"Love the one who will save him? Or kill her to save his mortal soul?"
Vampires aren’t real. Tristan is just a man with an eternal disease—a man who’s searched centuries for the cure. All he has to do to win back his humanity is find the woman from a rare bloodline and drain her essence. Morals set aside. Love be damned. Life shouldn’t be this difficult.
He had all the traits. Dark-haired, pale-skinned Tristan was a vampire. At least that’s what Anna believed as a child. She’d loved him. He’d craved her blood so desperately that he’d left her to keep her safe. Now an adult, Anna’s ready to find Tristan and prove once and for all that vampires aren’t real…and neither is the love she still carries in her heart.
As Immortal he will always be alive
As Vampire he shall forever be dead
Among the night, he will be in an everlasting embrace
Demon Within-Twenty nine years ago
Tristan Ashfield had once been a man. His body had flowed with warmth. His blood ran the color of red wine. He’d offered attention to women who loved him, and indulged in pleasures desired by arrogant chauvinists. He’d teemed with life. But that was a long time ago. Loneliness embraced his world—a world he didn’t belong in. And now, Tristan’s life was empty.
For four hundred years he’d been stuck in this hell alone with no purpose but to lurk through this world and feed on the weak. This plague of eternal shadow chained him to the night like a vicious dog, undisciplined, and without a hand to settle the monster inside. If he could embrace a mortal death and embark into the realms of afterlife, he would not be sitting on this dreadful balcony overlooking the ocean waiting for something that would never come, and that was his cure.
Tristan focused on the lights to the south. Manzanita was an ideal place to hide from the rest of the world. It was quiet. People usually infected small towns like this, spreading gossip like a disease, taking strife out on others. But here, nobody seemed to care. Nobody took notice of his existence. Maybe that’s why he’d decided to stay.
Dense fog smothered the town like an ominous being. It cried out for him to join in on its infiltration, to blind wandering eyes and make them unwary of his presence. How easy it would be to feed on the lost.
Among the hazy light from streetlamps shined one perfect bright light. Centered on top of a two-story building, gray paint chipped and darkened from the years beside the sea, the light called to him. Its whispers continued through the haunting tone of the foghorn and reassured him. For there was one hand that soothed the monster, one person who kept him from walking into sunlight to end the misery—the only one who ever really cared.
Tristan leapt from the balcony. Clouds covered the full moon and the rain came. Lightning streaked, sparking the droplets as they fell to the crashing waves below. He soared through the sky and breathed in the salty air. How he loved the coast of Oregon and the pungent aroma of its ocean.
The waves pounded the rocks below. Like an opera telling his sad tale of spite and betrayal, soprano and thunderous bass joined in unison, as did his human soul with the night. Sometimes love and loathing walked hand-in-hand.
He landed on top of the building near the light. He strode to the edge and peered down in the alley. A small group of people laughed and stumbled toward the entrance of the bar. They reeked of booze, miscreants in an unfamiliar town, tourists who didn’t belong here on such a cold winter’s night. They were a livelier crowd, younger than the locals who frequented this place.
Tristan envied their enthusiasm. The ache crept through his stomach as if he’d consumed a pint of sour blood. If this sick feeling in his gut, this unrelenting hunger, would just go away, he might enjoy immortality a little more. He would ask to join them.
One of the men said, “Let’s get drunk tonight.”
Tristan sneered. To drown his sorrow for a little while would be nice. A bottle of wine, aged over five hundred years, was an appropriate crutch—King of Wines from his father’s collection. To drop it on his tongue, to taste its perfection and explore inebriated mischief, he’d feel alive once more. Funny how wine tasted better with age, but blood soured fast. Maybe he’d be daring and order a crutch tonight. Then again, his stomach growled for something more suitable.
He stepped off the building’s ledge and landed on his feet in the alley. Hands in his pockets, he stalked through the pouring rain to the bar’s entrance. Another night stuck with riff-raff. He’d sit at his table until morning, and then go home before the sun rose over the mountains. After a day of rest, and darkness settled once again on the world, the routine would begin again. This was his way of life now. He’d accepted it.
The neon open sign blinked its welcome in the window. Tristan lowered his head and strode through the door. From beneath long wet strands of hair, he scanned the room for his one and only friend.
Mac Holden. The owner of the bar, the tender who knew Tristan’s poison every night, stood behind the counter. Rosy cheeks marked pale, wrinkled skin. Eyes of blue glistened beneath the hot lamplight above the bar. Salt-and-pepper hair, flattened on top from the wear of his beret, was tucked behind his ears and careened down the length of his neck where his pulse beat strong.
Tristan arrived at the counter. With a growling undertone, he parted his lips and spoke. “Good evening.” He gave a short, rare grin. Maybe the young tourists’ laughter had infected him more than he’d desired.
“It’s good to see you, son.” The wrinkles in Mac’s face lengthened as he reached under the counter for that special bottle. He popped the cork and poured the dark liquid into the glass. “Bloody Mary as usual.”
So rich in the color red and it smelled heavenly. It was a younger blood, a female in her twenties, the perfect age to drink from. This was a fine wine indeed, warmed, and not chilled like the bottles he stashed in his home.
Mac always kept blood behind the counter. Tristan had never asked where it came from, but the thought had crossed his mind many times. It lingered for a moment as he strode toward his table in the dark corner in the back of the room.
Tristan’s smile faded. He’d met Death long ago in the courtyard of his castle. Fear had spread over his skin that burned like paper in a fire. Though the pain was undeserving, it was a memory worth keeping— a frequent reminder of why his grin stayed concealed.
He stole a glance at the tourists at the bar. Their laughter brought music to the place. Not the kind he longed to hear, but it was better than the quiet mumbles from the usual drunken crowd.
He sat on the wobbly chair near the back wall. He drew in a long swallow of his drink, and then set the glass on the table. Shaded in dark, he hid from the few glances he received when he arrived. Most of the time people dismissed him and went about their business. This time someone’s stare would not leave.
“That…freak comes in here every night.” An old, raspy voice carried to Tristan’s ears.
“Mind your own business, Slate.” Mac flashed the ratty, gray-headed man a warning glance. “You’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble if you don’t.”
Slate, the drunken fool, sat at the bar, beer in hand, cigarette burning in the other. He often gloated about the war in which he’d fought. On the front line he’d killed many men, even his own for amusement. He rarely knew who he spoke to, and was too drunk to look around. Tonight the old man was wide awake.
Slate stared, sniffling in between puffs of his cigarette. It would be wise for him to keep his distance. If Tristan showed his true form, it would bring unwanted attention. The townspeople would attempt to drive Tristan away.
He wouldn’t go. There was nothing in the world for him anymore. There was nobody to turn to. He’d rather just cease to exist than abandon the pathetic life he’d made here.
Slate slid his fingers through the handle of his full mug. He swiveled his stool until he sat with his back against the counter. He drew a puff on his cigarette and inhaled deeply. He grumbled as he exhaled stale smoke through clenched, rotting teeth.
“He looks like a ghost. Pale enough to be one,” Slate muttered to the tourists beside him. “Or maybe he’s from one of those satanic cults I’ve heard about. They sacrifice animals and have orgies to please their devil god.” He put out his cigarette in the ashtray and gave a short laugh through his fat, porous nose. “Faggots. I’d stick ’em all in the ground if I could, but I couldn’t dig a hole deep enough.”
Mac pursed his lips. “Come on now. That’s enough. Turn around and drink your beer.”
Slate’s scaly lips rose in a grin. He pulled a cigarette pack out of the ragged front pocket of his shirt. He limped toward the back of the room where Tristan sat. He scowled for a moment then plopped his rear end on the chair across from Tristan.
Tristan lowered his head to hide his eyes. He hated games, the kind he so desperately wanted to play but couldn’t. He wouldn’t pursue a fight. Not with Mac in the room ogling, heart drumming in worry that Tristan would lose control.
For two long years, Tristan had lived off wildlife and a few unfortunate livestock off the coastal highway. It’d become a game to see how long he could go without taking human victims. With Mac providing sustenance every night, and the few wine bottles Tristan stored in his cellar, it’d been easy. But Slate lured out his dark side. And like a game of Russian roulette, Tristan’s adrenaline spiked.
He concentrated on controlling his thirst as he waited for the inevitable cock of the chamber.
“Damn war.” Slate stretched his legs out under the table and cringed. “I got arthritis in my legs from walking the front lines. I killed some people. So I’ll take it as fair trade.”
Slate lit up another cigarette. The reflection of flame from the man’s silver lighter danced on the table. Smoke permeated the air with the putrid scent of rotten breath. Most of Tristan’s taste buds had been taken away on his turning. Why did the other senses need to remain so keen?
“Smoke bothering you?” Slate puffed a cloud of smoke in Tristan’s face. “They say cigarettes are bad for you. Maybe so, but I’ll happily go to the grave with a pack or two in my pocket. Hell, bury me with a damn carton, and I’ll never leave the grave.”
Slate guzzled his beer. Liquid dripped from the corner of his mouth to his dirty white shirt, leaving a round, wet stain in the filth. His clothes reeked of pine and body odor. He’d most likely taken refuge in the state park, living with forest creatures, fending off the cold with a newspaper cover or a wool blanket donated by some ignorant passerby who felt sorry for him.
“What will it take to get you out of my bar?” Slate inhaled a long draw from his cigarette. It caught in his throat and sent him into a fit of coughing. His bluish skin turned beet-colored. The black rings under his hazy gray eyes deepened. No wonder he antagonized. Such a pity to see someone other people could praise as a hero look so fragile.
The man had cancer, no doubt. By the sound of his cough, emphysema had taken its toll. By the looks of him, he had a few months left of his life. Maybe less if he didn’t find shelter during this winter.
Slate caught his breath and then leaned back. He pulled the front legs of the chair off the floor then crossed his ankles under the table. As he lowered his thick gray brows, nostrils flaring and body straight, he glared.
“Man of a few words, huh?” He cleared the remaining phlegm from his throat and laid his cigarette in the ashtray. He flexed his old muscles, and then pulled his shirt over his head. His lips tucked against his teeth. “Don’t get turned on now, sissy boy. I’m going to show you what a real man looks like.” He pointed at the tattoo above his left breast. “Got this in Afghanistan. The snake through the skull’s eye means I’m a bad motherfucker. You don’t want to mess with me.”
Tristan lowered his brows. “I did not seek your table.”
“So, sissy boy knows how to speak.” Slate lifted his half-smoked cigarette from the ashtray. He stuck the burning stick between his lips as he rested his arm on the table to reveal a series of small round scars from his wrist to his elbow. “Every man I’ve killed is marked here, burned into my flesh because I like to remember. Not because I gave a shit. I enjoyed watching them squirm as they bled on the ground at my feet. They begged for their life right before I pulled the trigger. Bang.”
“Why do you think I care?”
“I don’t. You just remind me of the pussies I’ve killed.” Slate let the smoke whirl around in his throat for a moment then exhaled. “You don’t quite fit in here. So, why do you stay?”
Tristan fought the urge to reach across the table and rip out Slate’s throat. “Why are you here?”
“I asked you first, sissy boy.” Slate grinned. His crooked, decayed teeth showed. His right eye sagged. “You ignoring me? Are you asleep under all that girly hair? Maybe I should add a mark here for you.”
“You wish to murder me?”
Slate belted out a laugh. “It wouldn’t be right to confess such a thing, would it? If I said yes, you might run straight to the cops. Not that they’d do anything about it, the worthless piece of shits. But seriously, what kind of fun would it be for me if you didn’t fight back? Or at least run?”
Run? Tristan inwardly laughed. This man did not know who he was fucking with. “I do not wish to fight you.”
Slate scoffed. “I didn’t take you for a coward.” He leaned close and lowered his voice. “Come on, boy. Dance with me. Show me what you got.”
Tristan fought his demon. A few years before and he would have killed the man before he sat at the table.
“I think it is best you leave.”
Slate inhaled another puff through clenched teeth. He dropped his burning cigarette in Tristan’s wineglass. The fire hissed as the stick soaked in the thick red liquid.
Tristan growled. It was one thing to taunt a man to start a fight, but another to soil one’s drink. One glance would send the old man running like a frightened child. Chasing him down and killing the bastard would be exhilarating.
Tristan drew in a deep breath. The white flag of reason waved robustly in his mind. It’d been several years since anyone provoked him enough to make his cold, dark blood boil with rage.
Tristan rose from the table. His midnight strands fell back from his face. His jaw tightened then relaxed. The corners of his lips rose from the usual stoop. He released the tension from his body and darkness won over the man he fought to be.
Fire burned in his black abyss. His human counterpart shrank away to make room for the devil he loved and despised. A million globes of fire shot through his veins that became passageways for the demon to take over his brain. Once he took over his mind, nothing could stop him.
Pain shot through the skin in his mouth as his canines bent and shaped into sharp daggers. They were his weapon against the innocent and undignified. He’d won so many battles with just a mere flash of them.
Making a person run in fear was part of the game, and he loved the chase. No doubt in his demonic mind, he’d become the bullet in the chamber of the gun, and it was about to shoot.
Slate drew a step back. His ankle brushed the leg of the chair. Arms flailing, eyes widened, he landed on his backside on the concrete floor. A shaky breath passed his agape mouth as he stared up at a nightmare he never prepared to face.
Tristan showed his fangs. Then there it was—pure terror in the old man’s eyes. They were full of tears. Slate now realized he’d started a fight with the wrong man tonight. If this…monster decided to attack, there would be no escape.
Slate scrambled to his feet. Eyes wide, he staggered toward the exit, looking back to make sure Tristan didn’t follow. Tristan held his ground. If he pursued, Slate wouldn’t make it out with his head attached to his body.
Slate pushed the door open and ran out into the night. He escaped from the eyes of a true killer. Funny how quick he’d changed his tune. Ironic he’d run away when he’d spent so much effort to instill fear.
Tristan lowered his gaze. Hell was easy to release, but difficult to bottle. A demon left unsatisfied could present an unpredictable outcome. If Tristan let this phenomenal sensation ride, if he didn’t fight it with every ounce of strength and will, he’d kill everyone in the room.
Two choices, one difficult decision, but his discipline was strong—a focal point. He lowered his burning gaze to the narrow silver lighter Slate left on the table. The silver dragon etched into steel was too perfect for someone unworthy. The intricate design called to his human side.
Air filled Tristan’s lungs. He fisted the lighter then slipped it into the pocket of his long black trench coat. His fangs crackled from the pressure of the bend. Intense pain shot through him as they returned to their place.
A hand touched his shoulder. “It’s okay, son.” Mac picked up the ash-soiled wineglass. He set a fresh glass of blood on the table. “Just let it go.”
“My apologies.” The burning in Tristan’s veins cooled, but the ache in the pit of his stomach lingered. He yearned to kill—human, animal, it wouldn’t make a difference now.
“Sit and drink. It’ll make you feel better.”
Mac calmed him with his pleasant voice and amusing words. Without him, the entire city would have already stormed his front door, pitchforks and stakes in hand to kill the monster inside, just like in vampire movies. They were such foolish stories. Inaccurate. Mostly. But this time, Tristan couldn’t find the will to sit. The anxiety barreling through him was too strong to fight.
He longed to be alone with his struggle. The beach helped him through most nights when desperation peaked. The sound of the waves calmed him when the fire would not go away. To stand in the ocean and let salt water cleanse the blood of thousands from his body would somewhat cool his cravings. It’d be enough that he could return home and drink from the bottles he stored in his house, aged to bitterness—Jester of Wines.
Tristan stepped back from Mac’s touch. “I must go.”
Mac gave a short nod. “I’m here if you need me.”
Tristan strode toward the exit. His once lone haven was now contaminated with the old man’s stench. No way could he rejoin the serenity of this place, at least not tonight.
Too riled up, he threw the drunken tourists a quick glare, and then sneered as he stalked outside into a wintry mix.