Pale morning light glistened off the windows, yet Kat remained on the edge of her bed. Her shoulders slouched with a bone-deep weariness that matched the dark circles under her eyes. The key still hung around her neck. It tugged at her aching muscles and served as a constant reminder of the culprit of her sleep-deprived state.
She had found herself caught up in something she couldn’t hope to understand. The only stability came from her training. The same training that had taught her how to roll with the punches, anticipate the perp’s actions, and yet, even with the basics, she should have been able to function against the rising threat. However, could she counter the efforts of an entire world hidden in plain sight?
She gripped the soft comforter, staining it with the slick sweat from her palms.
A knock came from the door.
Kat didn’t move. She didn’t care who came to bother her. There were too many questions, or more appropriately, too many lies.
Walter stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. “Miss Katharine, we have breakfast prepared for you.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Walter limped over next to the bed. “How are you doing? Do you need to talk?”
“No, I’m fine.” Kat removed the leather cord and held the key in her hand. She rubbed her fingers across the worn silver.
He cleared his throat. “I have been thinking that it would be best for now if you returned home.”
Kat’s head snapped up. “What do you mean? Do you want me to go?”
“Of course not. Please do not think that we wish you to leave. Honestly, I am worried about you. After what happened last night, we are worried the knights will attack again.”
“So, they are after me.”
Walter nodded. “Yes, Miss Katharine. I believe they are after the future initiates for the Order of Malta.”
“But I’m not a future initiate.”
Walter sighed and cleared his throat. “Initiates are pulled from families. The only way to join is to have at least one parent from the Order.”
Kat hesitated. She had already come to the same conclusion, but she didn’t want to say it out loud. “If Michael is already a part of them, then…”
Walter nodded with a soft smile. “Your reasoning is correct.”
Kat sighed and finally stood from the bed. “I’m going to wait. I need to speak to him once he gets here. I want the truth, and I don’t want to live in the dark anymore.”
“Does that mean…you wish to join the Order?”
“I’m not deciding anything right now, especially that, but if I need to have a vampire bodyguard, then I might as well consider it. It doesn’t seem like the problem of ‘my life being in danger’ is going away anytime soon.” She sat back down on the bed. Only then, she realized she’d never taken off her shoes. She kicked off her boots and relaxed her feet on the soft rug.
“I suppose we could work on some sort of training regimen until then.”
Kat closed her eyes. “I like the sound of that. Maybe going a few rounds with Mr. Brooding-Pointy-Fangs would help me relax some.”
Walter shuffled back toward the door. “I will ask if he is available. Perhaps using that nickname will make him more accommodating to our request.”
She heard the door close behind him and sighed. Her muscles relaxed, and her mind hazed, begging for sleep. Why now, she wondered. Just because she had a vampire bodyguard, should not mean she had to sleep like one.
The first thought that entered her mind was that someone was in the room.
Her body tensed.
She kept her eyes shut and focused on analyzing her surroundings. She regulated her breathing and relaxed her fingers underneath the covers.
Her eyes peeked open. Darkness enveloped the room, except for a shaft of moonlight glinting off the silver accents of the side table. Kat gritted her teeth. She couldn’t get a good look at the intruder.
The shadowed figure glided across the floor. No footsteps followed in his wake.
She strained to hear any sign of him: a footfall, or breathing, or even the whisper of a knife being removed from a sheath. But nothing stirred in the dead silence.
The perp darted for the bed. A shadow fanned out behind like trailing mist.
Kat had only one option. She had to catch him off guard.
Or, in other words, she had to attack first.
The stranger edged closer and reached for her throat.
She cried out and slammed into him. Kat grabbed the knife from underneath her pillow as she lunged forward. The intruder stumbled off the bed and sprawled onto the floor. She pinned his arms, hoping to release his grasp on any weapons he might have been holding.
“I knew you would come back for me,” she growled.
“You seem more eager than I realized to start training.”
Kat froze. She knew that gruff voice. “Uriel?”
“Yes? Were you expecting a midnight visit from someone else?” He adjusted his wrists but didn’t fight back. If anything, he seemed relaxed.
Kat could feel his body beneath her. He wasn’t afraid or worried about what she might do to him. In fact, he may have been enjoying their awkward position a bit too much. Kat sighed and removed her grip on his wrists.
Within a heartbeat, the vampire rolled her and switched their placements. Kat gasped and tried to move from underneath his grip.
“Let me go,” Kat spat. She tried to wriggle free once more.
“Strange,” Uriel leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Even though you wear the key, why does it not force me to move?” His eyes moved to her gaze.
She swallowed hard and turned into his shimmering, frosted stare. She took a deep breath, then forced the words clearly from her throat, “Get off…now.”
Uriel flew back against the wall. Kat scrambled away from him. He coughed and put a hand to the back of his head. “Wow, I didn’t expect you to use such force.”
“That’s what you get for sneaking into my room, you perv.” She stood and adjusted the comforter on her bed.
“Perv? I should have realized that you are just a child.”
“I am twenty-two, so no, not a child,” she snapped. “What do you want?”
“As I said before, it’s midnight, and you didn’t get out of bed, yet. I came to check on you.” Uriel adjusted his coat and stood.
“Maybe because most people don’t stay awake all night. Also, it’s pretty sad when I can get a jump on my own bodyguard.”
The vampire smiled with his teeth. “I don’t have my guard up around you because you can’t kill me. There isn’t much to worry about. Also, there was another matter I wished to discuss with you.”
Kat sighed and rubbed at her eyes. “Well, it can wait till I get something to eat. I feel like I haven’t eaten in a week.”
Uriel gave a sly grin. “That is actually what I wanted to discuss.”
“What? My eating habits?”
Kat’s eyes snapped up. Despite the lack of light in the room, she could feel his eyes on her. “What about it?”
He chuckled. “You’re right. We should feed you first. It wouldn’t be good for you to pass out in the process.”
Kat swallowed down a lump of unease, but it didn’t help her process his words any better. She had to keep a cool head. Right then was not the time to freak out about the vampire wanting blood. Her blood.
Or, maybe it was an excellent time to start panicking.
She left the room and hurried down the corridor. The guest kitchen would be closest and her best bet for food. She could hear Uriel’s careful footsteps. His movement reminded her of a nocturnal predator stalking its kill. She shivered as she entered the pristine kitchen.
Uriel watched her prep a turkey sandwich. He pulled a stool over and sat at the island table. He steepled his fingers as he followed her movements. She shivered under his unwavering eyes. Every moment appeared controlled and calculated, like a lion observing its prey. She guessed he wanted to learn her habits, her weaknesses, anything that he could use against her.
A realization sunk in that he would be there, always. For the rest of her life, he would be hanging over her shoulder. She tried to force that drowning weight away from her mind.
Kat grabbed a Dr. Pepper from the fridge and sat the can next to her plate on the island.
“Can you hand me one of those, too?”
She raised an eyebrow at the vampire.
“What? Can’t I enjoy anything except for blood? Humans only need water, right? You don’t have to drink soda either,” Uriel grumbled.
She ground her teeth and snatched another drink from the fridge. She tossed it at him. Kat took her plate to the dining table at the side of the room. She faced the large arching windows and stared into the dark of night.
“So, what? We can’t talk now?”
Kat huffed out a breath and started chowing down on her sandwich. It tasted as amazing as it looked. The crisp lettuce and ripe tomatoes matched with the juicy turkey was heaven, which may have had something to do with her lack of food in the last sixteen or so hours. She considered making a second one. Since she had arrived back home, she had neglected her eating habits. Her stomach growled for more.
Uriel let out a deep breath and moved to sit at the table next to her. “I just need to eat, okay? This won’t turn you or hurt you. Well, the bite might, but I won’t take much. I can’t cause you real harm, remember?”
Kat eyed him and continued to eat.
Uriel growled and finished off his soda. He chunked the can across the room and paced away. “You know. I didn’t hear you complaining when I saved that old fool. I didn’t even argue at going to his rescue, or any of the maids. Where would any of you be without me?”
Kat paused and sat down her sandwich.
His coat swirled out as he spun and headed for the door.
“You’re right,” she whispered.
Uriel paused and turned to her. His hair seemed to float around him as though he swam through a pool. His eyes sparkled in the room’s lighting.
“We probably would be dead by now without you.” She swallowed and stood to face him. “You probably have been keeping us safe for years and like you said you can’t kill me.”
The dark-haired vampire raised an eyebrow and stepped forward.
“You’ve held up your end of the bargain, so it’s,” she paused, “only fair that I hold up my end.” Kat pulled her hair away from her shoulder, exposing her neck.
Uriel didn’t move at first. His frosted eyes darted to the spot above her collarbone. He didn’t say anything as he glided forward. Before she could protest, he laced a hand behind her and pulled her to him. Kat let out a tiny gasp. His free hand wound through locks of her hair.
She felt her muscles tense.
He leaned in, inhaling her scent. His body seemed to quiver with anticipation. Then, Uriel bent forward, brushing his lips across her skin. He licked his lips.
He closed his eyes and breathed out. “So much more tantalizing than pig’s blood.”
Kat raised an eyebrow. “Wait. What do you mean by pig’s blood?”
Uriel froze, then deflated in an instant. He sighed and stepped back, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.
She moved back and crossed her arms. “You didn’t tell me the whole truth, did you? They’ve been giving you pig’s blood. I have to remember to ask the right questions with you.” She paused in thought then smiled. “When was the last time you had human blood?”
The dark-haired vampire shuddered and turned away from her. “Never mind. I’ll go get the damn blood myself.”
“I’m not denying it to you because you are a vampire.”
He stumbled to a halt and glanced back at her puzzled.
“I’m denying you because you lied…again.”
Uriel sneered, revealing his sharp canines and stormed away. His boots thudded against the stone floor all the way to the stairwell down the hall. He must be furious, Kat thought. But that didn’t matter.
Uriel had shown his true colors and his truest intentions.
Hopefully, he would find the blood on his own, but that line of reasoning did not leave any warm feelings inside. He could not harm her, but the rest of the staff may be fair game. She didn’t know the exact details of the contract.
Kat rose and made another sandwich to-go. She would have to find where they stored the pig’s blood; probably in some refrigerator where most people didn’t go often. She left the kitchen and made her way to the South wing. It was the oldest part of the house, so not a bad place to start looking. Silence seeped from every corner of the shadowed hall. It made her almost want to stomp around just so the house would not remind her of a mausoleum.
It only took an hour, but she happened to find it thinking it was another guest kitchen that would have more to drink. The light had burned out in the room, but milk had sounded good after her sandwich. However, all she found in the fridge was rows and rows of pig’s blood. The plastic quart-sized tubs filled the large refrigerator and sent shivers down her spine. She closed the door and turned to call for Uriel, only to find that she was not alone.
A young man about her age stood leaning against the door frame behind her. The lamp in the hall bathed him in a warm light. He had shoulder length blonde hair and deep black eyes that almost seemed to suck the soul from her body. Kat shivered from the familiar predatory stare and froze.
He smiled and stepped forward. “Your instincts are good. Most people can’t tell us apart from humans.”
Kat couldn’t make any of her words come out. He may have been like Uriel, but the intruding vampire seemed much different. Much more dangerous. She didn’t think he would hesitate to kill her.
He waved his hand. “Don’t worry. I’m not here to hurt you. You are safe tonight.”
Her fear and anxiety washed away as though they had never been there in the first place. Kat stared at him in a daze and wondered why she had been so afraid.
He wasn’t going to hurt her.
He stepped closer. “I am Remiel. I am here as an ambassador for the Knights Templar.”
Kat’s fear tried to return, but some sort of wall blocked it from her reach. She could feel it trying to flood her veins, but the effect seemed dulled somehow.
“I simply wish to invite you to consider our side in this situation.” He stepped closer once more and was almost within arm’s reach.
“Precisely. Are you on the right side?” Remiel grazed a finger across her cheek. “Are you on the side that isn’t going to betray you?”
Kat’s skin chilled under his touch. She tried to think, tried to react, but her mind remained fuzzy.
A snarl erupted from the doorway, and Uriel lunged forward, slamming into the foreign vampire, and sent them both sprawling away from her. The new vampire melted into mist and reappeared on the other side of the room. Uriel placed himself in front of Kat. His body appeared rigid with agitation, while his fangs gleamed in the dim light.
Remiel chuckled and yawned, appearing bored. “I see your guard dog is as attentive as ever. We will talk again, Katharine.”
“Don’t count on it,” Uriel growled. His eyes never wavered from Remiel.
The vampire with hollowed eyes bowed then vanished into mist.