The blonde woman approached Simon and me as we reached the group. Everyone watched us with either curious or cautious glances. Except for Cole—he glared openly. Zoey, the witch, watched us but kept her distance.
“Welcome. I’m Jessica. We’ve never met, but you may have seen me on the news.”
We recognized one another. She was the one Lorenzo had stalked and abducted. He’d planned to turn her. She was lucky to be alive, or lucky to not be like me.
I could only assume the humans watching us must have been her reason for the official introduction. I sort of liked her. She seemed genuine. Jessica was the reason they allowed us to stay. It was her idea.
I shook her offered hand. “I’m Olivia and this is Simon. We were in the neighborhood and thought we’d stop by. Thank you for letting us crash your party, Cole.” I stared at him until he acknowledged me.
When Cole finally nodded his head, he held his tongue. I knew he didn’t want us there, maybe even hated us. It made me wonder if he’d ever change his mind, or would he always despise us for what we were?
Why shouldn’t he? I did.
The woman with curly dark hair who was usually behind a camera gave us a timid smile and waved. The man beside her smiled openly and even walked over to shake our hands. Humans were far too trusting. He could have been reaching for a rattlesnake.
“Hello. I’m Eric. It’s nice to meet you. Simon and Olivia, right?”
“That’s right. A pleasure to meet you, Eric,” I said. Simon shook his hand and nodded.
Seth walked over to a woman I didn’t recognize and stood next to her. “This is Marissa. Marissa, this is Simon and Olivia.”
I watched as he slipped his arm around her shoulders. She smiled innocently and cuddled close to Seth. It made my blood boil. But far worse than that, his affection for her made my bloodlust rise in my throat. I was shocked as a vision of me draining her dry and shoving her dead body away flashed through my mind.
Embarrassed, I looked away quickly to hide my reaction and gazed into the fire. Simon must have sensed the change in me. He moved closer and stood by my side as we watched the dancing flames in silence.
When I gained my composure again, I glanced up to see Seth studying me over the fire. Feeling guilty and dirty, I looked away. There was a nervous silence where there had been laughter and loud voices. The change was making me regret my impulsive decision to show up at their party uninvited.
I was considering leaving when Zoey came up and offered us a beer. We accepted the bottles without words, but the mood seemed to change after that. Liam began telling a story about some silly stunt Cole and Seth pulled in middle school, and to my relief, the party was a party again.
When Seth wasn’t watching me or was engaged in conversation with someone, I’d steal glances at him and the woman who was obviously his date. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he’d be here with someone. His reputation was well known, and I’d seen him in action. Seth played the field, and he was good at it.
And why did I care?
We sang “Happy Birthday” to Cole and the scene reminded me of other good times in my life—my real life—when my sister and I had celebrated birthdays. It made me smile to remember her without regret, if only for a moment.
Simon and I made our excuses when the birthday cake was being passed around, saying that we had somewhere else we needed to be. We didn’t, but it would look awkward if everyone was eating cake but us.
We began walking back the way we came, and I wondered if anyone would ask where we’d come from. I’d leave that to the wolves to explain. Before we reached the edge of the woods, I heard Seth call my name. I stopped and turned to see him jogging the last few yards to reach us.
“Hey, can I talk to you?” Seth asked, then glanced at Simon. “Alone?”
What would he say to me? Was he angry that I’d come? I looked toward Simon, and he nodded then disappeared into the woods. Seth watched where Simon had been standing only seconds before. When he turned his gaze on me, my chest tightened. It occurred to me then—these human feelings that Seth brought out in me, were what made me crave his closeness.
“I wanted to say that I would have invited you if I thought you would come.” He took a step toward me until we were standing close enough to touch. The light scent of his cologne grew stronger and I could hear his steady heartbeat pounding in my ears.
He paused a moment then blinked at me. “That’s it?”
“What do you want me to say? Thank you for not inviting me?” I said, putting my hands on my hips.
He continued to study me like a science project. “Olivia, what do you want from me?”
It was my turn to blink at him. His question caught me off guard. What did I want from Seth McKenzie?
“Who said I wanted anything from you? Go back to your party, Seth. Go back to your girl-for-the-night,” I said, then left at full vamp-speed.
I felt like crying and I didn’t know why. I hadn’t cried since the night I went through the transition. I did something so awful that I’d never forgiven myself.
This was not me, anymore. I would not cry like a stupid needy girl. That was one of those human emotions I could do without and never miss. What was I doing? What could I possibly gain from any of this?
I caught up with Simon and we moved in silence as we made our way back to town. As it turns out, even vampires have limited energy resources. We sprinted for a while, then walked until we recovered, then sprinted again. Fortunately, our batteries recharge quickly.
He may have picked up on my mood, or even eavesdropped on the conversation between Seth and me, but he didn’t press or pry. Simon was good like that. Not that he didn’t ever push.
Simon was the cool big brother that I never had in life. We agreed on most things, such as music, movies, and discussing foods that we once loved to eat. But not all things, like drinking human blood—from actual humans. We agreed to disagree on that one. Simon didn’t do it in front of me, so I didn’t allow it to interfere with our friendship.
We reached the Victorian-style mansion that Victor had purchased. When we moved to this small hick town a little more than a month ago.
The house had an L-shaped porch and was three stories tall. It was a beautiful whitewashed home with black shutters, but I’d never let Victor know that I thought so. The home was tastefully covered in white Christmas lights that outlined the roof, doors, and windows.
My room was in the converted attic. I preferred being away from the others and seldom ventured outside of my private space while at home. Spending time with my vampire family was something I loathed, and for many of them, I believe the feeling was mutual. I felt I’d go crazy whenever I thought that this was as close to a family as I could hope for.
The house was old but fully restored. I’d insisted on decorating for Christmas, something the others couldn’t care less about. I knew they thought that I was clinging to my humanity, but I didn’t care. Christmas was always a favorite time of year for my sister, Christine, and me. Christine. I pushed the thought of my sister out of my mind. It wasn’t healthy for me to go there.
When we reached the front door, Simon placed his hand on the doorknob to open it.
“Wait.” I put my hand on his. “Can we just sit out here for a while? I don’t want to go in yet.”
He nodded, and we sat on the porch swing together. After a long comfortable silence, Simon said,
“What are you doing with him?” His soft Jamaican accent sounded smooth--almost melodic.
I didn’t answer for a moment. “I don’t know.” It was the truth. I had no idea what I was doing with Seth.
“This cannot end well, Olivia. He’s a shifter. His bite is deadly to our kind. You are not of the same ilk.” His words were firm but somehow gentle. He wasn’t telling me anything that I hadn’t already considered but still chose to ignore.
“I know. I know. I should stay away. Maybe we can just be friends, like you and me.”
“You are not in love with me, nor I with you. You have different feelings for the shifter. It’s not the same,” he said, rising from the swing. “I must eat.” Without waiting for a reply, he was gone. I was left with thoughts of what I wanted and what I could never have. And whenever I dwelled on all the things I’d lost, my sadness would eventually turn to anger. After a few more minutes, I entered the house.
The home was lavishly furnished with antiques from the turn of the twentieth century. Most likely, it looked similar to the way it had when the home was first built in 1890. Like the outside, the interior was decorated for the holidays. I did most of it, with a little help from Simon.
On either side of the entry hall were large double French doors leading into a formal living room on one side and a cozy study on the other.
Opposite the front door was a lovely grand staircase that led to the upper levels. A hallway ran next to the stairs that led back to another sitting room on the left and the kitchen on the right. In a house with seven vampires, a kitchen was simply window dressing.
I tried to dart up the stairs, but suddenly, someone blocked my way. Edgar’s broad chest was inches from my face, and he smelled of blood—human blood. I stepped back and glared at him.
“Get out of my way, Edgar.”
The look he gave me was one of pure disgust. Of all the vampires, I hated Edgar the most—at least since Lorenzo had died the final death. In my eyes, Edgar had crawled out from under a rock that was only up the hill from Lorenzo’s rock. Both where heartless monsters. Only Victor’s rules kept him in check.
“What have we here? I reek of dog,” he sneered.
“It’s none of your business, is it?” I tried again to go up the stairs, but he blocked me again. This time I didn’t back away. Instead, I glared up at him defiantly.
“Victor told you to stay away from the shifters, so it is my business. It’s everyone’s business. The stupid things you do affect each of us.” His eyes grew lighter with his anger.
Before he could anticipate my move, I grabbed him and shoved him across the marble entry hall. Edgar crashed into the front door with a satisfying crack. Supernatural strength had its advantages.
He was on his feet in seconds. My bold move had caught him off guard, but Edgar was stronger than me. Although I had speed on my side, it wouldn’t be enough to save me from his wrath.
Edgar charged and the next moment found me pinned to the stairs with one of his hands crushing my neck and the other pinning my chest to the stairs.
“Enough!” Victor yelled.
Edgar continued to glare into my eyes but reluctantly released me. I coughed and gagged as my esophagus healed itself--a truly disturbing feeling.
Our fight had roused the entire house, or at least those who were home. Victor looked angrily between Edgar and me.
“What is the meaning of this?” When neither of us answered, he turned to Edgar. “Edgar?”
“The brat is fraternizing with the shifters again,” Edgar accused.
Victor’s eyebrows came together in thought as he turned his gaze on me. “Olivia?”
I straightened my shoulders and raised my chin to glared at him. “Don’t start with me. I’ll spend time with whomever I choose.” I turned my lethal gaze on Edgar. “If you ever touch me again, I’ll stake you in your sleep,” I spat.
“Olivia!” Elizabeth gasped. She was Victor’s wife for all practical purposes. They’d been together forever.
My threat was a serious one. Our culture didn’t threaten one another with the final death unless they were ready to deliver it. I turned and fled up to my room, trying to ignore the shocked expressions of Lola, Victor, and Elizabeth.
Edgar’s face held something more akin to fear. He’d either leave me alone, or we’d both be watching our backs for a very long time.
IGNITE Releases 9/25