Black Swan- Chapter 2: Stranger in the Dark

***

Six Weeks Later

 

Jasmina waved goodbye to Cristal and Tabitha as the latter’s green Toyota Camry backed out of the driveway. Her shoulders and neck ached, her head pounded from the workday stress. Coffee, she thought rubbing her temples. A nice, hot cup of mocha will cure almost anything. She went inside to change into something more comfortable and headed out.

***

The Cinnamon Swirl was a small building of dark honey-colored wood on the corner of King and Poplar. The interior was modern and intimate, the color scheme boho inspired. Overstuffed cream and beige-striped sofas were nestled in alcoves with the small square and round tables in the center and back of the cafe. Jasmina sat alone at a back table, sipping a cup of raspberry mocha and watching the sunset. She wore floral-print leggings, a beige crochet lace tunic top with bell sleeves, and canvas tennis shoes. A pink velour, zip-front hoodie was draped over the chair’s back. Another coffee and a pastry then I’ll head home.

***

Night enveloped Forgotten Hollow as the sun sank below the horizon. The moon, a pale silver-white disc, rose in the star-dotted sky. Bats fluttered across the moon’s face and the hoots of owls echoed hauntingly in the light breeze.

A pale hand emerged from under the lid of the antique ebony wood coffin, rusted hinges creaking as it pushed upward. Vladislaus sat up, his movements a whisper against the burgundy satin lining. He frowned.

Something was wrong.

He climbed out of the coffin feeling an emptiness within himself. Crushing loneliness.

Unbidden, an image of the young woman he’d rescued sprung into his mind. Vlad roared furiously and grabbed the protruding gargoyle statue behind the coffin, smashing it against the wall. I am not in love with a mortal! She is nothing! NOTHING!

***

Wolfsbane Manor

Caleb stood on the balcony that jutted from his bedroom window, his eyes trained on Straud Manor. He grinned as a bat shot out of the second-story windows. Looks like Vlad’s gone on one of his secret trysts. This should be fun to see… Caleb sped downstairs and followed stealthily.

***

Jasmina drained the mouthful of coffee from the cup and swallowed the last bite of her chocolate pastry. She rose from her seat, shrugged on the hoodie then chucked the paper cup and wrapper into the trash. The air was crisp and cool, the darkness seemingly alive. A tingle of fear rippled through her body as she paced toward the corner streetlight.

Somebody was watching her.

Jasmina spun around and searched the shadows, but saw nothing. I’m just scaring myself. Coffee’s making me jumpy, she reasoned and continued on. As she neared the edge of the streetlight a melodic voice called out, “It’s not safe for a lady to be walking alone at night.” Jasmina’s heart raced as a masculine figure coalesced from the shadows and strode towards her. She could see him with an almost exaggerated clarity as he neared the bright pool of light. The attractive man appeared to be in his early thirties and stood about six-foot-two with a slim, muscled frame. Long black hair framed high, Slavic cheekbones, full, sensual lips, and a straight nose. A shadow of beard accented his jawline and a small goatee was on his chin. The man’s sapphire eyes and pale skin seemed to shimmer in the dark. He wore a deep red button-down shirt open at the neck, jeans, and leather loafers under a short, black suede trench coat.

“W-what?” Jasmina questioned dumbly. Those eyes… that face…

“It’s not safe for a lady to walk alone at night,” the man repeated, flashing a pearly-white smile. “One must be careful of hooligans and… other creatures that go bump in the night.”

“I don’t live very far away,” Jasmina replied. “Just three streets over.” She mentally kicked herself. Don’t give this guy any clues to where I live, he could be a creepy stalker. Or just someone being nice, her inner self argued. Not all men are abusive junkies like Wylie. But deep down, she didn’t believe that last part.

“May I be permitted to see you safely home?”

“I-ah… um…” Jasmina looked down bashfully. “I don’t even know your name.”

“Please forgive my poor manners.” He put his hand over his heart and elegantly half-bowed. “I’m Vladislaus. Vlad for short. And you are?”

“Jasmina.”

He drew her hand to his lips and kissed it. “A pleasure to meet you.”

Not getting any creep vibes- so far. Seems well-mannered. And very sweet on the eyes. Should I let him walk me home? She was leery of men after her messy, painful breakup over a year ago and had made no effort to try dating again. Instead, she’d focused on her internship at a publishing house in her hometown and graduating from college. “Well…” Jasmina trailed off hesitantly. “Okay.” Vlad smiled,  offering the crook of his arm. Jasmina placed her hand on the inside of his elbow, feeling oddly comfortable. Her mind scrambled for something to talk about. She blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Your accent, you’re from Romania? Or Hungary, maybe?”

Vlad’s eyes twinkled merrily. “I have an accent?” He laughed, a rich velvet sound. “But yes. Though Romania and Hungary were one back in my day. I was born in a small village in Transylvania.”

“The Land Beyond the Forest,” she translated the region’s name. “A country rich in history and legends.” Back in his day? What did he mean by that? Hmm…

The elder vampire’s grin widened. “Yes. Where did you learn of my country from, if I may ask?”

Jasmina blushed a little. “I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula back in high school.”

Another laugh. “Such a terrible novel! Bram Stoker had no clue about what real vampires are like…” Careful, he warned himself mentally. Remember your place.

“The book could be slow,” she admitted. “But it’s still the epitome of Gothic literature and a classic work.”

“At least Stoker’s vampires didn’t sparkle.”

***

Caleb heard nearby voices from his hiding place. He was close enough to the house to see but far enough away to keep from being detected. Caleb crouched low and peered through an opening in the bushes, keeping to the thick shadows and watched…

***

Their time together was over all too soon.

Disappointment stung Vlad as they arrived and he walked her to the front door. Jasmina smiled shyly. “Thank you for walking me home.”

“It was my pleasure.” The faint blue tracery of pulsing veins beneath her skin and the mingled scents of rose and her blood maddened him. NO! Not her! Anyone but her! The thirst threatened to overtake him. “Have a good night.” He ran in the park’s direction.

***

Vlad sat on one of the wooden benches and stared up at the moon as if the celestial body held the answers he sought. I was thirsty, yet I refused to feed on her. Refused. What’s wrong with me?

A soft scraping, then a figure appeared.

Caleb leaned against a tree, arms crossed and smirked. “I knew it. You’re in love with a mortal.”

“You’re spying on me?” Vlad yelled. “HOW DARE YOU!”

The master vampire chuckled. “Smitten. Absolutely smitten. The mighty Vladislaus has a soft spot for a human,” Caleb taunted. “Maybe I should go see for myself what’s so special about her…”

“Go near her and I’ll kill you,” Vlad snarled menacingly.

Caleb laughed a little and grinned. “Smitten.”

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Black Swan- Chapter 1: A New Beginning

 

The past is behind me and it’s time to start anew, Jasmina Chase thought as the scenery passed by during the taxi ride from the bus station. She wanted to forget the last year and a half and move on, but the memory of the mysterious man haunted her. Who was he? And what did he mean by “all in good time?” She was jostled from her thoughts as the cab chugged to a stop in the driveway of a small wood and brown brick house on Rosewood Lane. “We’re here,” the tubby, dark complected cabbie announced.

Jasmina reached into the flowered messenger bag for her wallet and fished out her cab fare and a tip. “Ten bucks if you help me get my bags to the door.” The cabbie nodded with a crooked grin and popped the trunk as she exited the car.

They walked up the steps onto the porch and the driver leaned her baggage against the side of the house. She paid the man and thanked him. He tipped the brim of his dirty baseball cap in thanks and headed back to the cab as she unlocked the door and pushed it open. The taxi had left by the time she turned back to the first of the bags, a red leather suitcase, and lugged it inside. Its twin was next, followed by a black duffel bag. She shut the door and sighed in exhaustion.

She surveyed her new home, taking in the dark beige and tan striped wallpaper trimmed in rich brown and the vanilla-colored plush carpet of the living room. A cream sofa framed in dark wood sat in the center of the room, a television on a small stand against the wall. A coffee table in matching wood with elegant sculpted legs sat between the TV and sofa. The kitchen was above the living room, comprising all-new appliances and fresh linoleum flooring. Oak cabinets and counters finished the look. The bathroom and a large bedroom were at the back of the house; the bath decorated in shades of off-white and powder blue. The bedroom had dove gray wallpaper and the same vanilla carpeting as the living area. There was a weathered wood dresser, a small desk and chair, bookshelf and queen-sized mattress in a simple brass frame. The lace ruffled comforter was white and in a vintage floral pattern, with a coordinating bed skirt, pillowcases, and soft pink cotton sheets.

I’m glad to escape it all, Jasmina thought as she stared at her reflection in the wood-framed mirror above the dresser after shoving the bags under the bed. She was five-seven with a slim subtly curved build and creamy skin that was paler than usual. Dark circles shadowed her emerald green eyes and her mid-back length auburn hair swept back in a loose ponytail. Glad to escape my ex, the pitying eyes of my parents’ friends… just everything. Her eyes misted. But I’ll never forget what Wylie did to me. The doorbell rang, and she groaned inwardly but went to answer.

Three young women stood outside on the porch, talking among themselves. One woman was about her height with a slender build and medium length pink streaked black hair. She wore a black Motionless In White band t-shirt, laced-side leggings, and knee-high buckled platform boots. Leather wrist cuffs and a spiked choker gave her a punk-rocker look. The shorter thin blonde wore navy shorts, tennis shoes, and a navy, white-striped shirt while the Asian donned faded jeans, a dark blue World of Warcraft logo t-shirt, colorful bracelets, and sneakers. “Hi, welcome to the neighborhood,” the punk-rocker greeted Jasmina and offered a plate of homemade chocolate fudge brownies. “I’m Cassandra Eason, and this is Liberty Lee and Summer Holiday,” she pointed to each woman as she made introductions.

“Hi,” Jasmina greeted shyly and forced a smile. “Thanks for coming.” She stepped aside and gestured at the sofa. “Please come in.”

Cassandra’s eyes twinkled happily. “Call me Cassie.” The four women sat and chatted for about an hour. She discovered that Liberty worked as a programmer at a tech company, Cassie was an artist, and Summer was a waitress at a local restaurant.

***

Relief washed over her as Jasmina locked up after her new neighbors left. She returned to the bedroom sluggishly and made a quick call to her boss at Weathermere Publishing. She pulled one suitcase out from under the bed, rooted through it, then changed into a pair of pink and gray striped pajamas. Jasmina crawled into bed and was snoring within minutes.

***

“I’ll catch you guys later,” Cassie told Summer and Liberty as she broke off from the group and headed towards Magnolia Blossom Park. Darkness swallowed the town as the moon, a pale silver sickle, rose in the clear sky. She headed off the path towards an isolated pocket thick with shadows.

There were a slight movement and the sound of cloth rubbing against the bark. Then a soft accented male voice. “Well?”

“Master,” Cassie addressed the hidden figure respectfully. “I did as you ordered. Jasmina doesn’t suspect a thing, and neither do the others.”

“Very good. Continue to befriend her and gain her trust. Watch her. And report back to me immediately if something happens, understood?”

“Yes, Master.” Leathery wings brushed her face as a bat soared into the night.

***

 

Straud Mansion

Forgotten Hollow

 

            Dozens of candles lit the front room where the Hollow Circle convened. The two men and raven-haired woman sat a long table of dark wood on the red velvet upholstered gothic chairs. Lilith folded her hands on the tabletop and cleared her throat. She wore a crimson choker-collar top, slim-fit dress pants, and stiletto heeled boots. “Why did you call for this meeting, Vlad?”

Vladislaus stopped his pacing in front of the fireplace and stared into the crackling flames for a few brief minutes. His eyes lifted to the Damascus steel sword that hung above the mantle. It had a curved crossguard inlaid with gilt at the ends; the handle wrapped in black leather and the pommel ornately designed. “I called this meeting,” he began, fiddling with the cuff of his white shirt. “To see how each of you fare in our search for the reborn Black Swan.” Vlad was dressed in a brocade shirt with a lace ruffle cravat down the front and matching cuffs, black velvet pants, and knee-high gold buttoned boots. Dark hair fell over his shoulders past the center of his back, framing high Slavic cheekbones, a straight nose, and full sensual lips. A shadow of beard accented his jawline, and there was a small goatee on his chin.

“I have heard nothing concrete about the Swan from my source, but he is still gathering information,” Lilith explained. “He’s supposed to contact me at some point.”

An African-American man laughed sarcastically, slapping his thigh. Isaiah Kane was five-foot-eleven with an athletic frame, attractive features, and yellow eyes, the pupils vertical slits like those of a cat. Silky dreadlocks dusted his broad shoulders. He donned an elegant gray suit and tie. “You trust that witch filth, Lilith?” The venom in Isaiah’s voice slashed the air.

“Kenneth has proved to me we can trust him. He has nothing to do with the covens, he is an independent party,” Lilith spat acidly. “He is valuable to us if you like it or not.” Isaiah huffed and ran an angry hand through his hair.

“What about you, Vlad?” Caleb asked aggressively. “What do you know about the Swan?” Caleb put his feet on the table and folded his hands on his stomach. The sleeves of his maroon fisherman sweater were rolled up to his elbows, his jeans and black leather loafers lending a casual air to such a solemn conversation. His features were soft and classically handsome with a cleft chin, fair skin, and lapis-flecked gray eyes framed in dark liner. Brown hair fell like a silken curtain to his shoulder-blades. Twin silver rings glittered in his left ear, a single ring in his right.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Vladislaus challenged, a note of anger heating his voice.

“You know exactly what I mean,” Caleb threw down the proverbial gauntlet. “You mysteriously disappear for weeks to who knows where. You disappeared mere days before that horrible accident in Starlight Shores- poor young lady… I know for a fact you’re the one who saved her…” Caleb shook his head in mock surprise.  “The great Vladislaus… smitten with a mortal…”

Vlad’s movements were a blur of pure speed. He leaped forward, sword in hand, the tip aimed at Caleb’s throat. Fear shone in the master vampire’s eyes, and Caleb realized that he’s severely overstepped his bounds. “I am not in love with a mortal!” Vlad thundered, his eyes icy blue flames. Lilith and Isaiah sat frozen in place. “Out! Everyone get the hell out! NOW!” Vlad stepped back, sword still in hand as the other three hastily showed themselves the door. I am not in love with a mortal, he yelled inwardly. She is beneath me! Me! A grand master of the night…

Black Swan- Prologue

Tires skidded and squealed as the battered red pickup and the blue sedan collided. There was a metallic crunch, and the windshield shattered inward, raining glass shards upon the middle-aged couple. The young woman in the back was jerked forward, and she hit her head hard on the back of the driver’s seat.

***

Vladislaus Straud sprang from the shadows with the swiftness of a jungle cat and raced towards the sedan. The couple in the front was dead; the man’s face was a bloody, shredded mask of flesh, his neck torn open by a jagged shard of glass. The older woman’s head had been put through the windshield and was connected to her body by a strip of skin. The young woman slumped over, blood trickling down her face and neck. He ripped the rear door off and tossed it aside, freeing her from the tangled seat belt and lifting her carefully into his arms.

***

Jasmina moaned, her eyes cracking open and fluttering shut once more. The glimpse she’d gotten of the pale-skinned, handsome man with dark blue eyes and midnight hair burned itself into her memory. She had the vaguest sensation of being carried. Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “Who…?”

“All in good time,” Vladislaus replied coolly and set her down a little ways away from the crash. Sirens wailed in the distance.

He stayed with her until the rescue teams were nearly upon them and disappeared back into the darkness.

***

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Welcome To My World

Welcome to my world, and I hope you enjoy the journey Jasmina is taking. I have enjoyed writing it for you, as much as I hope you have enjoyed reading. I unable to work due to many illnesses, and any donations you can help with so I can get to my doctors, and get my medications, so I might keep this world alive for you will go along way.

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Romance Special #3: Homecoming Sins

Author’s Note:

Mature but tasteful content. If you are sensitive to such subject matter DO NOT READ. You have been warned.

A “what if?” scenario story set a couple months after the events of Chapters 28-30.

It had been months since they’d last seen each other.

Jasmina stared at the text message from Alex, her heart twisting. He was asking if she could pick him up from the airport- and if she wanted to catch up over dinner. They’d stayed friends after their breakup, and video or text chatted nearly every day, sometimes for hours. Should I say yes or tell him no? Can we keep things on a friendly level? Feelings that she’d tried to forget- and sometimes failed to- ate at her like acid.

Despite loving and working things out with Caleb, deep down she still loved Alex.

She laughed bitterly at herself. God, I feel like a cheesy romance novel right about now. Torn between two guys…how do I get myself into these situations? Jasmina typed a reply and opened the dresser drawer, pulling out her favorite pair of jeans and a white v-neck sweater top with lace sleeves and trim. She slipped her arms into a pink velour, zip-front hoodie, then put on a pair of canvas tennis shoes, grabbing her purse and keys.

***

Newcrest Transport Center

Alexander Goth entered the near-empty airport and sauntered over to the baggage claim area. He picked up a large, designer black leather duffel bag and guitar case. The former tattooist wore all black- a t-shirt with the graphic of a swarm of bats bursting from a Gothic crypt flying over a graveyard, jeans, hi-top sneakers, and full-length leather trench coat. There was a rush of cold air as the electronic glass double doors slid open behind him. “Long time, no see,” Jasmina’s shy, soft voice greeted. He turned to stare at her, lovestruck, and unable to speak. All the doubt and regret after the breakup came swirling back, and Alex looked away, trying to hide the forming tears in his eyes. I never should’ve left…we had something special and I kicked her to the curb. I’m so fucking stupid…

“H-hey there,” Alex managed to stutter after a few heartbeats. “Thanks for coming to get me…wanna grab dinner or something? As friends,” he added hastily, trying to fight back the emotions that rose inside him. Keep it friendly, Alex reminded himself.

“S-sure.” Jasmina dropped her eyes to the floor, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. “T-this is just, um…”

“Awkward,” he finished her sentence. The musician hung his head. “I should’ve just taken a cab. Sorry I dragged you out here for nothing…just go home and forget about me,” Alex told her gruffly.

She put her hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay…I wanted to see you.” Don’t cross the line.

A small smile. “I wanted to see you, too.”

***

Jasmina and Alex made small talk while they waited for their order to arrive. “So, how have you been?” she asked curiously.

Do I tell her the truth? That I miss her and wish I’d asked her to come with me? “I’m hanging in there,” Alex answered neutrally. “Been busy recording an album in between legs of the tour. But our bassist is out indefinitely due to illness, so I’ve got some time off.” He fiddled with the salt shaker. “How about you?”

Jasmina chewed her lower lip, torn between wanting to tell Alex how much she’d missed him- and that she still loved him- and keeping her feelings to herself. What if he doesn’t feel the same way anymore? “It’s been up and down.” Should I tell him about Caleb?

Alex seemed to read her mind. “How’re things with Caleb?”

“We’re taking things slow,” she began hesitantly. “But..”

His eyes met hers. “But you’re having doubts, aren’t you?” Their conversation paused as a middle-aged waitress dressed in a knee-length white short-sleeve dress with red trim and matching apron came over to their table. The woman set plates of chicken salad and two bottles of dressing on the table. “Thanks,” he smiled and poured Greek dressing onto his salad. The waitress headed towards the back as Jasmina squirted Thousand Island dressing onto her salad and took a bite.

***

Magnolia Pointe

Alex unlocked the door and pushed it inward, moving aside so Jasmina could enter. His fingers flicked a switch and the overhead light came on. It’s good to be home, he thought absently and closed the door. The guitar case was set down in a corner and the duffel bag tossed onto the floor beside it. He took off his coat and shoes, then gestured at the couch. “Make yourself at home. Would you like a drink?”

I’d like you naked in my bed, she thought naughtily. “I’m fine, thanks.” Sexual tension pulsated between them, and she flashed a nervous smile. “I…I should go…”

Alex reached out and his fingertips brushed her cheek. “Don’t go.”

Don’t cross the line, Jasmina told herself desperately. Don’t do what you’re thinking about doing… His lips hovered above hers. One kiss, her inner self begged. Just one. She drew his mouth down to hers. The kiss was hungry, frantic, and left them both breathless as they pulled apart. Kiss me again. “Kiss me again,” Jasmina whispered, dizzy from the pleasure of his touch. “Please.”

Alex kissed her again, slowly, probing with his tongue and nibbling her lower lip. He took Jasmina into his arms, nuzzling her hair and holding her tight. “I missed you,” he murmured as a tear rolled down his cheek. “I love you, and it took losing you to realize how much I really did. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.”

She clung to him, her face buried in the bend of his neck. “I missed you, too. I still love you.”

“I wanted to bring you with me,” he admitted. “But it felt selfish and wrong of me to ask you to put your life on hold for something that might not work out.”

Her face was wet with tears. “I would’ve gone with you if you’d asked.” An unspoken question hung heavily between them. Where do we go from here?

***

Alex stepped into the tub and turned on the shower, letting the balmy ripples wash over him. He pressed his forehead against the tile wall, his eyes squeezed shut. His heart ached. Alone. Again.

***

Jasmina’s hand hesitated on the doorknob, knowing she should leave, but unable to bring herself to do so. Should I stay or go? I don’t want to lose him again. She faced the room, and made a decision. Her hoodie dropped to the floor…

***

Cool air danced on Alex’s skin as the black shower curtain was pulled back, and Jasmina joined him, her body pressed to his. “I thought you’d like some company.”

He turned in her arms. “Honey…” His voice trailed off as she silenced him with a kiss. Her fingertips traced a tattoo of a coffin detailed in filigree scrollwork and wrapped in purple roses that decorated the left side of his chest. A small gasp escaped him as her hand wandered lower, and Jasmina’s fingers wrapped around his length, stroking softly.

Their lips met as Alex’s hands caressed her breasts, the pads of his thumbs brushing her rosy-pale nipples. He kissed down Jasmina’s neck, one hand gliding over her flat belly and along the curve of a hip. Her thighs quivered as his finger slid inside her, teasing the sensitive flesh. Pleasure shot through Jasmina, and she moaned as the heat began to build. “Tell me what you want, Rosebud.”

She kissed him hard, nipping his lip. “I want you inside me.” Alex lifted Jasmina into his arms and pushed her against the slick tile wall. Their eyes locked, he claimed her with a swift stroke, legs wrapping around him. Her hips bucked wildly as the pace of his hard, deep thrusts quickened. The heat inside her grew hotter and hotter until it formed a knot and burst. He spilled himself into her and shuddered, weak in the knees. They giggled and kissed again, lost in the moment.

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Chapter 30: Acceptance

***

Caleb stroked her hair as she dozed in his arms and pressed his lips to her forehead in a gentle kiss. I never should’ve left you. I never should’ve done the things I did. Tears flooded his eyes and fell into her hair, the droplets sparkling like polished rubies. He held her tighter, drinking in the warmth of her body. I wish I’d fought through the pain, fought for you, and not wallowed in my own mire of self-pity. I’m so sorry. For everything. “I’m sorry,” Caleb whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Jasmina stirred and took him in her arms, rubbing his back in soothing circles. “I forgive you. Shh, it’s going to be okay.” Then gazing deeply into his eyes, “I want us to be together again and start over. But… I need some time to…” Her voice caught and tears rolled down Jasmina’s cheeks.

Caleb closed his eyes and held her, pure elation lighting up his heart and soul. “I can wait,” he murmured and kissed her again.

***

Lilith watched the couple’s reunion, a smile tugging her lips. She heard Caleb laugh, his face alight and smiling. I want him to be happy and healthy, she thought to herself. Lilith burned with shame as she remembered her past words and actions, a single tear sliding down her cheek. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the glass separating them. “I’m sorry.”

“Come with me,” Tobias spoke quietly, and the two vampires went into the smaller, more private common area. She sank into a chair and sighed as he sat opposite her. “Jasmina is going to be a part of his life, whether you like it or not. You need to accept this.” The elder vampire’s statement was firm and clear. “It’s not too late to undo the damage you’ve done.”

Lilith stifled a sob. “How?”

Tobias spread his hands in a thoughtful gesture. “Grant Jasmina visitation, for starters. Unsupervised visitation. Let them be together, and stop interfering. And try getting to know her before you judge so harshly. But the question is,” he prodded. “Why do you hate her so much?”

Caleb had asked this same question months ago. Lilith’s eyes flickered, and she looked at the floor, her jaw tight. “I look at them and I see myself with Felipe long ago.”

Tobias shook his head. “So it all comes down to jealousy in the end.” He patted her hand in a fatherly fashion. “You need to seek out your own happiness.”

There was a knock on the wall. The pair looked up to see Dr. Brandt in the doorway, a packet of papers in his hand. “Am I interrupting?” Dr. Brandt inquired.

“No, not at all,” replied Lilith. “Is Caleb-”

“He’s fine,” Brandt answered. “One of my nurses just checked on him. But this pertains to the lady with him.” Brandt indicated the packet. “I spoke with the clinic coordinator and with a little help from a secretary who was working late, found the required forms for blacklist revocation and such.”

Lilith reached for the packet. “I’m revoking the blacklist, giving Jasmina visitation…and the right to make decisions if something like this ever happens again and I’m unavailable or unable to act on Caleb’s behalf.” She quickly signed the papers and handed them back. “What next?”

“Miss Chase signs the paperwork, and she’s granted her rights, effective immediately. She won’t get in any trouble for being on the property,” Brandt anticipated the question on Lilith’s lips. The doctor gestured towards the hall. “Shall we?”

***

“Visitors incoming,” Caleb muttered under his breath, obviously annoyed. Jasmina swore and tugged the bunched fabric of her dress upward, hastily sliding the straps into place. She pulled her skirt down and finger-combed her now-loosened hair.

“I told you we’d get caught,” Jasmina giggled.

Caleb stuck his tongue out at her. “But we still had fun, didn’t we?”

A knock, then the door pushed open. “Good evening Caleb, Miss Chase,” Dr. Brandt greeted politely. The physician entered the room, flanked by Lilith and Tobias. Caleb nodded but kept quiet.

“Hi.” Jasmina regarded Lilith warily, but the dark-haired man standing silently in the corner drew her interest. The man’s aura was hot yet cool with the crystalline smell of spring. It rippled over her skin like water, and she realized that he was a vampire. This guy is ancient and powerful. Before she could speak again, the man left, closing the door behind him.

***

I was so close, Tobias berated himself as he paced the common room. And she knew what I am. He stopped pacing and took several slow, deep breaths. Play it slow, that’s what the young ones say these days. Be calm, be patient. Magic follows the path of the least resistance. I’ll have another chance to meet her…

***

“The rights herein are granted immediately upon signing,” Dr. Brandt finished and handed the packet over along with a pen.

Pain mushroomed in Jasmina’s head, and the roiling sea of emotion threatened to overwhelm her. She rubbed her temples, trying to make sense of the physician’s words and Lilith’s actions. Caleb was just as floored, his mouth set in a thin line. Without taking her eyes off Lilith, she asked the doctor, “Can you give us a minute, please?” Brandt nodded and left. Then to the vampiress, “Why the sudden change of heart?”

“I was wrong about you,” Lilith stated simply. “And I’m sorry for the way I treated you.”

Caleb hung his head. “And I’m sorry for being such an incorrigible ass these past months.”

“You’re forgiven,” Lilith smiled.

***

Tobias slipped back into the room as the two women were coming out. Caleb was half-asleep and the elder vampire moved to leave. “Don’t go,” the other man uttered as he sat up. “I need to talk with you…”

“Alright,” Tobias replied and sat in the recliner. “What do you need to talk to me about?” I have a sneaking suspicion this has to do with my daughter…

“Back in my day,” Caleb began. “When a gentleman favored a lady it was common courtesy to ask the lady’s father- or another male relative- permission before he started to court her…”

“Yes…”

Caleb looked Tobias straight in the eye. “Out of respect, I’m asking for your permission to court Jasmina.”

Tobias leaned forward, his elbows on the arms of the chair, his fingers steepled. “Would you have asked this of me if you’d known about my existence when you two first met?”

“Yes.”

The elder vampire nodded, satisfied with Caleb’s answer. “You have my permission, but if I ever hear of you mistreating her…” The veiled threat and promise of unpleasant reprisal hung between them.

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Announcement

My Dear Readers,

I’m taking a break from writing. I’ve burned myself out creatively over the past couple or so months, and it’s time for a well-deserved rest. My stories (including unpublished side projects) will be on indefinite hiatus. Thank you for understanding and for your continued support.