I spun to my left and raised my katana just in time to block a slice to my neck. The clang of steel against steel reverberated in my ears. “You are out for blood today, Greg,” I stated. After an hour and a half of this, I was fading fast. My muscles ached and my arms felt like gummy worms. My body and clothes were drenched in sweat.
“Decapitation is the surest and swiftest death, Elena. I can’t stress that enough,” my cousin replied. Not a strand of his spiky blonde hair was out of place. Hell, he hadn’t even broken a sweat. His six-foot-two lean, muscled body was in perfect shape.
“Yeah, Yeah. You cannot re-grow a head.” I ducked under his next slash and sliced low for his legs. It wasn’t a death blow, but a severed leg would be crippling. Once he was on the ground, I would be able to finish him off.
Easily, he met the blow with a clash so hard, my katana slipped from my wet, sweaty hands and fell to the floor. He raised the tip of his blade to my chest and backed me into the wall. It was over. “That was good.” He was smiling. He always smiled when he won. Of course, he always won. “Did Sean teach you that?” He lowered his sword and let me move away from the wall.
“How did you know I got that from Sean?” I picked up the katana and hung it back up on the wall of the garage that held Greg’s training weapons. All of the blades were dull. Although I usually walked away with bruises, Greg had never cut me while we sparred. When I turned around, he was there with a towel and a bottle of water.
“He always tries that when he spars with me. I wasn’t expecting it with you, though. You almost had me.”
“You could have fooled me,” I replied. “You seemed ready for it.” I took a swig of water and wiped off my sweaty face with the towel.
“Ok Elena, you know the rules. You lost. Fifty sit-ups.”
I playfully jabbed at his muscled abs. “How do you stay so fit? You never lose!”
“I do them on my own. Quit stalling and get down on the mat. The sooner you start, the sooner you will be done.”
“I can’t even get a break for my birthday?”
“Oh, that’s right,” he smirked. “Would you rather do fifty push-ups?” Gold flecks danced in his emerald eyes as he taunted me.
“You are so mean.” I forced my worn-out body down to the mat-covered floor and started my punishment to end my workout. “No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend,” I groused as I struggled to lift my shoulders off of the mat. Beads of sweat trickled down between my breasts and sports bra.
“You wanted a personal trainer, Elena. Don’t be hateful because I am effective.”
Between my gasps for air, I heard a car pull into the driveway and Greg opened the garage door. Cool fresh air rushed in and diluted the stale odor of sweat that lingered in the room
When I finished my sit-ups, I laid unmoving on the mat, trying to scrape together the strength to move. “It sounds like your next victim is here.”
“Right on time,” Greg answered as a sinister smile curled his lips.
I heard the door of Sean’s Corvette shut and watched as our friend Sean walked up the driveway to the converted gym in the garage. He was carrying a vase of white roses and a card. “Are those for me?” I asked, as he set them down on a table in the corner, then squatted down next to me. Like Greg, he was wearing a black muscle shirt and workout pants.
“They certainly aren’t for Greg. Happy birthday, Elena. He didn’t go easy on you on your 25th birthday, did he?”
“No Sean, he didn’t. And I think he broke me. I can’t move,” I groaned.
“Darn. I was hoping you would have tired him out for me. Did you try that move I showed you?”
“Yup. It didn’t work. He was ready for it. Sometimes I think there is no way he can possibly be human.”
Sean stood and he exchanged a strange look with Greg. “Don’t be so dramatic, Elena,” Greg drawled as he shook his head and rolled his eyes. He strolled over to me and extended a hand. “Time to get up. You’re going to stiffen up if you stay down there too much longer.”
I sat up and took his extended hand, letting him pull me to my feet. “I still don’t get why we spar with knives and swords. I’m never going to get into a sword fight on the street.” I finished the bottle of water and tossed the empty bottle into the recycling bin.
“I’ve told you, Elena,” Greg replied. “It’s a great workout. With hand-to-hand combat training, you can defend yourself in any situation.”
“If you say so. I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed.” I walked over to Sean and gave him a hug. “Thank you for the roses. They are beautiful.”
Sean turned his head and gave me a soft kiss on the cheek, tickling my skin with his neatly trimmed goatee. At five foot ten, we were the same height, and although he had dark hair, and we looked nothing alike, I’ve always considered him like my big brother. “You’re going to bed? It’s not even noon. Don’t you want to stick around and watch me kick your cousin’s ass?”
“Nothing would please me more, Sean,” I replied. “But I worked last night and haven’t been to bed yet. If I don’t get some sleep, I won’t make it to dinner.”
“Wasn’t The Cave closed last night?” Sean asked with a raised eyebrow.
“It was closed for a private party and Frank wanted me to bartend. I think it was one of those almost Halloween themed parties. The attire was gothic Vampire. Lots of black and leather. They were even drinking that weird fake blood cocktail that Frank keeps stocked at the bar. To each his own. They tipped well so I can’t complain.” I was dead on my feet. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for days.
“Did you work too, Greg?” Sean asked.
“Nah. Frank usually doesn’t need anyone at the door for those parties.”
“I’m going to let you two get to your workout. Greg, will you wake me up at four so I have enough time to get ready?” I was already walking into the house. “See you later, Sean.”
“I will. Don’t forget to stretch before you lay down.”
He stood over my bed, watching me as I lay asleep, helpless against the danger that entered my bedroom. It wasn’t a true danger, I was dreaming.
A black, tailored suit fit his tall, lean form. Expensive, Armani I think. The shiny black loafers he wore were probably made by some Italian designer whose name I could not pronounce. He removed his jacket and carefully laid it next to me on the bed. His silk shirt was crimson, the color of dark, rich blood that contrasted with the black silk tie draped, untied, around his neck. The shirt was unbuttoned almost to his navel, revealing dark hair that covered what was visible of a strong muscular chest. He was tall and had a long, angular face with cold, dark eyes. High, bladed cheekbones, chiseled from stone, his chin tapered almost to a point. His ebony hair was pulled tight into a long, greasy ponytail. A monster dressed as a gentleman.
For a while he just stood there, staring down at me, watching me sleep. Not wanting to wake me, he carefully sat down on the edge of the bed. He picked up a curl of my strawberry blonde hair from the pillow and brought it to his nose, taking a long, slow inhale of the scent of my hair. “So soft,” he whispered as he sniffed it.
I stirred but didn’t wake. As much as I tried, I couldn’t.
He dropped the hair and ran the back of his fingers down the side of my face. I was repulsed by his presence. It was as if the temperature in the room dropped by twenty degrees. Alone and afraid, I wanted to scream. His touch was cold, leaving me feeling soiled and dirty.
He spoke again. “Sleep, my sweet Elena Kelley. You will need your strength. You cannot hide from me forever. Soon you will be with me. I am your destiny.”
He pulled the sheet off of me. My pink tank top and panties revealed more than I wanted him to see. His presence was so cold. I stirred again, shuddered, trying to pry myself from the grasp of the dream, then settled back into my slumber. My breasts were exposed as he lifted my barely-there tank. He just stared, watched the rise and fall of my breathing as I continued to sleep. “So beautiful.” It was another whisper. Then he smiled, revealing yellowed, inhuman teeth.
“You are going to make me a very happy man.” He lowered his head and opened his mouth to take in my exposed breast. His rancid breath was warm on my flesh. But, just before making contact, he jerked his head up and turned it to face the door.
There was a loud knock and I was startled awake. I threw the covers off of my sweat-soaked body and sat straight up, bile in my throat. My lungs constricted and I couldn’t breathe. The room was dark from the light filtering Bermuda Shades over my windows, but a quick look around the room confirmed that I was alone. The skimpy clothing, I slept in was intact and in place. “It was just a dream,” I said it aloud in an effort to calm my racing heart pounding in my chest.
There was another knock on my door. It was my cousin Gregory. “Ellie, are you ok in there?”
My breath hitched in my throat. “I’m fine Greg. You can come in.”
He opened the door and casually leaned on the frame with his arms crossed over his chest. His tall, sculpted body filled most of the area of the doorway. “It’s 4:00. I know you wanted me to wake you up now, but I can change the reservation if you like.” He straightened, then entered my room. As he walked toward my bed, he used the towel draped around his neck to wipe the sweat off of his face. He was still wearing his black muscle shirt that he had worked out in, but now it was wet with sweat. I quaked as he sat down on the edge of my bed at almost the exact spot of the creepy stranger in my dream.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” There was worry in his eyes as he pushed a curl off my face. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine. I just had a bad dream.” I was lying. I couldn’t shake the feeling of revulsion in the pit of my stomach. I’d always had nightmares, but this one was different. Even though I had been dreaming, I felt his presence, smelled his scent.
“Another one? I thought you said they were getting better.” There was apprehension in his eyes as he tucked that same problem curl behind my ear.
“They were, but this one was so real, Greg.” I took a deep breath as I shuddered from the memory. “It’s almost like he was in the room here with me.” I wrapped my arms around myself in an effort to feel secure.
“Who is it, Elena? Who haunts your dreams?” His brows furrowed as he gently stroked my hair.
“I don’t know,” I whispered, tears were welling in my eyes.
He gave me a reassuring smile and pulled me into a comforting embrace. “It’s ok. You’re safe.” His spicy male scent enveloped me and I felt myself begin to relax as I always did around him.
“Ew! You’re gross and sweaty!” I remarked as I tried to pull away from him. It was amazing how just a hug from my cousin could make me feel so much better.
“Sorry. Sean and I just came back from a run.”
“Wow. You really aren’t human are you?” I teased. “Well I’m going to take a shower and get ready.”
He started to stand but changed his mind. “By the way, there is a new red dress for you hanging in the closet.” He placed a chaste kiss on my forehead, then stood. “Happy Birthday.” He walked out the door and closed it as he left.
I stood at the bathroom door waiting to hear the hair dryer turn off. When it finally did, I knocked on the door. “Our reservation is for 6:30 Greg!”
“I know it is Elena, I am the one who made it.” He sounded annoyed that I would even consider that he would not be ready on time.
Since he woke up everyday looking perfect, I had no idea what took him so long to get ready. It seemed like I was always waiting for him. I walked to the kitchen and grabbed my cell phone off of the counter. The clock on the stove read 5:55. Walking back to the bathroom I asked, “Do you want me to change it to 7:00?”
The door opened and out walked a very dapper Greg. With his angular cheekbones combined with a square-cut jaw, he looked as if he had just stepped out of the pages of GQ. “That won’t be necessary, I am ready.” He was wearing tailored black pants and a charcoal gray silk shirt that fit him perfectly.
“You look great.” Greg’s chiseled face was clean shaven. The ends of his short blonde hair grazed the collar of his shirt and the spiked top looked like he only ran his hand through it in passing. It looked perfect but effortless.
I smiled as I slid past him to get into the bathroom. “Am I going to be waiting on you now?” He asked raising an eyebrow.
Too distracted to answer, I heard him move into the hall, only to throw back over his shoulder, “I just need something from the garage. I’ll meet you at the car.”
“Ok. It won’t take me long. I will be right there.” I shut the door and took one last look. The red silk dress Greg had bought me was beautiful. It had thin straps and was cut low enough to show some cleavage but not look slutty. The perfect fit hugged my curves and fell to mid thigh. With Greg looking like he did, I needed to be on top of my game. A little mascara and lip gloss and I was good to go. He was driving so that meant we were taking the Camaro. That also meant the top would be down. I pulled a hair tie out of the drawer so I could put my hair up for the ride. My long wavy strawberry-blonde hair would not look good tangled and wind-blown and I figured I would be able to take it down when we got there.
“Ellie! Do I need to change the reservation?” Greg yelled through the front door, mocking me.
“No I’m ready.” I slid on my sandals and headed out the door. After I pulled it shut, I double checked to make sure it was locked.
Greg was at the passenger side of the black car, holding the door open for me. “Your chariot awaits, my lady,” he said, as he bowed and waited for me to slide into the seat. The top was already down so I did not have to worry about ducking my head. The sky was clear and the cool October air was going to feel great riding with the top down. It was going to be a gorgeous fall night.
“Thank you, sir.” I sat and fastened the seatbelt. Greg walked around the back of the car and slid into the driver’s seat. He adjusted his mirrors, inserted the key and turned it. The powerful V8 roared to life. Greg backed out of the driveway, put the car in gear and headed for the causeway.
When he stopped at the first light, he turned and smiled. The gold flecks in his emerald eyes looked like stars twinkling. “You look really beautiful tonight. You know how most girls have a little black dress? Well you have that little red dress. And you put all those girls to shame.”
I couldn’t help but smile at Greg’s compliment. My cousin always made me feel as if I was the most important person in his life.
As we approached the restaurant’s parking lot, the valet instantly recognized Greg’s car and stepped off the curb to meet him. “Looks like Amber is working tonight.” I gave him a sly smile and winked as he slowed to turn in.
“And your point would be?” He asked, clearly not amused.
“Just an observation,” I teased. “She always seems to be working when we come here. Does she check the book to see when we are coming? She may be stalking you.” I honestly didn’t know what kind of relationship they had. “I don’t think she likes me. She barely even says hello to me.”
“She just doesn’t know you that well,” he replied. “I’m sure if you would give her a chance, the two of you would probably become good friends.”
“Yeah. I’m the problem,” I mumbled under my breath.
Amber walked over to the driver’s side of the car as it came to a stop. She was wearing the standard valet attire. Black sneakers, shorts and polo shirt, with her curly, coppery, red hair tied back into a ponytail pulled through her black baseball cap. Her small 5’5″ frame was the perfect size for sliding in and out of the small sports cars that she usually had to park. “Hey Greg. Looks like you picked a good night. It doesn’t look like they are going to be that busy.” She leaned against the door and kept her gaze on Greg like he was the only one in the world. Yeah, she had it bad.
Greg unfastened his seatbelt as he answered. “Well, it is Ellie’s birthday so it will be nice to have a quiet, intimate table.”
She popped back up as if she suddenly remembered she had a job to do. “Oh, hi Elena. Good to see you.” I just nodded and let myself out of the car. Greg hopped out and jogged around the back of the car to meet me and walk me in. Amber knew Greg so there was no need for a claim slip. No doubt she would know when we paid the tab and would have the car waiting for us when we were ready to leave. She always did.
The restaurant didn’t look like much on the outside. It was set in the middle of an old, abandoned strip mall that was a casualty of a crappy economy. The only other business looked like an old dilapidated gym. Oddly enough, there always seemed to be women coming and going. It was a block away from the railroad tracks that separated the city from blocks of seedy buildings and warehouses, but the food was awesome.
When we reached the door, Greg opened it and placed a hand on my back to guide me in. “After you, my lady.” I smiled and thanked him as we entered the restaurant.
Once inside, it felt like I had walked straight into Italy. My mouth watered from the aroma of garlic and Mediterranean spices. Lively Italian music played from hidden speakers. A mural depicting the canals of Venice was painted on a side wall. The servers all dressed as gondoliers, wearing black and white striped shirts, black pants and straw hats. Red and white checkered table cloths and Chianti bottles holding burning candles adorned every table. As always, I tossed a penny into the miniature replica of the Fontana del Tritone, and pretended to make a wish.
One of the owners, Isabella, was there to greet us when we walked in. “Ah. Gregory and Elena, it is so good to see you. Happy Birthday, Elena. Antonio and I are so pleased you will be spending this special night with us. We have prepared your favorite table in the back for you. Come. Let me seat you now.”
“Grazie Bella. I need to go powder my nose. Greg, I will meet you at the table.” There was no way I was going to walk through the restaurant with my cousin not having a hair out of place and mine in a wind-blown ponytail.
To my surprise, the ladies room was empty. Not even an attendant was present. It was unusual not to see someone sitting in the red velvet settee sofa in the antechamber. The sound of my small heels clicking on the mosaic-tiled floor echoed eerily louder than usual. Even the Pavarotti crooning over the speakers seemed crisper. It was weird.
I set my purse down on the gold-veined, green marble countertop, and looked around the room. The dark-green painted walls appeared to be brighter, like they were newly painted. Even the paintings of Rome hanging on the wall seemed newer.
I blinked as something in the, gilt-framed, mirror caught my eye, but there was nothing there. Suddenly the room was quieter and not as bright, as if everything had abruptly muted. I shook my head at my own thoughts, surely, I was just tired.
After straightening my dress, I pulled the tie out of my hair. As I reached into my purse to grab my comb, I unexpectedly felt a strange crackle of electricity fill the small room. My nose burned from the tinge of ozone.
When I looked up into the mirror, I had a strange feeling of déjà vu as I saw a ripple form like someone had thrown a pebble into a pond. I blinked my eyes as I studied the mirror, looking for some sort of mechanism to explain what I had just seen. Finding nothing, I reached for the mirror, intending to touch its surface. Just before I made contact, the ripples formed again.
I stared into them, mesmerized, as if I was being drawn in. Unable to look away, I felt a strange prickle of warning on the back of my neck just before the room began to spin.
An audible pop was enough to pull me out of the mysterious trance. As I turned to run, there was another crack in the air, a clawed scaly hand materialized from the mirror and grabbed my shoulder, pulling me into the ripples.
My stomach flipped at the free-falling sensation as I was being dragged into a dark gray abyss that smelled of sulfur and burning flesh. I tried to kick and scream, but the more I did, the tighter the grip became. The sharp talon ripped through my skin, and I could feel my warm blood flowing down my arm.
Empty darkness surrounded me. It was void of air and I could neither breathe nor scream. Panic stricken, I tried, but no sound came out. I could only choke on the putrid air, thick with the miasma of odors.
Just when I thought I would fall into the darkness, a soft, cool, breeze slid across my face. The grip on my shoulder remained. Skin and muscle tore as something else pulled me in another direction and suddenly freed me of the talons holding me. I was still tumbling through a vacuum but at least, I was able to take a breath. The stench of death began to recede and the air became cooler, filling my lungs with each greedy mouthful I took. Suddenly, salty air filled my nose, like the ocean. There was another crack in the air and I rolled into fresh air, slamming into the ground.
My name is Elena Kelley. A few days ago, on my twenty-fifth birthday, a strange creature pulled me through an enchanted mirror, and onto a beach in the Fae Realm, where a Druid Sorcerer saved my life. Turns out, I’m the next in line to the Light Fae crown, and my fate is to unite the Dark Races.
Up until now, my entire life has been a lie. Oblivious to what I am, I’ve lived as a human, hidden from the supernatural world, cloaked by a Sorcerer’s spell. That spell is gone now, my powers are intensifying, and my life is in danger.
My new best friend is a Demon, and I’m meeting Vampires in bars. Somehow, I have to come to terms with what I am, and learn to fight in order to save myself as well as the ones I love.