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!
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?”
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.”