Authors: Amanda Ashley
Blinking back her tears, Savanah read the letter a second time, then replaced it in the envelope. Her mother had been killed by a Vampire. Hatred was a new emotion for Savanah. She had been taught to believe that there was good in everyone. But Vampires weren't people. They were Undead creatures who existed on the life's blood of others, monsters who killed without mercy or compassion. One of them had killed her mother.
Had one of them also killed her father?
Last night, she wouldn't have believed it, but now it looked like a very real possibility.
She sat there for a time, unable to come to terms with the fact that her sweet, lovable mother had been a Vampire hunter. It seemed ludicrous to think that a woman who had taught Sunday school, loved to play hide-and-seek, and made the best chocolate-chip cookies on the planet had spent her days hunting the Undead. And yet, as impossible as it was to believe, Savanah knew in her heart that it was true.
“Savanah Gentry, Vampire hunter,” she muttered, then shook her head. Other than bothersome flies and an occasional insect, she had never killed anything in her life. She couldn't begin to imagine driving a stake into anybody's heart, dead or Undead. But then she thought of her mother being drained of blood to extend the existence of some creature of the night, and she knew there was one Vampire, at least, that she could kill without a qualm.
Curiosity drove her outside. She found a shovel in the shed out back, then walked down the red brick path that divided the yard. There were fruit trees and tomato plants on one side, grass, a covered swing and a pretty gazebo on the other. As a child, she had pretended the gazebo was a castle and she was a princess. Her dog had been a fire-breathing dragon, and her dadâ¦She blinked back her tears. Her dad had been the white knight who vanquished the dragon, then carried her away to the land of Mile High Cones for ice cream and cookies. Savanah had stopped believing in fairy tales when her mother passed away.
She found the tree she was looking for and started digging. The ground was soft and it wasn't long before the shovel hit something hard. Kneeling, she reached into the hole and pulled out a large, square metal box inscribed with her mother's initials
Savanah set it aside, filled in the hole, brushed the dirt from her knees, and then carried the box into the kitchen. Putting it on the counter, she lifted the lid. Her stomach churned as she looked at the contents: several sharp wooden stakes, a mallet, a long, heavy-bladed knife in a leather sheath, several bottles filled with what she suspected was holy water. A wooden box, its lid carved with runes and symbols, held two leather-bound books, one black, one brown. There was also a small gray velvet box that held a beautiful silver crucifix on a sturdy silver chain.
Savanah slipped the chain over her head, then picked up the books and went into the living room. Curling up in a corner of the sofa, she opened the brown book. She ran her fingertips over the words, words written by a mother she scarcely remembered, and then began to read the precise script that told how to identify a Vampire, listed the Supernatural powers they possessed, detailed how to find them, and how to destroy them.
Vampires were remarkable creatures. They could change shape or cross great distances in the blink of an eye. They could turn into mist, scale the side of a building like a spider, hypnotize a person with a look. Vampires had the ability to confuse or control a person's thoughts, and to shield their presence so as to become invisible to mortals. They had the power to control the weather; they could call animals and people to them. Their wounds, if not fatal, healed almost overnight. Silver burned their skin, as did holy water. The touch of the sun's light turned all but the very oldest to dust. They couldn't enter a home without an invitation and had to leave if that invitation was rescinded. A handy thing to know, she mused, should a Vampire ever come calling.
In reading the next few pages, Savanah learned more about destroying Vampires than she had ever wanted to know. In addition to driving a stake through their hearts, Vampires could be dispatched by severing the head from the body and burying the parts of the creature in separate graves. Fire was another sure way to destroy the Undead. Her mother recommended both staking and beheading in order to ensure that the Vampire did not rise again. A note written in one of the margins noted that the best stakes were made of ash, juniper, buckthorn, whitethorn, or hawthorn, with hawthorn being the wood of choice for most hunters.
Toward the back of the book was a list of Vampire hunters. She skimmed over the namesâAbraham Van Helsing, Pearl Jackson, Travis Jackson, Rick McGee, Edna Mae Turner, Edward Ramsey, Tommy Li, Barbara Van Helsing Gentry.
Savanah swallowed the bile that rose in her throat as she tried to imagine her sweet, gentle, cookie-baking mother indulging in such a grisly business not once, but many times.
A small section in the back of the book was devoted to Werewolves. They were harder to find than Vampires since they were able to move about in the daytime, and able to mingle with society with no one being the wiser until the full moon turned them fanged and furry. A single silver bullet to the head or the heart was the best way to kill a Werewolf. Depriving them of oxygen by strangling or suffocation was also effective, though harder to accomplish. Unlike Vampires, once dead, Werewolves did not rise again.
Putting the first book aside, Savanah picked up the second volume. It was far older than the other book. The ink was faded, the pages yellow with age. The flyleaf read:
I take pen in hand that my heirs might finish the work I have begun
and was signed
Abraham Van Helsing
Thumbing carefully through the yellowed pages, she saw that the book contained a record of known Vampires up to the time of her father's death. Columns listed the date the Vampire had been turned and, if applicable, the date it had been destroyed. There was also a place to note who had sired the Vampire, if known, as well as a place to include the name of the hunter who had destroyed it.
The first name on the list of Vampires was Mara. Beside her name was a notation declaring that she was the oldest-known Vampire in existence, and that it was believed that, due to her longevity, she had become impervious to the effect of the sun's light.
Savanah skimmed over the names of the Vampires: Gabriel, Kitana, Petrina. A Vampire named Cristophe had been killed by a Werewolf during the war. Dominic St. John was a Vampire who had killed quite a few of his own kind, then turned the woman he loved. There was a note beside the name Rayven, claiming that he had been restored to humanity. Further down, she read the name Jason Blackthorne, with the same notation. Odd, she thought. Once a Vampire, always a Vampire. Everyone knew there was no cure.
The list went on: Navarre, Alexi Kristov, Grigori Chiavari, Alessandro deAvallone, Rodrigo, Elisabeth Thorn-dyke, Khira, Zarabeth, Laslo, Joaquin Santiago, Roshan DeLongpre and his wife, Brenna. Jason Rourke, Antonio Battista, Ramon Vega. Edward Ramsey, Edna Mae Turner, Travis Jackson, and his grandmother, Pearl Jackson.
She stared at the notes written beside the last four names. It stated that Ramsey, Turner, Travis and Pearl Jackson had all been dedicated hunters before they were turned. Ramsey had been considered one of the best. His family had been in the business for over a hundred years. It gave her a funny feeling to see his name and the other three hunters added to the list of Vampires. She wondered if it happened often, that the hunter became one of the hunted. How did those who had devoted their lives to destroying Vampires reconcile with becoming one? How did anyone accept such a drastic change in his or her life?
Savanah tried to imagine herself as a Vampire, sleeping by day, hunting for prey at night, never to see the sun again, never to enjoy a turkey dinner at Christmas or a glass of eggnog on New Year's Eve, never to have children and grandchildren, or do any of the other ordinary things she took for granted.
With a sigh, she turned the page and felt her blood turn to ice. There, in neat black handwriting, she read the names Vincent Cordova, Cara DeLongpre Cordova, Raphael Cordova, Kathy Cordova.
And Rane Cordova.
She stared at the name. It couldn't be. Not her Rane. It was just a horrible coincidence that he had the same first name as a known Vampire. Sure, he was a shape-shifter, but not a Vampire. He couldn't be a Vampire. It had to be someone else. But what if it wasn't? What if he was one of them, a blood drinker, the same kind of despicable creature of the night that had killed her mother?
Even as she tried to deny it, she knew on some deep inner level that it was true. Rane was a Vampire.
It answered so many questions.
It explained so many things.
It explained everything.
Like a splash of cold water came the memory that she had let him make love to her. Let him? She had begged him! Feeling sick to her stomach, she wrapped her arms around her middle and rocked back and forth, and as she did so, she felt something stir within the very depths of her being, something that bubbled up from deep inside her soul like a purifying fountain.
And its name was vengeance.
Rane gazed at the young woman standing pliant in his arms. She was a pretty thing, in her late twenties, with blue-tipped blond hair and green eyes lined with black mascara. Her name was Brandi, and she had been on her way to meet some friends when he waylaid her. He took a deep breath, the scent of her blood arousing his hunger. He savored the anticipation for a moment, then lowered his head and drank, savoring the thick coppery taste on his tongue.
He took only enough to satisfy his hunger, then licked the wounds in the girl's throat to seal them. By tomorrow, they would be gone. He caressed her cheek, and then he released his hold on her mind and sent her on her way, none the wiser.
He was about to get into his car and head over to Savanah's place when he was overwhelmed by a rush of Supernatural power. Pivoting on his heel, he came face-to-face with the most beautiful woman he had ever known.
She stood before him like an enchanted goddess come to life. A white dress clung to her shapely form; her only adornment was a heart-shaped ruby pendant on a fine gold chain. Thick black hair fell over her slender shoulders. Her eyes were a deep, dark green and slightly slanted, like those of a cat. She had been born in Egypt, had known its most famous queen, Cleopatra. Some believed that the blood of pharaohs ran in Mara's veins, but Rane knew that was only a rumor, perhaps started by Mara herself. According to Vampire lore, she was truly immortal now, impervious to stake or silver, though a well-placed blade could still take her head. Even the sun no longer had any power over her and she walked freely in its light. It was said that whenever she grew weary of her existence, she traveled to Egypt where she rested in the earth of her homeland.
Rising on her tiptoes, she kissed his cheek. “Good evening, my handsome one.”
“What brings you here?” he asked.
She linked her arm with his. “Do I need a reason to visit my godson?”
“No, I guess not.” Mara was a law unto herself. Like Cleopatra of old, she was queen of all she surveyed.
“It's been too long since I saw you last,” she remarked, urging him to walk with her. “Too long since you've seen those you love, those who love you.”
“Did my parents ask you to check up on me?”
“No, though they are naturally worried about you.”
He took a deep breath and blew it out in a wistful sigh. “Are my parents well?”
“Yes, of course, but they miss you. Your mother worries. Your father blames himself for your absence.”
“It pains him that you've severed the blood link between you.”
“I doubt if he spends much time thinking about me.”
“Is that bitterness I hear in your voice? If you're unhappy, you've no one to blame but yourself. Go home, Rane. Go home where you belong.”
“I'm not ready.”
“What keeps you here?” Mara asked, and then, with a soft laugh, she answered her own question. “Ah, a woman, of course, The Cordova men are like wild stallions, overflowing with the juices of life.”
“Very funny,” he muttered.
“A woman,” Mara said, and it was no longer a question. She regarded him for several moments, and then shook her head. “You still have not made peace with what you are, have you? The lives you've taken still prey on your conscience after all this time.”
He didn't answer, but there was no need. She knew the truth as well as he did. He didn't kill often these days, but when he did, the guilt stayed with him, one more stain on his already-black soul. In time, the guilt faded, like everything else, but it never really went away. He remembered each of their faces, the taste of their blood, hot and sweet on his tongue, the faint sigh that always sounded like regret as they breathed their last.
“If it bothers you to take the lives of the young and vibrant, then take those who are sick and eager to go.” She smiled at him; it was a hungry, predatory smile. “Think of it as culling the herd.”
“It doesn't bother you to take a life? You never regret it?”
She stopped walking and turned to face him. “I am Vampire. It was not something I sought, nor was it bequeathed to me of my own choosing. I could have spent my existence bewailing my fate. Instead, I choose to embrace what I am. I am Nosferatu. It is my nature to hunt, to kill, just as it is yours. If peace is what you are searching for, you will never find it until you fully accept who and what you are. There is no going back, Rane. There is no magic cure. You are what you were born to be.”
“Why do you hide in the night when you can walk in the sun?” he asked, hoping to steer the conversation away from himself.
“The night was my day for many centuries,” she said with a shrug. “After all these years, there is little difference between the night and the day, save the hunting is better in the dark.” She smiled at him again, her eyes aglow. “Come now, let us go and cull the herd.”
He shook his head.
“Ah, Rane, what am I to do with you?” she asked, pouting prettily.
He looked at her and laughed. She was thousands of years old, yet she looked like a young woman trying to wheedle her father into letting her take the car. Her eyes were alight with a lust for life as she tugged on his arm.
“Come, Rane. I'm your godmother. You must do as I wish.”
He snorted softly. “Do I look like Cinderella to you?”
Her laughter spilled over him, as warm as the sun he hadn't seen in almost a hundred years.
“More like the handsome prince. You must introduce me to the princess sometime soon. Come,” she coaxed, tugging on his arm. “I'm going to Egypt on the morrow. Who knows when we shall have the chance to hunt together again?”
“Why are you going to Egypt?”
“The land calls to me. Every hundred years or so, I get homesick for the valley of the Nile. I want to bury myself in my native earth and rest a while.”
He grunted softly. Very old Vampires often went to ground to rest, sometimes for a year, sometimes for a century or more.
Resigned to doing as she wished, he allowed Mara to lead the way as she searched for prey.
After a time, they came upon a middle-aged man and woman emerging from a nightclub. Hanging on to each other, the couple staggered down the street to where they had left their car.
Mara followed them on silent feet.
Rane followed Mara. Even though he had fed earlier, his excitement escalated as the two of them closed in on the unsuspecting couple. He was a Vampire and as such, he was a predator without equal. There was no denying the thrill of the hunt, the anticipation of holding his prey captive in his embrace, the primal excitement that came with knowing that he held the power of life and death in his hands, the first taste of life's elixir sliding over his tongue.
Mara took the man as he was fumbling in his pocket for his keys.
Rane swept the woman into his arms. He silenced her startled cry with a look and a touch. Speaking to her mind, he wiped away her fear, and then he stood there a moment, gazing down at her, wishing he held another woman in his arms, a woman with hair the color of summer moonlight and eyes as blue as the sky.
Muttering an oath, he summoned Savanah's image to the forefront of his mind.
And then he lowered his head and drank.