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Here’s the set-up:

It was a flash in the moonlight, a blur of motion like I’d never witnessed before. No human had the capacity to move like that. When I found myself face-to-face with him there in the meadow, I knew without a doubt that the journal was authentic. I knew that my grandfather hadn’t been crazy at all. Because a foot away from me stood a vampire.

The Vampire’s Warden is the first novella in a series.

5-star praise from Amazon readers:

Beauty and the sexy vampire
“…pulls you into the world of the unseen from the beginning…politics, betrayal and a forbidden attraction for a vampire …an excellent read…”

“This book left me wanting more! And the vamp? Omg… the epitome of male sexyness. This book had me crushing on him HARD. Totally a hottie for sure!”

an excerpt fromThe Vampire’s Warden

by S. J. Wright


Copyright © 2014 by S. J. Wright and published here with her permission

Chapter One

“Your mother is still alive.”

He was joking.  It had to be a joke.  My mother had been dead for fourteen years.  She had died when I was just a little girl.  It was impossible.  However, Dr. Chester Fleming was not the kind of person to make up such a lie.  He was a typically stoic, grey-haired country doctor who had seen the worst things that life and death had to offer.

“Dr. Fleming, that can’t be right.”  My voice sounded strangely hollow, like the voice of a timid stranger.  I am anything but timid.  Those who know me well have described me as courageous.  Those who do not know me well and have witnessed one of my notorious outbursts of temper refer to me to as “that crazy Sarah Wood.”  At that moment, however, I felt as if I’d entered an alternate reality; some foreign landscape in which I was transformed into a mere shadow of the strong, determined woman I had become.

With those five little words, the doctor had ripped away a portion of the wall I had been building around myself since my father died.

The doctor looked up at me and shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, Sarah.  Your father told me just a few minutes before he passed.”

“That was three months ago.”  I replied.

“I had to get more information before I came to you with this, honey.  I wanted to be able to give you an address and her full name.”  He hesitated at that part, slid his glasses into the front pocket of his white shirt and shook his head again. “She’s been harder to track down than I first thought.”

“Track down?”  I couldn’t seem to catch up.

“She’s been in California for the last six years or so.”

A bitter lump had begun to form inside my chest and I pressed one hand against it, feeling the rapid beat of my heart underneath my cotton blouse.  No, no.  That could not be right.  She was dead.  If what the doctor was saying were true, then that would mean she had left on purpose all those years ago.  That would mean she left to find something better.  That meant that the two beautiful little girls she had given birth to had not meant anything to her.  Nor the husband who had provided her with every comfort he possibly could.

“Your father wanted to tell you everything himself, but he didn’t want his last days with you to be ruined by buried secrets.  He told me to give you this.”  He held out a small book, bound by fine brown leather and wrapped with a black cord of rawhide.

I did not take it.  After a long silence, he put the book on the table next to me and rose from his seat.

“I’m real sorry, Sarah.”

I heard the front screen door open and close again with a squeak and then his footsteps treading across the front porch and down the stairs.  The engine of his battered Pontiac roared to life.  I concentrated on the steady ticking of my father’s old wind-up clock that sat on the stone mantle of the fireplace.  Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.

A resounding crash and the splintering of glass from the kitchen startled me, pulling me back to the present with a wrenching clarity.  I heard Nelly’s quiet curse of frustration and then. “Sarah!  I need a little help here.”

I reluctantly picked up the journal and headed into the kitchen, where I found that a large glass pitcher had shattered on the floor.  When I went into the pantry to get the broom and dustpan, I shoved the journal into the big pocket inside my denim jacket hanging on a peg outside the pantry door.

I would try to read some of it later, I told myself.  Nevertheless, I was supposed to be running a business and there was no time to be sitting around feeling sorry for myself.  Or feeling abandoned by a mother or betrayed by a father’s lies.  The tears might come later.  However, there was too much to do.  With an enormous force of will, I held my head up and pushed my shoulders back.  The journal could wait.

I had just finished folding a load of towels when I heard a commotion going on out back.  It was growing very late.  Normally, I would lock the doors, turn out the lights, and head up to bed by eleven at night.  However, our only guests, a New York couple by the name of Greg and Maggie Purser had invited over a few acquaintances for dinner.  They had all lingered after dessert, the men smoking cigars on the front porch and the women gossiping over coffee.  I reluctantly tackled folding the towels to wait them out.  Nelly had offered to stay up and help, but I insisted she head up to bed.

Nelly had worked for our family for nearly twenty years.  Although technically not related by blood, Katie and I had always considered her an aunt, and deserving of the same warmth and consideration as a member of the family.  She was a cheerful and pleasant woman, rather thick about the waist but with a pair of merry blue eyes that never failed to charm the most morose of the Inn’s guests.  She was a welcome companion in the kitchen, could bake the most wonderful pies, and her quiches were to die for.

She was the one who had brought up my younger sister, Katie, and me.  When I fell off the back of our old horse, she was there with a comforting smile, a hug, and a rag to clean the mud off my arms and hands.  She was there at night to read to us from our favorite books and press goodnight kisses on our weary young brows.

Even at five years old, she had me eagerly fetching things for Dad, digging up potatoes from our garden, or snapping peas.  As we grew older and bigger, she taught us both the more difficult chores we would be expected to do around the inn.  She was patient and kind throughout our lessons and was the glue that held our routine together.  It only took a meaningful glance at one of us and a jerk of her head toward the dining room to remind us that we had guests who needed tending.  This was often effective when Katie and I were fussing at each other.

I heard an odd noise from the back of the house and a mild expletive.  That was the voice of Joe Trotter, the long-time handyman at the Inn.  He had worked for our family for generations.  I often wondered how such a cranky, grizzled old man could still do such backbreaking manual labor after all those years.  Though I was known to have a terrible temper, my childhood fear of “Crazy Joe” was still fresh in my mind and that helped me keep my claws sheathed anytime that Joe was anywhere nearby.  Joe had a history of berating anyone he considered “fool-hardy” with a barrage of colorful insults that was sure to offend just about anyone.

“Sarah, I need some help!”  He called from the back porch, wrenching me away from my memories.

I hurried to the screen door and found Joe holding a bloody rag to the head of a stranger who was lying very still just outside the door.  It was a young man with beautiful golden hair and a chalky white skin tone.  He wore a simple brown short-sleeved T-shirt, a pair of faded, dirty blue jeans with a hole in one knee and a pair of scuffed brown work boots.  His eyes were closed and his lashes swept low over his high cheekbones.

“What happened?”  I knelt beside Joe and took the rag from him to examine the wound.

“I’m not sure.  Found him by the road a few minutes ago when I was headed home.  I hauled him up here in the back of my Dodge.”  Joe shot a thick dark wad of tobacco juice over the railing of the porch.  I chose to ignore the rude gesture, and the old man took out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “He ain’t said a word yet.”

“His head doesn’t look that bad, but we’d better call Dr. Fleming and have him come take a look.”  I said quietly, covering the shallow scalp cut again with the rag and looking down at the stranger doubtfully. “First help me bring him in, Joe.  We’ll put him in the den for now.”

Between the two of us, we managed to get him into the house, though I struggled mightily with my half of the load.  After helping Joe get him onto the den sofa, I hesitantly woke Nelly and explained the situation.  Before long, the older woman was out of bed, wrapped in a faded red robe and taking control, dealing out quick orders that were followed by both Joe and I.  The young man was placed comfortably on the overstuffed plaid sofa in the den with clean bedding covered him.

We tended to the stranger’s wound as best we could and waited for Dr. Fleming.  Nelly agreed that the cut did not look serious and headed into the kitchen to get some clean bandages and antiseptic.  I sat on the edge of the sofa, studying the young man, who was still inert and unresponsive.

The golden locks of hair that fell across his forehead looked soft and silky.  His face was pleasant, but uncommonly pale.  The bone structure was nearly perfect in its symmetry, but the three-day’s worth of beard proclaimed his male essence clearly.  His body was well formed and I imagined him to be somewhere around twenty years old.  I noticed that he seemed unusually thin.  I called out to Nelly, asking her to heat up some broth for him.  I hoped that he would awaken and be able to eat something.

When I leaned forward to check his wound again, my arm brushed against his bare shoulder and I paused as some strange fog descended over me.  A heavy crushing weight seemed to be pulling me down, dragging me suddenly to a bone-chilling halt.  The room seemed to be growing darker.  My chest tightened and hazy haunting images rose up before me.  These figures were pure pain, a collection of tortured, hopeless souls.  The fright sparked by these entities was something new to me and I cringed back in horror.

They were calling me in hopeless, dreary tones.  Calling my name and pointing at some distant scene that was somehow familiar to me, even through the panic and fear that seemed to consume me from within my own heart.  The moaning echoed around me, pinning me down, and holding me fast while my eyes desperately sought out some escape.

Then I saw it.  A field of green, one lone oak tree, several huge boulders, and a fast-moving stream of clear water became solid things in this vision.  I focused on it, trying to push my fears behind me as the field became clear.  I knew every little facet of the meadow.  I knew that Canadian geese liked to congregate at the edge of the stream in the early fall.  I knew that the leaves of that tree turned an incredible shade of gold in late September.  I knew that the three huge boulders had strange symbols on them that you could only see if you climbed to the top of each one.  I knew this place so well.

It was the north meadow and had been my favorite place when I was a child.  Situated about a half mile from the main guesthouse of the inn, it totaled about seven acres.  It had been a wonderful place for me as a child.  I had climbed that tree.  I had waded in that stream and struggled mightily to the top of each of those strange rocks.  I had puzzled over the meaning of the symbols engraved on them.  I had curled up under that tree to read my favorite books and play with my doll.

When the vision finally released me, I found myself on the floor in the den.  A pair of startling green eyes was staring down into my face, and a set of manly fingers was cupping my chin.  The warmth of that contact was disconcerting, sending waves of pulsing heat through my face, neck, and arms.  I flushed and forced my eyes away from him.

“Are you alright?”  He asked, completely unaware of the effect he was having on me.

“I’m…”  Sitting up made me dizzy and unable to finish my sentence, but I had to move.  I struggled to get back my equilibrium and groaned when Nelly came rushing in, fussing about me being on the floor and the young man being up at all.

“What in the world happened?  Get yourself back onto that sofa, young man!  What are you thinking?”

I rose unsteadily and held onto the edge of the square oak coffee table that sat before the sofa.  The stranger had retreated, climbing slowly back onto the sofa with a hand pressed to his head wound.

“You sure you’re okay?”  He asked. “I’m Alex, by the way.”

“Alex, it’s nice to meet you.”  My head had started to clear a little and I tried to busy myself with straightening the blankets covering him. “I’m Sarah.”

Nelly shook her head and checked Alex’s head to see if it had started bleeding again.  Satisfied, she tucked the covers up around his shoulders and crossed her arms. “Young man, if you get up off that sofa again before Dr. Fleming gets here, I’ll take a switch to you.  Head injuries can be very serious.”

I stifled a little giggle.  Nelly wouldn’t know a switch from a pool cue.  Her sole source of disciplinary action had been to smack our hands, and that was only done when the offense was an extreme one.

“You understand me?  Is your hearing alright?”  Nelly demanded.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She shook her head again and motioned me out of the room before her with a waving hand. “Come on now, missy.  To bed with you, too.  It’s late.”

“But Dr. Fleming will be here soon.”  I protested, feeling like a little whining kid.

“And he certainly won’t want you wearing yourself out.  So go to bed and you can talk to our guest in the morning.”  She said, guiding me up the stairs and then down the hall to my room. “I’ll make sure that the Pursers get settled in for the night and lock everything up.”

She hesitated at my bedroom door and gave me a curious look. “What happened in there?”

“I’m not sure.”

She followed me into my room and sat down at my dressing table while I rummaged around for a pair of pajamas in my antique oak dresser.  I did not want to remember the vision.  It wasn’t just scary.  It was terrifying.  Were those ghosts?  Why did I see such an awful thing?  I could not keep their cries from coming back to me, echoing through my head, and making my heart race.

I looked at myself in the polished mirror over the dresser.  There was some indefinable difference there somewhere.  My eyes were usually a pale blue shade, but as I looked at myself then, they were bright with fear and confusion.  I wondered what Alex had thought of me, this strange young woman collapsing in front of him.  I probably looked like an idiot.  Looking in the mirror, I felt a little better that I had been lucky enough to be blessed with long dark eyelashes and somewhat decent eyebrows that matched my light brown hair.  My hair fell to the middle of my back when I left it down, which wasn’t often because the weight of it was always ridiculously hot on my neck when I was cleaning or doing laundry.

“You going to be okay?”  Nelly asked, her kind eyes watching me with concern.

I felt my hands tremble slightly as I said. “When Dr. Fleming was here earlier, and he told me something surprising.”

“What was that?”  I noticed the tiny flinch of surprise in her reflection in the mirror as she spoke.  My breath caught painfully in my throat as I realized that she might have known about my mother all this time.  All those long years, she knew that my mother was alive.  She too had said nothing.

It was too much.  Above nearly everyone else in my life, I had trusted Nelly.  Desperate to maintain control of the emotional riptide pouring through me, I shrugged and pulled out a pair of soft cotton pajamas with little moons and stars printed on them. “He left me a journal.  I haven’t read any of it yet.”

After a few quiet moments, she came and pressed a gentle kiss on my cheek.  I barely noticed the fact that her fingers were trembling as she went to the door with a frown on her face. “You get some rest.  We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Okay.  Goodnight.”  She closed the door behind her and I turned back to the mirror.

My mind raced back to my conversation with Dr. Fleming and the pressure in the center of me grew heavier.  My throat ached as I remembered my mother.  I did not understand how a person could leave her own children on purpose.  A Mom was supposed to stick by her kids no matter what happened.  For so long, I had believed that she had been parted from me by death.  Now I knew it was something far worse.  She had chosen to leave Dad and us girls.  She made the choice to abandon us and had not tried to contact us in fourteen years.

Something broke apart inside me.  It felt like a huge chasm had opened up and I was drowning in darkness.  My father had passed away only a few months after he announced to Katie and I that he had cancer.  I remembered every inflection in his rapid speech and every nervous hand gesture as if it had happened only a few moments ago.  The fear that had been etched on his face on that bleak gray morning in late August was not the fear of a man facing death.  It was a combination of humiliation and terror that was directly connected to how my sister and I would handle the news.

It was a completely natural instinct that drove Katie to overlook our father’s rather late notice of his coming death and provide a wealth of comfort and kind words to try to counter the guilt that seemed to seep out of him.

As for myself, I had taken the news as a kind of betrayal.  With Katie’s education already well on its way to bringing her the career of her dreams, I had remained at the Inn without a choice for a different vocation.  He had always expected me to follow behind him, to continue to run things.  He never ventured to ask if there might be something else I would like to do with my life.

When the three of us met with his oncologist to get a more complete view of his prognosis, I did not shed a tear.  I asked all the right questions and wrote down the answers meticulously in a little black notebook I had bought for just that occasion.  While Dad and Katie held hands and cried bitter, useless tears, I grilled the doctor about chemotherapy and radiation treatments and any tiny detail that would keep me focused.

My sister had commented later that I seemed strangely aloof about the whole situation, to which I replied scornfully. “I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve for the world to see.  So sue me.”

Two months later, he died in a hospice facility on the north side of Indianapolis.

Standing in my room three short months after his death, I finally let go.  Tears slid down my cheeks as I recalled his last breath.  The sobs did not fully erupt until after I had settled down into my bed with my head on my pillow.  I tried to keep them muffled so Nelly would not hear and come to check on me.  I didn’t want anyone to see me like this.  I felt like I had been broken into a dozen pieces.  And I did not know how to put them back together.

Chapter Two

Sleep did not come easily that night.  The aching pressure in my chest lightened only slightly after all the crying.  I kept thinking about my father and wondered if things might have been different had he opted for the chemo that the doctors had recommended.  I also thought about Nelly and wondered how she could have deceived me for all those years.  They had both known my mother was alive and never told me.  I tossed around for an hour or so.  Once, I thought I heard Dr. Fleming’s familiar voice in the hall, but I did not want to leave my room and have everyone see the condition I was in.

When my alarm went off at six, the sun was still two hours from coming up and I had probably only logged about two hours of sleep.  However, I had to check on Alex, get the coffee started, and head up to the large guest cabin to get it ready for a family group coming in the afternoon.  I wanted to avoid Nelly if possible.  Knowing the truth, I did not see how I could face her.

I checked my cell phone and found a text message from my sister.

Dr. Fleming was here yesterday.  What the hell is going on?  Call me ASAP.

How much had he told her?  Did she know about Mom being alive?  I dialed her number.

“You must have got my text.”  She answered groggily, obviously not through her first cup of coffee yet.

“Yeah.  How’re your classes going?”  I tried to sound nonchalant but knew it was not going to work.  Katie knew me better than anybody did.  Even though she had been taking classes at Purdue University for two years, we still kept in daily contact by text, phone, e-mail or all three.  She had started coming home more often on the weekends after Dad’s death.  In addition, as a sister should, she always knew when something was wrong with me.

“Screw my classes!  What the hell is going on?  Dr. Fleming came all the way out here yesterday and said that Dad left you a journal.”  Her impatience was volatile and I could hear the frustration in her every word.

“Yes.  Did he say anything else?”

“Only that there were things that you and I needed to talk about and it had to do with our mother.”

This was not a conversation I wanted to have over the phone with her.  I did not want to say anything until I’d looked through the journal but opening it scared the hell out of me.  It was sitting on my nightstand as I talked to Katie and I was not about to get into it with her on the phone.

“Listen, I have one early class I can’t miss on Friday.  I’m driving down there right after that, okay?”  She said.

“That would probably be a good idea, but I don’t want to mess up any plans you might have.”

She hesitated for a minute then continued in a softer voice. “This is serious, isn’t it?  Are you okay, Sarah?”

I felt a sob trying to make its way through my voice.  I tried like hell to get it under control.

“We’ll talk when you get here.  I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

After a quick shower, I braided my hair, pulled on a pair of faded Levi’s and a hoodie, and went down the hall to check on Alex.  When I knocked lightly, there was no answer at first.  Then the door opened and I saw that Alex was not just up, but dressed as well.  There was a small bandage at his temple, covering the cut that Nelly and I had tended to last night, but other than that, he looked fine.  Better than fine, actually.

He had put on an old pair of my Dad’s jeans and a dark gray sweater that my Aunt Lillian had knitted for my Dad years ago that he’d never actually worn.  His blond hair was still damp from his shower and it fell over his brow in golden waves.  He grinned at me sheepishly, showing an adorable dimple in one cheek.

“Thanks for your help last night.”

“You’re welcome.”  I went to the bed and began taking the sheets off it, trying not to feel his eyes on me.  There were so many questions I wanted to ask him about himself but I could not seem to find the nerve to get that personal with him.  It did not seem like a good idea at all.

“Do I make you nervous or something?”  His question sounded sincere instead of teasing.

“A little, I guess.”  I folded up the blanket and duvet and put them on the padded bench at the end of the bed. “How did you end up out here?  We’re not exactly close to town or anything.”

His green eyes grew serious suddenly and I felt my heartbeat speed up.

“I’m here because of you, Sarah.”

I suddenly went very still.  Inside, my mind began buzzing with a million little frightening thoughts.  He was crazy.  He was a stalker.  He was going to kill me.  I covered my face with my hands, trying to slow down the insistent warnings screaming at me.

“What are you talking about?”  I murmured shakily.

He sat on the bare mattress, regarding me with eyes full of apology and concern. “This is going to be hard for you to hear.  But your mother sent me here.”

No.  No.  This last thing was too much.  I wanted to be far away from him at that moment.  I wanted everything around me to disappear because even the word “mother” sent shivers of agony down my spine.  Tears began to blur my vision but I managed to wipe away the moisture before it went rolling down my cheeks.

“I don’t know my mother.”  I choked out. “And I want you to leave here.  Now.”

I left the bedroom, slamming the door behind me with a bang and not looking back.  That did not just happen, I told myself.  It was all a huge mistake and he is talking to the wrong person.  He didn’t know what he was talking about.  He did not know anything about my family.  He certainly could not know my mother.  There was no way.

I bumped into Nelly, who was carrying a pile of towels toward the huge linen closet near the top of the stairs.  The towels scattered onto the floor.

“Sorry, Nelly.”  I didn’t bother helping her pick anything up.  I had to get out of there.

I left the main guesthouse, walked around to the side of the property and headed down the wooded lane in the direction of the meadow.  By then, the tears were streaming down my cheeks and leaving cold wet trails of moisture across my face as I navigated my way down the grassy lane.  The tall grass on either side of the lane sparkled with morning dew.  I heard the robins in the oaks along the lane waking and chirping in their typically optimistic tones.

I stopped when I came to the horse pasture.  Lenny, the huge chestnut carriage horse was snapping at the yellowing grasses with his big teeth and taking small amounts into his mouth.  His jaw was working to chew while his lips and nose searched for more.  Occasionally, his long tail would snap this way and that, batting at a fly on his hindquarters.  He paid me no attention.

His pasture mate, the smaller black mare called Messenger had noticed my arrival and stared at me as I stood there near the fence.  She glanced half-heartedly over at Lenny and then slowly began to walk over to me, her beautiful black hide gleaming in the early morning sun and her velvety soft ears pricked curiously in my direction.

As usual, she stopped about five feet from the fence and just looked at me.

There was some kind of connection between Messenger and me.  She had arrived three months ago after my father had seen her at a horse auction in Greenville and insisted on buying her.  For the most part, she had spent all her time with us grazing and bullying Lenny in the pasture, although her previous owner had claimed she had been very well trained and an excellent mount for a young lady.

The connection we had was not about how well she moved under saddle.  I had never actually ridden her.  There had been many times in the past when I had pulled myself up onto Lenny’s back and ridden him around the pasture or even went trail riding with friends from high school.  I knew horses.  I was comfortable working around them.

However, one afternoon during my first (and last) semester of business college, I tried to ride Lenny and found that I could not do it.  I was petrified.  The fear had very little to do with him.  He was a big baby who would not throw anyone.  Nevertheless, the idea of being up on his huge back and me possibly falling scared the hell out of me.  After walking around on him for just a minute or so, I realized I didn’t have the guts to push him into a faster gait.

When I slid down off his back that afternoon, I realized that something inside me had changed.  The carefree girl that I had been was gone.  Maybe forever.  Instead of fighting it by getting back up on that old draft horse and making him gallop faster than ever before, I pulled the bride and saddle off him and trudged back up to the barn with a different attitude.

Responsibility had reared its ugly head and I began to throw myself into the routine workings of the Inn.  At least I had the guts to handle that.  Cleaning toilets, doing laundry, changing sheets, dusting, taking reservations over the phone, greeting guests, and pouring coffee became my lot in life.  I never tried to ride Lenny again.

When Messenger first arrived, my Dad encouraged me repeatedly to take her for a ride and enjoy myself.  She was mine, he had insisted.  My own horse.  I did love her.  After I had finished my work for the day, I would bring her into the old red barn and brush her.  I would run the brush over her sloped shoulders and along her spine, watching the dust and dander dance in the light of the late afternoon sunshine.  I would talk to her for hours about everything I could not tell anyone else.  I brought her chopped up carrots, apples, and celery and would come back in the back door of the house later with horse slobber all over my hands and a big smile on my face.

I never did try to ride her.

Deliberately trying to pull myself back to the present, I grasped the top board of the sun-faded fence and took a couple of deep breaths.  I was going to be okay.  Everything would be just fine.  My Dad would have wanted me to be strong.  Strong enough to move forward, keep the Inn operating and maybe even growing.  He had counted on me to be strong.

A plaintive whine and a paw on my leg drew my attention down to my side.  Sadie, our Golden Retriever met my look with soulful brown eyes and a slow wag of her wavy tail.  She was worried.  Although she was primarily an outside pet, Sadie would occasionally be invited inside the house if all of the guests were dog friendly and had no allergies.

I stroked her head and leaned down to give her a hug. “I’ll be okay, girl.  Things are just a little weird right now.”

“She’s concerned about you.”

I looked up and found Alex leaning against the fence a few feet down.  I jumped back in surprise.  Sadie turned toward the stranger and paused, tilting her head slightly.

Alex kneeled down to her level and smiled. “Hey beautiful.”

That was it for Sadie.  Her tail whipped back and forth and she hurtled herself into Alex with her tongue hanging out and a huge dog grin on her face.  She knocked him to the ground, covered his clean shirt with dirty paw prints and his face with slobbery dog kisses.  He took all this canine attention gracefully—as gracefully as one can while on the ground—and laughed softly.

“Sadie!  Enough.”  I told her sternly.  All I wanted was for this guy to disappear.  The fact that my dog was crazy about him did not change my opinion.  I turned away from them both and headed back to the main guesthouse.  I could try to bond with Messenger later.  Getting away from Alex was my top priority at the moment.

“Hey, wait up.”  I heard Alex jogging up behind me and Sadie’s happy panting following closely behind.

“You need to leave.  This isn’t a halfway house.”  I told him without hesitation.

The main house loomed ahead of me, looking serene and peaceful in the morning light.  The wide front porch, dotted here and there with potted plants and rocking chairs was otherwise empty.  The shortly cut lawn and half circle driveway were still wet with morning dew.  I realized that it would only be a few short weeks before the leaves began to change and eventually fall, covering everything in brilliant gold, red, and brown leaves.  The smell of wood smoke would be in the air.  Families would gather around the fire pit in the back garden roasting marshmallows and hot dogs.

I paused for a moment, thinking of all the preparation needed for the busy fall season ahead.  However, I could not concentrate on it at all.  I felt like I was standing on the edge of some gigantic crevice, staring down into darkness full of unknown terrors.  Fear made me freeze where I was.  I wondered vaguely if I was having some kind of a panic attack.

“Sarah?”  Alex stood next to me on the wet grass, his amazing eyes fixed on my face.

I couldn’t look away from him.  He held some secret knowledge that was about to change my life forever, but I was sure I did not want to hear any of it.  Escape seemed completely impossible.  This was my fate, staring me in the face with earnest apology.

“Your mother sent me.”  He searched my face for some sign of acceptance. “I met her in California, and she sent me here to help you.”

To help me?  I shook my head.  No way.  She wanted to help me now?  Denial was burning a path through my veins, churning and melting me inside.  I clenched my fists at my sides and then folded my arms over my middle.

“There’s a lot more you need to know.”  Alex’s voice felt warm to my ears, but the rest of me felt cold.  I wanted to curl up somewhere and just forget everything that had happened over the past month.  My Dad passing away, the doctor’s heart-wrenching news about my mother, the journal.  I desperately wanted to go back in time to my old life.

He looked around, taking in the quiet scene before us and smiled slightly. “How about we find you somewhere to sit down and I’ll bring us out some coffee, okay?  You need to calm down a bit, right?”

I nodded stiffly. “Yeah.”

“No problem.  Nelly’s in the kitchen getting breakfast started and I’ve already got her wrapped around my little finger,” He teased, trying to lighten up the conversation.  He flashed me a smile, complete with those adorable dimples before heading up to the front steps.

Sadie remained with me, looking after Alex adoringly, but obviously reluctant to leave me when she knew I was so upset.  I scratched her behind her ears then went up onto the front porch.  I found my favorite rocking chair and curled my legs up under me as I sat down.  Sadie settled herself as close to me as possible, her big head resting on my legs and her eyes fixed on me worriedly.

I could not begin to understand why all this was happening.  It was like a tidal wave of darkness, pulling me under murky waters.  The emotions of the past few weeks were twisting inside of me, yanking me in many directions.

Nervously twirling a lock of my hair around my finger, I thought about Alex.  Aside from the fact that he was completely gorgeous, he also seemed to be a polite sort.  However, there was probably a dark side to him somewhere behind those striking green eyes and chiseled features.

I heard the screen door open and close as Alex came out with two steaming mugs of Nelly’s famous coffee.  He must have checked with her to see how I liked it because it had plenty of cream in it.  I took a deep sip, feeling its warmth soak through me slowly.

“Sarah, I know this has been a rough time for you.  Losing your Dad must have been devastating.”

I shook my head. “Look, we don’t even know each other.”

He settled himself into the rocking chair beside mine and leaned forward. “I know.  I understand that.  But I know a lot more about you than you might imagine.”

“From my mother?  You’re right.  I do find that hard to imagine, since she’s been away for fourteen years.”  It was impossible to keep the bitter tone from my voice.

“There was a very good reason she had to leave.”

I really did not want to talk about it.  I tried to shut him out, to concentrate on the starkly red cardinal hopping around in the fir trees that surrounded the driveway.  Anything else would be preferable to hearing about her.  The sunlight was beginning to sketch shorter shadows across the freshly swept porch and I wondered if I would even have time to clean the big cabin before the new guests arrived.

“Look at me.”  Alex had abandoned his coffee mug on the windowsill near our chairs and was kneeling in front of me.  His stare was penetrating and harsh in the morning light.  The planes of his face were hard with determination.  He was not about to let me off the hook.

“Your mother isn’t perfect.  She probably would not have been a good Mom to you even if circumstances had allowed her to stay.  But she sent me here because you need help.  You have a role to play.”

“I don’t…”

“Let me say what I need to say.  Please.”  His expression softened somewhat in reaction to my confusion.

I set my coffee mug down next to his and crossed my arms. “Fine.”

He inhaled deeply and lowered his head for a moment.  It was just a slight hesitation, but he looked vulnerable for a moment.  Almost like a little boy who wasn’t sure what he was doing, and I felt something trip inside me.  My heart warmed a little at that image and I found myself wanting to soothe him somehow.  I tried to harden myself against it, but the way his silky hair traced the edge of his jaw and the momentary slump of his shoulders drew me in.

Before I realized what I was doing, my hand was reaching out, and I slid my fingers through the strands of his golden hair to touch his cheek.  The contact immediately brought images into my mind that seemed so oddly familiar that I did not pull away.  Instead of ghoulish shadowy figures that frightened me, I saw a woman dressed in a faded cotton dress sitting in the middle of a field.  Her eyes were trained on a huge boulder across the field as if she were waiting for something.  Her hair had been left loose, its ebony tresses sweeping back wildly in the wind.  Then something changed.  Incredibly, the huge rock began to move to one side, sliding almost soundlessly across the grass.  The woman stood and her face lit with intense excitement.

The vision ended abruptly.  Alex had moved away from me to the very edge of the porch, surprise evident in the contours of his beautiful face.  I had frightened him somehow.

“Don’t do that, Sarah.”  Even his voice was edged with fear, nearly cracking in emotional turmoil.

“Last night, when I brushed against you…”

“Yes, it happened then too.  I know.”

Obviously, some kind of weird connection was happening between Alex and I that was beyond my understanding.  However, I had a feeling he knew exactly what was sparking these visions.

“Alex, what is going on?”

He pressed his hands against his face and took a deep breath. “I didn’t know it was going to feel like that.  She didn’t warn me.”

“My mother?”

“Yes.”  He moved slowly back to the rocking chair he had been sitting in before and collapsed into it. “She said that we both might have an odd reaction if we touched.  I had no idea it would be that powerful.”  With effort, he drew himself back up. “But that isn’t even important right now.  Sarah, do you have the journal?”  His eyes were fixed on me again.

How could he know about that?  Had my mother known about the journal too?

I hesitated for a moment. “Yes, I have it.  Upstairs.”

“You haven’t read any of it yet?”

“No.  I wasn’t ready to deal…”  I felt the tears starting to burn in my eyes again and decided to stop talking before I started spouting like Niagara Falls.  Rational thinking seemed like such a lofty goal at that point.  What else could go wrong?

He sighed and picked up his mug from the windowsill. “Before I say anything else about your mother, I’m going to suggest that you read some of the journal.  I don’t want to upset you.  But I hope you decide to let me stay.  I’m supposed to be here to answer your questions and help you with this stuff, Sarah.”

I wrapped my arms more tightly around myself. “We have a small cabin over by the creek.  We have been working on renovating it.  If you want to stay there, you can.”


I fixed my eyes on him in steady determination. “But I’m not entirely comfortable with this.  Why didn’t she just come herself to help me?”

His eyes were full of patient tolerance, the depths of them dark with some long held emotion. “Just read the journal.  It will put everything into perspective.”

It was worked out between Nelly and Joe.  Alex would help Joe put a new roof on the big family lodge and take care of the horses in exchange for staying in the little creek cabin.  I tried to stay out of it as much as possible.  They knew I had approved of Alex staying and that was pretty much all that either of them needed to know.  I was not about to tell them that he knew my mother.  I felt strange being around Nelly then; knowing that she’d withheld the information about my mother being alive.  Everything felt so wrong.

Alex fit into the daily operation of the Woodhaven Inn as if he had been here for years.  He had completely charmed Nelly.  He seemed to know exactly how to respond to her numerous questions about his past in a way that was both teasing and yet unrevealing.  He would turn her simple inquiries into a joke and have us all laughing before we realized he had not actually answered the question.  I was not immune to his charms either, but his purpose here still disturbed me.

Later that day, I decided to head into town.  I needed a change of scenery and I had not seen most of my local friends since Dad’s funeral.  As I drove down Main Street, the familiar trees, fences and houses I passed gave me a sense of warmth and well being that I’d needed for a while.  I pulled up in front of Roxanne’s Diner and parked between a beaten-up old green pickup truck and a shiny new minivan.

The bell over the door rang brightly when I came in.  I took in the familiar worn vinyl seats of the booths by the window and the myriad of eclectic art with a smile.  I had missed this place.  The owners, Roxanne and Mike Powers, had bought the place when I was still in junior high.  Katie and I used to come in after school with our friends to hang out, flirt with the busboys, and catch up on the local happenings.

Roxanne was a tiny little thing.  She probably weighed no more than ninety pounds soaking wet.  She had platinum blond hair that she always had twisted up into a bun.  She always wore brightly colored tights, ridiculously high heels and a tight fitting black shirt.  Anyone who did not know her would probably gauge her as being somewhere around forty years old.  However, we locals knew she was closer to sixty.

She had grown up in Tennessee and brought her southern accent and values with her to Indiana.  She had married Mike in her hometown, and they had decided to open up a restaurant after visiting Brown County during their honeymoon.  They had had a bit of a rough start, losing two babies to miscarriages.  Roxanne never did have any kids of her own, so she treated most of the local kids as if they were her own when they came into the diner.

Mike was a different story altogether.  From what I had heard over the years, Mike had quite a checkered past before he had married Roxanne, including two arrests for public intoxication and one conviction on breaking and entering.  He was also huge.  Mike stood 6’5” and had the girth of a keg of beer.  As far as temperament, he was the opposite of his wife in that as well.  It was a good thing he was kept in the back cooking most of the time because the swearing and sarcastic comments that came out of his mouth would have put off the majority of tourists that came into town.

I made my way to my favorite booth and settled in, waving to a few locals I had not seen in awhile.  I tried to ignore their curious glances and whispers.  Everybody in town knew about my Dad’s death.  They also knew I was running the Inn on my own now and I was certain they were discussing my possible failure as a new business owner.  I suppressed the urge to glare at them and tried to smile.

“Oh my Lord, look who’s here!”  Roxanne came tottering over on her high heels and leaned over to give me a quick hug. “Sweetie, how have you been?”  She studied my face quickly and patted my cheek.  I got a brief whiff of her citrus-scented body spray before she pulled away and smiled.

“I’m hanging in there.”

“Oh, honey.  I feel just horrible about your Daddy passing on.  Are you holding up alright?”

I nodded quickly.  Too quickly.  I tried to paste a real smile on my face. “We’re getting along.  You got any of that super strong coffee back there?”  I turned over my coffee cup and set it back on the saucer, trying to keep a grip on my emotions.  Facing my old friends was not something I had been looking forward to at all, but it had to be done eventually.  All the drama out at the Inn had been getting to me and I had hoped that a trip to town would help me calm down a little.

“Mike!  Come out here!  Sarah’s back!”  Roxanne hollered in the direction of the kitchen.

“I’m coming’,” He replied roughly from the kitchen.  He came around through the swinging saloon-style doors and strolled up to my booth. “Well, I’ll be God damned.”

“You certainly will if you keep on with that kind of talk,” his wife replied crisply.

“How you doin’, girl?  We started wondering if you would ever leave that damn farm.”  He addressed me with his typically grumpy half frown and leaned against the edge of the opposite booth with his big bulging arms crossed.

I shook my head and smiled. “I’m not going to be a shut-in, you guys.  I’m going to try to come into town more often.  I promise.”

“I’m going to hold you to that, honey.”  Roxanne replied. “I’ll be right back with that coffee.”

Mike shuffled back to the kitchen after giving me a quick and rather awkward pat on the back.  I ducked my head in embarrassment because it was completely out of the norm for him to show any affection to anybody except for his wife.  When Roxanne came back, she filled my cup without spilling a drop.

“You want your usual, honey?”

“You know it.  I’ve missed Mike’s BLT’s,” I answered, my mouth already watering at the thought of crispy bacon.

“Sure thing, hon.”

I heard the bell over the door ring and nearly spilled my coffee in my lap when I saw who had just walked in.  Holy crap, I thought.  Not now.  Not here.  I thought about sliding down in the booth to hide, but it seemed pointless.  He had already seen me.  Wonderful.

“Well, well.  Sarah Wood.”

The man standing before me was all too familiar.  Trevor Kincaid.  He still had that lazy half smile and those twinkling brown eyes that I had fallen so hard for several years ago.  I had learned my lesson the hard way from this one about how to be cautious about guys who claim they don’t have a girlfriend.  This guy was a snake.  He was a major player and did not give a crap who ended up getting hurt.

“Trevor,” I greeted him icily, avoiding eye contact.

Without an invitation, he slid into the seat across from me and leaned forward. “How have you been?”

“That’s not really any of your business, is it?”

His face lost a bit of its casual friendliness when he realized that I was not interested in conversing with him.

“Damn, girl.  You don’t have to be a bitch.  I was just saying hello.”  He slowly slid out of the booth and leaned over the table, his face just a few inches from mine. “You sure you don’t want to go another round with me?  I was your first, remember?”

I felt the anger rushing through my veins and tried to get a grip on it before things got out of control.  Roxanne had been pouring coffee at a table near the door, but had begun to make her way over toward us.

“Oh, we can definitely go another round, you piece of trash.”  I growled, starting to rise from my seat with the intent to backhand Trevor across his smug face.

“Trevor, you better think twice about provoking this girl.”  Roxanne said tightly. “If I remember correctly, you got one hell of a right hook from her when she found out you’d been lying to her about Amy Dickson.”

He glanced over at her and rubbed his jaw. “Yeah, she’s got a temper.”  He gave me a little wink and sauntered over to one of the stools at the bar.  Roxanne rolled her eyes at him and shook her head.

“He’s such an asshole,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee.

“Ignore him, honey.  A man like that always ends up married to a woman who makes him miserable.”  She grinned. “You gotta give a hand to Karma.”

I hoped she was right.  I guess I still hated the fact that I had fallen so hard for the guy.  Apparently, my bullshit detector had been running on low batteries back then.  It was humiliating, because the entire town knew exactly what had happened.  A social butterfly like Amy Dickson who had no job and a grandfather who was totally loaded would always look better when lined up next to me.

The bad part was that Trevor had flirted with me and told me they had broken up.  I fell harder than I ever had before.  Score one for the bullshit artist.  When I did finally find out that he was still seeing Amy, I hunted him down at Joe’s Bar and Grill and slammed my right fist into his chin in front of every single person there.  Broke two fingers doing it, too.

I felt a shiver of revulsion streak through me when I saw Trevor glance over.  Instead of taking his bait, I ignored him.  Out of respect for Roxanne, I decided to be a good little girl.  I quietly finished my lunch, wiped my mouth, paid my bill and left.

Oh, so that is what it means to turn the other cheek, I thought as I walked out to my truck.  It did not feel nearly as good as the alternative, but I figured that at least I would not cause any further gossip.  The truck started with a low rumble and I turned for home, noticing Trevor in my rearview mirror standing outside the café and watching me leave with a scowl on his wind-chapped face.

I grinned and turned up the radio.

Chapter Three

A few nights later after getting ready for bed, I slid the journal off my nightstand and read the first few pages.  It all seemed so cryptic and foreign to me.  It was not even in my father’s handwriting.

July 16, 1945

This is a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone else, but I suppose it is a position that has always been mine to fill.  Just as my father before me and his father and so on.  It’s been a startling and frightening thing, being responsible for this.  Until my father showed me the stones in the meadow and I met one of the dark ones, I had no idea.  How could I have guessed that any of this was even possible?  I had imagined them to be part of some ghastly fairy tales.  Certainly not what they really are.  Victoria was not here under orders.  She was a voluntary guest.  My father says that there may be some of them that will be detained here against their will.  He warned me that it would be dangerous.  I hope that the Council does not send any here.  Running the farm is difficult enough without dealing with vampires.

Vampires?  I read it again to make sure I had not been mistaken.  There it was, though.  It was very clear, in black and white.  Who had written this?  Why had my father had this journal and passed it to me?  I was not sure I wanted to read any more.

I stared at the fading yellow paint covering my bedroom walls and ran my fingers over the text in the journal.  Vampires did not really exist.  This journal had to be a joke.  I found myself turning the page to the next entry, the curiosity overwhelming me.

September 2, 1945

They’ve sent one.  A detainee.  His name is Michael.  They haven’t said what he’s accused of doing, but after speaking with him briefly in the meadow, I get the feeling that he’s very dangerous.  Seems to be an arrogant son of a bitch as well.  They have assured me that I am protected.  He can’t harm me.  But if anyone else were to come into the meadow, they may be at risk.  I’ll need to put up a fence.  That damned bloodsucker has been giving me nightmares too.

Suddenly, I felt completely frustrated and knew that I had to talk to Alex.  He knew more than he was telling me and I had to know for sure that whoever wrote this stuff was crazy.  Not that I really believed any of it at that point.  However, I knew whom I could ask, so I grabbed a jacket from my closet, pulled it on over my flannel pajamas, slid the journal inside the jacket, and headed down to the creek cabin.

The moon was just a tiny crescent, barely giving me enough light to make my way down the stone path in the direction of the creek where I saw a dim light through one of the dingy windows of the cabin.  I wondered if it was too late to disturb him until I heard the sound of the little TV that Joe had let him borrow spouting out the late-night local news in the background.

Instead of knocking, I opened the door and went in without an invitation.  Alex was sprawled on the tiny twin-sized bed in just a pair of pajama pants, his eyes wide with confusion as I approached.  I pulled the journal out of the jacket and tossed it on his lap, trying not to notice the way the hard planes of his chest and abdomen glowed in the light from the single little lamp by his bed.

“What the hell is this about?”  I flung out at him.

He looked down at the journal on his lap.  When he realized what it was, he quickly grabbed it up and began to flip through the pages.  His eyes scanned the first few entries before he even glanced up at me.

“How much have you read?”  He inquired.

“Enough to know that whoever wrote this is certifiably insane.  My question to you is what was my dad doing with this?  What’s the angle?”  I was furious, confused, and nearly panting.

He did not answer right away.  The pages had him mesmerized, and he seemed to be reading them incredibly fast.  After a few minutes, he looked up at me again with an ironic half smile.

“Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it?”

“Kind of crazy?”  I shot back.  I grabbed the TV remote and hit the mute button so I could concentrate.  I threw the remote back down on the folding table he was using as a nightstand and glared at him.

“Alex, what is going on?  Who wrote this?”

That smile was still there as he delivered the answer. “Your grandfather, believe it or not.”

My grandfather, Jonathon Wood, had died in 1974, years before I had even been born.  I knew almost nothing about him.  My father had never revealed much about the man other than he had been a hard taskmaster back when the Inn was just a working farm and he had had a drinking problem.  After reading the first two entries of his journal, it was not hard to imagine that he had had some major issues.

But vampires?  No way, I thought.  It was a ridiculous idea.  Alex pulled a T-shirt from the bottom of the bed and tugged it on over his bare torso, yawning in the process as if I had bored him with all this drama.  He left the journal open on the table by his bed and settled back against his pillow.

“He wasn’t crazy.  It’s all true,” He said.

I searched his face for some sign of a joke such as a crinkle of his beautiful eyes, a twist of his lips.  However, there was nothing but resignation registering on his face.  He sighed and regarded me with an expression that seemed almost apologetic.

“There’s no such thing as vampires.  I’m not a complete idiot, Alex.  Maybe he was just making up stories or something.  But there’s no way that journal is based on fact.  Give me a break.”  I crossed my arms and glared at him.

“Selena was counting on you reacting like this.”  He reached back over to the table and picked up a cell phone.  He scrolled through it, pulled up a number, and handed me the phone.

“She wanted to talk to you once you learned the truth.”

I stared at the phone, uncomprehendingly.  Now my mother wanted to talk?  She did not bother to call after my father’s death to offer any consolation, but now she wanted to talk.  Oh, hell no.  I huffed and grabbed the journal from the table, sticking it back inside my jacket.

“Tell her to kiss my ass.”  I grumbled, turning away and heading to the door.

Before I even had my hand on the knob, I felt his presence very close behind me, warming the skin on the back of my neck, and sending odd little shivers down my spine.  I did not turn around.

His breath ticked the hairs at the nape of my neck. “I can understand your anger.  She should have come forward a long time ago, but she didn’t think you would understand it, Sarah.”

Shaking off the disconcerting affect he had on me, I opened the door and left, leaving the door open behind me.  I started walking, not looking back, but knowing that he would be still standing there in the open doorway, watching.

It did not matter.  I just wanted to escape.  I felt like the world I had grown up in was suddenly falling down around me like some ancient relic, bursting into gray ash and tiny pebbles.  I walked without thinking where I was going.  My feet moved forward as my brain buzzed with questions and accusations against the woman who had abandoned me.

My grandfather had been mistaken, obviously.  Vampires were a myth from the dark ages that Hollywood used to make money.  I’d read some of the books, of course.  I was not immune to the idea of it.  However, that is all it was—an idea.  They were just stories written to scare people who were into that kind of thing.  Alternatively, they were cleverly written teen romances involving vampires as well as werewolves.  I preferred that kind.  Nevertheless, I knew better than to imagine any of it was real.  I was too old to believe in fairy tales.

Looking around, I suddenly realized that I had walked farther than I had intended.  Although most of the landscape surrounding me was blanketed in darkness, I could make out the sound of a stream gurgling and three huge white shapes in the field before me.

I was in the meadow.  Panic pushed through me in waves and my heart began beating savagely inside my chest.  No.  Not here.  I turned blindly to make my way back in the direction of the main house.  That is when I heard the voice.

“Ah, Sarah.”

The voice echoed around me, unfamiliar and oddly seductive.  The voice of a man.  It was endlessly alluring, smooth and sent little hot shocks up my spine.  However, I could feel the dangerous undertones, the hint of deception as my brain tried to process the way my body was reacting.

“Who’s there?”  I called cautiously, glancing around.  Fear congealed in my gut, rendering my legs and arms powerless.  Whoever was calling me seemed to know me on a deeper level than I thought possible.  It terrified me.  There was a complete and deadening silence in the surrounding trees.  A nothingness that

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