Posted in Character Stories

Enemy Fire

Somewhere in the rafters above me a parakeet squawks. My father’s friend refuses to have a normal pet. She signed up instead for a service bird who has managed to escape every attempt she’s made to take him to Sunday service. 

Maybe he’s a demon trapped in the tiny body and trying to run away from this cathedral before the singing commences. 

In that sense, he and I would have some common ground. 

My heels drag with each step. There’s a pounding in my skull that gets incessantly louder the further I make it into this holy place. My skin doesn’t burn, though. I don’t feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust or puke out the virus that has attached itself to my system. 

The virus that I had hated until it saved my life.

My limbs heavy, I press forward past a handful of bystanders who pretend not to see me. Everyone says help is at the church. It sure is for the wealthy and the affluent. Me, though, in my bloodstained shirt and bare feet, I look like a dead man walking, a bad omen that they would rather avoid than face head on. 

Ash coats my tongue from laying face to face with Death all last night. Some might argue that destiny finally caught up with me. I’d argue that a coward with a hammer caught me off guard. 

There has to be cracks in my skull from the impact. At least, there were several hours ago. I heard the crunch and then laid on the cold concrete while the insidious disease I contracted a few weeks ago carefully put my fractured bits back together like they were only pieces to a simple puzzle. 

My vision wavers as I take another step forward. My right side swings forward fine. My left leg drags. I continue in that movement as wave after wave of nausea tries to overtake me. I continue anyway, my limp more and more pronounced with each step closer to the front of the cathedral. The bishop is speaking over my movements, pretending that I’m not getting closer and closer to his precious grasp on this audience. 

“Where’s my mother?” I gasp over the pain lancing from my shoulder down through my ankle. 

He doesn’t even bother to look at me. Someone nearby tries to hush me. I’m not about to be silenced. My life on the line, the life of my family as it currently stands is in danger. I won’t just be shushed and pushed aside. 

I make it almost to the first step up towards his lifted podium before someone actually gets up to stop me. The bishop never stops speaking. He doesn’t hesitate to spread lies to these gullible people. 

“Let me go,” I growl, my hold on the virus slipping as my vision turns red and claws extend on my left hand. 

I haven’t had nearly enough time to come to grips with the supposed vampire variant. I didn’t even believe it was real until a few days after my run-in with the savvy businessman. The guy who exposed me to the virus left me a number to call if the shit hit the fan. He wasn’t exactly in a place to educate me while I fought to suck in a simple breath of air. He, though, had more civilized compassion than the person who attacked me last night. 

The good samaritan who came to my side is babbling about a hospital when he notices that my eyes aren’t a normal shade. Jumping back from me, he clutches at the crucifix around his throat while some kind of garbled prayer sprays from his lips. If I was a Dracula knock off, that might have done something. Since I’m a very real, likely an invincible recreation of Stoker’s first imagined creature, it does absolutely nothing. 

I make it up the first step before another voice rings through the confused din of the audience. “Erik!”

Mom. Mother. The high heeled attacker who left me for dead in a cold alley. 

Glaring at the Bishop, I watch as his hands tremble over his text. Another time. I’m not going to forget the person who brainwashed my mother and then sent her after me. 

I am going to deal with her first. 

Staggering away from the front of the cathedral, I follow her out the side door and into a dim hallway. She’s uninjured and far faster than me. While the beast resting just under the surface of my skin wants bloodshed and revenge, I only want to talk. 

She’s nowhere to be seen.

Leaning against the stone wall, I squint into the next room. Some kind of archive. Maybe just an individual prayer room with a stack of ancient texts for every need. 

She’s in there. 

“Does Dad know?” I ask the room as I step past the door frame. 

She seemingly materializes from an exit across the room. Hiding. It’s not really the way innocent people act. 

“He knows you got into some trouble.”

Right. Dad runs a bakery. He was injured in the army a long time ago and now she coddles him from the real nasty bits of our world. 

“So, you left out the part where you tried to kill me?”

She doesn’t flinch at the statement. I thought she would show some emotion. Maybe she would take a breath to beg for my forgiveness. Instead, she straightens her shoulders and looks down her nose at me even though I’ve been taller than her since I turned fifteen. 

“When you started sneaking around with questionable men, you betrayed the family. You’re not human anymore, Erik. If you cared for any of us, you would take care of this mess yourself.”

I’m going to puke. 

“Kill myself,” I breathe, the words barely penetrating the thick air between us. 

She shrugs, her thin frame wrapped in a jacket. Like this, she just looks like the woman who used to stand in the kitchen and ask about my grades. That’s not who she is now. It’s more than the additional lines around her lips and eyes or the gray strands she can’t seem to keep covered with expensive dyes in her hair. She chose the goddamned Bishop over the rest of us, vowing her life to his secret society. 

One that dislikes anyone who strays from the traditional path and despises vampires. 

“It’s the best choice for the family.”

Of course. The family is the most important thing. We’re not supposed to upset Dad’s life or distract Malcolm from his booming security business. We’re just expected to keep our chins up and our mouths shut. 

I haven’t ratted Mom out in years. She’s been moving family funds around and going to these secret meetings with the Bishop and his followers. I open my mouth to argue with her and then firmly shut it. 

There’s no point. I dragged myself off of the ground and came here to make a statement. 

But it doesn’t matter. 

“Tell Dad I died. I’ll get out of your life.”

For the first time since we came face to face, her stern mask cracks. There’s something else underneath. Likely not sadness since she was already prepared to wipe me off the planet with nothing more than a hammer and her personal conviction. 

“Where will you go?”

That has to be a ploy. She isn’t really going to let me walk out of here. Is she?

I shrug, the action making everything on the right side of my body ache. “Anywhere that isn’t here.”

“You can’t reach out to your brother.”

“I know.”

It would defeat the purpose of faking my death if Malcolm was aware that I was alive. I’m not willing to keep playing these games. I’m mad, really fucking mad about all of this, but it’s not a fight I can win on my own. 

We’re at a standstill. I don’t know if we’re supposed to say more. There’s no way that I’ll be trading statements of love and well being. 

This sucks. 

It really, really sucks. 

But I know when I have to throw in the towel. 

I didn’t stumble through college just to die in an alleyway. 

I’ve got dreams and I know there’s places for me to follow them. There’s a mysterious number in my phone for me to call. I’ll see where that lead takes me while I buy a ticket out of town. 

Still, I don’t know if there’s something else to do. I went through all of the effort to chase her down and say something. Is this really how we’re going to leave things?

I don’t get a chance to make that decision. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone, clicking through several screens before her dark eyes, the same dark eyes I inherited, pin me to my spot. 

“I can buy you eight minutes. Get out. The others are coming.”

A last minute show of loyalty or just a way for her to force me out of her life, I don’t think twice about turning away and limping down the next hall. The door closes behind me with a final thud. Half dead, rage and disgust and grief rampaging through my intestines, I keep my eyes forward. 

It’s time to see where life will take me.

Author’s Note

This writer is physically and mentally exhausted. November has been a very long month packed with keeping up with all of my usual updates and working on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

I started this prompt this morning with a vague idea that I would introduce yet another one of my characters. If you enjoyed The Last Dance a couple of weeks ago, I’m happy to introduce Erik as the stranger that whisked Miles away at the end. Erik’s story is going to play with familial tension and a resistance to religion as he tries to find himself in this terribly complex world.

As always, thank you for coming to read this blog and support my dream to write. It has meant the world to me these last few months.

Please check out Bridgette’s story as well on the theme of chasing an enemy: Chalky Hands

And if you’re reading Lore, come meet Erisa Nabil through Ashby’s eyes: Lore by A D Reece

I’ll see you next weekend, readers! ❤

Posted in Character Stories

The Last Dance

Matthew secures the mask over my face and then steps back to look at me. “You’re divine, darling.”

I don’t bother to look in the mirror or offer my opinion. This doesn’t need to be a controversy between us. If he says I look better with my face covered, then so be it.

I take a deep breath and try to push down the juvenile need to rip off this entire outfit and hide in my room. Instead, I perform the twirl that Matthew is asking for as he claps and tosses praise my way. 

Maybe it will be a good night. He’s gone out of his way to make this an event for me. I flash him an awkward smile, the edges of my mask pressing into my lips. 

“You’re going to enjoy the carnival themes, darling,” Matthew continues talking, holding his arm out for me to grab as he sweeps us out of the room. “Everyone will be dressed well and have masks and then there’s all sorts of apple treats and I even got a pianist to come play.”

Lucy isn’t performing?

I jot the words onto my pocket notepad in a quick rush.

Matt shakes his head. “She had other plans.”

Oh. It’s fine. I try to breathe past the rock now settling in my chest. This is okay. I’m great. She’s allowed to have a life outside of me. A dark little whisper at the back of my mind whines that something is wrong, but I shake it off. I just thought she would have done something special for my birthday.

No worries. My husband hasn’t let me out of his sight today and I’m in for an evening of perfectly executed activities orchestrated by the great Matthew Krawlski. 

We enter the elevator together as I stuff away my pad of paper, Matt stepping in first as I follow a step behind before coming to stand at his side. He presses the button to plummet us to the bottom, keying in a special code to keep the doors for opening for anyone else in the hotel. I stare straight ahead, my eyes catching on the gold mask covering my face. It follows the curve of my cheekbones, arching over my nose and sealing itself to my features. There’s no embellishments or feathers or anything fun. Its solid gold form fitted to conceal my identity.

Matthew made a point of physically turning me into a trophy husband. 

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He isn’t even wearing a mask. Matthew Krawlski isn’t the kind of man who hides his face when he can flash people his charming smile and get people to simply do anything he asks. 

It doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother me. 

I don’t know why my head is such a mess today. 

I take a shuddering breath as the elevator eases down to the lowest level. Here we go. Time to be excited for a party I didn’t ask to have. 

The doors slide open. I wrinkle my nose. Sassafras. It’s not my favorite smell. Sweet and woodsy. The cloying quality of it makes me sick to my stomach. Matt takes a deep breath, though, so I don’t say anything as he leads me out into the dimly lit room. 

The party is already in full swing. There have to be over two hundred people milling about in the space below. Matthew clears his throat. I don’t need him to verbally lecture me right now. 

Eyes forward, shoulders straight, and for the life of me, I need to not trip down the stairs. 

The music is silenced. Our names are announced. People cheer as Matt waves and walks with me down the spiral staircase meant for these theatrics. 

When we reach the bottom, my too shiny shoes squeaking across the polished tiles, Matt clears his throat and looks out at the crowd that looks as excited to praise us as they would be to rip us to shreds. “Thank you all for being here. My husband’s birthday is a grand affair. I even got him out of his room.”

There’s chuckles through the surrounding group. To them, I’m a weird recluse, a nobody, a man who sunk my claws into Matt for his money and didn’t look back. Nobody knows the real reason Matthew so rarely drags me out to these affairs. They don’t know that I truly have claws and not enough self-control to always hide them. 

Deep breath. Again. My last therapist insisted that breathing was the key to everything.

I can’t tell if it’s working as Matt signals to someone in the crowd and the lights turn a moody red. Everyone is ushered to the sides. A piano is lifted up onto a stage and light music begins to play at the whim of the pianist. 

“I hired him just for you, darling. He plays all that classical shit you adore.”

If anybody else was nearby, Matt wouldn’t curse. He feels comfortable here. He thinks he’s done a good job. 

We walk by a large table filled with food. There’s chocolate fountains and mountains of meats and cheeses on gold platters that sparkle with the red lighting. Desserts tower everywhere else. Truffles and flaky cookies and a hundred other pastries line circular plates. At the end, there’s sweet caramel apples, some of them sliced open to show off the center. They’ve been there too long. Oxidation has settled in the core, turning them brown amongst the table of delicacies. 

It’s rare for Matt to allow an imperfection. 

I don’t mention it. Instead, I keep my fingers on the crook of his elbow and follow him to the front of the crowd. The dancefloor. He turns to face me as the pianist switches to a slow tune. 

“Will you allow me the first dance, darling?”

It’s not a choice. I don’t need to pull out my notepad to form an answer. I just put my hands into his and follow along to the steps of the waltz. 

The crowd cheers as we spin. I shut my eyes as the lighting changes from red to blue to pink to yellow. It’s a rainbow array meant to dizzy and disorient. 

I miss my footing. 

Matt catches me as I crumple, a curse under his breath. “Keep it together, Miles. We’re in front people,” he growls, no concern on his harsh features for what is likely a sprained ankle as I gingerly limp through the rest of the song. 

There’s applause. My whole leg is throbbing with it. Matt pulls me down into a bow before welcoming the rest of the people out onto the dance floor as the pianist begins a jaunty tune. 

“You should take a minute to recover.”

No pet name. Matthew’s mad. In his mind, I just embarrassed him in front of hundreds of people. 

Even if I wanted to complain, I don’t dare grab the notepad from my pocket. There’s no way I’m writing out my feelings to him in the middle of this elaborate affair. I’ll stay quiet. I’m plenty good at staying quiet. 

Matt tucks me into a booth to the side of the stage that’s mostly hidden from the party. “Take a few minutes. When you’re ready, I’ll be making arrangements with some of the big players in the city. There’s a private table at the back. The security knows to let you pass. Can you handle being alone?”

I excel at being alone. Matt grabs my chin, though, when I don’t answer quick enough. His hold is rough enough to bruise. A shuddering breath rushes through my clenched teeth as I stare up at him. 

I will not cry. I won’t make a sniffle. He’ll be distracted soon. 

“Behave yourself. Do you understand?”

There’s no hesitation this time. I nod. I nod too quickly into his hand and he drops it. Stepping away, he throws an unnecessary affectionate phrase over his shoulder to keep his image good with anybody nearby and then struts off to care for his precious business. 

God. I hate my birthday. 

If I could laugh, I would now. Not some mirthful sound, but a choked gasp at my situation. This is my life. This is the foreseeable course of my life. I have years if not decades or centuries going through these motions. 

Matthew Krawlski will never let me go. 

The piano music changes. I tilt my head to look over at the dark form walking away from the stage as the pianist gives a thumbs up for the requested song. It’s not a classical tune. 

Matt is going to be so upset if he realizes this guy is playing other songs. 

Yet… I don’t want it to stop. I think I can recognize it. 

It’s on the tip of my tongue. A warm wiggling at the base of my mind, the title just barely escapes my capture. It’s something that probably played on the radio once when I was walking through the hotel lobby.

Before I can come to any conclusion on its origin or importance in my life, the lights swivel to catch on a man in a mask similar to that of the Phantom of the Opera. He has a microphone in his hand. He’s…

He’s singing and looking straight over at this booth. 

That deep voice. The amusing swing of his hips. This guy must be a performer. He’s used to standing in front of people and making a fool of himself. 

But that voice. I could listen to it every day for the rest of my life. 

My fingers trail the scar on my own throat. My memories are jumbled. I think I used to like to sing, though. I would have liked the chance to sing with this man as he repeats the chorus and demands that the audience to his words saves the last dance for him. 

I’ve heard those words before, but I just can’t remember. 

Eventually, the song ends and the pianist continues onto another song. Someone else gets on stage to sing. She’s nowhere near as good as the last guy. 

I don’t have much time to ponder anything because I’m no longer alone. My shoulders stiffen. I try to paste on a bland smile to fend off Matt, but…it’s not him. The guy with the phantom mask. He unabashedly shows off half of his handsome face, daring anyone to identify him outside of this particular event. 

He holds his hand out to me. “I really would like that last dance if you wouldn’t mind.”

How do you know it’ll be the last? I want to ask. I want to know his name and why he has gone out of his way to make a spectacle in my husband’s hotel. 

But, I look into his deep brown eyes and forget to grab my writing pad. 

Is this what it feels like to know in your soul that you’ve met someone in a past lifetime and they’ve managed to make it back to you?

I don’t know. 

I want to find out. 

Knowing there will be consequences, I slip my fingers into his gloved hand and step out of the safety of the booth.

Author’s Note

Welcome back to Miles’ portion of this complex story. If you’re new or want to follow re-read his stories, check out: High School Nightmare, Three Little Words, and Artists as well as this week’s prompt.

There are some exciting twists coming in his story, so hang in there and keep checking back here for his intermittent additions.

If you’re following along with Lore, Matthew Krawlski just became a named character in the latest episode. Read it now by clicking here: Lore by Angelica Reece

As always, I would not make it every week without my amazing writing partner cheering me on. Please go see Bridgette’s rendition of this piano prompt! A Night at the Carnival

Thank you so much for coming here every week. We’ll see you next time!

Posted in Character Stories

Fate and Fortune

We’re eating Chinese food. Again. It seems to be Ashby’s absolute favorite. Take out boxes stick out of the top of the garbage can as I shove in the last few and then return to the fridge to put away the leftovers. 

“Come eat. I can take care of that.”

The silly man pops back into the kitchen from the living room, our plates of food balanced in his hands as he gives me a meaningful look that suggests saying no isn’t really an option. Sticking my tongue at him, I cross the space between us and accept my plate. We haven’t picked out a kitchen table yet. I’ve convinced him that we really should have it before the holidays, but he’s skeptical of online shopping and we haven’t decided on a day to visit the furniture warehouse. 

I settle onto my spot on the couch, my laptop already set up on a chair opposite our sitting space to give us something to watch. “What are you in the mood for tonight, Mr. Carter?”

Mouth already too full of orange chicken, he gives me a shrug and motions for me to click something. Rolling my eyes at his silly expression, I turn on the documentary I was in the middle of on my lunch break at work. A complex look into numerology and astrology and the way the two sciences might be able to help each other further find answers to the biggest questions of the world. 

“I didn’t know you were so interested in the stars, Lucy.”

I give him a shrug as I spin chow mein noodles around my fork. “I like to watch all sorts of things. The last one was about the ocean.”

He nods along to my words. “I remember. You didn’t like the giant squids.”

“The purpose of the video was to talk about recycling and cleaning up the ocean. They didn’t need to traumatize me with clips of the scariest aliens in the universe.”

Ashby throws his head back and chuckles like I’m the most hilarious person ever. I love his laugh. I love the way that he lets the sound vibrate from his chest to his mouth like he’s savoring every part of it. It reminds me that he hasn’t always had a happy life.

Rather than get into our crappy origin stories, I focus on the computer screen as dictionary definitions for different words flash across the video. Ashby munches next to me, the sound competing with the calm voice of the documentary. He’s an impeccable eater when anybody else is here, but an absolute gremlin when we’re alone. 

He trusts me enough to be himself. 

That thought settles like a brick in my stomach. It knocks the wind from my chest. I almost choke on my last bite of food.

He trusts me. 

Me?

I was a mess when we met. I’m still a giant mess. Ashby Carter flaunts our relationship. He shows me off and then stands back when it’s my turn to perform. I don’t know what to say other than he’s absolutely perfect. Even my mom liked him. 

I just don’t know if I’ll ever be enough. 

He’s had eighty years of life before running into me. There’s no way for me to bridge that kind of experience. I’m making shit up as I go. Whether at work where I challenge my boss for more hours and to give me creative freedom or out at any of the fancy restaurants Ashby wants to try after dressing me up in all sorts of colored fabrics, I always feel a bit out of my own depth. 

Everyone else has their shit figured out and I’m over here watching videos steeped in conspiracy theories. 

Real sexy, Lucy. That’s what gets a guy to stay. 

“Do you think any of this has real substance to it?” He asks next to me, his hand halfway raised to his mouth with a piece of broccoli while he arches an eyebrow at me. 

I knew he wasn’t going to like it. “We can watch something else.”

He drops his fork and grabs my wrist before I can click the laptop mouse and put myself out of this misery. “Why? I’m enjoying it.”

I shake my head. “You think it’s silly.”

Confusion clouds his dark eyes. “It’s not silly. I think it’s interesting. You’re interesting, Lucy, and I’ve never seen this topic discussed before. I just wanted to know if you think it’s real?”

It might be foolish of me to tell the truth, but I can’t lie to him, so I nod my head. “I hope so. I’d like to believe that there isn’t necessarily an omniscient spirit carving out our lives, but that the universe has a hand in crafting fate. How else would I have run into you and fallen in love?”

Pink colors his cheeks. “You don’t think my good looks and awkward tendencies had anything to do with falling in love?”

His hand is still on my wrist, those cool fingertips pressing against my pulse as I smile at him. “It might have done a little something. We’re basically opposite astrological signs, so I guess the universe didn’t technically set us up for success.”

Questions flit over his features. It’s not a night for questions. My scientist can’t focus on anything else until he thinks he has an entire problem solved. I tug him close and silence him with a kiss. 

Ashby melts against me, his immediate reaction to deepen our intimate touch as he carefully balances his plate in his other hand. This. I could do this every day and I believe that we were destined to stay together. 

Tears threaten to spill. I need a moment to myself. Just to gather my thoughts and compose myself. My emotions are sitting right under the surface of my skin. They’re pushing and pushing and going to spill over if I can’t go take a deep breath and calm down. 

“Where are you going?”

I barely manage to lean back and disentangle myself from the man. Off the couch. I have to move and get space and… and I don’t know what else, but I can’t draw a full breath and there’s tears already blurring my vision. 

Crap. I don’t want him to see me like this. 

I don’t have a way to answer. Shaking my head at Ashby’s next words, I leave at a slight jog, taking my entire plate with me to the bathroom as I close and lock the door behind me. I let the plate sit on the edge of the sink as I settle onto the ledge of the bathtub. There’s no stopping the tears. 

I bury my face in my hands, but it’ll never be enough to silence the sobs coming out of me. Ashby can hear. He can hear everything. Usually, it’s cute, but right now I don’t need him privy to my mental breakdown. 

As always, he’s there anyway, his voice low on the other side of the door. “Lucy? Did I say something wrong?”

No. 

He could never say anything wrong. That’s the problem. 

I’m the problem and I have no idea how to express that without him coming to the rescue like a vampire in shining armor. 

“I can’t help if you don’t talk to me, Lucy.”

My chest is so tight. I stagger to my feet and stare at my red face in the mirror. I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know how to feel better. How’s a girl like me supposed to wake up every day next to someone like him and feel like the world isn’t going to tear us apart?

He’s too good to be true. 

There’s some crinkling on the other side of the door. Ashby must have brought his food, too. I listen to him rustle in the hallway as I grab a handful of toilet paper and attempt to fix the mess that is my face. 

“You believe in constellations bringing people together, right?”

It’s not exactly how I would usually phrase the concept of astrology, but I don’t bother correcting him as we continue to speak through the door. “Yeah,” my voice leaves me in a croak, the traitorous vocal cords doing nothing to mask the fact that I’m upset from the caring man waiting for me. 

There’s a snap and then Ashby’s voice filters through the wood once more. “So, do fortune cookies fall into the same category? Like fate has a way of making sure you get the right words at the right time?”

“I suppose.”

“I hope so, because mine says,” there’s a dramatic pause as he pulls the paper out from the cookie. “You will marry your lover.”

I let out a hiccup as I smile at myself in the mirror. “Marriage, Ashby? Is that something you’re already thinking about?”

“It’s something I would like to think about with you. You’re my everything, Lucy Lore.”

Here he goes again. Telling me that I’m amazing. He’ll confess to our empty hall that I bring magic into his life. The walls of this house have heard every way he can possibly phrase the words I love you. Ashby Carter loves loudly and on repeat. 

He deserves a girl who does the same.

“What if you find someone who is better?”

“That’s impossible. I want you, Lucy. I’m not going to change my mind.”

For a genius, Ashby can be so thick sometimes. I don’t want to spell out my insecurities to him. I don’t even know if I can find the words to do so, but we’re clearly not going to continue our evening until I can, so I try my best to get it out. 

“What if we get fifteen years down the line and you realize that I’m annoying or I just stop fitting into your life? You have a whole family that’s immortal. I haven’t even met your older brother. What if he hates me and you decide to take his side?”

I wish I could see him. He probably has his forehead on the door as he listens to each and every syllable of my ridiculous monologue. 

“Love isn’t something that just happens to people, Lucy. It’s a choice. I’ve made it every day since you patched me up after the carnival and I’ll continue to make it every day after that. I want everything you’ll give me and I’ll never think you’re boring or annoying or not enough.”

“But how do you know?” I’m yelling the words at my reflection, the stupid girl in the mirror pressing me to get to the bottom of this before we lose our heart completely to that man out there. 

“I just do, Lucy.”

Hot tears streak down my cheeks. It’s not enough. I can’t base my entire future on him just happening to think he knows something.

“I was born in 1926, Lucy Lore. Since then, I’ve survived war and been transformed into something more than human. I’ve loved one person before you and only stopped when he threw me out of his life.” There’s a short pause as he takes a shuddering breath on the other side of the door, the impact of those words rattling me to my bones. “I’m not asking you to be certain about this right now, but I’ve lived long enough to know when I want something, someone, and I will never give up on you. If you asked me to leave, Lucy, I would, but I wouldn’t stop loving you.”

That’s it. The right combination of words to thaw the icy hold my emotions have had on my heart. I leave the sink in a near sprint, fumbling with the lock and crashing out into the hall. 

Later, he’s going to lecture me about how hard it is to get fried rice off of the floor. Now, though, he doesn’t say anything about the plate of food on the floor, the sweet and sour sauce exploded over both of our ankles. I wrap my arms around him and bury my face in his shoulder.

“Just tell me if you ever start to resent me.”

He chuckles into my hair, promising that my worst fears will never come.

Author’s Note

This blog post was a special request from my number one fan and amazing spouse. She’s the entire reason behind my Lore series becoming a published sequence and I can’t so no when she begs for more Lucy and Ashby scenes.

Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this week’s story and be sure to check out Lore on kindle vella to catch up with these two characters: Lore

As always, please take an extra moment to read my writing partner’s story as well! Let’s go to the ocean by Bridgette White

Have a great night and we’ll see you next Saturday!

Posted in Lore

Lore

If you haven’t checked it out yet, Episode 16 of my kindle Vella is now available!

Follow along as Ashby takes Lucy on a romantic, birthday adventure.

The first 3 episodes are always free and a token system is used after that to unlock each chapter. Check it out to see the background love story that develops between Lucy Lore and Ashby Carter.

Read it here! Lore by Angelica Reece

Posted in Character Stories

Danger in the Dark

“What am I supposed to call you when we’re alone?”

We’ve survived two days together. I flaunt my appearance as Alyssiana Laur and watch the vampires in this mansion shrink away. I don’t know all of her history yet, but she’s a real piece of work who knows how to keep people in line. Perhaps in another life, I would be as cold and malicious as her. 

Laur is always by my side. He’s quiet during the day and a bit boisterous at meals, but he doesn’t truly come alive until we’re shut away in our shared room. I tried to argue to stay in my own chambers, but he insisted that I could protect him better if we stayed close. 

He was right. 

I haven’t slept since receiving the envelope with this job and it’s starting to grate on my general wellbeing. “We could just not talk,” I grumble, the edges of my personality blending with the cruel persona of Alyssiana Laur. 

Laur snags a pillow from the bed and heads for the couch on the opposite side of the room. “I think I liked you more when you were trying to cut my heart from my chest.”

I shouldn’t care. This man is a means to an end. He’s a job. A job that if done well could result in me making enough money to pay off my debts to Jack. I didn’t mean to become a mercenary. It seems like a lifetime ago that I made a deal with the well-dressed devil. Now, though, since Laur has agreed to split the estate’s wealth with me if I remove Alyssiana from the picture, I have the first real chance in eighty-seven years to make a gamble for my freedom. 

The word is a bubble of hope that clogs my heart. It’s stupid. I shouldn’t be putting too much thought into all of this. My dreams are a seal about to be swallowed by a killer whale. 

There’s no real escape from my lifestyle. 

Laur has slung a quilt over his legs and crossed his arms over his chest. I shouldn’t care that he’s a pouting fool. I can’t decide why his scrunched eyebrows under that ridiculous dyed blue hair matters.

It doesn’t. That’s the truth. 

Something akin to sympathy or concern registers in the back of my mind. Feelings. This stupid excuse for a man is ruining my heartless image. 

It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made this bargain with him. There’s no janitor waiting around these halls to clean up my emotional mess, so I have to deal with Laur myself. It’s for the best that we continue to play a united front. 

At least, that’s how I try to argue that my next words are more for him than me. 

“Phoebe. No last name. Just Phoebe is fine.”

Laur sits up instantly, surprise coating his features as he gathers his blanket in a heap in his lap and stares at me like I’ve repeated complete gibberish instead of real words. “You’re Phoebe the phoenix.”

It’s not a question. He’s tasting every syllable on that silver tongue. It shouldn’t matter what he thinks. It doesn’t. Yet…when he utters a name I haven’t used in the better part of a century like it’s a title meant to be worshipped or praised or never forgotten, I can’t completely ignore the way my chest warms a little too quickly. 

I should say something else. I should turn out the lights and tell him to go to bed. I should…

The power flickers and then cuts out completely, drenching us in darkness. 

Laur immediately scrambles to his feet, grumbling as he stumbles to get out of his blanket and manages to kick something with his big toe. I don’t move. There’s thumping and cursing coming from Laur, but nothing else. 

A sliver of moonlight sneaks into our room through the thick, grey curtains. We’re alone. It’s dark and we’re alone.

Laur doesn’t let fear quiet him. “Who do you think did it?”

The undead man can’t see me any better than I can make out his dark form in this room. If he was a full vampire, then I could use his specialized vision to our advantage. No, as we are, I need him to be quiet while I listen for any threats. 

My arm outstretched, I hold my hand at face level as I let flames break out along my fingertips. It’s not a lot of light, but it’s enough for him to see me raise a single finger to my lips in a motion of silence. Quiet. Somebody has cut the power on purpose. They want to catch us off guard. 

It’s probably that woman from the dining room yesterday afternoon. I can’t remember her name. All of the people here think too highly of themselves. They have ridiculous names to go with their posh demeanors. This one in particular had her hair piled on top of her head and a dozen roses threaded through it. She thought it was clever to hand out flowers to the rest of the gathered women.

I was foolish enough to take it from her. 

A thorn bit into my hand and a single bead of blood welled to the surface. I saw her nostrils flare. My exterior is perfect. I look exactly like Alyssiana Laur, but I’m no witch and no vampire. There’s no way to cover the smell of ash and lingering smoke that runs through my veins. Her eyes dipped right to my hand before I could excuse myself from the room. 

She knows. 

Maybe this isn’t about Laur at all. 

My heart thunders in my ears as I move to stand closer to the window. If this isn’t about Laur, it’s about me and they’ve been smart enough to attack at night. Magic still swirls through me, but a phoenix is tied to the sun. I won’t be able to change my appearance rapidly or keep a flame lit through the long night if I also have to run from a predator or engage in a fight. 

I hear the footsteps too late. They’re already in the conjoining room. 

”Get down!” 

I hiss the words at Laur, but he’s too busy staring at the door to pay me any attention. “Who’s there?”

My physical appearance can be changed at will, but there’s nothing I can do to reduce the effect physics has on me. I can’t move faster. I can’t stretch my arms beyond their limits and wrap them around Laur across the room from me. Instead, I’m rooted to the floor as the door splinters inward and he’s slammed backwards. 

His head cracks against the wall. There’s a smear of something that can only be blood as he slumps to the floor. I let the flames on my hand die. 

We’re trapped. 

“Make this easy, little bird.”

I know that voice. I’ve fulfilled jobs for that sultry voice. I will spend the rest of my days wishing I’d never met the owner of such an addictive tone. 

“Jack?”

There’s a snap of fingers and the lights come back on. I blink against the sudden change, glaring across the bed at the man who broke into our room. He tilts his head to the side, taking in Laur’s prone body and my undressed state. 

“Didn’t realize you were getting paid for evening deeds, dearest.”

I bare my teeth at him, flames biting at my gums and reshaping my smile until I am sharper and deadlier than ever before. “Most mercenaries work at night, Jack.”

His black eyes flick between me and Laur once more. “Shouldn’t you already be done taking care of this job?”

I shake my head. “He’s the client.”

Jack’s depraved laugh rips through the room. “I wouldn’t have approved of that. Who gave you the mission, little bird?”

This is not the time or place for this conversation. Cassias Laur is a private man, but his estate is only so large. Eventually, someone else is going to realize that there was a problem with the power and come looking for the supposed master of the house. 

“I’ve been doing this long enough to take my own cases, Jack. Let me finish this one.”

Arguing with Jack is miserable work. The demon has the patience and wit to walk most people in circles. He’ll have me agreeing to something far worse if I can’t get him out of here quickly. 

He obviously has the same idea. Another snap of his fingers plunges the house back into darkness. My heart stutters. It climbs to my throat and demands to be released. 

I wouldn’t admit it to Laur, but I’m terrified of the dark. Phoenixes are terribly difficult to kill. It’s much easier to lock them up somewhere and forget the key. Jack knows that. 

He knows I dread the night. 

His cool breath caresses my ear. I don’t move. My skin crawls and sweat coats my palms, but I don’t dare move. 

There’s certain rules in dealing with Jack. He can’t touch me unless I make contact first. 

“Are you getting attached to your clients now, fire walker?”

“Never.”

Jack’s low chuckle seems to vibrate in my bones as he circles me. The man is more shadow than figure. The moon doesn’t dare peek in anymore. My vision is gone. He moves too quietly for my ears to pick up on the movements. I’m prey sitting pretty for my predator.

Terror winds its way down my spine like a centipede, weaving its writhing body through my nerves and pinning me to the floor. 

I was ready to deal with a witch to retrieve Laur’s heart. 

I don’t know if it’s worth going toe to toe with Jack. 

There’s a low moan from the other side of the room as Laur starts to come back to life. My foolish heart gives a hopeful thump, thump, thump. It’s a worthless reaction, though. Cassias Laur is a coward and a scam artist trapped in this house by the witch who took his heart. He isn’t a hero. He can’t save me. 

Nobody can really save me from Jack. 

Jack is what lurks at the edges of my nightmares. He is night incarnate. A blackened soul ready to reap the vulnerable with a cutting grin and curling fingers. He is the darkness made physical. 

He holds the key to my freedom and knows it. 

Unperturbed by Laur’s waking, Jack clears his throat. He’s centimeters from my face. If I waver at all in my current stance, we’ll brush together. 

“I was contacted to come retrieve my asset by the lady of the house, little bird. You can leave with me now or I will give her permission to deal with you as she sees fit.”

That damn woman in the dining room. She must have snitched to the real Alyssiana Laur. Any attempt to take the witch by surprise is now gone. 

There’s no good way to get back Laur’s heart without going straight through Alyssiana. I wanted to sneak my way into her world and tiptoe back out, but that option has been ripped out from under me. 

We’re completely screwed. 

“Don’t worry ‘bout me. You can go home. I’ll deal with her on my own.”

Laur’s words are slurred. He’s still on the floor trying to recover from the damage Jack’s arrival caused. 

“You’re a dead man,” I murmur, my words struggling to penetrate the consuming darkness. 

There’s a scuffle. Laur must be trying to push himself up into a seated position. “I haven’t lived in a long time. I’m willing to go down for this, but you don’t have to stay involved. Go back to your life, Phoebe.”

Fuck me. 

I would have. 

A day and a half ago, I would have wiped my hands of the money and the possibility to better my life in order to return to the relative safety of my previous lifestyle. Now, with my name on his lips and his pain my fault, I can’t just leave. Cassias Laur needs his heart. He deserves it more than anyone else. 

I won’t abandon him. 

Jack must sense my wavering loyalty as he leans close enough for me to smell the peppermint on his breath. “When Lady Laur is done with you, I’ll have a dark hole to shove you into, Phoebe,” he snarls the threat, my real name a weapon in this circumstance. “Don’t make me the villain, little bird. Come with me now and we’ll pretend you didn’t just try to make the biggest mistake of your career.”

The dark. 

That’s his promise. 

If we fail, Laur dies and I’ll be tortured to live out my extended lifetime in some mildewy pit deep within the earth. I’ll be down there long enough to forget the way the sun feels when it tickles my skin at the beginning of the day. He’ll keep me hidden from the world until my magic is dried up and my name is long forgotten. I’ll die a thousand times in the dark. 

Somehow, Laur makes it across the room and presses his fingers into my trembling hand. “It’s okay. Go home.”

I shake my head. If I leave now, Laur is dead. If I fail, Laur is dead. However, if I stay and best the witch, we both get a chance to live. 

It’s not fair to throw away his life to save my own. 

I may fear the dark more than anything else on this planet, but I won’t let it conquer me. Holding onto Cassias Laur, I send Jack away and accept my fate. 

Win or lose, I’ve made a decision and can no longer deviate from this path. 

Squeezing Laur’s hand, I let my head fall on his shoulder as the lights flicker on and the night continues.

Author’s Note:

Happy Saturday!

Thank you for making it to the end of yet another short story. I made a total of three versions of this story, covering the subject of vampires chasing different characters through the dark and creating intense fight scenes from thin air. None of it hit the mark of being scared of the dark, though, so I dug around in my phoenix story for a better lead. I hope you all enjoyed this character development and the official first time I’ve named Phoebe.

For anyone new to the blog this week, most of my stories have recurring characters. To follow along with Cassias Laur and Phoebe, you can check out my other stories containing them: Here for a Heart, Villain or Hero

As always, take a few more minutes to check out Bridgette’s story as well! Afraid of the Dark

Thanks for your continued support and come back next week for a story centered around a “deal with a devil.”

Posted in Character Stories

Villain or Hero

Someone is playing a wicked prank this evening. Witchcraft of this sophistication must cost more than all of the rare sand dollars in the world. I eyeball the woman on my arm as we step out of the dining hall. 

The paprika-spiced pudding in my other hand was a dreadful decision to grab. If this interaction turns into a bout of fisticuffs, I’ll be forced to smash it into her pretty face before running for my life. I haven’t lived as long as I have by taking on my problems head first. I’m much better at getting some distance and strategizing. 

I’d recommend that lifestyle to anyone. 

Run and live another day. 

It’s how I became Cassias Laur. 

Which, I’m fairly sure, is the reason there’s a shapeshifter playing the woman of the house. 

She follows along, matching my pace as we leave behind the hall and enter a room lit only by a small night light in the corner. There’s a hiss next to me. Dammit. She’s taking this opportunity to attack me. 

Nope. Not going to do that. 

I step back, ready to throw the pudding as hard as I can, but she’s no longer by my side. Squinting into the dim room, I don’t see her again until the plate is slapped out of my hand and a knife is pressed to my throat. 

Awesome. 

Not how I intended to end my night. 

I mean, I’m aware someone is trying to kill me, but this is just getting ridiculous. 

“Woah, woah, woah. What did I do to you?”

Her voice is so quiet next to my ear. “It’s not personal, darling. Someone paid me for a heart and I’ll be taking it now.”

Wait. 

I’ve always been a nervous laugher. Now, the giggles start and I can’t stop them. I’m trying to explain to this shapeshifting woman why this is hilarious, but I can’t seem to get anything out other than blatant gibberish. 

Confused or infuriated, the woman pulls me tighter against her lithe form. The knife travels from my throat to my chest. She’s trying to get my heart. 

I’m trying to get my heart. 

I’m going to kill my friend when I find him. That letter wasn’t really meant to be shipped off to an assassin. Now, it has completely backfired and this woman is going to be quite upset when she realizes that my ribcage is lacking the one thing she is trying to take. 

“I don’t have it,” I finally manage to wheeze out. 

Her hold doesn’t loosen. “What do you mean you don’t have your heart?”

I truly doubt that she finds me intimidating in any way, but I put my hands up in the general sign of complacency and innocence. “Please let me explain. I haven’t had it for years.”

“If you try anything…” 

She doesn’t need to finish the sentence. “Totally. Of course. My heart is already gone, but you can take a kidney or something if you want.”

Releasing me, she lets me turn around to face her before she slams me against the nearest wall and replaces the blade over my chest. “Talk fast. I don’t get paid to wait.”

“I’m the one paying you!”

There’s a war playing out over her borrowed features. I’ve seen the real Alyssiana Laur make that face. She’s either going to demand a heinous crime of me or commit one herself. 

“Look, I don’t really have a moral stance on suicide, but this isn’t really an appropriate way to go about ending your life.”

 Those blue eyes almost seem kind on this supernatural creature. She’s giving me a moment to explain myself. 

“No. I’m not a vampire.”

It’s a strong start. Doesn’t explain anything really. I have to say more. 

I’ve got this. 

“The woman you’re currently using as a costume is my boss. Well, more like my keeper. She’s a witch and she took my heart and I just wanted it back, but I didn’t really mean for a letter to get sent out to someone like you.”

I drag in a breath of air after spewing out way too much information. The way she’s watching me makes my skin feel too tight. She could still stab me. It won’t kill me. The only thing that could kill me is the real Alyssiana destroying my heart. However, stabbing doesn’t feel nice whether or not one is immortal, so I am really trying to avoid that outcome and I can’t relax until the weapons are put away.

Frustration tears through her pretty face. She pulls down the bracelets on her wrist to flash a dark tattoo at me. “Show me yours.”

Oh. That. I unbutton the first few buttons on my shirt and pull the fabric down to reveal the jagged scar on my chest. “It showed up this morning?”

The woman, creature, she-demon lets out a yowl and stalks away from me. Her muttering is interspersed by her making jagged swipes at the air with her very sharp knives. I keep my back to the wall and my mouth closed. This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with an angry woman and I’d like to leave this room with most of my important parts. 

Finally, she composes herself enough to whirl back on me, her knives tucked into sheaths somewhere on that stunning dress. “If I don’t get your heart, I give up mine at the end of our agreement.”

Shit. That’s some crazy stuff. 

I didn’t write that.

But I know who did. 

“Look, this is all a huge misunderstanding. My friend got overzealous in his attempt to help me. Can’t I just release you from the bargain?”

Her sneer is sharp enough to cut through a stack of wine glasses. “That’s not how magical bargains work.”

Right. I should have known that before I said anything. My bad. I’ll make a point of researching magical practices at the first opportunity. 

I stare at the woman impersonating the tempestuous witch who chained me to my current predicament. This doesn’t have to be a truly bad situation, does it?

Before I can lose my nerve completely, I just blurt the next words. “Maybe instead of being a bad guy who stabs people, you could help me?”

A barking laugh blasts through me as she throws her hands up into the air and stomps back across the room. We’re in a small tea lounge. I figured most of the house guests would be busy until later, so this was a safe space to talk to this woman, but now I’m concerned she’ll start smashing the quaint furniture and wrecking the glass cabinets.

None of it is really mine, but still…

If we could get rid of Alyssiana, then technically I would be the rightful owner of this whole estate. 

Not a bad idea. I don’t have a plan yet, but this feral creature has to be the key to getting the freedom I have craved for centuries. 

For too long, I have played the part of doting husband and loyal subject. Alyssiana tricked me into this. She carved my heart out of my chest and tied my immortality to herself. I didn’t do anything to deserve this and I truly feel remorse for getting this woman involved, but… if it helps… I really would like to see if she can retrieve my heart before the month is out. 

“You want me to play hero?” 

Her voice is hollow from the other side of the room. This isn’t a joke. It’s a real question as she contemplates her place in the world. 

“You could be villain-adjacent if it means I walk away alive at the end of this.”

There’s no humor gracing her severe expression. “I thought you were the villain when I arrived.”

Her words are soft and thoughtful. She’s hiding in the shadows, likely more herself here where I can’t see her clearly than she ever would be in any physical form under direct lighting. I don’t know how long she has lived or how many lives she has taken. Perhaps our lives have crossed for the betterment of both of our stories. 

“Well, this is a chance to work together and be whatever we want.”

“Free?”

The single syllable is whispered so quietly that I could have imagined it if the aching hole in my chest didn’t suddenly feel full. She gets it. We’ve been used and pushed into black and white boxes as simple as hero or villain. 

It’s time we take back our stories and write the ending we deserve. 

I hold my hand out towards her. “No more contracts, but I agree to help you if you help me.”

She regards me like I’m a bug that has wandered in off of the street. I’m worthless and small and inconvenient. Her head tilts to the side. Those soft eyes can’t belong to a monster. She lets her gaze travel over me and I feel like a marble statue being inspected and admired and remembered. 

Crossing the room, she slips her hand into mine. “Words are just as binding as paper, Cassias Laur. If I play your hero, you agree to be mine. Deal?”

Yes. Of course. This is likely a terrible idea that will earn me the death Alyssiana has been foretelling for decades, but I don’t care. 

Yes. I want a chance at my own life. 

Yes. I want someone to think of me as a hero. 

“Deal.”

Author’s Note

While this portion can stand alone for my villain to hero prompt, I would like to point out that it is a continuation of my “Here for a Heart” story a few weeks ago. I flipped the perspective and gave Cassias Laur a chance to speak his mind this week. Goofball characters that are unsure of themselves and mesmerized by the sophisticated, supernatural counterparts I cast opposite them is probably my absolute favorite thing to write, so please keep coming back to the blog if you enjoy it!

These are characters that I don’t have a decade long outline to work off of, so if you enjoyed this or the “Here for a Heart” told from the phoenix’s perspective, please let me know in the comments, so I continue to make time to shape these foolish people and their complex outline.

Thank you for reading this week and make sure to check out Bridgette’s prompt as well: Room 313

We’ll see you all next week!

Next week’s prompt: Tumultuous soulmates are on opposing sides of a conflict

Must include the words: apothecary, bow tie, ladylike, sprocket, mushroom, scrounge, frenzy, match, oust, prisoner

Posted in Character Stories

Mischief Managed

I don’t know how long it has been since I last set foot in Ireland. Gideon saved me from an angry mob and my blackouts have gotten under control, but I’m far from normal. There’s a long journey ahead if I have any hope of moving out of the hidden compound below this bustling city. 

I’m on assignment today. 

With no real chance of me ever leaving, Gideon has been kind enough to give me a larger role in his lifestyle and work. My job is to gather the newest recruits. My friends often go out to the port to collect people who come in from overseas, but this particular vampire has been causing a commotion in the downtown area a few miles from our compound. 

It wasn’t anything big, at first. Some electrical surges that caused food vendors to shut down until further notice as their fryers went on the fritz and touchscreens died. A few days later, there was a news story about a block of houses that played a synchronized song through their malfunctioning doorbells. Someone else reported glowing kitty litter. After the first odd circumstances occurred, a signature in dripping graffiti was then hidden at the next areas. 

A Krav Maga class had the looping letters scrawled over their training mats while they experienced flickering lights and flying objects. All of the sweatbands at a particular gym turned pink and stained the foreheads of their wearers. The signature was scrawled on the back of a trash can in the lobby. Whoever is doing this wants credit. Whether it’s a prank or magic gone awry, they’re not scared to take credit for their work. 

Gideon picked me because I’m nice and rational. Usually, I would have an aversion to the simple description, but he’s correct. Nice and rational are probably the most important skills I’m taking into this meeting. Seymour is too ready to get into a physical altercation and Connor would become the butt of an intense magical prank far too quickly. 

Nice and rational. Plus, I come with my own color of magic. 

I can’t make things move or short circuit electrical items, but I’m just as dangerous in close proximity. 

Hopefully, we can finish this quickly. It’s unlikely, but, maybe, for once in my short life as an asset obtainer, I can get in, make a friend, and go back home before dinner is over. My stomach growls its approval for that plan. This virus leaves me always hungry. 

The sharp scent of fish overtakes the street. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good fried basket. Maybe I can convince Gideon to stock the fridges at the compound with fresh halibut or shrimp or both. 

Since this isn’t the pier, it’s odd the smell has carried so far. Time to keep my wits about me, I suppose. I don’t know what exactly he could be doing with fish, but I bet I’m about to find out. 

Glass shatters to the left. I bound across the sidewalk without waiting for the cars to slow. Nobody honks. They’re all too busy staring at the same ridiculous sight I am. 

A line of salmon float through the broken window of the five-star restaurant. They’re fins on the fish in front, my jaw falls open as they dance a perfect conga line out into the middle of the street. The cars that have been stopped begin to vibrate. Music blares through the air. An upbeat sound of opposing instruments. 

My knees crack against the sidewalk. Freaking asshole. One hand covering my right ear as it starts to bleed, I fish out the noise-canceling EarPods in my pocket and stuff them in. It’s not a perfect fix, but it calms the noise enough for me to pick myself up and start to walk towards the restaurant. 

This particular show has gone on far too long. 

Civilians form a circle around the broken glass and stare up at the procession of lettuce leaves that show up to wiggle around the still dancing fish. Several of them have their cell phones out. I have to be careful to not cause any reason for them to record me. Gideon is not going to be happy if I end up on the news again. 

Ducking past the crowd, I slink into the restaurant and then freeze. It’s so much worse here. The people that were seated at their tables are now clapping an intricate beat. Clap. Pick up a cup, slide it to the next person. Clap again. Clap above their head several times. Most have thrown pieces of their food up into the air to join the parade of dinner plates jiggling to the resounding claps. All of them share a strained smile as sweat beads on their brows and fear shines through their eyes. 

I’ve gotta stop this. 

“Who are you?”

The voice comes from behind me. I turn quickly to see the child holding his hands up like a choir conductor. No. This can’t be my mischievous vampire. 

I don’t answer quickly enough for his liking, so he stomps his foot. “Everyone in here should be under my spell, dude. Who are you?”

I raise my hands to either side of my head, trying to show him I’m peaceful as I think calm thoughts. I have to get this under control. These people need me. 

“I’m like you,” I decide to say, turning my face away from the recordings outside to let my fangs fall out of my upper jaw. “Special.”

His wide eyes threaten to roll out of his prepubescent skull. “That’s so cool! What else can you do?”

I hold my hand out towards him, beckoning him to me. “If we go somewhere more private, I can show you lots of stuff.”

He immediately shakes his head, his fuzzy hair bobbing along with the motion. Instead of giving me a verbal answer, he blows a raspberry in my direction. The next moment, a glass of water pours over my head. 

Real freakin’ smooth. 

Running towards the back of the restaurant, he’s out of sight before I can wipe the liquid off of my face. Fine. Two of us can play this silly game. 

I take a deep breath. Calm thoughts. Really calm thoughts. 

I cannot imagine strangling the brat that decided to give me a public shower. I won’t think about catching him and dunking him with my own cup of water. That’s immature. I’m a sophisticated vampire with special abilities. 

I can handle a kid. 

Calm. Right. Another deep breath.

I shut my eyes and immediately see the frantic auras of the people in the restaurant. They’re colored in purple shades of panic. Others are flashes of distressed red. In general, there’s a wave of unease crashing through the room as the kid’s magic wears out and the food falls to the floor. 

Calm and cool, Cedric. 

I’ve got this. 

I imagine the feeling as a ball in the center of my chest. Calm. It’s turquoise. It’s the exact shade the waves used to be on a really sunny day back home. 

Once I have it gathered, I let the color move out from my body and wash over the patrons of the restaurant. The change is immediate. People with fisted hands or their heads buried on the table cloths straighten up. The room seems to let out a collective exhale. 

That’s step one. 

I gather a grey orb in front of myself, something visible to only my eyes and then start to walk around the room. “The entertainment here is great. Magic isn’t real, but that magician was really good.”

I chant the words as I pass by each of the affected people. This is what makes me useful to Gideon. I adjust emotions and I can make it so there aren’t any questions to be asked later. Opposing vampires would demand death, but my method is a lot cleaner. 

Everyone gets an explanation they can understand before walking away from an otherwise deadly event. 

I leave the crowd outside to disperse on its own. There’s no time to wipe their cameras. I don’t need to anyway. Nobody in the twenty-first century believes magic exists if the evidence is caught on camera. Technology is too good and people think they’re too savvy to be tricked into falling for a video containing real magic. 

I direct the patrons to exit the restaurant before turning my attention to the back of the building. 

Just me and the kid, now. 

I don’t bother trying to see his emotional state with my extra abilities. Supernatural creatures are impossible to pin down until I’ve made physical contact with them. Most are still incredibly difficult to sway even after I’ve made a connection. 

“We can leave together. There’s a safe place for people like us.” 

My words echo around the metal interior of the restaurant’s kitchen. There’s a hundred places for him to hide here. Inside cupboards, under prep tables, behind the bubbling fryers. It’s going to take me all night to find him at this rate. 

Fortunately, he’s a chatty guy. “I’m not supposed to trust strangers.”

There. I tilt my head. I can just barely see his reflection in the stainless steel door to the fridge. He’s crouching by their paper stock. 

Scared. 

I don’t have to use magic to realize the threat I am to him. 

Okay. More deep breathing. Calm thoughts. I am still wet and inconvenienced by his prank, but I’m not some monster here to enact revenge. 

I’m a good guy. 

At least, that’s what Gideon keeps trying to imply. 

“Okay. How about I tell you a little about myself? Then, we won’t be strangers.” He doesn’t answer, so I go forward with my plan. “My name is Cedric Smith. I was born with a different last name, but it doesn’t matter anymore because my old life is over and I live here now.”

That catches his attention. “Is that why you say words all funny?”

“Yes, I have an accent,” I grin at his distorted reflection. “Where are you from?”

The boy shrugs. “My parents are gone. I took a bus as far as it would go and stopped here.”

Good. I’m getting a response. 

“I used to be a human. I lived with my mom. We had a really big garden together and she would spend the seasons canning all sorts of different stuff. After I was turned into what I am now, I had to move here to stay in a place that was safe for me and kept people safe from me.”

“So, you’re admitting to being dangerous?”

The kid is quite sharp. “I think anyone who can move items with his mind is probably more dangerous than me.”

There’s a scoff. “It’s just funny, dude. I’m not trying to hurt anyone.”

Uh huh. Children should never be given such power. They simply cannot handle the responsibility. 

“Those people out there were scared. Normal people can’t handle this kind of stuff.”

We share a long moment of silence as he chews on his left thumb nail before continuing the conversation. “How do I know you won’t take me somewhere to run tests?”

“Have you met people like that before?”

“It’s why I’m special now,” he pops off as if I should have known that already. 

I don’t dare take a step closer. This is the best response I could probably hope to get from him at this point. Let’s just hope I can get him to trust me enough to come out here on his own. 

“Well, I take tests all the time. It helps me figure out if my powers are getting better or not. They aren’t scary, though.”

The kid inches out away from the table enough to peer at me from around the corner. “You have to take tests, too?”

I nod. “And I’ll stay with you for everything you go through, too, if that’s something you want.”

Carefully, I extend my hand between us once again. Please. Please, let me take you home. Don’t make me chase you through the whole damn city. I will never hear the end of it if everyone back at the compound realizes that a kid made me look like a chump with his magical abilities. 

“I’m hungry,” he announces, standing in front of me without taking my hand, but close enough for me to know he’s leaning towards returning home with me. 

Letting my hand fall to my side, I let out a chuckle. “Me too. How do you feel about pizza?”

“I love it!” 

My smile takes over my face as I wave for him to follow. “I’ll buy you a whole large pizza if you don’t give me any more trouble walking home.”

The prankster falls into step with me as we take the back exit and disappear into the night.

Author’s Note

Happy Saturday! Thank you to everyone who made it to the bottom of this story. It makes my week every time I see views on these silly renditions.

It was a race to the finish this week. I hope you enjoyed the return of Cedric and my magical prankster. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Please read Bridgette’s story about the everyday magic found between friends:

See you all next week!

We’ll be discussing villains! 🙂

If you have extra reading time this week, please check out my Kindle Vella story: Lore Click here to see Lore now

Posted in Character Stories

News

“Ashby!”

A hand towel thrown over my shoulder, I look down at the list of ingredients for this recipe again while Lucy bounds in from the other room. Cooking is still difficult. Baking is impossible. She wants me to make cherry blossom cookies from some handwritten recipe her mother gave her a lifetime ago. It, however, is not going well. 

Unconcerned with my baking implements or her personal safety, she hops up onto the counter. Flour coats the side of her leg. Her dazzling eyes snag on my boxers and then bare chest before meeting my gaze. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the way she devours me without any hesitation. There’s no way to describe the way my chest begins to flutter at her mere presence. Lucy is magic and that’s all I truly know in this world. 

“Yes, Lucy?”

She flips her phone towards me, the bright screen jittery in her hold as I try to read the bold words: Archaeologists in Poland Just Unearthed the Remains of a 17th Century Vampire. My fingers wrapped around her wrist in order to steady the device, I read the heading twice while I try to suppress a smile. I think I already know what she’s going to say. 

“Did you know her?”

Yep. That’s it. Grabbing a pinch of flour off of the counter, I flick it onto her tank top while I shake my head. “How old do you think I am again, Lady Lore?”

She laughs, scooping up flour and sprinkling it into my hair. “Just old enough, Mr. Carter. Seriously, though, I know you couldn’t have known her while she was alive, but do you know about the vampires in Poland?”

I shrug. “Ivan supposedly comes from there. He might have known her.”

Turning the phone back to herself, she scrolls further down to show me details of how the poor woman was buried. A sickle over her throat and a padlock on her left toe. It makes for a great story, but would be effectively useless against an actual creature of the night. Not that I’m volunteering to test that theory. I think being buried alive is one of the worst punishments in this world. I’ve lived through it and I won’t do it again. 

“Apparently, she had large front teeth, so the community thought she was either a witch or a vampire.”

I work on putting all of my ingredients together as I shake my head at her. “You’ve likely met more than a few vampires in your life, Luc. We don’t walk around with our fangs showing.”

Waving my reply off, she continues to scroll. “This anthropologist down at the bottom says that the fear of vampirism has always been thought of as an outside issue in these old towns, but this woman seems to have been a wealthy occupant of the community. That’s so horrible! Her own people likely turned on her because she got sick.”

“People have died for less, love.”

She pushes my shoulder. “You’re so pessimistic today, Ashby!”

I pull myself away from the cookie dough long enough to give her a lopsided grin. “Death is something that has been put into artwork for centuries. Talking about it doesn’t stop it from existing. I didn’t know this woman. I just know that she’s likely not a vampire.”

The oven chimes to let me know it’s hot enough to start baking the cookies. Lucy pulls the mixing bowl closer to herself and starts spooning cookies out onto the already lined tray. She’s quiet. I don’t’ push her to say anything. Instead, I give her a moment to process what she’s read and come up with the questions I know she’ll want to ask next. 

There was a time in my life that I built a metaphorical wall between me and anything else. When I met Lucy it became a chain link fence, letting good moments filter through between us. Now, there’s nothing but comfortable silence as she scoops my poorly mixed dough onto the tray. 

“Do you think you’ll ever have to bury me?”

The words are so quiet, I would’ve thought they came from the back of my mind if I hadn’t seen her lips move. Panic swells through my chest. Yes. I’ve thought about death for months now. I know how it looms over the naive, more than willing to take a life before it’s ready to go. Death will not come for me. Try as I might, it seems to pull away every chance I give it, but it could definitely hurt me more by coming after this woman on the kitchen counter. 

“Why would you ask?” I finally make myself say, depositing the first tray of cookies into the oven and leaning against its warm front to give myself a way to stay grounded in this tumultuous conversation. 

She shrugs, eyes down as she starts dishing cookies onto the next tray. “I’m a syren. I have magic and I’m pretty cool, but I don’t know what my expected life span is supposed to be. My mom left so early, you know?”

I nod and cross the space between us. She spreads her legs to allow me to slip between them until I’m close enough to hold her warm body to mine. Her head on my shoulder, I hear her sniffle and my heart breaks. 

“I’m going to find a way to never have to leave you, Lucy Lore. I’ll do whatever it takes, okay? Vampires have been taking on mortal companions since the beginning of time. I’m different since I’m a man-made vampire rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon, but I know there’s an answer out there.” 

It’s the best I can give her. Research on this subject hasn’t been the easiest to find. There’s too many unaccounted variables for me to make any positive assumptions. All I know is that it’s possible and I’m the scientist that can figure it out. 

Nothing is going to take me from Lucy. 

She sniffs again and then leans back, giving me a chance to wipe the tears from her face. “Do you promise?”

My chest aches at the way her voice cracks and I immediately nod as I press my forehead to hers. “Yes. I promise that nothing will part us, Lucy Lore. Death can try, but I will always find my way back to you.”

She presses a kiss to my nose. “I promise, too.”

Author’s Note

This week is just a short and sweet scene between Ashby and Lucy since they’ve been on my mind. I completely stumbled across the article detailing the recently discovered vampire and thought it would be a fun conversation between these two. Obsessed with vampires, it was a fun week to dig into some different myths and legends surrounding the death and captures of these infamous creatures.

If you have been following these two in my Lore series on Kindle Vella, you’ll be excited to know that episode eleven will be available this afternoon!

If you haven’t check it out yet, use this link to follow Ashby and Lucy through the beginning of their romance: Lore by A. D. Reece

As always, Bridgette has a story for this week’s prompt and it would mean the world to us if you read that as well:

Have a great Saturday! I’ll be here next week 🙂

Posted in Character Stories

Interruption

My brothers never heed my warnings. I don’t give them speeches about the butterfly effect or other useless theories. In this day and age, all I ask is that they keep their heads down and beware of the vultures hidden as human beings in every city. 

Seth thinks I worry too much. Of course, I do. Dressed in black, my hands loose at my sides, I am worried that I won’t get to my destination in time. 

There’s so much in this world I don’t have to worry about. It’s highly unlikely Seth will ever die from snorkeling or a fitness purge. He doesn’t need to fight for a space in the music industry or have to deal with corporate snitches. The newspapers are always full of crazy stories about young people who sell their souls for fame and fortune only to be destroyed far too quickly. 

I’ve created a home and safe place for us, so my brothers never have to fend for themselves. 

Does that mean I don’t have to worry?

No. 

I was on my way to the grocery store when the messenger found me. He had no scruples pushing me up against a wall in broad daylight. There was no reason to defend myself. People on the sidewalk around us had started to stare. This was not the time or place for a supernatural showdown. Instead of trying to overpower me, he leaned in close enough for his hot, garlicky breath to waft over my face. 

The message was simple. A location. A time. An exchange. 

Normal rules applied, of course. Don’t tell anyone. Come alone. Any deviation from the request would be met with extreme consequences. 

He shoved a vial in my hand and then left. The exchange. Ivan is getting impatient. There haven’t been any more success stories after mine. My brothers were infected by me and share the same strand of the virus. All other twenty-first century vampires have irregularities in their blood and virus’ that leave them having issues that science has yet to fix. 

Most aren’t too much of a problem. I scour the world helping people infected by rare strands and teach them how to function once more. Cedric from Ireland blacks out when he’s overwhelmed, leaving him to become a notorious “werewolf” in the area that I recently brought back home to recuperate. He’s no monster. Just a vampire without any sense of control and a few memory problems. He should be fine in a year or two with a rigorous schedule full of training and consistent sleeping schedule. If he should choose to stay on, he’ll become part of an onboarding team for more future inhabitants. 

Ivan isn’t looking for vampires that need a little bit of work and gentle counseling. He wants killing machines. He wants lethal soldiers that can walk off of a battlefield no matter the strength of the army they’re facing. 

He wants me and the special properties that come from my blood. 

I didn’t head home. Seth would immediately see my face and know that something was wrong. Should things go wrong, he knows what to do. I’ve left him a cabinet full of advice and helpful materials, but he understands the importance of our operation and that the lives of our occupants come before any attempt to come find me. 

We’ve had longer together than most brothers. It would be an honor for him to carry out my legacy. 

Seth, of course, has never been the problem. Ditching the grocery store, I slipped into a back alley and cut my hand, letting my blood fill the vial without hesitation. This sample of my DNA could be all that Ivan needs to create a superhuman army ready to take over the world. It wouldn’t happen today or tomorrow, but in two decades, this vial could be the reason the world has gone from a place that struggles to balance good and evil to purely a dystopian novel. 

It’s worth it, though.

Ashby and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. He came to America without a dream, trapped as an immortal because of mistakes I made. I’ve never asked more of him than to try to be happy. He did that for a few years and has now lost it all. 

This is inevitably my own fault. 

It’s been a year, but I knew he wasn’t doing well after the death of his boyfriend. He moved back home. I thought that would be enough to keep him out of trouble. 

Clearly not. 

I make it across the city in less than an hour, my legs cramping from speeding through intersections and taking shortcuts around the humans still crowding the sidewalks as the evening starts to creep across the sky. Seth always teases that I spend too much time doing bureaucratic bullshit and not enough hours in the gym. Perhaps he’s right. If I make it out of this predicament alive, I might just make it a goal to join his daily workouts. 

I’m almost ten minutes early, but Ivan and his men are already here, taking over the darkened corner of an abandoned parking lot. There’s no point in creating a strategy or trying to sneak up on them. They know I’m coming and I won’t risk Ashby’s life. 

Already, a fire burns behind them, one that licks purple flames towards the coming night sky. The only way to kill someone like Ashby or I. Expose the virus and burn it to a crisp. It’s rare for a vampire to survive some fatal wounds, but this is a surefire way to keep me in line and threaten Ashby’s existence. 

I walk towards them, my hands at my side, the promised vial tucked in my pocket. “Where’s my brother?”

Ivan, the large brute in his typical black trench coat, steps out of the way to reveal Ashby being forced to sit in a chair while a man presses a blade to his throat. Not the worst situation I’ve found him in, but definitely dangerous. We have to be careful with this exchange or I’ll lose more than just the fate of the world. 

Ashby’s eyes widen as he gets his first look at me. “What are you doing? I told them you wouldn’t come.”

Pupils too large, words slurred, he shakes his head at me, his hair sticking to his sweaty forehead. There’s more he wants to say. Insults and commentary on my failure as his brother most likely. He doesn’t get a chance to say more as the man holding him cuts him off with a hand over his mouth. 

I should have had someone watching him. I don’t know if he’s drunk or high or a combination of both, but he’s been out of control for the last year and too reckless to be left alone. It’s the only reason Ivan has him now. 

Another failure to add to his list of faults for me. 

Ivan isn’t here to deal with my family drama. “This is an exchange, Carter,” he prompts, stepping back in front of my brother. 

Plucking the vial out of my pocket, I hold it out for him to see. In the flickering light of the raging fire, the red liquid looks ominous. No different than anyone else’s life force. Ivan thinks it’s the key to his campaign and I’m happy to give it to him if it means Ashby comes free. 

“Let him go, Ivan.” 

Those are the only words I let myself say. More demands push their way up my throat. He’s just a kid. He shouldn’t be involved. If you wanted a fair fight, you would have sent your goddamn goons after me. 

I can’t say any of that. Ivan already predicted my presence by kidnapping Ashby. The man is more monster than anything akin to human. I won’t give him the satisfaction of begging for my brother’s life when he has never had the capacity to love anyone or anything in his prolonged existence. 

We’re at a standstill. 

Ivan is still standing in front of Ashby, unsure of how to let go of my feral sibling without giving me the upper hand. I haven’t stepped any closer. I’m not fool enough to get into his arm’s reach with this vial. Staring across the parking space between us, I dare him to make the next move. 

He’s the one that demanded my presence. 

Deep breaths. Stay calm. Even though rational thought is begging to exit my mind, I have to stay sharp enough to get Ashby out of this predicament. 

He doesn’t deserve to die for my inability to keep him safe. 

If I can just get him out of here, Seth will know what to do with him. He could lock Ashby in a room and throw away the key for all I care. An isolated life is better than this dangerous path he’s been barreling down for too long now. 

Ivan lets out a ragged sigh. “Release him.”

Ashby staggers to his feet, rubbing his neck and smearing the line of blood the knife had created. He’s muttering curses under his breath in French and English. I want nothing more than to grab him and pull him behind me, but I can’t do that without walking past Ivan. Ashby has to come to me himself. 

I’d appreciate it if he could do it sooner rather than later. 

My brother is barely strong enough to stand on his own, using the chair as a crutch to keep his footing. I don’t know why he was outside in this condition. He put a target on his back and then dared the bad guys to come get him. 

There will definitely be a lecture for him if we both get out of this. 

Ivan waves for the man who was holding my brother to come forward. “Make the trade.”

Grabbing Ashby’s arm, he drags him a few steps in front of Ivan and then holds out his hand. It’s now or never. I hand over the vial and take my brother. Everyone walks away a winner. 

That’s the point, right?

Ashby’s hands dangle at his sides, black claws appear and then retract back into his skin. He’s barely keeping his virus at bay. I don’t even think he realizes how close he is to losing control. As much as that could help me in the event of a fight, he’s not in any condition to have my back. 

I just need to get him away from here. 

Reaching forward, I let the man snatch the vial from my hand while I grab onto Ashby’s arm. We both pull away with our chosen prize. I’m ready to run for our lives and slam the doors behind ourselves back at my compound, but Ashby has another idea. 

“I’m worth one vial of blood?” His unfocused gaze flicks between me and Ivan. “That’s all you wanted? You know he and I have the same blood, right? We’re literally brothers infected by the same viral strand.”

I’m stepping backwards and Ashby isn’t budging. A cruel smile peels across Ivan’s face

“I do know that, little Carter.”

The next moment happens almost too quickly for me to follow. Two more goons appear from the shadows behind us. The one who was holding Ashby before lunges forward, stabbing at me with a previously concealed knife. The blade catches my bicep, tearing my T-shirt sleeve and leaving a bloody gash in its wake. 

Ivan starts to walk away, his coat fluttering behind as his heavy steps echo around the empty space. “Don’t waste too much of that blood. Take them alive if you can. Otherwise, there’s still one more Carter I could get my hands on should the need arise.”

The fight I was worried about having to survive is here. I barely feel the cut on my arm as my blood clots and it begins to heal. My main concern hasn’t changed. Ashby is in no condition to make a smart decision right now. I have to get him out of here.

My hand wrapped around his shoulder, I pull him back just in time to miss the next slash of the knife. Ordinary weapons have no real effect on us. It’ll take them too long to hack us into small enough pieces. 

This is just a distraction. 

Ashby fighting against my hold as much as he is flailing against the next swipe of the knife, he stumbles over his own feet as I turn to see the real problem. Chemical warfare was created by humans, but perfected by vampires. Dressed in specialized hazmat suits, the other two goons toss a grenade. 

It explodes with a blinding light. Bits of rock and shrapnel embed themselves into my back as I throw myself over my brother. Ashby lands with a thud, any argument covered by the boom of the weapon behind us. 

Blind, my ears ringing, I struggle back to my feet while I hold my breath. Gotta move. Gotta get out of here. 

Ashby doesn’t get up. 

The three other men don’t give me space while I try to retrieve my brother. Blood splats over the concrete as I take a punch to the ribs. Choking on air, I cover my face with my shirt while they surround me. There’s no way to protect myself and defend Ashby’s still body, so I take several more hits to my back and stomach and one to my cheek that makes me see stars before my knees hit the ground. 

We made a pact several decades ago to never show the other vampires what made us special. 

Today I have to break that. 

Blows rain down on my body as I curl over Ashby. Home. I have to get home. 

Black tendrils leak from my wounds. The attacking vampires stagger back. Shocked or surprised or disgusted, I don’t care what they’re feeling. 

Thirty seconds. That’s all I need. 

My body weak from the fight and the breaths of contaminated air, I blink away the dark spots clouding my vision. Home. 

Grey walls and grey floors. Tunnels beneath the city. I haven’t had time for major decorations, but my bed has red sheets. 

I hold that color in my mind’s eye. 

Red like the blood dripping from my mouth onto the floor. 

The black tendrils swirl around us, creating a cocoon that has the other vampires keeping their distance. Ashby and I are specimens they could never understand. Danger fills the air around us. 

 Should I fuck up, Ashby and I will die here. 

Not at the hands of our attackers, but as a consequence of using powerful magic I still don’t understand. 

Home. 

Seth. 

My mother’s dining room table sits in my living area. There’s a picture of my brothers taped to the wall next to my bed. Red and grey and black. The colors swirl through my mind as I let my eyes fall closed and feel the inevitable tug of the magic on my bones. 

I wrap my arms around Ashby, clinging to him harder than I have ever tried to cling to life. This will not be the day I lose him. Even if this destroys me, he has to get home safe. 

I don’t dare open my eyes. Even as the other vampires shout, their voices sounding muffled from the cloud of darkness around us, I focus on getting Ashby home. 

I’m too far gone to do anything besides hold my brother and hope for the best. 

Screams fill my ears as the magic starts to pull me towards my destination. Fire rages along my arms as the tendrils try to separate me from Ashby. He’s a lead weight in my grasp, threatening to stay here as I plummet through space and time to home. 

I pull him tighter, burying my face in his hair long enough to take a deep breath of his expensive, vanilla shampoo and the lingering hint of smoke. 

Please. This has to work. 

In the space of a second that seems to last forever, my joints seem to dislocate and slam back into each other. We’re weightless and then dropped onto concrete. Every moment of my long life hits me at once. I feel the wounds of injuries received and healed three decades ago. Gunshots and broken bones from my past. That pain in my shoulder that never seems to quite heal roars back to life. I can’t breathe. 

It takes every remaining ounce of strength in my body to force my eyelids open. 

Home.  

Ashby in my arms. 

Seth must have heard our fall. He’s at the open door, his mouth open in a question or a yell for my attention. 

It doesn’t matter right now. 

I close my eyes. 

We made it.

Author’s Note

Happy Saturday! Thank you for checking out Gideon’s ordeal this week. When I first saw the prompt for an interrupted journey, I thought it was something that could fit any of the characters that I’ve brought out onto this blog. There are several story ideas jotted down for other characters and the various journeys they could have been on before their inevitable interruptions, but I thought Gideon was a fun person to follow this week, pushing further into another of his many adventures before he runs into Tamyra Raeleigh.

I also hope this was a little bit of insight into the character of Ashby Carter long before my kindle Vella series: Lore. There’s a long timeline to play with and a lot of different phases these characters go through over that span, so I hope it continues to be interesting enough to bring my readers back every week.

As always, please take a moment to drop a like or a comment to let me know how I’m doing!

Bridgette’s story will be up soon!

Posted in Character Stories

Here for a Heart

I pull out the thick envelope one last time. It was left at my doorstep. The corners wrinkled and bent now. Instructions and a picture included. Lacking the usual seal from my clients, I opened it anyway to find enough cash to afford my current lifestyle for several months as well as this limo now driving me to the location. 

A heart. 

That’s my objective. Sneak into this party as the woman in the picture and then take the heart of Cassias Laur. A picture of him was included as well. Intense eyes, blue hair and a tightly set jaw. It should be easy enough to find him. 

I don’t bother to take out a mirror to check my disguise. It’s perfect. With the provided picture laid out on the edge of my desk, I put my powers as a Phoenix to good use. The fire is warm. It bleeds out from my bones and chews at my flesh, reshaping my body to match the woman in the picture. Where I once had full curves and an olive complexion, I am fine and pale. From the view of an onlooker, I am blonde and as delicate as a porcelain doll. They’d have to get real close to realize I’m far more dangerous than the woman I’m pretending to be in order to get into this party.

A dress was sent along with the rest of the package. Red. The sleeves drape over my upper arms to leave my shoulders bare as the edges float to the floor in an odd sort of cape. Every man has a kink. This isn’t my favorite outfit and it’s clearly not conducive for my task, but my client wants to see me in it, so here I am. There was no signature on the envelope, no secondary letter to tell me who my current boss is, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll know I’m here and, once I’ve completed this job, he’ll pay far more than what was already delivered. 

Of course, there’s a danger to these deals. A phoenix can slip through this world in any bodily image, a shapeshifter with a tendency towards flames. There’s infinite power locked in our modified cells. It’s a power that comes at a cost. My current deal is printed over my skin in a red splotch, the single inconsistency to my otherwise perfect disguise. An anatomical heart with a dagger through it. The magical tattoo is on my left wrist, hidden now by an array of bangles, but otherwise a clear sign to the rest of the supernatural world that I’m not merely a woman nor a shifter. 

I’m a mercenary on a job. I’m the kind of bitch they don’t want to get in the way of or interrupt lest they want their name added to my list of cleared targets. 

This party, though, should be fine. I don’t need to flaunt my powers or my reputation. I’m already disguised as a rich woman with the clearance needed to walk into this fine establishment. 

My driver starts to slow. We’re here. I felt the buzz of a magical boundary line zip over my skin about a mile back. No obvious cameras so far. No other clear security. 

Vampires are usually much more careful. 

No matter. I’m not trying to sneak past cameras or avoid eyesight. My client wants me to make a grand entrance and be seen. Otherwise, he would have allowed me to wear a less revealing outfit. 

“Here is fine,” I tell the driver, slipping him an extra hundred for his service before gathering my things. The poor man has taken me two hours out from the nearest city into the middle of nowhere, the grand estate of Cassias Laur rising from the brown hills like a castle straight from the dirt to glare down at the rest of the world. It’s the least I can do.

I let myself out of the car. He pulls away in a plume of dirt as I stare up at the massive estate. No birds linger around the rooftop. Some potted spruce decorate the entry way, but that’s all the greenery to be seen out here under the fading colors of the sunset and the final rise of evening. There’s no noise. No crickets or frogs or cicadas announcing to the world that they survived the hot day in order to sing for their nighttime audience. 

It’s an odd place. Immaculately clean white, brick walls and red shutters for the windows. Ornate pillars wrap around the porch to give it an ostentatious feel that belongs somewhere in Rome rather than out here in the hills of California. The entire image is odd enough to make a creature absolutely homesick for a place full of noise and humid air. I’m not staying, though. Just one mission and I can take that trip I’ve been planning to head back to the south to remininsce about a time long gone.

About a woman who no longer exists. 

I climb the shallow steps, my heels clicking across the porcelain material as I sweep my skirt up into one hand. There’s a crisp ding the moment that I set foot on the wooden planks of the porch. The double doors swing inward and a man dressed in a tuxedo emerges to welcome me inside. 

I don’t think twice about wrapping my fingers around the curve of his arm. He is all smiles and dark skin, gently leading me into the house with a well-practiced script. I’m sure he’s been doing this all night for the rest of the guests. If things were planned correctly by my current boss, I should be the last to arrive. 

My thoughts on my mission, I hardly pay attention as the man leads me down a hall filled with art, the personal gallery a host of pieces lost to time as well as several canvases depicting the house we’re currently walking through. We walk further, the man pleased with my gentle smiles. It isn’t until we’re at another double door entrance that his words give me pause. 

“It’s wonderful to have you home, Mistress.”

Home?

Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions when I took this job. It seemed straight forward. I didn’t ask any questions. As much as the feeling of confusion is washing through me, I don’t let it touch my features, smiling wider at the helpful man with a rather orthodox appearance. 

“It’s great to be here.”

Dipping into a slight bow, he gestures to the door. “Should I introduce you, Mistress?”

It would be a good idea to know the name for my current disguise. I nod. He doesn’t need any other permission. 

Bursting through the doors, his voice booming, he announces my arrival just as my client asked in his letter. “Ladies and gentleman, please stand and greet the lady of the house. Mistress Alyssiana Laur!”

Laur. 

No. 

That cannot be my name. 

There’s clapping in the room beyond and the man who announced me waves me forward. No time to contemplate it now. Time to don a sweet smile and walk gracefully down the stairs. 

I’m halfway down when I feel the gaze of my target. At the head of the table, his expression stoic, his dark eyes bore into my form. Perhaps he didn’t intend for his wife to arrive. 

I didn’t mean to show up as his wife, if we’re being honest here. It could be easier to get him alone, though. I’ll use this to my advantage as much as I can. 

Gliding down the stairs, I accept the arm of another able-bodied man in the same attire as the last and allow him to lead me to the only empty chair at the obnoxiously long table. Vampires will never get over themselves. They have to have the biggest houses, the longest tables, the most servants or they’re nothing in the world of pompous showboating that they all seem to live within. 

One night. If I can get this over quickly, it won’t even have to be a whole night and then I can leave, collect my earnings, and figure out the details of that vacation. 

The only chair is next to the host of this ornate house. His gaze follows me all the way from the stairs, past the row of men and women in their best finery, and to the seat on his right. I don’t let it bother me. Men spend their lives looking at women like me. 

His life will end looking at me, too. 

The man pulls out my chair and seats me next to Cassias Laur. Those dark eyes bore into the side of my face. He doesn’t say anything, though. At least, not to me. 

Pushing back from his spot, he stands and holds a champagne flute out to the gathered party. “You have such a way with timing, darling,” Laur begins, the pet name thrown at me like a dagger. “I was just finished telling our guests that you would be unable to make it. However, we’ll be all the more happy to have you here with us. Please, let’s continue our meal.”

Chatter breaks out along the table. Most people spend several moments glancing between their salad and me. I keep my hands folded in my lap and my chin held high. In a room of creatures with heightened senses, it’s important not to bring too much attention to myself. A prick of my finger on a sharp edge of one of these glistening utensils would be enough to alert the entire room to the sheer fact that I, myself, am no vampire. 

All the magic in the world can’t possibly cover up the fact that I am fire and wrath. 

A waiter brings me a glass of champagne. Laur watches me grab the glass. I take the smallest sip, feeling his eyes on my throat as I swallow. 

The first course is cleared moments later. The main dish is delivered. A spicy soup with chunks of meat and vegetables. I pick at it, avoiding any of the meat bits in case they aren’t merely chicken and pork. Most of the guests cough and sputter at the soup, thier heightened senses attacked by the meal they can’t refuse without being deemed impolite. Whoever was in charge of the menu made sure to pick things that would be difficult for the guests to eat. 

That is, the guests are struggling, but Cassias Laur is eating without a problem. Perhaps the host is impervious to the spice and did this to pick on those brave enough to step through the doors of his house. 

I don’t have much time to think about that before the partially eaten dishes are removed and an array of desserts are set out down the middle of the table. Interspersed by red roses in ornate vases, the trays of desserts carry everything from classic sugar cookies cut into intricate stars, pudding combined with blood oranges, and macarons in every shade of maroon. A gothic menu for the vampires. If this was Laur’s doing, he has an odd sense of humor. 

Too bad he won’t get to use that funny sense when I come for his heart. 

Our host waves for the guests to serve themselves as he grabs the small plate in front of me. “What can I interest you in, darling?”

This must be a test. A man has to know there’s a reason his wife didn’t show up to a party on time, right? 

What do I know about Alyssiana Laur?

She’s married to a vampire and presumably one herself. In my reference photo, she stood with her back to a white wall, her imperial figure a contrast to the plain setting. Head high, her ears and neck dripping with jewels, she looked down her nose at the cameraman. Alyssiana Laur liked to be in control of her surroundings. 

Could this be my chance to get him separated from the rest of the room?

“I’m not very hungry, dear,” I reply, hoping she wouldn’t simply call her husband by his name. “Perhaps now would be a good time to speak. Privately.”

A wicked smile cuts across his face as he spoons out a large helping of pudding onto the plate. “It’s been a decade since you wanted to be anywhere near me, but I won’t protest much to your request.”

Fuck. He knows. My appearance is perfect, but I didn’t have time to learn enough about this woman. 

As soon as we’re alone, I’ll have to incapacitate him. 

Standing, the pudding and spoon in one hand, he holds out his other to me. I can’t refuse. Not in front of all of these people. 

I slip my fingers into his warm hold, my fate sealed long before this moment. 

It’s Cassias Laur or I. One of us will not be leaving this party.

I don’t dare look back on the guests. Without another moment’s hesitation, I follow him from the room. It’s time to retrieve my heart.

Author’s Note

For this week’s prompt, I stepped outside of my normal circle of characters. There’s still vampires and tension between the different people, but I wanted to introduce a new supernatural character. Currently unnamed in this story, my phoenix is a possible candidate for a new Kindle Vella romance. Let me know in the comment section if you’re interested to hear more from her!

As always, thank you for reading to the end of this post and please make sure to check out Bridgette’s story as well!

Bridgette White:https://bridgettetales.com/2022/08/20/the-masterpiece-a-short-story/

Next week’s prompt: An interrupted journey

Check in next Saturday to see what we come up with! 🙂