Chapter 1 of The Truth: Book 3
Something was amiss. I noticed it immediately as I withdrew from my meditative state and regained control of my senses. It wasn’t the tingling sensation in my legs from having hung upside down as I rested all night. It wasn’t the individual specks coalescing to form the full view of my living room below. It wasn’t the sound of chirping crickets I heard beyond the walls of my home, or the sting of hunger on my tongue or the ravenous void in my belly. None of that was what was wrong. It was the scent assaulting my nostrils. It was more than just his scent left on me from last evening’s escapade. His scent was stronger, heavier, hanging in the air like recently sprayed cologne. That meant one thing – he was close, he was here. And he wasn’t supposed to be here.
“Get out,” I growled.
I glared down at the wood floor, not daring to look over at him for fear of my reaction upon actually laying eyes on him. I didn’t need to see him to confirm he was here. My vampire senses had alerted me to his presence and the fact he had ignored my wishes last night when I had told him to leave and that was enough to incite me.
I straightened my legs, the movement causing me to fall from the ceiling beam I had been using as a meditation perch. A half summersault later and I was on my feet staring up at him.
Deep breaths did little to calm me. Anger rose in me like mercury in a thermometer on a hot summer’s day. My ears burned with rage. I fisted both hands, nails gouging flesh, and clenched my jaw. Couldn’t he feel my gaze boring a hole through him?
“Get out,” I shouted. My voice ricocheted off of the walls and echoed throughout the Ridge Hollow forest surrounding my home. Birds took flight as my demand reverberated through the treetops. But yelling didn’t faze him. He remained perfectly still. I knew better. Neither staring nor shouting would wake a resting vampire.
The warm trail of blood on my hands diverted my attention. I relaxed my fingers and my nails withdrew from my flesh. I stared at my palms and watched the wounds heal like they had never been there, then shifted my eyes to the couch. Surveying the plethora of throw pillows, I picked up one after the other and heaved them with increasing strength in his direction. “Get out, get out, get out, God damn it, GET OUT!”
Pillow number three drilled Vincent squarely in the chest, and my message finally registered. He defensively waved his arms as he woke from his slumber. I continued throwing pillows as he fell to the floor where he landed cat-like on both feet.
“Well good morning to you,” Vincent said as he straightened his black button down shirt. His deep, smooth voice, something that once made my heart flutter, was now akin to the teeth-gritting sound of nails scratching a chalkboard.
My gaze wandered to the patch of skin exposed as a result of his sheer laziness in neglecting to button the top four buttons of his shirt. As he moved, I could see the crease between his well-defined pecs. A vision from last night flashed across my mind…my hand caressing that bare chest as we lay in bed, his hand massaging the small of my back. I cut off the thought before my mind recalled what had happened next. One look at his face was all I needed to confirm it was more than laziness that had caused him to “forget” to button his shirt. He smiled, his come-hither eyes twinkling. I wasn’t going to fall for it.
“Get out,” I said through gritted teeth.
His smile widened as he realized the effect he was having on me. He was pushing all of my buttons in the way he alone knew how. A combination of lust and hate coursed through me. I was appalled with myself for allowing one man to make me feel such a roller coaster of emotions.
“I heard you the third time, dear. Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?” Vincent walked into the kitchen, and even though the open floor plan allowed me to see him from the living room, I was compelled to follow him.
“I told you last night to leave. I don’t want you spending the night here. We are not a couple, damn it.”
“Oh come on, Allison.” Vincent stopped in the middle of the kitchen and turned to face me. “You keep saying we’re not a couple, but your actions say otherwise.”
His crystal blue eyes bore into mine, and I felt violated as he tried to search my soul. The intimacy of the moment produced another memory from last night–him rolling on top and pinning me underneath his body. Soft kisses caressing my neck as his fingers danced across my body as if it were his personal dance floor. And me enjoying every time his body touched mine and the sheer need and desire that contact produced. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that would allow me to forget what I had once again done after vowing several times I’d never do it again.
“I don’t know why you just can’t admit it so we can move past this…well, whatever this is,” he said as he waved a hand in my direction.
“We…are not…a couple,” I hissed as I struggled to suppress the creator’s bond and what it was doing to me.
“Come now, dear,” Vincent said. He wrapped an arm around my waist and turned my face toward him with his other hand. “We spent the spring traveling to Paris, Monaco, the Canary Islands and Greece. You remember the daytimes filled with handholding and sightseeing, don’t you? And the moonlit dinners? And then of course,” Vincent pressed his body to mine and leaned into my ear to whisper, “there were the passion fueled nights where we showed each other exactly what we meant to each other. I’d say we’re a couple.”
I groaned and pushed him away. “I somewhat remember what you’re talking about. But wait, that feels like it was so long ago and, oh yeah, the trip was cut short when you tricked me into returning to Castle Adena. Things get a little fuzzy after that. Remember why?”
Vincent winced. “Allison, I had to.”
“You said you could help me control my urge for human blood. At least that’s the line you fed me before you convinced me to run off and see all of the places I’d always wanted to see. You lied.”
“Do you think I wanted to lie to you? What can I say? Max was right. I should have listened to my brother sooner. You needed help. I couldn’t see how bad your addiction was. I thought I could have helped you.”
“Oh! So are you actually admitting you were wrong about something? Newsflash! Vincent Drake admits he was wrong.”
“Allison, how many times do I have to apologize? You needed help and you weren’t going to go willingly. Max and I did what was necessary to ensure you got the help you needed. And look at you now. Your urges are under control. Isn’t that all that matters? I don’t understand why we can’t resume our trip so I can take you to other places you dreamed of seeing. You were so happy and carefree and, dare I say, in love. That’s how you seemed to me, and I want to see that side of you again.”
I bit my lower lip and drew blood. Turning around, I washed the dried blood off my hands before leaning on the countertop and dropping my head. You’re a rebound, I thought. I desperately wanted to utter those words but feared Vincent’s reaction.
After everything that had happened this past March–discovering Matt, my husband of seven years, was an archangel in Saint Michael’s Army, and we couldn’t be together because an angel/vampire affair would have supposedly set off a war between the enemy factions–I had turned to Vincent for comfort. Initially, I had let the creator’s bond get the better of me and it had everything to do with the way I felt toward Vincent. The bond between the creator and the vampire he or she creates never goes away, but allow the bond to get the better of you, and you’re suddenly blinded by a love that doesn’t exist. I was overcome with loyalty toward my creator and used that to mask the pain of losing Matt. Loyalty turned into infatuation and the illusion of love.
After regaining control of my need for human blood, other urges had become more pronounced, namely the need for physical contact. I was sure Vincent knew that would be a side effect of my detox and was more than happy to fulfill my needs. But the better I got at controlling my need for human blood, the better I got at controlling other needs, too. I was able to reign in the creator’s bond and realized what I was doing, or rather what I was allowing to happen. And I didn’t like it. Not that I didn’t like sex with Vincent, because the sex was mind-blowingly fantastic; I didn’t like whom I was doing it with. With sobriety came clarity and with clarity came reality. And reality was I was in love. With Matt, my husband. I no longer hated Vincent for having transformed me into a vampire. I had consented, as I’d learned earlier this year, and that was on me. I now hated Vincent because he simply wasn’t Matt. Vincent filled a void. Although he filled the physical void quite well, he couldn’t fill the void in my heart, an emptiness that could never be filled.
“I told you I’m not ready for the next step.” I turned around. “I’m not ready for a committed relationship. It’s too soon.”
Vincent raised his thumb to my mouth and wiped away the blood. He leaned in and gently licked where I had bitten my lip. His venom tingled as it healed my flesh. He pulled away, not breaking eye contact. His icy blue eyes didn’t make my stomach flutter. His warm hand on my cheek didn’t send waves of desire throughout my body. “So are you just using me for my body?”
It took me a moment to process the comment. “You’re kidding, right?”
Vincent arched an eyebrow and shrugged a shoulder.
I groaned. “You need to leave.” I pushed past him and walked into the pantry, pretending to look for something.
“Lighten up, Allison. I was only joking.” Vincent poked his head into the pantry.
“Seriously. Leave. I have something to do today,” I lied.
“Does it have anything to do with your dream? I’d like to help you figure it out. Maybe we can drive around the city to see if we find any landmarks resembling the statue in your dreams.”
I grabbed a teabag and pushed Vincent out of my way as I retrieved a coffee cup from the cupboard.
For months I’d been having the same dream. It always started the same, with me standing outside of a black wrought iron gate surrounding a shaded grassy area. Once inside the gate, I wandered, unable to see any defined shape, my vision hampered by what seemed like eyeglasses with the wrong prescription. All I could discern were shiny colored shapes scattered over the ground–some flat, others raised, all in various sizes. The only object I could see clearly was an angel statue that came to life, stomping to attract my attention and then pointing in a direction, but to what or where, I didn’t know. The dream never advanced beyond that. I was initially happy Vincent had offered to help decipher the dream’s meaning. But now that I was sober and my emotions were in check, his persistence was just plain annoying. In fact, his insistence bordered on suspicious.
“No, it has nothing to do with that.” I walked to the fridge and filled the cup with water.
“Does this thing you have to do have anything to do with Matthew?”
My back stiffened at the sound of Matt’s name. Every nerve in my body tingled as if I’d been tasered. I turned around with the cup of water and walked to the microwave, avoiding eye contact. I placed the cup on the glass tray and slammed the door. “No, Vincent, it doesn’t. Now can you please leave like I asked you to?”
Vincent walked to me and grabbed my chin with one hand. I tried to break free but he wouldn’t allow it. His eyes combed my face, looking for answers. “Well I can see you’re in one of your moods.” He released my chin, his analysis complete. “I hope whatever it is you have to do today brings a smile to your beautiful face.” He leaned in and gently kissed me. Backing away slowly, he waited for a reaction, and when I didn’t give him one, he left.
I expelled a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and reached for my cell phone. I swiped the screen to see if there were any new emails, texts or missed calls. I had plenty, but none from the one person I was hoping to hear from. There were several texts from Max, probably checking in like he did most days to ensure I hadn’t fallen off the wagon, and a couple of missed calls from Marlo. I checked my sent messages and confirmed the most recent one had been delivered to Matt’s phone. I then checked my outgoing calls and emails to make sure I hadn’t imagined calling and emailing him.
“What in the hell, Matt,” I muttered. I knew we couldn’t be together. Matt had made that perfectly clear after the battle with Lucious and Jal on Rattlesnake Island this past March. He had all of the Army’s talking points down, including the angel’s ridiculous rules about angels and vampires not interacting, because doing so would set off a war between the age-old enemies. On one hand, you had the Devil’s creation–vampires, me included–whose sole purpose was to kill mortals and damn their souls for eternity. The angels, on the other hand, were an army sanctioned by God, sent to Earth to protect man from vampires. I got it. Kind of. But Matt and I were different. We had been husband and wife before we were archangel and vampire. That had to mean something, but apparently it didn’t.
I had previously somehow convinced Matt to meet me for a beer at the end of July. He had been hesitant at first, playing by the angels’ rules and saying he couldn’t–that we couldn’t. But when I told him I had cleaned up my act and gotten my hunger under control, I seemed to have piqued his interest. I had hoped he would have wanted to see me because he truly missed me, as I did him. But I think he only agreed because curiosity had gotten the better of him. Maybe he had to see with his own eyes I was no longer the uncontrollable monster he had heard about in all of the rumors about my killing spree.
When we saw each other, my heart had literally skipped a beat. I wanted to jump out of my seat and pull him to me, but he had flinched upon my approach. I had decided to take it slow and instead extended a hand for him to sit at the table. Conversation was initially difficult. We sat there and stared at our beers, failing miserably at our attempts at small talk. Matt seemed uncomfortable and on edge as he constantly shifted on his bar stool, guzzling his beer and staring out into the parking lot. His reaction was understandable given the elephant in the room; our eighth wedding anniversary had been only two days prior but had gone uncelebrated given I’d widowed Matt once I transformed. But a couple of pints later, it was like the old Matt and Ali–the two of us sitting at our favorite brew pub talking about everything and anything. Until she showed up.
Gabriela spoiled the party. Matt’s handler ever since the car accident that landed me in the hospital with amnesia, Gabriela was there to teach Matt the way of the angel world. And that included no rendezvousing with vampires. No exceptions. She made a scene, scolded us like children and demanded Matt leave. And leave he did.
I ignored Gabriela’s message and reached back out to Matt, somehow convincing him to meet me again. Maybe all of the boozing and reminiscing sparked something in him. I didn’t know. All I knew was that he was game, and I couldn’t have been any happier.
We hatched an elaborate plan for Matt to sneak out of his house and throw Gabriela off his trail. This was necessary as she was still taking up residence in our Buzzard Hill home. She had lived there since the accident, when Vincent had returned Matt home after the car wreck, and given our meeting at the bar, Matt suspected Gabriela was keeping a close eye on him.
Our plan was to meet at a winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake–a town far, far away from Buzzard Hill by at least ninety minutes. A place so far out of the way it wouldn’t be possible to run into anyone we knew by chance. Matt texted on his way that he thought he was in the clear. I anxiously awaited his arrival, my finger circling the rim of a wine glass, my eyes glued to the winery’s entrance. The door swung open, and Matt stood there bathed in sunlight as if the big man upstairs had sanctioned our visit. He took two steps forward. I stood, ready to greet him, and then froze as Gabriela walked in behind him. She compelled the bartender and other visitors out of the building and gave us a tongue lashing like no other, threatening to report our actions to the Army. She made it clear that the repercussions would definitely not be something we would want to experience.
Since then, there had been nothing. No returned phone calls, no texts, not even an email to let me know he was still alive.
“This is bullshit,” I cursed. “You can’t ignore me like this. What’s the harm with a simple text?”
I scanned the room, not looking for anything in particular, and then my gaze settled on a picture frame on the sofa table. The black frame showcased a dried rosebud I had found pressed between waxed paper and flattened by the weight of the Bible I’d discovered it in. A light bulb went on in my head. I had the perfect excuse to go to Buzzard Hill. I grabbed my car keys and headed toward the garage. I was going to pay Matt a visit.
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