter! My dad's let the hounds out!" Peter flipped over and groaned just as two hounds raced around the corner of the building. The groan stuck in his throat when he noticed how the eyes of the hounds burned like hell and their teeth were sharp as needles. Their mouths salivated with the thought of fast food. Peter thought to oblige them as he scrambled to his feet and raced away from the house toward the safety of the thick woods with their high branches. The trees came closer, but so did the hounds of Hades. Peter heard the snapping of their jaws at his heels and glanced over his shoulder. If he was to meet his end he was going to see it coming. He saw not only the gnashing teeth of the hounds of hell, but something small and black swept from the window of the young woman's room. The little creature flew over the heads of the dogs. Peter saw it was a large black bat. It screeched and turned its small claws forward so they pointed at him. Peter tried to duck, but the tiny claws grasped his shirt collar. He expected the beast to bite his neck and drain him dry, but what he could never have expected was for the creature to yank up on his collar and for his feet to leave the ground. "Let me down!" he yelped. His feet flailed in the air and he nearly slipped out of his shirt in his struggles to loosen himself from the bat's grasp. He lowered himself a few inches, but his victory was short-lived when the hounds jumped up and bit at his heels. "Let me up!" The bat flapped its wings faster. They flew across the meadow grass toward the trees ten yards off. They rose higher and higher, but the branches came closer and closer. He tucked his legs against his chest and gave a quick prayer with promises of ending world hunger and curing cancer. Someone heard half his prayers because his rear and feet missed the tops of the brushes, but they didn't clear the branches. The bat swooped and dodged the thick limbs of the ancient trees, and Peter swung from side to side with his arms scraping the twigs of the limbs. The hounds were as disappointed as he was terrified. They skidded to a stop at the edge of the meadow, and howled and growled their disappointment. He was out of the pan and into the fire. CHAPTER 4 The hounds of hell receded into the distance, but Peter could only focus on the path ahead. The bat sped through the branches and narrowly missed the wide tree trunks. Peter tucked and curved his body away from every near-miss. The thick clumps of trees thinned and Peter found he could relax his distorted body. The wind whistled past him and the ground flew by in patches of black and gray. He stretched out his arms and smiled as the world of shadows came up and receded, and was replaced by more of itself. He was flying as the crow flies, only minus the wings and the control. It was great,except for the occasional branch that slapped his face. The bat slowed until it glided over a particularly prickly patch of thorn bushes and set him down so he straddled a thick branch of an ancient tree. His pilot settled itself in front of him so they faced each other. Peter's heart beat loudly in his chest as he faced off against his rescuer. Its beady eyes stared back at his wide ones. He licked his lips. "Um, thanks for saving-" His words caught in his throat when the beast transformed. The wings stretched and thinned into slender arms, the tiny claws beneath itself lengthened to legs, and the body stretched to the proportions of a familiar young woman. In less than five seconds Peter found himself staring at the young woman of his dreams. He noticed her teeth were long and sharp, and her blue eyes sparkled in the starlight. The last word came out in a squeak. "-me." She smiled at him. "It was nothing." He leaned back and studied her pale person. "Wow. . ." The young woman shrugged and one hand grasped her opposite arm. She couldn't meet his eyes. "I know this looks bad, but it's not really as bad as you think it is." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "How bad is it?" She winced. "I'm-well, I'm not exactly normal." Peter raised an eyebrow and leaned toward her. "That stuff with your dad about vampires. You weren't joking, were you? You're really a vampire, aren't you?" The smile slipped from her lips and she hung her head. "Yes." She shut her eyes and tensed. The inevitable scream would come, and he'd plead for his life. Instead, she heard an excited squeal. She looked up to see his eyes shining and his mouth open in a wide smile. "That's so awesome!" Peter scooted closer to her and she scurried backward until her back hit the trunk. "So were you born this way or did your dad bite you? Is he really your dad? Are you really my age or do you just look young? She furrowed her brow and tilted her head to one side. "You're. . .you're not afraid of me?" He shrugged. "Should I be?" She opened her mouth and pointed at her long teeth. "I am a vampire, and we do drink blood." He flashed her a grin. "Yeah, but I don't think you're going to drink my blood. You could have done it in the park or at your house, but you didn't. In most of the movies that usually means you don't want to hurt me." She straightened and pursed her lips. "Maybe I didn't want to leave your body lying around where someone could find it." She grasped the tree branch and nodded down at the brush. "That would be a perfect spot for a body." He shook his head. "Maybe, but I still don't think you want to hurt me." She look at him with a quizzical expression on her face. "How can you be so sure of me?" "It's your eyes." He reached up and brushed away a loose strand of her dark hair. A light blush appeared on her cheeks and he smiled. "The first time I saw them I knew you weren't going to hurt me." A smile brightened her face. "I'm glad. I. . .I was afraid you'd be afraid of me, but-oh!" She reached out and brushed her hand against his cheek where lay a thin line of blood. "You're hurt." Peter reached up and pressed his fingers against the wound. He came away with a smudge of blood on his palm and shrugged. "I guess I got a little too close to-" The woman grabbed his hand and pulled it toward her. He stiffened as she opened his palm and studied the blood. His eyes flickered from her intense face to the red liquid. "A-are you okay?" She leaned down and licked his palm. He let out a strangled yelp and laugh, and yanked his hand from her grasp. She winced. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you." He snorted and shook his head. "You didn't hurt me. That just tickled." He tilted his head to one side and studied her face. "So how do I taste, anyway?" She smiled. The light from the clear night sky glistened off her sharp teeth. "Sweet." He cringed. "I was afraid of that." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "Don't be. I make sure to take my blood before I go to the park." She scooted closer to him and leaned close to him. "But you do taste better than the synthetic blood." He gave her a shaky smile. "That's-um, that's good. So-um, your dad has hell hounds?" The young woman sighed and leaned away from him before she gave a nod. "Yes, and they aren't trained for mercy." Peter grinned. "I thought as much, though I think they really wanted to make an intimate acquaintance with my legs." Her face fell and she shook her head. "They wouldn't have stopped there, and Dad won't be too pleased if he sees you again, either." "Is he a vampire, too?" Peter asked her. She nodded. "Yes, and I don't know what he'll do if he learns you're a human. We've-well, we've never had a human find the house before." He arched an eyebrow. "Not even in an airplane?" "No, there's-" she sighed and turned away. "Dad wouldn't really want me telling you everything about us. He doesn't really like humans. That is why we live where we live, and why he can't find out you're a human." She pursed her lips and gazed into his eyes. Her voice was soft, fearful. "He might kill you." Peter shrugged. "Why does he need to find out? I can just keep playing at being a vampire and he won't know the difference." The young woman bit her lower lip. "I suppose we could meet in the park tomorrow night." Peter smiled and grasped her hands. Her pale cheeks took on a rosier glow. "Great! Then I'll meet you at the park. How about where we met tonight at sundown?" Her bright smile shone on her face and she nodded. "That would be wonderful." She looked up at the stars and sighed. "But I guess I should go now." She slipped her hands from his and stared past him in the direction of her house. "Dad might find out I'm missing and come looking for me." Peter glanced down at the ground. "Um, before you go could you-" He pointed at the brambles and bushes beneath them. Her eyes widened. "Oh! Sorry! I'm so used to watching people from the branches that I forgot where we were. Here, let me get you back to the path." Peter watched in amazement as she transformed into her bat form and flew behind him. Her tiny claws grabbed his collar, and she pulled him off the branch and over the brambles toward the the path. The flight of the bat meant the half hour trip took only a few minutes, and she set Peter's feet on the firm ground of the dirt path. She settled on his shoulder and toothily smiled at him. "Until tomorrow night," she squeaked. He smiled back until he remembered one vital detail. "You know, I don't even know your name." She laughed. "I guess I forgot to tell you it. It's Anaro, but you can call me Ana." He furrowed his brow. "Anaro. That's a neat name." Ana opened her wings and flapped into the air. "My mother gave it to me, but I need to go. See you tomorrow!" He raised his hand above his head and waved to her. "Later!" he called back as she flew off into the night. Peter turned and, with a grin on his face, stepped lively down the path. He couldn't believe his luck finding a beautiful vampire girl who had eyes and claws for him. Now that the terror was over he was eager to experience the joy of flying, or at least being carried wherever she was willing to fly him. A million questions floated through his mind about his new vampire girlfriend and her anti-social father. It would be easy to avoid him so long as they stayed in the park. Nothing could go wrong- Peter's thoughts were interrupted when his foot caught on something. He crashed head-first toward the ground, but he caught himself before he hit the dirt. Peter rolled over onto his back and stared at what caught his foot. His eyes widened when they fell on the pale face of another college student. In the light of the lamps he could clearly make out two distinct marks on the young man's throat. Peter gulped and sat up. "Damn. Things just got not-easy," he muttered. CHAPTER 5 Ana flew through the trees with a smile on her furry bat face. She ducked and dove, and performed tight loops. "He likes me! He likes me!" she cried to the night. She broke through the trees and stopped at the edge of the meadow. Her bedroom candlelight still burned, and all was silent and still. She skimmed the grass and glided over the meadow to the house where she swept up the wall and through her open window. Her small abode was a square room with a coffin on the right-hand wall made up to look like a day bed, complete with throw pillow and blanket on the lid. A closet door stood on the left near the main entrance. The wall opposite the window had a small, ancient desk with a stool covered in a fabric of pink roses. The walls were covered in like color, but had stripes instead of flowers. The room was empty, so she transformed back into her human form. Ana tiptoed over to the door to the hall. She pressed her ear against the wood and listened. No sound of her dad's cane anywhere in the house, but she locked the knob just in case. She turned and strode over to her closet and opened the door. Inside the small space was more jeans and white blouses along with several boxes full of pairs of her black shoes. She pulled out the bottom box and opened it. Inside lay Peter's sweater, lovingly folded inside the small confines. Ana smiled and hugged the sweater against her chest. She buried her face into the soft, thick fabric and inhaled his scent. A+ blood with a hint of alcohol and sweat. It made for a tantalizing mix. She stood and walked over to her cushioned coffin. Ana faced away from the makeshift bed and fell backward onto the thick blankets with the sweater clutched in her arms. Visions of tomorrow's meeting swept through her mind and she sighed. Finally someone her own age to talk to. Well, sort of her own age. Ana heard a knock on her door. "Ana? Are you in there?" her dad called from the other side. She jumped to her feet and opened her coffin. "Um, one sec, Dad!" she called back. She stuffed the sweater into the coffin and slammed the lid shut. Her father jiggled the door knob. "Why is this locked?" Ana rushed to the entrance and opened the door to find her father just outside her door leaning on his cane like he always did. She leaned her shoulder against the door frame and smiled at him. "I was, um, I was just dressing and didn't want you to come in." He raised an eyebrow and glanced around the room. "Dressing for what?" "For, um, for going to bed." "But the sun doesn't rise for another five hours," he pointed out. She covered her mouth to stifle a fake yawn. "I guess I'm just tired. You know, flying around and watching people can be pretty tiring." She stretched her arms over her head and winced when her back popped. "See? I'm beat. Did you want something?" "Yes, I wish to speak about the boy you lured here tonight," he replied. He limped past her into the room and seated himself on the foot of her coffin. She glanced at the lid. Her still heart would have stopped when she noticed a piece of the sweater stuck out. She rushed to her dad and grasped his left hand. "Um, wouldn't you rather talk about this downstairs? It's so, um, pink in here." He turned the tables and captured her hands between his own. His eyes gazed into hers. "I know you wish to meet new people, and I have never stopped your wanderings in the park, but you mustn't allow another-" he pursed his lips, "-another of us to follow you home." Ana's face fell and she turned away. "I know, Dad, but it's just so lonely and boring here. I mean, you and Roger and the hounds are nice, but there has to be something more than this." She turned back to him and smiled. "Besides, I don't think he was that bad. He seemed kind of nice." Her father pursed his lips and squeezed her hands. "We can trust no one but each other, and that's all we need." She shrugged. "Yeah, I guess." She looked into his face and noticed her father staring at her with a questioning gaze. She smiled and squeezed his hand in return. "It's fine, Dad, really. Maybe I just want to be alone tonight." "Very well. If you need me I will be downstairs," he replied. He stood and her hands slipped from his grasp. She dropped them to her sides and he limped past her to the door. He paused and turned to her. "Good day, Ana." She gave him a small wave. "Good day, Dad." Ana's father shut the door behind him. She waited until the echo of his cane faded away before she dove beside the coffin and pulled out the sweater. The scent of him filled the room. She hugged the sweater against her chest and smiled. "Tomorrow." Ana's father paused outside the door. A frown creased his lips. He limped down the hall and his cane thumped against the floor boards. He thumped downstairs and the sound of his cane was matched by the tramping of footsteps up the stairs beneath the main staircase. The door on the side of the staircase opened. Out stepped an older gentleman of seventy with a slightly bent back. He sported short gray hair, a black lab coat, and a thin pair of dark glasses. His bent back forced him to stoop a little, but what he lacked in agility he made up in cunning. The small eyes behind those glasses gathered all that was seen and remembered it. The men met at the bottom of the main staircase. "Troubles in the home, Lysander?" the lab coat-wearing man asked the other. "Nothing that a game of chess can't fix," Ana's father replied. Lysander limped past the short gentleman and down the hall past the open door. The entrance led down a flight of stairs to a dark earthen basement that smelled of mold and ancient dust. He limped onward and arrived at a door on the right side of the hall near the rear of the house. The lab coat-wearing man followed, and they stepped inside. The room was a study filled with bookcases of dusty tomes and rolled maps. Opposite the door stood a gilded oak desk and beyond that was a plush chair. Behind the chair was a large bay window that looked out on the meadow and woods. On the right wall were a pair of doors, and in the center of the room was a small square table with a wooden chess set and two chairs opposite each other. The two men took their positions in the opposing chairs and replaced their pieces in their proper positions from their last game. The lab man's eyes flickered to the face of his opponent. "I heard the brief conversation you had with the young man. He seemed like an interesting fellow." Lysander didn't pause in setting his pieces. "There was nothing extraordinary about him." The lab man chuckled. "Are you so sure? He seemed-well, he seemed almost human to me." Lysander stopped his setting and his eyes flickered up to his opponent. "He was merely a vampire Ana met in the park." The man leaned back in his chair and stroked his chin. "Fancy that, another of you so close. I wonder if he's one of those young sort who wanders around causing trouble and then leaves so you have to bear the blame." "Maybe, but I've told daughter to stay away from him, so it doesn't matter," Lysander returned. The lab-coat man arched an eyebrow. "Are you sure she'll stay away? She's never met someone her age before," he pointed out. He paused and tapped his chin. "He was her age, wasn't he?" "I don't know, and I don't care. He is gone and she is here, and that is all that matters," Lysander argued. He shoved a pawn forward. "Your move." The lab man perused the board and moved his pawn. "How old is Ana now? A hundred and sixty? She should see more of the world than this gloomy forest." "There is nothing to see in the world," Lysander argued. He shifted another of his pawns. His opponent moved another of his men. "She must leave you some time." Lysander's hand hovered over a rook. His eyes flickered over to the lab coat-wearing man. "I know what you are getting at, Roger, and I won't allow it." Roger smiled. "And what am I getting at?" Lysander moved his chess piece forward. "I won't allow Ana to leave. Not until I am sure she is prepared for the world." Roger chuckled. "You have done a poor job of that, my dear Lysander. If I didn't know any better I would say you prepared her very ill so she would never leave." Lysander's hand wrapped around a pawn. Roger winced when he heard a distinct crack. Pieces of pawn poked out from between Lysander's fingers. The vampire glared at the smaller man. "Do not pretend to know my intentions, alchemist." Roger stood and bowed his head. "It seems I have spoken very rashly. You have some heavy thoughts on your mind, so I will leave you to them." Roger strode from the room. The moment the door clacked shut behind him Lysander opened his hand. The pawn was broken into bits. He pursed his lips and leaned back in his chair. His eyes glanced up at the ceiling in the direction of Ana's room. "My little one, what have you done?" CHAPTER 6 While those discussions transpired at the house, other discussions were taking place in the park. Police lights illuminated the parking lot in the distance and flashlights shined their beams along the path near where Peter found his fellow student. The young man had been rushed away on a stretcher fifteen minutes before, and Peter sat on a nearby bench with an officer standing over him. The officer tapped the eraser of his pencil against his notepad. "So let me see if I have your story straight. You were walking alone in the middle of the night without a flashlight or car and stumbled on the victim." Peter nodded. "Yep, that's what happened." "You heard nothing and saw no one?" the officer asked him. "Not a thing." The officer raised an eyebrow. "What made you take a walk at this late an hour?" "I have a fear of pillows, so I don't sleep very well and take walks out here," Peter explained. "I see." The officer scribbled a few things on his pad. He paused as his nostrils flared. Sweat broke out of Peter's forehead. He still smelled like alcohol and he had trouble not shivering in the cold night. The officer glanced up and scrutinized Peter's face. "There was a party near here an hour or so ago, and we're still searching for all the participants. Some of them might have ran into these woods. You don't happen to know anything about it, do you?" Peter nervously smiled and shook his head. "Not a thing." The officer sighed and closed his notepad. Peter felt like sighing, too. "All right, that's all I have for now, but don't go anywhere for a few days. We might need to ask you more questions," he warned Peter. Peter turned away and his eyes fell on the spot where he'd found the poor guy. When he next spoke his voice was softer and quieter. "Is the guy going to be okay?" The officer shrugged. "It's too early to tell, but the paramedics didn't seem too worried about him. He was really weak, but not dead." The officer lifted his cap and scratched his forehead. "It does beat all with those two marks and his pale skin, though. Almost like a vampire got him." Peter nervously laughed. "Yeah, right, a vampire. They don't exist." The officer dropped his arm and shrugged. "I've seen some pretty strange things in this city, things you wouldn't believe. Vampires might be one of them." Peter stepped to the side and nodded. "Yeah, well, if you don't need me anymore then I'll just be going." "Nothing tonight, but take my advice and keep away from the park until we get this attack solved," officer advised him. He gave the officer a weak salute. "Sure thing, officer." Peter hurried from the scene and jammed his hands into his jeans pockets. His eyes were on the path beneath him, but his mind was on the girl he was leaving behind and those bite marks on the victim's throat. It didn't take an engineering major to suspect they were connected. He couldn't believe she would harm anybody, but the more he recalled the father the more he wondered if he wasn't a bloodthirsty fiend intent on wrecking his life. Maybe the old man figured out he was a human and wanted to pin a murder on him, and the victim hadn't cooperated with the plan by surviving. Or maybe the guy had fallen on some pointy sticks and cut his neck. Or maybe he'd shaved that morning and nicked himself, and the wounds opened up and bled so bad it caused him to lose consciousness and fall into the bushes. "Or maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. . ." he muttered. Peter arrived at his rented home fifteen minutes later. His college abode was a two-floor clapboard house close enough to the park to get a good view of the canopy. The place had all the amenities. There was an ancient washer and dryer, two bedrooms, a patched roof that leaked into the drafty attic, and a backyard fence that leaned into the yard and provided no privacy from the neighbors. The house was built in one of the older neighborhoods when all the houses were made to look exactly alike and everyone had a job and a car. Most of the houses still had families, but the others were rented out to the university students. The block was prime real estate for them as it was only two blocks down from the campus. The kitchen door was behind the fence gate, and was the main entrance since it afforded a quick route to the alley. The alley led down to the end of the block and a quick right had you nearly halfway to the campus. Peter strode through the gate and into the kitchen. He was only mildly surprised to see a jean-clad butt sticking out of the fridge. Peter slammed the kitchen door shut and the person staggered back from the fridge door. It was Rich, and his droopy eyes told Peter that he was still mostly intoxicated instead of completely slammed. In his hand was a large blueberry muffin. "Where ya been, Pete? You missed a great party," Rich told him. Peter shook his head. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to remember more of it than you, but where's Val?" Rich held up the muffin and shrugged. "She said she didn't want me to go to bed with her until-hiccup-until my blood alcohol level was legal. Said I was clingy or something, so I'm down here doing-um-" he glanced around himself, "-stuff." "You mean eating?" Peter guessed. Rich raised the muffin and stared blankly at it. "Yeah, that's it. Eating a muffin." Peter strode past his inebriated friend and seated himself at the kitchen table. The intoxicated young man pulled out a chair opposite Peter and nearly missed his butt into the seat, but he managed to teeter on the edge. His complete collapse happened when he adjusted his rear. He toppled backward onto the floor. Peter leaned to one side to look around the table. His friend still sat in the chair on his back. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. "Need some help?" Peter asked him. Rich shook his head. "No, I got this." He rocked to and fro for a few moments before he groaned and stopped. "Maybe just a little." Peter sighed and stood. He dragged another chair over to his friend and hefted Rich onto his feet. "Next time-wheeze-remember that that chair has a short leg." He dropped Rich into the new chair and slid the other one to the far side of the table. "And loose some weight while you're at it," he added as he resumed his seat. Rich took a bite out of the muffin and when he spoke crumbs spilled onto his chin. "Whadda I need to lose weight for? I already got a girl. Anyway, what you been doing?" Peter ran a hand through his hair. "Chasing a girl through the park and finding her dad hates me because I'm human." Rich frowned. "Ouch. So no getting past first base?" Peter shrugged. "I wasn't really going for her for that, I just wanted to meet her." Rich snorted and refueled his sputtering muffin mouth. "Yeah, and I'm drunk." Peter dropped his hand and stared at his friend. "Rich, you are drunk." "I take offense at that. There's still some blood in my alcohol stream," his friend argued. The end of Rich's sentence was punctuated by a hard knock as his face slammed into the kitchen table. Peter leaned over and, after making sure his friend was only unconscious and not dead, he grabbed the muffin from Rich's hand. He leaned back, took a bite out of the muffin, and glanced out the window. The sun was just rising in the east. It reminded him he needed to get some sleep. He had classes that day, and he'd need all the afternoon sleep he could get to make the appointment with the beautiful vampiress. CHAPTER 7 The two bedrooms in the rented house were located on the second floor. Peter's sat over the kitchen. His room was large, though not the master bedroom, and was as tidy as a trailer park after a tornado. Clothes hung on his desk, his desk chair, over the end of his bed, and even slunk out of his closet like a creature creeping from its smelly abode. Peter himself was buried beneath a mess of covers thick and thin with the tip of his pillow just visible, but nothing of him. It was ten minutes past nine in the morning when his bedroom door flung open. Rich stood in the doorway with a paper in his hand and a frown on his face. He stalked into the room, grabbed the top cover, and pulled it off. Beneath that was another cover, and he pulled that away to reveal a third cover. Rich rolled his eyes and pulled off that cover to unravel Peter from his cocoon. Peter's head and torso were flung over the side of the bed that was nearest his window. Rich marched around the foot of the bed and stood over Peter. Peter turned and blinked up at him. "What the hell. . .?" he muttered. "Yeah, what the hell! Why didn't you tell me you were going to make the news!" his friend yelled at him. Peter frowned and shook his head. "What? What news?" Rich shoved the newspaper in Peter's face so the ink smeared on his nose. "The news about the almost-dead guy! It's here in the paper!" Peter pushed the paper away. "Where'd you get this? We don't get the paper." Rich shrugged. "Well, no, but I swiped one from the neighbor and you're on the front page." Peter's eyes snapped open and he snatched the paper from Rich's hand. He sat up and read the bold headline on the front page. 'Vampire Strikes!' Peter frowned and read aloud the lead paragraph. "Last night a local university student stumbled on a grizzly scene when he found a near-dead young man in Akeley Park. Authorities are still baffled by the man's extreme loss of blood. The victim has been unable to recall what happened, but eye-witnesses have confirmed that the man bore two small puncture wounds on his neck." Peter lowered paper and ran hand through his wild hair. "Damn. . ." Rich threw up his arms. "Damn? This is awesome! You stumbled on a vampire's lunch!" Peter glanced out window and noticed the sun. He whipped his head to clock and saw it was nearly nine-thirty. "Crap, I gotta go." He tore the front page from the rest of the paper and tossed the paper in Rich's face as he jumped out of bed in a frantic effort to find clothes. Rich followed him around the room as Peter performed his hide-and-seek with his attire. "Come on, Pete, you gotta spill the beans. Do you think it was a vampire?" Peter hopped into a pair of jeans and grabbed his coat. "Not now, Rich. I'm late for class." He rushed out of the bedroom with his friend close at his heels. "You can't leave me hanging like this!" Rich insisted. Peter snatched his bag off the kitchen counter and ran through the kitchen door. "I'll tell you later!" "Come on, just five minutes!" Rich pleaded. Peter shoved the gate open without looking back. "At least shut the gate!" The gate swung to and fro as Peter disappeared around the front of the house. Rich frowned and stalked over to the gate. He slammed it shut and shook his head. "He's gonna get us into big trouble not shutting that thing." Peter raced down the alley and the few blocks to the university grounds. The center of higher learning was filled with century-old brick buildings mixed with concrete creations from the last three decades, and all were connected by concrete paths the scholars hardly used. They made their own path and the grass and bushes were filled with their shortcuts. Peter ran into one of the older buildings, a four-floor long brick structure with drafty windows and yellowed halls. The school had plenty of money to build new buildings, but little patience in keeping up what they already managed. He clamored up the first two flights of stairs and slid across the linoleum tiles to one of the doors close to the stairwell. The door was open and he slid into his seat a second before the professor walked into the room. He leaned back and sighed. The student in the desk beside him was dressed in full camo gear. Marcus grinned and leaned over the divide between them. "You look like you caught that girl last night." Peter tilted his head so he faced Marcus. "It's not what you think." Marcus winked. "Sure it isn't. And you didn't find a body last night." Peter straightened and frowned. "I didn't find a body last night. The guy was, and is, still alive." Marcus shrugged. "Fine, so you didn't find a body, but you got the girl, right?" Peter couldn't stop a crooked grin from slipping onto his lips. "Yeah, I got her." Marcus laughed and slapped Peter on the back. His strength shoved Peter's gut into the desk and air was forced out of lungs. "Thatta way!" "Mr. Orion, is there something you wanted to share with the class?" the professor spoke up. Marcus sat at attention and solemnly nodded. "There is, sir." The professor arched an eyebrow. "And what is that?" Marcus wrapped his arm around Peter's neck and pulled them together. "I just want everybody to know that my friend Pete here finally got a girl." Titters of laughter filled the room. The professor pursed his lips. "How every exciting for you. Now could we please continue ours studies without any more interruptions for your delightfully stimulating information?" Marcus released Peter and nodded. "Sure thing." The professor bowed his head. "Thank you. Now if everyone will get out their books and turn to chapter two." Peter coughed and rubbed his neck. He reached down for his bag and his hand brushed against the newspaper that stuck out of his pocket. He pulled it out and clasped the paper in both hands as he looked over the details. His heart dropped into his stomach as he thought back to the meeting with Ana's dad. He'd been a tough customer, and it wasn't going to be easy to tell Ana about- Peter jumped when a ruler slapped the top of his desk. He whipped his head up and into the face of his annoyed professor. "Recreational reading ended in middle school." Peter shakily smiled and tucked the paper into his bag. "Sorry." The next few hours flew by in a haze of worried thoughts and books. It was barely past the beginning of the school year and the professors were already in a race to see who could assign the most homework. Peter arrived back at his home at noon with his bag filled with packets of homework and his books doggy-eared with chapter headings. He stepped into the kitchen and winced. Val had her back against the counter and Rich was pressed against her. Their wet, sloppy kissing and groping was one step away from being a full-blown porno. Peter coughed into his fist. Val jumped and, seeing their roommate, shoved Rich away from her. "Hey, Peter. We didn't hear you come in." Peter smiled as he dumped his bag on the kitchen table. "You two were loud enough I'm surprised the neighbors haven't complained." Rich frowned. "Come on, Pete, give us a break. This is my goodnight kiss. Val's gotta work late in the lab again." Val checked her watch. "Speaking of that, I should go." Rich grinned and wagged his eyebrows. "What's the hurry? Your test subjects aren't going anywhere." Val rolled her eyes and pushed him away. "You're impossible, you know that?" "You're right. I've been selfish all my life." Rich stood at attention and saluted her. "I would be glad to donate my body to science in the hopes of finding out how someone this handsome could possibly exist." Val shook her head. "Science is never going to explain what you are." Peter grabbed the handle on the fridge and smiled. "Besides, they'd spend most of their time looking for his brain." Rich's face fell. "It's no fair ganging up on me. Besides-" he turned to Peter, "-we've got a problem. We might need to do something about the attic. I swear I heard something up there last night." Val snorted. "It was probably just your hangover." Her boyfriend shook his head. "No, I'm serious. We might need to get an exterminator if the cheap-ass owners don't want to foot the bill. I was thinking your parents could help out." Peter winced. "I'm not sure. They're not really made of money." Rich shrugged. "Then you're lucky. Whenever I hug my mom I get jabbed by her credit cards in her purse. Shaking my dad's hands gets me cut by his nails because I swear he files them on gold coins." "Well, while you rich boys talk about rolling in dough, this middle-class working girl has to go to her part-time job," Val spoke up. She snatched her purse from the kitchen table and waved to them. "Don't get into too much trouble, and no drinking!" Rich stretched out his hand to her. "Wait! One more goodnight kiss!" Val turned to walk backwards and waved to him. "Bye." She walked out of sight. In a moment the door opened and shut. Rich's shoulders slumped. He turned and shuffled over to his chair at the kitchen table. "Why do we put up with girls again?" he wondered as he plopped himself into the seat. Peter leaned into fridge in search of food that hadn't cultured past the medieval period. "Sex." Rich sighed and nodded. "You're right." He furrowed his brow and straightened. "Speaking of sex, you still owe me some info from this morning." Peter took out a plastic bowl and opened the lid. Cotton spores floated from the pile of what used to be spaghetti. Or lasagna. Or maybe even a pork chop. "There's nothing else I could tell you that you won't read in the paper. I found the guy just laying there." Rich leaned back in his seat and folded his arms. "Val told me you were out there looking for a girl." Peter winced and snatched a pop before he shut the door. "Yeah." Rich watched his friend seat himself in the chair opposite him. "And?" Peter opened the pop and shrugged. "So I found her." Rich set his arms on the table and leaned over the top. "And?" Peter rolled his eyes. "And nothing. I met her, we talked, I met her dad, she-um, I walked her back to the park. End of story." Rich squinted an eye. "And?" Peter's face fell. "And we had hot, steamy sex all night long until I dragged myself back to the park where I found the guy lying there." Rich slapped the table. "I knew it! You dirty dog, you!" Peter took a sip from his pop and shook his head. "Except those last parts didn't happen." Rich frowned and lowered his voice. "Is it because she's as ugly as a dog?" Peter was half threw with a sip on his pop. The drink burst from his lips and sprayed Rich. "What? No!" Rich grimaced and wiped his face. "You didn't have to get all wet on the subject. I was just teasing. On that topic, though-the guy in the park, not your girlfriend-" "She's not my girlfriend," Peter argued. "You got a date with her?" "Yeah, tonight, but-" "Then shut up, she's your girlfriend. As I was saying, I was wanting a raise." Peter blinked at him. "Come again?" Rich jerked his head toward the land-line phone against the wall between the fridge and rear door. "I've been answering that damn thing all day. The papers keep calling for you asking for an interview. If I'm going to be your secretary than I want a raise." Peter cringed. "What'd you tell them?" Rich shrugged and grinned. "I told them you were too busy pushing cocaine on the frat boys to talk to them." Peter spat out his coke and the spray hit Rich on the face. Rich cringed and wiped it off. "That's sick, man." "Please tell me you did not tell them that," Peter pleaded. Rich snorted and shook his head. "No. I just said you weren't around and you'd get back to them if you wanted to talk. There's a whole list of phone numbers on the pad if you want to see how popular you are." Peter swigged down the last of his pop and stood. "Maybe later. Right now I need some rest." He tossed his can into the recyclable bucket which held an assortment of beer and strode from the room. "Whadda you want me to tell them if they keep calling?" Rich called out to him. Peter paused on the steps with his hand on the railing. He thought about Ana's dad's bright eyes and sharp teeth. "Tell them I'm dead. Later." And with a wave he shuffled up the steps to some sleep. CHAPTER 8 Peter's alarm woke him up. He shut it off and glanced out the window. The light from the setting sun shimmered against the bright yellow fall leaves. He sat up and ran a hand through his hair. He still didn't have a good way of approaching this sensitive subject. How did someone tell a girl they liked that their dad was an attempted murder? Peter walked scooped his coat off the floor and shuffled downstairs. He found his friend at the kitchen table with a couple of beers in front of him. Most of the cans were empty. Rich took a swig and looked up at him as he passed. "Going off to meet your girl?" Peter paused at the door and turned to him to nod his head. "Yep. You gonna be all right?" Rich picked up two cans and proceeded to pour the contents from one to the other. His unsteady hands meant most of the alcohol dripped onto the table. "Yep." "If Val finds out she's going to kill you," Peter pointed out. Rich grinned and beckoned for Peter to come close "Lemme tell you a secret." Peter reluctantly approached his inebriated friend. Rich grabbed his collar and pulled him down to his height. His beer breath wafted over Peter's face. "Don't tell her, and it'll stay a secret." Peter rolled his eyes and shook his head. "All right, but you know she always knows." Rich hiccuped and cradled a beer in both hands. "Yeah, but give me this last dream. Just one last dream before I die." Peter pursed his lips and glanced out the window. His eyes widened. The sun had set. He was late. "Shit!" He raced out the kitchen door and into the yard. Rich stood and raised his beer can in the air. "Don't forget to close the gate!" The fence gate swung from side to side, left ajar by Peter's hurrying. Rich frowned and slammed the door shut. He shuffled back into the kitchen where he plopped himself back into his chair. Rich took a swig of his beer and shook his head. "I'm not gonna do it. He can get his ass back here and shut that-" A rustling noise behind him caught his attention. It was followed by a tiny squeak. He turned in his seat and his eyes widened as he watched something large and black swoop down on him. He threw up his arms and screamed as the creature latched onto his neck and pulled him to the floor. Peter rushed down the street and reached the park in ten minutes. He took a different path to avoid the spot where he'd found the drained student, and the way turned out to be longer than he expected. He reached the meeting tree ten minutes after sunset. The spot was empty. He glanced up and down the path, but there was no sign of Ana. "Psst," a voice whispered. Peter whipped his head to and fro, but didn't see anyone. "Ana?" he called out. "Up here." Peter looked above him and noticed a large bat seated on a tree limb. It swooped down and changed into a human form so smoothly that her feet landed lightly on the ground. Peter's eyes widened and he grinned. "That is so awesome." Ana blushed. "It's nothing. Any vampire can fly." "You're so lucky you can do that. So is it true about the garlic and wooden stakes?" he wondered. She smiled. "We do have an allergy to garlic, and a stake to the heart would kill just about anything." Peter sheepishly smiled and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He looked her up and down, admiring her assets and potential assets. "So what else can you do?" She grabbed his hand and pulled him into the park path. "Other things, but why don't we talk about you?" He grinned at her blushing face as they walked along the path. "You've got to be the only girl who wants to talk about someone other than yourself." Ana shrugged and looked ahead. "I don't get a chance to talk with anyone except my dad and Roger." Peter arched an eyebrow. "Who's Roger?" "He's an old friend of my dad's, a scientist who has his lab in the basement," she explained. "You just missed him last night. I heard him speaking to Dad after you left." Peter's face fell at the mention of her father. He slipped ahead of Ana and turned so they faced each other. "Yeah, about last night. There's something I need to talk to you about." Ana furrowed her brow and scrutinized his face. "What? What's wrong?" He pursed his lips. "As I was walking home I kind of stumbled on an almost-dead guy." Ana tilted her head to one side and frowned. "A human or zombie?" "This guy wasn't quite dead, but a lot of his blood was drained from his body," Peter told her. Her blushing cheeks paled. "Were there-were there holes in his neck?" He nodded. "Two of them." Ana pulled her hands from his grasp and turned away. She held her forehead in one hand and shook her head. "This. . .this can't be. You must be mistaken." He shook his head. "Nope, and the police are looking for the person who did it. They're going to be looking all over this park searching for clues." She walked a few paces ahead of him and closed her eyes. "This is. . .this is terrible." She wrapped her arms around herself. "Dad was right. I should never have come out here." Peter walked up and grasped her upper arms. She tilted her head back to look up into his face. He smiled down at her. "But then we wouldn't have met." She bit her lip and turned away. "I know, but I've made such a mess of things. What if they search the woods and find my home? What if they find my dad and-" She paused and shuddered. "What if they destroy him? It would all be my fault." Peter turned her toward and looked into her sorrow-filled face. His voice was low, but firm. "Listen to me. You didn't do anything wrong by coming out here, and the police aren't going to find you. I mean, you're not the one who killed the guy, so how can they trace anything back to you, right?" She managed a weak smile and nodded. "You're right, I'm being stupid. It's just-well, I just don't want my dad to know we're meeting like this, and I don't want our secret to be discovered because I wanted to meet you again so much." "He won't find out, but if you're worried we could go back to your place," he suggested. Her mouth dropped open. "And let him find out you're a human?" Peter smiled and shrugged. "Hey, if he didn't realize I was a human last night then he won't know tonight." He took her hand and led her down the path in the direction of her home. "Besides, I want you to show me around your home. It looks like a neat place." "I-I guess, but it's really not that interesting," she countered. He stopped and smiled at her. "Your vines tried to bite my hands off and your dogs are hell hounds. How can that not be interesting?" She shrugged. "That's just normal." "Then I want to see what other normal stuff you have around there," he persisted. She pulled her hand from his and stepped back. "I think we'd be safer if we stayed here," she insisted. A flashlight shone on them and a man in a uniform emerged from the trees. "Who's there?" a gruff voice called to them. "I don't think we will!" Peter countered as he grabbed her hand and pulled her after him. "Halt! Stop! This is the police!" the man yelled. Peter led Ana down the path and the flashlight followed them. He took a hard left and crashed into the brush. His plan was to lose the officer, but they were bogged down by the thorns. He twisted and pulled his way through with Ana behind him and the officer behind her on the path. The policeman hesitated for only a moment before he pushed his way after them. "Don't move too much when I catch you!" Ana told him. He furrowed his brow and glanced over his shoulder at her. "What do you-" Her face was already furry with bat fur and the fingers he held were a small stick of a hand. She flapped her wings and latched her claws onto his collar like the night before. Peter's feet left the ground and he tucked his legs against himself to avoid the bushes. He grinned and whooped. "Yeah, now this is traveling in style!" He looked back and watched the officer, who was trapped in the bushes, recede into the distance. Ana pulled them up so they flew over the canopy of the trees. Peter's eyes widened when they broke through the branches. Above them was a clear sky full of countless stars. Below them was the earth covered in the fallen leaves. They climbed high enough that he could see his house from that height. "This is still cool," he commented. "It is a beautiful night," Ana agreed. He looked up at his bat escort. "So we headed to your house?" Ana sighed, but nodded. "Yeah, I guess, but you have to be careful. My dad-well, he doesn't like humans at all." "No problem, I'll just wing it," he replied. CHAPTER 9 Ana flew them as far as the edge of the meadow. She set Peter down and transformed into her human form. Peter glanced between where they stood and the house. "Why'd we stop here?" She pressed a finger to her lips and swept her eyes over the meadow. "I can't fit you through the window, and I don't know where my dad is," she whispered. He took one step into the meadow and looked around. "Yeah, but what about those dogs? They were real eager to get a taste of me last night." She cautiously moved into the meadow and shook her head. "Dad only lets them out when he thinks there's an intruder. Otherwise they're kept in a pen on the other side of the house. If we let them roam they sometimes come back with a bone or small animal." One edge of Peter's mouth twitched. "Of course they'd come back with a bone. . ." he murmured as he followed her across the field. They traveled only five feet before Ana froze. She spun around and Peter saw that her eyes were tinged with red. Her eyes swept across the edge of the meadow. They stopped at a point behind them and she quickly pulled him behind her. "Someone's in there," she whispered to him. "If your vision has failed you then there is always the use of your nose," a voice spoke from the trees. Roger stepped out from the brush with a strap on one shoulder and a net on a long pole in his opposite hand. A wooden box lay at the end of the strap, and the lid had a thick clasp that was unclasped. He looked between them and stopped on Ana. "It seems you have brought a visitor, Miss Ana. Might we be introduced?" "Um, of course," Ana agreed. She stepped to one side and gestured first to Peter. "This is Peter. Peter, this is Roger West, an old friend of my family." "Nice to meet you," Peter replied. He shook hands and was surprised at how clammy and bumpy the skin felt. Roger examined the young man before he bowed his head. "A pleasure, Peter. It is not everyone who meets Lysander eye-to-eye and comes off as nearly the winner." Peter frowned. "Lysander?" "That's my dad's name," Ana explained. She turned to Roger. "Do you know where Dad is?" He shook his head. "I'm afraid I have no clue. I would assist you in sneaking your significant other into the home, but I'm very busy looking for a specific specimen." He held up the empty box. "Nothing is as sad to a hunter as an unused trap." "That's fine, I'm sure I can sneak him into my room," she assured him. Roger smiled and bowed his head. "Then I wish you luck, and a goodnight." "Goodnight," the two young adults returned. Roger turned and disappeared into the dense jungle of trees. Ana sighed and glanced at Peter. "It's a good thing Roger doesn't mind you. He may not look like much, but he's very smart and would have gotten us into a lot of trouble." Peter nodded his head in the direction Roger had disappeared. "What's the deal with him? I thought your dad didn't like humans?" Ana shrugged and guided Peter toward the house. "He's not really human. He's over a hundred years old." Peter frowned. "Funny, he didn't look much past sixty." Ana smiled. "That's because he's done so many experiments on himself that his body's made of more chemicals than blood, so he's one of the few people who don't have to worry about vampire attacks. The chemicals keep him young, but-well-" she tapped her temple with a finger, "-he's a little troubled in the head." "So nuts?" Peter guessed. She nodded. "You could say that, but he's harmless so long as he doesn't tell my dad about us," she added. She paused and glanced upward. Peter followed her gaze and realized they'd reached the house. He glanced at his guide. "So, uh, you don't happen to have any powers to like detect your dad, do you?" Ana bit her lower lip. "No, and he's far too quiet for me to hear." "Even with that cane?" he asked her. "If he doesn't want to be heard he won't be," she assured him. She grabbed his hand and pulled him to the front door. "But maybe he's in his study. That's at the back of the house. We might be able to sneak you up the stairs and into my room." Peter cringed. "Um, maybe this isn't such a good idea." Too late. Ana opened the door and hurried him inside. She turned back to the door and quietly shut the entrance behind them. Peter looked down the hallway and his eyes widened when he noticed a light at the far end. It came from a doorway on the right, and a shadow slid out of the room along the floor and up the wall. Ana turned around and gasped. "Dad!" she whispered. She whipped her head to and fro. Her eyes fell on a door to the right of the front entrance. "Quick, hide in here!" She grabbed Peter's arm, opened the door, and flung him inside. Peter flew the three feet of space and hit the wall. His face cushioned the rest of his body. He groaned and rubbed his nose as he looked around him. In the near-blackness he could make out coats. He was in a closet. There was also something white that stood in the far corner a foot from where he stood. It was about his height and he swore he heard a rattle. He leaned forward and squinted his eyes. Peter's eyes bulged out of his head when he realized the white thing was a skeleton. Its back leaned against the corner and its empty eyes stared back at him. Then the skeleton leaned forward and pressed a bony finger to its teeth. Peter opened his mouth and let out a scream. The skeleton slammed its back against the wall and screamed in unison. Their high-pitched screams mimicked a choir of alter boys. Ana's voice broke through their cries. "Hey, Dad!" Peter and the skeleton simultaneously slapped their hands over one another's mouths. Peter wouldn't be caught dead in a closet, but it was too late for the skeleton. Outside the closet Ana was relieved to hear the sound stop because her father exited his study and limped his way toward her. She tried not to look at the closet as she gave her parent a strained smile. Lysander stopped a foot from her and raised an eyebrow. "Ana, I didn't expect to see you here. I thought you would be flying through the woods." She shrugged and leaned to one side. That side happened to be toward the closet, so she switched sides. "Well, you know there's only so many times I can see the same trees and bushes." "Or the same gentleman?" he returned. He knocked his hand against the closet door and it sprang open. Out fell Peter and the skeleton onto the floor in the hall. Peter cushioned the fall of the bag of bones. The young man jumped to his feet and brushed it off. He wiped his hands on his clothes and shuddered. Lysander cleared his throat. Peter spun around and smiled at him. Peter gave a weak wave. "Um, hi, Mr.-um, Lysander." Ana stepped in front of Peter and held out her hands toward her parent. "Dad, I can explain this." Lysander leaned forward on his cane and narrowed his eyes at Peter. "I warned you to leave this place and never return." Peter shrugged. "Come on, it's not like I'm doing anything-" He yelped when Lysander went from standing a few feet from him to brushing aside Ana and towering over him. The whole action took less than a second. Peter shrank beneath those bright red eyes. Lysander pointed a finger at the door. "Begone, and never return here." Peter opened his mouth, but Ana took hold of his arm. He looked down at her and she shook her head. "You should go," she told him. Peter's shoulders drooped and he nodded. He pulled from her grasp, turned away from the pair and exited the house. Lysander turned to his daughter. "Go to your room," he ordered her. Ana took a step toward him and clasped her hands against her chest. "Dad, you don't understand. He doesn't-" "I said go to your room!" he boomed. The red color blazed in his eyes and long, dark shadows were thrown on the walls of the hall. Ana winced and shrunk from his anger. She looked past him and through the window on the side of the door. She could see Peter's retreating back, and her fright changed to anger. She clenched her fists at her sides and whipped her head back to her father. "You never listen! You think you're keeping me safe here, but you're not! You're trapping us in a cage and someday somebody's going to find us and destroy us!" She swept past him and up the stairs to her room. Lysander reached out a hand, but even his speed wasn't fast enough to catch his daughter. He looked up the stairs where she'd gone and narrowed his eyes. His gaze turned to the exterior window, and he could see the young man disappear into the woods. He frowned and knocked his cane against the wood. The hard wood of his stick broke through the fragile wood of the floor boards. "Damn it. . ." Peter battled through the woods and, after making sure the cop wasn't around, snuck out of the bushes and strolled down the path. He stuck his hands in his jeans pockets and kicked the dirt at his feet. "Damn it. . ." he muttered. "Why couldn't I tell him off? I mean, he's just an old vampire who could drain my blood and make me into his slave." Peter stopped and frowned. "That might be why I didn't tell him off. . ." He shook his head and furrowed his brow. "All right, Pete, you need to decide if she's really worth it." An image of Ana's beautiful, smiling face flashed through his mind, and he sighed and ran a hand threw his hair. A droopy grin slipped onto his lips, his shoulders slumped and he tilted his head to one side. "Yeah, she's worth it." A cool autumn breeze slipped through him and shook him from his lovesick reverie. He sighed and walked on. "You know it's not going to be easy. There's probably that whole age-difference thing, and she might suck your blood." He recalled the flights through the trees and smiled. "Damn, but it'd be great to fly." Peter's back-and-forth between his common sense and his infatuation lasted until he reached his house. He walked up the yard and frowned when he noticed the back gate was ajar. The breeze swung the wooden gate to and fro, and it hammered the post with a maddening consistency. The smack echoed through the backyard. He remembered he hadn't latched the gate on his quick escape, but he wondered how Rich was able to ignore that loud noise. Peter latched the gate behind himself and noticed the house seemed darker than usual. Val had late classes and labs so he knew she probably wasn't home, but he couldn't say the same for Rich. Rich never left the house at night without going to a party, and he always mentioned the party before he inevitably dragged Peter and/or Val to it. Peter walked up to the kitchen door and tested the knob. Unlocked. The door swung open. Starlight spilled into the kitchen, but he couldn't make out anything but vague shapes. He stepped inside and flicked on the light. Peter's eyes widened when he saw Rich on the floor beside a toppled chair. "Rich!" Peter rushed forward and fell to his knees beside his friend. The first thing he noticed was his friend's chest still went up and down. The next two things he noticed were that Rich's skin was ghostly pale, and there were two puncture wounds on his neck. CHAPTER 10 One 911 call later and Peter sat in the living room with the same officer as the previous night standing over him with the same notepad and pencil. The kitchen was cordoned off with police tape and Rich was safely in the back of an ambulance on his way to the hospital. The prognosis wasn't good. "Your friend's lost a lot of blood," the officer told him. Peter stared at the floor and ran his hand through his hair. "How much?" "The medics think he lost five pints of blood. Another pint and he would have died," the officer replied. "Jesus. . ." Peter whispered. The officer frowned. "I'm starting to think he doesn't have anything to do with this, but can you tell me what happened?" Peter shrugged and waved his hand toward the kitchen. "I came in from taking a walk and found him there." "No forced entry? No sign of foul play?" the officer questioned him. Peter shook his head. "No, but the back gate was open when I came through. Rich always makes sure it's closed." A bitter chuckle escaped his lips. "He says it makes him uneasy with it hitting the post." "Were you the last one to leave the house?" the officer asked him. "I don't know. I guess not because somebody got him," Peter pointed out. "Does anyone else live here?" He nodded. "Yeah, Val." "And where is she?" Peter opened his mouth to reply, but there was the sound of a scuffle outside. The front door opened and Val stomped him. Her eyes fell on Peter and she scowled at him. "What in the world is going on here? Why are the police outside?" A female officer swept in behind her and tried to grab her wrist. "You're not allowed here while there's an ongoing investigation." Peter stood and hurried over to them. "Wait, she's my roommate." The holding cop exchanged glances with the officer who was questioning Peter. The man nodded, and the female released Val. She went back outside and shut the door behind herself. Val pulled her arm against her and turned to Peter. "Mind telling me why we have officers swarming the place and why where's a sidewalk full of people gawking at the house?" Peter pursed his lips. "It's Rich. Something got him." The color drained from her face. "What do you mean something got him? What got him?" The officer stepped forward and nodded at Peter. "That's what we're trying to find out. It looks like he was attacked in an identical manner to that of a victim found by your roommate here last night in the park." Val's eyes widened and she pressed her hands against her chest. She looked from Peter to the office and back. "Is he going to be all right?" Peter closed his eyes and shook his head. "They don't know yet, but he's probably at the hospital by now." She pursed her lips and turned to the officer. "Then that's where I'll be if you need me to answer any questions." "Of course," he agreed. Val hurried from the house and Peter ran his hand through his hair. "Why him. . .?" The officer looked to him and raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?" Peter shook his head and stared at the ground. "It's nothing, I was just thinking, that's all." The officer frowned and he scrutinized the young man seated before him. "You could start with thinking about who would want to attack your friend like this." Peter shrugged. "I can't think of anyone who'd want to do this. Rich annoyed people, but not enough for them to want to kill him like this." "Has anyone made any threats against you?" the officer wondered. Peter lifted his head and frowned at the cop. "What do you mean?" The officer tapped his pencil against his notepad. "Two people have been attacked in two nights in identical fashions, and the only constant is you." "I guess I just have bad luck," Peter suggested. One side of the officer's mouth twitched up. "Bad luck is finding you guessed the wrong numbers on a lotto ticket, but finding two victims in an apparent attempted murder? You're either cursed, or not telling me everything." Peter stood and looked the officer straight in the eyes. "If I thought I had something you'd want to write down in that notebook of yours then I'd tell you. Right now I've got nothing but a friend in the hospital who I'd like to go see, if you're through with me." The officer frowned, but tucked his pen in his breast pocket. "That's all for now. Did you need a lift to the hospital?" Peter sheepishly grinned and nodded. "Yeah. I don't have a car." The officer drove Peter to the hospital, and the front desk directed him to the ICU. He found Rich at the far end of the long room with Val seated beside his bed. Val had her hand in Rich's limp palm and he thought he heard a few sniffles. Peter shuffled over to the pair and noticed the IV stuck in Rich's arm. Val looked up and smiled at him. Her cheeks were wet. "What took you?" she teased. "The officer wouldn't put away his pen," Peter replied. He dragged a chair beside Val's and sat down. Peter nodded at Rich. "How's he doing?" Val sighed and turned to Rich. "The doctors say he's going to recover, but he's lost a lot of blood. He'll be weak for a few days, and he'll need to eat a lot of meat." "Has he woken up?" She sniffled and nodded. "For a little while. There was an officer here and she tried to ask him some questions, but all he could remember was some sort of shadow." She looked to Peter. He stared at their friend with a scowl on his face. Her eyebrows knit together. "Is something wrong?" Peter straightened and shook himself. "What? Oh, no, just thinking about something." He'd been studying the marks on Rich's neck and couldn't deny they looked suspiciously like those of a vampire. The shadow only proved his theory. Val followed his gaze and frowned. "Creepy, aren't they? The doctors think that's where the blood loss occurred, but they don't know with what kind of machine." Peter stood and put his chair back. "You're leaving already?" she asked him. "There's somebody I gotta see about-well, about something," he replied. Peter left the hospital and turned his steps toward the park. The walk took an hour and the night was nearly over by the time he pulled himself through the clingy brambles and emerged from the woods and into the meadow. He took a step toward the house, but far off came the sound of howls of hell hounds. The hairs on the back of his neck rose and he scuttled backwards. Peter yelped when his back his something hard and pliable. He jumped forward and spun around to find Roger behind him with the net still in his hands. Sharp bulges protruded from his dirty lab coat. He adjusted the bulges and smiled at Peter. "Were you looking for something?" Peter winced. "Um, maybe?" Roger shook his head. "You can't get in through the front door, but I know another way. Follow me." He turned and walked into the woods. Peter held out his hand to the older gentleman. "Wait." Roger paused and half-turned to him. Peter swallowed. "Why. . why are you helping me?" Roger chuckled. "I may be insane, but between the two of us I'm not the one who's blind. Your love is going to get you killed if you aren't more careful. Now come with me so you can see your lady friend. I'm sure she's eager to see you." Peter frowned. He wasn't so sure after she found out why he came back. CHAPTER 11 Roger turned away and strode into the trees. Peter followed close behind, and they walked on a nearly-invisible trail that followed the curve of the meadow. Halfway around the field the path turned away from the grass and dove deeper into the woods. Peter paused and jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "The house is that way." Roger didn't stop. "But our path leads this way." A dozen yards ahead of them stood a stone half-hidden by the brambles. Roger walked up to the stone and pressed his hand on a small rock atop the boulder. Peter's eyes widened when a part of the rock sank into itself and revealed a winding staircase that led into the earth. The walls were illuminated by faint, flickering light. "Whoa," he murmured. "I'm glad you like it," Roger commented. He led Peter down the winding stairs to a tunnel carved from the hard dirt of the area. The source of the light was from a row of torches that led down the tunnel. Cobwebs hung just above Roger's short head, and Peter had to duck to avoid them. The walls were littered with round rat holes, and occasionally there was a squeak or a flash of red eyes. "How many secrets are in this park?" Peter wondered aloud. Roger chuckled. "As many as are needed to keep the truth from humans." Peter gulped and nervously laughed when he remembered he wasn't supposed to be a part of that species. "Um, yeah, that's a good idea. Wouldn't want those humans to find out about us." Roger paused and turned to Peter. The flickering lights cast long shadows over his curled lips. "Yes, that would be a travesty, but let's hurry along. The night isn't getting any younger." He turned away and his net brushed against the dirt wall. Dust floated into the air and choked Peter until he coughed. He waved his hand in front of his face and followed Roger down the path. A hundred feet and a minute later found them at the end of the tunnel. Before them stood a wall of plaster. Roger pressed his palm against the wall and pushed. The wall swung outward and revealed the basement of the house in all its shimmering, dirty glory. The basement was thirty by thirty feet and had a low ceiling of seven feet. The floor had once been dirt, but was now covered by a thin pad of concrete. The small space was covered in rows of tables, stacks of wooden crates, and large electrical equipment Peter didn't recognize. On the tables were twisting metal tubes, bottles, vials, strainers, and beakers full of liquids of all kinds and consistencies. The opposite wall to their entrance held shelves of more strange ingredients such as eyeballs and bat wings. Beside those shelves were bookcases filled with books of various sizes and wear. Some had titles written in languages Peter couldn't decipher, and others had no titles at all. The whole room was lit with long fluorescent tubes that swung from chains hooked to the ceiling. The slightest breeze from the drafty basement door caused them to swing to and fro, casting long and short shadows on the strange area. Peter stepped through the opening and felt something grab at him. He turned his head and found himself staring into the eyes of a large gopher. The creature hissed at him and tried again to grab him with its tiny, sharp claws. "Ah!" Peter cried out. He jumped back and his shoulder hit a cage on the other side of the entrance. Something hissed at him, and he turned to find it was a rabbit with glittering green eyes and long teeth. Roger grabbed Peter's sleeve and pulled him from between the cages. "You must excuse my pets. They can be a little rough in their play." "Thanks for the-cough-warning," Peter replied. He closed the door behind them and turned to his guest. His sharp eyes studied the young man. "You look like you could use a drink to steady your nerves." Peter clenched his shaking hands into fists and smiled at Roger. "I'm fine. Just point me-" Roger turned away from him to a long table nestled among the cages. Peter leaned to one side and tried to look around the small man, but Roger hid his work in front of him. "What are you doing?" Roger turned back to him. In one hand was a vial of reddish water. On his face was a sly smile. "Merely fixing you a drink, my young friend." He held the vial out to Peter. "It's quite delicious, and invigorating." Peter frowned and studied the vial and its contents. His eyes flickered back to Roger's face. "What is it?" "A mixture of my own making." He held it closer to Peter. "But drink." Peter sighed and took the vial. He took a deep breath, then tipped back his head and downed the whole container. The reddish water slid down his throat like a drink laced with barbed wire. The taste was akin to eating fresh maggots. He doubled over and assumed a coughing-fit position. Roger took the vial and waited patiently while Peter coughed out his lungs. "Tasty, isn't it?" Roger asked him. Peter straightened and nodded. His face was a bright red and his stomach did back flips. "Y-yeah, tasty." Roger smiled and directed Peter's attention to a wooden slat in the far wall. "You can find Ana through there." Peter nodded and stumbled through the rows of tables. He reached the wall and tapped on the board. There was a hollow ring to it. Roger came up behind him and latched his finger into a small hole at the bottom. The old man lifted the wooden slat upward to reveal a small dumbwaiter. Peter rubbed his stomach to calm his nerves and looked to Roger. "So where exactly does this lead?" Roger nodded at the ceiling. "To the second floor hallway. You will find Miss Ana's room behind the first door on the right from the top of the stairs. You can pull yourself up using the rope inside the space." Peter managed a shaky smile and nodded his head. "Thanks." He squeezed into the tight space and grabbed hold of the slat. "Oh, and I would be careful not to stroll to the left of the hallway," Roger warned him. Peter froze and his face drooped. "Why not?" Roger chuckled. "Lysander's room lies down the left side of the hall, and I'm sure you wouldn't want him to catch you sneaking into his only daughter's bedroom." Peter gulped and nervously laughed. "Yeah, that would be pretty bad. Well, wish me luck." The old man nodded. "You'll need it." Peter closed the slat and grabbed hold of the thick, rough rope. He pulled and the dumbwaiter slowly rose. The small hole allowed him to see when he passed by a floor and when he was between levels. Darkness meant wall, light meant the floor. He passed one light area and climbed ten feet further before light slipped through the hole. Peter stopped his pulling, made sure the rope was secure and opened the slat a few inches. He leaned down and peeked under the slat. The dumbwaiter was situated in the middle of the house for easy access from the kitchen and upper floor. The opening faced the stairs, and to his left lay the hallway. He saw the door Roger mentioned as Ana's room, and he heard no sound from down the hallway around the corner on his far left. Peter opened the slat and slid out. His bones popped and groaned from the cramped space, and one leg had fallen asleep. He limped along the wood floor and raised his hand to rap on Ana's door. His hand froze and his eyes flickered down the hall to his left. He didn't want to rap and catch the attention of more than one member of the family. He opted for the less gallant approach, so he opened the door and peeked inside. The room was dark, but lit by the starry sky through the open window opposite the door. He saw a solitary figure on the bed, and soft sobs reached his ears. Peter slid inside and shut the door, but the latch betrayed his quiet entrance. The figure on the bed turned to him and their eyes were lit with the coals of hell. He held up his hands and smiled at Ana. "It's just me," he whispered. Her eyes widened and the color faded from her cheeks. "Peter! What are you doing here?" Peter strode over and seated himself beside her. He frowned when the bed didn't give sway. "You need a new mattress," he commented. Ana smiled. "It's a coffin." "Oh, right, I knew that." Her cheerful demeanor slipped from her face as she scrutinized his face. "Peter, why did you come back? My father will be furious if he finds you here." Peter grinned. "Yeah, but now that I've got two people on the inside working for me I think I'll be safe." She blinked at him. "Two people?" He nodded. "Yeah, Roger helped me get past the dogs and showed me the dumbwaiter." Ana smiled and shook her head. "He is so strange and yet so kind. I wish my father were as fond of you as Roger seems to be." "Speaking of your dad, how far would he go to warn me off?" Peter questioned her. She tilted her head to one side and furrowed her brow. "Warn you off?" Peter pursed his lips and scooted closer to her. He grasped her hands in his "I found my roommate on the kitchen floor when I got back to the house. He had two marks on his neck and most of the blood was drained from his body." Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. She shook her head. "No, you can't be saying my dad did that. He wouldn't!" He squeezed her hands. "Are you sure? Can you tell me for certain he wouldn't do that?" She looked him in the eyes and gave a nod. "For certain. I trust my father." Peter sighed. "All right, but that makes me the number one suspect in these attacks. At least, that's what the police think." Ana frowned. "But why? You wouldn't hurt anyone." "I'm the only person linking the two cases together, so that de facto makes me suspect numero uno, if you'll pardon my French," he replied. She frowned. "Then we must find out who is doing these terrible things and turn them over to the police," she told him. "Does your friend or the other victim remember anything of what happened?" Peter shook his head. "Nope. Rich only remembers a shadow over him, and the other guy doesn't remember a thing." Ana looked away and pursed her lips. "A shadow isn't much to go on." "No, but if we put our heads together maybe we can figure out something," Peter suggested. Ana turned to him and smiled. "I will help as much as I can." As Peter made his way up the dumbwaiter and into Ana's room, Roger climbed the basement steps and found Lysander in his study. The old vampire sat in his chair in the center of the room with the chess board set up in front of him on small table. "I see you have our little game already set up," Roger commented. "I trusted you would come," Lysander returned. Roger chuckled as he sat down. He made the first move. "You do not trust me. You do not trust any one, not even your own daughter." Lysander pushed forward one of his pawns with a single finger. "Who I trust is none of your concern." Roger shrugged and took his turn. "I thought after we had known each other for so long there would be something between us," he mused. "There is only our arrangement, nothing more," Lysander reminded him. Roger hid his grin and instead took one of Lysander's pawns with his own. "You don't seem focused on our game, Lord of Contracts. Is something bothering you?" Lysander grasped a small pawn and slammed it onto the board. "I am fine." Roger glanced over the board and moved his bishop forward. "It isn't anything to do with that young man from earlier, is it?" he guessed. Lysander pursed his lips, but said nothing and only moved his piece. Roger tapped his chin with the piece he'd taken from Lysander. "Ana seemed very smitten with him. Young folks these days are very quick with everything they do. Chores, sports, falling in love." Lysander's hand paused over the board, but he shook his head and placed his piece in its place. "She is too young to fall in love." Roger leaned back and furrowed his brow. "How old is she now? She must be nearing a hundred and fifty. Surely that's old enough to fall in love." "Then she is too young to know what she wants," Lysander argued. "Perhaps she is a little young in vampire standards, but so was your wife," he countered. Lysander's hand paused in midair with a piece clasped between his fingers. His eyes flickered up to Roger and narrowed. He placed the piece on the board and stood. "Checkmate." Roger's eyes widened and he glanced down at the board. All the pieces had moved and ensured the checkmate. He frowned and glanced up at Lysander who strolled around the desk and looked out through the large bay window, his back turned to Roger. "No cheating by using your super speed," he argued. Lysander's voice was quiet, but firm. "That's enough. Leave me." Roger understood the warning in Lysander's voice. He stood, bowed his head and walked to door, but paused and turned to Lysander. "Her trust in you won't last forever if you don't trust her. Someday you'll have to trust her, and I think you can trust that boy." Lysander didn't turn around. "We will see." Roger left and Lysander glanced up at the cloudless night. He opened one side of the window and leaned out. The silence of the night was disturbed by wafts of voices from Ana's bedroom window. Lysander leaned his head out and glanced upward. The room was dark, but the window was open. He grasped the top of the bay window frame and pulled himself onto the wall above the frame. He planted his feet and cane on the wall and stood so his body was perpendicular to the ground. Lysander mocked gravity as he limped along the wall. His cane didn't make a sound on the stone walls. He stopped just below the window and leaned forward to listen to the conversation. CHAPTER 12 "Where do we even start looking for this attacker?" Ana asked Peter. Peter shrugged. "I guess we start at the beginning where the first attack happened and go from there. There should be some clue around there." "A clue that the police haven't found?" she reminded him. He smiled at her. "Well, the police don't have a vampire following a possible vampire." She smiled back. "All right, I'll fly us there and see if we can find anything." Ana stood, but Peter grasped her hand and pulled her back down. "Wait a sec, what about your dad? Does he check in on you?" "He might, but it's a chance I'm willing to take to help you," she replied. He nodded. "All right, then let's get flying." Lysander walked further up the house and slipped behind a chimney. He saw Peter lean out and Ana catch hold of his collar. The pair flew out of the window and over the woods. Lysander stepped from the shadows with his mouth set in a frown. He transformed into a bat and followed them. With Peter's directions Ana flew them to the location of the first attack. They didn't see any signs of the police so Ana dropped Peter onto the gravel path and changed beside him. "Man, that is so cool being able to fly," he told her. She smiled, but walked forward and bent down to peer into the brush alongside of the path. "Focus." Peter's eyes swept over her tight butt. "I am focusing." Ana glanced over her shoulder and blushed. "I meant on the task at hand," she scolded him. He shook himself from his derriere reverie. "What? Oh, right, finding something." He stooped and walked along the lit path while Ana took the spot where the young man had been found. Peter heard her sniff and paused to look at her. "Do vampires catch a cold?" She shook her head. "It's not that. I smell something." She knelt down and picked something dark off the ground. Peter knelt beside her and peered at the object. "A patch of fur?" he guessed. Ana nodded. "Yes. I'm not sure what kind of fur, but it's matted with blood. Fresh blood." Peter plucked it from her fingers and turned the matted fur over in his palm. "I've got a friend in the science department at the university who could take a look at this. I'll go to him tomorrow." He stuffed the fur into his pocket, but Ana grabbed his wrist. He looked up into her face and noticed her skin was paler than usual and her hand shook. "You don't need to do that," she told him. He raised an eyebrow. "Why not?" She dropped her hand and stood. "I. . .I know who's blood it is. It's my dad's blood." Peter rose to his feet. "How can you tell?" he asked her. Ana turned away from him and wrapped her arms around herself. "He has a unique smell to his blood. It's very old, like an aged wine." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "There's no mistaking that scent." Peter felt the color drain from his face. "So if you can smell blood like that, does that mean he can smell my blood?" She nodded. "If you have a cut or leave a trail, yes, but he can't tell if it's vampire or human." "So don't cut myself shaving?" he suggested. She half-turned to him and managed a shaky smile. "Or cut your finger." "Good to know, but if this is your dad's blood then that kind of means your dad's involved in this somehow," he pointed out. She frowned and shook her head. "I just can't believe it. I know I should, but he's my dad. I trust him, and I know he wouldn't do something this reckless. He's endangering all of us by attacking these humans." Peter grasped her hands and opened his mouth, but he couldn't think of anything to say. He turned away and looked to the east. A faint light shimmered on the horizon. "How about you take a rest on this and I'll find out what I can about that clump of fur? Maybe you've got it wrong about the smell and it's that guy's blood." Ana sighed and laid her hand over one of his. She looked up into his eyes and smiled. "Thank you." He blinked at her. "For what?" "For giving me hope." Peter sheepishly grinned and shrugged. "What's a friend for?" Ana blushed and stepped closer to him. She stood on her tiptoes and pecked a soft kiss on his cheek. "See you tomorrow." She stepped back, transformed into her bat form, and flew off into the brightening sky. Peter's eyes were wide and his face was frozen. Then he slapped his forehead and grimaced. "Way to friend-zone a beautiful girl, Pete. . ." He turned toward home and missed the large shadow that watched from the trees. Lysander's red eyes were narrow and the fangs bit into his lower lip. He glanced in the direction Ana had gone. She was nearly out of sight. He opened his wings and flapped into the air after her. In a few minutes Ana flew through her bedroom window and changed back into her human self. Her cheeks showed off a light red hue and her eyes twinkled. She spun around her room and raised her hands above her head. "He likes me!" Her dizzying spin spun her onto her bed and she lay there for a moment staring at the ceiling. Then she furrowed her brow and tilted her head. "At least I think he likes me." "Who likes you?" a voice spoke up. Ana sat up and whipped her head to the window. In front of the sill stood her father. His stance was stiff and both hands tightly gripped the top of the cane that stood in front of him. She nervously smiled at him. "Um, nobody, Dad. I was just-um, just talking talking in my sleep." "Sleeping before the sun rises?" he pointed out. "I was just getting ready to fall asleep. See?" She stretched her arms above her head and yawned. "Really tired. I guess I'd better hit the pine wood." He raised one hand. "Not yet. There are things we need to discuss." Ana froze mid fake-yawn. "About what?" He limped over to her desk, turned the chair toward her, and seated himself. "You disobeyed my orders not to see that young man." Ana paled, but her eyes narrowed as she alternated her gaze between her father and the window. "Did you. . .did you follow me?" "It was for the best. That boy will be the permanent death of you," her father insisted. Ana stood and balled her hands into fists at her side. "How often have you followed me? Do you know anything about what's happening in the park?" He shook his head. "What happens in the human world, and those who dwell in it, is none of your concern." Her eyes narrowed. "I'm almost a hundred and fifty. I don't need you to babysit me every hour of the night, and I think I deserve some answers." Her father frowned. He slowly rose from his chair. "With what lies has he been filling your head?" She half-turned from him and folded her arms over her chest. His lips curled up in a snarl. He marched forward and grabbed one of her wrists and tore it from her. She spun around to face him and shrank beneath his fiery gaze. "What has he told you?" Ana swallowed the fear and stood straight. "He's told me you're involved in an attempted murder." Lysander started back. His eyes narrowed. "That is a lie." Ana tore herself from her father's grasp. "Is it? You secretly follow me wherever I go, and I'm supposed to believe that?" He shook his head. "You don't understand. You need caring if you choose to use your hours to fraternize with one of his kind. He doesn't act like one of us. He's-" "-alive," Ana chimed in. She gestured to her room with its old-fashioned furniture and ancient architecture. "This place is dead." "We are dead," Lysander reminded her. "Yes, but we can live!" Ana's face softened and her shoulders drooped. She placed her hand on his shoulder and smiled into his careworn face. "I know you love me and have tried to make me happy, but I can't live here forever. I want to go out and live a life, any life, and I think this boy is-well, he's alive and free and wants to be my friend." Lysander raised an eyebrow. "So he says, but young men cannot be trusted. They mean to show you an ugly world. One you don't want to know." Ana shook her head. "But he's different! I-" She turned away and blushed. "I think he might like me." Her father frowned and his hands tightened their hold on the cane. "He makes promises and dates, but he is dangerous to us. The more people who know about us the more vulnerable our position becomes." Ana grasped her father's hands and looked into his eyes. "But we can't stay like this forever! We'll stay young, but the world will go on without us and we'll wither and die!" "We will survive," he insisted. Ana growled and flew to her feet so she faced away from him. She raised her arms on either side of her. "Survive? This is not surviving! This is-this is existing without life! It's worse than being dead!" Lysander's eyes narrowed as he stood to his feet. He hunched over his cane and glared at his insubordinate daughter. "You know nothing of dying, and from what I have heard you know nothing of the world. That is perhaps my mistake, but I will not let my mistake ruin your life. You will remain here and that young man will not return. That is my final word and you will obey it." Ana spun around. Her eyes flashed with spirit and she pointed at the door. "Out." "Ana," her father warned her. She jabbed her finger at the door. "Dad, you may rule this castle, but this room is my domain, and I say out!" Her movements were so swift even he had trouble following them. Ana turned him around and pushed him toward the door. She opened the entrance and shoved him out into the hall. He turned around, but his face nearly met the thick wood of the door as she slammed it on him. The knob was locked and he heard the sound of the desk as it was dragged against the other side of the door. Lysander frowned and spun away from the locked door. He limped down the hall and stairs, but forsook the sanctuary of his study for the cool night air outside the front door. The eastern sky glowed softly with the coming light, but for the present he was safe beneath the cover of the porch. Lysander leaned heavily against his cane and sighed. "What hath man wrought?" he whispered. "An endless supply of trouble," a voice spoke behind him. Lysander didn't turn around as Roger moved to stand by his side. His old eyes looked to the rising sun and he chuckled. "And a beauty and majesty behind his doings that pales even the rising sun." Lysander watched the sun rise and frowned. "I see only the trouble." Roger shrugged. "Then you see only half the picture, but perhaps that's because you've forgotten what curiosity does to the mind and spirit. It lets one live again." Lysander closed his eyes and breathed deeply. When he opened them again their red tint was gone and they glowed a light blue. "Perhaps." He reentered the house and shut the door behind himself. Roger watched him leave and sighed. "Old friend, you must trust them." CHAPTER 13 The long night was nearly over when Peter returned home. An officer stood outside the gate to the backyard. When Peter approached the cop raised his hand and shook his head. "You can't go in here, sir." Peter frowned. "But I live here." The officer shook his head. "Orders from Detective Mordecai. Nobody's allowed into the house until he gives the okay." Peter's shoulders fell. "Can I at least get some clothes?" The officer nodded their head in the direction of the road. "No exceptions. Now please leave before I'm forced to use force." Peter turned and walked away from the house. He stuck one hand in his pocket and ran the other through his messy hair. "Damn it. . ." Now he had to find some place to bunk for the night. He thought about the park, but he didn't want to be found with his legs sticking out of the brush like the last guy. Peter paused on the sidewalk and looked up and down the block. He didn't know anybody else in the area, but looking at a nearby green, burly shrub did remind him of someone. A few minutes later found Peter four blocks deeper into the residential district. He stood before a small bungalow-type house with a full basement. The numbers of the house were painted army-green. The immaculate green lawn was cut to a crew-cut length, and the low hedges in front of the house were trimmed to perfection. Peter took a deep breath and walked up the cement walk to the small porch. He knocked on the door and waited. A sound reached his ears. It was the heavy clomping of boots on bare boards. The door swung inward and Peter found himself on the bad end of a double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun. The figure who held the gun stood in shadows. "Get 'em up." Peter whipped up his hands and felt his heart drop into his pelvis. "I-I'm just looking. . .for. . ." His eyes inadvertently wandered down to the floor. The shadowed figure wore military-style boots. "Marcus?" "Jesus, Pete! I nearly blew your head off!" Marcus scolded him as he lowered the barrels. "What the hell are you doing on my porch at this hour?" Peter gave him a shaky smile and a shrug. "Oh, you know, just out for a walk and thought I'd drop by unannounced and unarmed." Marcus snorted. "Yeah, right. So you wanna come in and tell me about it?" Peter wrapped his arms around his cold shoulders and nodded. "If it's not too much trouble." Marcus slapped his hand on Peter's back. The force sent him stumbling inside. "No trouble at all! Just lemme store ol' Bessie and I'll get us some drinks." The interior was furnished in 'Fifties military style complete with pictures of pinup posters on the walls and army helmets above the mantel. Peter took a seat in a camo chair that was nearly hidden by the camo-colored tile flooring. Marcus stored his gun among others in a locked locker inside the coat closet and walked over to the kitchen. "You want a beer?" "Water, and make it cold," Peter replied. Marcus smiled and shook his head as he gathered the drinks. "You're a crazy one, Pete. I figured you were a drunk wanting to get your hands on my girls." He walked over to the living room and held out the filled glass to Peter. Peter arched an eyebrow as he took the glass. "Your 'girls?'" Marcus took a seat in another chair and nodded at the walls of pinups. "Yeah. I've had someone try to steal the ladies every semester since I bought the place." Peter cradled the drink in his hands and looked down into the still surface. "To be honest, I was needing a place to stay." Marcus took a swig of his beer and frowned. "You get thrown out by your landlords?" Peter sighed and shook his head. "No, worse. Somebody attacked Rich earlier tonight. He's in the hospital." Marcus spit his beer over half the living room, including Peter. "Wait, what? Like beat him up?" Peter wiped the second-hand beer off his face. "Not exactly, but that's why I need a place to stay. The police have the placed locked down." Marcus crunched the can in his large hand and jumped to his feet. "Damn these stupid punks! Beating people up for no reason! And Rich! Seriously? That guy couldn't whip a fly! He had no chance! He-" He paused and looked down at Peter. "You know, Pete, you don't look so good." Peter ran a hand through his hair and snorted. "It's been a long night." His friend nodded at a short hallway at the rear of the house. "How about you lay down in my bed. The mattress is real soft. You'll get right to sleep." Peter stood and smiled. "Thanks. I could use it." He shuffled off to the bedroom and found the furniture matched the rest of the house. Peter sat on the edge of the mattress. He winced when the padding didn't give way. A quick test of his hand told him the mattress was as soft as a rock. Still, it was a bed. Peter reached into his pocket and pulled out the tuft of dark hair. It didn't match the gray hairs on Lysander's head, but maybe the vampire was old enough to change his hair color. Maybe he even knew Peter was a human and all these attempted murders was a way to get back at him. "And maybe I need to stop guessing. . ." he mumbled as he tucked the fur back into his pocket. He fell back against the camo sheets and closed his eyes. His exhaustion softened the mattress, and soon he was fast asleep. His dreams were full of squeaking noises and dark shadows. "At attention, maggot!" Peter's eyes flew open. He tried to jump out of bed, but his body was wrapped in sheets. He ended up tumbling face-first onto the floor in a mess of blankets and camo boots. A pair of occupied camo boots stood over him. He tilted back his head and blinked up at Marcus's grinning face. "I always wanted to do that to someone," Marcus told him. Peter sat up and rubbed his nose. "Lucky me." Marcus grabbed his collar and pulled him out of the sheets. "Ah, come on, don't be like that. I've got a great way to make it up to you. There's this great breakfast joint near the school. They serve the best grub." Peter winced. "I don't know about-" His stomach interrupted to make its needs known by a loud, long grumble. He sheepishly grinned at his friend. "Maybe I could go for something." Marcus slapped him on the back and sent him reeling onto the bed. "Thatta pal!" He paused and frowned as he looked down at Peter. "You're not going to get any breakfast by going back to bed." Peter stumbled to his feet and rubbed his back. "I'm ready." His friend wrapped his arm around his neck and dragged him from the room. "That's the spirit!" "I said I was coming!" Peter yelped as he tried to free himself from the neck hold. Marcus laughed. "Nobody escapes from the neck hold, but I'll give you a break since you had a tough time last night." He opened his arm and released Peter. Peter stumbled to one side and rubbed his neck. "Thanks." Marcus laughed and slapped his back. Peter flew into a nearby wall. "What are friends for?" Peter's rough friend led him outside. The bright sun told Peter it was about ten in the morning. They walked a few blocks down to what the college students called the 'Finals Menu.' It was a long road lined on either side with fast-food restaurants. During finals the places were where one went for food between studying. A quick cram session of food was sandwiched between cram sessions for the tests. They walked into one of the casual dining restaurants and took a seat in one of the booths. A pretty blond waitress in a short skirt walked up to them and smiled at Marcus. "The usual?" He grinned and nodded. "Yep." She glanced at Peter. Her eyes looked him over and her smile took on a more sly appearance. "Who's your friend?" "Pete, this is Trixie, my lifesaver," Marcus introduced him. Peter nodded his head. "Nice to meet you." She winked at him. "Likewise, I'm sure." "Pete'll have what I'm having," Marcus told her. She scribbled a few words on her pad and nodded. "Got it. A few squealing pigs, some screaming spuds, and eggs-on-the-run. I'll be right back with the jug of coffee." She walked off. Marcus admired her rear before it disappeared into the kitchen. He sighed and turned to his friend. "A beaut, isn't she?" Peter nodded. "She's something." Marcus slid a container of Tabasco sauce closer to him. "So what're ya gonna do today?" Peter ran a hand through his messy hair and shook his head. "I don't know. I don't have my books, I've missed half my classes and I need to visit Rich." "You go visit Rich first. That's more important than school," Marcus told him. Peter smiled and nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I guess I-" His eyes swept over the area and he frowned. "Why's everyone looking at me?" Marcus followed his gaze and looked at the other customers. Most were already turned away, but a few stole fleeting glimpses at Peter. He shrugged and flashed a smile. "I don't know. Maybe they're just trying to avoid looking at your dazzling host." Contrary to Marcus's modest appraisal of himself, Peter knew the other people were looking at him. The waitress returned with a pitcher of coffee and two large mugs. "Here ya go, boys," she announced as she set one mug in front of each of the customers. She placed the pitcher between them and turned to leave, but her eyes fell on Peter. She furrowed her brow and put her hands on her hips. "Looking at you now I swear I've seen you before." Marcus glanced at his friend. "You ever been here before?" Peter shook his head. "Never." The waitress snapped her fingers. "I know! One sec." She hurried over to a newspaper stand by the front door and returned with a paper. "This is where." She held the front page of the paper so both boys could see the top headline. It read Local College Student Finds Another Body. Below the headline was the article and three photos lined in a row. The picture on the left was of the first victim, the one on the far right was Rich, and wedged between them was a picture of Peter. Peter cringed. Marcus took the paper and studied the pictures. "Wow, Pete, you're famous." "More like infamous. . ." Peter mumbled as he slid down his seat. "You've got to pay for that," Trixie warned Marcus. "Paid and framed," Marcus quipped as he handed her the money and she went to another table. He raised the paper in front of him and grinned. "This is gonna look so cool in my den. One of my best friends involved in a murder case." Peter's eyes widened and his pulse quickened. He leapt to his feet and slammed his palms on the table as he leaned over. "Murder? Who's been killed? Is Rich okay?" The whole restaurant paused and turned their attention to the table. Marcus grabbed Peter's shoulder and pushed him back into his seat. He lowered his voice to a hiss. "Nobody's been murdered. I was just saying you were in a kind-of murder case. You know, attempted-murder." Marcus paused and looked him over. "You sure you okay?" Peter ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "No. I didn't sleep well." Marcus glanced at the kitchen. His eyes lit up and he leaned back. "I can't fix your sleep, but I'm gonna fix your appetite." Trixie came with two platters of everything, and double the amount. She slid the platters in front of the pair and smiled. "Good luck." Marcus picked up his fork and grinned. "I'm not gonna need any of that." He pointed his fork at Peter's fork. "Come on, Pete, race you to the end." Peter winced, but reluctantly picked up his fork. The contest was over before it even began. Peter set down his fork with his plate half-empty. Marcus's plate was obliterated. There were no survivors. Marcus leaned back and sighed. "That's a good start to the day." Peter dropped his napkin onto his plate. "I think I'd better go check on Rich. Thanks for inviting me." He stood and pulled out his wallet, but Marcus held up his hand and shook his head. "No way, man. This is my treat. Just tell Rich one thing for me." Peter tucked his wallet back into his pocket and arched an eyebrow. "What's that?" Marcus grinned. "Tell him he'd better get better soon. He's the best drinking buddy a guy could ask for." Peter smiled and gave a nod. "I will." CHAPTER 14 Peter parted company with his friend and walked to the hospital. Rich had been moved from the ICU into a private room. He knocked on the door. "Enter," a soft voice called out. Peter opened the door and peeked inside. Val sat in a chair beside the white-sheeted bed. Her upper half was slumped over the foot and her eyes were closed. She breathed in and out at a steady pace. Rich was seated in bed. He put his finger to his lips before he pointed at Val. Peter nodded and slipped into the room. He moved to stand close to the head of the bed. "You just missed my folks," Rich whispered to him. Peter nodded at Val. "Has she been here all night?" Rich's gaze settled on her and his eyes softened. A small smile curled onto his lips before he nodded. "Yeah. She even missed all her labs this morning just to be here." Peter grinned. "I don't know what she sees you in." "She's a smart girl," Rich argued. "You bet," Val spoke up. She raised her head and smiled at him. "And this smart girl needs to go get some food. Either of you two want anything?" Peter winced and held up his hand as he shook his head. "No thanks. Marcus took me out to breakfast." Rich snorted. "And you survived?" Val stood and walked toward the door. "I don't think I want to know. I'll just pick something up at the corner store." "Anything but jello!" Rich called after her. She waved over her shoulder without looking back. A dark look crossed over Rich's face. "She's going to get jello, I just know it." Peter took Val's seat and looked over his friend. Rich leaned back and frowned. "What?" Peter sighed. "How are you feeling?" Rich waved off his words. "Don't look at me like that. I know what you're thinking, and it's not your fault. Just because you left the gate open doesn't mean that was a clear invitation for somebody to come inside and suck me dry." Peter winced. "That doesn't make me feel any better." Rich grinned. "Good. I wanna make sure you close that gate from now on." He lifted his arms and looked down at himself in the nightgown. "Speaking of the house, mind getting me a few things while you're there?" Peter shrugged. "That depends on if the police still have it cordoned off. I couldn't get in last night and had to stay with Marcus." Rich snorted. "I've been there for a couple of drinks. How'd you like his old 'girls?'" Peter stood and smiled. "A little too young for me, but what were you wanting from the house?" "Some clothes would be great, and I could really use a beer," Rich told him. Peter walked backward away from him and shrugged. "I can't make any promises on the beer, but I'll try." Rich furrowed his brow at the sheets that covered his feet. "Pete?" Peter paused in the doorway and half-turned to him. "Yeah?" Rich pursed his lips and shook his head. "I don't know. I just feel kind of restless. You know, like I need to go somewhere." Peter smiled. "Don't go anywhere without Val's permission or she might finish the job somebody else started. I'll be back with some stuff from the house." He waved to his invalid friend and walked out the door. "And no jello!" he heard Rich call out. Peter expected cops to still surround the place, but the outside was deserted. Unfortunately, the inside held an unwelcome secret. He entered through the front door and found a man seated on living room couch. The strange wore a large gray trench coat and smoked a cigarette. Peter kept the door open behind him and scrutinized the stranger. The man hadn't shaved in a few days so there was stubble across his narrow chin. His brown hair was slicked back and Peter placed his age to about forty-five. The man wore slacks and a polo shirt under the coat, and on his feet were a pair of thick boots. The man turned to Peter and pulled the cigarette from his mouth. "Are you Peter Orbus?" Peter raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "Yes. Who are you?" The man stood and pulled a small, square leather wallet from his coat. He opened it and held it out to show Peter his badge. "Detective Mordecai, homicide division. I understand you found the first two victims." Peter frowned. "First two? There's been another one?" The man gave a nod as he stuffed his badge into his coat. "Yes, and this one's dead, so I've been brought in to deal with all of them." Mordecai extinguished his cigarette on a coaster and focused on Peter's face. "Mind coming down to the station with me and answering a few questions?" Peter plopped himself in a nearby chair. "Why do I need to go down to the station? Why not stay here?" "This shouldn't take long," Mordecai promised. Peter leaned forward and clasped his hands in his lap. He narrowed his eyes as he studied the detective. "You think I did it, don't you?" Mordecai pursed his lips and raised his chin. "I don't know, but rest assured I will find out." "What evidence do you have against me?" The detective shook his head. "I'd rather not say here, but you can rest assured it's solid." "Did you find my fingerprints anywhere?" Peter asked him. "No, but-" "And anybody see me there?" he continued. "No, but you're under suspicion for all these incidents. It'll look better if you come with me," Mordecai insisted. Peter detected a hint of warning in the man's voice. This was a come-with-me-or-else warning, not a cake-or-death choice. Peter frowned, but stood. "Fine, I'll go." Mordecai stuck a freshly-lit cigarette in his mouth and grinned. "Good. This shouldn't take long." The interrogation robbed Peter of the rest of his morning. The detective hauled him to the station in the back of a police car, but was kind enough to blare the lights only when they approached thick traffic. Peter slid down in the seat to avoid being seen until they arrived at the tall, marble-covered police station that had housed the cops for going on a hundred and thirty years. There were numerous additions. The wings were expanded, but the imposing style was also imitated to near-perfection. Two dozen stone steps led up to the double-door entrance. Mordecai pulled him out of the car and held onto his elbow as he led him up the stairs. They pushed past the long line at the reporting desk and meandered their way through the numerous desks to the rear of the station. Peter smiled and waved at everyone as they stared at him and his pushy guide. A long, wide hall led to the back of the building, and along the left wall were doors. One of the doors had the word 'Interrogation' on the name place, and Mordecai directed Peter into that room. Inside was the usual interrogation fare. A single metal table with a chair on either side. A yellow folder sat in front of the chair closest to the door. On the left-hand wall hung a giant one-way mirror. Mordecai pushed Peter toward the far chair. "Sit there," he ordered him. Peter scowled at him, but did as he was told. Mordecai closed the door behind them, and lit up a cigarette. He turned his chair around and sat down so his back was to the door and he faced toward Peter. "I hope you don't mind the smoke because you're going to be inhaling it until I get some answers." "Like I told the other officer, this is just a bunch of bad luck. I don't know who's attacking these people," Peter persisted. Mordecai took a puff of smoke and blew it into the air over their heads. "Got anybody to verify your alibis?" Peter pursed his lips. "No, but I don't have any motive, either." The detective chuckled. "That never stopped psychopaths before." He looked Peter in the eyes and tapped his cigarette-holding fingers against his temple. "It's just something wrong up here. Somebody figures they're smarter than everybody else, a college kid or something like that, and they decide to commit the perfect crime. Only trouble is they get impatient and want somebody to find their masterpiece, so they call the cops. When the cops get smart to what he's doing he commits another attack on a friend but they're still suspicious, so he goes for the big-time. This time it's murder and he doesn't make the call. He thinks that'll throw the cops off, but we're not that dumb." Peter leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Two problems with your theory." Mordecai raised an eyebrow. "And what are those?" He raised two fingers and counted them down. "One, I'm not a psychopath, and two, you're not that smart if you're thinking up that dumb of a story." The detective narrowed his eyes. "You'd better watch what you say. I don't know what they teach you at that university but murder is a serious charge." "Yeah, but I didn't do it," Peter insisted. Mordecai opened the folder and tapped his finger on the first page of papers. "Then how do you explain the victim wanting to see you?" Peter frowned. "What are you talking about? Why wouldn't Rich want to see me?" Mordecai bit down hard on his cigarette. "I'm talking about the first victim, the one you supposedly found in the park. He was in the hospitable until he escaped last night." Peter furrowed his brow. "Escaped? Why?" The detective took a long drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke between them. "We were hoping you could tell us. Our officers found him on your block heading for your house." Peter started back and blinked at him. "Why was he heading that way?" Mordecai leaned forward and his sharp eyes studied Peter. "We couldn't find that out a few hours later. The man was so violent he had to be restrained. When he did come around he told us he didn't know why he went that way, but the he knew he needed to." Peter frowned and shook his head. "I don't know anything about this. I don't know that guy I found in the park, and I don't know who killed the other person. I'm telling the truth!" Mordecai stood and moved to the side of the table. He wrapped a leg over the corner closest to Peter and leaned close to the young man. His voice was low and edged with a sharp tone. "I don't know how you took all their blood, but you're not going to get away with it. I'll get a judge to give me that warrant for your arrest and then you'll be up shit creek without a paddle." He leaned away and smirked. "Or you can just confess and tell me how it was done." Peter stood and glared at the man. "When you get a warrant you know where to find me." He strode past him and grabbed the knob. It wouldn't budge. He turned to Mordecai. The officer grinned and held up a key in his hand. It swung to and fro in front of his cigarette-puffing face. Peter frowned. "You said so yourself you can't hold me without that warrant." Mordecai chuckled, but slid off the table and stepped over to him. He unlocked the door and swung open the entrance. The detective stepped aside and smiled at Peter. "Mind your step." Peter hurried past him and through the station to the fresh, late-morning air. The sun was a few hours on its journey, and that was that much time wasted trying to find the real killer. He had a good idea it was Ana's dad, but he couldn't convince Ana or even himself without more evidence than the scent of blood. He reached into his pocket and felt the clump of fur. He had one last chore to do before sunset. CHAPTER 15 Peter strode from the station and across half the town to the university campus. The square campus of fifty acres was an old one from a land grant given by a wealthy donor two centuries before. The front near the main road was lined with brick-covered buildings and their pointed roof peaks reached to the skies. Old brick pathways wound between them and slowly morphed into the broad, modern concrete sidewalks that stretched across the rest of the campus. Campus apartments of inferior brick sat jumbled in one corner, and behind the older buildings were the newer teaching buildings. Peter aimed his feet toward the tall, imposing science building at the rear of the campus. It was a hulking structure of concrete with large, gleaming windows that looked down on the others with as much conceit as the others gave it. He pushed through the glass doors and into the echoing lobby. Peter climbed the stairs to the third floor of a half dozen and his footsteps clacked down the empty halls. Classes and labs were in session, but Peter headed to one of the near-empty lab rooms. He opened the door and peeked his head inside. The room was filled with metallic-looking tables, and on those tables were beakers and test tubes. He noticed one of the Bunsen burners was on. Seat in front of the fire on the stool with his back turned to the door was the young man he was looking for, Liuxue Li. The male student was of Asian descent with short dark hair and narrow eyes. The student of science watched with near-obsessive intensity as a colored liquid boiled in a beaker . Peter walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. The young man yelped and spun around. He saw Peter and glared at him. "What the hell are you doing? Trying to get me burned?" Peter sheepishly grinned. "Sorry, Liu, but I'm in a hurry." He pulled the clump of hair from his pocket and showed it to him. "Is there any way you can take a look at this for me? I want to know what kind of hair it is and see what's holding it together." Liu shook his head. "If this something to do with the attacks then I want no part of it." Peter shrugged. "Um, maybe?" "Not doing it." Liu spun around to face his burner. "Besides, I've got enough on my plate." Peter moved to stand beside him. "Come on, Liu. Do this for me as a favor. The police think I did all this stuff." Liu leaned forward to hover his face near the heated glass and snorted. "Then they obviously don't know you." Peter leaned down so their faces were level. "Aren't you just a little curious how they did it?" Liu turned and frowned. "How who did what?" Peter smiled. "How anybody could've drained their blood without being a-I don't know, a vampire?" He straightened and shrugged. "Of course, if you're not curious I could have someone else look at this." Liu sat up and frowned. "I'm a scientist. Of course I'm a little curious." Peter held up the fur and smiled. "Then I think you're going to want to take a look at this fur." Liu arched an eyebrow. "Why?" Peter shrugged. "Let's just say whatever attacked everybody probably isn't human." Liu's eyes widened. "A new species? Or an invasive one?" Peter held the fur out to him. "That's for you to find out." Liu grinned and snatched the fur from Peter's hand. "I always wanted to find a new species. Come with me please." Liu led Peter over to a long table against the wall. A row of microscopes sat on the top, and Liu carefully placed the fur on top of a slide and slid it beneath the lens. He peered through the microscope and adjusted the magnitude. "Where did you find this?" he asked Peter. "Near where the first guy was found. Can you analyze and get me the results of the fur today? I'm kind of in a hurry to clear my name before the cops decide I've done more than just jaywalk recently," Peter pleaded. Liu waved his hand at Peter. "I will try, but this fur is not interesting. It is just the fur of a common animal in this area." "Like a bat?" Peter guessed. "No, I would say a rat, like one of the ones at my apartment building. They follow the trash that floats down the canal and climb up the bank." He wrapped his arms around himself and shuddered. "Lately they've been chewing through the walls of that place like mold through bread." Peter frowned. "What about the blood?" "Well, it is definitely blood. Human, I think, but there is something strange about it. I have never seen one with this structure before." He leaned closer. "Let me put on some more light and see what I can-whoa!" They both jumped back when the slide exploded. A cloud of black smoke floated up from the broken glass. Liu waved his hand in front of him to brush away the smoke. "W-what-cough-was that?" "What'd you-cough-do to it?" Peter asked him. Liu shook his head. "I just applied strong light to it. It reacted like I set off an explosion." Peter frowned. "Strong light? You mean like sunlight?" His friend nodded. "Yes, why?" Peter stepped back and shook his head. "Um, no reason. Well, would you look at the time, I gotta go." Peter rushed through the cloud of smoke and out into the clear hall. He hacked and coughed his way downstairs to the lobby, and paused near the doors. That exciting adventure in vampire anatomy proved his assumption. Ana's father was the one who attacked that guy in the park, and probably followed him home and attacked Rich. Why he'd want to attack the latest victim was unknown, but it wouldn't be unknown for long. Peter hurried across campus and through the town to his house. Rich still lay in the hospital and Val wasn't home for classes or by his side. Peter snatched a flashlight from the emergency kit in the kitchen, a cross from Val and Rich's bedroom, and some limp, cold garlic off the top of a half-eaten pizza in the fridge. Armed with these anti-vampire essentials, Peter strode from the house and to the park. In a half hour he stood on the edge of the meadow. His ears and eyes told him the dogs weren't at play. The sun beat down on the old house and nothing stirred save for the vine leaves and the weeds that grew against the home. He jogged across the meadow and flattened himself against the side of the house. Peter scooted along the siding to the front porch and up to the door. He tried the door. Locked. Just his luck to be trying to invade the home of cautious vampires. He walked around the side of the house and tried the rear door. The knob was locked, but the door was old and hadn't properly latched. He pushed it open with his shoulder and peeked inside. The sunlight illuminated the long hallway and chased away the shadows of the night. He hoped it did the same to vampires. Peter stepped inside and tiptoed to the door of the study. If he was going to find any definite proof beyond the exploding fur then he had to find it in the lair of the beast. He jiggled the handle of the closed door. Again locked. Peter tilted his head back and noticed a half circle of glass above the door that allowed light from the room into the hall, though at that moment no light emanated from the closed room. He fetched a light wooden chair from the front-right room and stood on it. A push of the glass showed it swung open to allowed ventilation. He peeked inside and saw the curtains were drawn on a bay window and the room was dark, but empty. Peter was grateful he never took gym seriously as he squeezed through the narrow opening. The young man slipped over the edge and realized his mistake. He was headed into the room head-first and there was nothing to catch nor fall softly onto. His hands pawed at the inside of the door, but gravity would not be defied as he slid forward. He crashed to the floor in a jumble of limbs and his head hit the hard floor. His world blackened and he knew no more. The next thing Peter remembered was a tremendous headache and a chilling sensation over his body. He opened his eyes and saw he was in the center of the room beside a small table with two chairs. Peter sat up and groaned. His head throbbed. The hardest part of his body was now the most painful. He glanced around and his eyes froze on the dark figure that stood in the shadows of the corner of the room closest to the open door. The shadow had red eyes and held a cane. Lysander. "What are you doing here?" Lysander questioned him. Peter swallowed and pointed every which way. "I-uh-I was just-" "-stealing into my study in the middle of the day to search through my private papers," Lysander finished for him. Peter winced. "Would you believe 'no?'" Lysander suddenly stood in front of Peter and wrapped his hand around the young man's throat. He lifted him a foot off the floor and Peter clawed at the strong arm that held him. "None of your lies, human." Peter froze and his eyes widened. Lysander's lips curled back in a terrible grin that showed off his sharp teeth. "Yes, I know you are a human. I have known since the beginning. Only my daughter's feelings for you have kept you alive this long." He shook Peter. The young man saw not only stars but galaxies. "Now why have you come here? What are you looking for?" Peter clutched the vampire's strong hand and frowned. "I came here-wheeze-to see if you were the one hurting all those people." Lysander sneered at him. "You are a typical human to blame what they do not know on what they do not understand." Peter frowned. "I understand the person-wheeze-killed last night probably has a couple of holes in their throat." Lysander's eyebrows crashed down. "Killed? Where was the body taken?" Peter tried to shrug, but he couldn't lift his shoulders that high. "I don't know. The morgue?" Lysander growled and turned away, but he didn't release Peter. Peter was swung over the floor. His side nearly collided with the desk. The vampire's eyes flitted from side to side as thoughts flashed through his mind. Lysander returned his gaze to the Peter and his eyes flashed with red venom. "I dislike you for too many reasons to discuss, but under the circumstance I have no choice. I require your help to conceal my family's existence." Peter nodded down at the vampire's hand. "Then you're kind of-wheeze-going about this the wrong way." Lysander opened his hand and Peter dropped to the ground. The young man rubbed his neck and climbed to his shaky feet. He stepped back and studied the vampire. "What exactly were you wanting me to do?" "You must enter the morgue, find the body and pierce its heart with a stake," Lysander explained. Peter's mouth dropped open. "Are you crazy? If I go in there looking for the body they're going to think I'm gloating over my kill!" Lysander grabbed Peter's neck again and lifted him off the floor. "Then you and I will have a discussion on the many ways I dislike you." "Point taken," Peter choked out. The vampire opened his hand and gravity took its course. Peter rubbed his neck again as he frowned at the vampire. "But why am I doing this, anyway? If this is so important why didn't you take care of this last night when you killed the person?" Lysander frowned and partially turned away from Peter, but his eyes flitted back to the young man. "You may not believe me, but I had nothing to do with any of these attacks." Peter closed his eyes and shook his head. "No, I don't believe you, but-" he straightened and pursed his lips, "-I'll do anything if it means keeping Ana safe." Lysander scoffed. "That remains to be seen. As for what needs to be done, this victim must be staked as soon as possible." Peter arched an eyebrow. "Is this guy a vampire now or something?" "He will probably be what is considered a revenant," Lysander told him. Peter blinked at the aged creature. "He's a vampire's income?" Lysander's eyes hardened and turned to fully face Peter. "Not revenue, a revenant. A creature like a zombie, but who has supernatural speed and feeds on blood." Peter winced. "That doesn't sound easy to deal with. Are you sure they're going to turn into this revenant thing?" Lysander pursed his lips. "The risk is too great to assume otherwise. They must be staked." "So can't I wait until night and see if he really is one?" Peter asked him. Lysander strode over to the desk and set his palm on the top. "Contrary to a vampire awakening after the sunset on the day they were created, a revenant may arise at any time after their death. Only a severe shock to the body's system will keep them in death for as long as a day." Peter shrugged. "What could be a worse shock than dying? I'd be pretty surprised by that." Lysander glanced over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes. "You do not want to know, and I do not want to explain. Just find the body and drive a stake through its heart." Peter held up his hands and backed up toward the open door. "All right, fine.. Anything else I need to know about this lady in case she gets up and asks for a pint of blood?" The vampire nodded. "They, like vampires, have an aversion to garlic, and the sunlight will destroy them. That is all." Peter's shoulders slumped and he sighed. "Bunches of help. . ." Lysander frowned and pointed a finger at the door. "Leave." Peter stepped into the doorway and nodded. "Leaving." He rushed out of the house before the vampire had second thoughts about an early breakfast. CHAPTER 16 Other than a short stumble through the park woods, Peter didn't stop running until he reached the house. He pressed one palm against the fence and gasped for air. A quick glance upward told him he didn't have time for a break. Sunset was less than an hour away, and if he wanted to avoid Rich incriminating him by escaping and walking toward the house he'd have to work fast. Peter hurried into the kitchen and swept his eyes over the room. He needed some stakes. His eyes fell on the chair at the far side of the table. The wobbly chair with the short leg. He rushed over and proceeded to tear the chair apart as a sacrifice to his mission. "What the hell are you doing?" Peter whipped his head up and saw that Val stood in the doorway to the living room. Her eyes flickered between his face and the busted chair in his hands. He grinned at her. "Um, kindling?" She leaned against the door frame and frowned at him. "For what?" "Uh, a fire?" "We don't have a fire pit." "Uh, would you believe I was thinking of pitching a tent outside and needed some-um, some stakes to hold down the corners?" he asked her. She pushed off the door frame and crossed her arms over her chest. "All right, what's really going on, and don't tell me it's nothing. I heard about the guy escaping the hospital and heading this way. Rich is under watch to see if he'll do it, too." He dropped his arms to his sides and sighed. The broken chair clattered to the floor. "Would you believe vampires?" Val shrugged. "I can see that." He straightened and blinked at her. "Seriously?" Her face darkened and she pursed her lips. "After what happened to Rich I'm ready to believe anything." He arched an eyebrow and pointed a finger at her. "But you're a medical student." Val rolled her eyes and reached into her shirt. Peter's hopes were dashed when all she did was pull out a chain with a cross. "Medicine or no, I know when I see something evil at work, and there's definitely something wrong with what's been going on around here." Peter's shoulders relaxed and he smiled. "Good, because it really is vampires and I have to go deal with something called revenant." He paused and ran a hand through his hair. "Or maybe just stake a dead body. I won't really know until I actually do it." She arched an eyebrow. "You're talking about the woman who was killed last night?" He whipped his head up and blinked at her. "A woman?" Val nodded. "Yeah. The person who was killed was one of the female college students. The police have been hanging around the morgue all afternoon waiting for the autopsy report." She frowned and shook her head. "Those guys are pushier than my professors." Peter winced. "Are the police still there?" She shook her head. "No, they left when they changed shifts. There's only the one usual officer at the front desk." She paused and studied him. "Why?" Her eyes widened. "You're not serious about that staking, are you? You can't just go stabbing bodies at the morgue!" Peter straightened and pursed his lips. "I was told by a pretty reliable source that she might turn into a revenant and wake up at any moment, so I have to hurry." He picked up the remains of the chair and proceeded with his destruction. Val walked over to him and picked up a broken leg. She turned it over in her hand and studied the wood. "You're going to need some help getting into the morgue." Peter paused in his destruction and looked up at her with a frown. "Why?" Val rolled her eyes and tossed the stake onto the table. "Because not just anybody can walk into a morgue. You have to have a reason for going into the back room." He cringed. "Would they believe research purposes?" "Yes, but only if you were a medical students," she told him. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a slim plastic tag, and held it up even with her smiling face. The tag was a medical student ID with a picture of her smiling face. "But I might just have a solution to your problem." Peter pursed his lips. "I can't let you get involved in this, Val. It might be dangerous." Val frowned and shoved the ID back into her pocket. She picked up the stake and slammed the sharp broken end into the table. She let go of the wood and the stake stuck upright. "I think I can handle myself." Peter's eyes widened. He swallowed and nodded his head. "Okay, I'll admit you can handle yourself, but you said so yourself this could get us into big trouble." Val wrenched the stake from the table and tucked it under one arm. "First we'll go there and take a look at the body. Then we'll see if this 'reliable source' was right." Peter furrowed his brow. "I don't know if you want to get me in through the front door. The police might not want the suspected murderer coming to see their victim." She snorted. "They're stupid to think you're a murderer." He perked up. "Thanks, that means-" "If you were the murderer you would have left behind a bunch of clues and they would have caught you by now," she added. His shoulders slumped. "Thanks. I think." "No problem, now let's get this chair broken." She yanked the chair from his hands and scowled at it. "I always hated this one." A quick bit of destruction and they had themselves a backpack full of stakes. A short stop at the vegetable aisle of the nearby grocery for some garlic, and they were on their way to the morgue in Val's car. They reached the morgue with a few minutes to spare until sunset. The city depository for bodies was a large, dreary building made of gray stone blocks. A flight of stairs led to the double-door entrance. Inside was a long hall with doors on either side. At the end of the hall and to the right was another hall, the entrance of which was guarded by a uniformed man behind a wooden desk. The uniform was for the local police. Peter winced and scooted behind Val as she strode up to the desk and flashed her ID. "I've got some late lab work to do," she told him. The officer leaned forward and squinted. He fell back and jerked his head toward the hall. "All right, but don't make too much noise." A sly grin slipped onto his face. "You wouldn't want to wake the dead." Val rolled her eyes as the man chuckled at his own joke. "I won't." She readjusted the bag over her shoulder and moved toward the hall, but the officer spoke up. "Who's that?" He nodded at Peter. "And where's his pass?" Val glanced over her shoulder at Peter who sheepishly smiled at them both. "He's a student I'm training. He doesn't have his ID yet, but I'll vouch for him." The officer studied Peter. "Don't I know you?" Val grabbed Peter's hand and tugged him toward the hall. "Maybe his credentials went through the office already." He wrinkled his nose. "Do I smell garlic?" Val nodded. "We just had pizza. If you'll excuse us, we need to get some work done." She pulled him down the hall. On either side were white doors with silver handles. Each door had a tall, narrow window to look into the rooms. Most of the rooms were small offices, but an entrance halfway down the hall and on the left had two white doors. Val stepped through those and released Peter. He breathed out and wiped his brow. "Damn, that was close." "Don't tell me you're getting cold feet," Val wondered as turned to the doors. She locked the handle with the bolt lock. "There. No we won't be interrupted." She strode to the back of the room. The back wall was filled with long, drawer-like freezers. She looked over the plates before she reached one. "Here it is. This is the woman." Peter joined her at the freezer draw. There was a handle on the front. Val reached for the handle to pull on the drawer. Thud. Her hand froze mid-grab. A row of tall, wide windows occupied the right-hand wall behind Val. Beyond them the last vestiges of the sun disappeared behind the horizon. They glanced at each other. Their pale faces matched the white linoleum floor. Peter swallowed the lump in his throat, but couldn't get his voice above a whisper. "Are they supposed to make that noise?" She shook her head. "No." There came another bump. This one was violent enough to rattle the whole drawer. They stumbled back and away from each other as the front panel on the drawer burst out. The panel slammed into the wall close beside the entrance. Peter tripped over his own feet and fell onto his butt as the sub-zero air inside the freezer flowed out like fog. The white air spilled onto the floor and washed over him. He paused mid-shiver when a dark shape rose from the drawer. The fog cleared enough for him to make out the seated figure of a woman. Her body was covered in the body-bag up to her shoulders, but he could make out the pale skin of her neck. Her long black hair trailed down her back and over the bag. She stared straight ahead with a vacant expression on her pale face. "Holy shit. . ." he whispered. The woman slowly turned her head so she faced him. She curled back her lips in a cunning smile that revealed her long, sharp fangs. Her eyes glow red and she hissed at them. The woman tore her arms out of the body back and crawled out of the freezer toward him. Peter yelped and scrambled backward. The woman was like a worm as she slithered across the floor in the bag. His back hit the wall, trapping him as the woman placed her arms on either side of his legs. Her red eyes flickered over him as her long, red tongue slipped out. She whetted her dry lips and slyly smiled at him. He gulped and smiled at her. "H-hey, h-how ya doing?" She hissed at him. Peter slipped a shaking hand into his pocket. "Then I hope you like garlic." He yanked a clove from his pocket and rubbed the garlic into her face. The woman whipped her head back and let out a terrible, high-pitched scream. She clawed at her face as the garlic oil sank into her skin. Black smoke rose from her flesh and the smell of burned skin stun their noses. Peter slipped out from beneath her and stumbled to his feet. He spun around to find Val standing in a stupor on the other side of the room. Her wide eyes gawked at the creature as the revenant writhed on the ground. "The stakes!" She blinked and shook her head. "O-oh right!" She pulled off the bag and drops it to the floor to dig out the stakes. Val pulled a pair of stakes out and tossed one to Peter, who spun around to face the vampire. Val grasped the other stake between both hands and climbed to her feet. The vampire stopped paused in her torturous clawing and glanced over her shoulder at them. Her face was covered in long gashes, but no blood poured forth. She narrowed her eyes at Peter and hissed at him. Peter gulped and held the stake in front of him. The woman turned away and leapt at the wall. She pressed her palms and body against the wall and slithered up the surface, defying gravity and belief. Peter and Val's mouths dropped open as they watched her climb to the ceiling and across the tiles toward them. "Peter!" Val screamed. He backed away. "I know!" The pair heard a pounding on the doors. "What's going on? Open up!" the officer yelled. The revenant hissed and pushed off the ceiling. Her long, sharp nails were extended toward his throat. Peter ducked and stabbed the stake upward. The force and speed of the revenant's fall pushed the stake deep into her chest. Her eyes widened and her mouth opened in a long, screeching wail before she exploded in a cloud of dust. The gray ashes fell over Peter like a dirty stink-bomb. He cringed as he was covered head-to-foot in the dry, charnel-smelling remains of the woman. He peeked open an eye and looked at Val. "Please tell me it's over." The double doors burst open with the force of the officer's shoulder. He stumbled into the room and drew his weapon. The officer pointed the barrel at the pair of college students. His eyes widened when he noticed the open, broken freezer, the overturned equipment, and the thin layer of dust in the air. He pursed his lips and turned his narrowed eyes back on the pair. "What the hell is going on here? What happened?" Peter shakily smiled at him and shrugged. "Would you believe a vacuum accident?" CHAPTER 17 A half hour later found Peter and Val were seated before the desk of Detective Mordecai. Mordecai glanced between Peter and Val. In his hands were clasped a folder with the report of their doings. He leaned over his desk and waved the folder at them. "Mind telling me what you two were doing at the morgue with a backpack full of wooden stakes and garlic?" "Um, getting ready for a barbecue?" Peter replied. Detective sneered at him. "Uh-huh, and how does that explain the missing body and a pile of dust all over you?" Peter shrugged and sheepishly smiled. "The janitor hasn't swept in a while?" "And the missing body?" "Walked off?" Mordecai slammed the folder onto the desk. Val and Peter jumped. "We have a body missing and you're the prime suspect in the killing." He leaned forward and curled his lip back in a snarl. "What did you do with it?" Peter shook his head. "I didn't do anything to it." He paused and furrowed his brow. "Well, kind of something." Mordecai's eyes flashed with anger. He crushed the folder beneath his hand and ground his teeth together. "Did you or didn't you do anything with the body?" Val raised her hand. "Sir, I think I can explain where it went." Mordecai arched an eyebrow. He leaned back in his chair and gave a nod. "Go ahead." She took a deep breath. "The body came to life and Peter destroyed it with a stake to the heart." Mordecai's eyebrow arched high into the air. "Come again?" Peter scooted to the edge of his chair and set his hand on the end of the desk. "It's true. The body came back to life and tried to kill us." "You really expect me to believe you burned a body in less than ten minutes?" the detective asked them. Val shook her head. "We didn't burn the body. It just sort of blew up. Check the surveillance tapes. Those should show you what happened." Mordecai sat up and pursed his lips. "We're getting them now, but-" his eyes flickered to Peter, "-until I get a look at them I'm not letting you go. I have enough suspicion to hold you for murder." Val jumped to her feet and glared at the detective. "But that's stupid! He didn't do-" "It's fine, Val," Peter spoke up. She whipped her head to him and gestured to Mordecai. "But he has no solid evidence! It's all circumstantial!" Peter closed his eyes and shook his head. "It's all right. I'll be fine." Her shoulders slumped and she pursed her lips. "Peter. . ." Mordecai stood and turned his attention to Val. "You're allowed to go, Miss Medici, but expect to appear in court for damage to public property." Val turned away from Peter and nodded. "Yes, sir." Mordecai glanced at Peter and sneered. "You come with me." Peter followed the detective out of the office. Val pursed her lips as she watched Peter led away. "Peter?" He paused in the doorway and looked over his shoulder. "Yeah?" She bit her lip. "Do you. . .do you want me to call your parents?" A small smile slipped onto his lips and he shook his head. "No, I'll do it." "Come on!" Mordecai snapped. Mordecai guided Peter through the police station to the rear. Behind a locked steel door was a long hallway of cells. All but one was empty. The exception was occupied by a drunk young man who sat on the edge of the bench that doubled as a bed. As they passed, the drunk stumbled to the bars and stretched out his pale hand toward Mordecai. "Hey, when you gonna let me out?" he slurred. Mordecai stopped and glared at him. "When you stop spouting nonsense, and after we've identified you." The drunk glared at the detective. "I ain't-hiccup-spouting nonsense. This town's about to go to hell. Ya know, lava, brimstone." He stretched his arms out on either side of him. "Holes this big." Mordecai sneered at him. "You keep saying that and you're going to be transferred to a padded cell. Now sit down and sober up." Mordecai led Peter onward, and stopped at the last cell. He opened the door and stepped aside. "Get in." Peter stepped into the cell and flinched when Mordecai slammed the door shut behind him. He turned around and wrapped his hands around the bars as Mordecai grinned at him from the other side. "Make yourself comfortable. You could be in here for a while," the detective warned him. He half-turned and pointed at wall opposite his cell. A security camera moved back and forth watching the entire block. "And if you find any more vampires, we'll see them." And with a laugh he walked away. His receding footsteps echoed down the hall until the main door shut behind him. All was quiet but for the grumbling of the drunk. Peter's new abode was a ten-by-ten cell with a toilet, sink and bench. He plopped his butt on the bench and clutched his head in his hands. "Sorry, Mom, sorry, Dad. Looks like I've pretty much ruined my life. . ." he muttered. "I have seen better attempts," a voice quipped. Peter snapped his head up. His eyes widened when they fell on the dark figure of Ana's father. Lysander stood a foot from where Peter sat. His red eyes were zeroed in on the caged young man. Peter yelped and scrambled back against the far wall. "H-how the hell did you get in here?" he asked him. He paused and furrowed his brow. "How the hell did you even know I was in here?" Lysander reached into his black coat and tossed a paper at him. "You are popular with the papers." Peter fumbled with the paper. His face drooped when he realized it was the latest paper, and his name was once again implicated in the attacks. "Yeah. These headlines beat their usual missing-dog stories." Lysander limped across the floor to stand in front of Peter. His bright eyes studied the young man. Peter pressed his back against the wall. "There is nothing in there about vampires." Peter gulped. "Should there be?" "It would be easy enough to tell others about us," the old vampire pointed out. He used his cane to point to the cell around them. "You could easily free yourself from this prison by leading the police to our home." Peter frowned and stood to his full height. The hunched vampire still towered over him. "Maybe, but I said I'd help you out. Telling the police about you wouldn't really be helping, would it?" Lysander studied him a moment longer with an arched eyebrow. "No, it would not." Peter caught movement behind Lysander. He winced and looked at the vampire. "Do you vampires and those revenant things show up on video tape?" Lysander nodded. "We do." Peter pointed a finger at the camera. "Then you might want to worry about that camera, and the one at the morgue. My friend and I were able to stake the revenant, but the whole thing was kind of taped." Lysander's eyebrows crashed down and he frowned. "Where are they viewing this tape?" Peter shook his head. "I don't know. Probably somewhere in this building. A Detective Mordecai is probably watching it, though." Lysander's eyes narrowed. "Remain here." Peter snorted. "Like I have a-" The words caught in his throat when Lysander's body transform into a cloud of fog. The fog slipped through the cell bars and slipped out of sight down the hall past the empty cells. Peter raced to bars and saw the mist disappear beneath the doorway of the cell block area. The fog that was Lysander kept low to the floor as he flitted beneath desks and around feet, all the while listening to the discussions among the police station inhabitants. "Yeah, I picked him up again." "For what?" "Impersonating a banana." "What do you mean the charges were dropped? He was drunk!" "Your breathalyzer hadn't been checked in a year, so the judge threw it out." "Anybody seen Mordecai?" "He's in his office, but don't bother him. He's waiting for that call on the surveillance footage." Lysander directed his body to the door marked 'Detective Mordecai.' He slipped beneath the door and curled beneath the desk. Mordecai sat in his chair with his hands clasped in his lap and his eyes zeroed in on the phone on his desk. The phone rang. He leapt at the receiver and answered the phone. "This is Detective Mordecai." He paused. A frown slipped onto his lips. "Only one camera?" Another pause. His faced twisted into disbelief. "What do you mean I'm not going to believe what I see? All right, all right, calm down. I'll be right there." He slammed receiver on the phone and grinned. "Now we've got you." Mordecai jumped to his feet and strode from the room with the small cloud of mist at his heels. The detective marched through the halls of the station to the electronics room. Inside was a mess of computers and TVs. Seated in front of a TV and VCR was a uniformed officer. The officer swiveled his chair to face the detective. His face was pale and his hands shook. "You're seriously not going to believe this." Mordecai grabbed a chair and scooted it up to the TV. "You already told me that. Let me see it and I'll tell you what I do or don't believe." The officer swallowed and nodded. He turned on the TV and clicked play on VHS player beneath the screen. It was the surveillance footage of the morgue and began at thee point where the pair of friends approached the freezer locker. The detective's mouth dropped open as he watched the nightmarish scene unfold with the revenant escaping and attacking them. "Mother of God," he whispered. Lysander materialized behind them. "Hardly." The officers spun around in their chairs. Their wide eyes bulged from their heads as they beheld the dark-suited, red-eyed vampire. Mordecai jumped to his feet. "What the hell are you-" The detective's eyes were caught in the red glow of the father's gaze. His face blanked. "What's going on-" The other officer suffered the same fate as he, too, was captured in the father's gaze. Lysander looked from one mesmerized victim to the other. His voice was low and even. "You will remember nothing of what you have seen here. The security footage showed nothing during the time of the incident, and the camera footage in the cell block will be deleted promptly." They nodded. "Yes, master," the men replied in unison. Lysander turned to the detective. "You will immediately release the human you have accused of murdering the woman." "Yes, master," Mordecai agreed. Lysander limped between them and grabbed the VHS from the player. He stuffed the VHS into his cloak, turned back into mist and swept from the room. Once he left the two humans gasp and clutch at their heads. "What the hell just happened?" the officer wondered. Mordecai shook his head and straightened. "I don't know, but that tape was worthless." The officer glanced at the blank screen. "So what now?" Mordecai frowned. "Now I've got to release that scum." CHAPTER 18 Peter sat in his cell with his eyes glued to the bars. It'd been a few minutes since Lysander had left, and each passing second his stomach sank lower and lower. A noise reached his ears. He jumped to his feet at the sound of the door opening. The footsteps walked down the hall and Mordecai. The young man's face fell and he dropped back on to the bench. "Oh. It's just you." Mordecai frowned. "Who were you expecting?" Peter straightened and stiffened. He shook his head rapidly and plastered a stiff smile onto his face. "Nobody." The detective's frowned deepened, but he dug into his pocket and pulled out the cell keys. The unlocked the door and stepped back. "Get out." Peter stood and raised an eyebrow. "Where am I going?" Mordecai sneered at him. "I don't care if you walk off the bridge, just get out of my station. Now." Peter smiled and slipped past him. "Sure. No problem." He hurried down the hall. A hand whipped out and grabbed his arm. The touch was as cold as an icy lake. He jerked back, but the hold was too strong to break. Peter's eyes fell on the drunk young man. He was deathly pale and there was a crooked grin on his bright-red lips. When he spoke, the smell of alcohol and rot wafted over Peter. "You better be careful out there, kid. There's a lot of weird stuff starting to happen." Peter nodded. "Y-yeah, sure." "What the hell are you doing?" Mordecai snapped. The drunk laughed and let him go. "Better get going, but remember what I told ya." He tapped the side of his nose. "Big rats flying out these nights." Peter nodded and hurried on his way. The drunk grasped the bars and laughed. "Run faster, rabbit! Run!" Mordecai followed Peter with narrowed eyes. "I'll get you yet, boy." Peter speed-walked through the station and out the front doors. The night greeted him with cold air and a clear sky. He walked down the steps and took a deep breath of fresh air. "What do you know of these attacks?" Peter choked on the fresh air and spun around to find Lysander standing a foot behind him. He clutched his fast-beating heart and glared at him. "Could you like clear your throat or something before you sneak up on me like that?" Lysander frowned. "No. The detective won't bother again you until another attack occurs. We must prevent that." Peter held up his hands. "Whoa, wait, so you're the one who got me out of there?" Lysander's eyes narrowed. "You suspected I was responsible for the attacks. Was your suspicion based on bias or did you have proof that pointed to me?" Peter straightened and stared Lysander in the eyes. "You could've left me in there. Why'd you have him let me go?" Lysander pursed his lips and stalked past Peter to stand near the deserted road. "That is unimportant." He glanced over his shoulder. "What are your suspicions based on?" Peter folded his arms over his chest and frowned. "I'm trying to thank you." Lysander frowned. "I care nothing for your thanks. Have you learned anything more than the police know?" Peter sighed and dropped his arms. "Ana and I found some blood and fur at the scene of the first attack. She said it smelled like your blood, so I took it to a friend of mine at the campus labs. He said the blood was strange and when he tried to apply light to it it went up in smoke." Lysander's eyes narrowed. "And the fur? What of that?" Peter shrugged. "He just said it was from some local rats that are in the park." Lysander's eyes widened. "Rats?" Peter arched an eyebrow. "Yeah, why? That mean something to you?" Lysander "Perhaps, but we shall see." The vampire transformed into a large black bat and grabbed Peter's collar. Peter yelped when his feet flew off the ground and they soared high into the sky, higher than Ana had ever taken him. He whipped his head up to the giant bat. "Where are you taking me?" Lysander's red eyes fell on the expansive canopy of trees in the far distance. "Home." The brightly-lit park was quiet. The only sounds were a pair of feet on the gravel path. A young woman clutched the arm of her male companion. Her eyes flitted over the darkness beyond the lamps. "Are you sure it's safe to be here? I mean, one of the attacks was here." He grinned down at her. "Don't worry. You're with me, remember?" She rolled her eyes. "Your modesty astounds me." Her boyfriend shrugged. "It's a gift." She pushed against his shoulder. Her boyfriend stumbled to one side and nearly toppled them both. He caught his balance and his girlfriend before she fell to the ground. He helped her straighten and laughed. "See? Nothing to worry about." She rolled her eyes, but resumed her hold of his arm. "You're impossible." "But not un-dateable," he teased in return as they continued their walk. Ana watched them leave from the shadows of the trees. Her face was contorted with worry and sadness. She transformed and flew in the opposite direction of the young couple. Her eyes were ever on the path below her. The young couple were the only ones in the park. Ana sighed and turned her flight toward the deepest interior of the forest. The house in the middle of the woods was quiet when she swooped through her window. She transformed mid-air and dropped onto both feet in the middle of her room. Ana paced back and forth with a frown on her face. "Where is he. . .?" she murmured. She raised a sharp nail to her teeth and chewed on the tip. "He wouldn't not come and not tell me. Something must have happened. . ." Ana's eyes fell on her coffin. An insane idea came to mind. She raced to the coffin and knelt beside the lid. A quick open-and-shut, and she had the cherished sweater in her hands. Peter's scent filled the room. Ana stood and steadied her still nerves. If she couldn't find Peter with sight than she would use the hell hounds to find him by scent. It would be risky, but she was sure she could keep them from eating a human. Ana rushed from her room and stole down the stairs. The hounds were in the shed behind the house. She just had to make it there and- Ana was halfway down the last flight of stairs when the front door opened. She froze mid-step and cringed as her father stepped inside. She slapped a strained smile on her face and hid the sweater behind her back. "Dad, I didn't think-" The words caught in her throat when she noticed the person behind her father. Her eyes widened. "Peter!" Peter tilted his head back to look up the stairs. He was just in time to catch Ana as she flew into his arms. He stumbled backwards into the door frame as she enveloped him in a tight hug. She buried her face into his chest. "I was so worried! What happened? Where were you?" She leaned away from him and glanced between the pair. "And why are you with Dad?" Peter smiled at her. "It's a long story." Lysander pushed past them and limped toward the door to the basement. "And one we don't have time to tell." Peter took Ana's hand and followed Lysander downstairs into the lair of the mad scientist. The beakers gurgled and the burners sizzled. Strange lights danced across the ceiling. The three found the mad man at the back of the laboratory surrounded by the cages of animals. He was again attired in a filthy lab coat, and in his hand was a vial of red liquid. Roger's back was turned to them as they came up to him. Lysander stopped three feet short of the scientist. "Roger." Roger sighed and set the vial in its round base. He grabbed another vial and turned to the three with a smile. "Lysander, what a pleasant surprise. Are you hungry?" Lysander stalked toward Roger who stood tall before such fury. The vampire's red eyes stood out against even the brightest of lights. He curled his lips back and revealed his sharp, glistening fangs. "I allowed you samples of my blood to create the blood substitute. What have you done with them?" Roger sighed and set the vial back in its place. "I see you've found out my troubles. You must believe me when I say I didn't mean for anything to happen." Lysander's hand whipped out and wrapped around Roger's throat. He stuck their faces close together. His voice was more growl than human. "What did you do with them?" Roger nodded at the cages. "Merely a few minor experiments. A mouse here, a-" "Rat?" Lysander hissed. Roger pursed his lips and nodded. "Yes, a rat." Ana's hand flew to her mouth. "Roger! How could you?" Peter whipped his head between her and the pair of men. "What's going on here?" Ana's face fell and she pursed her lips. "Roger injected animals with our blood we gave him to create the artificial blood we drink to survive." Peter cringed. "That sounds bad." Lysander shook Roger. "Where is the rat?" Roger winced and shook his head. "I didn't expect it to be so strong so quickly and it-well, it escaped out the window," he explained as he nodded toward a narrow, high window. "Flew straight out on a nice pair of new wings, but I've been trying to catch it, and I think I might have just the thing." His eyes flickered down to Lysander's hand. "That is, if you would release me." Lysander growled, but opened his hand. Roger rubbed his neck as he snatched a small, reddish triangle from a plate. He held it out to his company. "Can any of you guess what this is?" Peter sniffed the air. "Blood cheese?" Roger snapped his fingers and grinned at the young man. "Exactly! A slice of cheese infused with blood. No vampire rat can resist such a combination!" He pointed at the vials around the plate. "I just finished putting the final touches on my masterpiece when you arrived." "But how do we tempt the rat to it?" Ana wondered. Roger pulled out a few folded maps from inside his lab coat. "I have been studying the locations of the victim and I can safely surmise that the rat is somewhere in this vicinity." He pointed at a neighborhood a couple of blocks from the park. Peter's eyes widened. He looked from one face to the other. "My house is on that block, and Val might be there." Ana grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the basement stairs. "Then we need to hurry." Lysander turned and frowned at her. "You are going nowhere. You are still grounded for disobeying me." Her shoulders drooped. "But Dad, you're going to need all the help you can get to catch this thing." Roger nodded. "She's right, it won't be easy catching some this small and smart. It has eluded all my traps so far." Lysander narrowed his eyes at his daughter. "I still do not wish for you to come so far into the town." Ana walked up and clasped his hand in hers. She looked him in the eyes and smiled. "Trust me. I can help." He pursed his lips. She squeezed his hand. "Please?" Lysander sighed, but gave a nod. "Very well, but I will carry the boy. You will help Roger with his cheese." Peter winced. "Yay. . ." CHAPTER 19 A few minutes later found the four flying over the neighborhoods. The humans were in the clutches of the bats. Peter swept his eyes the familiar streets and less familiar rooftops. "This must be what Santa sees. . ." What foolishness are you spouting?" snapped the large bat that held him. Peter smiled and shook his head. "Nothing." His eyes widened and he pointed at a roof. "There! That's my house!" The bats set their load on the ground before they transformed back into their human forms. Peter turned to his strange assortment of guests and held up his hands. "Whatever happens, just let me do the-" A shrill scream interrupted his bold speech. His eyes widened and he spun around to face the house. "That was Val's voice!" Peter rushed forward, but the two swift vampires flew past him. They barged through the back door and raced through the kitchen to the living room. Peter and Roger followed, and both skidded to a stop at the entrance to the living room. Ana and Lysander stood on either side of Val who lay on the floor. She lay on her back with her head to one side. Attached to her neck was a black shadow as large as a cat. It lifted its head and revealed itself as a giant rat with blood-red eyes. Its long white fangs were tarnished with blood from two tiny puncture marks on Val's neck. Ana hissed at the creature, and the creature replied in kind. The creature expanded its body and extended a pair of black leathery wings that stretched two feet in length. The flapping of them created a gust of wind that whipped the air around the room. It lifted off Val and flew at the pair of humans. Roger pushed Peter aside and threw the cheese. The creature caught the slice in its long talons and swooped past them. The open kitchen door allowed the creature to escape into the night. "Smart girl!" Roger applauded as the vampires rushed past him. "Not now, Roger!" Ana scolded him. Peter pushed off the doorway where he'd been shoved and ran after the pair of vampires. He rushed outside in time to watch them transform into bats and follow the black form of the vampire rat. He sprinted across the lawn and leapt into the air. His vertical was terrible, and he ended up missing the bat legs by wide margin. The pair flew into the night after their prey. "Damn it!" he swore. A hand fell on his shoulder. He jumped and whipped his head around. Roger stood behind him. His lips were pursed. The old man nodded at the open door. "We will do what we can for your friend here while we rely on our friends there." Peter pursed his lips, but nodded and followed Roger back inside. They arrived at the door and Peter reached for the handle. The door swung inward an inch before his hand met metal. He lost his balance and stumbled forward until his face met something soft and squishy. Two pairs of soft and squishy, to be exact. Peter leaned his head up and looked between the valley of breasts to see Val's face. He yelped and stumbled back. Roger caught him on the back and stopped his retreat. The old man's bushy eyebrows were pointed down and his lips were pursed. "Steady. She needs our help sooner than I expected." Val stepped forward with her arms hung limp at her side and her knees stiff. Her eyes stared straight ahead and her expression was blank. Peter and Roger broke apart to let her pass between them. Peter stretched out his hand and grasped her shoulder. "Val, what are you-" Val whipped her head around and hissed at him. He jerked his hand back and his eyes widened. "Val?" Val turned to face them and crouched down. Her arms crossed over her chest and her fingers were splayed out like claws. She narrowed her eyes and hissed at them. Peter reached out to her. "Val, what's-" Roger blocked Peter's path with his arm and shook his head. "She can't hear you. All she knows is the call of her master," he told Peter. Peter frowned at him. "Master?" His eyes widened. "The rat is her master?" Roger didn't take his eyes off her as he nodded. "The master vampire calls to them every night, all night. They are compelled to go where the master goes." Peter's eyes widened. "Then the rat-bat was in the house! That's why the guy wanted to get here!" Roger dropped his arm and reached into his lab coat. Val stepped back and snarled at them. "I am afraid this, my dear girl, will hurt you a great deal more than us." He pulled out a garlic bulb. Val hissed and threw up her arms. Roger held the garlic toward her and took a step forward. His eyes flickered to Peter. "Get behind her, and on my signal grab her." Peter nodded and moved behind Val. She whipped her head between the two men, but her attention always returned to the garlic. The pair surrounded her, and Roger pulled back his hand. "Now!" Roger tossed the garlic. Val screamed and tried to dodge. Peter threw his arms around her and pinned hers to her sides. She thrashed and pushed against the ground. Spittle flew from her mouth. Peter was yanked to and fro. "A little help here!" he yelped. Roger pulled a handkerchief from his lab coat and scooped up the fallen garlic. He smeared the oil over the cloth while in the background Peter was tossed across the yard. Val hissed and screamed. She twisted around and spun Peter with her. He lost his balance and fell on his back onto the soft grass. She fell on top of him and one of her elbows jabbed the air from his lungs. His eyes widened and he wheezed, but kept his hold on his friend. Roger knelt beside them and covered Val's mouth with the handkerchief. She whipped her head to and fro, but her strength weakened. After a few seconds her eyes rolled back and her body became limp. Peter sat up and stretched his friend on the grass. He panted and looked up at Roger. "Is. . .she. . .all right?" Roger opened her eyelids one at a time. A smile slipped onto his lips and he nodded. "Quite fine. She is merely unconscious from the scent of garlic." Peter frowned. "So. . .what do we. . .do now?" Roger pursed his lips and looked up into the night sky. "Now we hope our other friends are successful in their hunt." Peter glanced down at his unconscious friend. His voice was a ghost of a whisper. "And if they're not?" Roger returned his attention to the young man at his side. His old eyes softened. "They must be." As they spoke their two flying companions flitted through the air close on the clawed heels of their prey. The rat-bat flapped to-and-fro, and turned left and right at sharp angles. Ana flew close to her father. "Even if we fly faster how will we catch it?" Lysander pursed his dark lips and swept his eyes over the area. They sped over the rooftops of the houses, and in front of them lay the vast expanse of park woodland. "We must guide it into-" The rat-bat swooped low over a fenced backyard. "Block its path!" They dove after their prey until all three glided over the blades of green grass. The rat-bat turned a sharp left and tilted its body so it flew perpendicular to the ground. At the back of the fenced yard was a gate. The tiny creature glided through the opening between gate and fence. The gap was too small for the others. They put on the brakes and stopped a few inches short of the wooden boards. Lysander growled and flapped his wings. He flew above the fence and looked up and down the alley. The bat was nowhere to be seen. He sniffed the air. There was nothing but the scent of garbage and cat urine. Ana flapped to his level. Her voice was tense and quiet. "What do we do now?" Lysander closed his eyes and shook his head. "I do not know." CHAPTER 20 The pair of bats flew back to Peter's house. They found Roger and Peter in the backyard. Val was still unconscious, and her head lay in Peter's lap. The vampires swooped down and transformed into their human selves. Roger looked up into Lysander's face. "What happened?" Ana closed his eyes and shook her head. "The creature escaped." Lysander limped over to Roger and glared down at him. "How intelligent is this beast you have created?" Roger pursed his lips and glanced down at Val. "Far more intelligent than I could have imagined." Lysander leaned down and grabbed Roger's collar. He pulled the old man to his feet and turned Roger so they faced each other. "Where would such a creature hide?" Roger shook his head. "I cannot say. It has evolved through your blood and taken on human ingenuity. Beyond that everything is uncertain." Lysander looked past his captive at Val. "Does she heed its call?" Peter's eyes narrowed and he pulled Val closer to himself. "What's that supposed to mean?" The old vampire returned his attention to Roger. "Does she?" Roger winced, but nodded. "She is." "Wait a minute!" Peter gently set Val's head on the grass and stood. He met Lysander's gaze without flinching. "You're not seriously planning on using my friend to find this thing, are you?" Lysander sneered at him. "Would you rather she remain in its power?" "I'd rather not get her involved! There has to be another way!" Peter insisted. Lysander opened his hand. Roger stumbled back and rubbed his neck. The old vampire turned to face Peter. His red eyes brightly glowed in the darkness of the night. Peter froze. He felt himself falling into those bright eyes. Lysander's voice sounded far away, like it was an echo. "You will tell me-" "No!" Ana leapt between them, breaking the eye-contact. Peter clutched his head and stumbled back. Ana stretched her arms out on either side of her and glared at her father. "I won't let you do that to him, or his friend!" Lysander narrowed his eyes. "It must be done, or our existence may be revealed." She shook her head. "But is this really worth it? Risking their lives? Controlling them?" She stood straight and frowned. "Doesn't this make us no better than this monster Roger has created?" Her father curled his lips back and clenched his teeth. His bright eyes looked past his daughter to Peter. "Is he so important to you that you would go against your father's wishes?" Ana pursed her lips and nodded. "He is." Peter froze. He whipped his head to her and blinked. "I am?" She glanced over her shoulder and smiled at him. "Very much so." Peter's lips parted in a wide smile. "Seriously?" Roger cleared his throat. "As touching as this scene is, I must reminder everyone that Lysander has made a very good point." He gestured to Val. "She is our only hope of finding my precious creation." "Perhaps we need only search the town," Ana suggested. She looked to her father. "Please, Dad. It has to be hiding somewhere, and surely we could find its scent." Lysander frowned and shook his head. "A search would take too long." He set his eyes on Peter. "Would you risk another life in exchange for risking your friend?" Peter furrowed his brow. "There's got to be some way. Somewhere it would hide. . ." His eyes widened. He whipped his head to Roger. "You said the rat acts like a human, but does it still act like a rat?" Roger shrugged. "That is certainly possible." Peter turned to Lysander and met his gaze. "Then I might know where it went." Lysander narrowed his eyes. "Where?" Peter met his gaze. "I'll tell you, but you have to take me with you." The old vampire and curled his lips back in a sneer. "This is no time for heroics, boy. Merely tell me-" "This is personal," Peter interrupted him. He gestured down to his friend. "My two best friends are being controlled by a rat-vampire, and I'm framed for murder. I'm coming with you, whether you want me to or not." There was a long tense moment of silence. Ana pursed her lips and looked from her father to Peter and back. Roger stared only at Lysander. The old vampire frowned, but nodded. "Very well, but how do you intend to assist us?" Peter looked to Roger and held out his hand. "Mind if I borrow one of those stakes?" Roger sheepishly grinned. "Astute boy," he commented as he pulled a stake from inside his lab coat. Peter took the stake and smiled. He turned to Lysander and held up the block of wood. "This is how I'm going to help you." He tapped his temple with one finger. "And with this. I might not have your strength, but I've got an imagination." Lysander studied him for a few seconds before he turned to look at Roger. "Remain here with the victim. She must not be allowed to come into contact with anyone else." He glanced over his shoulder at Peter. "You will fly with me." Lysander transformed into his bat self and grabbed Peter's collar. They flew out of the backyard, and Ana followed close behind. Peter spotted a pair of tall and long brick apartment buildings at the edge of campus. An open irrigation canal ran by the lawn that wrapped around the buildings. Large willow trees shaded most of the swift water, and at a few points the canal disappeared beneath a road via a culvert. He pointed at the buildings. "There. That's where it might be." Lysander dropped Peter onto the lawn and transformed beside him. Ana joined them and looked around with wide eyes. "Is this where the students stay?" Peter turned to her and frowned. "Haven't you been this far?" She smiled at him and shook her head. "No." Lysander limped forward and swept his eyes over the area. He spoke in a hushed, hissing whisper. "Quiet." Peter frowned. "What is-shit!" A black shape swooped down from a large willow branch and grabbed at his face. He ducked and fell onto his butt on the grass. The rat-bat flew over him, its tiny mouth sending out a screeching noise. A strange splashing noise came to Peter's ears. The sound came from the canal. He turned his head and his mouth dropped open. Dozens of brown rats spilled over the top of the canal bank and onto the grass. Their beady red eyes and long, sharp fangs bespoke of a hunger for more than just cheese as they surrounded the three companions. The rat-bat landed on a nearby branch and grinned down at its captives. Ana turned to face the wall of rats and stepped backward closer to the center of the ring. "Dad, are these-?" Lysander pursed his lips and nodded as his eyes swept over the horde. "Revenant rats." Peter whipped his head to the old vampire. "What?" Lysander glanced over his shoulder at the rat-bat who sat high above them. "It seems my progeny has his own army." Peter climbed to his feet and looked down at the stake in his hand. "I'm going to need a lot more of these." Ana crouched down and glared at the rats. "We will take care of these." The rat-bat pointed one of his tiny paws at them and squeaked. The rat army lunged at the three companions. Lysander and Ana leapt forward and dove into the fray. Peter's eyes widened as he watched their blurred hands swipe at the wall of red-eyed rats. Every touch of the vampire hands caused a half dozen rats to explode into dust like the woman from the morgue. A fog of dirt sprang up from each destruction and enveloped the grassy area in its dense gray body. A screech behind him alerted Peter to danger. He spun around in time for something hard to collide with his chest. He was pushed to the ground and the air was knocked from his lungs. The force also dislodged the stake from his hand. It bounced a foot out of his reach. He coughed and looked up. His blood froze. Standing above him was the rat-bat. Its red eyes glared down at him with depth-less venom. It opened its wide mouth and revealed its sharp, white fangs in a terrible hiss. Peter's eyes flickered to the stake. If he could just reach it- The rat lunged at his exposed neck. A wild idea flashed through Peter's mind. The rat pressed its small body against his chest. He reached up and wrapped his arm around the rat, capturing it in a body-hold. The rat's basic instincts took hold, and rather than biting down it tried to squirm free. Peter kept his hold on the rodent and rolled over. He snatched the stake from the grass and brought the sharp point down on the rodent's tiny body. The wood pierced the other side and jabbed into Peter's chest. He winced, but the bat wasn't so calm. The tiny creature raised its head and opened its mouth wide. It let loose a blood-curdling scream that rang through the night air. Its body writhed and squirmed as smoke rose from the wound. The smell of scorched fur stung Peter's nostrils. He grabbed the rat and threw it off him. The rat tumbled onto the grass and ignited in a blaze of fire. Peter sat up and watched the vampire as it was consumed by its own destruction. In a few short moments the rat was nothing more than a pile of blackened ash. The remaining rats screamed and exploded into clouds of dust. Lysander straightened and glared at the ash while Ana spun around. Her eyes widened when she beheld Peter on the ground, and she rushed to his side. She grasped his shoulders and looked him over. "Are you hurt?" He sat up and shakily smiled at her. "It'd take more than a rat to hurt me." He bent forward and winced. His hand clutched the hole in his shirt. "Let me see," Ana begged him. The young vampire pulled his hand away and tore open his shirt. She furrowed her brow when she glimpsed the shallow hole in his chest. Her eyes flickered up to meet his gaze. "I'm so sorry." He blinked at her. "For what?" She bit her lip and turned her face away. "All of this is because of my family. Your friends, your trouble with the police, everything." Peter smiled and cupped her chin between his fingers. He pulled her gaze back to his. "It was worth it." He leaned forward and pressed their lips together in a soft, hesitant kiss. A sharp hiss interrupted their loving moment. Peter yelped when a hand grabbed his collar and lifted him off the ground. He was spun around to face the angered face of Lysander. "Never touch my daughter," the vampire growled. Peter shakily smiled at him and held up his hands. "It was just a kiss." Ana climbed to her feet and glared at her father. "Let him down! You know he helped us!" Lysander looked past Peter and at his daughter. "That doesn't allow him liberties with you." Ana half-turned away from him and crossed her arms over her chest. "Let him down or I'll never speak to you again." Lysander's eyebrows crashed down. His narrowed eyes flickered to Peter, who winced but managed a small smile. Lysander sneered at him, but opened his hand. Peter dropped onto the ground and stumbled backward. Ana caught his shoulders and smiled as he turned his head to look at her. "Thank you." He arched an eyebrow. "For what?" She pecked a soft kiss on his cheek. "For showing me life." Lysander pursed his lips and turned away from the scene. "We must leave. The police will soon be here." Peter's ears picked up on the faint sound of police sirens. His face fell. "And I'm in enough trouble with them." Ana grasped his hands in hers and squeezed. "With the vampire dead I'm sure all will be fixed soon." The pair of vampires transformed into their bat forms. They took off, and this time it was Ana who carried Peter. CHAPTER 21 They flew back to Peter's house and landed in the backyard. The area was empty, but a shadow flitted behind the windows in the kitchen. Peter led the way inside with Lysander at the rear. They found Roger at the spice cupboard. He turned at their coming and smiled. In one hand was a bottle of cayenne pepper and in the other was a container of black pepper. "The glorious victors have returned," he announced with a chuckle. Ana's eyes widened. "Then does that mean-?" Roger nodded. "The wounds are gone. She and the other two are free." Peter looked from Roger to Ana. "Marks?" She turned to him and smiled as she nodded her head. "Yes. When you destroyed the vampire its power was broken and the marks on its victims throats disappeared." Peter's face brightened. "That's great!" Roger arched an eyebrow and his gaze fell on Lysander. The corners of his lips twitched. "So it was the boy who destroyed my pet?" Lysander turned away and sneered. "The human was useless against its revenants." Ana froze. Her face fell as she looked over her shoulder. "Then you know?" Lysander's eyes narrowed and flickered to her. "Of course." Ana stepped in front of Peter and stretched out her arms on either side of her. "Even though you know, I still cannot let you hurt Peter." Roger clicked his tongue and shook his head. "What a commotion, especially when I'm trying to treat a patient who has lost a great deal of blood." Peter's eyes widened and he turned to Roger. The old man's back faced him as he worked with the spices. "How is she?" Roger turned around. In his hand was a glass of reddish powder, and on his lips was a sly smile. "We shall see. If you would all come with me." Roger strode into the living room. Ana grabbed Peter's hand and dragged him close behind her. Lysander frowned, but followed the group. On the couch lay Val. Her head was propped up by a pillow. Roger knelt beside her and stuck the glass under her nose. He shook the contents and a bit of the powder floated up to the rim and into her nostrils. Val's even breaking was broken by a severe choking fit. She jerked away from him and her eyes flew open. Roger stood and took a step back. "Works every time." Ana nodded at the glass. "What was it you gave her?" He grinned. "My specialty Waking Powder. I found every spicy substance in the house and mixed it together to make a potent smelling salt." Val sat up and clutched her head. "What hit me. . .?" "A hard dose of the paranormal," Roger answered her. Val lifted her head and her eyes widened as she beheld the strange faces around her. Her gaze stopped on Peter. "W-what happened?" She pointed at the pair of vampires and Roger. "Who are these people?" He sheepishly smiled. "Would you believe a vampire rat tried to make you its next victim?" She blinked at him. "A vampire. . .rat?" Roger nodded. "Yes, a creature of my own creation. It was quite a marvel to behold." Ana glared at him. "That was very irresponsible, even for you, Roger." He held up his hand and smiled. "A lesson harshly learned, Miss Ana, but all is well that ends well." Peter sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, now everything can go back to normal." Peter paused and glanced at the vampires. "Well, kind of normal." Val glanced at the company. "And they are-?" Peter winced. "Well, Roger here is a scientist, and these two-" he gestured to Ana and Lysander, "are vampires." Val arched an eyebrow and studied Ana. "Seriously?" Lysander stepped to the front of the group and caught her eyes. His deep, soothing voice filled the room. "You will remember nothing of what transpired here or at the morgue," he commanded her. Val's eyes took on a vacant expression, and she nodded. Peter looked from Val to Lysander. "Hey, wait a sec!" "Now you will sleep," Lysander ordered her. Val's eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed backward against the couch. "Val!" Peter shouted. He dropped onto the couch cushion beside her and shook her shoulders. "Val? Answer me!" He looked to Lysander and frowned. "What'd you do to her?" Lysander's eyes narrowed as he looked down at Peter. "What has to be done to protect us. We cannot let humans know we exist." Peter looked to Ana. His eyebrows crashed down and he stood to face Lysander. "So you're going to do that to me, too?" Ana stretched out her hand to her father. "Dad, please-" Her father held up his hand. She flinched. Lysander's eyes studied Peter for a moment before he spoke. "You have risked your reputation and your life for my family." He stood tall and pursed his lips. "For that I will trust you to keep our secret." Ana's eyes widened and a smile slipped onto her lips. She let out a squeal and wrapped her arms around his neck in a tight hug. "Thank you! Thank you so much!" Lysander patted her on the back. "Yes, well, we will see how long this will last." She slid off him and rolled her eyes. "Dad," she scolded. A ghost of a smile flickered across his lips. "I was only kidding, my little one." Peter looked between Ana and Lysander. "So since I helped you out is there any way you can kind of help me out with the police?" Lysander shook his head. "There is no need. With the murders stopped they will have nothing more to blame you for." Peter's shoulders slumped and he wiped his hand across his forehead. "That's a relief." Ana smiled at her father before she turned and walked up to Peter. She clasped his hands in hers and leaned toward him so her red eyes met his. "I hope you'll come to visit us very soon." Peter grinned and nodded. "Yeah, definitely." He paused and looked past her at her father. "Um, that is, if I don't have to climb any vines or outrun any hell hounds." Lysander frowned, but stiffly bowed. "You will be welcomed any time when we are awake." Peter smiled. "No problem. It's a pain trying to get back through those woods." Roger set the glass on a nearby table and clapped his hands. "The night is growing old and our fun is over. What say we go home?" Lysander's narrowed eyes flickered to him. "Once there you will destroy your other creations." Roger sighed and shrugged. "Very well." His eyes flickered to Peter. "I will destroy the animals at once." Ana stepped close to Peter and looked to her father. "May I. . .can I stay here? Just for a little while longer?" Lysander pursed his lips. "The night grows short." She nodded. "I know. I won't be long." Her father nodded. "Very well, but only for a few minutes." Roger and Lysander left the stage. Ana grasped Peter's hands and turned so they faced each other. Her face beamed with happiness. "I want to thank you again for showing me life." He grinned and squeezed her hands. "Don't thank me yet. We've just gotten started." She giggled. "And I can't wait." She stood on her tiptoes and pressed a teasing kiss on his lips. Peter pushed against her lips, but she stepped back and transformed into her bat form. Ana flew to the kitchen doorway and turned to hover in the entrance. "See you tomorrow, Peter." He waved to her. "Definitely." And with that Ana turned and flew through the kitchen. Peter followed her and stopped in the open back door to watch her black form disappear into the night. He sighed and shut the door, closing the first chapter of his nighttime adventures with his new love and her strange family.

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