|| Chapter One ||
I shivered violently as I stepped into the little apartment that my father and I shared - finding that my coat failed to provide warmth even minutes after I'd reached the safety of the downstairs lobby. My eyes caught the little clock by the TV as I unravelled my scarf: only minutes before the mortal curfew was active. Thank god.
I kicked my boots off with haste and practically dove for the gorgeous retreat of the couch, not even bothering to take my mittens off quite yet. The giant knit blanket that my Oma had made me for Christmas last year practically beckoned me and I snuggled with it intimately as I slipped back into my favourite corner spot, flicking on the television before tossing the remote to my side. The black screen flickered to life to reveal the fast-paced live coverage of the evening news and as it did, a tiny bubble of dread burst within me. Still, I'm too lazy to even change the channel. Which means that news reporter Angela Monroe gets to stay there yet again, her bleach-blonde hair looking especially doll-like tonight as she gives us a big smile and shares the news of three more mortal deaths near the inner city: some kind of protest gone horribly wrong.
Now, any normal girl might worry about how amazingly desensitized she's become to hearing all this, but tonight I find myself far more interested in Angela's surprisingly nice wardrobe choices than I am in the actual words she's saying.
What can I say? You get used to it.
"...Breaking news tonight: three humans seemingly beaten to death near London, including one girl and two boys, who were said to have been between the ages of seventeen and nineteen. All three were declared dead at the scene. Officials are refusing to release names in order to protect the identities of the deceased and their families, but have been willing to indulge us in other information while investigations are under way: this is now thought to be the fifth conspiracy-related crime since the New Year. Congress will be-...”
Oh, for the love of-- I wrinkled my nose and found myself reaching for the remote in order to flip the channel, my stomach twisting in annoyance and anxiety. I did not have a good day today just so I could come home to that. “Enough, I should think.” I mumbled to no one in particular. I'm so incredibly sick of the same news day in and day out. Nothing changes, not anymore. Not since the vampires first joined our society ten years back.
The phone rings and I swear to any God in Heaven that my heart almost jumps out of my chest. I turned down the volume and picked up the small phone to my left, exhaling in a trembling sigh before raising the receiver it to my ear. It's probably my dad, checking in on me from his girlfriend's house or something... "Hello?" I answered pleasantly, my face deadpan in spite of the kind tone as I inspected my nails.
"Hello, Audrey?" An unfamiliar female voice questioned, her breathless tone of urgency immediately catching my attention. I frowned.
"Uh, yeah...That's me." I answered, confusion practically dripping from my voice. I don't even need to ask:
"This is...a friend of Melissa's." The voice hesitated, speaking in hushed whispers. I can hear music and laughter somewhere in the background of...wherever this person is, but she sounds like she's trying to walk away from it all.
"Uh, okay...friend of Melissa's.” I raise an eyebrow, thinking of Melissa – my dad's girlfriend – and all the friends of hers that I've met. There aren't many. “Do you have a real name?”
"Look, it doesn't matter. I need you to listen to me very, very closely. Do not go, do you under stand?" “What?” Go where? It was nine o' clock on a Monday. “Your father.” The voice whispered. I shut up at once, my heart skipping a beat. Oh, no... “--He's going to call you. Make up an excuse, just don't come here!” The voice ordered, almost snapping at me before they suddenly went very quiet. The sound of shuffles and deep breaths, like someone is running, greets my ears next. “Oh...Oh, god, I have to go. Listen to me. Don't even answer your phone!" I heard a click and the steady beep of an ended call before I lowered my phone, silently mortified.
I stared at the blank screen of my phone and felt the icy sting of fear prickle along my neck. The house suddenly felt terribly empty; each and every sound that I otherwise wouldn't have noticed coming to life and frightening me. I licked my lips, trying hard to be the adult I would be turning in a few months as I placed my phone down on the table, purposely ignoring it now.
Only a few minutes later the phone rang and I practically choked on the air I was breathing. I looked at my phone like it had just grown three heads as my father's caller ID popped up on the screen. Before I knew it, however, habit got the best of me and I hit the answer button before I could stop myself – prompting me to shut my eyes and silently curse my stupidity. Goddammit. Scowling at my not-so-brilliant listening skills, I slowly raised my cellphone to my ear and answered. “H-Hello?”
"Hello, love..." A deep, masculine voice greeted me with pleasure – a voice that was far too silky to be my middle-aged sick father. Hell, the word 'love' isn't exactly known to be a familiar one from him either. My heart raced uneasily in my chest, but I honestly couldn't tell if it was because I thought this person's voice was gorgeous or because I was terrified.
"Uh...Dad?" I squeaked – getting a terrible chill as the handsome voice chuckled deeply, that husky laugh rumbling in my ear and rolling shivers down my spine. Oh, body – you terrible traitor.
"Oh, no, I'm just his friend. Your father's busy, but he wanted me to give you a call and make sure you're all right." Something about his smoke-and-gravel tone voice makes me want to believe him, and by God, it'll be the death of me, I think.
“I...am fine. Thank you.”
“Good, good...” The voice trailed off. Who ever it was, he was smiling – probably laughing at me somewhere off the receiver. “Look, we're having a little bit of a get-together. Melissa got that promotion and we're all celebrating tonight. They'd both love it if you could make it.”
“I-I can't.” I lied, mystery girl's warning ringing clear in my mind.“I-...I just don't feel good right now. I'm sorry.”
“Are you sure? I've never seen him quite so happy.”
“...” I'm silent. If Melissa had gotten that promotion, than that was probably true. My shoulders slumped a little bit, guilt twinging inside me. Ever since his work laid him off, Dad's been stuck living on the disability and unemployment checks, plus whatever Melissa brings in and whatever I'm not saving up for school. If she had really gotten that promotion...Then things were going to be a lot better for us. Of course he was happy.
“Look,” The velvet voice spoke, his almost-pleading tone immediately catching my attention. “Honey, you really don't have to worry about the curfew. You know that, right?” He continued before I can scold him for that one. It was just...dangerous to say those kinds of things. “Just take the subway down, no one's going to bother you there at this hour. All you have to do is get off right in front of the house and join the party.”
“I...” I paused, mentally arguing with myself. Fate did a decent job of convincing me though (as well as the pleasant tone of this stranger's voice)and I smiled, giving in. “Okay. Melissa's place, right?”
“Right. You know the way, I assume?”
“Yeah,” I answered softly, standing off the couch and moving to my room to get dressed. My finger ghosts over the end button before I paused, tilting my head in confusion. How rude of me. “Hey, who is this?”
“This is Vincent. I'll see you soon, Audrey.”
I smiled, butterflies tickling my stomach as the voice says my name that way. The slow, gentle kind of way that no one else would notice but you? It's so beautiful that it doesn't even occur to me that any friend of my dad’s is probably well into his thirty's – but who cares? If the man looks half as good as he sounds, than he can have me.
“Yeah, sure.” I agreed lamely, practically doing a dance as he chuckled one last time and waited for me to end the call – and the second I do, I damn near squealed with joy.
Little over half an hour later, I stood alone in my little bathroom checking myself out in the mirror as I applied the finishing touches to my makeup. Now that I'm showered and dressed in some of my nicer clothes, I can't help but to just feel so much better. I'm actually...really excited for tonight. I don't know why. Probably because in today's world, it's difficult for humans to even keep their jobs (after all, why hire some smelly, sleepy little human when you can get a vampire to work for you for seventeen hours straight, every day of every year?) and Melissa, despite being the overbearing, strange woman I always thought she was, managed to get a promotion. This was no small feat anymore – it deserved a little effort and celebration.
I even smiled at myself a little as I apply just a thin layer of lipstick, rubbing my lips together to spread the ruby colour evenly before I stand back. This is probably the first time in months that I've worn makeup and the transformation is shocking: My green eyes stand out amazingly against the dark red of my lips and the almost-auburn chocolatey colour of my hair. I don't look like some poor little seventeen-year old kid anymore, I look like a real woman. It shows in the glow of my eyes and my small smile as I admire my good dress yet again – a long sleeved, sweater dress that’s as red as my lips and goes to my mid-thigh. Beneath it, I'm wearing a pair of black silk stckings and my tall leather boots as well, and the nice knee-length black coat that I saved up for last spring.
I stepped carefully down the stairs of my apartment, the unfamiliar feeling of heels making my ankles wobble with each step and shocking me a little when I finally reach the flat ground of the lobby. I snuggled into my coat and opened the door to the cold of winter – looking ruefully towards the darkening skies and immediately heading for the subway station, trying hard to ignore the gusts of wind that almost plead with me to return home.
The subway is painfully full at this hour, but thankfully, I'm not the only human riding tonight. I stared out the blackened windows and tried hard to ignore the feel of immortal stares on my skin – comforting myself instead with the sight of the older human man across from me who looked equally uncomfortable. During the night, we aren't permitted to sit unless there are extra seats available. And no matter how many seats are available, we always have to stand and give them to any vampire persons that ask for them. There's more than enough places for me even tonight, but I decided not to take my chances.
Excitement bubbled inside me the second I'm freed from that metal coffin, though, and I half-hobble-half-sprint in my black heels all the way to Melissa's apartment building with something that actually isn't fear for once to inspire me. I can see the moon shining and the eyes of immortal men standing in a small group on the corner of the street, but I've got a big silly smile on my face and my heart skipped beats as if to challenge them all.
Joy brought me a strength that I haven't had in a while. It's probably really stupid given the laws of nature – humans being significantly weaker than vampires and all - but I get the confident feeling that I could take them. You know, only if I had to. My heart had wings and I damn near flew up the steps, grinning ear to ear as I scooped the spare key out of Melissa's mailbox and nudged the door open with my hips.
“Hey you guys, sorry I--” I stopped short, swallowing my words with a hesitant gulp. The apartment was an unnatural, hellish pitch black. Not even the moonlight seemed to dare to shine in here. And before I could so much as investigate why, the door slammed shut behind me and a large hand covered my mouth, stifling my cries. After that, everything went black – everything but the sound of a deep, rumbling voice, a soft French accent whispering only two words for me to hear: