Darkness settled over the room as the sun was whisked below the horizon. Vincent awakened slowly, the sounds of the city nightlife beckoning to him. He yawned, stretching, then rose and drifted to the oversized window. Vincent parted the heavy dark curtains and stared at the full moon, a surge of restlessness rising inside him. It’s a good night to feel the wind…
Melisandra quickly ran a brush through her hair and pulled on a black t-shirt with the graphic of two ravens forming a heart, surrounded by the twisted thorns of purple roses. A fleece corset-back hoodie, skinny jeans, and velvet combat boots finished her outfit. She reached for an off-white envelope on the dresser, removing a pair of gift cards and seventy-five dollars. The cards were from her favorite stores, the Belfry and the Art Stop, respectively. Now I can buy a set of those professional-quality colored pencils I’ve been wanting so badly, Melisandra thought happily, putting the gift cards and money into her wallet.
Upbeat pop music and cool air enveloped Melisandra as she entered the Magnolia Promenade Mall. The shopping center was a huge complex of stores with an open food court area, many kiosks, and a gourmet bakery and coffeehouse. She broke away from the thin crowd and headed towards the Art Stop, a large storefront whose sign was shaped like a palette and paintbrush with the name in neat block lettering. The store held quarterly swap meets for local artists and an art fair every summer. An electronic bell chimed as Melisandra pushed the door open…
… Vincent watched from behind a shelf as a young woman with auburn hair entered the store. A soft heat like that of a candle flame touched the edges of his consciousness, and his jaw tightened. She’s a witch, he realized. But why does she look familiar? Yet nothing clicked in his memory. This isn’t a coincidence. A wave of quiet anger simmered inside him at the thought. Did Moira send her after me? Is she secretly plotting behind my back? He stealthily made his way toward the back exit and stepped into the large, mostly empty parking lot. As Vincent neared the bright lamppost where his car, a metallic black Porsche convertible waited in a pool of light. His cell phone chimed a text message. Not a good time, he thought darkly and pulled it from his jeans pocket.
Amaris Bloodflower: Hey! What’s up? Guess what I got!
Normally he’d be more than happy to sit back and text with Amaris, but not tonight. Vincent’s body was taut with tension as he typed out a reply.
Orpheus Thorne: It’s really not a good night. Sorry. A grinning smiley face emoticon proceeded a photo of a box of professional-quality colored pencils. His blood froze. Amaris… no. No… you can’t be. Vincent fought to reign in the maelstrom of emotions swirling through him and chucked the phone into the passenger seat. The tires squealed as he threw the car into reverse and raced from the lot.
Melisandra sat cross-legged on the bed, humming softly as she reached for a deep blue colored pencil from the clear, plastic case beside her and carefully shaded the drawing’s eyes. Her eyes drifted from the sketch to the phone laying on the nightstand.
Orpheus had blocked her.
Confused hurt welled up inside her. Meli returned the pencil to the case and studied the handsome features of the sketch. Her fingertip traced the lines of long black hair framing his face. I knew you would come back into my life. A warm tingle shot up Meli’s spine as the realization dawned on her with blazing clarity. No.
The guy from the prom and Orpheus were the same.
She snatched the phone up and left the room. Amber-Lily’s door was half-open and the loud music of Diablo 3 poured into the hallway. Meli knocked. “I need your help…”
“… Almost done with this rift… one sec…” Amber-Lily refocused on the screen and fired a barrage of arrows into a large, gold-outlined skeletal figure. Three minutes later she logged off the game and swiveled the blue leather desk chair. “Hey.” Then she noticed her twin’s anxious expression. Amber’s face creased with worry. “What’s up? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Melisandra clutched the phone with a shaking hand. “Can you track a phone number for me? I… I have this weird feeling…”
Amber-Lily folded her hands over her stomach. “I’m guessing there’s a good reason you want a number tracked.” The statement was an opening for an explanation.
Meli perched on her sister’s bed and laid the phone on the small computer desk. The desk was made of white oak wood in a modern, simplistic style with a trio of drawers on the left and a slide-out keyboard tray. “Yeah. Um, I’ve been texting this guy I met online and…”
Oh, no. Meli, you idiot, Amber-Lily groaned inwardly. “And?” she coaxed harshly.
“And I think it’s the guy I’m being forced to marry. But I’m not sure,” Melisandra finished weakly.
“Are you a total frigging moron, Meli?!” Amber-Lily snapped. The elder twin flinched at the remark and tensed. “If the guy you’re texting is the same person, he can track you down and kidnap you! Or kill you! Did you stop to think about the danger you’ve put yourself in?!” Amber counted to ten and exhaled slowly. In a calmer tone, “I’ll help you. What are you looking for?”
Meli visibly relaxed. “His name… an address, anything you can find out about him. I can bring up his online profile…”
Amber-Lily scooted over. “Do it.” She watched as Melisandra brought up the Obsidian Noir homepage. Their mother’s gothic art and literature blog had evolved into a social network and online community for alternative lifestyles.
“I met him here. We commented on each other’s artwork and he messaged me. Nothing serious, at first. Just two artists talking shop, mostly.” Meli clicked on a small square with the image of a full moon surrounded by crows. The twins waited as the page loaded.
“Orpheus Thorne?” Amber-Lily snickered as she read the profile information. “You goths sure have some goofy screen names!”
Meli swatted her sister on the shoulder. “Amber!”
“So, anyway,” Amber sobered, the mirth fading from her eyes. “How long has this been going on?”
Melisandra squirmed under her sister’s intense scrutiny. “Since the week before our birthday,” she admitted. Don’t tell her about the emails.
“Okay.” Amber-Lily clicked on the taskbar and a new window popped up. “Give me a couple of hours to see what I can dig up.”
“All right.” Melisandra moved to leave and paused at the door. “Thank you.”
Callahan’s Irish Pub was a large building on the corners of Deckard and Oak Street. The dark green facade bore the bar’s name in old-fashioned gold lettering; large, well-lit windows and an arched double door beckoned customers inside. A No Smoking sign decked the right window and an outdoor ashtray stood off to one side. The convertible screamed as it jerked into a space in the parking lot. Vincent slammed the door shut as he exited and stalked into the pub, heading straight for the office. A tall, dark-skinned man with a lean build and wavy black hair stepped out from behind the bar. “You can’t go back there,” he stated firmly in a Spanish accent.
Vincent glared at the man. “I want to see Moira. Now.”
The Spaniard held his ground. “Moira isn’t here.”
“I can smell her. She’s here. Now let me through.” The last part came through gritted teeth as the vampire struggled to hold his temper.
The Spaniard’s lips twitched into a hard line. “No.” Vincent ignored the man, pushing past him and continued toward the back. A hand gripped his shoulder from behind. “I said…” The man’s eyes rolled up into the back of his head as Vincent’s punch connected with his jaw. A pair of bouncers cautiously swept in.
Footsteps sounded from within the corridor leading to the back of the bar. Moira surveyed the damage and snapped her narrowed gaze onto Vincent. “What the hell is going on out here?!”
Vincent’s eyes turned a bright icy blue as he stared the witch down. “Moira!” he snarled in a low, dangerous voice.