Darkness Dawns

Page 14

She tried again and again. But it wouldn’t start.

Damn it! Her hands slick with blood, she fumbled with the door’s lock, unable to grip it. Close to screaming with frustration, she wiped her fingers on her shirt, then finally succeeded.

Throwing the door open, Sarah lurched out and raced for the trees illuminated by the headlights. They were denser than those around her house, the underbrush thicker. Weeds that reminded her of ferns brushed her thighs as she surged forward.

The light faded, penetrating the shadows only so far, and Sarah soon found herself stumbling blindly through complete darkness.

Unable to see where she was going, fearing she would run headlong into a tree and knock herself unconscious, she slowed to a brisk walk, hands outstretched before her.

Branches slapped her in the face, neck, chest, and hands, embedding the glass particles more deeply and tugging at her bandages. Her many cuts stung. Her head throbbed. Moisture welled in her eyes.

If she could just get away …

Far, far away.

She could no longer hear the grunts and thumps and sounds of the fight. Only the thrashing of the foliage as she plowed ahead, the ch-ch-ch sound of those freaky bugs, the croaking of frogs, and her own frantic heartbeat pounding in her ears.

Sarah didn’t know how far she had gone or how long she had been fleeing when her foot unexpectedly met empty air.

Flailing her arms for balance, she lost the battle and tumbled forward as the ground dropped off in front of her. Her hands and knees hit the dirt hard but didn’t stop the momentum that sent her rolling and jouncing down a hill.

The trunks of saplings felt like baseball bats striking her as she went, the thin branches of bushes and weeds like whips. Pain burst through the back of her head just before she skidded to an agonized halt.

Moaning, Sarah rolled onto her back. Flashing lights that had nothing to do with fireflies winked at the edges of her vision. Dizziness assailed her, making her feel as if she were lying on the deck of a ship being tossed about by a violent storm. If she could see her surroundings, no doubt they would be spinning nauseatingly.

Shifting to her side, she braced her aching hands on the cool grass and cautiously sat up.

The throbbing in her head intensified, as did that in her newly bruised ribs. But she couldn’t just sit there. She had to keep moving.

Unable to suppress a groan, Sarah managed to gain her feet with the help of the tree that had ultimately ended her descent.

With the hill behind her, she headed forward, arms extended.

There didn’t seem to be any more trees or shrubs. Just tall weeds or grasses that stroked her knees.

North Carolina was full of rolling meadows and hay fields. She must have wandered into either one or the other.

A branch snapped behind her, somewhere up the hill.

Panic returning with a vengeance, she took off running. Though she had left the shadows of the trees, her surroundings were no brighter, so she couldn’t see a thing.

Blindly racing forward at top speed was nearly as terrifying as knowing that a vampire was pursuing her. Sarah had not experienced this kind of darkness until she had moved to North Carolina. (The sky of a sprawling metropolis like Houston was never completely dark unless a hurricane like Ike took out the power.)

Tripping over some unseen object, she went down hard on her hands, elbows, and knees. Got up. Raced forward, breath coming in gasps that spawned sharp, stabbing pains in the right side of her chest. Fell hard. Got up. Raced forward, tears now streaming down her face. Tripped. Stumbled. Kept going. Tripped. Fell hard.

She almost couldn’t get up this time. Pain and fatigue clawed at her. If only she could see where she was going….

Holding her right side, where one of the saplings had struck her ribs, she took off at a jog, too damned tired to go any faster, and slammed face-first into a tree.

Rebounding off it, she staggered back a step. Strong hands abruptly gripped her upper arms as amber eyes blazed down at her.

It wasn’t a tree.

Screaming, she fought with all of the measly strength she had left.

“Sarah!” a familiar voice called as the hands gently shook her.

She sagged weakly. “Roland?”


The dizziness returned.

“P-please don’t kill me,” she murmured, then sank into oblivion.

Roland caught Sarah as she fainted. Slipping one arm around her back and the other beneath her knees, he lifted her up and settled her against his chest. Her head lolled and came to rest on his shoulder.

Fiery pain shot through the arm his new nemesis had broken. Because Roland had lost so much blood again, the limb had only healed superficially.

It didn’t matter. Pain he was familiar with. Fear he wasn’t.

And it had definitely been fear that had gripped him when he had seen the lead vampire take off and chase Sarah after she had driven away.

Bastien, he had heard one of the flunky reinforcements call him.

Giving in to impulse, Roland buried his face in Sarah’s tangled, leaf-strewn hair. The pleasant citrus scent was now suppressed by that of the forest mulch she had collected in her flight.

His preternaturally enhanced senses reassured him that her heartbeat, though rapid from sprinting and panic, was strong.

The intense relief he felt was disquieting.

Roland raised his head. She looked like hell. Unlike Sarah, he could see clearly in full darkness and his first glimpse of her had been a shock.

The left half of her face was smeared with blood that oozed from a gash near her hairline. Her clothing was torn in half a dozen places and coated with so much dirt, leaves, and grass that even if he hadn’t seen the path she had cleared on her way down the hill, he would have known she had taken a bad fall.

The bandages he had carefully wrapped around her hands were gone. Her fingers and palms bled from numerous cuts, some of which still had pieces of glass lodged in them. So did her left forearm. Her right forearm and elbow were scraped. Both arms, her chin, and her collarbone sported pink patches that would no doubt morph into ugly bruises over the next few days.

She must have been in agony. Yet she hadn’t given up.

When he had reached the bottom of the hill, Roland had been astounded to see her running blindly across the meadow.

Running. Not walking.

He frowned down at her.

Had she been running from him or from Bastien?

Just as he had hoped, she had wasted no time in leaving after he had tackled the bastard, breaking several of the vamp’s ribs, so she couldn’t have known who the victor would be.

Not that he would call himself the victor. He hadn’t defeated Bastien. Bastien had decided a strategic retreat was in order when it had become clear he wouldn’t win.

Worried about Sarah, Roland had elected not to pursue him.

If Sarah had known Roland was the one trailing her, would she have stopped or continued to run? He had seen the horror suffuse her face when she had realized what he was. It was the same he had seen consume Mary when he had mistakenly taken her into his confidence.

He barely knew Sarah, so it shouldn’t have hurt.

But it had.


Roland stiffened when that male roar rent the air.

A warning? A charge sounded?

“What the hell happened to my car?”


Relaxing, Roland shook his head and started back to face his friend’s wrath, jostling his precious burden as little as possible.

He snorted, a sound rife with self-mockery.

Precious burden? Sarah didn’t mean anything to him. Never would mean anything to him. Never could.

It didn’t matter that she was one of the most intriguing women he had met in centuries. Nor that she had been all that is kind to him, laughed with him, teased him, slept curled up against him on her futon. So soft and sweet.

Now that she knew what he was, she would despise him.

And, knowing that, only a fool would allow himself to care for her.

Sighing deeply, the self-proclaimed fool trudged up the hill and forged through the trees.

Marcus paced back and forth beside his car in long, angry strides that would’ve been more impressive if they weren’t hampered by a pronounced limp. When the lead vampire had taken off after Sarah, Roland had quickly finished off his foes and followed, leaving Marcus behind to battle the half dozen who were left of the new arrivals. Not that he had minded. He could handle it and had, though not before a Marilyn Manson look-alike (why did so many new vamps find it necessary to submerge themselves in goth facades?) had shattered his right kneecap.

That particular vamp had then unwillingly supplied the blood that had healed his leg enough for Marcus to continue and eliminate all comers.

After which he had raced here and found this.

Freakin’ vamp would pay!

Swearing fluently, he stepped into the open driver’s door and, despite his wounds, effortlessly pushed the vehicle off the road. He wasn’t sure what was wrong with it beyond the obvious damage done to the body (it looked like someone had dropped a wrecking ball on it), but it wouldn’t start.

Slamming the door shut, he resumed his pacing.

He was full of rage and pain and adrenaline and hadn’t felt this alive in years.

Seven years to be exact.

And Marcus liked it.

A lot.

Which was why Seth was worried about him.

Seth must have intuited it. Marcus didn’t know how, because Seth had not hunted with him or witnessed the change firsthand. Yet Seth had accused him of taking unnecessary risks and being self-destructive before banishing him to small-town North Carolina, where vampires were generally fewer in number.

Marcus smiled grimly.

Ah, but Seth’s plan had backfired.

Tonight had been great. Tonight he had been presented with a challenge that could very well have defeated him. Tonight he felt alive.

The foliage on the other side of the car parted and Roland emerged, carrying a bloody and battered Sarah.

Marcus halted, thinking her dead until he picked up her racing pulse. “Is she okay?”

“She will be.” Roland glanced at the white Geo Prism parked several yards behind the Prius.

Marcus shrugged. “I thought we might need it to catch up with her if the vamp didn’t get her first.”

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