Flames licked at Tess’ feet and legs. She could feel her flesh growing hotter by the second as the flames slowly moved up the pyre toward her. The hem of her dress caught fire. She screamed for help, but the only answer was the laughing from the crowd. Out of nowhere, Edward rode through the blaze, toppling the post she was tied to. The crowd, startled by his sudden appearance, was in a frenzy giving Edward enough time to untie her and carry her out of the village.
She had been branded a whore by the local women - women whose husbands she’d slept with - and it was rumored that she was a witch, although the allegation was never spoken aloud. Her fatal mistake was sleeping with a Protestant preacher - once. He came to her months afterward and she, having fallen in love with Edward, refused him. The next morning, at sunrise, he showed up at her door with a mob of angry villagers. He was the first to accuse her of witchcraft, and in no time, the horde had her tied to a stake. She had been denied a trial. The preacher’s word that she had seduced him into the devil’s bed was enough reason to burn her.
She and Edward rode until nightfall, stopping only once to buy some bread in a distant town. Their destination was an old castle. It looked as if it would crumble at any moment, but Edward assured her that they’d be safe there. The Count met them upon their arrival. He hugged Edward as if they were brothers, but looked at her as if she were his next meal.
They followed the Count inside to the main chamber. One enormous oak table filled the room, and heavy oak chairs surrounded it on all four sides. Edward pulled her into his arms and kissed her passionately, much too passionately in the company of another. Then he turned her toward the Count, who was staring at her breasts and licking his lips.
“You’ve done well, my friend.” He said to Edward as he grabbed her arm.
“We’re even then?” Edward asked.
The Count nodded. “Yes. Now go before I change my mind.”
“Edward!” Tess called out to his retreating form. “Edward! Come back!”
“It’s no use, my love. He will not return.”
His tone had a finality that filled her heart with dread. “What do you want from me?”
“I lost my wife some years ago.” He began. He held a tight grip on her arm while he untied her dress with his free hand and forced it down. “You resemble her, enough to be her twin.” He lowered his mouth to her neck. As his cold lips touched her flesh, she pushed against him, trying to shove him away. He chuckled at her futile efforts, and turned her away from him, keeping his hand wrapped firmly around the back of her neck to hold her in place. “I saw you leaving the blacksmith’s shop one night a few months ago. I knew what you’d been doing with him.” The sound of ripping cloth, accompanied by her screams, echoed in the room as he tore off her blouse and skirt. “I wanted you.” He ripped off her bodice, and threw it aside, leaving her standing naked under his critical gaze.
“What does that have to do with Edward?” Tears spilled down her cheeks as he turned her to face him.
“Ah yes, Edward.” He nodded with approval as he appraised her bare form. “Delicious.” He smiled wickedly as her face turned crimson red. “Edward was caught stealing from me. He begged me to show mercy and spare his life. I knew he came from your village, so I made an agreement with him – his life for yours.” His soulless laugh filled the chamber. “Do not worry, my love. I will take every pleasure with you before you die.”
The next hours seemed to last an eternity. Tess’ body was riddled with pain as he penetrated her in the most unholy ways. His laughter filled the empty chambers as she begged him to stop, making promises no human could ever keep. She fought as hard as she could, but in the end, she lost. Her body was weak when he finally sank his fangs into her neck. She didn’t have the strength to fight him anymore. All she could do was lie there, crying silently, and let him feast on her.
He stopped drinking long before she was dead. Through tear filled eyes, she watched as he cut his wrist, filled a chalice, and offered it to her. Not wanting to join him in eternity, as he promised, she silently turned her head. He slammed the goblet down on the table next to her and stormed out, cursing her.
Tess waited until she heard him in the chamber above her, then she reached out and took the glass. With the last bit of strength she had, she leaned up and drank his blood. She could feel a change begin deep inside her. She felt stronger, more alive, but she needed more, and she knew exactly where to get it.
Slowly and silently she crept out of the room and to the staircase. She heard him pacing back and forth in his chamber. It was incredible the things she could hear. Flicking her tongue over her teeth, she could feel that her eye teeth had lengthened and were extremely sharp, and that stirred in her a hunger like she’d never known. An evil smile crossed her lips as she continued her ascent.
The Count’s chamber door flew open suddenly, crashing loudly into the stone wall. Tess quickly stepped into an alcove and pressed her body flat against the wall. His footsteps were quick and heavy. Her heart should have been beating furiously, but she couldn’t feel it. Her first instinct was to panic, but the Count’s angry voice pulled her from the distraction.
She slipped from the alcove when he walked past, and followed silently for a moment, gathering what courage she could. She would be no match for him in a fight, so she would have to take him quickly and by surprise. As they reached the landing, she jumped, knocking him to the ground. He was disoriented and she used that moment to her advantage, sinking her fangs deep into his neck.
He cursed her and tried to pull her off, but she was lying on his back, just out of his reach.
But Tess didn’t stop. She drank every drop of blood his body would give her. When he was drained, she sat next to him, her head resting against the wall.
“You bitch! You took too much from me.” He tried to push himself up, only to fall back down. “I wanted you as a companion.”
“What makes you think I’d be your companion after what you did to me?”
“What I did to you was…”
“Evil. Men were not intended to love women that way.”
“What do you know of love? The only man you ever loved delivered you to me.”
Tears filled in her eyes. “If he had known what you were going to do…”
“He did know.”
She shook her head in denial. Edward loved her, he couldn’t have know what this monster intended to do to her. “He didn’t.”
“Oh, but he did, my love. He knew about your brother too, about how he had his way with you, ruined you for marriage and sold you as a whore to any man willing to pay.” He paused, smiling at the pain he saw consume her face. “Edward never loved you Tess. Neither did your brother, or any of those other men you gave yourself to. But I will. Stay with me.”
“If you don’t, you’ll walk this earth alone for all of eternity.”
“So be it.” Tess stood and started down the stairs.
“There is one other thing you will want to know.” He was finally able to pull himself up enough so that he was sitting against the wall facing her. She turned and waited for him to continue. “I was cursed by a witch, and through my blood, I have passed the curse on to you. Death by true love’s hand is the only way you’ll ever know peace.”
She studied him for a moment, then, without replying, she turned her back to him and walked away, the echo of his words ringing in her ears.
Tess wiped the tear from her cheek as she shoved the memory to the back of her mind. Icy rain fell in sheets as she casually made her way down the deserted street. She didn’t feel the cold the way others did, and was in no hurry to get out of it. Instead, she slowed her pace and continued walking, alone. After three hundred years, she should be used to it. She shouldn’t want a companion. But as the sun rose every morning and she closed her eyes in that death-like sleep, she longed for a pair of strong arms to hold her and a body to snuggle up against. As soon as the image became clear in her mind, her memories would consume it, reminding her once again of the harsh reality.
The curse had proven true over the centuries. She had tried to find peace with what she was, but the closest she came was drinking from those who crossed her path. Nothing came even close to the taste of warm sweet blood sliding down her throat, and the feel of a body struggling in her arms. She had tried to feed only from those who’d done wrong, but soon overcame her need to justify killing and began hunting without discrimination. That wasn’t completely true. She still couldn’t bring herself to kill children, unless they had no hope of survival. She hadn’t killed a child since the plague swept across New Orleans over a hundred years ago.
Stopping on the corner, she waited for the walk signal across the street to come on. This was ridiculous. Why was did she doing this to herself? She knew the answer. She had seen the Count – she still didn’t know his name, nor did she care to find out - earlier that night hunting at the bus depot. Seeing him always brought back the memory of that night. He still wanted her, but he never approached her or attempted to make any contact with her. He simply showed up from time to time, reminding her that he was there should she ever want to be with him. A few times she had been lonely enough to go to him, but she refrained, although she wasn’t sure if it was the smart thing to do. Had he taken her in a different manner, made her under different circumstances… There was no use dwelling on might have been.
The light finally turned and she crossed the street. She loved nights like this. She would build a fire later and curl up with a good book, or a man. Yes, she could bring home a bedtime snack.
A man shrieked and Tess found herself being pushed into an ally and pressed against the side of a brick wall. She was getting hungry again anyway…
But before she could react, the man was pulled off of her. She swung around to find an incredibly large man holding her attacker by the throat against the opposite wall. She heard him speaking to the smaller man, but was too stunned to hear what he said. It was obviously a threat of some kind, because when he put the man down, he took off running as if he were being chased by a demon.
The man turned his attention back to her. “Are you alright, Honey?” His deep sultry voice held genuine concern for her well being.
“I…I’m fine.” Dear God, he had the most beautiful eyes.
He closed the distance between them. “Are you sure?” He asked as he reached out to gently touch the scrape on her cheek. “You’re freezing. Here…” He took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders.
“I…” She couldn’t believe it – she was at a loss for words!
“Come on,” He carefully put his arm around her shoulders. “Let’s get you out of here.” She let him lead her out of the ally. His arms were so strong… “Can I give you a ride somewhere?”
“No, I’ll be okay.”
The man who attacked her came stumbling out of the bar a half a block behind them with a couple of his friends. Seeing them, the man said, “Listen, you’re not going to get a cab to come to this neighborhood at this time of night. I’d feel better if you’d let me take you home. Or at least someplace you can call a cab.”
Tess glanced at the men, who’d just spotted them and were making their way over. She would have no problem killing all of them, but she didn’t want to do it infront of this man, or have him getting hurt trying to protect her. “I live out on Forsythe St.”
The man gave her a breathtaking smile. “Forsythe it is.” He helped her into the passenger’s seat and quickly climbed behind the wheel. As soon as he pulled away from the curb, he turned the heater up.
What was wrong with her? Why was she reacting to him like this? No one, not even Edward had affected her this way.
“What’s your name?”
His question pulled her from her thoughts. “Tess. Tess Collinsworth.”
She took his extended hand in hers. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” That was the first time she’d meant those words in quite some time.
“The pleasure is mine.”
She felt her cheeks burn. She hadn’t blushed in centuries. They made small talk the rest of the drive. Forsythe St. eventually turned into Highway 17 and led out of the city limits to the countryside.
His eyes widened as they pulled into the driveway. “You live here alone?” He asked in awe of the size of the house.
“Yes. My ancestors built the manor when they came here from England.” So she had it built, he didn’t need to know that.
“Thank you. Would you like to come in? I could give you a tour.”
“I can’t. It’s getting late, and I have an appointment in the morning.” The disappointment was evident in his voice.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how late it was.” She replied, looking at the clock on the radio. “I’ve kept you long enough.” She reached for the handle and he grabbed her hand to stop her. “Oh…” She slithered out of his coat. “Sorry.” She grinned.
“Can I see you again?”
She was taken aback by the question and by the look in his eyes. He sincerely wanted to spend time with her, as much as he wanted to sleep with her. “I’d like that.”
He smiled again. “I’ll call you.”
“I’m having some trouble with the phones right now. But you can come by anytime after dark.”
“After dark?” His eyes gleamed with curiosity.
“Yes. I uh…I stay pretty busy during the day. I’m never here.”
He nodded. “How about tomorrow night? Say…around nine?”
“I’ll be looking for you.” She smiled, already anticipating their rendezvous. “Good night, Mark.”
“Good night, Tess.”
She hopped out of the truck and dashed to the front door, then watched him drive away before going inside.
‘You live here alone?’ His question haunted her as she stepped through the foyer and into the grand ball room. She never thought about how big the manor was, there was no reason to, but now she felt trapped in this giant prison and isolated from the rest of the world. With a heavy sigh, she went into the library and wrote a note to Mildred, the head of her housekeeping staff, telling her that she was expecting company the following night, and that she would need her to stay and serve dinner, which would be slow roasted chicken with roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables, and a nice bottle of wine. Mildred was the only one of her staff who’d ever met her. While others pondered who the mysterious mistress of the manor house was, her faithful staff was content to stay blissfully unaware. Of course, she paid twice the salary anyone else offered.
Standing, she walked to the window and looked out at the forest that surrounded her. She truly was isolated. But that was the whole point of building her home in the middle of nowhere. Still, it would be nice to have someone to share it with - someone with short auburn hair and piercing green eyes. Tess growled in frustration. This was going to be a long night.
She should go out again and find someone for tomorrow night. She wouldn’t have long to prepare for Mark after she rose and she wouldn’t chance him being here while she was hungry. Closing her eyes, she smiled as his face smiled back at her. The look in his eyes left no question as to what he wanted to do with her, but he hadn’t even hinted at such things. And he’d actually been concerned about her safety. Interesting…
A noise outside caught her attention. Turning off the light, she went outside to investigate. Teenagers, a boy and a girl, were in the woods and coming toward the manor. Damned legends. It was rumored that her house was haunted, and every now and then some drunken teenager would get up enough courage to come find out for himself, or bring his girlfriend here for sex. Oh well, they would save her from having to go back into town for tomorrow night’s meal.
Without making a sound, Tess snuck up behind the couple as they peeked in the library window…
Mark stared at Dr. Simms, unable to believe what he’d just heard. “You can’t be serious.”
The doctor sighed. “You knew this was coming, Mark. I’m sorry, but your hip has to be replaced.”
“What about surgery?”
“Surgery would give you a couple more months in the ring, but you’ll only be prolonging the inevitable.” He put his hand on Mark’s shoulder, offering what support he could. “I know how important your career is to you, but you have to think about your health.”
Mark let out a shaky breath. Damn, he hated this! “Let’s do it.”
Doc nodded and sat down behind his desk. “I want to schedule it for next week.”
“The longer you wait…”
“Okay, okay. Next week.”
“Good.” He put on his glasses and looked through his calendar. “Next Thursday morning at seven.”
Mark nodded. “Fine. Thanks Doc.”
Mark had never been so miserable. Wrestling was his life, it was who he was, and now it was over. He called Vince on his cell phone from the truck. Vince didn’t take the news well either, but agreed that it was in Mark’s best interest, and wished him all the best, was there was anything he could do, blah, blah, blah… Mark knew he meant well, but he was in no mood for sympathy at the moment.
A thought occurred to him as he pulled into the parking lot - he was going to have to find some other way to make a living now. Brian Adams had offered him a partnership at the gym, which might actually come in handy during rehab. Or he could open a motorcycle repair shop, like he’d always wanted to do. A tattoo shop maybe… He was too old to start over, damn it!
Something on the passenger’s seat caught his attention as he climbed out of the truck. He smiled as he picked up his coat, which was still wet from the night before. “Tess.” She had looked so good out there in the freezing rain, and she had been so cold when he touched her cheek. He didn’t remember her shivering though. She hadn’t been afraid either. When she first looked up at him, she had been angry, a little stunned maybe, but definitely not afraid, which he thought was odd considering she had just been forced into an ally by some drunk twice her size. Come to think of it, everything about her seemed strange. Suddenly Tess Collinsworth was quite the mystery, and that was one mystery he was looking forward to figuring out. Tossing the coat onto the seat, he closed the door and went into the gym.
“Hey man!” Brian greeted as he walked through the glass doors.
“Hey.” Mark walked over to his friend.
Brian studied Mark a moment. “Good news or bad news?”
“So what’s the bad news?” Brian put his book down and leaned forward on his elbows ready to listen.
“The bad news is I have to have my hip replaced.”
“Damn man. I’m sorry.”
Brian hesitated a moment before he asked, “Have you thought about my offer?”
“Yeah I have, but I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”
Brian nodded. “Well, the offer’s open.”
When Mark didn’t continue, Brian prodded. “And the good news?”
Mark grinned. “I’m having dinner tonight with the most beautiful women I have ever seen.”
“God damn it, Mark! Do you know how hard it is to meet beautiful women in this town?”
Mark laughed aloud. They’d been in competition since they were boys.
“So, where’d you meet her?”
“On Brighton. I was going to Sam’s to shoot some pool, and saw her walking alone down the street. I stopped to see if she needed a ride, but before I got to her, some drunk pushed her into an ally and pinned her against the wall.”
“Then you saved her from this guy and she agreed to have dinner with you. I swear, Mark, you have the best luck.”
Mark grinned and picked up the book Brian had been reading. “You’re not still tracking down vampires, are you?”
“Something wrong with that?”
“There wouldn’t be if they were real.” Mark mumbled. They’d had this conversation before. Brian was convinced that there were vampires roaming the earth, and nothing anyone told him would change his mind. Of course he’d never met one, or had any kind of personal experience with them, but that didn’t stop him from believing.
“Don’t.” Brian warned.
Mark threw his hands up in defense. “I’m not saying anything.” Handing the book back to Brian, he asked, “So what did you find in here?”
Brian was quiet for a moment. He knew how ridiculous he sounded, but he’d read enough of the facts to convince him. “According to this, a vampire came to this area in the late 1700s. She built a manor in the forest just north of here, completely isolated from everything and everyone.”
“She?” He hated to admit it, but Brian had him intrigued this time. Especially when he said that the vampire had built a manor. Tess had used that same word to describe her house. Tess couldn’t be… that was ludicrous. He’d been spending way too much time around Brian lately.
“Yep. And according to this, she’s gorgeous.”
“What else does it say about her?” What the hell. He always had been a sucker for a good story.
“Not much really.” Brian sounded disappointed. “Just that the house was completed in 1783 and that no one had ever actually seen her.”
“Impossible. How do you have a house built without ever meeting the contractor?”
Brian flipped through a few pages before finding the passage he was looking for. “She came to the manor at night and would leave written instructions for the builders and money to pay for supplies and the men’s salaries. Seems she was quite generous. She often left bonuses for the workers when they’d done an exceptional job, or completed a project ahead of schedule. It also says that there is believed to be a secret room under the dungeon where she sleeps, but the original plans had been destroyed as soon as the house was complete, and everyone who had worked on the house ended up dead. No one has ever found any trace of that room.”
“Sleeps? You think she still lives there?”
Brian shrugged. “Some people do. There’s something going on at that place. There are still stories about people who go out there and are never seen again.”
Mark was fascinated by the story. Every mention of the vampire house sparked an image of Tess’ house. Damn it, he was doing it again! “This is ridiculous. I’m going to do some free weights.”
“You want me to spot ya?” Brian asked putting the book under the counter.
“Yeah, just give me a minute to change.” Brian nodded and Mark went to the locker room to change his clothes. He could kill Brian for putting those thoughts in his head. There were no such things as vampires, except maybe down at the IRS. The clock on the wall read 10:32. ‘Ten hours and twenty-eight minutes to go.’ This was shaping up to be a long day.
When Mark finally walked into his house, he was exhausted. After a strenuous workout with Brian, he went to lunch, then to his parents’ house to tell them the news. They were both upset that his career had to end, although he could swear his mother was jumping for joy inside. Then came the talk about all the good things that could come from this; it wasn’t the end of the world, etc… He was getting more sympathy than he could stomach, and if they had been anyone else, he would have told them so. His mother had insisted he stay for dinner – he should have seen that coming – and after giving him the third degree about the woman he was seeing, she sent him on his way. “You don’t want to be late.” No, he didn’t. In fact, he could hardly wait to get there.
Eight - twenty, could that minute hand move any slower? He doubted it. After splashing on some cologne, he grabbed his coat, a dry one, and headed out the door.
His mind swam with images of Tess and what Brian had told him. He knew there were no such things as vampires, but she was so…different. Something wasn’t right. “It’s probably nothing.” He told the tail lights infront of him. It was just his imagination working overtime. If living this close to Brian was going to have this kind of affect him, he was going to have to move somewhere far, far away.
His heart raced as Tess’ manor came into view. He frowned at the car in the driveway. It wasn’t here last night. Then, neither was Tess’. How had she gotten into town? Taking a deep breath, he climbed out of the truck and went to the door. He was more nervous than he cared to admit.
The heavy knockers were in the shape of gargoyles. Mark crinkled his nose. “Ugly little devils.” He muttered, taking one of the ferocious creatures in his hand. He didn’t hear anything for a moment, then the soft clicking of shoes on marble.
He took a step back as the door opened and smiled, expecting to see Tess.
“Yes.” He answered the older woman, keeping his smile in place.
“This way.” She stood aside to let him pass.
He followed her through a giant room, which was empty except for the enormous chandelier hanging in the center of the room and a grand staircase that led up in both directions to the second floor, into a room on the left. This place was more beautiful that he’d thought. It certainly didn’t resemble the exterior.
“Please, make yourself at home. Miss Collinsworth will be down momentarily.”
“Thank you.” He replied absently. The walls were filled with books, most of them older than this house. He ran his fingers reverently over the volumes, as he made his way around the room, then went to the bar, poured himself a glass of Jack Daniels and resumed his exploration of the room.
The lid of the coffin slowly creaked open and Tess sat up. She was hungrier than usual. It seemed as though her dreams of Mark made her craving for blood stronger. Frowning at the thought, she climbed out of her casket and stretched. She didn’t want to kill him, although she wasn’t sure why. He wouldn’t be any different than the others. Once he found out what she was, he would want her to give him the dark gift, if she didn’t frighten him, and if he tried to kill her it would be out of fear, not love. She’d been through this too many times before.
But she was getting ahead of herself. They’d just met and there was nothing to say that he would want to see her again after tonight. “We’ll take this one step at a time.”
The teenagers whimpered in the corner. Turning toward them, she smiled. “And the first step is dinner.” The girl screamed as Tess made her way over to them and knelt down infront of the boy. Taking a handful of hair, she pulled his head back and leaned over him, sinking her fangs deep into his neck. The girl screamed again as she drained him, and then turned her attention to her.
“Please don’t kill me. I won’t tell anyone, I swear.”
Tess snickered. “Don’t think of it as dying. Think of it as meeting Romeo here in the afterlife.”
Tess laid the girl down and stroked her cheek as she covered her body with her own. “Shhh…” She cooed smiling as the girl quieted. Bringing her lips to the girl’s, she kissed her softly then moved down to her throat. The girl tried to scream as Tess sank her fangs into her flesh, but she was unable to utter a sound.
She reveled in the taste and feel of the girl’s blood, of her body struggling beneath her, but it was over far too soon. Her hunger was sedated, but she wanted more. They would have to suffice until she could go hunting later.
Climbing off the girl, she stood and smiling, ascended the spiral staircase which resided in one corner of the room, taking the stairs two at a time. The stairway led to a secret door in the dressing room of her bed chamber on the third floor. It was the only way in or out of her sleeping chamber. It was convenient, as she liked to dress before going out to hunt, and no one ever thought of looking for the entrance there. The secret door was well hidden, blending in perfectly with the wall paper so that there were no seams to give away its location. Stopping at the top of the stairs, she listened carefully for a moment to make certain there was no one in her bedroom. There wasn’t. Grabbing the handle, she pulled, effortlessly opening the heave oak door.
Going to her closet, she trifled through her wardrobe, finally deciding on a long red velvet dress and red heels. After taking a quick shower, she dressed and sat down at her dressing table to comb out her long chestnut hair and pull it up.
Standing infront of the full length mirror, she appraised her reflection. “Not bad.”
Mildred knocked softly and pushed the door open to peek inside. “Miss Collinsworth?”
“Mr. Calaway is here. I put him in the library.”
“Thank you, Mildred.”
If I may say so Ma’am, you look lovely tonight. Is this a special occasion?”
Tess smiled at the aging woman. “No, just dinner.”
Mildred flushed slightly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so nosy.”
Tess chuckled. “When will dinner be served?”
“In about half an hour, Ma’am”
“Very well. We’ll be in the library.” She walked past the housekeeper and down the stairs, nearly tripping over her own feet as she did. Why was she in such a hurry to see him? She hoped that she could keep her hunger in check while he was here. If seeing him affected her half as much as thinking about him did, he would be in grave danger.
Tess stopped when she entered the library. He was standing by the window, his back to her, looking out at the surrounding countryside. God, he looked good. Walking up to him, she commented, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Mark, startled by the sound of her voice, jumped and swung around. “Tess. I didn’t hear you come in.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you.”
His eyes slowly descended her form. “You look stunning.”
“Thank you.” She blushed slightly. “You look very handsome tonight. I like this color.” She said admiring the deep blue shirt, as her fingers brushed over his chest.
“Thanks.” He replied, running his hands down the front of his shirt, suddenly very self conscious about his appearance.
“Can I pour you another drink?” Tess smiled. Petty as it was, she loved having that kind of affect on men.
“Sure. Thanks.” Not that he had a choice. She’d already taken his glass before he could respond. Not that he minded… Remembering that she didn’t know what he was drinking, he turned to tell her, only to find her refilling his glass with Jack Daniels. How had she known? “Thank you.” He said taking the drink from her.
“You’re welcome.” Her smile seemed brighter every time she looked at him. “Please.” She motioned for them to sit on the black velvet sofa infront of the fireplace. “Dinner will be ready soon.” She was terrible at starting conversations, always had been. “So, tell me about yourself, Mark. I noticed your accent. Where do you come from?”
He’d never heard the question worded quite that way before. “I’m originally from Houston. I moved to Tampa right after my first wedding, then back to Houston with my second wife a couple of years ago. Now I’m here.”
“You are married?”
“Divorced.” Mark’s smile faded somewhat. “What about you?”
Tess shrugged. “I was engaged twice. My brother made enemies with the first one, and the second… changed his mind.” She’d learned over the years how to edit the story to accommodate these modern times.
“Where are you from?”
“I was born in England, but I’ve lived in several places.”
Mark’s eyebrows rose. “Really? You don’t have an English accent.”
Tess smiled. “Comes from traveling so much, I suppose.”
“Do you have any family around here?” All of a sudden he couldn’t know enough about her.
She shook her head. “No. I don’t have any family. What about you?”
“Not around here.” He answered. “My parents and brother live near Houston, and I’ve got a son in Tennessee and a daughter in Houston.” He read the question in Tess’ eyes. “They live with their mothers.”
“Oh.” It didn’t matter how old she was, she still couldn’t get used to the idea of families living so far apart. Divorce, even sixty years ago, was considered unthinkable, although it was probably the best thing for the women and children in some cases.
“Do you have any?”
Tess looked at him puzzled for a moment. “Kids?” He nodded. “No, I can’t have children.” Her brother had seen to that long before she was made a vampire.
She lived isolated in the middle of nowhere, all alone in an enormous house with no family. The thought was gut wrenching. He opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Dinner is served, Miss Collinsworth.”
Tess smiled at the woman. “Thank you.”
Mark stood and extended his hand to Tess. “May I have the pleasure of your company?” He said, bent at the waist, causing Tess to laugh.
“It would be my pleasure.” She curtsied and slipped her arm around his.
Tess sat at one end of the long, formal dining table, and he was seated at the other end - the distance between them would distract him so he wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t eating. The table was set with antique china, crystal wine glasses, and the silverware, Mark could have sworn, was actually silver. Mildred brought in the first course, homemade tomato soup. Next came the roasted chicken and vegetables, and for dessert, they were served chocolate mousse.
They made small talk during dinner, and Tess learned a lot about Mark. He liked to ride motorcycles, shoot pool, and listen to the blues… But when he mentioned that he use to be a professional wrestler, he’d become quiet, as if it hurt him to think about it.
Dinner lasted for nearly an hour and afterward, she took him on a tour of the manor, from the third floor bedrooms to the dungeon. He was enthralled at the architecture and the stark contrast of the welcoming interior and the foreboding exterior. He especially enjoyed his tour of the dungeon, as he’d never actually been in one before.
“People were really held down here?” He asked tugging on one of the chains hanging from a wall.
Tess chuckled. “A few. Dungeons were common in castles and large manor houses in England, so it was only natural for them to build one here.”
“You seem to really know your history.” He said as they began their ascent to the first floor.
“I’ve always enjoyed studying history.” They made their way back into the music room. “Can I get you another drink?” She asked as he sat down on the settee.
“No thank you. I’m driving.”
What Tess wouldn’t give to have him stay with her, and to be able to stay with him. She doubted he would enjoy a night in a coffin. Smiling, she joined him. “You mentioned earlier that you use to be a wrestler.” Mark nodded. “What happened?”
Mark sighed. He didn’t want to talk about it, but he felt he owed her an explanation After all; she had shared some pretty personal facts about herself with him. “I did some extensive damage to my hip, and it has to be replaced.”
“Can’t you wrestle with a new one?”
He smiled at her innocent lack of medical knowledge. “It’s not completely impossible, but it isn’t probable.”
“You seem to love what you do.” She surmised, “I’m sorry.”
He nodded. ‘Thanks.”
“What will you do now?” Why should she care? This man was going to be trouble – she could feel it.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“But you’ll be living here? In this area?”
Was that anticipation he heard in her tone? “Yes, I’m staying here.” Her smile confirmed it. At least they were thinking along the same lines. He’d worried all night that she wouldn’t want to see him again, even though there was nothing in her manner to suggest otherwise.
Tess turned her attention to Mildred, who’d silently slipped into the room.
“Um…it’s getting late. Do you need anything else before I leave?”
In Mark’s company, Tess had completely forgotten about her. “No, that will be all.” Standing, she walked to the woman, picking up an envelope off of the piano as she passed by, and handed it to Mildred. “Thank you for staying.”
Mildred’s eyes widened. She started to protest, but Tess cut her off. “You deserve it.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. Goodnight.”
As Mildred left, Tess turned back to Mark, who was coming toward her.
“I should be going too.”
‘No!’ She wanted to protest. Instead, she smiled and nodded. “I’ll walk you out.”
“Thank you for dinner. Tell Mildred it was wonderful.”
Tess smiled. “She is a wonderful cook, isn’t she?” They stopped at the front door. “Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for inviting me.” He slipped on his coat and opened the door, then turned to Tess. A moment passed in silence. He wanted to scoop her up and carry her to her bedroom, but he knew better. “I’m having some friends over Friday night. We’re going to rent some movies, order a pizza, nothing big. Would you like to come?”
Tess’ smile widened. “I would like that.”
“Great.” Bending, he pressed his lips to hers. It was a friendly kiss, not too bold, but with enough passion she would know he was interested in eventually taking it further. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” She watched until the truck was out of sight. He had no idea how intense that had been for her. All of her senses were heightened when she was made a vampire, not only her eyesight and hearing. Every touch of his hand was like fire against her skin. His kiss had been so… there weren’t words to describe the pure pleasure in that one simple gesture. How would it be to make love to him? She hadn’t been with a man since that night, she hadn’t wanted to.
At least she didn’t have the urge to rip his throat out as she had when she woke up. That was one worry off her mind. As long as she could feed before she saw him, he would be safe. Speaking of feeding…
Smiling, she leaped high into the air and flew over the countryside in search of her next victim.
The next three days were pretty much uneventful for Tess, as usual, until Friday morning. She’d had a visitor that day. Or rather a man had come asking questions about the owner of the manor house. He wasn’t the first to come looking for a vampire. Mildred handled the situation as smoothly as she always did.
The man called himself Brian Adams. The name sounded familiar to Tess, but she couldn’t quite place it. She would have to research him after her evening with Mark. Many people said they believed in vampires, but only a handful truly did. If he was a true believer, he could mean big trouble for her.
By the time the sun finally set, she was starving. She dressed quickly, wearing a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, and headed out. In her rush, she forgot to put on a coat and had to go back and get one. She would have too much explaining to do if she showed up without one in this weather. She also decided to drive her car. Dating was starting to seem like more trouble than it was worth.
Finding a nearly deserted bar on the outskirts of town, she stopped. Her tastes were turning toward large tattooed bikers. Mark was having more of an influence on her than she would have liked. It wasn’t long before two men stumbled out of the bar, singing as loud as they could. Perfect.Climbing out of the car, Tess walked over to the two, who’d seen her and were trying to make their way over to her.
“How ya doing Honey?” One of the men slurred. He walked behind her while his friend stepped infront. Both were blatantly staring at her and rubbing their crotches.
“I’m good. And you?” She didn’t bother with a cleaver response. They were too drunk to hide what they wanted and she doubted seriously that either of them was going to let her go without trying to take it.
The second man spoke up, “Why don’t you come with us and let us show you.”
Tess smiled. “Why not here? Behind the bar.”
The second man smiled. “Sounds good to me. Earl?”
Earl came up behind her and grabbed her breast. “I hear ya Pete. Lead the way.”
As soon as they reached the back of the building, Earl unfastened his pants and pulled them down. Tess grinned wickedly at his erection, then knelt before him and took it in her hand, stroking him a few times before putting him in her mouth. He moaned as he slid down her throat, and then screamed in pain as she bit down.
Pete assumed his scream was one of pleasure, and didn’t think anything of it when Earl fell to the ground as Tess stood up and turned toward him. Opening his pants, he pulled his penis out. Tess started to kneel infront of him, but he stopped her. “Forget that. I’m ready to fuck you.”
Tess smiled. “As you wish.” Leaning up, she captured his mouth as he reached for her jeans, and then slowly descended to his throat. He struggled to pull her off of him, but she was too strong. Soon his body relaxed and fell limp to the ground beside his friend.
Sighing, Tess cut her wrist and smeared her blood over their wounds, sealing them, then took the money out of their wallets. She hated having to cover her crimes, but she didn’t need the public to start hunting vampires again, like they used to. People, most of them anyway, were content believing that the undead were nothing but legends and myths, and she intended to do everything she could to keep it that way.
Mark had forgotten to give her directions to his house, but that was no problem. Closing her eyes, she searched until she found him. He was telling his friends about her. Her smile grew, as she started the car. So, he’d never met anyone like her before. He had no idea.
Between his thoughts and his scent, Tess had no trouble finding Mark. She hesitated when she pulled into his driveway. There were three other people in there with him, and she sensed danger. She breathed in deeply, inhaling the scent of those inside. He was there – the one who’d come looking for her that morning, Brian. “Shit.” There wasn’t much she could do now, except leave, and she wasn’t about to cancel on Mark.
She checked her clothes and face to make sure she didn’t have any blood on her. When she was satisfied, she climbed out of the car and walked to the front door. She couldn’t remember ever being this nervous before. Raising her hand she knocked.
The door swung open and Tess found herself face to face with stranger.
“You must be Tess.” He said and extended his hand.
“Yes.” She placed her hand in his. ‘Brian Adams.’
“I’m Brian. Come on in.” He stepped aside to let her pass. “Mark will be out in a minute.”
“Hi” Said another man. “I’m Dennis.” She shook his hand. “And this is my wife Tracy.”
“Hey!” Mark greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad you came.” He led her into the living room where everyone else was settling down infront of the television. He sat on one end of the sofa and motioned for her to sit next to him.
Brian sat down next to her with three large flat boxes. “Dig in.”
She forced a smile when Brian handed her a slice of pizza and a beer. “Thank you.” She could eat small portions of food, but not without upsetting her stomach later. It was worth the discomfort though. And the foul taste. God, she’d become so accustomed to blood that just the smell of this food made her sick. It was now or never… If she gave any indication that she didn’t enjoy the meal, nobody noticed.
Dennis picked up a small white bag from the coffee table and pulled out several videos. “’Dracula 2000’, ‘Interview With the Vampire’, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, ‘Queen of the Damned’.”
“Damn it, Brian. That’s the last time we let you pick out the movies.” Mark sounded as if he’d had his fill of vampires.
“You’re interested in vampires?” Tess asked Brian casually.
Brian shied away from the question, obviously not wanting to start another debate, but Dennis was more than happy to answer. “He thinks there are real vampires running around out there.”
Tracy spoke up before Brian could respond. “That’s enough talk about vampires tonight. I’m sure Tess isn’t interested.” Wanting to change the subject she added, “Mark was just telling us that you live in the countryside just north of town.”
Tess smiled. “Yes, I own Collinsworth manor.”
Brian’s head snapped around. “You live in the vampire house?”
Tess laughed while the others looked away, embarrassed. She knew none of them believed the way Brian did.
“Knock it off, Brian.” Mark warned. He’d had all of Brian’s nonsense that he could take.
“Is that what they’re calling it now?” Tess asked, ignoring Mark’s protest.
“Yes…well, no. It’s just a nickname.”
“It’s alright. I was getting tired of ‘the ghost motel’ anyway.”
“The ghost motel?” Mark asked curiously.
“According to the locals, it’s supposed to be haunted.”
“Have you ever seen any ghosts?” Dennis asked.
They all seemed interested. “No. The manor isn’t haunted. And there are no vampires.”
“There’s supposed to be a secret room underneath the dungeon. Do you know where it is?” Brian asked hopefully.
“There is no secret room either. Sorry.”
“Why are there so many rumors about your house?” Tracy asked.
Tess shrugged. “I don’t know who started them or why, but it probably has a lot to do with its appearance. It’s a very foreboding place, and it can look sinister at times, especially at night.”
“The outside does, but the inside is beautiful.” Mark injected.
“Thank you.” Tess smiled at Mark, and for a moment the rest of the world disappeared. Brian leaned over Tess’ legs to hand a pizza box to Dennis, which brought her back to the present. He’d apparently asked her to pass the food and she hadn’t heard him.
“What would you like to watch first, Tess?” Brian asked her.
“It really doesn’t matter to me.”
“’Queen of the Damned’ it is.” Brian grinned.
They watched three of the four movies before Dennis and Tracy left. Brian stayed to watch the last one, but he was more interested in finding out more about Tess and her house, and she knew it. She gladly answered all his questions about the house’s history and her ancestors, but when he left, he was still suspicious of her.
“Why don’t you come over for dinner next week? I’ll give you the grand tour.” She offered.
Her offer was too good to resist. “I’d like that. Thanks.”
She nodded. “How about Monday night, around nine?”
“Great. I’ll see ya tomorrow.” He said to Mark. “Goodnight Tess.”
“I’m sorry about that.” Mark said closing the door. “Brian’s got a one track mind, and once you get him talking about something, he doesn’t stop. You don’t have to invite him to dinner.”
“I don’t mind.” She smiled. “Why don’t you come with him?”
“I can’t. I promised my mom I’d have dinner with her.”
She already knew that, which is why she chose that night to invite Brian. She also knew he was scheduled to have surgery Thursday morning, and she intended to be there when he woke up.
“Would you like to go to the fights tomorrow night?”
Tess’ eyebrows drew together. “Fights?”
“Boxing.” A lot of the American pastimes seemed alien to her, he noticed. Even people who didn’t watch knew what boxing, wrestling, and NASCAR were.
“Oh. I would love to go with you.” She smiled. She was going to have to learn more about modern entertainment if she was going to continue seeing him.
His smile brightened. “I’ll pick you up around eight.”
“Perfect.” She lied. She would have to bring dinner home with her for tomorrow night. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.” She said slipping on her coat.
“I’m glad you came over.” He said as they stepped onto the porch.
“So am I.” She smiled up at him. His fingers set her skin on fire as they grazed her cheek, her breath quickened as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him, and claimed her lips in a fervent kiss. Her arms went around his neck on their own accord, holding him close to her while her mouth opened to his inquiring tongue. Her legs were weak and her body was on fire. Had he not been holding on to her, she would have melted there at his feet.
An eternity later, he pulled back, breaking the kiss, and looked deep into her eyes. This couldn’t be happening. She couldn’t be falling in love again. All these years, she’d used Edward’s betrayal to remind her of the true nature of men, but as she stood there in Mark’s arms, those memories vanished. She thought that what she’d felt for Edward was love, but those feelings were nothing compared to this.
Seeing her eyes fill with tears, he cupped her cheek in his hand. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, blinking back the tears before they could fall, and smiled. “I’m fine. I will see you tomorrow night.” Taking a step back, she slipped out of his arms. “Goodnight.”
The tears she’d been holding back fell as she pulled onto the street. She didn’t want to love him, to be betrayed again. She would go to the fights tomorrow night and afterward tell him that she couldn’t see him again. The very thought brought fresh tears to her eyes. But if she stayed with him, he would only end up hurting her. She was damned no matter what she did.
Instead of going home, she went out to hunt. She needed the blood to sedate her stomach, and she had to find someone to bring home for the next evening. She drove to what was considered a bad neighborhood, and immediately found a prostitute waiting on a corner for her next trick. Smiling, she pulled into an ally.
The woman glared at her as she approached, thinking she was the wife of one of her customers. “What do you want?” The woman asked, bracing herself for a confrontation.
The woman backed away from Tess. “I’m not into women.”
“I don’t care.” The girl turned and ran, and a moment later, Tess was holding her against a wall behind a dumpster, her hand wrapped around the girl’s throat to prevent her from screaming. She didn’t waist any time trying to comfort the girl. Opening her mouth, she sank her fangs into her shoulder and drank furiously. Her blood instantly soothed Tess’ stomach.
Tess licked the bite marks to close them then turned toward the policeman, letting the girl fall lifelessly to the ground, and took a step toward him.
“Stay where you are.” His hands were shaking. He’d apparently never witnessed a murder before. “Stop or I’ll shoot.”
Tess smiled wickedly and took another step, her arms outstretched. “Go ahead.”
The gun echoed in the ally as he emptied his clip into her chest. Frantically, he discarded the clip and reached for another one, but before he could insert it, Tess slammed him head-first into the wall, rendering him unconscious. With preternatural strength, she lifted him effortlessly, slung him over her shoulder and carried him to her car.
Mark watched her drive away then went back into his house. He’d never seen so many emotions in a woman’s eyes before. He could understand if she felt half of what he did. He had never believed I love at first sight, not even the night he met her, when she climbed out of his truck with his heart in her hands, but there was no denying what he felt.
He didn’t like the idea of Brian going to her house. Brian may not come on to her - although he wouldn’t put it past him - but he was already convinced that a vampire lived in her house, and Mark didn’t want him accusing her, or worse, trying to prove his theory to be true.
With a growl, he locked the door and turned off the lights. He would have to have a talk with Brian before Monday night. Friend or not, if he did or said anything to upset Tess… He wouldn’t think about it now.
Peeling off his clothes, he lay down in bed and turned off the lamp, gladly letting Tess come into his mind. Those jeans had looked like they’d been custom made for her, molding to her ass perfectly, and that tee shirt was just transparent enough to see the outline of her bra. His penis began hardening at the thought. He was tempted to push aside those thoughts, but why fight it? Slipping his hand beneath the comforter, he wrapped it around his erection and began stroking. His body responded eagerly to his visions of her, and he quickly found his release. If thinking about her had this kind of affect on him, he could only imagine what making love to her would do.
After washing himself in the bathroom, he climbed back into bed. He still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong with her. ‘Not wrong, unusual.’ Her mouth had been so cold when he kissed her. What did he expect? It was near freezing outside. Her speech was a little odd at times, but she was from England, their vocabulary was different than the American vocabulary, she was probably just trying to fit in. How had she found his house? A private investigator, the internet… there was a hundred different ways. Damn Brian for putting these ridiculous ideas in his head!
Rolling over, he closed his eyes and smiled, and soon was fast asleep.
Tess awoke the next night ill at ease. Her sleep had been anything but restful. The cop, having been enclosed in total darkness the entire day, was on the verge of insanity, common among humans in that situation, and her dreams had been unmercifully cruel. In them, Brian had been the one who led the mob to her, who lit the fires that nearly killed her, and Mark had been the one to save her. Only Mark didn’t turn her over to the Count, he took her to safety and then walked away from her, forever. The thought of him walking away like that was more painful than imagining him giving her to the Count.
Although she enjoyed spending time with Mark, she found the fights were not to her liking. It was probably being so close to all that blood and not being able to drink it. She’d had to excuse herself after the third round to go out to hunt. When she returned it was the end of round seven. Mark had been so wrapped up in the fight that he hadn’t noticed how long she’d been gone.
After the fights were over and a new champion had been crowned, he took her to an Italian restaurant. The restaurant was small and could have used a renovation, but the food, according to him, was excellent. It was amazing how little attention humans paid to the amount of food you ate. After the meal, they sat and talked until nearly three in the morning, each sharing stories from their past and hopes for the future. Most of her story had been the truth, save for the dates and some of the names. How she wanted to tell him everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She also couldn’t bring herself to end what relationship they had. After the surgery, she convinced herself, would be the best time for that.
The kiss that ended the evening was anything but casual. She had no idea how she let him leave without first taking him into her bedroom. The next time, she wouldn’t be able to suppress her burning need for him. She would take him into her bed and love him completely. She could only hope that he would forgive her once her secret was revealed.
Brian was fifteen minutes early. Mildred greeted him and led him to the library to wait for Tess. As Mark had, he explored the room, in awe of the intricate designs carved into the door frame and the window panes, and the countless antique books that filled the many shelves. Gently, he picked up one of the books and began looking through it.
“Good evening, Brian.”
Brian slung around, nearly dropping the book. “Tess, I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I believe those were Mark’s exact words.” Tess chuckled. Taking the book from him, she turned it over to read the cover. “The Malleus Maleficarum, a terrible choice.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“This book was used by the church as a guide to find, torture, and kill witches.”
Brian shook his head. “Perhaps they shouldn’t have been practicing witchcraft.”
“Or perhaps they shouldn’t have refused the preacher’s bed.” Tess replied coldly.
“What do you mean?” If he didn’t know better, he would swear that she was speaking from personal experience.
“That not all preachers were as godly as they would have had you think. Please.” She said, motioning toward the sofa. “I had an ancestor who’d gone to bed with a man of the cloth. When he came to her months later, she refused him. Humiliated that he’d been refused by a whore, he accused her of witchcraft and had her burned at the stake.”
“A lot of the things they did back then are unbelievable.”
Brian nodded. He wasn’t a historian, but he knew how much the times had changed, even in the past hundred years.
“Dinner is served, Miss Collinsworth.” Mildred announced from the doorway.
“Thank you, Mildred. Shall we?” Standing, she walked to the dining hall with Brian. As before, he sat on one end of the table and she on the other. Unlike Mark though, he watched her carefully throughout the meal, forcing her to eat what she could.
After dinner, they began the tour, starting on the third floor. “You’ll forgive me if we skip my bedroom.”
"Of course." He smiled. There probably wasn't anything interesting in there anyway, except maybe her underwear. The thought provoked other thoughts, erotic thoughts and he had to remind himself that she was off limits.
Tess smiled inwardly when she saw his cheeks warm. She’d sent him a mental image of her underwear drawer to keep him from suspecting that anything more appealing was in there, namely the door to her secret chamber. Men were so easy to influence.
Stepping into the studio on the second floor, he was amazed at her talent. “I didn’t know you could paint. These are very good.”
Walking to her newest work, his eyes widened. “Mark posed for you?”
Tess chuckled. “No. I paint from memory.”
“Incredible. You know, you could make a fortune off these.”
“I do.” She smiled at the surprise on his face.
He walked to the next one. “Who’s this?” He recognized the man from one of his research books.
Tess’ smile faded somewhat. “That’s the Count.”
“What’s his name?”
She joined him beside the picture. “I don’t know. I found his photograph in a book once and decided to paint him.” He had been the one to see him in a book and she used his memory to produce the lie.
“What was the name of the book?” He asked, once again focused on proving that a vampire lived here. If he could just catch her in a lie…
“I don’t remember.”
Damn it. She was good. Following her out of the room they went to the first floor then to the dungeon. He was speechless as he walked the circumference of the room, searching discreetly for a hidden panel.
She wanted to tell him he wouldn’t find anything, but that would give away more about her than she cared for him to know, so she let him search.
After a time, he gave up, not wanting her to suspect he had been looking for the secret room. As much proof as she produced that vanquished the theory of the existence of vampires, he still felt as if there was something she was hiding. Maybe Mark was right. He’d seen too many horror movies and had way to much free time on his hands. He would make it a point to find something other than vampires to occupy his time. Before leaving the dungeon, he examined the several torture devises there.
“It’s hard to believe that people were this cruel.” He said running his hand over the surface of the rack.
“Yes, it is.” She agreed. A smile spread across her face when he jerked his hand away. “Don’t worry, these were never used.”
“Still…” He’d backed up another step.
“Shall we?” She asked motioning toward the stairs. He was more than ready to leave that part of the house.
“Thank you for dinner, Tess. It was delicious.” He commented as she showed him to the door.
“Good night. Drive carefully.” She called out as he sat down behind the wheel.
He waved his response and pulled away. He was still a believer, but by letting him explore the manor, she had managed to take his attention off of her.
Mark went to see Tess on Tuesday, wanting to spend time with her before he went into the hospital Wednesday night. She wasn’t home, but Mildred told him to come to dinner that night at nine. He didn’t feel right accepting the invitation without Tess’ knowledge, but Mildred reassured him that Tess would want her to ask in her absence, and he agreed. As soon as he left Collingsworth manor, he went straight to the gym.
“Dinner?” Mark confirmed with a nod. “Fine.”
"Fine? That’s it?”
Brian put the book down to answer. “What do you want me to say? We had dinner. She gave me a tour of the place. I went home.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I thought you might…”
“What? Sleep with her? Drive a stake through her heart? Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Brian sounded wounded by the accusation.
Sighing heavily, Mark ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry, man. I’m not thinking clearly.”
“You’re starting to talk like her.”
“What’s wrong with the way she talks?” Mark asked defensively.
“Nothing’s wrong with it, it’s just…different.” Not wanting to piss off Mark, he dropped the subject. “So, are you going to see her before you check into the hospital?”
Mark nodded with a smile. “Tonight. Oh, my mother is flying in from Houston tomorrow afternoon. Would you mind picking her up?”
“Sure. Is she staying with you?”
“Yeah. Her flight arrives at 4:30, gate 6.”
“You don’t sound too thrilled about it.” Brian replied writing down the information.
Mark sighed. “I’m glad she’s coming. I’m just not in the mood to be coddled.”
“Not by your mother, but if it were Tess you’d be rushing your doctor to do it as soon as possible.”
“Fuck you, Brian.” Mark scowled, but he couldn’t argue. Brian simply laughed. “I’ve got to get going. I’ll talk to you later.”
“I’ll see ya.”
Mark sped down the highway toward Collinsworth manor. He’d been rushing around all day trying to get things ready for his mother’s visit. Finally, he gave up. It didn’t matter how much food he had in the fridge or how clean the house was, she would always find something he needed or that needed to be done. She would probably want to meet Tess too. He wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea. After all, he’d just met her, and although he was already in love with her, it was too soon to know where their relationship would go.
All his thoughts faded as he pulled off the highway. Tess was right; this place looked very sinister in the dark. The gargoyles sneered at him as he climbed out of the truck and walked up the stone steps.
The door creaked open when he lifted his hand to knock. “Hello?” He took a tentative step forward. “Tess? Mildred?” The house looked, and felt, deserted. A noise caught his attention, a woman’s scream, but he couldn’t say where it had come from, or if he had even heard it.
“Mr. Calaway. You’re early.”
Mark, not having seen Mildred come out of the kitchen, jumped at the sound of her voice. A smile quickly replaced his shocked expression. “Mildred, I didn’t hear you.” The scream he thought he heard came again. “Did you hear that?” He asked the gray-haired woman.
“Hear what, Sir?”
Mildred looked at him as if he looked ill. “Are you feeling alright? Would you like some tea?”
Shaking his head, he answered, “No, I’m fine.” Silence. He couldn’t even hear his own heartbeat.
Mildred studied him for a moment. She heard the scream. It was impossible to hear Tess’ victims scream, as her sleeping chamber was soundproof. The door must have been left open – she would have to check it and tell Tess. “Why don’t you come and sit down?” She took his arm, led him into the library, and sat him down on the sofa. “What would you like to drink?” She asked walking to the bar.
“Jack Daniels, if you’ve got it.” He was sure he’d heard a woman scream. It was as if it had come from inside the walls. Impossible… “Thank you.”
Mildred smiled warmly at the guest. “Miss Collinsworth will be down shortly.”
He nodded in response then watched as she left the room. He was losing it. There was no way he could have heard those screams. It had to be the house. The way it looked when he arrived, Brian’s stories about it being owned by a vampire… the fact that he’d never seen Tess during the day. He was going to kill Brian.
His cell phone rang, pulling him from his thoughts. “Hello. Mom. Tonight? Okay, I’ll meet you there. No, nothing’s wrong. Of course I’m glad you’re coming. I love you too, Mom. Bye.” With a heavy sigh, he pressed the “end” button. This could not be happening.
Standing, he went to the desk and finding Tess’ stationary, wrote her a note, and then went to find Mildred.
“Mr. Calaway.” Mildred addressed from behind him.
Mark swung around. “Listen, something’s come up and I’m going to have to leave. Would you give this to Tess?” He asked handing her the folded slip of paper.
“Of course. I hope nothing’s wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong.” Mark smiled reassuringly. “Tell Tess I’ll call her later.”
“Yes sir.” She opened the front door for the big man. “Do be careful. There’s a storm moving in and these roads can be dangerous when they’re wet.”
“I will. Goodnight.” He called out climbing in the truck.
Tess woke up hungrier than usual. Mark was there, and his scent made her reel with hunger. Growling, she bounded up the stairs and into her room. She couldn’t go downstairs for fear of attacking Mark or Mildred. Walking to the window, she opened it and leaned out. There in the rose garden were two women – witches come to cleanse the place of the evil spirits that resided there. Having experienced first hand the way their ancestors were treated, Tess didn’t normally hunt witches. She would let them perform their rituals then see that they made it home safely. But tonight was different. It was either them or Mark. Taking a deep breath, she asked their Goddess for forgiveness then leaped into the air.
The women cried out in shock as Tess landed between them. One of the women screamed as she sank her fangs into her sister’s neck, then again as she reached out and grabbed her arm. The woman struggled, but was unable to pull away from the vampire’s grip.
“I’m sorry.” Tess whispered in her ear. The woman’s blood was sweet and warm. They had been good women, active in their community, helping all those in need. She felt remorse for having feasted on them. Damned guilt. She’d managed to bury all those annoying human emotions, until she met Mark. She couldn’t feel love for him without all the others resurfacing.
Sighing, she turned her attention to the task at hand – getting rid of the bodies. Slinging one over each shoulder, she took flight, depositing them in an ally on the south side of the city, and made it back to her house in a matter of minutes. Going in through the same window, she quickly changed out of her blood stained clothes and into a simple long velvet skirt and a matching silk blouse.
“Where is Mark?” Tess asked looking into the empty library.
“Something came up and he had to leave.” Pulling the note from her apron pocket, Mildred handed it to Tess. “He asked me to give this to you and said he’d call you later.”
Tess took the paper, rather annoyed at having missed him, and read it.
I’m sorry to have to cancel on you like this, but my mother decided to surprise me and come to town a day early. I’ve got to pick her up at the airport. I’d like to make it up to you, if you’ll let me. Love,
Tess smiled at the note. “Thank you, Mildred. For everything – inviting Mark for dinner, staying late… I really appreciate it.”
Mildred lowered her face to hide her rosy cheeks. Tess wasn’t one to say thank you, to anyone. She expected things to be done because it was their job, not because she asked. “I only did what I thought you’d do if you were here.”
Tess studied the older woman for a moment. Mildred had worked for her for the past forty years, and was the only one who knew her secret. She had killed Mildred’s husband and, not wanting to orphan their three children, promised to let the four of them live if she came to work for her. If she told anyone, Tess promised to kill her and her children. “Why do you still work for me?”
Mildred looked at her confused. “We had an agreement, Ma’am.”
Tess shook her head. “No. Your children have moved out of your house and started families of their own; you’ve proven time and again that you can keep our secret. There’s nothing to hold you here anymore.”
Mildred shrugged her delicate shoulders. “I guess I…” She looked down again her cheeks warm. “I’ve grown to love you, in a way.”
Tess was shocked by the confession. She’d come to love the woman over the years, but had never imagined that she would be loved in return. “Mildred,” She lifted her face and smiled warmly. “I love you too. You’ve worked for me for many years and I worry about you sometimes, that you’re shouldering too many responsibilities. I want you to train someone to take over your position in the household, someone you trust to be as discreet as you have been. I’m not firing you, or forcing you to retire. You will always be welcome in this house, as an employee and as a friend.”
Mildred’s eyes filled with tears. “I have someone in mind for the position. I didn’t want to say anything, because I didn’t want you to think I was unhappy here.”
“Your daughter.” Tess smiled. She’d had the same person in mind.
“Yes Ma’am. She’s a good person, honest, fair, very reliable…”
“I know.” Tess interrupted. “She has the job, if she wants it. But she must follow my instructions to the letter and without question.”
“Yes Ma’am. I understand.” She replied as Tess led her to the door.
“Good. Have her come here tomorrow night. The two of you will have dinner with me and we’ll discuss it in more detail.”
“Oh thank you, Miss Collinsworth! She’ll be here at nine, if that’s okay.”
“Nine will be fine. Goodnight.”
Closing the door, she leaned against it and slid down to the floor. She hated the idea of losing Mildred, but the woman was simply too old to keep up with the workload anymore. It was a painful reminder of her immortality. She’d lost more people to old age than she cared to remember, and that list could very well include Mark someday. That of course was assuming he decided to stay with her once he learned the truth, which she seriously doubted would happen.
The witches she drank from earlier made their way back into her thoughts. God, how she hated killing them. Her guilt doubled when she realized that with Mark having to leave so early in the evening, they had died for nothing. Tears fell silently down her face. What she wouldn’t do to end her misery. Unfortunately, there was only one person who could do that, and there was no way Mark was going to kill her.
The phone in the library rang. She was grateful for the distraction. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me.”
Tess sniffled as she wiped her face with a tissue. “Mark, I’m glad you called. I’m sorry I missed you earlier.”
“Actually, that’s the reason I called. I wanted to apologize for canceling on you at the last minute.”
“Oh, I understand. How is your mother? Did her flight arrive alright?”
Mark smiled at the fact that she was asking about his mother. It could be a sign that she loved him, or it could be that she was just being polite. “She’s fine. Other than a little turbulence, the flight was good.” Tess sniffled again. “Are you crying?”
“What happened?” He demanded, picturing the worst possible scenarios.
“Nothing.” She stopped to blow her nose before continuing. “I have to replace Mildred.”
“Has something happened to her?"
Tess let out a sound that sounded like a chuckle mingled with a sob. “No. She’s just getting too old to keep up with all the work.”
Mark wanted to laugh with relief. “God Tess, I thought something had happened to you.”
“No, I’m just being a sentimental old fool.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being sentimental, and you’re nowhere near old.” Closing the bedroom door, he lowered his voice a little. “Do you want me to come over?” If Mom heard that, she would drive him over to Tess’ herself.
“No, I’m okay. It’s important that you spend as much time with your mother as you can.”
Knowing that both her parents were dead, Mark felt a little guilty that his were still alive, ridiculous as it sounded. Suddenly, he was very happy that his mom had flown down to be with him. “I suppose you’re right. Call me if you need anything.”
“Thank you, Mark.” How could he care so much about her, especially when he was facing surgery in only two days? “How long will you be in the hospital?”
“A week, if all goes well.”
“This doctor…he’s good, right? This procedure isn’t dangerous?”
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
Modern technology frightened her, especially medicine. “I’m worried about you. It scares me to think of someone cutting you open.”
If he doubted that she loved him those thoughts were gone now. He could hear it in her voice. “I’ll be fine. They do this procedure all the time; they know what they’re doing.”
“Okay. I assume that’s your mom?” She asked hearing a knock on Mark’s door.
“Yeah. I’ve gotta run. She refused to eat airplane food, so I promised to take her to dinner.”
Tess smiled. “Have fun. I’ll talk to you later.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” He answered lowering his voice to an incredibly seductive tone.
Tess groaned inwardly as she placed the receiver back in its cradle. He was driving her insane and there wasn’t anything she could do about it until after his recovery.
Tess took a deep breath and climbed out of the car. She was outside in the middle of the day and was terrified. Thank goodness for the cold weather. Her pants, long coat, gloves and hat protected her body from the sun and sunglasses shielded her eyes. Her car windows were tinted as well, blocking out a great deal of the light. Although the sunlight wouldn’t kill her (she’d tried it), the rays would still cause her a great deal pain.
Walking with preternatural speed, she slipped into the hospital unseen by anyone. God, how she hated being here. The stench of disease filled the corridors, pain and death loomed in every doorway. The sooner he left this place, the better. How could anyone recover from an operation in a setting such as this? She was tempted to have him brought to the manor for whatever time he needed to recover. But that, she knew, was out of the question.
Stepping into an empty room, Tess closed her eyes and searched for Mark. She wasn’t prepared for what she saw. He was lying on a table with a white sheet hanging from two poles at his waist. A man she assumed was the doctor was sewing up a cut on his hip with a thick curved needle, while a nurse kept the area clear of blood. There was so much blood… Her tear filled eyes flew open as she broke the connection. Covering her mouth with her hand, she fell into a chair and cried, unable to erase the image from her mind.
A doctor, having heard someone crying, peeked into the supposedly empty room, and seeing a woman bent over in a chair went into help her. “Miss? Are you alright?”
Tess started at the voice infront of her. “I’m sorry….” She didn’t know what to say. She sure as hell hadn’t planned on this happening.
“It’s okay.” He turned the light on and walked over to her. “Have you been hurt?” He didn’t see any wounds, but he’d seen his share of rapes.
She shook her head. “No, I’m fine. My friend is having surgery today. I’m here to see him.”
“I see.” He smiled warmly at her as he draped his arm around her shoulder. She wasn’t hurt, he thought, just lost. “Why don’t we see if we can’t find him for you?”
Tess nodded and let him lead her to the reception desk. She hadn’t meant to give him the impression that she was lost and scared, but hey, whatever works…
“What’s his name?” A plump woman behind the desk asked smiling.
“Mark Calaway. He’s supposed to be in surgery.”
The woman punched some buttons on her computer and a moment later smiled. “Here he is. He’s in room 309. If he isn’t there, he’ll be on the fourth floor. They have a waiting room on that floor, if you’d like to wait.”
“Thank you. Um, where are the stairs?”
“They’re right over there.” She said pointing to the left. “And the elevators are down that hallway to the right.”
Tess nodded and wiped her nose on a tissue. “Thank you.”
The woman smiled again. “You’re welcome.”
Tess headed for the stairs. There was no way she was getting on that elevator if she didn’t have to. Knowing that he was still in surgery, she went right to the fourth floor. A nurse came out of a room and into the next, two more were behind a desk at the end of the hall, and a woman was standing next to the wondow in the waiting area - Mark’s mother. At least she knew she was in the right place. She was more unnerved by this place than she ever had been before, which said a lot considering some of the places she’d been. Walking at a deliberate pace, she went to the waiting room and sat down.
The older woman walked over. “Do you mind?” She asked indicating the chair next to her.
“Not at all.” She answered pulling off her overcoat and gloves.
“You must be Tess.” The woman went on. “Mark has told me a lot about you.”
Tess blushed deeply. “All good I hope.”
The woman laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak of a woman as positively as he spoke of you. My name is Catherine.” She said holding her hand out to Tess.
“Tess Collinsworth. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“And so polite. You find that too often these days, I’m afraid. Brian!”
Tess hadn’t noticed the large man come in. “Hi Brian.”
Brian looked as if he were in shock. “Tess. I didn’t expect to see you here. But I’m glad you came.” He added quickly.
Tess only smiled. She had to get them away from her. The nurse at the desk cut her finger, and the smell of her blood was making her hungry.
Catherine’s stomach growled. “Oh my.”
Tess saw her chance. “Brian, why don’t you take Mrs. Calaway to get something to eat?”
“Oh, I can’t leave.” The woman replied. “I need to be here when Mark comes out of surgery.”
“I’ll stay. He won’t be alone.” Tess replied, knowing that was the reason she didn’t want to leave.
Catherine’s stomach growled again. “Tess is right, Mrs. Calaway.”
“Well, okay. You won’t leave until I get back.”
“No Ma’am.” Tess confirmed.
“We won’t be long.” Catherine said as Brian led her to the elevator.
Tess breathed a sigh of relief. As soon as the elevator door closed, a man came into the room, looking for the older woman. “Are you looking for Mrs. Calaway?” She hated asking stupid questions.
“Yes, do you know where I can find her?”
Tess stood and walked over to the man. “I’m Tess Collinsworth, a friend of Mark’s. His mother stepped out to get a bite to eat.”
“I see. The surgery was a success. He’s in the recovery room now.”
“Can I see him?” Tears stung her eyes as she remembered how Mark had looked on that table.
The doctor’s expression softened. “Only immediate family is allowed in recovery.”
“Yes, I know, but I promised his mom that I’d stay with him until she came back.” This was pathetic, but if it got her in to see Mark…
“If you were his fiancé, I’d be able to bend the rules for you.”
“Oh…well… we’re engaged.”
The doctor chuckled. “Alright then, but try not to disturb him too much. He needs his rest.”
“I won’t.” She promised as she followed the doctor down the hall and into a room. She felt sick at the sight of Mark lying unconscious and hooked up to all those machines, and had to force herself to go to the side of the bed. Gently she took his hand in hers, almost afraid to touch him. He looked so helpless, not at all the strong, able man that she knew he was. Leaning over she kissed his forehead and sat down in a chair.
Mark’s eyes fluttered then slowly opened. “Tess?”
Tess smiled softly. “Hey. How are you feeling?”
“Not too bad. This place has some great drugs.”
She chuckled. “Yeah, I bet they do.”
“Where’s my mom?” He asked looking past her.
“Brian took her to get something to eat. They’ll be back shortly.” Tenderly, she caressed his cheek with her fingertips then slid them into his hair.
“I didn’t think you’d come during the day.” His eyes were getting heavy.
She chuckled again. “And I think you’ve been spending too much time around Brian.” He tried to laugh, but was cut short as a pain sliced through his side. “Shhh…” Tess whispered close to his ear. “There will be plenty of time for that when you’re well.”
Mark’s smile brightened the dreary room. “I love you Tess.” His eyelids fell and his smile faded slightly as the medication took effect.
“I love you too, Mark.” She whispered, and then kissed him gently on the mouth. “I always will.” Wiping a tear from her face, she stood to leave. “Brian, Mrs. Calaway. I didn’t hear you come in.” She kept her voice low as not to disturb Mark.
“Thank you for staying.” His mother smiled. She’d heard what they’d said to each other, but chose not to say anything. She didn’t know why, but she liked Tess. Mark was lucky to have found her. “You’re leaving already?” She asked as Tess pulled on her coat and gloves.
“Yes Ma’am. I have to get back to work. Would you tell him that I’ll be back tonight to see him?”
“Of course I will, dear. It was nice meeting you.”
“I was nice to meet you too.” Tess shook the woman’s hand then turned to Brian. “It was good to see you again, Brian.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you around.”
Tess smiled as she made her way back to the stairwell. She’d managed to squash any remaining doubts Brian may have had about her.
She couldn’t get out of that hospital fast enough. She needed blood – now. Seeing a man walk in a door in the parking garage, she followed him. He was a young man, dirty and hungry. Silently she came up behind him and forced him against the wall.
His blood gave her the strength she needed to get home. When she finally fell into her coffin, she was exhausted, another reason she didn’t venture out during the day. She couldn’t help seeing Mark lying cut open on the operating table and then hooked up to those machines. Modern medicine may be better for mortals than the old ways, but it was nothing she cared to get that close to again. Finally her visions turned to the future, not to the time when Mark would reject her, but to when he was healthy and strong again.
According to his doctor, Mark was recovering faster than expected and was able to go home after only two days. Tess came to visit him every night during his stay. Or rather she forced herself to go see him. She loved the time she shared with him, but the more time she spent in that place, the more uncomfortable she was. She was happier than he was when he was released. Catherine had assured her that she and Brian would see him home safely and that there was no need for her to miss any more work. As much as she wanted to argue, she was glad she didn’t have to go out during the day again. She did, however, arrange for six dozen roses to be delivered to his house for the big homecoming. How she longed to be there. And how she longed to be human again, to be able to take care of Mark the way his mother was doing in her absence.
She screamed as loud as she could and proceeded in throwing a temper tantrum, destroying an entire room full of furniture in the process. Childish, yes, but well worth it. As she looked around the room, she felt her anger subside and loneliness consume her. There was no one there to comfort her, no one to scream at, and no one to hold on to while she cried, and there never would be. “Damn you, Count.” Turning from the wreckage, she leaped out of the second story window and headed into the city.
At four in the morning, there weren’t too many people out. A man leaving his mistress’ apartment – enough of a reason to kill him – a cop stopping a burglary, a doctor going home after delivering a dozen babies… A scream pierced the night. She found the woman quickly and the three men who were ripping at her clothes. One by one, she pulled the men off the girl. A crushed skull, a broken neck, a knife buried in an abdomen.
“Oh, thank you.” The girl said taking a step toward Tess.
Tess smiled evilly at the girl. “Don’t than me yet.” The girl turned to run, but was caught before she could take her first step and pressed face first against the wall. Not bothering to lecture her on the dangers of being out alone at that hour, she sank her fangs into the back of the girl’s shoulder. Her blood tasted of the alcohol that was in her body, disgusting, but the struggle the girl had put up sweetened it. Tess held her body close until she fell limp in her arms then licked the wound to seal it and let her fall to the ground. No, she didn’t have to be cruel to her victims, but it made nights like this more bearable.
Leaning back against the brick wall, she squeezed her eyes shut, forcing her tears to stay at bay. She’d never felt loneliness more acutely than after her visits with Mark, and it was only getting worse. The more she was with him, the more she loved him, and soon she would lose him.
The first rays of sunlight filtered through the clouds and stung her face. Opening her eyes, she sighed. “Time to slither back into the grave.” She said bitterly as she took flight. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she should be preparing what she would say to Mark. After all, she couldn’t come out and say, “Guess what? I’m a vampire.” It would take less courage to let him catch her in the act rather than tell him face to face, but he deserved better than that. She just hoped in the end, that he knew she had truly loved him.
Mark flopped down on the couch exhausted. As much as he loved his mother, he was glad she was finally gone. She had insisted on staying until he was back on his feet again, which meant until he was cleared by his doctor to resume normal activities. That had been the longest three months of his life. But it was either his mother stay or trained nurses come in. If private nurses were anything like those in the hospital, there was no competition.
Glancing over at the clock, he smiled. Nine-thirty, Tess would be there soon. She’d come over every night faithfully since his surgery. His mom had liked her from the start, and continuously nagged him to take their relationship to the next level. He had to stop her when she started talking about having more grandchildren, reluctantly telling her that Tess wasn’t able to have children. The subject was not brought up again. Instead, she began hinting at another wedding. “Three times’s a charm.” She’d said. Unfortunately, he’d gone past the wedding and was picking out the rocking chairs that they would sit in when they were old.
The sound of a car engine pulled him from his thoughts. Standing, he met Tess at the door. “Hey.” He smiled as he bent to kiss her hello. Their kisses had remained friendly in light of his house guest, but the flame she sparked in him grew with each one.
“Hi.” She mumbled against his mouth as it covered hers.
Leaning back, he looked deep into her sapphire eyes, which were now black with desire. He couldn’t suppress the moan as he recaptured her mouth, his tongue sliding over her lips to beg for entry.
She responded immediately, her tongue slithering over his and into his mouth, her arms wrapping around his neck to pull him close. The heat from his mouth set her body on fire, while his hands blazed a trail down her back and over her bottom. Her skin came alive with his touch; her insides melted, and her heart, she could swear, actually began beating in her chest. No man had ever made her feel like this. Then, no man ever loved her like Mark did. A twinge of the pain of immortality was suffocated as he lowered his lips to her throat. His teeth grazed her skin. His tongue lapped at her flesh. Dear God, she was going to go insane right there in his arms.
Mark held her close, reveling in the way she responded to him. He could be wrong, but it seemed as though she had never been with a man before. Although willing, she seemed hesitant and uncertain. Capturing her face in his hands, he pulled away from her enough so that he could look into her eyes. He saw nothing there, but pure love and an overwhelming desire for him. That didn’t mean she was experienced. How was he supposed to ask her if she was a virgin? “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes.” Why would he feel so uncertain about making love with her? Quickly she brushed his mind and found the question he needed answered. “I’m a little nervous. I haven’t done this in a very long time.”
Mark smiled tenderly down at her and slid his fingers through her hair. “If you want me to stop at any time, say the word and I’ll stop.” Some women couldn’t handle his size and he didn’t want to hurt her. He also didn’t want her to stop him. He’d been aching to bury himself inside her beautiful young body for months.
“I don’t want you to stop, Mark.” She brought her mouth to his ear and kissed the tip of his earlobe. “I want you to make love to me.” Her lips grazed his neck as she worked her way back to his mouth.
That was more than he could take. Wrapping his hands around her waist, he lifted her and pressed her against the wall. His hands traveled to her legs, pulling them up and wrapping them around his waist, then slithered up under the hem of her dress and over her silk clad bottom. Grasping the elastic, he pulled, easily tearing the thin material and exposing her firm round ass to his exploring hands. Her hands were on his chest, gliding up and down, making his muscles dance under their touch, while she nibbled at his neck and shoulders. There was a sense of urgency in the way she touched him, as if their time was limited. His thoughts quickly vanished as she captured his nipple between her teeth. He slid his arms around her waist and lifted her, pressing her firmly against him, and, turning toward the bedroom, kicked the door closed.
Slowly, he unzipped her dress and slid it off her shoulders, exposing her naked body. Her nipples stood erect, beckoning him to taste them. “You’re so beautiful.” He mumbled kneeling before her. Reverently, he placed his hands on her hips, holding her firmly as he covered her breast with his mouth. She sucked in a sharp breath and let it out with a moan. His already hardened member was growing steadily in the confines of his shorts and throbbing painfully, begging to be released.
Steadily he moved down, kissing every inch of her body along the way. His thumbs grazed the bed of curls between her legs and suddenly he was very nervous and unsure of himself. She was so different than other women. What if he couldn’t please her? Sliding his hands between her legs, he pulled them open then slid his fingers up the inside of her thighs and between her folds, opening her to his gaze, then tentatively, he lowered his head and pressed his lips to her pink flesh.
She moaned as his tongue flicked her clitoris then slowly lathed the flesh around her opening. He could taste the first bit of nectar, so sweet. Puckering his lips, he sucked on her tightened bud and was rewarded with another moan. He wanted all of her, and he didn’t want to wait, but he was determined to take his time with her, to give her as much pleasure as he possibly could. Pointing his tongue, he slid it deep inside her moist tunnel and moved it in and out. Her fingers tightened in his hair and she held him firmly in place as her hips moved slightly in rhythm with his tongue. It wasn’t long before he felt her walls tighten and the rush of liquid spilling into his mouth. He continued to love her through the orgasm, until he felt her body calm down somewhat. Standing, he lowered his mouth to hers, sharing her essence with her.
Reaching down, he unfastened his shorts and slid his thumbs into the waistband. She stopped him before he could pull them down. “Let me do this.” His hands fell away as she kissed his chest. She licked a trail down his abdomen as she lowered his shorts, purposefully avoiding his erection as she helped him discard the piece of clothing. Returning to his stomach, she traced the outline of his tattoo. The club he rode with, he’d told her. She had no idea what that meant. Slowly, she made her way down to his crotch. Men had used her mouth many times, but she’d never enjoyed it, and never learned how to properly please a man this way.
Uncertain, she looked up and found Mark watching her. There was no question that he wanted this, and she wanted so badly to please him. He tangled his fingers in her hair but didn’t push her forward, encouraging her to continue but not forcing her to. Turning her attention back to his erection, she reached out and carefully ran her fingers down his length and back up, then again before leaning forward and replacing her fingers with her tongue. He tasted…clean - he must have showered shortly before she came over – and a little salty. His masculine scent filled her breath as she inhaled him.
Eager to taste more of him, she wrapped her lips around his head and sucked off the first drops that had already gathered there. He was as sweet as he was salty and the flavor made her want more. Opening her mouth wide, she took as much of him in as she could then pushed him out, over and over, sucking hard. The sounds he made let her know that he was enjoying it as much as she was.
Taking a deep breath, she swallowed him deep into her throat, using her tongue to massage him as she moved her head back and forth. His grip on her hair tightened and he started moving his hips, thrusting himself in and out of her mouth. His head hit the back of her throat painfully hard, but she was enjoying it too much to pay any attention. His thrusts came quicker, his breathing was bated and she sensed that he was about to come. Grabbing his hips, she steadied herself, ready for his release. After a few more thrusts, he screamed and he buried himself one last time. His sperm was thick and she reveled in the taste of it as she swallowed it down, milking what she could from him before he pulled out.
As soon as he was free from her mouth, he pulled her up and kissed her violently. If that was inexperienced, he was in for one hell of a ride! Realizing how hard he was kissing her, he pulled away and looked at her, wanting to make sure he hadn’t hurt her. She looked nervous still with her bottom lip between her teeth.
“Was that alright?”
A smile broke out across his face. “Honey, that was incredible.” Cupping her cheek in his hand he lowered his lips to hers. “You’re incredible.” His arms slipped around her waist as she deepened the kiss.
Gently, he tightened his arms around her, picked her up, and laid her down on the bed, resting his weight on his elbows as not to hurt her. Her eyes were so full of love, her touch so tender, as her fingers explored his face. Lowering his head, he captured her lips again as his hands began discovering the body beneath him. She was soft and smooth, slender and delicate, almost fragile beneath his large frame. He sighed as her lips found his ear.
“Make love to me.” She breathed into his ear, her lips barely touching his skin. “I need to feel you inside me.”
The urgency in her voice was unmistakable, but her words were tinged with innocence, instantly bringing life to his limp member. God, what was she doing to him? He’d never been hard this soon after ejaculating. His thoughts evaporated as her lips once again found his throat. Unable to deny her, he opened her legs and slid his body up to position himself between them.
He hesitated a moment, his tip pressed firmly against her sheath. This was the moment he had been waiting for, what his body and soul had yearned for. So why did he suddenly feel so apprehensive?
“Please.” She begged as she lifted her hips, pressing him closer to her.
Looking down, he saw her eyes filled with an unbridled passion, the kind that most men only wished for from their women. Slowly he pushed himself inside her then stopped so that she could get used to his size. Her slick walls strained as she engulfed him completely. He felt her hips move slightly beneath him, urging him to continue.
Leisurely he began moving back and forth, in and out of her willing body. “You’re so tight.” He mumbled into her hair. Her tresses smelled of the spring night air, rose-scented shampoo, and her own unique scent - wholly feminine. They moved together rhythmically, their moans intermingled in a lust driven song that spoke to him beyond words of the love they shared.
Leaning back on his haunches, he grabbed her hips and pulled her onto his lap, pushing himself even deeper inside. A smile graced his lips as he looked down at her. Her head was thrown back in ecstasy, her eyes closed, the sheets clutched tightly in her hands. Letting his eyes travel down her body, he stopped the visual tour at the patch of dark curls that hid her from his gaze. His hands slipped from her hips and slithered to the juncture between her legs. Slipping his thumbs between her folds, he opened her and watched as his penis disappeared into her passage again and again. He could feel his orgasm building again and slowed his movements to keep from coming.
She whimpered at the slowed pace and pushed her hips up, trying to move him faster. Instead of answering her unspoken request, he pressed his thumb to her clitoris and moved it in small circles. Her whimpers came louder and more frequently and she stopped moving against his thumb. Returning his eyes to her face, he saw her trying desperately not to lose control.
Releasing his hold on her, he leaned over and kissed her deeply then kissed his way to her ear and started moving again. Her body stiffened as he hit that spot again. “Let go, Tess.” He could feel her moving against him slightly, still fighting for control.
“Yes you can.” He kissed her jaw. “Wrap your legs around me.” She hesitated, but did as she was told. Her body moved beneath him as he thrust into her, and soon she began to whimper again. “Let go.” He ordered gently. He could feel her apprehension. “Trust me.”
Cautiously she started to move with him, grinding her pelvis into his. Her whimpers turned to screams as a rush of liquid flowed over him. He struggled for control, to make this last as long as possible. Once again those feelings of apprehension returned, but as soon as he acknowledged them, she screamed again, pulling him back into the moment.
His thrusts became harder, his pace faster. Her fingernails dug into his back adding fuel to the already raging inferno. He watched her as the next orgasm came. Her face distorted in pleasure, her back arched pushing her breasts into his chest, and her screams filled the room. She was by far the most stunning creature he had ever seen. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her close as he thrust into her relentlessly, then buried himself deep inside her and exploded.
He lay still for a few minutes struggling to catch his breath, before rolling onto his back. Her head rested in the crook of his neck, her arm draped across his chest, as he held her trembling body close to him, savoring her feminine scent and the feel of her bare skin. Minutes passed, but it seemed like hours, and her body stilled. He’d never been so completely consumed by a woman. His every thought had been of her, his every breath taken in anticipation of seeing her again. She held possession of his body, heart, and soul. He didn’t know what he had done to deserve her, but he thanked the powers that be to have her in his life.
Absently he ran his fingers down her back and frowned. She was cold and growing colder by the second, and lying perfectly still. Holding his breath, he waited to feel her heartbeat. Nothing. His own heart pounded painfully in his chest at the wild thoughts that were running through his head. No, she couldn’t be dead. He was about to roll her over when he felt her breath on his skin. Dear God, he was going crazy. Reaching over, he pulled the comforter over them and tightened his arms around her.
As good as it felt to hold her; he couldn’t help but feel that something was terribly wrong. It was the same apprehension he felt earlier while they were making love.
She shifted in his arms then he felt her teeth on his neck. “Damn baby. What do you do, sharpen your teeth?” She froze then pulled away and pressed her lips firmly against the same spot before pushing away from him.
He watched her roll out of bed and retrieve her dress, content to watch the graceful way she moved. It took a moment for him to realize that she was getting dressed. “Whoa! Wait a minute!” He exclaimed climbing out of bed. “Where are you going?”
“I have to go.” She answered softly as she bent to slip on her shoe.
“It’s late sweetheart, why don’t you stay here tonight?”
She shook her head no as she pulled on her other shoe. “I can’t. I have to leave.”
She didn’t answer. Stepping past him, she headed for the door, purposefully avoiding his gaze.
Determined to get an answer, he grabbed her arm and turned her to face him. The growl he heard emanating from deep inside her was no more human than the icy blue eyes staring up at him. He let go of her arm immediately and stunned and frightened, stumbled backward away from her. She stood still a moment longer, then turned and ran from the house.
Mark stared in disbelief at the empty doorway. What in the hell just happened to Tess? He didn't know, but he was going to find out. Slipping into a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, and a pair of boots, he took off out the front door.
Tess' car was still there. Running to the end of the driveway, he looked down the street in both directions. She was nowhere in sight. "Damn it!" He swore as he ran back into the house to get his keys.
The truck roared to life and Mark pulled out of the driveway. He drove a couple of miles in each direction, nothing. It was as if she'd disappeared. Frustrated, he pulled to the side of the road and took several deep breaths to calm his nerves, while trying to remember exactly what had happened. No matter how many times he tried to recall the night's events, all he could see was those unnatural eyes and all he heard was that animal-like growl, and there was no explanation for it. Unless Brian was right. He growled at the thought. "There are no such things as vampires." There was uncertainty in his voice. He made a mental note to kick Brian's ass the next time he saw him.
Not knowing where else to go, he decided to go to where he first met her. If she wasn't there, he would go to her house and wait for her there. She was bound to go home sooner or later. Luckily there were no cops around as he sped through the deserted city streets, blatantly ignoring stop signs and red lights. Only a handful of people were out at three in the morning.
Finally he spotted her walking slowly down the sidewalk. She was lost in her thoughts, walking with her head down, her arms folded across her chest. His mouth watered at the memory of her breasts, the way they felt in his hands, on his lips as he wrapped them around her hardened nipples. With a frustrated sigh, he reached down and adjusted his pants to accommodate his growing penis. This was no time to get a hard on.
He decided to follow her for a few minutes while she sorted her thoughts, then she would give him his answers. She stopped walking and looked across the street. He followed her gaze and saw a man, obviously drunk, saying something to her. "You could have picked a better neighborhood, Tess." He mumbled as the truck coasted to a stop. Whatever the man said to her, she seemed interested. "Don't go over there." He told her, but even as he spoke, she stepped off the curb and started across the street. Turning off the engine, he climbed out of the truck and headed toward Tess.
Tess had been walking for what seemed like hours, berating herself for what she had almost done. Her fangs had been pressed to his skin, the slightest bit of pressure and she would have pierced his vein, and then… It was too painful to think about. She loved him so much. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt him, but that was inevitable. No matter what she did now she was going to hurt him, either physically or emotionally, and she hated herself for it. She should never have accepted that ride from him, never had him over for dinner, and never visited him during his recovery. And she sure as hell should never have made love to him. She had been selfish, wanting a little happiness, a little love, thinking only of herself. She'd felt a moment's peace while lying in his arms. That was when his voice stopped her from killing him. Tears stung her eyes. How could she have been so careless?
A voice caught her attention. A man on the opposite side of the street was calling to her, beckoning her to come to him. She smiled wickedly at the drunk then stepped off the curb. She'd drained two men since leaving Mark's, was still famished.
The man licked his lips as she stepped onto the sidewalk and over to him. Grabbing her by the arm, he pulled her forcefully into the ally and threw her into the side of a dumpster. Not in the mood for games, she stood up quickly, grabbed him by the throat, and pinned him to the wall. His blood was bitter with cheap whisky. Why do men drink that stuff?
A startled cry from behind her pulled her from her meal. Instinctively, she turned on the intruder, grabbing him by the throat and pinning him to the opposite wall. She stopped the attack when she saw the face that was staring back at her. "Mark." Immediately she released him and backed away. "I can explain."
"Stay away from me." His voice was barely audible as he slowly made his way toward the street.
"Mark, please listen to me." She took a step toward him.
"I said stay back!" He carefully made his way around a cardboard box.
The look of fear in his eyes ripped her heart into. "I'm not going hurt you."
Mark looked at the dead body then at her, shaking his head no.
"I had to feed." She tried to explain. Coming to the end of the ally, he turned and ran as fast as he could back to his truck. "Mark! Come back!" She yelled after him. Watching the truck pull away, she fell to her knees. "Please come back." She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. It wasn't enough that she'd almost killed him, but she managed to scare him away before she could explain things to him.
A priest walking home from the hospital heard her crying and stopped. "Are you alright my child?"
She turned her tear streaked face up to the white haired man. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the preacher who had accused her of witchcraft, and she felt a sudden desire for revenge. "I am a little hungry."
The man smiled gently, wrapped his arm around her shoulders and helped her to her feet. "Well, why don't we see if we can't find you something to eat?"
Tess smiled. "I thought you'd never ask." She said then pulled him to her and pierced his jugular. He fought back the best he could, but he was no match for her. She let him slip out of her arms to the ground with a sigh. Bending, she lathed the wound then did the same to the drunk.
The pleasure didn't last though. As she walked back down the street, her thoughts returned to Mark. Sated by the extra blood, she was able to think more clearly. He had seen her for what she really was, and as painful as it had been, it was probably for the best. He would be too afraid to seek her out again, and that would save them both from having to say goodbye. It wouldn't stop the pain though. She knew he was hurting and confused, but it wouldn't last. Mortals were resilient that way. They could go on, even if it seemed impossible at the time.
She on the other hand… Well, she was used to being alone. She would leave this place until Mark died, and then return. Maybe she'd go back to England. She hadn't been there since the Baron had banished her.
By the time the sun began to rise, she'd made it back to the manor. A tear slipped down her cheek as she closed her eyes to the coming day. She had actually had a moment of peace. Oh, but the price she paid! Never again would she feel this heartache. She'd made the same vow just before she came to the new world, and she'd meant it, but what she'd felt for that man was mute in comparison to her love for Mark. A thought came, sparking a glimmer of hope. What if Mark did come back? What if he set her free? That was about the stupidest idea she'd ever had. He loved her, yes, but he was no murderer. Even if he was capable of killing her, it would only be out of fear and it wouldn't release her from the curse. The last time that happened, the man went insane and she ended up having to kill him.
Better to think ahead and make plans for her upcoming trip than to relive moments which couldn't be recaptured. That was easier said than done. Mark once again filled her thoughts as she drifted off to sleep.
"Mark!" Brian called out as he pounded on the door. No answer. "Damn it." He muttered reaching for the door knob. Just as his fingers touched the knob, it turned and the door swung open.
"What?" Mark demanded angrily.
Brian's irritated expression softened as he looked at his friend. "Sorry man, I didn't know you were in the shower."
Mark stepped aside to let him in, closing the door behind him.
"Where have you been? I've been calling you all day." Brian said. Taking a closer look, he saw the fresh bruises on Mark's throat. Reaching out, he gently touched them. "Who did this?"
Mark turned away from the touch, wishing like hell he hadn't shown up, but glad he did. "Tess."
Brian's eyebrows drew together. "No, I meant the bruises on your throat."
Mark lowered his head, not wanting to repeat it. "Tess did it."
"But how…She isn't…" He was completely confused. "What happened?"
Mark walked over to the couch and sat down. When Brian took the seat next to him, he admitted, "You were right."
"About what? I never said anything bad about Tess." Brian defended.
"No, you didn't." Mark agreed then looking Brian in the eye, he said, "Tess is a vampire."
Brian laughed out loud. "Okay, I get it. I'll lay off the vampires." Seeing Mark's expression, he stopped laughing. "You're serious. How do you know?"
Mark let out a ragged breath. "She came over last night, as usual. Only this time we made love." He really hated talking about his sex life. "After we were through and we were lying there. She started getting cold, really cold, and then she… I felt her teeth on my neck. When I told her how sharp they were, she got up and started getting dressed. I got up and grabbed her arm to stop her from leaving. When she turned around, she was growling, like an animal, and her eyes were… I don't know. She didn't look human."
"That's when she did that?" Brian asked pointing to Mark's neck.
Mark shook his head. "No, she ran out. I got dressed and went after her. I found her close to where we met. I saw some drunk grab her and pull her into an ally, so I got out of the truck and went to help her." He stopped, not wanting to go on. He still couldn't quite believe what he'd seen. After a moment, he continued. "When I got there, she had him pressed against the wall. Her mouth was on his neck. Before I could do anything, she turned around, and the next thing I knew, she had me pinned to the wall. That's how I got these." He indicated the bruises. "She said she could explain, that she wouldn't hurt me… and that she needed to feed. That's when I ran. I heard her yell for me to stop, but I just kept going."
Brian sat in stunned silence. After all the years of believing in vampires and having people tell him how stupid the idea was, he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Yet he knew it was true. Mark was the last person who would make up something like this. Finally he asked, "Why didn't she kill you?"
Mark shook his head as he stood up. "I don't know, but I'm going to find out."
"What do you mean?" He asked, standing with Mark. "You're not planning on going over there, are you?"
"That's exactly what I'm going to do."
Brian followed him out to the truck. "I don't think that's such a good idea." He said looking out at the setting sun.
"She's not going to hurt me, Brian."
Brian climbed in the cab next to Mark. "Oh yeah? How do you know?"
"If she wanted to kill me, she would have done it in the ally. What are you doing?" Mark asked as Brian shut the door.
"You don't think I'm going to let you go out there alone." Brian said pulling the seat belt across his waist.
Mark knew it would only be a waste of time to try to talk him out of it. Reluctantly, he started the truck and headed out of town.
By the time the truck pulled up infront of the manor, it was well past sunset. The mansion was dark and empty. Brian shuddered at the sight. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I need to.” Mark answered. Not waiting for Brian, he climbed out of the truck and went up to the front door. He knocked, but there was no answer, so he reached for the door knob. To his surprise, it turned. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the huge oak door open and went inside.
“Um, Mark, I don’t think we should be in here.” Brian’s voice echoed through the empty ball room.
“She won’t mind.” Mark answered without thinking. “Besides, I’ve got a feeling she’ll know we’re here long before we know she is.”
Brian shuddered at the answer. Oh, well. There was no changing Mark’s mind, so he may as well help him do whatever it was he had in mind. “What are you looking for?” He asked as the stepped into the library.
“I’m not sure. Something about her. I want to know more about her.” He randomly selected a book from the shelf and read the cover. “The Malleus Maleficarum.”
“That’s a terrible choice.” Brian commented.
“Why is that?”
“Tess said it was the book that they use to use to find, torture, and kill witches.” He shuddered at his own answer and the memory of the story Tess had told him. “She told me a story about an ancestor of hers that had been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake.”
“An ancestor?” Mark raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t think she was talking about herself.”
Mark returned the book to the shelf. “She could have been.”
“Oh man.” Brian hadn’t considered that. She had sounded hurt when she told the tale, as if it was a memory rather than a history of her family, but he didn’t think much of it at the time.
After the library, they went into the drawing room, then the music room, the kitchen… They searched every room on the first floor before heading upstairs. After a quick game of pool on the antique billiards table, they resumed their exploration of the second floor, finally ending up in the studio. Mark was enthralled at the paintings she had done of him. With a soft golden light surrounding him, he looked like a large tattooed god. Was that how she really saw him? His heart ached, but he wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was the way she depicted him in her paintings, strong and powerful, but with a tenderness that only she could see.
“Hey, look at this.” Brian said pointing at a portrait on the other side of the large room.
Mark took a shaky breath and walked over to where Brian was standing. “What?”
“Look at this.”
Mark looked at the handsome young man on the canvas. “What about it?”
Not taking his eyes off the painting, Brian answered, “That’s Count Ainsworth. He was an English warlord who lived in Ireland, over six hundred years ago. He had a bad reputation, especially with the women. He was said to have tortured, raped, and sodomized over two hundred women and young girls, even after his death.”
“After his death?”
“He made the mistake of raping a witch, and she cursed him. Nobody knows exactly what the curse was, but he was killed shortly after that in a fire. The day after he was buried, his grave was found empty.”
“She turned him into a vampire.”
“Either that, or he was bitten by one after she cursed him.”
Mark shook his head, not completely able to believe that what he was hearing was the truth. “So why did she paint this?”
Brian shrugged. “Beats me.” He looked at Mark as the thought formed. “You don’t think she knew him.”
An invisible hand clutched Mark’s chest and squeezed painfully hard. If Tess had known him, there was no doubt as to what he had done to her. “Let’s get out of here.”
Brian nodded and followed Mark out of the room and up to the third floor. The bedrooms were all decorated differently, each just as elegantly as the last, except for the room across the hall from Tess’. It was a disaster. The furniture was shattered in piles along the walls, as if someone had picked up each piece and threw them against the walls; the mirrored ceiling had been shattered as well as the mirrors on the inside of the closet doors.
“Remind me never to piss her off.” Brian mumbled as they stepped back out of the wreckage.
Mark chuckled. Turning around, he reached out to open Tess’ bedroom door.
“Maybe we should skip this room.” Brian advised, blushing as the mental images of Tess’ underwear returned.
“Skip it? We should have started here.” Mark stopped just inside the door and looked around. On the floor was the dress she’d worn the night before lying rumpled in a pile. Reaching down, he picked it up. The dress was still sticky with the blood from her victims. “How could a woman as kind and as loving as Tess be a cold blooded killer?” He whispered as he dropped the garb, letting it fall silently to the floor.
Brian put his hand on the larger man’s shoulder, offering as much support as he could. “She isn’t a cold blooded killer, Mark. She’s a creature fighting for survival, just like the rest of us.”
“She’s a monster.”
Brian shook his head sadly. “She does what she has to, to survive.”
Mark smirked. “There’s irony for ya. The vampire hunter defending a vampire against the man who’s supposed to love her.” Not waiting a response, he walked over to her dresser and opened the top drawer. Her delicate lingerie felt soft in his hands, almost as soft as her skin. Closing the drawer, he opened the next one, then the next. The entire dresser was filled with lingerie, some relatively new, but mostly older pieces. As he looked through the antiquities, he was filled with wonder. These weren’t just pieces of history; they were pieces of HER history. Moving to the closet, he found more of the same. The closet itself was as large as a small bedroom. The walls were lined with clothes hanging neatly the entire circumference of the room, above them, shelves held boxes filled with God only knew what kinds of treasures, and below shoes from different time periods stood in neat lines, waiting to be worn. Turning back into the bedroom, he opened another door which led to another closet. Modern dresses hung neatly along the wall to the right, a dresser stood against the far wall, to the left hung her more casual clothes, and her shoes, again, stood in a neat line beneath her clothes. Walking to the dresser, he opened the top drawer and smiled as his hands slipped into a pool of silk and lace. “She’s neat.” He commented, closing the closet door.
Brian had walked over to the bed and sat down while Mark explored the room. The mattress was firm, and the sheets were crisp, as if they’d never been used. They probably hadn’t. As much as he wanted to search this room, he felt as though he were invading her privacy. Ridiculous, considering he’d just looked through every other room in her house. By the time Mark finished looking around, he was more than ready to leave.
“Find that secret room yet?” Mark asked as the descended the stairs.
“There isn’t one, unless it’s in her bedroom.”
“Why didn’t you look there?” Mark grinned, knowing how uncomfortable Brian had been in her room.
“Let’s just get out of here.” Brian replied ignoring the question, and Mark’s chuckle. “What time is it?”
Mark looked down at his watch. “A little after four.”
Brian’s heart skipped a beat. “I didn’t realize it was so late. We really should go.”
“Before she comes home.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Do you really want to be here when she comes back?”
Mark felt Brian’s uneasiness, but he was determined to get some answers. “Let’s check out the garden.”
“We’ll take a quick look around and then leave, with or without answers. I promise.”
Reluctantly, Brian agreed. At least Mark seemed more nervous now. He was beginning to think his friend had a death wish. Breaking into Tess’ house after seeing first hand what she was capable of, and then insisting on staying and “looking around”. A few more minutes and they would be gone and this, hopefully, would be behind them.
The garden was huge. Flowers and herbs filled at least an acre of land. Benches were scattered here and there. A table and two chairs sat amongst the roses, and Mark could almost see Tess sitting there in one of those old dresses, sipping a cup of tea with a girlfriend, talking and laughing in the sunlight. But Tess would never again be able to venture out into the sunlight. It was so unfair.
Just as he was turning to leave, a tree at the far end of the garden caught his eye. Its limbs were bare when it should be in full bloom. Curious, he started toward it. The feelings of apprehension he’d had the night before returned in full force, but instead of turning away, he continued forward, stopping only a few feet from the trunk, its bare branches reaching out as if they were trying to grab him.
“What are you doing here?”
Mark and Brian both startled by the feminine voice behind them, spun around. “Tess…I, uh…we were…um…” Brian’s voice caught in his throat as fear gripped his insides. He would probably laugh at himself later for being afraid of someone as small as Tess.
Tess looked from Brian to Mark, her face expressionless. “What do you want?” It was a loaded question. She knew damned well why he was there, but a little piece of her still hoped that he wanted to be with her.
“I…” He had no idea what to say. “I want you to explain things to me.” Stepping up to her, he reached out like he was going to stroke her cheek. Instead he turned his face and pulled away.
Tears stung her eyes. God, he was too afraid to even touch her. Stepping past him, she walked to the tree. “Where do you want me to begin?”
“How did you become a vampire?” The question came before Mark could stop it.
Tess lowered her head and sighed. “It happened five hundred years ago. I had been accused of witchcraft and was to be burned at the stake. Edward rescued me. I was so happy to see him. He loved me, and I knew that I would be safe with him. He took me to an old castle on the outskirts of Ireland. He had been caught stealing horses from the man who lived there, but instead killing him, he sent Edward to come get me and bring me to him. He was a horrible man, the Count. He…” A tear slipped down her cheek.
“Was it Count Ainsworth?” Brian asked gently, not really wanting to hear the answer.
“That could be his name. He never told me and I didn’t care to ask. I have a portrait of the Count in my studio.”
“Oh Jesus.” Mark mumbled, remembering what Brian had told him about the man.
Tess wiped her eyes then continued, “When he was through with me, he sank his fangs into my neck and drank. I was too weak to fight him. He cut his wrist, filled a chalice with his blood, and offered it to me. He said that if I drank it, I would live with him forever, and if I didn’t I would die. I refused him. He left the chalice behind when he left the room. I didn’t want to live with him after what he’d done, but I was too afraid to die. So I drank. I drained the glass of his blood, and then went upstairs to take more. I took all I could from him, too much he said. Before I left he told me about a curse put on him by a witch, and said that by drinking his blood, I inherited the curse.”
“What was the curse?” Mark asked. The story sounded as fictional as Count Dracula, which he was beginning to have some serious doubts about, but coincided with the story Brian told perfectly.
“Death by true love’s hand is the only way you will ever know peace.”
“What does that mean?” Mark didn’t like the sound of this.
Tess looked at him, the first time since she began speaking, her eyes filled with tears. “It means that unless my true love kills me and breaks the curse, I will never know peace or happiness again.”
“You mean Mark has to kill you to break the curse?”
Tess turned her attention to Brian and smiled weakly. “You place a lot of faith in your friend.”
“Why didn’t you kill me when you had the chance?” Mark’s heart was heavy and he didn’t want to ask, but he had to know.
“I almost did.”
“When I interrupted your um…dinner.”
Tess wanted to smile, but her answer prevented it. “No. You were safe in the ally.”
“I saw your face when I attacked you. No matter how hungry I am, I will never hurt you.” Seeing the question in his eyes, she reluctantly went on. “You were in more danger in the bedroom.”
“I don’t understand.” Mark said forgetting about feeling her teeth on his neck.
“After we made love and I was lying in your arms, I felt at peace. I thought you had broken the curse, that having found such a deep and perfect love I was finally free of it. That’s when you spoke. The moment I heard your voice, I realized that my fangs were on your neck. The slightest bit of pressure and I would have broken the skin, and once I tasted the blood, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. If you hadn’t said something…Oh God…” Tess buried her face in her hands.
Mark felt the color drain from his face. He had no idea he’d come so close to dying. A part of him wished he’d never asked. Looking at Tess, his heart broke. He could only imagine what she must be going through. Her love for him was undeniable. She risk unspeakable pain by going into the sunlight so she could be there when he woke up from surgery, and she risked even more by spending so much time with him, knowing that his closest friend believed that she was a vampire. Stepping up to her, he pulled her into his arms.
“No.” She pushed against his chest, trying to get away from him, but he held on to her, refusing to let her go.
“Shhhh” He crooned, burying his face in her hair and breathing in the rose scented shampoo. “It’s going to be okay.”
“No it’s not.” Her voice was muffled against his chest.
“Yes it will. We’ll work it out.”
“How?” She pulled away enough so she could look into his eyes. “The last time we were together, I almost killed you.”
“We can find a way.”
“Even if we could, why would you want to be with me? I can’t stop killing people – I need to feed. And what about sixty years from now? How is it going to feel to look in the mirror one day and see a withered old man, then look at me and see…this? You’ll resent me and you’ll hate me for it.”
Her words were like a knife to his gut, and although he wanted to, he couldn’t deny it.
“Couldn’t you make him a vampire?” Brian spoke up.
Tess shook her head. “I love him. I could never condemn him to this life.” The first rays of the sun shone through the clouds and seared Tess’ cheek, and she immediately turned away from it, hiding her face with her arm. Pulling from Mark’s embrace, she said, “I have to go. You shouldn’t come back here.”
Mark’s heart was ripped into as she walked past him. Seeing her in so much pain, both physically and emotionally, was more than he could bear, and there was only one thing he could do to ease that pain. Reaching out, he grabbed her arm and pulled her infront of him. Before she could object, he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her desperately, then looked her in the eye and said, “I love you, Tess.” Without warning, he wrapped his large hands around her waist, lifted her up, and shoved her backward. The tree limb pierced her heart and protruded through her chest. Tears flowed down his face as he watched her body convulse and the blood pour out of her into a puddle on the ground.
“Shit!” Brian ran up beside him. “You killed her.”
“I had to, Brian. It was the only way to break the curse, and I love her too much to let her live in like this anymore.” Once he was sure that she was dead, he pulled her off the limb and fell to his knees, cradling her against his chest, and sobbed.
Brian knelt down beside him and wrapped his arm around Mark’s shoulder. “You did what nobody else was able to do for her, Mark. You loved her. You set her free. She’s in a better place now.”
Mark nodded. Brian’s words should have consoled him; instead they made him feel her loneliness even more. Five hundred years, and he was the only one who’d ever truly loved her. He only wished he could have met her sooner.
“Come on.” Brian said gently. “We should go.” He was almost as upset over Tess’ death as Mark was. She was an extraordinary woman and over these past months had come to cherish their friendship.
Mark reluctantly laid Tess on the ground, stood up, and turned to leave. The sky suddenly grew dark, lightening flashed and thunder boomed over head. Without knowing why, the men turned and looked at Tess.
A bright light illuminated the ground beneath Tess, slowly encompassing her in its silver glow. Beside her a woman appeared with long brown hair and silver eyes, and clad in a dress of greens and browns. The woman looked at the men and smiled lovingly, as a mother would smile at her children, and then turned to Tess. Placing her hand on Tess’ chest, she sent the silver light into the wound, closing it, then breathed a healing breath into her lungs. Tess’ eyes fluttered open, and the woman smiled and stroked her cheek.
“Who are you?”
“I am sister to the moon, the mother of all things.”
“The Goddess.” Tess whispered.
The woman’s smile widened as she faded into the rays of the sun.
Mark took an apprehensive step toward Tess as she sat up, and knelt down beside her. Wanting to touch her, he reached out, but hesitated and dropped his hand to his side. She was looking at him, her eyes filled with wonder. “Tess?”
“Mark.” Timidly, she reached out and touched his face. “You killed me.” Her lips slowly curved into a smile. “You killed me and broke the curse.” Looking down at her chest, she opened her shirt to look at the wound, or rather where it should have been. “Look.” Placing her hand on her chest, tears of joy filled her eyes and her smile grew even wider. “I have a heartbeat.” Turning her face to the sun, she squinted and laughed. “I’m outside, in the sunlight, and it doesn’t burn.”
Mark reached out and touched her face, then her chest, smiling when he felt her heart pounding. “You’re alive.”
Brian reached down offering her his hand and helped her to stand up, a smile painted on his face. “Unbelievable.”
Tess laughed again and spun around in circles. “I’m alive!”
Her enthusiasm spread and the men were soon laughing along with her. Mark caught her as she swirled past him and pulled her into his arms, claiming her mouth passionately.
“I love you so much, Mark. How could I ever repay you?”
Mark smiled and kissed her lips again. “Marry me.” - Another kiss - “Grow old with me.”
“Yes, I will marry you. And I can’t wait to grow old with you.”