Night Huntress Series

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 Изтрита сцена от Destined for An Early Grave

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ПисанеЗаглавие: Изтрита сцена от Destined for An Early Grave   Пон Фев 07, 2011 7:57 pm

***

Licking Falls, Ohio
April 4, 2001


I shaded my eyes against the late afternoon sun glinting through the branches. Soon it would be dark. That relieved me as much as it bothered me. No one else could see in the dark like me, but I wasn’t supposed to let anyone know that.

“Joseph,” my grandmother called from the front porch. “Go get Catherine, it’ll be supper time soon.”

“She’ll be along,” was my grandfather’s reply. From the sound of it, he was still working on the old Chevy. “She can smell the food, I tell you.”

Another conversation I’d unwittingly eavesdropped on, even a few acres away. At least this wasn’t anything embarrassing. Hearing them discuss erectile issues or his bowel movements in what they thought was the privacy of their bedroom would scar me forever, I was sure.

I left the tree I’d been sitting in to run further into the orchard, away from the house instead of toward it. I didn’t have much time until I had to get back, but I loved the orchard. Especially at night. Natural sounds surrounded me instead of the chatter from my family, and it felt peaceful. Often I’d sneak out here when everyone at the house was asleep. It was one of the few times I could relax.

After about thirty minutes, however, I headed back toward the house, walking at a fast pace. It was getting chillier out. March could still produce snow on occasion. Maybe winter wasn’t done with us after all.

I was almost to the house when I heard the man’s voice, low and cultured, with a French accent. It nearly made me stumble on my way up the front lawn. No car was in the driveway and this was rural Ohio. If you were a Southerner, you were still considered foreign here. I also hadn’t heard him arrive, but then again, I had gone to the edge of the 20 acre property. Too far away for even my ears.

When I came inside the house, my grandparents were already seated at the dining table, which was set for five instead of four. My mother was in the kitchen, her hair out of its normal tight bun and hanging messily down her back. That, in addition to the tall man with his back to me, was unusual, but my grandparents seemed relaxed so they must know what was going on.

“Sorry I’m late,” I began, moving to help my mother with the heavy cast-iron pot she was removing from the oven. “I lost track of time.”

The stranger turned around and faced me. This time I did stumble over my own feet. His arm shot out to steady me, making me blink at how fast he’d moved. My grandparents sat serenely as if nothing was occurring, and my mom just brushed by me to place the stew on the table.

I stared at the hand on my elbow and the tall man connected to it with mild shock. Golden hair combined with darker strands gave it an ash blond color, and his eyes were grayish green. A scar ran from his eyebrow to his temple and his skin was as pale as mine. But his skin hummed with a taut vibration that made me tingle where he touched me.

“Who are you?” I blurted, pulling free and rubbing my arm briskly. The pins-and-needles sensation left it as soon as his grip was released.

“I’m Gregor,” he said, looking me over in the most unusual way. My Chemistry teacher studied items in a Petri dish in the same manner. “I’m an old friend of your mother’s.”

My eyes bugged at that. Mom didn’t have old friends. She didn’t have new ones, either. She stayed as solitary as I did and only ventured into town when absolutely necessary. I did a quick estimation of his age. Slight lines around the eyes, that scar didn’t appear new, and he appeared to be in his early thirties, like my mother.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, could this by my father?

“Mom?” I asked hesitantly. “You know him?”

“Of course, Catherine.” Her reply was almost mechanical. “He’s an old friend. We’ll talk about it after dinner.”

Oh my God! Was this the man I’d been denied the slightest knowledge about? The one whose mere inference caused her to fly into an ugly rage? The way he was examining me looked like someone appraising what was his, that was for sure. My chin lifted and I went to the sink to wash my hands. Talk after dinner, would we? I knew what my first question would be - where the hell have you been all my life?

The meal passed awkwardly. My mother barely spoke, only answering direct questions in a monosyllable. Clearly, she was uncomfortable about having Gregor here, but she didn’t act angry or confrontational, as was her norm when upset. My grandparents talked amongst themselves, seemingly oblivious to the tension, and Gregor kept his conversation directed at me. How old was I? When was my birthday? What grade was I in? Did I have any hobbies? Had I met any unusual people? Have I ever been to a dance club?

The polite interrogation was starting to wear on me. It was all I could do not to snap, “They have paternity tests, if you’re not certain!” Something about him made me nervous. It wasn’t just the very odd reaction I’d had to him touching me, although that sensation I chalked up to shock at meeting my potential father. He moved differently. His eyes followed everything, and the air around seemed to be charged. You’re just freaking out, I told myself. There’s nothing weird about him. You’re the only bizarre one at this table.

When dinner was over I stood, practically snatching up everyone’s plates and clearing the table. Like someone possessed, I rinsed them and had the dishwasher running within five minutes. Gregor watched me the entire time, as if he’d never seen anyone do dishes before. I was seized with anxiousness. My illegitimacy had been a painful stigma ever since I was a child. What would I say to this man who’d contributed to that?

“I’m taking a shower,” I announced, finding a way to delay the inevitable. “I’ll be back down later.”

Even though I didn’t want to, I couldn’t help but sneak a glance behind me as I climbed the stairs. Yes, Gregor was still staring, and yes, he seemed to see right through the thin excuse.

“I’ll be waiting, Catherine.”

It was spoken so softly I almost thought I’d imagined it. But I hadn’t. Now he was smiling, and it was pleased and…chilling.

***

My reprieve didn’t last long. Right after my shower, my mother hustled me outside onto the front porch with Gregor. My grandparents were inside watching TV, as if they didn’t know or care what was going on. Their apathy baffled me, because Grandpa Joe hated the scorn from my illegitimacy almost as much as I did. A change had come over my mother that held my attention. She seemed relaxed and cheerful. Those were two words I’d never before used to describe her. And she was smiling.

“Catherine,” she began with a glance at Gregor, “I’m going to tell you about your father now….”

Ten minutes later I sat transfixed in disbelief. Good God. Somewhere along the way, my mother had gone completely crazy. My father was a vampire she’d been dating who was killed when he was set upon by well-intentioned Marines? There was an entire undead subculture existing side-by-side with humans? And I wasn’t completely human myself?

She’ll need inpatient psychological therapy, my first thought was when she finished. And medication. A lot of it.

“Mom, sometimes our minds make things up to help deal with things in our lives we don’t like,” I started out hesitantly. “I’m learning about it in school –”

“She’s not lost her wits,” Gregor interrupted. Oh yeah. I’d almost forgotten about Mr. Strange since she told me he wasn’t my long-lost father. “You’re half-vampire, but you needn’t worry. I’m going to take care of you.”

Crap, he was nuts, too.

“I’ve waited to tell you this until I thought you were old enough to understand.” My mom tried to take my hand, but I pulled away. “I know I’ve been hard on you at times, but it was just so no one else would find out about you. Still, you’ll be sixteen next month, so it’s time you know…”

“Seeing is believing,” Gregor interrupted her shortly, standing also. “Look at me, Catherine.”

I turned around – and screamed.

Gregor’s eyes glowed a bright shining emerald, as if lasers flicked on in his gaze. His smiled revealed two curved fangs in his upper teeth, and he was elevated in mid-air. A faint breeze came off him, blowing his hair. Then suddenly, I was grasped in his arms, my legs kicking at nothing while he laughed. It was a joyous, frightening, knowing sound that silenced my scream. This wasn’t an act. This was real.

“Haven’t you always known there was something special about you?” Gregor whispered fiercely. “All your life, that you possessed something no one else had? I’m going to take you away from here, Catherine. You’ll come with me, meet people you’ve only read about, experience things you can’t imagine -”

“I can’t go anywhere,” I said breathlessly while my mind reeled. “I have school tomorrow.”

Gregor laughed again. He dropped down from the dozen feet we were suspended and spoke low and intimately in my ear.

“I’ll teach you everything you need to know, ma chéri.”

The way he caressed the words while almost nuzzling my ear made me shiver. I hadn’t been in such close proximity with a boy before, let alone a man. It made me nervous on top of shocked and confused.

“Mom?” I asked hesitantly.

“You have to go with him, Catherine,” she answered. “He’s a trusted friend, and he’ll take care of you. There are things I can’t protect you from if you stay here. Don’t worry about school; I’ll take care of it. You can call me whenever you want. You’ll be all right.”

This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. Yet the arms imprisoning me weren’t my imagination. The very big, tall body next to mine wasn’t a hallucination. I had to go with this…man, creature, vampire? Leave everything I knew behind? Sure, I’d wanted to get out of this town, but never in all my imaginations did I think it would be this way!

“You’re,” I had to stop, lick my lips and try again because my mouth was dry. “You’re really a vampire?”

Gregor’s face creased into a smile. “Yes.”

“And I’m…” Deep breath. “I’m not completely human, because my father was a vampire? That’s why there’s something wrong with me? Why I’m not normal?”

“Oui, that is so.”

He hadn’t let me go yet. I didn’t know if I should ask politely, push away, or just stand there stupidly.

“You, ah, have your fangs near my throat,” I said with a self-deprecating laugh, trying for humor instead of demands. “Should I play the fainting female or the hysterical one? I feel like an actor who doesn’t know my lines.”

He didn’t smile again. The light glowed brighter in his eyes, and he leaned in to whisper against my shivering neck.

“I’m not going to bite you, Catherine,” he answered. His hands dropped and I took a quick step away, wondering if I’d imagined him whisper, “Not yet.”

***

“Passengers, please observe the Fasten Seatbelts sign and return your tray tables to their upright and locked position,” the flight attendant intoned in her falsely cheerful voice. “We’ll be landing in Paris in about twenty minutes. Thank you again for flying Air France.”

I glanced to my left where Gregor sat. He’d been sleeping since just before dawn. Normally I’d have slept as well, but my mind was whirling.

After the incredible pronouncement of my parentage, I was marched upstairs to pack. Or at least, my mother told me to. Gregor followed, took one look inside my closet and then crisply announced that I wasn’t taking anything with me. The disdain in his expression made me give an embarrassed look at my outfit, seeing it through his eyes. Compared to his upscale shirt, jacket, pants and shoes, I suppose I did look a little grubby. Then I was shuttled out the door with barely a goodbye to my mother and grandparents, speeding away to the airport before you could even say white trash. First flight, non-stop from Cleveland to New York. Next stop after a two-hour layover, Paris.

Gregor barely spoke to me the entire time, talking instead in French on his cell phone. In the air, he used the on-board phone until he’d decided to nap. It was just as well. I didn’t know a single thing to say. Oh, I had questions. A thousand of them. I just didn’t know if he’d answer me.

When we stepped off the plane in the afternoon sunlight and he didn’t burst into flames, there was one mystery dispelled. At the gate, he was greeted by two pale-skinned men with dark sunglasses and equally thick accents. They each gave me an appraising once-over that made me uncomfortable. Gregor didn’t bother to introduce them. He simply grasped my shoulder and propelled me toward the exit. A car was waiting, and I turned to him in surprise when we climbed in the back and left the others standing there.

“Aren’t those men coming with us?”

Gregor said something in French to the driver and then turned his attention on me.

“They’re collecting my bags and following afterward. Don’t concern yourself. I have everything arranged.”

In other words, zip it. I bit back a frustrated sigh and reminded myself that my mother said to trust him. Since she didn’t trust anyone, Gregor had to be really something. I wondered why he was interested in me. Was there a Vampire curriculum I had to learn? Would I meet other half-breeds like me? A friend would be so nice to have. Maybe here, I wouldn’t be considered weird. Maybe here, no one cared I was illegitimate. The thought cheered me.

Certainly it looked different. I’d never been in a big city, and Paris was magnificent. The architecture, countless people, buildings…I was dazzled. Soon I forgot to ponder my predicament and became engrossed in the sights as the car sped by.

“It is beautiful, non?” Gregor said. He wore a trace of a smile when I looked back at him. “You will see more of it soon, in a way few others ever get to.”

“How’s that?”

But he only gave me a secretive grin and refused to elaborate.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at a tall, imposing building of dark gray stone. Gregor nodded at the structure and the driver hurried out to open my door.

“This is my home here, Catherine.”

What should I say? Looks cozy? It didn’t. It appeared large and intimidating, much like the man next to me.

“H-how many people are staying here?”

He held my gaze. “Just us and a few of my staff.”

Oh! Immediately I felt uncomfortable and sought to allay my rising fears. This guy is how much older than you? He’s big, blond, handsome, and he’s probably got ten girlfriends. You’re fifteen, ugly, and backwoods. Hell, he’s might just be fulfilling some promise to your long-dead dad and can’t wait to unload you.

“It’s nice.” Thank God my voice didn’t waver. “How long will we be here?” I didn’t ask what I really wanted to know. When can I go home?

Something snapped shut in his face and he gestured to the open door. “As long as it takes. Now, come inside.”

Left with no other option, I took the hand offered to me and went into his home.

***

A woman with rich chestnut hair and full curves waited just inside. She smiled when she saw Gregor, clasping his hands and kissing both his cheeks.

“Cannelle, all is prepared?” he asked, drawing me back when I made to walk away.

“Oui,” she replied, dissecting me with her gaze. “Is this she? Tres es le enfant!”

I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t seem like, Hi, how are you? “I’m Catherine,” I introduced myself, taking a dislike to the way she eyeballed me. “Nice to meet you.”

She accepted my hand after only a second’s hesitation. As soon as her warm fingers touched mine, I had my confirmation.

“She’s human,” I stated the obvious to Gregor. “Are you the only…um, other one here?”

It suddenly occurred to me that I should watch what I say. Who knew if his undead status was a secret?

“Are you so certain of what she is?” he challenged, watching me closely.

I considered the woman in front of me. After a pause, I nodded. “No sheerness to her skin, her vein’s jumping in her neck, she’s warm…and she also doesn’t give off a vibe like you do. I’m a hundred percent sure.”

Gregor let out a satisfied chuckle at the astonishment on Canelle’s face. “You see? She can feel my essence. You can’t.” Then he turned and suddenly grasped my bare upper arms. His eyes flashed with tiny lights.

“Describe what you feel, Catherine.”

The intensity in his voice scared me. So did the way he was looking at me. From the curling of his lips, he liked my reaction. That frightened me even more.

“Y-you feel like you’re shocking me,” I replied unsteadily, fighting to stay calm. “Your skin tingles and vibrates.”

“Yes…” It was almost a hiss. “Yet I feel none of that from you, chéri. You feel utterly…human.”

The way he said it could have been disparaging. I was glad when he let me go.

“Cannelle will show you to your room and attend to you,” he said. With that, he walked away, leaving me still trembling slightly from the encounter.

Now that he was gone, Cannelle gave me a sharp frown.

“Follow me.” It was thrown over her shoulder. “Merde, but you need a bath.”

My mouth dropped at the blunt slur. Anger replaced my confusion, and I resisted the urge to plant my foot up her butt. Instead, I reminded myself that this was where my mother wanted me and followed her up the winding stairs.

The bedroom she led me to was so beautiful, I forgot to be mad. A canopy draped over the circular bed, all the furniture looked elegant, and the room was about as large as my grandparent’s whole house.

“This is awesome,” I breathed, reaching out to finger the tapestry on the wall. “Does this all belong to Gregor?”

“Who else?” came Cannelle’s short reply from the bathroom. “Take off your clothes. I will clean you.”

Huh? That snapped me back into reality. Europeans must have a funny way about showing hospitality.

“Er, thanks, but I’ve got it covered.”

She came out with her hands her hips. “I have been a lady’s maid for fifty years, and Gregor’s instructed me to wait on you. Don’t make me return to him and tell him I’ve failed in so simple a task. He won’t understand.”

The ominous way she finished that last sentence spoke volumes. Sure, I was embarrassed, but even if I didn’t think we’d be friendly, I didn’t want to get her in the kind of trouble she was implying.

“Can you, ah, let me use the bathroom? I’m sure he won’t mind my doing that on my own.”

Cannelle shrugged and left the room, closing the door behind her. The tub filled rapidly with water as I availed myself of the facilities. When I was finished, I undressed and sank in the tub, hugging my knees to my chest.

“Look, I’m all set here, so you don’t need to –”

Cannelle swept inside and stopped short when she saw me. “Mon Dieu! You are even skinnier naked. You have barely any breasts at all!”

Now I was mortified and sank further into the water. Jeez, why didn’t she call me an ugly bastard next? Take away the French accent and it was like listening to my classmates.

“I’m a size five,” I answered defensively. “That’s not so skinny. And I’m just…petite in the chest area, but I could still grow!”

She gave me a look that plainly stated she doubted it, but rolled up her sleeves and settled herself on her knees next to the tub.

“We will wash your hair,” she announced. “Then put a mask on your face while you soak. And we must shave you at once. You are so hairy, Catherine; do you not shave your pussy at all?”

I felt my cheeks flame. Oh no, she did not just say that.

“Cannelle,” I managed through gritted teeth, “this isn’t going to work. Just sit in the other room and we’ll tell Gregor that you scrubbed me like a stain on the Pope’s robes. But you are not, I repeat, not laying one hand on my…my stuff!”

As if I could use the same word. God, I couldn’t believe she had!

“If you send me away, he will know it,” she said darkly. “Even now, he hears us. There is no deceiving Gregor.”

At that, I whipped my head around before letting out a humiliated groan. Great. Gregor could hear everything? Then he’d caught Cannelle loudly trumpeting that I was a titless scrawny wonder with a crotch resembling a female Sasquatch!

“Let’s get this over with, I’ll talk to him about it later,” I muttered, handing her the shampoo and mentally cursing up a storm. “You can help me wash my hair, but you’re not getting anywhere near my crotch, got it? Some things aren’t happening no matter what you think of my shaving habits!”

“As you say,” she replied disdainfully before attacking my head like it offended her. “I am after all to obey your commands.”

***

“…oui…”

The muted cry woke me. I’d fallen asleep with surprising swiftness, but then again, I hadn’t slept the day before. A glance at the clock on the wall showed four a.m. Still dark out.

A moan sounded next, low and guttural. I sat up in bed. Somewhere on the first floor, a woman was sobbing. I was halfway to the door when the next series of noises stopped me and a blush seared across my face. Oh.

The metallic sound of a bed creaking made me cover my ears, but it wasn’t enough. I could still make out the feminine panting and masculine moans of a couple in the downstairs bedroom. It didn’t take me more than another moment to recognize the voices. Cannelle and Gregor.

I got back into bed, knowing I should stuff the pillows over my ears and try to sleep, but I didn’t. At least they were speaking in French when they were using words, so I didn’t know what they were saying. Gregor was probably telling Cannelle she was gorgeous. Sexy. Big-boobed and shaved like a baby’s bottom.

I kept listening, watching the time tick by with growing awe. Jeez. Really putting in a full day’s work, wasn’t he?

Finally, two hours later, he let out a culminating groan and the bed went silent. Cannelle murmured something unintelligible and then I heard a door open and shut.

Footsteps sounded on the stairs, padding down the hall on the same floor I was on. I stared at the doorknob with growing dread, willing my heartbeat to stay slow. Did Gregor know I’d been listening? Please don’t let him know.

Thankfully, those footsteps only paused by my door before moving on to the other end of the hall. Another door opened and closed, then silence throughout the house.

I stayed where I was, clutching my pillow, until the weariness made my eyelids heavy and I fell asleep still facing the door.

***

“Good morning, Catherine. Sleep well?”

My head jerked up guiltily, but there wasn’t any sarcasm in Gregor’s face. He gestured to the full plate opposite him at the table.

“Eat something. Cannelle’s made blintzes and poached eggs.”

“She’s a talented one, huh?”

It came out before I could curb it back. Immediately I regretted it. None of your businesses, I reminded myself as I sat.

Gregor’s brow furrowed. That scar near on his eyebrow twitched with his frown.

“You don’t care for Cannelle? She has offended you?”

“No.” Great, how to get myself out of this? “She’s fine. I mean, she’s nice. Sort of. I don’t like her giving me a bath!” I finished with vehemence.

An amused curl formed at his mouth. “Oui. I gathered that yesterday.”

It was all I could do not to groan out loud and defend my chest size, weight, and alleged hairiness. “And it’s not appropriate anyway, since she’s….”

I stopped, cursing myself further. Can’t shut up, can you?

“Since she’s what?” With unyielding resonance.

No use trying to weasel out of it. The way Gregor’s eyes were nailing me to my seat, I couldn’t just change the subject. “She shouldn’t be waiting on me like a servant since she’s your, um, girlfriend.”

If I thought he’d be upset, I was wrong. Gregor laughed as if I’d told a joke.

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

A steadily squeaking bed frame. “Oh, um, it’s just a feeling I have.”

“You’re lying,” he stated flatly. “Don’t lie to me; I can smell it. Answer me or Cannelle will.”

The way he said it made me remember her odd behavior when she said Gregor wouldn’t understand if she’d failed to do her “duty”. She was sleeping with him; he wouldn’t really be mean to her. Would he?

“I-I heard you this morning.” I had to look away when I said it, embarrassed to the bone. “I didn’t mean to. I hear things I’m not supposed to. Believe me, it’s gotten me in trouble my whole life -”

“You heard us in bed?” he asked bluntly. “Three floors down and on the other side of the house?”

My cheeks were warm. Mutely, with my head still bowed, I nodded.

“I see…”

He drew it out thoughtfully, then his voice changed. Became powerful, raising the hair on my neck and arms.

“Look at me, Catherine.”

Up came my head to meet his blazing emerald eyes. They seemed to hold mine in a grip.

“You heard nothing this morning. You were dreaming,” he said in a vibrating tone.

I blinked, taken aback by his intensity. “Okay. It’s none of my business anyway.”

That made him cock his head to the side, like I’d just said something unbelievable. Gregor stared at me, almost bewildered, and then suddenly he was in front of me. His hands grasped my face and didn’t let me turn away.

“I said, you heard nothing this morning. You were dreaming.”

His voice practically echoed and if his eyes gleamed any brighter, they’d leave burns on my skin.

“All right, you’ve made your point! I’ll forget I ever heard it. You don’t have to get all glowy and loud.”

He sat back on his haunches with a stunned expression, his eyes fading back to their normal gray-green. A sharp laugh escaped him.

“Extraordinary.”

“What?” Was I in really bad trouble for overhearing?

Gregor shook his head and fixed me with a bemused look before returning to his chair. His fingers drummed on the white table cloth.

“’Twasn’t meant for your ears,” he said at last. I controlled the rude urge to snort, No duh. “I didn’t realize your abilities were to such a degree, and so now I must explain.”

“You don’t have to.” Me and my big mouth.

“But I do.” Softly. “I don’t want you under a misapprehension. Cannelle and I are, shall we say, no more. She is in stewardship to me and on occasion, I have permitted it to go further, but this morning was…goodbye. She will stay on here, but our relationship will not alter from employee and employer again. Do you understand?”

Yeah, I did. A strange relief spread over me, mixed with apprehension. I was very much intimidated by the vampire sitting across from me. He could switch from jovial to callous in an instant, and I was more than a little afraid of him. But still…

“Why are you telling me this?”

Gregor leaned forward, and there went that herd of butterflies in my stomach. “Why do you think?”

My mouth went dry. Unconsciously I licked my lips, almost bolting from my seat when he slowly licked his. It was like kissing without touching, and it was a lot to handle for me. From being shunned by all the boys my age to having breakfast with a vampire who looked at me as if I were dessert. This was too fast and nothing had really even happened.

“Um, did you say these were blintzes?” I wanted to break the weighty silence, and snatched at the plate like a life raft. “Great. I’m starving.”

Gregor settled back into his chair. He had a slightly superior, pleased expression as he watched me attack the plate.

“As am I.”

***

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